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Julia Flyte
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LifeProof Fre for iPad Mini - Black
LifeProof Fre for iPad Mini - Black
Price: £59.99

4.0 out of 5 stars If you have children this is the case to get, 29 Mar. 2015
This is one of those sorts of things that I didn't think we needed and now I think it's one of the cleverest things to come into our house in the last year.

My younger son (he's 10) has somewhat commandeered our iPad Mini. Let's just say that he hasn't really learned the art of taking care of expensive things very well. On the rare occasions that one of the adults in the household succeeds in repossessing it for our own use, we generally find it left lying on the floor somewhere covered in sticky fingerprints.

Enter the Lifeproof case. Well. The first genius thing is the way that they get you to test the case by submerging it in water for half an hour before letting it anywhere near your iPad. I don't know if this is actually necessary to ensure that you didn't get a dud that slipped through the QA process or whether it's intended to be an in-home demonstration on how well the waterproof case works. Because it does! It's genius! My son can now even take the iPad mini INTO THE BATH with him (which also has the happy side effect of getting rid of aforementioned sticky fingerprints).

In use, the case works just as well as our previous official Apple case (I don't notice any touch screen issues at all), but it's significantly more robust and did I mention that it's waterproof? It's a very simple but effective piece of design and I am happy to have it in our home.

(nb: It also comes with a carry strap that presumably you'd also want if you were taking this into the ocean. There are sockets to insert chargers and headphones which remain otherwise securely sealed off).


The Thing About Prague...: How I Gave it All Up for a New Life in Europe's Most Eccentric City
The Thing About Prague...: How I Gave it All Up for a New Life in Europe's Most Eccentric City
by Rachael Weiss
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars An amusing read that will have you longing to pack your bags, 29 Mar. 2015
At the age of 41, and experiencing something of a mid life crisis, writer Rachael Weiss decided to leave behind her life in Australia and move permanently to Prague, lured by the thought of "cobbled streets, midnight-blue evenings, snowflakes and cheap beer". In the end she would last three years and the book charts her journey from giddy adoration for all things Prague to disenchantment with the communist bureaucracy, unfriendly locals and her inability to find a well paying job.

Weiss has a chatty writing style and a gift for anecdotes. The first half of the book is particularly strong. It catapults the reader into the Czech capital and is frequently amusing. Gradually over the second half of the book Weiss becomes a little - dare I say it? - whiney and I got tired of hearing about her frustrated libido. But overall the book strikes a good a balance between a travelogue and a personal memoir and it definitely had me longing to revisit Prague.

If you've enjoyed this book, I recommend Penelope Green's trilogy about living in Italy (start with When In Rome: Chasing La Dolce Vita] and also Sarah Turnbull's story about moving to Paris: [Almost French: A New Life in Paris)

I understand that Weiss is now living in Dublin and I hope that there will eventually be a book about her experiences there! She's a fun writer.


Mrs. Hemingway
Mrs. Hemingway
by Naomi Wood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Terrific, 21 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Mrs. Hemingway (Paperback)
Gosh, I enjoyed this. It's the story of the four women who were married to Ernest Hemingway and it focuses on the perspective of each in turn, so that sometimes you revisit past wives from the perspective of the new one. Ernest himself is a supporting player, something of an enigma viewed through the lens of four women who all became disenchanted with him in different ways. The book starts in 1926 and concludes in 1961, spanning a number of exotic destinations: Cuba, Key West, Paris, the south of France, all of which are brought to life in all their fragrant and dazzling splendour.

Occasionally I found myself tiring of reading about yet another miserable woman whose marriage is falling apart, but Naomi Wood's writing is so good that I would find myself burrowing into her words again and relishing her inventive turns of phrase. In the afterword she points us to a variety of online sources to view photographs of the wives, photographs of the homes they shared and even in one instance to hear their voices.


Redemption Road
Redemption Road
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Easy read with engaging characters, 12 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Redemption Road (Kindle Edition)
Margaret Holloway, a happily married mother of two, is driving home from work in poor weather when she is involved in a multi-car pile up on the motorway. She's trapped inside a car that's about to explode, when a total stranger appears out of nowhere and rescues her. Then we jump back 18 years, and meet George, the youngest son of a notorious Glaswegian crime family. George is hoping to find his baby daughter whose mother moved away from the area two years earlier. From here the book proceeds in dual timeframes and gradually the connections between the two stories will become apparent.

There aren't a lot of surprises in the book's storyline. From the synopsis above you can probably guess what might be going to happen and you won't be far off the mark. From about four chapters in I thought I had figured it out and wondered if there was any point reading on. As it happened I was wrong about a couple of minor things, but essentially this is a book that unfolds without many twists or surprises. That it holds your interest is a credit to the author and the sympathetic characters that you get to know and care about.

Ultimately I think this is one of those books that I'll be struggling to remember anything about in a month, but it was an easy and reasonably engaging read which I devoured in a couple of days.


The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes
The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes
by Anna McPartlin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars It's a cliche to say you'll laugh & you'll cry - but you will!, 10 Mar. 2015
Mia Hayes, nicknamed "Rabbit" for her entire life, is 40, and dying of breast cancer. This book, as the title discloses, is about the final days of her life as her parents, siblings, daughter and friends come to terms with her imminent passing and she thinks about key events in her too-short life.

While this sounds like an extremely depressing premise for a novel (and it certainly does make you feel sad at times), much of it is uplifting or even funny. Rabbit and her extended family are a boisterous, entertaining and very engaging group and the genius of this book is that by the end of it you feel like you have come to know and love them all.

I gather that Davey, Rabbit's brother, is based in part on the author's husband Don (a professional drummer) and that Johnny is based on Jimmy Tague who was the vocalist in Don's band "The Missing Link". Knowing this explains why those parts of the book feel so grounded in reality - they are!

A couple of other reviewers have complained about the profanity in this book and it's true, they do swear a lot, but if you're okay with that, there is much to love here. It has the same warmth, humour and humanity as "Me Before You".


The Kind Worth Killing
The Kind Worth Killing
by Peter Swanson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The "Gone Girl" of 2015 - a masterclass in its genre, 6 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Kind Worth Killing (Hardcover)
Warning: if you didn't enjoy Gone Girl because you found the characters too unsympathetic, you won't like this book either. As one character explains it, it's about people who are born "with a different kind of morality".

Having said that, I thought this was one of the best thrillers I've read in a long time. It's a terrific twisty turny story that grabs you tight from the first page and keeps you guessing throughout with several surprising twists along the way. The author is in complete control of what he wants you to know and think at any given moment and uses multiple narrators to give you different angles on things that you thought you already knew.

I don't want to say too much about the plot because you will almost certainly enjoy it more if you know less about what's going to happen. It starts with a couple meeting at Heathrow airport, strangers who are both about to fly home to Boston. Their flight is delayed and they share a couple of drinks together. Ted confesses to Lily about the problems in his marriage and says, half seriously, that he'd like to kill his wife. Lily's response: "I think you should".

If this description sounds intriguing, stop reading reviews now and buy or download this book - you won't be disappointed. It's a genuine thriller. Perhaps it doesn't have much literary merit beyond that, but it's a masterclass in its genre.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 18, 2015 9:30 AM GMT


The Girl in the Photograph
The Girl in the Photograph
by Kate Riordan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Rich in atmosphere, 5 Mar. 2015
There's something so comforting about a gothic mystery, that makes you feel like curling up by the fire on a wild night. Fans of Kate Morton or The Little Stranger will enjoy this atmospheric story set in a crumbling Elizabethan manor house in 1930s rural England. Alice Eveleigh is a young woman who has expecting a child after a brief, disastrous relationship. Her mother sends her away to stay at remote Fiercombe Manor until she has the baby.

When Alice arrives at the Manor, she learns about Elizabeth Stanton, who lived there and was married to the baronet a generation earlier. No one seems to know what happened to Elizabeth, or if they do, they don't want to talk about it. Alice stumbles onto Elizabeth's diary and starts to gradually piece together the story of what happened to her.

Can I just say at this point that "The Girl in the Photograph" is a terrible title for this book? For starters, it doesn't sound like it's going to be about someone from the 19th century. Nor is Elizabeth a girl, but if the title refers to her daughter that is even more misleading because she's not the one that Alice is interested in. And lastly, Alice spends most of the book being fascinated by Elizabeth without ever seeing a photograph of her at all. The US edition is titled "Fiercombe Manor", which is marginally better, but still not very appealing.

Putting that little rant aside, I did enjoy this book - it has a real atmosphere about it, a little creepy, a little intriguing. The pace is quite slow and I got a little annoyed by the way Alice was fond of telling us things like "I could never have imagined how much my life was about to change" - just get on with the story, please! But for the most part the author is in complete control of how much she wants us to be able to work out at any given time and the revelations unfold with impeccable timing.

In the acknowledgements section at the very end of the book, the author explains that she based the fictional Fiercombe Manor on the real Owlpen Manor in Gloucestershire. If you look online there are a number of photographs of Owlpen Manor and you may like to look them up before reading the book.


Happy
Happy
by Amanda Talbot
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nothing new here, move along, 1 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Happy (Hardcover)
Amanda Talbot has written this book to explain how good design can play a part in making us feel happier. She explores various aspects of interior design and how we interact with it, among them: colour, lighting, bringing nature into homes, humour, playfulness and a sense of flow. There are a lot of photographs and inspirational quotes.

The book is trying to straddle the divide between a coffee table book and a "how to" manual and ultimately this means that it doesn't quite succeed in either role. It's large and heavy and many of the photographs are arty rather than informative. But where it really fails for me is that the advice that it gives is so generic - it feels like reading a series of magazine articles peppered with trite suggestions rather than giving you any meat to get your teeth into.

As an example, here are some of the tips that the author shares with us - these are basic COMMON SENSE people!:
- To get rid of clutter: "Immediately throw away any boxes filled with unimportant things that haven't seen the light of day for years".
- To relax more: "Read, walk your dog after dinner, listen to music and have conversations with friends and loved ones. The likelihood is you will sleep better and feel more refreshed and energised for the next day".
- To bring light into your home: "If your space is lacking daylight, add more windows"
- To avoid getting stuck in a rut: "Have toast for breakfast instead of cereal".

A great concept, but I can't really imagine who would read any of these suggestions and go "oh wow, never thought of that". At this price point in particular, I would hope for more than this book delivers.


The Three-Day Affair
The Three-Day Affair
by Michael Kardos
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.99

2.0 out of 5 stars A short story concept stretched into a novel, 1 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Three-Day Affair (Hardcover)
In movie parlance, a "high concept" script is one that can be easily pitched with a succinctly stated premise. The Three Day Affair is exactly that: the story of three long-term friends who spontaneously and inadvertently kidnap a teenage girl and then need to work how to extricate themselves from the mess that they have gotten themselves into. It's an intriguing premise and there's a nice little twist towards the end that elevates it, but ultimately this is a short story that (even though it's not a long book) has been stretched way beyond its merits.

The author has an engaging writing style that pulls the reader in. Where the book falls down is that it doesn't have enough loft to keep itself in the air. It simply doesn't make sense, either that the characters would get themselves into such a predicament or that they would feel unable to get themselves out of it. The more that the book went on, the more irritating this became.

As I've alluded above, the ending does somewhat redeem the book, but I can't shake the feeling that it would have been better as a novella or short story.


Crooked Heart
Crooked Heart
by Lissa Evans
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Loved the two central characters, 1 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Crooked Heart (Hardcover)
The reason that you will love this book is the characters. Set during WW2, it's about the relationship between a worldly ten year old boy called Noel and his foster mother, a grifter called Vera. Though a completely different kind of book, it has the same kind of charm and gentle humour that The Universe Versus Alex Woods has.

I'm not sure if this is a YA novel, but it reads like one. The supporting characters are all too simplistic and stereotypical and it never makes you feel like you are there in wartime England. I really loved the central relationship but the rest of the book was lacking something for me.


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