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Catherine Murphy "drcath" (Norway)

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The Pickle Index
The Pickle Index
by Eli Horowitz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £21.18

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sharp, sweet, mad, funny, 26 Nov. 2015
This review is from: The Pickle Index (Hardcover)
Before I begin, here’s a few things you need to know about Eli Horowitz.
◾Eli Horowitz is a self-taught carpenter
◾Eli Horowitz founded a publishing company
◾Eli Horowitz wants to change the way we read

You need to know these things because if you come to The Pickle Index expecting a book, like any other book, then you might walk away again, perplexed. Horowitz does not do books like any other books. Horowitz lives in a cabin in the woods with a dumb waiter next to his loft bed, so he can haul his TBR pile up to his sleeping place each night. Horowitz tried to live without language, so he could see what that was like and later captured something of that experience in The Silent History the book he co-wrote before The Pickle Index. The Silent History began life as an app, through which subscribers could access a series of testimonies and The Pickle Index also takes the form of an app (but one which I can’t explore because it’s only available for iPhone and iPad), but is also immediately available as a two volume hardcover edition, with beautiful illustrations by Ian Huebert, and a single volume paperback.

What’s the point of all this? Experimentation, I guess and boundary breaking and also something else which I would tentatively label fun, because The Pickle Index is fun in the way Roald Dahl is fun – vinegary and sharp – and deliciously so for those with the right kind of palate. The story hinges on the adventures of what would probably be the world’s worst circus troupe, were it unfortunate enough to actually exist. Enmired in the outer reaches of an imaginary, Iron Curtainish state where the population must, by law, receive a recipe for fermented goods each day (this is The Pickle Index, in case you wondered), this bunch of carnies is thrown into chaos by the arrest and incarceration of their leader, Zloty Kornblatt.

Their attempt to rescue Zloty before his execution by means of one of a choice of machines of Heath Robinsonian cruelty (my favourite is the Wall of Bees & Wallabies), forms the first part of the narrative. The second consists of a series of articles from The Daily Scrutinizer, the capital city’s official organ, which expand on the peculiar customs and habits of this most peculiar place. If I say that The Pickle Index contains a starring role for a dog named after the 8th US President and that Madame J, Head of the Pickle State, carries with her at all times her pet, a Javanese octopus called Simeon, that should give you some idea of the mad inventiveness of the story.

But inventiveness is not a rare quality in literature, because inventing stuff is what writers do and in that respect, The Pickle Index while fun, can’t lay claim to anything remarkable. What about that third point in my list about Horowitz above? What about changing the way we read? This is where the app comes in and possibly the split into two narratives, but despite all that I read the book in the same way I read any other book, from start to finish, with a pause for dinner and The Apprentice, because reading is an activity so ancient that even Eli Horowitz and his collaborator on this project Russell Quinn, won’t change that, not easily at least.

That said, there is a way in which The Pickle Index can lay claim to a shift in attitudes, though perhaps not one as seismic. Read it with current events in mind, and you might get a hint of extra sharpness. Satire isn’t popular in the US, but The Pickle Index is a satire, though one of a tangential and subtle sort. Only time will tell if this heralds a new era of American conscious-raising. I kind of hope it does.

In the meantime, enjoy The Pickle Index for what it is – a wildly entertaining romp. Go forth! Read! And in the true spirit of The Pickle Index may I express the hope that your children will make responsible decisions about their reproductive organs and use them to create a new generation of dedicated professionals.

Review first published on Vulpes Libris

Tanita BC1000 Body Composition Scale with ANT + Wireless Data Transmission
Tanita BC1000 Body Composition Scale with ANT + Wireless Data Transmission
Price: £132.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ONLY BUY IF YOU HAVE A COMPATIBLE GARMIN, 5 Feb. 2013
Don't buy this unless you already have a compatible Garmin product. It's useless on its own.

I do have one, so will my husband (he has a Garmin but it's not compatible). It was simple to set up and seems to be reasonably accurate - my weight and body fat are about the same as on our other scale. It shows my bone mass as only 2.4kg, and as I don't have osteoporosis, I'm going to assume that's just based on some weird algorithm and ignore it.

So, it's not a fantastic scale, BUT the one big advantage is the connectivity with a Garmin product. You can collect all your weight data along with your activities in your Garmin connect account and see how your body is changing as you exercise. This is pretty cool.

Summary: if you have one of the compatible Garmin products and you're prepared to take some of the measurements with a pinch of salt (although the important ones - weight and body fat seem to be fine) then this is a good product. If not all of those boxes are ticked, buy something else.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 10, 2013 10:14 AM BST

No Title Available

29 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Works for Christians, but what about everyone else?, 14 Oct. 2012
I have extensively tested this product by hanging around the local A&E department and surreptitiously placing it on various injured and sick people. I can report the following:

Leprosy, possession by evil spirits and death - 100% success rate.
Unconsciousness - the patient stayed unconscious but after I said a few Hail Mary's he was a much better colour.
Broken limbs - I only had to show the patient the plaster and she got up and walked away. It was a miracle.
Small crying children - usually try to eat the plaster, but if I give them some of mother's Holy Water, that makes them stop.

These results are promising, but I've had a lot of time to think since the police got involved and what worries me is what about all the Muslims and Jews? I tried giving one of the plasters to Mrs Mukerjee down the road (I think she's a Hindu) for her arthritis but she wouldn't open the door. If anyone has used this product on other faiths please let us know how it went. Science needs you.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 24, 2014 5:21 PM BST

Penetrating Wagner's "Ring" (Da Capo Paperback)
Penetrating Wagner's "Ring" (Da Capo Paperback)
by John L. DiGaetani
Edition: Paperback

14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Consider me penetrated, 6 May 2012
It's rare a book lives up to the hype, but this volume is worth every penny. I could spend hours listing its many qualities but the cover alone justifies the purchase. Where else could you find Gandalf, Mark Pickford and Darth Vader all together, all at once? And if that doesn't tell you enough about the kind of art of which Wagner was capable, their expressions as they get their first glimpse of his Ring, fresh from it's cycle, tells you everything you need to know.

A perfect gift, especially for eldery relatives or the very young.

Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will
Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will
by Judith Schalansky
Edition: Hardcover

23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wanderlust, 20 Feb. 2011
If it hadn't been for its place on the top of a stand in the bookshop, I would have missed it completely. It isn't an imposing book - the front cover is a self-effacing shade of blue, only a tone brighter than grey - so it was the title which caught my eye. The word Remote was picked out in italics and the simple sight of that conjured an image of windswept boulders and breakers beating on an empty shore. The addition of the word Island beneath was almost unnecessary. The book was already in my hands, the bookshop had receded and a new reality had taken over. I stood in a dream, transported to places where seagulls call like lost children over the corpses of drowned sailors, where lighthouse keepers declare themselves king or the inhabitants attempt to save their sinking land with dykes of stones and brushwood. I travelled to scraps of rock so inhospitable that they have only been visited once or perhaps twice in the whole of human history, places where babies die of unnamed illnesses or are sacrificed in bizarre rituals by people who have forgotten or never knew that there is another world beyond the boundaries of the patch of earth they inhabit.

Just the idea of an island is a deeply romantic notion. Judith Shalansky has taken this idea and transformed it into a book which is not just a collection of true and evocative tales, but is also a lovely object. Two pages are dedicated to each subject. On the right is a beautifully drawn map, reminiscent of the time when cartography was an art as much as a set of directions. Facing this is a page of information. We are given the island's geographical location, its population, the other names by which it is known, the country which has laid claim to it, the distance of the island from the mainland and a timeline of important events. Below this, a short section of prose, no more than two or three hundred words in which Shalansky gives the reader a slice of the island's history. Here we can read about the Berlin dentist who moves to an island in the Galapagos with his partner, to be joined three years later by a woman who claims to be an Austrian baroness and her two lovers. Two years later, all but one of the five are dead. Or we can learn of Tromelin, a patch of sand less than a kilometer square, now the abode of four residents, where in 1760, the French boat Utile was wrecked and the 122 survivors, marooned on this dot in the ocean, lit a fire in an attempt to attract the attention of other passing ships. Fifteen years later, Shalansky tells us, the fire was still burning.

It's a wonderful treasure of a book, one in which you can lose yourself as thoroughly as the travelers captured in its pages.

Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall
by Hilary Mantel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A character study rather than a story, 23 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Wolf Hall (Paperback)
Thomas Cromwell was a man of humble beginnings who managed, in a time when the divide between the nobility and Everyone Else was as stark as a razor's edge, to become chief adviser to Henry VIII and chief lawmaker of England.

This period and Cromwell form the subject matter of Wolf Hall, Booker Prize winning novel and, for me, a bit of a disappointment.

It's not the writing. Almost every other sentence contains a phrase I would kill to have thought of myself. Mantel summons up characters which live and breathe across the void of centuries, and manages to give a new perspective to people who are so familiar to us, they are almost icons. Henry the king becomes a man whose emotional limitations make him by turns, easy to manipulate and very, very dangerous, while Anne Boleyn is less a victim than a smart operator who underestimates the can of worms she has opened when she decides she wants to be Henry's wife, not his mistress.

Which makes Wolf Hall sound like no more than a soap opera, but that's where I felt its weakness lies. Mantel has pulled out all the stops to achieve a fresh contemporary feel to what could become a slightly turgid saga what with all the diplomatic and religious wrangling which accompanied Henry's decision to dump his first wife. She uses the present tense. She puts us in Cromwell's head by the deft device of using third person (which is harder to mess up than first person) but staging every event strictly from his point of view. She has her characters say things like, "this is London - what town are you living in?" which livens up the prose without stretching the period feel too far. But she tries too hard to keep us engaged, and that means leaving out the bigger picture. This was a truly revolutionary time in England's history. Henry literally broke the Christian faith in two at a point when people fervently believed that the wrong kind of worship meant an eternity of torment in Hell. Cromwell sails through all of this without giving the matter so much as a second's thought. His main preoccupation is with the events of the past: old loves, his abusive father, the loss of his young family and with the future of his household of waifs and strays, collected along his passage through the corridors of power. Cromwell as portrayed by Mantel is not Cromwell as he must truly have been: ruthless and manipulative to the bottom of his soul, a man who seized the opportunity to escape the shackles of his station by becoming Henry's political hit-man. The 16th century equivalent of Alastair Campbell, perhaps.

So I felt entertained by Wolf Hall, but also a little cheated, because it really is more of a character study than a true story and that, however exquisitely written, has its limits.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 1, 2013 1:58 PM GMT

The Given Day
The Given Day
by Dennis Lehane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Big fat epic, 23 Sept. 2010
This review is from: The Given Day (Paperback)
Lehane is on a bit of a roll at the moment, what with Shutter Island being made into a film by, of all directors, Martin Scorsese and starring His Gorgeousness, Leonardo di Caprio. A little further back there was also Gone Baby Gone, starring Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan, directed by Ben Affleck. Lehane is an author to watch.

But I haven't read Lehane before, so I decided to try The Given Day as holiday reading. This is Lehane in Big American Novel mode, not slick sophisticated crime mode. The story is set in Boston just after the end of WWI (an underused period and wise choice by Lehane). It follows the story of Danny Coughlin, a Boston policeman and son of a police captain and Luther Lawrence, a black guy on the run, who finds a job in the Coughlin household. Plotwise, the story's about the period as much as anything else: anarchists, the Spanish flu, the birth of the labour movement, the birth of America's social conscience and the first stirrings of black empowerment. Big themes: Lehane's got his beady eye on a Pulitzer I think, but sadly for him, luckily for us readers, he's just too fluent and readable to snag any awards with this outing. It all rattles along at full pace and Lehane doesn't relax his steely grip on the reader at any point. Pages are made to be turned, faster and faster, until the end is finally reached and one can sink to the floor, exhausted but relieved.

Great stuff, especially if you need something fat to while away the hours by the pool.

Playing with the Moon
Playing with the Moon
by Eliza Graham
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Good first attempt, 23 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Playing with the Moon (Paperback)
I'm going to go easy on Eliza Graham because this is her first book. Writers are allowed to have a book or two before really hitting their stride and I think this writer is going to be really good once she finds the right story idea.

But she's not quite there yet. On the face of it the idea's OK: couple damaged by tragedy discover the skeleton of a soldier missing since WWII buried in the sand of the beach near where they are staying. Solving the mystery of how the man died helps Minna (the woman of the couple) deal with her loss and helps Felix, a local woman who was involved in the death, resolve her own ghosts of the past.

Yes, but there are so many books on this theme: dealing with tragedy, resolving the past, putting the dead to rest, that the treatment has to be really fresh to carry my interest. Sadly, Graham doesn't quite manage it. She has some lovely turns of phrase and her description of the disintegrating marriage of Minna and Tom is excellent. Her handling of the sections set in the 1940s, when we meet Felix as a child, are less assured and she hinges her plot on an unlikely, clandestine love affair which failed to suspend my disbelief. However, if she continues to get published, I'll watch out for her work and see if she improves as I think she will.

Bad Penny Blues
Bad Penny Blues
by Cathi Unsworth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

6 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Just plain bad, 23 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Bad Penny Blues (Paperback)
Oh what a disappointment. I was hoping for Jake Arnott and instead I got Martina Cole on a very bad day. Cathi Unsworth is a music journalist and therefore writes for a living. It doesn't show in this at all. The plot (what there is of it) concerns a young policeman who is investigating the death of a series of prostitutes in swinging 60s London. A second story thread is carried by Stella, an art student, who possesses the power to connect telepathically with the women at the moment of their deaths (as you do). It's farfetched, cumbersome, sketchy and when Unsworth attempts to use her setting, she has characters greet each other with the words "Hey hepcats!" and refer to older people as "squares". It's as embarrassingly faux as a rerun of The Monkees. And here's another example of Unsworth's plonking dialogue when one character explains to another why her attempt at matchmaking won't work. "I'm a lesbian, Stella. Lenny's a homosexual. That's what we have in common, that's why we get on so well. It's our common language, the language we don't want straight folks to hear.'

So subtle. I'm still waiting to find out what this secret language is that gay people share. French? Tagalog? I'm on tenterhooks.

Avoid at all costs.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 30, 2011 10:35 AM BST

Dark Echo
Dark Echo
by F.G. Cottam
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Top chill factor, 23 Sept. 2010
This review is from: Dark Echo (Paperback)
The second book by FG Cottam and after the first, I was looking forward to this one. I was a little disappointed that Cottam didn't choose to write a story with Paul Seaton, the hero of The House of Lost Souls, but the premise of Dark Echo sounded good: a boat with an evil history exerts its power over the man who buys it and his son, Martin Stannard. Martin's girlfriend, Suzanne decides to look into the boat's history and discovers it was commissioned by a very nasty man indeed. Harry Spalding committed suicide years before (as did most of the people associated with him) but somehow Suzanne thinks Harry might not be as dead as everyone thinks.

Well I curled up with this one in front of a roaring fire and was pleasurably creeped out as before. This is no mean achievement because Cottam's plot gets him into a bind early on. The main character is purportedly Martin Stannard - failed priest with a guilt complex - but when Stannard's father insists on attempting to cross the Atlantic on Dark Echo, Stannard has to go with him and that means there's no one on dry land available to do the necessary sleuthing. Hence the need for Suzanne. It's a bit clumsy, because the action keeps switching from her investigations to Martin and his ailing Dad on the boat, which means the story loses some impetus. Added to this is the fact that the editing is sloppy and parts of the writing suggest speed not quality was the key objective. For example, Suzanne comes across a diary (an old mystery staple) written in the 1920s and yet the style doesn't differ at all from the rest of the prose. I feel a good editor would have caught this and asked Cottam to revise accordingly, but I suspect that Hodder aren't prepared to devote the staff time to books it hasn't marked down as best seller material. A pity, because readers of midlist material deserve the same quality control as everyone else.

But these are minor gripes. It's a cracking read for us ghost story fans.

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