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Content by Charles Green
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Reviews Written by
Charles Green "happily low brow" (Gloucestershire, UK)

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Florida Roadkill (A Serge Storms Adventure Book 1)
Florida Roadkill (A Serge Storms Adventure Book 1)
Price: £1.99

2.0 out of 5 stars A Sub-Standard And Sometimes Downright Unpleasant Trawl Through The Seedy Side Of 90's Florida, 21 Oct. 2016
The debut novel of author Tim Dorsey, Florida Road Kill was first published back in the late 90’s and is now being republished in the UK.

Whilst its doesn’t feel particularly dated, at least to a UK audience, due to its cultural references (primarily baseball and Floridian politics) being almost entirely US-centric, that doesn’t make up for its obvious short comings.

The most obvious of these is the fact that, despite the obvious intention to write a blackly-comic, farcical crime novel, Florida Road Kill isn’t very funny. Yes, there are moments that provoke a brief laugh, but much of the humour falls distinctly flat or worse just comes across as simply mean-spirited. Writing a successful comic novel where your lead character is a high functioning but psychologically damaged killer and many of the support cast members are equally damaged and/or violent is a tricky proposition, and one that Dorsey simply doesn’t manage to meet. Acts of gonzo violence and murder that are intended to be played for laughs often just come across as unjustifiably sadistic, with characters regularly meeting deeply unpleasant fates that their prior behaviour, however reprehensible, simply hasn’t earnt them.

It feels much of the time like Dorsey is trying to simultaneously ape and out-do that other portrayer of Floridian corruption, Carl Hiassen, who makes a cameo appearance in Florida Road Kill (along with satirist Dave Barry). However, whilst the novel bears superficial similarities to the works of Hiassen its also a substandard facsimile.

For example, like your typical Hiassen novel, Florida Road Kill features a large cast of disparate characters, most of whom represent less pleasant aspects of human nature and behaviour. However, unlike Hiassen, Florida Road Kill lacks a sufficiently solid core of decency to offset and eventually triumph over the illegality and immorality. Yes, it has old friends Sean and Dave who are for the most part normal and upstanding, but they are comparatively minor and almost entirely passive characters in the overall story. The same can be said for Police Officer Susan Tchoupitoulas, who flits in and out of the story but doesn’t ever really play a central role. As a result, the majority of the focus remains on the psychotic, dysfunctional or simply unpleasant characters such as Serge, Coleman and Sharon, and frankly none of them are individuals you want to spend much time with, let alone an entire novel. Yes, they all (with one obvious exception) get their often grisly comeuppance in the end, but since its mostly due to their own incompetence or sheer happenstance there’s none of the cathartic satisfaction you get from a Hiassen novel when the good guys eventually overcome the bad.

There’s also none of the precision plotting that you find in Hiassen’s best novels. Whilst Hiassen will martial multiple, often disparate plot-threads with apparently casual skill to keep them all ticking along nicely and will pull them all together with deceptive ease as a book reaches its conclusion, Dorsey doesn’t come close to pulling off the same trick. Florida Road Kill also features numerous intersecting plots, but they’re dealt with haphazardly and inelegantly, with the plot bouncing around in a way that makes it hard to follow or indeed care much about. Characters are introduced using lengthy chunks of exposition, but are then side-lined almost entirely until they reappear later to fulfil a specific task and/or to be casually killed off. Plot threads are developed and built up only to be left unresolved. As a consquence the story has an episodic, unfocused feel and doesn’t really hang together as a cohesive whole.

By the end I had no real desire to spend more time in the presence of any of the characters, or to pick up any of Tim Dorsey’s subsequent novels. There’s a limit to how much time I want to spend reading about fictional Floridian criminals and lowlifes, and the imperfect but far superior and more satisfying novels of Carl Hiassen already provide ample opportunity for me to do so.

Paul Hollywood by KitchenCraft Non-Stick Pie Dish / Tart Tin, 23 x 4.5 cm (9" x 1.5")
Paul Hollywood by KitchenCraft Non-Stick Pie Dish / Tart Tin, 23 x 4.5 cm (9" x 1.5")
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly Decent Pie & Tart Dish That Happens To Have A Minor Celeb's Face On The Packaging, 11 Oct. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm always a little wary of celebrity endorsed products. I recently had the opportunity to review a meat thermometer endorsed by Heston Blumenthal, and whilst it was a perfectly decent product it was no better than the non-endorsed model from the same manufacturer available at a very much lower price. I was therefore somewhat suspicious that this non-stick pie dish, with Paul Hollywood's name plastered on it, might turn out to be either massively overpriced for what it was or a substandard product trading on a celebrity's name.

I am somewhat relieved to report that its neither. Whilst its nothing more than a reasonably heavy duty pie dish the Paul Hollywood by KitchenCraft Non-Stick Pie Dish / Tart Tin is a well made product that does exactly what its meant to and does it well. I can't say that its any better than an equivalent product that isn't endorsed by a co-presenter of The Great British Bake Off but its certainly no worse that other non-stick pie dishes we own (and we have several). It also isn't overpriced compared to similar un-endorsed products, so you're not paying a premium for the Paul Hollywood name.

However, it does remain just an unremarkable non-stick pie dish. Having the face of a minor celebrity on the packaging and his apparent seal of approval does not mean that purchasing this product will by itself miraculously improve your pies or tarts.

Levivo Placemat Set of 20020000131 4 Drinking Bottle with Straw and Exclusive Four Unit GU Booklet Sommerdrinks at Home Glass Mint 18.9 x 6.5 x 6.5 cm
Levivo Placemat Set of 20020000131 4 Drinking Bottle with Straw and Exclusive Four Unit GU Booklet Sommerdrinks at Home Glass Mint 18.9 x 6.5 x 6.5 cm
Price: £22.44

3.0 out of 5 stars Decent Retro-Milkshake & Smoothie Bottles, But Pricey For What You Get, 11 Oct. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a perfectly decent set of retro-style glass milk bottles with screw-top caps and integral drinking straws. The bottles are made from nice, thick glass. The tops attach securely and the straws are made from plastic that is thick enough to be reused and survive a dishwasher. As a way to serve milkshakes and smoothies to children or adults they make a pleasant, spill free alternative to glasses.

However, in terms of presentation and pricing they're somewhat lacking. They come in a plain cardboard box, wrapped in tissue paper. The 'recipe book' that accompanies them is more of a pamphlet and entirely in German, which is less than helpful to those who aren't fluent in that language. Overall I would question whether they represent good value for money (at the price they're offered for on Amazon) and in light of how they're presented I would certainly not buy them as a gift for anyone.

SIMPLE: effortless food, big flavours
SIMPLE: effortless food, big flavours
by Diana Henry
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Yet Another Unpretentious, User Friendly Recipe Book From Diana Henry Full Of Delicious Ideas, 27 Sept. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Many recipe books will make the claim that they contain 'simple', 'straightforward' or 'quick' recipes that anyone can knock together using the content of the standard kitchen cabinet and fridge, often in mere minutes. In most cases however, such claims prove to be very far from the truth. Anyone who has tried tackling one of Jamie Oliver's 'Fifteen Minute Meals' can attest to the fact that the actual cooking time might be short, but unless you're a professionally trained chef like Oliver, the preparation time can easily be three or four times longer than advertised. Equally there's more than one recipe book out there that claims to offer 'simple' recipes that turn out to need the sort of ingredients you're not going to find on the shelves of your typical high street supermarket, let alone sitting in your own cupboards.

One exception to this trend of dressing the time consuming and elaborate up as the fast and straight forward is Diana Henry. When she writes cook book that claims to contain simple but delicious recipes in my experience it turns out to be true. It was certainly the case with Cook Simple: Effortless cooking every day, which has become a staple in our household since it was published, and it looks like SIMPLE: effortless food, big flavours is similarly user friendly.

Wonderfully bound and printed on heavy stock paper, with a helpful marker ribbon, everything about Simple feels practical and straightforward. As with other books by Henry there's no flim-flam or filler; no photos of the author in domestic poses or pointless ruminations from her on life. Just recipes, well laid out and with nice, straight forward photographs.

And those recipes, or at least the half-dozen we have tried so far, are genuinely simple, straight forward but tasty affairs that anyone should be able to tackle successfully. They don't suddenly require you to source some exotic ingredient, acquire a particular piece of obscure equipment or spend hours making your own pasta or peeling grapes. They're not necessarily all quick to prepare, with some requiring quite lengthy stints in the over or on the hob, but they don't require you to juggle multiple pans or spend time closely monitoring simmering concoctions. They're also, generally quite flexible and adaptable. Tackling one a couple of days ago involving orzo pasta, my wife realised she was missing lemon juice, but was able to improvise and still create a delicious meal based on Henry's original instructions.

Its that sort of user friendly nature, combined with the fact that the recipes are nearly always very tasty, that makes Henry's cookbook's such a pleasure to use. So if you're looking for a set of genuinely 'Simple' recipes this book provides exactly what it says on the cover.

A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes, Book 2)
A Torch Against the Night (An Ember in the Ashes, Book 2)
by Sabaa Tahir
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Weaker Second Episode In the Series, 19 Sept. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Having enjoyed the first volume of Sabaa Tahir's An Ember in the Ashes series was looking forward to the next. By comparison however, I have to say that I found A Torch Against the Night a far less satisfying work. Whilst it retains the first novel's highly readable style, dramatically I found it lacked the opening episode's tight focus and narrative drive. Whilst the mission to rescue Laia's brother from prison gives the book its central hook and provides a reasonable level of excitement, I really didn't find this compelling enough to fully sustain my interest.

Equally the secondary plots that surround the central narrative feel underdeveloped. Tahir tries to do grand political intrigue and manoeuvring but the result is insubstantial and overly simplistic.The more fantastical elements meanwhile, which play a greater role in events this time around, never sit that comfortably for me amongst the more straightforward parts of the narrative and often feel overly contrived. Two particular plot developments involving supernatural forces feel overly convenient, neatly resolving as they do two seemingly insurmountable problems for the characters. It doesn't help that one of those solutions is taken almost wholesale from a Pirates of Caribbean movie, and not the good first one either.

The overall result is a book that's easy to read and exciting in parts, but ultimately doesn't hang together as well its predecessor and left this reader less inclined to know what happens next.

Killfile: An electrifying thriller with a mind-bending twist
Killfile: An electrifying thriller with a mind-bending twist
Price: £3.49

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Electric Pace But Shallow As A Puddle And Entirely Forgettable, 13 Sept. 2016
Kill File is the latest novel by Christopher Farnsworth, to date best known for his ‘President’s Vampire’ series. Those books, which followed the vampire Nathaniel Cade, employed under unbreakable oath by the US president to protect America against supernatural threats, were fun but entirely disposable efforts. They rode the post-Twilight fashion for vampiric tales and offered more than teenage-angst romance, but in my experience they also lacked entirely coherent plots or characters you became genuinely involved with. Even now I can barely remember what happened in either of the two books I read, which is not a testimony to their longevity. All I do remember is that they were enjoyable at the time in a fast paced but veering into the ridiculous sort of way.

The same goes for the Kill File. Two weeks after finishing it I find I remember little about it beyond the basics of the plot. As with Farnsworth’s previous novels, this is very much about the immediate excitement the book engenders, and less about leaving a lasting impression.

This time the Vampires and other beasties of the President’s Vampire have been replaced by John Smith, former CIA agent and most importantly, natural-born psychic. When the book opens we find Smith, who acts as first person narrator throughout, working as an independent security consultant using his unique skills to clear up problems such as kidnappings on behalf of wealthy clients.

It’s in this role that Smith find himself sucked into the central plot of the books, which revolves around data mining algorithms and that somewhat overused post-Wikileaks and Edward Snowden plot device of covert government surveillance. Not that any of this are more than maguffins to be used to send Smith off on the run, with dark forces arrayed against him and only his psychic abilities, training as a secret agent and an innocent but fortunately beautiful woman to assist him.

It doesn’t take a psychic to see how the story will ultimately play out, and none of the events that occur along the way come as any great surprise. If it wasn’t for Smith’s psychic abilities, which to be fair Farnsworth portrays with both a sense of originality and some consistent internal logic, Kill File would be just another ‘innocent man framed for a crime and on the run’ story and nothing much more. It certainly has all the elements you would expect from such a tale. There’s the globe-trotting, taking in various parts of the US and Dubai. There are the billionaire bad-guys. There’s the initially cold and distant love interest who quickly warms to the hero’s charms (too quickly in this case, with their initial hook-up feeling less than earnt). There are unpleasant henchmen to be fought and beaten.

It’s all very straightforward. In fact the central story is so slight, if rather opaque, that Farnsworth can include numerous flashbacks to Smith’s past without the book feeling over long as a result. These flashbacks do deepen Smith’s character and give us a better understanding of his powers and how they can be both a blessing and a curse, and they don’t slow down the narrative.

However, they do serve to make you painfully aware that none of the characters apart from Smith are given anything more than the most cursory of development. The key bad guys remain archetypes (billionaire investor and tech-geek entrepreneur respectively, like evil clones of Warren Buffet and Mark Zuckerberg) and their henchmen nothing more than walking suits there to provide a physical threat to Smith. Most unforgivably the one female character in the novel, Kelsey Foster, remains little more than a walking cliché; an attractive young woman there to be rescued by Smith and be sexually available to him. If you're looking for a thriller with a strong female lead who displays her own agency Kill File is not it.

Now you could argue that thrillers like this, with their lightening pace and focus on action are never going offer deep characterisation. Especially a novel narrated in the first person by the protagonist. In those circumstances every other character is only going to be seen through the eyes of our hero, limiting what we find out about them. In the case of the Kill File however, Smith can actually read minds, allowing the reader a potential insight into the thoughts, personality and motivations of the people he meets. Whilst we get a bit of all that however, it remains entirely superficial and what is revealed is entirely plot driven. In the circumstances it feels like a missed opportunity.

Instead Farnsworth chooses to focus on his rather convoluted and less than compelling plot and the periodic bursts of admittedly quite well written action. It all makes for a frenetic, fast-paced tale, but one that lacks any depth or really stays fixed in the memory for very long. Rather like Dubai, where the story's denoument is set, on the surface Kill File offers excitement, glitz and glamour, but there is nothing beneath that surface sheen to sustain the book and make it anything more than passing, disposable entertainment.

Note: I received a free, pre-publication, e-book copy of Kill File from the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Chasing Embers: A Ben Garston Novel (The Ben Garston Novels Book 1)
Chasing Embers: A Ben Garston Novel (The Ben Garston Novels Book 1)
Price: £4.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unsatisfying Urban Fantasy That Tries To Do Too Much, Too Quickly, 13 Sept. 2016
Being a sucker for decent urban-fantasy I wanted to like Chasing Embers, the debut novel from James Bennett. The central hook, an immortal Dragon, in disguised human form, living in the contemporary world, was both appealing and had a degree of originality. It was certainly a departure from the usual wizards or vampires of most urban fantasy, and I was curious to see what Bennett did with it.

The answer, unfortunately, was he just tried to do too much and too quickly, and as a result I can only consider Chasing Embers to be a crushing disappointment.

Bennett’s basic mistake from the very start is that he doesn’t really establish the boundaries of the fantasy world he’s created before he thrusts his characters and the reader into it in a headlong charge.

Good urban-fantasy takes its time to establish how the magical operates, mostly unseen, within the ‘real’ world that we all live in. Mostly this is done by starting small, with stories that may have high stakes but lack scale. This allows the characters to have room to develop, the author time to clearly establish the rules under which his hidden world operates and makes it easier for the reader to suspend their disbelief because they’re not being asked to picture a world that is outwardly different from the one they know.

Prime examples of this are the ‘Rivers of London’ novels of Ben Aaronovitch and the ‘Dresden Files’ from Jim Butcher. Both series began with novels that were relatively small scale in terms of the scope of their stories, but still exciting and engaging. They only began ramping up in terms of scope and incident once their respective alternative-universes were well established and readers were fully invested in them and willing to go along with larger, wilder and more public flights of fantasy within what was still supposed to be essentially the real world.

Bennett skips that slower, patient build-up and instead elects to dive straight into epic action sequences from the word go, starting with a sword-fight in downtown New York and proceeding on through a showdown on the Brooklyn Bridge, a supernatural clash between Dragons in the British Museum, another in the Alps and then to a final epic confrontation involving everything from ancient Gods to army tanks in the Egyptian desert.

In that regard you can’t fault him for dramatic ambition, but the problem with this ‘go large or go home’ approach is that everything about Chasing Embers feels simply too large and too overblown. With the almost continuous, Hollywood budget busting action, there’s no real chance to get to know or empathise with any of the characters. The fact that none of them is actually human, bar a token love interest who is horribly short-changed and never becomes much more than a literal damsel in distress, doesn’t help, but even when Bennett does try to inject some emotional depth into proceedings or slows events down enough to fill in some backstory, everything is done in such an overblown, breathless style that very little of it rings true.

The same can be said of the various action set-pieces. Again, not only are these recounted in an overblown style, but none of them feels remotely plausible. That may sound a strange criticism to make of a fantasy novel featuring Dragons and Faeries, but if you’re going to set your urban-fantasy series in the real world then it has to operate within a vaguely consistent and plausible set of rules. The idea that a Dragon and a Witch could battle it out on the Brooklyn Bridge in front of hundreds of witnesses, or that a Dragon could literally crash into a museum in Cairo in plain sight of thousands of people and these events, and others, could simply be dismissed as hoaxes or mass delusion is, ironically, delusional. The same goes for Bennett’s throwaway reasoning towards the end that everything that has occurred would simply slip from the public consciousness over time as true stories-turned-into-ancient-myth had previously, like the entire world was suffering from collective cognitive dissonance.

It gives the whole alternative universe Bennett has established a rather thrown together feel, which no ‘Author’s Note’ at the end trying to give it some real world context will fix. This combined with the weak character building and the hyper-active nature of the narrative make Chasing Embers a difficult book to fully engage with and render the reading experience a fundamentally unsatisfying one.

Note: I received my copy of Chasing Embers as an uncorrected proof from the publishers via NetGalley, in exchange for this unbiased review
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 2, 2016 9:17 PM BST

Levivo 331800000118 Pizza Paddle/Shovel, Wooden Cutting Board, Brown, 41 x 29 x 0.5 cm
Levivo 331800000118 Pizza Paddle/Shovel, Wooden Cutting Board, Brown, 41 x 29 x 0.5 cm
Price: £19.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Okay As A Pizza Paddle But Too Thin And Flimsy To Be A Good Chopping Board, 13 Sept. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
First thing to say about this product is that its really just a pizza paddle. Sure, you could use it as a chopping board if you wished but I'm not sure how robust it would prove to be in that role. Thin and made of soft, compressed wood, I fear that repeated contact with sharp knives would end up irreparably weakening the board. The product feels flimsy and light weight as it is, with without adding score-marks across it.

As a pizza paddle however, it works well enough and is a definite step up on balancing pizzas on narrow spatulas or other utensils. Here the board's thinness and smooth, even surface come into their own, allowing you to easily scoop up or deliver your pizza from and to the oven tray. The only downside is the paddle's size. It will cope easily with small or medium round pizzas, but anything large or oval is likely to dangle off the edges. Not a problem when the pizza dough is baked and crispy, but less helpful when things are raw and soft.

Overall therefore, it does a decent job in its primary role but I would question its longevity and its true versatility

BAKED: Amazing Bakes to Create With Your Child (BKD)
BAKED: Amazing Bakes to Create With Your Child (BKD)
by Adelle Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.38

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Limited Selection of Recipes That Are Too Complicated For Children, All Wrapped Up In Smug, Self-Satisfied Packaging, 6 Sept. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Whilst the recipes in BAKED are absolutely fine (but nothing more than that) in terms of how they're laid out, how easy they are to follow and how they taste and look, I have two significant problems with this book.

The biggest one is that it advertises itself as being specifically intended to provide you with recipes to 'create with your child', which suggests lots of bakes that children of various ages can tackle themselves with light supervision from a parent. In reality what its offers is baking recipes that are intended to be prepared FOR children, but are frankly too complicated for a child to do by themselves unless they happen to be a baking prodigy. In fact most of the recipes in BAKED require such a degree of skill when it comes to things like icing and other decoration that at best all any child could help with are the most simple mixing and measuring tasks; things that are found in any book of baking recipes.

In fact, anyone buying BAKED with visions of being given dozens of ideas of delicious things they can make with their children should save their money. Instead they should simply dig out an existing book of baking recipes they have lying around and have their children help with measuring out butter, flour & sugar or with rolling things or cutting out shapes. The outcome would be the same.

They'd also be spared the unnecessarily numerous photos of the smiling, laughing, Adelle Smith, her 'adorable' son, her friends and their marvellous lifestyles that fill nearly half the book and are the second problem I have with it. Not only are they all horribly, smugly saccharine in a 'look at us, aren't we just marvellous and having so much fun' kind of way, they're also used as padding to disguise the fact that BAKED doesn't actually contain that many recipes. The description says 'over 20' which is just about accurate, but considering the size and cost of the book that's really not that much baking for your buck. What you seem to really be paying for is the chance to admire Adelle Smith's seemingly perfect lifestyle with some not terribly inspiring baking recipes tacked on.

Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 6, 2016 11:14 PM BST

Rapesco Twin ID File - Clear, A4, Pack of 5
Rapesco Twin ID File - Clear, A4, Pack of 5
Price: £5.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tough Slip Folder, 6 Sept. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
These are decent quality, clear, A4 plastic files, with inward facing pockets on each side and a business card or label holder on the front outside cover. They'd be ideal for holding & distributing marketing literature or storing hard copy files. The plastic is thick, its ridged to provide grip and the none of the seams or folds appear to be in danger of tearing.

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