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Reviews Written by
Annabel Gaskell "gaskella2" (Nr Oxford, UK)
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The Lie of the Land
The Lie of the Land
by Amanda Craig
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A social satire that's full of drama, 24 May 2017
This review is from: The Lie of the Land (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Amanda Craig's novels are often very funny in parts, and this one is no exception. There are some hilarious scenes - mostly involving Quentin. He is half of the warring central couple who have had to move their family to a cheap bit of Devon while they wait for property prices in London to go up enough to allow them to divorce and sell their big house for two decent smaller ones. They couldn't believe the deal they got to rent an old farmhouse from the reclusive rock star who lives nearby. Turns out that the previous tenant was murdered there - but when they move in, neither Quentin nor Lottie know that, and when they individually find out, they keep it from each other. Quentin and Lottie soon find out that living in the country offers even less privacy than London. As incomers, they are initially treated with suspicion, but to their surprise, they do eventually begin to fit in.

This is much more than a comedy of manners though. There is the question of the unsolved murder, but more importantly Craig comments on social justice, highlighting the poverty in the village, the never getting a day off life of being a farmer, zero-hours contracts in the pie factory - and the slow physical decline of Quentin's father.

Quentin and Lottie are marvelous characters who did appear in Craig's previous novelHearts And Minds, but it's not necessary to have read that book at all. At the beginning of the novel they are at war, but will things change by the end? I urge you to read it for yourself to find out, for this is another brilliant novel from Amanda Craig - Loved it.


A Gentleman in Moscow
A Gentleman in Moscow
by Amor Towles
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

5.0 out of 5 stars Hotel house arrest - a life lived well in this novel, 17 May 2017
This review is from: A Gentleman in Moscow (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Sentenced to house arrest in Moscow's Metropol Hotel, Count Alexander Rostov has to find a new way to live his life. Evicted from his suite of rooms with one of the best views to the tiny attic former servants' quarters, he has to downsize his life and his possessions and find other interests to keep him stimulated and not feeling imprisoned. From the attentions of a willowy actress, to becoming a surrogate father to a nine year old girl and getting to really know the many staff of the hotel, the count finds that a life lived well is as good, if not better, than a life lived with no expense spared.

This novel is beautifully written, spanning the years from the revolution up to Khruschev being in power, with the Count now in his 60s. It has exquisite detail and is full of humour without being a comic novel. It is also touching and emotional, yet throughout, Towles (whose first novel .Rules of Civility was very different but also wonderful), displays a light touch. I was entranced by this novel.


BIC Cristal Like Me Ballpoint Pen - Black (Pack of 4)
BIC Cristal Like Me Ballpoint Pen - Black (Pack of 4)
Price: £3.00

4.0 out of 5 stars If you're happy to pay extra for more style..., 10 May 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
These look nicer than normal bic biros but write just the same. They come in all black with different coloured tails on the tops. Obviously, they're more expensive than the normal ones and with the tinted barrels you can't see when they're running out as easily (although when is that ever a problem in reality?!) Good pens but expensive.


Medipaq® Gel Thumb Protect Support Brace - Hand or Thumb Injury? Painful Arthritis? - (2x Medium)
Medipaq® Gel Thumb Protect Support Brace - Hand or Thumb Injury? Painful Arthritis? - (2x Medium)
Offered by Medipaq® from Great Ideas™
Price: £9.89

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Uncomfortable thumb seam spoils this light support, 2 May 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
What you can't see in the pictures is that there is a seam on the inside of the thumb. This was really, really uncomfortable, so I had to stop using them. They are only suitable for light elastic support not having any stiffening inserts. I was using them at nighttime but the ends of the thumb seam really dug in.


SkinActive Face Garnier Naturals Moisturiser, 50 ml, Rose Water
SkinActive Face Garnier Naturals Moisturiser, 50 ml, Rose Water
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A nice light moisturiser with a delicate fragrance., 1 May 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a light and inexpensive moisturiser that is non greasy and easily absorbed, skin feels soft afterwards. The fragrance is delicate. I liked that it has no parabens, no silicones and no artificial colourings, 96% natural, the remaining 4% being preservatives etc. I don't mind that it doesn't contain an SPF, if it did would that make it more non-natural? I apply sunscreen separately when needed and more than SPF15 anyway. Yes, packaging in the box is not strictly necessary - but they do need to list the ingredients in readable font...


Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon's Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table
Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon's Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table
by Stephen Westaby
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Take heart from these memoirs..., 16 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I love doctors' memoirs and those of surgeons in particular. Stephen Westaby's contribution to the oeuvre, while I'm not accusing him in any way of lacking humanity - far from it, his book is full of emotion - his approach to the challenge of surgery has more alpha male moments than the exceptional and thoughtful memoirs of brain surgeon Henry Marsh in (Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery.

Westaby is a maverick, a working class lad from Scunthorpe that was inspired by a TV programme (the original Your Life in Their Hands) to become a heart surgeon, single-minded from the outset about specialising in cardio-thoracics. The initial chapters describe his holiday job as a hospital porter, sneaking in to see operations through the 'ether dome' in the ceiling of the old Charring Cross hospital, to his first operations complete with tube to allow him to pee into his boots. All good fun, but all part of the making of him as a world-class surgeon.

Then we move onto a series of case studies which highlight some of the unusual cases he has had to operate on like back to front hearts, valve replacement in a pregnant woman, recurring heart tumours, and surgery in babies etc. The cases that really light Westaby up though are the ones with which he really made his name, implanting a pump to do the heart's job for it - whether temporary or permanent solutions. He was the pioneer of these operations in the UK, and if he could get his hands on a pump, he would disregard permissions and ethics committees - and funding - the patients these were implanted in would die in hours/days/a week anyway, none had been accepted onto the transplant list. He implanted a 'Jarvik 7' pump in one patient in 2000, who went on to live with it for 7 years, proving that living with a pump was possible, and that they could be more than a bridging device before heart recovery or transplant.

He's not afraid to get political - much of the funding for his heart pump operations has been from charities, he believes that ECMO temporary pumps could save so many more lives, but there is not the will in the NHS to make them available outside selected centres no matter where the skills to use them are. He also dislikes the focus on surgical mortality rates - many of his patients would have died soon without surgery - and they accept the risk that some will die on the operating table, but deserve the second chance that surgery in the hands of Westaby could and often does give them.

Westaby may be an alpha male, flying in from Australia straight to the operating theatre, but he is not a gung-ho surgeon.It's clear that his success is due to acccurate histories and diagnosis, surgical planning and above all a good team surrounding him. The days of the surgeon as god myth are so long gone, but it does take a strength of character to do this work. Westaby may now have retired from surgery, but he is still at work on heart pumps, not the golf course for him! Fragile Lives is another fascinating book of doctor's memoirs - highly recommended.


The Bear and The Nightingale
The Bear and The Nightingale
by Katherine Arden
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

5.0 out of 5 stars A superb debut - for fans of The Snow Child, 16 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
There is something about stories based upon Russian fairy tales that so appeals. Some authors, as Eowyn Ivey did with her divine The Snow Child translated them to another time and place. Arden stays in Medieval Russia for her story which has many elements of Father Frost (which can be found in Andrew Lang's The Yellow Fairy Book).

The Bear and the Nightingale has all the prerequisites needed for a fairy tale. A father, widowed in childbirth of a daughter who posesses the second sight of her mother; scheming, jealous and mad stepmother who will do anything to get rid of her, get her married off as quickly as possible, the independent and spirited daughter who can see and talk to the household and forest sprites, and the loving grandmother who keeps secret the jewelled talisman brought by the Frost King Morozko for her.

As if this wasn't a heady enough mixture, already, Arden sets the story against the coming of Christianity from the city into the provinces, brought by the young icon-painting priest with blazing eyes, Konstantin, who uses words of fire and brimstone to being fear to his flock to get them to abandon the old ways. He wants to stop them leaving offerings for the sprites who keep their houses, crops and animals safe. Without the offerings the sprites will grow weak and perish.

The two worlds will collide when the Frost King's brother, the Bear - aka the Devil wakes up and comes to claim them, and young Vasila will be the lynchpin in this battle. This is a supremely colourful tale that combines high fantasy with family dynamics and the biting cold of the Russian winter. It is beautifully realised by debut author Arden. I adored it.


The Valentine House
The Valentine House
by Emma Henderson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Summer after summer in the French Alps - les Rosbifs are coming..., 9 April 2017
This review is from: The Valentine House (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
After a rather shocking opening, in which Sir Anthony Valentine writes some extremely purple prose about mountains and valleys in his diaries, Henderson's second novel settles down to tell the story of decades of summer visitors to Valentine's chalet called Arete, high in the French Alps. It begins in 1914 as Mathilde, a teenaged girl from the valley is about to start work there, and goes forward from that point in that timeline. Then running parallel, is the second timeline of 1976, when George, Valentine's great-great-grandson arrives for a visit.

Mathilde is the one constant (apart from the chalet itself) throughout the novel, and she has to put up with an awful lot, particularly from the female side of the Valentine family. Mathilde knows nearly everything that happens each summer, when les Rosbifs arrive, but there are still some secrets that elude her that matter. There is a nice tension built up running between the two timelines that keeps you reading, despite the occasional languor in the text as the younger visitors go on their merry japes again. Mathilde was a superb character, educated, but too 'Ugly' to get anywhere, yet a much-loved, hard-working woman, still driven in her old age to unearth the one secret she needs to know.

Second novels can often be difficult, but my expectations for The Valentine House were well met and I enjoyed it a lot, especially as Ive been on similar Alpine summer holidays in the late 1960s and early 1970s - so there was a slight nostalgia trip element for me. The author has lived in the area where the novel is set too, and all the detail felt authentic. A good read.


3M Optical USB Ergonomic Wireless Mouse, 3 Buttons - Small/Medium, Black
3M Optical USB Ergonomic Wireless Mouse, 3 Buttons - Small/Medium, Black
Price: £93.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Great ergonomically, but not practical when on the move., 2 April 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
After a few days of using this new joystick styled mouse, I'm getting used to it. For those of us who suffer from 'Mouser's Thumb' it's essential to find an ergonomic way of working that doesn't aggravate thumb and wrist joints.

This mouse with the joystick grip forces you to hold you hand vertically, thus raising the thumb joint and left wristbone off the horizontal - which is much more comfortable.For me, the size of the grip is perfect and the angle of the thumb-operated main button is just right. The thumb button does take a little getting used to as it performs both left and right clicks, but a little practice and it's easy. I hope the pivot doesn't wear out though. This means that the finger-grip button does the scrolling - which is great, but easy to zoom past. I need to reset the sensitivity on this button. I would have liked a little more weight in the base, which would improve accuracy moving it around, but the whole fits my hand so well, I can't really complain.

The only real con to this mouse is that the wireless transmitter is larger than normal and so if you're on the move you'll have to take it out to store your laptop. There is also no storage pocket for the transmitter in the mouse base, so you run the risk of losing it when on the move. Time to revert to the touch-pad then!


English Animals
English Animals
by Laura Kaye
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

4.0 out of 5 stars How the rest of Europe sees us?, 23 Mar. 2017
This review is from: English Animals (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Reading this sparkling debut, in which Mirka, a young Slovakian woman, finds herself working for an English couple in the depths of the countryside, I couldn't help thinking of what it was like to listen to The Archers for the first time. All those posh folk going on about pheasant shooting, church flower arranging, drinking like fishes, so and so's latest money-making venture, and who's shagging whom of course. It must be so alien!

Richard and Sophie are all of the above - they live in a crumbling pile, they get by on B&B bookings and weddings which Sophie does, and shooting parties which Richard does when he's not tinkering with his latest scheme of taxidermy. Richard and Sophie are childless and live life to the full; they argue, they make up, they party, they drink. They need someone to give them some focus else their relationship surely won't last.
Mirza, who is nominally employed as their housekeeper, gets commandeered to help Richard do his taxidermy - and soon she's better than him, and he takes her under his wing. As does Sophie, and the two women become friends too. Mirza is happy, and Richard and Sophie are really kind to her, and she starts to open up about her own situation which throws the delicate balance between the three of them off-kilter - I shall say no more.

There are some hilarious set-pieces - the bad taste party is very bad taste indeed, but equally, there are also moving moments too. Mirka's matter of fact English gives her narration a dry sense of humour, but is also full of emotion bubbling underneath. I found myself really hoping that Sophie and Richard would pull through as a couple.

Mirza's taxidermy takes on an interesting slant - she begins to create tableaux of stuffed, dressed mice and squirrels, 21st century versions of Walter Potter's 'anthropomorphic dioramas' as Wikipedia describes them. I remember seeing 'The Kitten's Wedding' and his other creations when they were in a little museum ages ago. Are we just like animals that are dressed up? This novel plays with that question throughout and Kaye gives us an interesting outsider's viewpoint.


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