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Isobel Henry-Rufus

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A Secret Garden
A Secret Garden
by Katie Fforde
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.49

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An inmprovement on her last couple of books, but not quite back to form, 17 April 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Secret Garden (Hardcover)
This is better than her last two or three books - a sign she is returning to form? I hope so. The plot is better worked out and the characterisation is stronger and more varied. But there are still too many chunks of largely unnecessary back story thrown into the early stages of the book which slow down the narrative and don't draw you into the story. If this information is necessary let it develop naturally through the action. A greater flaw is the lack of tension. It is quite obvious who is going to end up with whom from the minute we meet them. I suppose there is a little doubt about whether one couple will end up happy ever after, but the odds are stacked in their favour.

Again a very nitpicky review, but her early books were so good and it is sad when a writer falls below par.

Honeywell HYF260E QuietSet Tower Fan with Remote Control, White
Honeywell HYF260E QuietSet Tower Fan with Remote Control, White

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An effective fan a third the cost pf the Dyson, 17 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is similar in looks and shape to the Dyson fan though it doesn’t have its air multiplier technology. It claims:
1. To be quiet and powerful with five levels of fan speed
2. To have a timer which allows you to program fan for 1,2,4 or 8 hours cooling
3. To have a remote control can be stored on the fan
4. To allow oscillating (80 degrees) for wide area cooling
5. To have an automatic dimming feature for night time use
6. To have Honeywell quality and a 3-year guarantee

Points 1, 2 and 3 are all it claims. It is very quiet and has clearly differentiated fan speeds but even though the top speed is powerful, it is not strong enough to mess up your paper work. The timer is a very useful feature with more time options than many fans on the market. The remote control has its own storage space on the fan, which while it may not be as stylish as the Dyson magnetic remote control, is certainly more secure. It needs two triple A batteries which are not provided.

Point 4: Oscillation – I think there must be a misprint here. It does oscillate but through a full 180 degrees which is much more useful than a mere 80 degrees would have been.

The automatic dimmer feature gives the impression that it glows with a bright light. It doesn’t. The control panel has dim lights to show what program you have chosen. The automatic dimmer is a nice function to have, but not really necessary.

It was taller than I thought it would be which made it slightly awkward to put together. There is not a lot of assembly needed – just to attach the base to the fan, but without the base it doesn’t balance well. I ended up gripping the main unit like a cello until the base was attached. Even though it was larger than I thought it would be, its design means you can place it in the corner of a room and it will take up very little usable space so it can be used easily in a small space as well as a large room – excellent for an office, I would think.

I started this review by comparing it to the Dyson. It is not noticeably noisier than the Dyson, and, while providing several strengths of fan speed, the movement of air is not gusty or disruptive. Its huge advantage over the Dyson is that it costs £85 whereas the Dyson costs £303.

Arrowood (Arrowood 1)
Arrowood (Arrowood 1)
by Mick Finlay
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.94

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!, 14 April 2017
This review is from: Arrowood (Arrowood 1) (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
“London society take their problems to Sherlock Holmes. Everyone else goes to Arrowood.” Imagine DI Dalziel working as a PI in London in 1895, picking up the cases of those who can’t afford Holmes, or whose cases are too mundane to interest the Great Man, and you will have a rough impression of Arrowood. Arrowood does not have a lot of time for the eminent Mr Holmes who “deciphers secret codes and flower beds” whereas Arrowood deciphers people. He shows his contempt for Holmes by calling himself Mr Locksher, when he wants to be incognito. His work rarely takes him to the drawing rooms of the rich, unless he has broken in to do a recce. His work is in the pubs, pie shops and gutters of London’s underworld. His home is not much better. There is no Mrs Hudson to see to his comfort, his wife having walked out years ago. Arrowood’s Watson and general assistant is Norman Barnett, who unlike Watson is not star struck by his boss, and tells it like it is. Or does he?

Arrowood is hired by a beautiful French photographer’s assistant to find her brother Thierry who has been working in the kitchens of a local pub – a fairly straightforward assignment until they discover that the pub in question is the headquarters of the local Mr Big, Mr Cream. Arrowood and Barnett have had dealings with Mr Cream before and have suffered badly as a consequence. (In fact, the experience turned Arrowood to drink which was why his wife left him.) Reluctant to become entangled with Mr Cream again, circumstances conspire to land them in the middle of a very sordid and violent case where nothing is as it seems and nobody is who they say they are. Life is further complicated when Ettie, Arrowood’s sister, a medical missionary, suddenly appears on his doorstep, after many years in Afghanistan, to pursue her mission in the slums of London.

Doggedly, the pair work at the case – no Holmesian flashes of genius here – and their exploits contrive to be violent, tragic and very funny. The spectre of Holmes is constantly nagging away at Arrowood in turns angering him and sapping his self-esteem, as when the case starts getting interesting, the Yard calls in Holmes to work miracles on the back of their hard graft.

I loved this book. The characters are vivid and demanding and the plot is convoluted, mixing vice, gun running and common or garden skulduggery into a potent brew. I hope this not the last we see of Arrowood and co.

Fress: Bold, Fresh Flavours from a Jewish Kitchen
Fress: Bold, Fresh Flavours from a Jewish Kitchen
by Emma Spitzer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.16

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really fine food - every dish a winner!, 12 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The strapline of the cover of this book translates ‘fress’ as ‘to eat copiously and without restraint’, or if you are more succinct and less polite you could translate it as ‘to guzzle’ because that is what you yearn to do when you read this book.

Emma Spitzer reached the final round of Master Chef in 2015. I was sad that she didn’t win because her food never succumbed to the pretentiousness that many Master Chef contestants suffer from – I don’t think I ever saw a smear or foam in any of her dishes. Her food looked gorgeous because it looked delicious and that is how I like my food.

The book is subtitled ‘Bold flavours from a Jewish kitchen’, and in the introduction she has an illustration of her family tree which shows the diversity of her Jewish background which encompasses Central Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. The book has recipes from each of these areas and some which are a delicious synthesis of all of them.

The book starts with an introduction which explains her background and philosophy of cooking. It moves on to a discussion of the Store Cupboard needed for the book – easily accessible everywhere in the UK, I would think, if not in your local shop, certainly on the Internet. She also gives us the recipes for her favourite spice mixes: Lebanese 7-spice mix, Za’atar, Dukkah and Harissa.

The recipes proper start with Small Plates for Sharing which includes all the best dishes you could imagine for a multi-national mezze, from lox and pierogi to kibbeh and falafel, including wonderful tomato/veggy dishes for dipping flat breads into. Next come the Soups, not very many of them, but all of the filling, comforting variety – chicken soup with kneidlach, soups with lentils and beans. Then comes Big Plates with Meat and Fish, followed by Big Plates with Vegetables; Dressings, Pickles and Sauces; Sides and Salads and finally Sweets and Baking.

I started to pick out my favourite recipes but it became too long to print. I especially liked Spiced Cod Falafel with Harissa which is a cross between a falafel and a fishcake, lighter than a falafel and spicier than most fishcakes. There is an excellent, idiot-proof recipe for kibbeh and recipes which show you how to cure salmon to make lox, and how to make salt beef. There is a delicious Algerian dish called Mahkuda which is a bit like a frittata with tomatoes and potatoes and a dish that I have eaten in Vienna - Stuffed Cabbage Leaves - which is so much better than it sounds.

Sadly the index was not as comprehensive as it could have been, not all the recipes were referenced.

This is a wonderful book which not only shows us how to cook delicious food, but also gives the background to each recipe, placing it in the context of Emma’s family traditions. This is food for eating and enjoying which, to my mind, should be the essence of fine dining. Who cares about tuiles, foams and sugar work – this is real food.

A note to the publisher: This is a beautifully produced book with lots of beautiful photographs, but the text is very nearly unreadable. It is small and very fine. A good cookery book is a tool to be used in the kitchen. You should be able to glance across at the book on the counter to see what the next step is. You should not have to pick the book up and hold it six inches from your nose to be able to see what you should be doing. It ruins the book and you burn your sauces.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2017 8:52 AM BST

Dangerous Crossing: The captivating Richard & Judy Book Club 2017 page-turner
Dangerous Crossing: The captivating Richard & Judy Book Club 2017 page-turner
by Rachel Rhys
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.08

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Whodunwhat rather than whodunit, 9 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is not so much a whodunit but a whodunwhat. The book opens in Sydney just after the Orontes docks. The Orontes has sailed from Britain leaving just before the outbreak of the Second World War. Two policemen are escorting a handcuffed veiled woman from the ship.

The story then flips back to the start of the voyage, five weeks before. We see the action, narrated in the third person through the eyes of Lily Shepherd who is on an assisted passage to Australia to go into domestic service. She shares a cabin with Ida and Audrey who are also destined for domestic service. At the first dinner she meets Edward and Jenny who are going to Australia for his health and George Price a brutish thug with fascist leanings. There is free movement between decks and soon Lily, Edward and Jenny get involved with first class passengers, socialites Max and Eliza. Lily also befriends Maria, a Jew who has escaped from Austria. It soon becomes obvious that everybody is hiding something and the plot is taken up with the slow reveal of everybody’s secrets, culminating in . . . .

It is a curiously old fashioned story and at times it is rather slow. Every few pages the suspense ratchet is wound up and you think you are going to find out something. Sometimes you do, but frustratingly it is mostly only a partial reveal which is not very satisfactory.

Can you guess what is going to happen? I worked out about three quarters of it but was defeated by the final twist.

What do I think of the book as a whole? It was all right. If it had been much longer I don’t think I would have finished it. Much of its appeal was descriptions of where they went and what they wore, which makes me think it would have made a much better film than book. Visually, it could have been rather beautiful and a lot more interesting – like some of those ultra-starry Agatha Christie TV films.

The Cows: The hottest new release for 2017
The Cows: The hottest new release for 2017
by Dawn O'Porter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Part racy women’s novel and part polemic, 8 April 2017
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According to the blurb this is:
“The Cows: The hottest new release for 2017 by: Dawn O'Porter.
Fearlessly frank and funny, the debut adult novel from Dawn O'Porter needs to be talked about. . . .”
. . . and I am sure it will be, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

This book is part racy women’s novel and part polemic on the state of modern feminism as exemplified by her main characters, Tara, Cam and Stella. I don’t think it works well as either, but that doesn’t mean to say that it is not very readable and sometimes fun. (though calling two policemen Flower and Potts is a joke too far!) However, she chosen to use her characters as facets of Everywoman to tackle the problems faced by modern woman - judgment, friendship, shame, motherhood and overwhelmingly relationships. This has swamped their individuality and made them mouthpieces rather than people.

She seems to believe that these problems are solely the prerogative of modern woman. This is shown by the two older women in the book, Cam’s mother and Tara’s mother, who have no real understanding of their daughters’ lives and problems and behave more like their grandmothers than their mothers. O’Porter may have thought this was necessary for the storyline, but her argument (and the novel as well) would have been stronger if she acknowledged that most of the problems she is discussing have been women’s problems since the year dot. The main physical difference between these generations of women is the pill and the sexual liberation it allowed and the fact that you now have a real choice as to whether to have children or not. But this is not such a new phenomenon – I am in my late sixties and the choice was there for me. The real difference, I feel, is not choice but the rise of the female ego. This is the Me-generation of women and it is this egotism that dominates the book.

We meet these women as crises begin to overpower them. Tara meets a man she really likes but, the same night, believing she was on her own, is filmed pleasuring herself in public by some oik with a phone, who immediately posts it on YouTube. The repercussions are catastrophic. Cam writes a very successful blog about her life, doing her own thing, child-free and with a delicious young man for relationship-free sex, but the people around her are beginning to hassle her about her militant childlessness. Stella, whose mother and identical twin have both died from cancer, has to face up not just to her bereavement, but to the fact that she should have a double mastectomy and lose her womb to protect herself from getting the same cancer. She becomes desperate for a child. Through their crises these women become connected and their actions radically change each other’s lives.

It would be a better book if it contained less. Because everything that has happened is so negative and awful, it diminishes the impact of each disaster and the characters’ reactions sometimes sound less like a roar of righteous anger than a whinge. “Why me?” seems to be the dominant cry and even though Tara talks about how much she cares for her daughter, everything the women do seems to be governed by monstrous selfishness. There is very little thought about how other people might feel – this is true of most of the minor characters too.

This is a novel so it moves towards a resolution, but (with one unfortunate exception) I don’t think the characters have learnt much or developed. I got the feeling that they all think that feminism is about assertiveness. The trouble is they don’t know what assertiveness means, confusing it with aggressive egotism.

At one point Cam seems to get it right when she says in her blog:

“I think women need to stop talking about being a woman and live by the example they wish to set.”

Whereas Stella, stung by what she sees as Cam’s smugness says,

“I have come to discover that very often the best therapy is seeing other people in pain.”

More people in the book would seem to agree with Stella than Cam, though I would like to think that O’Porter wants Cam’s philosophy to prevail.

Dawn O’Porter has the potential to be a very good writer (I’m sorry, that sounds so patronising!) but she needs to ration herself and concentrate on fewer issues. Her power as a writer is confirmed by the fact that her book has provoked me to write nearly eight hundred words criticising it. It has made me think and ponder my own views, but I think she could, and she should, do better.

Zoe's Ghana Kitchen
Zoe's Ghana Kitchen
by Zoe Adjonyoh
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good introduction to African food, 6 April 2017
This review is from: Zoe's Ghana Kitchen (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I am ashamed to confess I know virtually nothing about Sub-Saharan African food. What knowledge I do have, if you can call it knowledge, comes from early David Attenborough programmes and films put out by Oxfam and co, showing women grinding maize and boiling up some sort of gruel. Not very appetising and, of course, not indicative of most African food.

This is a fascinating book which I shall use to try to educate myself. The recipes look interesting and while some are quite complicated, the instructions are clear. Unfortunately the indexing does not always work and I hope this will improve in future editions. I think some of the ingredients may be difficult to obtain outside London, but in places, she does suggest substitutes and there is a list of suppliers at the end of the book.

The book is beautifully produced with lots of helpful photographs. I have started using it, trying out some of the easier recipes and I am looking forward to working my way through it. If the cooking pundits are to be believed, African food is about to come into its own and this book provides a useful starting point.

My one complaint, as with so many cookery books, is about the font. It is too small. A good cookery book is a tool. It should sit on the work surface where you can cast an eye to check for the next step. You should not have to move towards the book, or have to pick the book up, to be able to do this. Publishers, please take note!

How to Eat Better: How to Shop, Store & Cook to Make Any Food a Superfood
How to Eat Better: How to Shop, Store & Cook to Make Any Food a Superfood
by James Wong
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £4.99

56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Straightforward, interesting book about food which debunks many myths, while giving good advice, 6 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
We are being bombarded with food advice – most of which seems contradictory. It all depends on whom you believe. Now along comes James Wong. What is his credibility factor? Well, he’s been on the box and he is a scientist – a botanist even! So, he’s probably more reliable than some random columnist in a red top paper.

What does he have to say?

The book is divided into two parts:
Part 1: How to make any food a ‘superfood’
Part 2: The food
Part 1 has four sections:
1. Supercharging Nutrition – which tells you how you can improve your food by the way you treat it. The key words are Select, Store and Cook. Select: different varieties have different qualities; i.e. not all apples are the same,
Store: Depending on how you treat food, you can improve its nutrients or destroy them. For instance, placing a carton of mushrooms in the sun for an hour increases their vitamin D content by a hundred times. Equally, broccoli loses its nutrients very quickly after harvest unless it is close-wrapped in cling film and stored in a cold place, when it loses hardly any.
Cook: Raw is not always best – spinach and tomatoes improve their nutritional value if cooked; BUT cooking can destroy the nutritional value of some foods.
2. What do Scientists know – more than journalists! There are too many surveys. Look at their provenance. Are they bona fide or being pushed out to sell newspapers and magazines?
3. Good v Bad Food - debunks many popular food myths
4. Decoding Geek Speak – what does it all mean?

Part 2, The Food - divides the food we eat into Vegetables, Fruit and the Store Cupboard. Most common foods are covered and for each food we are told all you need to know about its nutritional properties, the best way to cook and store it. Then there are a number of recipes which use the food in the best way possible.

There is a fairly comprehensive index followed by a short section of the two authors giving their qualifications.

This is an interesting and well produced book. Given his qualifications, James Wong should know what he is talking about and the fact that he is willing to debunk many fashionable theories about food gives me some faith in what he is saying. While giving a lot of scientific facts it is easy to read, but not patronising. He demystifies a lot of the bunkum that is written about food. His recipes are easy to follow and look delicious.

Also, and I think this is a very important point, following what he says is not going to damage you or your children, unlike some of the more faddy books on the market, so popular at the moment, which are, in fact,quite dangerous.

If you are interested in food and improving your diet, this is a useful and helpful book.

Vax CCMBPV1T1 Power Total Home Vacuum Cleaner, 2.2 Litre, 800 W, Red
Vax CCMBPV1T1 Power Total Home Vacuum Cleaner, 2.2 Litre, 800 W, Red
Price: £59.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent value, 3 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A vacuum cleaner is a vacuum cleaner. How do you choose between them? I thought the easiest way to review the Vax CCMNPNV1T1 Power Total Home would be to compare it with a similar machine. The Vax closely resembles the Dyson DC39 Animal which has a similar capacity, 2 litres, though greater engine power, 1300cc, but the Dyson costs £270 whereas the Vax costs £90. The Vax is much lighter (4.3kg as opposed to 7kg). In some ways this is a good thing – it is less work to manoeuvre and cleaning stairs is much easier - but it could also mean that it is less robust. The Vax also has an extra tool for cleaning mattresses.

When it comes down to it, there is not a huge amount of difference in their performance. Dyson has always claimed that unlike other machines, its performance does not decrease as the machine fills up. I did not notice much depletion in the picking up power of the Vax either. The flex of the Vax is only 5 metres compared to 10 metres for the Dyson which is a bit restricting. Moving around the furniture, the Dyson is more stable. If you move too fast the Vax can tip over, but that is not a major fault, more an irritation. I have worked both of these machines hard today – harder than they usually would have to work- and both stood up to it well. The Vax is easier to empty and makes less mess than the Dyson.

All in all, I have found that the Vax is excellent value at £90. The Dyson may be a more sophisticated piece of machinery, but a vacuum cleaner is a vacuum cleaner, when all is said and done, and the Vax does the job at a third of the price. Would the Dyson last three times as long as the Vax – perhaps, but in that time, improvements in technology might have made both machines obsolete.

Summary Justice: 'An all-action court drama' Sunday Times (Benson and De Vere)
Summary Justice: 'An all-action court drama' Sunday Times (Benson and De Vere)
by John Fairfax
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.88

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something a bit different - a new twist on the traditional legal drama, 2 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is something a bit different. The hero, barrister Will Benson, is a convicted murderer. He had words with a man who jostled him in a pub. On leaving the pub the man, Paul Harberton, head butts him cracking his cheek bone. According to the prosecution, Will followed Harberton into town and murdered him. Will denies the charge. We meet him right at the beginning at his trial, just before the verdict. His whole team, including Tess, a student on work experience, are convinced of his innocence but circumstantial evidence is too strong and Will is found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. Despite everyone saying it would be impossible he vows to study law and become a barrister.

He serves eleven years, before being allowed out on parole. To be granted parole he has to admit his guilt which he does. Prison is hard, often banged up twenty-three out of twenty-four hours in his cell but he has used his time well studying, immersing himself in the law to keep the horrors of prison at bay. Contrary to what everyone has predicted he passes all his exams and overcoming professional hostility is called to the bar.

Sarah Collingstone, charged with the murder of her boss in what appears to be an open and shut case, sacks her legal team and demands that Will takes over. Hearing about this, Tess, now a solicitor, persuades her firm to act for Sarah. Opposing Will is barrister Rachel Glencoyne who had been vocal against his practising at the bar.

The bulk of the book is concerned with Sarah’s trial and Will and his team’s efforts to prove her innocence – but how much of the truth is she telling, if any? As the trial progresses, Tess sees parallels with Will’s trial. She is under both personal and professional pressure to sever connections with him. Still believing in his innocence, but with her confidence somewhat undermined, she determines to discover everything she can about Paul Harberton’s death. She believes that Will is telling the truth, but when it suited him he had admitted the murder so that he could get parole. Which is the lie? Is he innocent or guilty and if guilty, guilty of what? As readers our belief in Will is also undermined.

Running parallel to the main story are extracts from Will’s prison life which are vivid and harrowing as is the continuing violent persecution he faces from the Harberton family.

I was completely engrossed in this book. I have no idea if a convicted murderer out on licence would be allowed to practise at the bar. It doesn’t really matter because the row it causes, the petitions for and against seem very real. At times I thought bits of the plotting were a bit clunky, only to have the clunks plausibly explained later – they were in fact part of the plot not faults. I hope this is the first of a series. There is so much more I want to find out about these characters.

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