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D. Elliott (Ulverston, Cumbria)
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   

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iPhone for Seniors For Dummies
iPhone for Seniors For Dummies
by Dwight Spivey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.88

4.0 out of 5 stars Overwhelming Overview, 23 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I am both a ‘senior’ by age, and for aptitude I am a bit of a technophobe and therefore amongst the ‘dummies’. I only use a very small portion of the huge capability of my various electronic devices – tablet and laptop as well as iPhone. I must acknowledge that there is much in ‘iPhone for Seniors for Dummies’ that I definitely do not require, but for the restricted range of functions that I do want the guidance provided is dealt with in a straightforward and easy to understand manner.

Actually my device is the iPhone5S and I cannot comment on features I do not have, though for the more basic requirements the advice and information is quite sufficient and clearly presented. At 480 pages of detailed information the book is not meant to be read from cover to cover. It is for dipping into, and I expect to be taking up new opportunities for some time to come. However I could really do with a smaller manual detailing basics rather than the overwhelming overview of ‘iPhone for Seniors for Dummies’ – or should I be getting an iPhone7 and keeping up with my grandchildren?


We All Begin As Strangers
We All Begin As Strangers
by Harriet Cummings
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Fact and Fiction, 22 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
An author’s note explains how the story of ‘We All Begin As Strangers’ was inspired by a real-life episode when a village was terrorised by someone referred to as ‘the Fox’. This individual got into homes, moved effects around, left objects, and generally spread fear to villagers who desperately attempted to solve the worrying mystery. Motives of the factual ‘Fox’ were never fully determined, but he resorted to violence and when eventually apprehended he received multiple life sentences.

I found the fictional ‘Fox’ to be just as psychologically complex, and the fictional villagers are just as paranoid, but I felt somewhat misled and I repeatedly found myself considering the factual events. These differ to the fictional book which focuses on a widely liked and apparently innocently behaved young woman, Anna, who goes missing with ‘the Fox’ blamed for her abduction. Though finding Anna starts as the main objective, a desire emerges to prevent exposure of secrets, and there are challenges to the accepted understanding of how villagers truly belong and support one another.

As villagers interact there are suspicions that someone local is involved, and there are shifts in relationships. Descriptions of earlier actions and experiences emerge as Anna’s past is investigated with additional possible suspects identified. Some of the searching for Anna appears unrealistic, but I appreciate how for ‘the Fox’ his surveillance of villagers’ homes, and from items he handles etc. he got as close to other people’s lives and he learnt secrets just as the original. ‘We All Begin As Strangers’ provides insights to how locals individually and as a community collectively pulled together and reacted in a variety of ways, but for me the fictional story became a more disturbing read than the facts used as inspiration. It is a gripping tale – but it left me uneasy.


Heart Rate Smart Fitness Band Activity Tracker Bracelet Wristband HR Pedometer Wireless Bluetooth 4.0 Steps Distance Sleep Calorie Swipe Touch Screen Call Message Reminder, iOS Android App Black
Heart Rate Smart Fitness Band Activity Tracker Bracelet Wristband HR Pedometer Wireless Bluetooth 4.0 Steps Distance Sleep Calorie Swipe Touch Screen Call Message Reminder, iOS Android App Black
Offered by Borderwing EU
Price: £50.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Reduced Rating, 20 Feb. 2017
The wide range of functions of the ‘Aulker Heart Rate Smart Fitness Band’ is most impressive, yet I suspect many users are likely to focus on the heart and health modes plus time-date. Like me they may ignore other technical matters such as camera remote shoot, telephone call alert, find phone, music etc. The main functions important to me are obviously the heart rate monitor together with the step pedometer, distance and calories used. I have not bothered with sleep analysis, goal focus or sedentary reminders – not of interest to me – but all available.

The device is well-made in a rubbery material with plastic control and information panel, it is comfortable to wear, and it is described as ‘water resistant’ (IPX6 rated). Though the screen is bright and easy to see indoors, it can be difficult to read outdoors – especially in bright light. The 60mAh built-in battery took about 1½ hours to charge (no charger included), and a standby time of 5-10 days is claimed – it is working nicely now and there is a battery charge indicator. My first task was to download the ‘VeryFit app’ and the ‘user profile’ and let it synchronise to my phone’s time/date (my phone is an Android). After initial charge via USB connector (my own) the Bluetooth pairing was automatic. Using the device is not immediately straightforward and it needs a bit of ‘trial and error’ to understand how to slide and select functions, change modes, wrist sense etc. I have not yet used the ‘activities record’ but I note that data storage is for 7 days. After a trial walk of a few miles I found the transfer of data to be confusing – but this is more to do with my lack of understanding of the ‘VeryFit app’ rather than the device. I have not yet fathomed how to display a weekly graph – but I’ll get there!

A major criticism is that the accompanying ‘User Guide’ lacks detailed information, it is badly translated from the Chinese, and the small font size makes it almost impossible to read without a magnifying glass. A minor niggle is that fitting the device to the wrist is somewhat difficult, but once the tight fixing is in place it is quite secure. Attention to these matters could lift this ‘Aulker Heart Rate Smart Fitness Band’ to a 5-star rating – but for me I reduce to 4-stars.


The Draughtsman
The Draughtsman
by Robert Lautner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark and Disturbing, 19 Feb. 2017
This review is from: The Draughtsman (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
World War II had almost missed Erfurt in Germany by 1944 when newly married and unemployed Ernest Beck is engaged by prestigious firm Topf & Sons in a team to design and construct crematorium ovens. A major customer of the Topfs is the SS and it is obvious to readers the ovens are part of Germany’s concentration camp scene. It takes a while for Ernest to face up to the nature of the SS relationship and the impetus to provide 24-hour multiple layer burning ovens relying on bodies for fuel.

Initially Ernest seeks to portray his work as the means to provide for his wife and to support the war effort, but author Robert Lautner skilfully creates a creeping feeling of dread via Ernrst’s realisation of what is happening. His dealings with his superiors and his visits to Buchenwald and Auschwitz allow ‘The Draughtsman’ to be a gripping and compelling thriller with acts of compassion and courage amongst cruelty and abhorrence – but it is much more. It is a dark and disturbing exploration of prejudice and hatred against groups as Jews or Communists, how fearful people can turn a blind eye to atrocities, how they attempt to justify their misplaced involvement, and how far they may go before contradicting horrors that are being perpetrated.

The ‘Author’s Note’ is particularly relevant as he confirms ‘The Draughtsman’ is not just a holocaust story, and he really wants readers to ask themselves what would they do. He wants it accepted that though when it may appear we have no alternatives – we do have choice – and staying silent can amount to collusion. His book is a work of fiction but it refers to real people and organisations, and it does follow the events of the last year of the war in respect to bombings and the camps – and there really was a venture to produce a continuous oven for mass use. ‘The Draughtsman’ is a thought-provoking 5-star read.


The Cleaner: A gripping thriller with a dark secret at its heart
The Cleaner: A gripping thriller with a dark secret at its heart
by Elisabeth Herrmann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Stasi and Secrets, 17 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The setting of ‘The Cleaner’ is Germany over a time of overlap of then East Germany with a reunified country as today. As an atmospheric espionage thriller there are memories and unfinished business from the past with a politically explosive background of spies, secret police, sleepers etc. from the Cold War, plus collusion between East and West. The story starts in 1985 when two girls are mysteriously exchanged at an orphanage, and one of the girls is presented as main protagonist Judith Kepler.

As an adult Judith is somewhat of a loner carrying out the horrible job of cleaning up crime scenes. In cleaning up the residence of a victim subjected to a particularly brutal killing Judith comes up against her past as she discovers the place was under surveillance, and furthermore she finds a letter relating to her time at the orphanage. Judith attempts to find out what really happened when she was a girl, and to determine the fate of her parents.

Also attempting to expose information on actions by agents or double agents or traitors is intelligence expert Quirin Kaiserley from a time before the fall of the Berlin wall who believes he was betrayed whilst on a mission to get a defector and his family into the West. Via a microfilm he is within grasp of obtaining proof of what went severely wrong when a woman, who ends as the murder victim, fails to turn up for a television show to publicly produce the evidence.

Tension and suspense are ratcheted up, as though their searches for information may be for different reasons, Judith and Quirin reluctantly join forces without trusting one another. Activities extend to Sweden and they set events in motion with the raising of issues that should perhaps have been left in the past. Numerous individual and organisations are involved, with alliances that clash, with their cooperation stunted, and some conduct that undermines their actions. Without knowing from where Judith is in particular danger, but she relentlessly pursues her quest.

Author Elisabeth Herrmann skilfully evokes the intrigues and conniving of a past era as she outlines the motives of the various institutions operating in East Germany – the authoritarian regime of the German Democratic Republic, together with insights to the guilt and paranoia left with certain individuals caught up in the secrecy of the Stasi – as the Ministry for State Security. ‘The Cleaner’ is an exciting thought-provoking novel that fully deserves a 5-star rating.


Post-it Recycled Notes - Pastel Rainbow - 6 Pads Per Pack - 100 Sheets Per Pad - 76 mm x 127 mm
Post-it Recycled Notes - Pastel Rainbow - 6 Pads Per Pack - 100 Sheets Per Pad - 76 mm x 127 mm
Price: £16.28

5.0 out of 5 stars Memos and Messages, 15 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The size of these individual Post-it notes is a useful 5 x 3 inches for all sorts of memos and messages as notes, reminders, actions, labels etc., and there are 6 pads with 100 sheets each – total 600 sheets. The pads are in 6 different pastel colours – 2 shades blue, 2 shades green, 1 yellow and 1 orange, and all are contained in a cardboard storage box.

The paper appears similar thickness to 80 gsm printer paper but perhaps is slightly more coarse as it is recycled paper. However it is easy to write on in biro, felt-tip and pencil – no longer do I have a fountain pen with ink. Adhesive along the 5 inch length is good for sticking and removing from paper, card, timber, glass, laminate, plastic and painted surfaces. These versatile Post-it notes deserve a 5-star rating.


Ulverston: An English Market Town Through History
Ulverston: An English Market Town Through History
by Helen Shacklady
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Special Story, 14 Feb. 2017
As a resident of Ulverston with a keen interest in the town I was pleased to receive a copy of Helen Shacklady’s ‘Ulverston’ as a gift. I have enjoyed reading the book and I have learnt much, but I was surprised and perhaps even initially disappointed at how much of the content was the general history of Britain rather than specifically Ulverston. No fear, this linking of the development of Ulverston to wider historical events greatly helped in understanding how my town became the special place it is. Also of assistance in assimilating information is the subtle humour in a light writing style with a series of asides and challenges to how situations and events impacted singly and collectively on individuals and institutions. This makes ‘Ulverston’ an easy and relaxed read to be undertaken as a continuing story from start to finish rather than a typical history book for dipping into.

The sub-title of ‘Ulverston’ is ‘An English Market Town Through History’ but it starts as pre-history at the last Ice Age. The first chapter ‘Very Early History’ embraces a time of hunting and fishing, then settlements, stone axes, Birkrigg stone circle, the Iron Age, and up to Roman occupation of what became England, yet Furness appears to have been left alone. Second chapter ‘The Birth of Ulverston’ covers the Dark Ages to the Norman Conquest with 1066 and all that. Narrative flows skilfully through Ulverston as a Borough, its industries and market status, its connections to the Church, its relationship with Scotland etc. After the catastrophic Black Death leading to loss of half of England’s population Ulverston survived to become embroiled in The War of the Roses until the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of Tudor times.

A huge volume of names, some little known, are introduced in the early chapters, but readers as myself are likely to be more familiar with those presented in chapters covering from the Tudors, to Civil War and Commonwealth, and to a time recognised by Ulverstonians as the birth of Quakerism. My preferred chapters in ‘Ulverston’ are ‘The Boom Years’ of the eighteenth century, and nineteenth, to ‘Ulverston and the Railways’ and ‘Modern Ulverston’. Illustrations are plentiful throughout the book, but for the more recent times there are recognisable townscapes, landscapes and maps and it is possible to distinguish how much has changed and how much is lost. In concluding readers are updated about a new pharmaceutical complex for Glaxo, to refurbishment of the monument on Hoad, to controversy over a supermarket on the derelict brewery site, and to threats over the future of the Coronation Hall. Readers are left to ponder over what the future holds, with a plea that demands of the twenty-first century take the interest in Ulverston’s past into account.

There are numerous informative references to works by others, and the wide-ranging ‘Select Bibliography’ and the comprehensive ‘Index’ indicate the rigour and depth of Helen Shacklady’s research and investigations, and her results deserve a wide audience. My copy of her ‘Ulverson’ is on a bookshelf alongside ‘The Story of Ulverston’ by Henry Birkett – and like that treatise from 1949 this special story deserves to become a classic.


Walking in Scotland's Far North: 62 Mountain Walks (Cicerone British Mountains)
Walking in Scotland's Far North: 62 Mountain Walks (Cicerone British Mountains)
by Andy Walmsley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.05

5.0 out of 5 stars Magic Mountains, 12 Feb. 2017
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The title ‘Walking in Scotland’s Far North’ could well have included some of Britain’s most dramatic coastal scenery with fabulous beaches and rock formations. However even though the sub-title limits its subject matter to ‘62 Mountain Walks’, the coverage includes the famous Sandwood Bay and Cape Wrath coastal walks. For walking rather than serious climbing the area covered contains peaks of great individual character, but modest heights, that are unequalled – mountains such as Stac Pollaidh, Suilven, Quinag, Foinaven and Ben Loyal. An attraction for each of these magic mountains is that none is a Munro, and therefore they are less ‘busy’ – until perhaps this excellent Cicerone guidebook inspires visitors wishing to walk amongst some of the best landscapes Scotland has to offer.

My early trips to this remote and inaccessible part of Britain allowed me to tick-off classics as Stac Pollaidh at the southern end and Ben Hope as the most northerly Munro. In between I became aware of a host of mountains that are largely ignored, but their solitude is an added attraction to the spacious and rugged nature of the country. The walks described start north of Ullapool with Ben Mor Coigach and Sgurr an Fhidhleir before describing easier to get at Stac Pollaidh, Cul Beag and Cul Mor, after which with longer approaches are Suilven and Canisp, and the two Munros of Ben More Assynt and Conival plus Breabag, and then the unique jewels of the far north including Quinag and smaller gems as Ben Leoid, Ben Stack and Meallan Liath before magnificent Foinaven at a disputed but single foot below a Munro, yet more challenging than the last two Munros of Ben Hope and Ben Klibreck, and one of the finest statuesque peaks as Ben Loyal. For me this north-western area has provided the most alluring, but I am tempted to look further to take advantage of the guidebook’s inclusion in the east of Morven and Scaraben. There are alternative on some of the mountains described, and there are additional mountains to those summarised, together with inclusion of longer routes as the Assynt Horseshoe, the traverse of Ben Hee and Carn An Tionail, and a long ascent of Cranstackie as furthest north.

Not much seems to be missed in author Andy Walmsley’s selection of 62 mountain walks, and as expected of Cicerone guidebooks there is advice on topography, climate, flora and fauna, travel, equipment etc. and to suit the wild country involved there are suggestions of places to uses as bases, with a helpful section on roads within the area. Preliminary matters in ‘Walking in Scotland’s Far North’ are less comprehensive than more recent guidebooks but remain relevant, and the route descriptions are sound with supporting stylized maps and fine colour photographs. The text refers to pertinent OS Landranger maps, and it presents overall information on terrain, distance, height gain etc. though it ignores times and grades as these are considered too subjective. The guidebook is perhaps a bit dated but it competently covers a magnificent area with truly magic mountains – and for doing so it fully deserves a 5-star rating.


Apple Tree Yard
Apple Tree Yard
by Louise Doughty
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fallible Fantasy, 11 Feb. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Apple Tree Yard (Paperback)
After the first tempestuous episode I didn’t watch the recent TV showing of ‘Apple Tree Yard’, but I was prompted by high praise reviews of the drama to purchase the book. I usually prefer books to TV or film versions, and I wasn’t disappointed. Though characters somewhat lack credibility and the plot is rather implausible, author Louise Doughty skilfully spins a fallible fantasy with a fantastic finale. Her original book ‘Apple Tree Yard’ deserves a 5-star rating.


The Danube: A Journey Upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest
The Danube: A Journey Upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest
by Nick Thorpe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Peoples and Places, 11 Feb. 2017
The sub-title of ‘The Danube’ is ‘A Journey Upriver from the Black Sea to the Black Forest’ which is not the usual direction of travel where most commentaries describe rivers from source to sea. It must be recognised ‘The Danube’ is not a guidebook, but it has been rewarding to read personal accounts. Instead the book is a narrative telling of the history and culture of the different peoples and the relationships of their lives with the river. There is a dual approach to the journey viewed both as westerner travelling east and easterner discovering the west.

I have used ‘The Danube’ as a book to dip into rather than read from cover to cover, with my attention particularly drawn to the sections on most recent political upheavals. There are 14 chapters with readily predicable subject matter indicated by headings. I have a holiday booked later in 2017 as a river cruise from Budapest to Bucharest, and I’ll be taking the book with me!

Author Nick Thorpe draws on knowledge from other visits and on his investigations, but the core of his book is a journey setting off from the Danube delta in Romania in March 2011 and reaching the source in Germany in March 2012, travelling in stages mostly by car but also plane, train, boat, bicycle and on foot. The extent of the author’s coverage is clear from the ‘Select Bibliography’ indicating a wide range of research, the ‘Notes’ to chapters recording detailed sources, and the comprehensive ‘Index’ endorsing the enormity of his task.

An overall map would have been useful but included are four sketch maps – ‘Delta’ from Sulina to beyond Bucharest, ‘Lower-Middle Danube’ to Belgrade, ‘Middle-Upper Danube’ through Serbia and Hungary, and ‘Upper Danube’ through Austria to the Black Forest in Germany. Maps lack detail and I found myself looking at larger scale maps of the portion of the Danube where I will be cruising. There are 12 pages with 32 black & white photographs of peoples and places to support the text, but I’ll still take a more ‘tourist’ guidebook.


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