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It isn't all Fairy dust...... Or Prairie dust.......
I admit, I've thought long and hard about doing this review for personal reasons. The personal reason is (and I'm not name dropping here honestly) I actually know Melissa personally and don't see her as a well-known actress - but Melissa the person. At the end of the book, my partner's name appears in the acknowledgements, which we both find strange...... and unexpected - we had no idea until our copy arrived this week.
Therefore I've read this from perhaps a completely different perspective, having known Melissa now for around 7 years, and while she is best known as Laura Ingles in Little House on the Prairie - I was never a big fan of the show (the shame).
But I felt that I should approach it in the same way as I do all my reviews, and perhaps add some additional insight in to why Melissa has written the book now as well as some of the process it took to get it published.
~ So just who is Melissa? ~
Well, by her own admission, she's like most grown up women - a wife, mother etc, but added to that, also someone who is well known as an actress. She is best known in the USA for her role as Laura Ingles in Little House on the Prairie, and other TV movies, and she also is known here in the UK but perhaps not quite as well.
She is married to Bruce Boxleitner (Actor), has two of her own children (Dakota - with her first husband Bo, and Michael - Bruce is his father) as well as two stepsons.
She is also now involved in the Children's Hospice Organization in the USA and was formally the president of SAG (a little like our Bafta/Equity rolled in to one).
She is now 45, and lives in L.A.
Melissa also has a younger half sister (Sara Gilbert, best known for her role in Roseanne) and a brother Jonathon who is estranged from the family.
~ The book synopsis ~
This is a memoir (autobiography). As mentioned, Melissa is an actress, who grew up in L.A just as the next generation 'brat pack' (I consider there was only one true brat pack but the media latched on to that name, so I'm using it here) was starting out with their careers. The book basically tells of her early years, how she was adopted, as well as her time with Rob Lowe (before he became famous, and then subsequently the troubles his fame brought). She also shares her drive to find her biological parents.
Melissa has struggled with drugs and alcohol (alcohol being a particular problem and one she only gave up fully 5 years ago) and she tells all unashamedly in this book.
She had a miscarriage, and a further unplanned pregnancy (Dakota) with her then husband Bo Brinkman.
She shares the struggle she had when she became pregnant with Michael and his early arrival having married Bruce Boxleitner, and how a woman who was fixated with Bruce and tapped Melissa's phone conversations stalked them.
She fought a 3-year battle with The National Enquirer over stories they wrote about her (and she believes the stress of this was one reason she went in to Labour early with Michael).
She now campaigns vigorously for the support and care of children with life threatening illnesses in the USA.
~ So thoughts about it all? ~
First, Melissa's drive to write the book isn't because of money or more attention, but to try and show that it is possible to overcome hurdles, and that her life isn't all about the idyllic upbringing people saw on TV, because as she puts it in the book:
"I still get letters from women whose lives were and often still are truly horrible, victims of physical and sexual abuse. These women say the one escape they had growing up was 'Little House on the Prairie.' They wished they had Laura Ingalls Wilder's life the way I played her.
"What I don't ever tell them is that I'm also among those who wish I had Laura's life the way I played her."
She has also said if the book just helps one person - that's all she wants from it. Now from some people this might sound all a bit crass, but knowing Melissa - I know this isn't the case and a genuine and heartfelt reason for her to write this book.
The book doesn't follow a strict pattern in terms of time frames - The first chapter begins when her mother arrives with some mementos she has saved and she places the box on Melissa's table, telling her its all "for her book."
We do though keep a loose timetable that then follows Melissa's early life, through to her current status including her starring role in Little House The musical (she begins a tour of the US and Canada later this year). It also shares her role as a mother, wife and advocate for the Childrens Hospice Organization - she tells of a statistic that 92% of children in the USA die in uncontrolled pain! She hopes this year (at least in California) because of their campaigning that a new law will reduce this number.
She talks candidly about her relationship with Michael Landon, and how he also battled demons of alcohol, unbeknown to her at the time.
Melissa has got a great sense of humour (honestly she does), and this does come across in her writing. She also doesn't hold back in some of her language (she did warn people in advance the book was of a more adult nature and certainly not suitable for children to read). Unfortunately there are still those who believe she is right there on a pedestal and expect her to be Laura Ingles - she really is damned if she does, damned if she doesn't at times (I remember when she had a part in the series Nip Tuck - some fans were totally outraged, even though she had again forewarned them on her website that it was as far from Little House as you could get, and that she was doing her job).
Melissa is totally honest in her life, acknowledging her own actions and mistakes when needed. She also talks about the people she has known, and while some might think she is name dropping (from Rob Lowe and Tom Cruise, to one brief mention of Michael Jackson)..... It was so much a part of her life that it comes across in a very natural and realistic way and doesn't feel forced. And of course, she and Bruce also have friends who aren't in the 'business' - who she also talks about in the same vein.
I don't ever feel it is pompous, far from it in fact, when you read it, I was amazed at how much Melissa had to deal with. Particularly the loss of her father (Paul Gilbert) when she was just 11 years old and the way her family dealt with it, which meant she didn't even go to the funeral. It's amazing she managed to keep off alcohol and drugs as long as she did (By her own admission, she was a late starter, and a dork as a teenager)!
It's also a healthy warning for any up and coming child star as to how your life might be.
The book isn't without its faults. Sometimes the timescales are a little sketchy and dialogue a little jumpy. But I also know that the publishers took out about a 100 pages - and I wonder how much better it might have been had Melissa been able to keep them in this time around, although as she said - it's a 100 pages already written for the next time!
~ Final thoughts and a couple of extras about it all ~
If you're interested in autobiographies, this is one book I would recommend. It isn't a taxing read, but it's interesting nonetheless. Melissa shows perseverance and honesty, which at times she might have otherwise been tempted to gloss over - but she doesn't.
She also didn't allow Bruce to read this book until it was published - and they sat down on her 45th Birthday this year, and she read it out loud to him, which he insisted on. Apparently there were numerous tears, as well as laughter as she did this.
She also spoke at length to Rob Lowe, and he had full access to the book that dealt with her relationship with him and so it is written with his knowledge, and acceptance.
Melissa has her own website (which she shares with husband Bruce). If you want to know more, you can check it out at:
I'm going to give it 4 out of 5 stars. I've knocked a star off because of the problems on occasion with timescales and dialogue - which is partly down to the publisher.
~ Where can you get it? ~
Unfortunately the stock is very limited in the UK - as far as we know (and I've asked Melissa and she doesn't know anymore than me) its available at Amazon UK for around £15-77 - in hardback.
# Hardcover: 384 pages
# Publisher: Simon Spotlight Entertainment (9 Jun 2009)
# Language English
# ISBN-10: 1416599142
# ISBN-13: 978-1416599142
Blackberry Pearl 8120
Not quite a Pearl, but certainly not a dud.
~ So just what is the Blackberry Pearl? ~
Today's phones are pretty much like mini computers, allowing you to call, text, take photographs, videos, listen to music, and record notes.... Just about everything you can think of. I will include the rigid specifications of this phone at the very end of this review since not everyone wants to read them all, but just wants to know - how does this phone perform?
Apologies in advance, I've tried to keep this as short as possible - but somehow I just couldn't say all I've wanted to without going over my usual limits by some margin. If you're not interested in a long review, then I've just highlighted some points towards the very bottom which I hope can help.
~ So what can we do? ~
This phone has a lot of features. I'll try and look at them all.
I'll start with text messages. In the olden days, when I was a mere...... woman in my 30's...... you could type out a message using the keypad on your phone. The Blackberry Pearl has a keypad that is almost identical to the keyboard you find on your computer, although some letters do double up on a key to save space. But not only can you text, today you can send pictures, and even some videos. This is known as SMS and MMS. The Pearl allows for both and uses WAP technology to achieve it. Although SMS is the most common way for people to communicate on their mobile phones, MMS is rapidly catching up.
Email. Not just one either, but multiple email accounts (up to 10) for each handset.
You can also synchronize the accounts with some desktop programs (most notably Outlook Express), which also means you don't have to type in all kinds of stuff, like your email address book you have stored on your computer, but simply ask the phone to find the accounts and add them.
You can now also open up various attachments that might be sent via email, something you couldn't do so long ago. There are some applications available that will also allow you to edit attachments if needed (although I've never used them so I can't comment as to how they work, or how good they are - sorry).
Instant Messaging. So you're not content to just have email or text messages and you want to communicate with someone in 'real' time? No problem since the Pearl also offers you the chance to use instant messaging applications. These include Yahoo, Google and Windows Live (formally known as MSN). We have the Yahoo application on our phone, but we've never used it, so I won't be doing any further reviewing on this.
Social Networking. In recent years, places like Facebook, have become a big part of Internet usage. With the Pearl, you can add MySpace, Facebook and Flickr applications to the phone. We've added Facebook and find it's a great application.
Built in Camera. Well, I remember our first digital camera, having got one not long after they first came out. It classified as a VGA type, and then we moved on to a camera that was 1.3 MP's (Megapixels). We felt like we had won the lottery with that new camera - and now just 8 years later, we have the Pearl offering you a 2 MP camera, with digital zoom and even a flash!
The camera will also record video for you, including sound. Will wonders never cease?
We can also use the phone as an MP3 player, and in some cases, you can also watch video clips.
It also allows you to use it as a GPS system, with the Blackberry map system application available. Again I've yet to use it so can't comment on how good it is, other than to say the premise sounds promising.
You can use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi on the phone. Again great if you're on the move and want to be able to do things without having to connect up fiddly wires, and it gives you a great hands free option when driving.
Wi-Fi means the phone can also give you mobile streaming. In other words you can watch news, television or even a site like YouTube on the go.
Finally, you have a clear screen in which to view those clips, expandable memory using small media cards (known as microSD cards), which allows you to add all this content to your phone and a small, lightweight phone.
~ So how does it all stack up? ~
Well to begin with, I'm going to have to review the phone provider (Orange) as well at times. I'm doing this because there were occasions whereby Orange and Blackberry got involved with the setting up of the phone, and to not note the Orange involvement would simply only give half the picture. I will though try and keep it to a minimum.
To begin with, the phone is neatly packed up in a box, and ours came with a mains charger, USB charger (you hook it up to the computer). This also acts as the way to synchronize the phone with your own computer applications (See Outlook Express earlier as an example).
The mains adapter is built in such a way that allows the pins on the plug to be interchanged, allowing for the use of it in various other countries. It seems to be coming a more and more favoured way to produce chargers like this.
We also had a nice leather protective case. While it doesn't fully cover the phone (its top opening) it does offer the main phone screen and keypad some protection. Another nice touch since a lot of mobile phones today only offer covers as additional extras.
Our phone also came with a 1GB MicroSD card installed. While the phone has its own memory of 64kb, 1GB is a nice addition.
Our phone is Indigo in colour with chrome edging, and it does have a nice deep purple/blue hue to it with the chrome giving a nice contrast. It is comfortable to hold (even for me with arthritic hands) and has a nice feel about its overall weight. Light enough, but with enough weight to stop it feeling flimsy in your hand.
Underneath the screen you have a trackball, which so far has held up well to the use we've given it. The trackball is used for navigation within the applications on the phone, and you can adjust the pressure required in the settings option.
To the left of the trackball, furthest away, you have the green icon key, which is commonly used as the call key. Sandwiched between the call key and trackball is a key to access the main menu on the phone.
To the right of the trackball, furthest away, you have the red icon key, which is commonly the end call key on phones today. Between this and the trackball is a curved arrow key, which is known as the back button key. Allowing you (unsurprisingly enough) to go back on yourself, much like you would use the back button (if you know what this is of course) on your computers Internet browser.
Below this, you have the main keypad that allows you to access the numbers and letters needed for using the phone.
Screen resolution is excellent, even for quite a small screen (in today's market anyway) and we've already watched some video clips and have been very impressed with the overall quality. You also get good quality showing when using the Internet or similar applications.
The camera is on the back top of the casing, and is incredibly easy to use. One feature a lot of phone cameras have been let down on before in the past is lighting in poor light conditions, and while this is never going to compete with a regular digital camera, we've been impressed with the pictures we've taken so far, even those in very poor light - as long as you aren't too far away from the subject of the picture. The zoom, again while not to the standard of a normal camera is another step up from many on the market and worked fairly well, without losing too much picture quality, although it doesn't really work when using the flash.
Music playback can be via a standard 3.5mm jack plug socket and while we haven't done much this way, again we've got no complaints about the sound quality being heard. It is a little fiddly to get the application going, and isn't the most smooth of operations on the whole phone, but considering its just one small facet of its entire use then its just about okay but others might find it more annoying.
Battery life has been okay. Its what I consider to be about mid-range for something of this type. It's far better than some phones, even when used heavily - but not quite up there with the best. But still, its okay and just about does enough to make it work well, without getting frustrated at having to recharge to often.
The Keypad uses something called Suretype (as well as predictive text), and because its set up with a keyboard setting in mind, it does take a little getting used to the letter layout compared to the older style mobile phone I've been used to.
The Suretype also took some getting used to - and while I found it frustrating initially and it caused some problems with my arthritis, once I got used to it I can type out reasonably well (on my good days).
You can also set up some voice commands for some of the more basic features on the phone. This is great for me because of the arthritis and when my hands are playing up - I don't have to worry about trying to fiddle with the keys. It also took a little getting used to, but was worth persevering with.
Using the main menu is easy and for the most part intuitive, which is just as well, because this leads on to my main complaint we have against this phone.
~ Instructions for use ~
Now I'm pretty comfortable with most electronic goodies, like mobile phones, computers etc. I might not be an engineer with a degree, but I'm pretty clued up and do understand a lot of things easily.
However, the information booklets and leaflets that came with this phone are a huge letdown. Not only Orange's, but also unfortunately Blackberry's. I believe the Pearl is also available on O2, so I don't know how their information sheets might compare - but it does still leave Blackberry's booklets being far short of the mark. And for a company of this type I find it surprising. This means the set up became a nightmare.
I've used WAP services on a mobile phone before, and also used Wi-Fi services on other hand held devices, and yet it took us 2 days, 4 phone calls to Orange, numerous looks at Blackberry's site, and finally a private forum (message board) to get the information we needed to get our phone activated so we could begin using the internet. It all sounded so simply on the information Orange and Blackberry provide. Just follow these steps and bingo - you have can get applications like Facebook.
No you can't!
What you get is frustrated, confusing and often conflicting advice from customer help - just one example with an Orange leaflet we had in the box - to get online just follow these steps. Dial 450, then press options 2, 4 and finally 4 - and your done. And it all goes beautifully until you get the second option 4..... whereby you get a lovely message saying "Sorry, this options is not available."
But your leaflet is telling us it is available.
So you phone customer service, and they say, "oh but we need to register you phone".
Brilliant, why couldn't someone mention this in the blurb because there is nothing (and I mean nothing) about having to go through this, or better still (because we're using a pay as you go service) can someone not have told me when I called up yesterday to sort out the call plan, since it was impossible using the instructions given (you seeing a theme here).
Its new to us I say, so what do I need to do, because following these instructions doesn't work?
"What do you want the phone primarily for?" They asked.
Internet and texting mostly I replied. And I can't get the internet, please help.
"Oh go you need to go on Dolphin call package," I get told breezily.
Do I need to do anything else I ask?
"Oh no, but it can take up to 48 hours for this package to become fully active, which means you might be charged for some use on the phone in the meantime."
So nothing happens - We check with Blackberry's site and they say - contact your service provider if you have any problems connecting online. Which leads me back to this latest phone call to customer service. They ask for some details (which I'd already given to go on the Dolphin call package, but don't let that stop them from a good thing)......
I am then told I will be up and running in the next hour with a full WAP service and I'll be getting messages about this, plus how to use the service and get links to services such as the facebook application.
But hey presto - We're still getting nowhere....fast!
So one more check on the Internet, before once again giving Orange a ring.
Only this time I get taken through a series of steps that completely duplicate what I had done earlier.
In all fairness this customer service advisor does seem to have more knowledge about the situation, and cannot understand why we haven't been getting the messages through and our phone hasn't been registered.
So we sit and wait, and while we are waiting to see if the messages will arrive (Orange due to phone back in an hour to find out if we have), my partner is looking online to see if there is anything we can find that might help. Perhaps we have a dud phone?
An hour later Orange phone back - we're still without a message, and my partner is still trying desperately to find anything online about it all.
And then its spotted - on a private forum. Just a simple few lines:
This model is known to have a problem when waiting to receive the Host routing message. If you're not receiving this message, just open the back, pop out the battery, slot it straight back in again - and it usually works.
So, I flip the battery out, slot it back in.....and the second the phone kicks back in to life - bingo. The message appears!
So, if this is a known problem, why don't Orange and Blackberry mention this? I don't know, but I've contacted both and said they should. Will this make any difference? I doubt it, but at least I've tried.
~ Final thoughts ~
So, this is a great, in fact in some respects a brilliant phone.
But getting it set up is a nightmare, and I admit had we known it was going to be so difficult before we bought it - We might well have looked elsewhere. But I'm pleased we stuck with it and I would simply say if you look to buy this phone.
1) Ignore most of the information booklets it comes with. They are pap! Look online for independent sites, which will give you pretty much all you need to know.
2) You need to get a Host routing number before you can begin to use the internet system properly, so ask your service provider to walk you through this and then, if a message doesn't appear within the hour, flip the battery out, then put it back and see if that helps. If that still doesn't work, give it about a day, flip the battery a second time - and then do it all over again!
3) This really is a fully functional phone and does a lot, and it has a lot going for it. However, Blackberry are set up heavily towards business customers, so the website isn't really great for the personal user.
4) Information Booklets and Leaflets fail to show some basic information you expect to find, like how to change ringtones. Poor - particularly surprising from Blackberry.
5) It does seem to take longer than the older phones we've had to 'boot' up if the battery runs out, or you take it out for some reason. You do need a little patience. I don't know how other phones of this type compare, but thought it worth mentioning.
6) But despite the problems, this is a great phone and one we are more than happy with and it was actually worth going through all the problems we did to get it working properly, because once it did it really does do the job.
Features Available (taken from the Blackberry site).
Corporate data access
Size and Weight
Length 107mm 107mm 107mm
Width 50mm 50mm 50mm
Depth 14mm 14mm 14mm
Weight Approximately 89g 91g
Keyboard - SureType® QWERTY keyboard with SureType software
3.5mm stereo headset capable
Integrated earpiece/ microphone
Bluetooth® technology Bluetooth v2.0; headset, hands-free and serial port profiles supported
Font size (user selectable)
Light sensing screen
Approximate Battery Life
Standby time 360 hours or 15 days
Talk time 240 minutes or 4 hours
Expandable memory - support for microSD card
Flash memory 64 MB
RIM® wireless modem
Works with BlackBerry® Enterprise Server for Microsoft® Exchange
Works with BlackBerry® Enterprise Server for IBM® Lotus® Domino®
Works with BlackBerry® Enterprise Server for Novell® GroupWise®
Integrates with an existing enterprise email account
Password protection and keyboard lock
Support for AES or Triple DES encryption when integrated with BlackBerry Enterprise Server
Optional support for S/MIME
Europe/Asia Pacific: 1800MHz GSM/GPRS networks
Europe/Asia Pacific: 900MHz GSM/GPRS networks
Costs vary, as do the call packages. We paid £156-99 at Argos (including £10 for airtime), and on contracts you often only pay monthly.
4 out of 5 stars from me. Despite the problems we've had getting it set up - once we did it was worth it, and we do really like the phone.
Mobile - Not the sort you hang above a child's bed......
~ I need help! ~
I've made reference on other reviews that I suffer with arthritis. This means that I'm now struggling to walk any distance, and often use sticks to go out. However, I was due to go out to the Arndale Centre (see my separate review) and knew that I was going to need more than just my sticks. I saw on the web site they had a shopmobility, and so bit the bullet, swallowed the pride and phoned them up to see what they could do to help. This is my resulting review.
~ So who are Shopmobility Manchester? ~
Shop Mobility is throughout the UK in various towns and cities, or in some cases, out of town shopping centres. Each are designed to help people with mobility issues, and while they are all independently run (and so some features may vary slightly place to place) they are in the process of regulating certain aspects throughout the UK.
Manchesters Shop Mobility is based in the Arndale centre, and is fairly typical of what you can expect to find. Shop Mobility is set up with the aim to help anyone who has a permanent or even temporary disability, and find it hard to get around without use of a scooter or wheelchair. This means if you break a leg and find yourself in plaster, you can also use the facilities.
They provide electric powered scooters, electric powered wheelchairs, and also manual wheelchairs. If staffing levels allow, they can also help people who might simply need help while shopping, and they also ensure you are given a 'test' on the scooters and wheelchairs (more about this later) before letting you out on your own.
You are able to use the scooters/wheelchairs in the whole of the Manchester City centre, not just within the confines of the Arndale Centre, where they are based.
Hire of the scooters/chairs is free.
~ So how do I go about it? ~
First of all, you need to give them a call to arrange an initial sign up procedure before you arrive at the centre. They say to allow around 30 minutes in total to go through this, and explain what you need to do before you arrive. You will be asked to bring two forms of ID, including one with your home address on, and they do hold on to the ID as security so you don't do a runner with their equipment. You will not be asked for any money at any stage.
Their information is easily found either on their web site (address given at the end) or on the Arndale Centre web site.
I phoned up about 5 days before we were due to go in, and found they answered the phones quickly and were efficient about explaining what I needed to do (and bring), as well as explaining that I needed to allow some time on the first visit to take a scooter (which is what I needed) for a 'test' drive before they let me loose around Manchester on it. They also gave me instructions on how to park and then use the ticket to have the parking paid for (having a blue badge does not automatically mean you get free parking using the NCP car park next to the centre. This is to protect against fraudulent use of the Blue Badge scheme - a big thumbs up because it is a real bugbear of mine!)
Following the directions they gave, we found the office without too much difficultly (although it is 'hidden' down a long corridor away from the rest of the centre).
I arrived, and if I were to give the slightest complaint - it would be they couldn't find the information I had left when I first phoned, and it appeared the person who had taken the phone call wasn't about. But it didn't really hold proceedings up at all, and fortunately they had plenty of scooters available that day (It might have been a different situation had they been very busy).
I was taken through the paperwork quickly, and then given a 'test' run through some cones they set up in the office area. Once they knew I was okay taking the scooter through the cones, and reversing it (fortunately I've driven most things in my time so this wasn't at all daunting) they took me out to the main centre, and we went through procedures including how to use the lifts, and we also went outside and how to approach pavements etc. A good 15 minutes was spent taking their time through the whole thing, and I felt they did an excellent job overall.
I was also told that they would be sending me a card through the post to keep on me, and just produce either at their shop mobility, or if needed, I could use it to show at other shop mobility offices to prove I know (supposedly!) what I am doing. As mentioned, they are now beginning to regulate and standardise what Shop Mobility offices do throughout the country (they never used to) allowing easier use of facilities around the country, as you need them. The card is therefore a must if you don't want to have to go through the same routine each time you want to use a shop mobility centre elsewhere.
~ So off I scoot ~
Once back at the office, I was given the all clear, and allowed out on my own (well, my partner and I, plus my sister was with me). It made the world of difference, and as usual I began to wonder why on earth I had taken sooooo long before using the services Shop Mobility provide - But there is no doubt it is a major help if you struggle to walk far as I do now.
Taking the scooter back was also easy to do, and apart from picking up my ID, took minutes to sort out, having actually enjoyed a shopping trip, which I haven't been able to do for a very long time.
~ Overall ~
A must if you find that you struggle with mobility. As I've mentioned, they also cater for those who might only have a temporary mobility problem (I saw someone with their leg in plaster scooting about the centre while I was there), so I would urge anyone who finds walking difficult to look at using a shop mobility centre if there is one where you might be going.
Apart from the slight problem with losing my initial information, I find it hard to mark them down a star for it, because everything else was done with such ease and efficiency, even thought I know on another day it might have caused a little more of a problem. So top marks from me.
~ Where to find out more about them ~
If you want to find out more, they have an excellent web site, which you can find at:
Four Paws Dogs Shed N Blade
Hair today, Brush...... working overtime.
~ So why have we got this? ~
As some of you might know (if you've read the review I've done) we have a rescue German shepherd bitch, and she is now 7 years old. A wonderful dog in just about every way.......except shedding hair. It is everywhere. We've become a household whereby the vacuum cleaner does overtime, you can't go anywhere without sticky mitts for your clothing and try as you might, groom as often as you might, she still shed's her fur everywhere.
That was until my Mother handed me this Shed N Blade.
~ What does it look like? ~
Well it's a little hard to explain, but I'll try my best.
Its two leather handles (One with the Four Paws logo in gold imprinted on it), with a long flexible blade between them, with teeth one side. I suppose you could say it looks a little like a saw when opened out.
This is then also looped around in a circle, and the handles held together by an 'O' metal ring that is held firmly in place on the top edge of one handle. This means the blade is either not quite circular, or open depending on your preference. Personally I've never used it open, just closed as the picture above shows in its 'circular' state, but its good to know you have that flexibility if I did ever need it.
~ So how does it work? ~
Well to work it is simple enough. You just grasp the handles, and pull it (teeth facing the coat) through your dogs coat.
From that we've noticed a number of good things about this grooming tool.
First of all, Tasha (the dog) has always hated being groomed. Obviously the previous owner did it roughly, and particularly around her hind legs and tail area, she has always been very unhappy about it. Its taken a full year to really be able to brush her completely, and even then we have to do it in short bursts other wise she begins to get upset.
This blade is one she rarely notices is being used on her, even when she is going through a moult. So obviously it is far less harsh than any other brushes or combs we've got, and this is a massive plus in its favour.
But the biggest difference comes in how it works. It doesn't take much pressure to run it through the coat, and the hair it removes is almost unbelievable!
Within seconds it removes far more dead hair and undercoat than anything I've ever used before (including a specialist stripping comb as its known).
Not only does it remove a large amount of hair very quickly, it also doesn't clog up in the same way that a brush does, but simply comes off the blade and often flies around you as you groom (I would recommend you do this outside because of this).
It takes a fraction of the time we would normally have to do the same thing. Honestly I would say for every hour normally grooming on Tasha, I achieve the same sort of results within 5 to 10 minutes of using this blade. So this benefits not only Tasha (who as mentioned hates being groomed normally) but also me, because since I suffer with arthritis I struggle with a normal brush now. Not only do I find I don't have to grip it as tightly, but not using it for as long means the hands don't seize up as much.
You can also easily get to all the main area's on her body, including the back legs, chest and around her tail. The only area I don't use it is on the face near her eyes etc (I go as far as the back of the head and ears). I use a soft brush and sponge for those areas.
~ Final results ~
When Tasha is in full moult we use this blade every day for about 10 to 14 days. Otherwise, we find just once (or on occasion) twice a week is more than enough to keep her coat in excellent condition. It has a shine to it she didn't quite get before, and overall since it is far less traumatic of an experience for her, she benefits in more ways than one now.
We've also noticed that since using the blade, while she still does shed hair on most things around the house, again the amount is far below what we've been used to, and our use of sticky mitts and vacuum cleaner have even been reduced, and this is a huge bonus.
We've also used the blade on the other dog we have (A Gordon Setter, Collie Cross) and while his coat is completely different to Tasha's (and so doesn't moult as much for a start) he also benefits from a weekly brush down with this blade.
We still use the normal brushes just to 'finish' the grooming off, but if I had to give up all but one grooming tool - I would let everything but this blade go. My only complaint - I didn't know about it sooner!
~ Final thoughts ~
For dogs (and apparently there is a cat version as well) that need a lot of grooming, particularly with their undercoats, then I would recommend this without hesitation. It is by far the best grooming aid I've ever come across, and I just wish I'd known about it sooner. Its plus points are:
· It removes hair quickly and efficiently, without the same tugging actions a lot of other grooming aids have.
· It's removal of dead and unwanted hair is unparalleled. It doesn't clog up in the same way a brush does, and removes the hair quickly and efficiently.
· It is fast!
· Doesn't need to be done every day, except during the heaviest periods of moulting.
A full five out of five stars from me. I wouldn't be without it now.
~ Availability ~
Since I was given mine, I don't know how readily available this might be via Pet Shops or Stores. However, a quick search online and I found the following:
From an online company called Premier Pet and Aquatics (co.uk web site) for the cost of £4-99 for the large blade. Other options also available - Price excludes any postage costs.
Not as unusual as it might have been.
I've reviewed a couple of later books by Patricia Cornwell, and so decided it was time I went back and reviewed some of her earlier work. To begin with, I've just re-read Cruel and Unusual, so it seemed like a good place to start.
~ About the author ~
Patricia Cornwell is an American Author who has a series of novels featuring Dr Kay Scarpetta, and the book 'Cruel and Unusual' is the fourth in that series.
Patricia Cornwell has likened some of her life to Kay Scarpetta's, and while there are some similarities (both Miami born, divorced and working in forensic departments) Cornwell herself was not an official medical examiner, nor did she work in any forensic capacity but as a technical writer and computer analyst for a Virginia lab.
~ Recurring Characters ~
Lucy is Kay's niece, who is first seen in the novel 'Postmortem ' the first book in the series, when she was still quite young. In this book, Lucy is now 17 and studying computers.
Pete Marino works as a homicide detective for the Richmond police department. In this book it isn't clear how Pete and Scarpetta knew each other, but there is a friendship beyond just the working level.
Benton is an FBI profiler and in later books becomes Scarpetta's lover. However in this novel, they are merely friends still.
~ Book synopsis ~
A killer (Ronnie Joe Waddell) is about to be executed, and Scarpetta is waiting to see if her services as the medical examiner are going to be needed. Whilst waiting and watching the media reports about attempts to reverse the death penalty decision, Kay gets a call from a detective, who is perplexed about an attack on a young boy called Eddie Heath. Although still alive and in the hospital, and therefore not something Kay would normally deal with - the request is enough to intrigue her, and she agrees to visit the patient. Whilst there, she is aware that this young boy is likely to end up in her lab anyway, and it was just a question of when, not if.
Her attention is brought back to the Waddell on death row, and the sentence is carried out. However, there are some inconsistencies that need answering once the post mortem is complete, so Kay and homicide detective Pete Marino take a trip out to the jail where the execution took place. They also take a look at the location where the young boy who Kay had seen initially in the hospital was found. Once there - they begin to see similarities between the victim (Robyn Naismith) of Waddell and Eddie Heath. Is there a link? And if so, has the wrong man been executed? Or is there a copycat on the loose?
~ Overall thoughts on the book. ~
This is a book that still has some problems that I hate so much in Cornwell's later works. If anything, this is where I begin to see them emerging, but at the time didn't realize just how much it would begin to come through in her later writing, so overall this is one of her better books - but not her best overall.
So, what do I dislike about this book?
First and foremost the character of Lucy, who I felt at times was superfluous to the whole plot, and when she was around was distracting as a character. A lot of time I just find her irritating and I also tend to find the reactions of Kay when around her also infuriating and completely unnecessary for the plot or book style.
This leads on the next problem I have with it, and that is Lucy is a computer genius. I have no problem with this (I've known people over the years who can think in binary - my father being one of them and excellent around computers). I've been brought up around the IBM 360 and 'super computer mainframes' all my life.
But the computer 'jargon' being used most of the time was completely over the top, and too much for most people to even start to follow.
Acronyms weren't clearly explained, and personally, I don't want to know all about UNIX operating systems when reading a crime/thriller novel. If I wanted to know all about it, I would read a computer book instead.
Sure, we know the computer system has been compromised, but we can learn about how in much less technical detail without losing the interest of the reader. This makes it far from a relaxing read.
So, at times the characters and their dialogue is poor, but fortunately not to the same level as later books, so it just about saves this novel.
The next problem I have is with the plot. Now its not easy for me to talk about this without giving away possible spoilers, so I'm not going to be spending too much time going through it bit by bit. Suffice to say that the ending felt rushed, and at times totally unrealistic (Marino and Kay go to an apartment alone for example with no back up).
This then didn't help with the overall pace of the book, because I also felt that it was being pushed too much to a conclusion. I really do think had another chapter been included, it could have been a much neater, tighter ending. As it was - I felt it was disappointing in the extreme. A shame because it could be so much better, if a little more care was taken to tie it all up.
So what do I like about the book?
Well despite all my reservations as mentioned, I also enjoy this book a lot, and it shows why Patricia Cornwell at her height was good.
The overall writing style is good, atmospheric when needed, and when not overloading the book with too much IT detail, the rest of it was nicely given, even with the forensic information, which overall was explained well enough not to lose someone who hasn't got a clue, but also gives a pretty good technical look at the processes.
The plot at times was also good, and had a number of twists and turns, that meant it wasn't easy to work it all out. Whilst I had worked out the vast majority of it by the time the ending came, I was still a little unsure as to the 'main' villain in the piece, and that's always a plus in the book's favour.
The characters (albeit with the faults of Lucy) all work well with Kay, and in many instances, bring you closer to understanding her and the problems that surrounded her. They worked well against each other, each bringing their own level to the plot.
This means that I find Kay approachable and believable through the book.
~ Final thoughts ~
This is a difficult book for me to really come to terms with. The biggest problem I have with any Patricia Cornwell book is too often her plotlines are not tight enough, and this is no exception. It is also the first book where I'm really beginning to see the problems I detest so much in her later books (and why after 'Trace' I haven't bought another book of hers and don't plan to).
Yet, despite this it is still a good book to read. I find overall its enough to make me want to pick up another one and read it again, and no doubt I will be looking at some of the earlier ones again soon, partly to reacquaint myself with the characters and books, and to remind myself what I have enjoyed about the earlier writing.
Characters still manage (on the whole) to work extremely well in the context of this book, and the forensic details are nicely balanced.
The whole plotline is interesting enough, and for the most part believable, even with the holes that can and often do appear, and the writing is generally good enough for you to forgive the looser sections.
In general this is a typical Scarpetta novel and when I read this, I do wish she had maintained this level through her later books. She wouldn't have lost this reader if she had.
I solid 3 out of 5 stars from me. I debated putting 4 stars, but there are just enough flaws to keep it at good but not the best out there.
~ Availability ~
Since it is a long time since I bought my copy I'm not sure how available it is these days, but a very quick look on google and I found it on Amazon UK from £5-59 (exc. postage and packing costs)
· ISBN-10: 0751530441
· ISBN-13: 978-0751530445
~ So what is the Arndale Centre? ~
The Arndale Centre is currently the largest inner-city shopping centre in the UK, and has around 240 stores (give or take depending on the economic climate, some have recently closed).
The centre also has an NCP car park attached to it, with around 1400 parking spaces available. There are also a large number of car parks within walking distance of the centre, offering you a wide choice and to suit most budgets.
For those of us old enough to remember, in 1996 the Arndale centre was a target for the IRA, who unfortunately successfully planted a bomb, which then detonated on a street just outside causing substantial damage. This though in turn has led to massive regeneration of the site, and the final work was completed in late 2006, early 2007.
I will be reviewing this partly as a shopper, but also partly as someone with disabilities and therefore different access needs, which I hope will give a broad review for those who might want to visit the Arndale Centre themselves.
~ First up - finding the place! ~
Actually, most of Manchester City centre is pretty accessible via a number of different options. It has a wonderful Tram system in place, as well as excellent bus, rail and road access from all areas outside the city, so whether you're coming in from the north, south, east or west - Its all fairly straightforward. In this instance we come in from the North side in our car, but we've also used bus services before to get in to the city as well as the Tram service.
The centre itself is easily found, but at the time of writing this review (Late May '09) a lot of the Tram sections are being upgraded, and this works are interfering with some of the access not just to the city centre, but also the Arndale centre. However, using a stat nav we managed to find an alternative route in to the car park easily enough. We also had a map, which also allowed us to find the route this way had we needed it.
The Centre is easily spotted if on foot and there is a big wheel (a little like the London Eye only smaller) just outside the one entrance. A landmark easily spotted if needed.
~ Once in there - Parking ~
Parking is plentiful for a mid week, which is when we went. However I imagine that it will be a different proposition altogether on a weekend, particularly a Saturday so I would recommend you either go early, or have an alternative parking venue set up if it is full when you get there. As far as disabled parking bays go - again there are a good number, and all within good lift access for the centre itself.
One complaint - If you're going for the first time, once you are in the lifts (Particularly if you use the singular ones to either side) there is no signage to tell you what floor you need to go to in order to get to the centre properly! So you don't know if it's up, down or sideways! If you use the central lifts, you can see its down, but the other lifts give absolutely no indication, which for a place of this size is not a good point. Could be improved.
One point, if you use the Shopmobility, you can get the parking ticket validated and this enables you to have as long as you need going about your business, whether it is in the Arndale Centre, or outside of this in the city centre proper. Please note: You have to register with the Shopmolity first, and also show you have a need to use them. I've asked Dooyoo to put a section in for Manchesters Shopmobility so I can do a separate review on them, rather than clog this review up with it all.
~ Finding your way around ~
The main thing that strikes you about this place is it is large for its type. While it hasn't got the floor area of the nearby out of city Trafford centre, in some respects this is also part of its charm.
I find the Trafford centre is almost too big, and this is a particular problem if you want to get something from one store, which is at opposing ends to another store you need to be in.
The Arndale Centre might not have quite the same selection, but overall what is there is good enough for the average shopper, and much more accessible in one place. So for me - this is a point in its favour. Swings and roundabouts - It's all about what you want from a shopping centre. Personally I find the Arndale much better suited for my shopping needs. I also find that a lot of the stores are fractionally cheaper here than in the Trafford centre, even using the Trafford's discount scheme.
I also love the diversity of the city on the doorstep and being able to go further than just the Centre if we want to.
There are a number of electronic information boards, all clearly showing where you are, and how to get to other stores. Once you get yourself orientated, which we did in a matter of minutes, we found it easy enough to find the stores we were particularly interested in, as well as finding some other smaller shops intermingled between the well known brands. To add to this, there are also information leaflets available from the main information points, and the staffs in all areas were helpful with any queries we had. Again a nice pleasant change to some experiences we've had elsewhere.
As a user of a powered scooter, I also found pretty well all areas fully accessible, and again I was impressed with all the shops we entered (including some of the smaller ones) that all allowed the scooter manoeuvrability through somehow, and all shops seemed very aware of the needs of not only disabled shoppers, but also families with prams. Toilets were all wide, and again easily accessible.
The only area it gets a little cramped is the Food Mall section. This is part of the older centre, not affected by the bombing, and I would simply advise using it away from the main lunch time, since this area also attracts a lot of workers using it for their lunch breaks that doesn't help with crowd numbers.
~ So what are the stores like? ~
As I've mentioned, I like the diversity of the stores in the centre. There are all the usual large department stores you've come to expect (Next, Topshop and Topman, Disney Store etc) as well as the larger name's involved in the food and drink (Starbucks, Bella Italia, Costa Coffee etc). But intermingled with these are wonderful small independent shops and food/drink outlets that give the Arndale Centre diversity rarely found in any shopping centre. From the small shop selling incense, dream catchers and charms, through to the jewellery and cosmetics. It is well worth taking your time and really delving in to all the nooks and crannies of the place to get the full benefit. I would particularly recommend the Sushi take out box from Wings if you enjoy Sushi. Excellent price, and superb food! As Sushi lovers, this is one of the best we've ever tried.
As I've also mentioned, generally we find the prices are as good as the Trafford centre (at least for everything we've ever bought) and in some cases, slightly better. How this might hold up for some items depends on everyone's individual shopping habits and so I would be reluctant to say its right across the board.
If you want different stores, as mentioned the city centre is a mere step outside away - as well as being within easy walking distance of China Town, and Piccadilly gardens if you want to find somewhere to relax outside. Again, something the Trafford centre doesn't give you.
I spotted a Bureau de Change, and also scattered throughout numerous cash points, all declaring you aren't charged to withdraw from them. All seemed to have minimal queues and all seemed to be working although we didn't need to use one.
Again, the only area other than parking signage I can mark the centre down is on the website. While overall it gives great amounts of information, I also felt the look of it is somewhat outdated and it wouldn't perhaps hurt just to give it a face-lift. The use of Fonts in particularly I find poor - But not everyone would be as bothered by that, so this is a personal preference, and since most information is easy enough to find, and most navigation is easy, I'm not going to mark it down for that.
~ Final thoughts ~
As you've probably already guessed, I'm a particular fan of the Arndale Centre. And while many shops are struggling at the moment (It used to have a Zavvi store for example), in general many in the Arndale seem to be holding their own quite well.
I admit, I generally hate shopping partly because of my mobility issues - But I do enjoy the overall experience of the Arndale compared to many other places, even those offering disabled access. So for me to feel that positive about the whole thing is not easily achieved.
All too often we are let down with poor store access, or poor access to displays of items - Arndale seems really geared up to stop this from happening, and I've always felt most stores are very aware of accessibility needs.
But it is much more than that - I love the independent shops there, offering goods as well as food and drink. I generally always prefer to support these places, and overall often find the quality control is better, with prices as good as the larger stores - in many cases better, but I also like the option to go to one of the known national stores if needed.
The main downside is - avoid it over the weekend if you can. Its busy even midweek, but Saturday's in particular are a nightmare! So if you go over the weekend, you do have to be prepared for a lot more bumping in to people and squeezing in to stores.
So, not without its faults, but some you can't do much about. Crowds for example are a prime example of how well the centre is doing, even today in this tough economic climate, and the signage issues, as well as my personal dislike of some of the website design, I don't think it is enough to pull it down a full star. Personally if I could give a half star then I would mark it at 4.5 stars, but I can't so I'm placing a five there with the note that it actually doesn't quite get the full 5 stars, but its close enough.
If you just want to go shopping at a centre, and don't want the hassle of going in to the city - then the Trafford centre is most likely the best choice. However, if like me you want a little more, something a little different - then I would recommend the Arndale Centre without hesitation.
A trip I enjoy making, albeit not as often as I would like, and personally I prefer it to its bigger brother on the outskirts of the city, the Trafford Centre.
http://www.manchesterarndale.com/ is the link for their website.
~ A little background ~
To put this in context, I have arthritis, which also means I live on a daily basis with a chronic pain condition. This means I'm also on some pretty powerful painkillers, which I don't like to take on a daily basis, partly because of their own side effects, but also because they are opiate based, and therefore potentially something you can get hooked on.
I've also been open to other techniques that have proven medical benefits. Previously before moving to where I was, the doctor's surgery offered acupuncture to people for a wide variety of ailments. They accepted it isn't a 100 per cent help (around 85 to 90 % of people gain from acupuncture techniques), but I was fortunate in that it helped me.
Therefore when I moved, I was surprised to find out that our local health authority run what is known as the Mindfulness based Stress Reduction (and its offshoot Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy). Because of my problems, I was one of a select few (it only has limited funding, therefore limited places) who were offered the chance to go on the course.
~ So what is this all about? ~
Jon Kabat Zinn is American who works at the University of Massachusetts. It was during this time there, he began to realize that prescription medication for Chronic Pain conditions was expensive, and in reality offers little long term help for those of us who need them. He began to look at alternatives, and knew that a lot of Buddhist Meditation Techniques bring about another effect medically, and that is reductions in areas such as raised blood pressure, gastrointestinal disorders, pain and even some cancers. He began to study it further, and then to look at ways of modifying (cherry picking if you like) the aspects of Buddhist meditation that helped reduce pain as well as giving the other benefits mentioned. Without a doubt, the program was an unparalleled success, even though other doctors who thought of it as being nothing more than something a witch doctor might use often ridiculed Jon Kabat Zinn. However, today it's been shown to be effective for a large group of patients. This means a lot of other health authorities are beginning to pick up Mindfulness based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy as other options of treatment.
~ So what about this CD? ~
The CD has two discs in it.
The first disc is called Mindfulness 101. This disc is specifically set up to introduce you to the whole concept of the meditation techniques, how they are effective, what you are looking for.
One of the first aspects understands the problems you might be experiencing. Whether this is because of pain, or mental downward moods - ultimately there are specific triggers that your body responds to. This means we can end up not only in pain, but also depressed. This means you often become listless, tired and fatigued, which in turn can cause further pain and you may suffer various physical complaints that do not seem to be caused by any physical illness.
It helps to explain how using the techniques on the CD, we can begin to see the patterns in your mind, and so recognize when your mood or body is beginning to go down. This means we can stop the downward trend before it becomes a bigger issue.
It also begins to explain how it helps to halt the acceleration of negative thoughts and teaches us to focus on the present moment, rather than reliving the past or pre-living the future. This might sound strange, especially when talking about pain, but it is surprising how often, even subconsciously, people wake up and the first thought might be negative. For example - Which part of me is going to ache today? It was my knees last night, will it be them again?
It then explains how it wants us to transfer our thoughts, from the mode of mind dominated by negative thinking, to make sure we can begin to see the world from another perspective altogether, whereby we are just "in that moment". That we have no judgement on what the day might bring.
From this, it is then explained it helps give us the courage to allow difficult mood, thoughts and feelings to come and go, without battling with them. We discover that difficult and unwanted thoughts and feelings can be held in awareness, and seen from an altogether different perspective - a perspective that brings with it a sense of warmth and compassion to the suffering we are experiencing.
CD2 is the one whereby you are given very specific meditation techniques (5 in total). These include the following:
Mindful Eating. This might sound strange, but there is an age-old practice of taking a raisin, and looking at it as if it was your first encounter with this ever. This is a proven Buddhist technique that immediately shows how often we don't look at the everyday around us.
Breath Meditation. This can include a very short meditation technique, and one that perhaps most people find the most beneficial initially.
From there you learn about mindfulness of the body as a whole, and you also look at mindfulness at objects and things around you (an expansion of the raisin exercise). This includes sounds, thoughts and emotions.
~ This all sounds like gobbledegook! ~
This is no crackpot cure, but a proven benefit. It is known that by learning meditation techniques, we can heal or at the very least, help disease, both physical and mental. It enables you to become peaceful, content with ourselves, and those around us, which in turn can often help us, improve the relationships we have. It allows people to move away from potentially damaging medications, again for both physical and mental problems.
Despite the main name, the overall technique is not a therapy in the strictest sense, but this CD is an introduction in to some of the most ancient techniques of meditation. To achieve this we need to learn how to watch our breath, our thoughts and our overall feelings. This becomes a method that has undoubtedly therapeutic value, and helps you not only improve your health on a daily basis, but also prevent illness in the future.
It is not, despite some people's misconceptions, about learning techniques to 'relax', although often this is a beneficial side effect.
Ultimately, the biggest hurdle most people will have with this CD set is you. This is not a quick fix on your problem, but a process and one you are totally responsible for taking on.
Of the 5 meditation techniques, you don't have to do each and everyone religiously each day. The basis of this whole technique is each person is different, and there is no right or wrong method with this all. This is where the basis of it all comes from - There is no right or wrong way to feel when doing this.
We also need to persevere with it regularly and frequently - In other words, it has to become a daily part of our lives. You can do this with the simplest of techniques, but it has to become a regular part of your day.
By taking the time to meditate, it becomes part of your life. Just as getting up and having a coffee in the morning is a routine we all learn, meditation can bring us the same benefits. It is important to remember consciously what you are being taught when you find you are at the moment of stress or illness, and again - only practice can truly help achieve this.
~ So what does the CD bring? ~
Ultimately the CD is an excellent introduction to the techniques talked about. I would advise anyone who has long term chronic pain, or long term mental health issues, to first check with your local health authority to find out if they run either of the courses mentioned, and if they do to find out how you might try and get on a course. These are often 8 weeks in length and require a 2 to 3 hour weekly slot of your time.
The CD though is a great option - whether you've taken the courses or not. It can be used as a reminder of the basics, or if you are a complete novice to this, they are an excellent introduction to the whole concept. The whole idea is we need to continue to practice meditation regularly.
I admit, the whole thing is easier and more effective when done in a group with others, especially at the beginning with an experienced teacher.
While it is possible to gain some thing from books, CD's and even DVD's - Ultimately the best understanding is only gained by being shown by someone who is extremely experienced in meditation techniques, but the CD is an excellent starting place if you cannot gain that.
~ Final thoughts ~
These CD's are superb - calm and easily accessible to everyone who has an interest.
Jon Kabat Zinn delivers the message in a way I found soothing, without being too irritating, even with some fun at times. There are occasions when repetition goes on, but that is the same with a lot of meditation CD's I've listened to over the years, because it isn't easy to leave great big "blanks" of no noise on a CD. So repetition is there, but understandable in the context. It also works on the premise that you begin to get to the point where you can do this without the CD in place.
This isn't a 'miracle' cure, because there is no such thing, and it cannot be guaranteed to work on everyone, however good the overall results, because it depends on your receptivity to it all.
If you go in with a closed mind, and refuse to allow it to open up, then you won't gain anything from it.
Ultimately, this course is based on the 'path of awareness,' as taught by the Buddha, which gave rise to Buddhism. Since this is something that has been going on for thousands of years now - There is something to be said for it all.
~ Summary ~
Overall, if you were a beginner in any kind of meditation techniques, then I would recommend this CD as a starting point. You don't have to have chronic medical conditions to benefit from the messages given, and so it is accessible for everyone who holds an interest in meditation and wants to start somewhere.
A full 5 out of 5 stars from me.
~ Availability ~
I've had a quick look online, and you can find this CD on Ebay and Amazon. Prices seem to range between £16-50 and just over £17-00 (exc. Any postage costs).
My copy was given as part of the group I attended at discount, so it might well be worth looking around and seeing what you can find.
Publisher: Sounds True Inc.,U.S.; Unabridged edition (31 Aug 2006)
It is by far the worst of her books I've read - I do hope this is accidental!
Having already done a review on The Third Victim, I thought I would settle down and review some of the other books of Lisa Gardner's I have read in the same "series". So taken from that review, the first part about Lisa Gardner is a copy and paste across (since there is little I can change to word it differently).
~ About the Author ~
Lisa Gardner is American, best known for her thriller books and at last count when writing this review she had eight New York Times Best Selling Crime books. She also wrote romance novels using the pseudonym Alicia Scott and it was how her writing career was launched.
She has written a small series featuring the FBI profiler Pierce Quincy, and The Next Accident is part of this mini series. Deputy Rainie (Lorraine) Conner is the other main character in this novel.
~ Book Synopsis ~
Pierce Quincy is a specialist FBI agent, whose ability to profile killers has made him the best at his game. But on this occasion, an accident has destroyed his family. His eldest daughter Mandy was in a coma and eventually dies after a drink driving accident, which also claims the life of an innocent victim, who just happened to be walking his dog late one night.
And yet, Quincy isn't entirely convinced that it was an accident. While he knows Mandy had her demons, and was known to have a drink problem - She appeared to have overcome this and had been clean for some months. Something didn't sit right, and so Quincy turns to the only person he knows he can trust to try and find out more - Rainie Conner.
Rainie Conner has her own personal demons to deal with. She has left the police department she had been working at (Where she had met Quincy - See The Third Victim for more). Having moved from her childhood home, she was now setting out in the world as a private investigator.
She agrees to help Quincy, but to begin with she isn't convinced she'll find anything to help ease the pain he is going through, but begins to trawl through what remains of the evidence nonetheless.
But she soon begins to find irritating details that don't quite add up - It isn't enough to exonerate Mandy's culpability, but enough for her to feel uneasy about the whole thing, and she begins to consider there might well be some truth in Quincy's concerns.
Quincy meanwhile is beginning to get phone calls from prisoners who he has helped to put away, because somehow his telephone numbers have been filtered through the prison service, but added to this, someone is also beginning to filter in to Quincy's life slowly. He begins by befriending Quincy's estranged ex-wife and before long, Quincy is tumbling into a nightmare he couldn't even begin to imagine would happen, and his only hope is Rainie Connor, and even then it might be too late and Quincy will lose everyone close to him, before his own life is destroyed.
~ Thoughts on the Book ~
I enjoyed The Third Victim, and so I was looking forward to this book, but I admit I was slightly disappointed with it. An okay novel is what I would give as a quick assessment.
So I was disappointed, but I did also enjoy the suspense of the books story as a whole. We didn't know who the person was behind the problems Quincy was facing, and that was done well. I did feel for Quincy and the position he was facing, and felt it was plausible enough.
The relationship of Rainie and Quincy worked fine on a professional level through the book, and so did some of their personal relationship, but this was also somewhere I felt it was let down.
Don't get me wrong, I liked the characters in The Third Victim, and really didn't "dislike" them this time around, but there was a depth of character that I somehow felt wasn't there in this novel. Rainie isn't perfect and I can accept that, and I did note in my previous review that I had a problem with the way the ending of that book had been dealt with - And I didn't really feel it was given enough "padding" to make the explanations work in this book either. It wasn't satisfactory enough having read both books for me, and had I only read one or the other - It would have been even less satisfactory. I would have rather read some repeat of events in both books, but both giving much tighter explanations of it all, than it done this way.
I also got tired of the way she and Quincy interacted the whole time through the book. It felt tiresome and somewhat repetitive and I just didn't get the same feeling of it gelling as I had previously and this was probably the biggest disappointment in the whole book for me.
So while the suspense aspect works - The character aspect doesn't quite meet the same level.
I admit at one point about halfway through, I just wanted to bang some heads together, because there are two supposedly extremely intelligent, logical people who really don't have any kind of a clue on personal relationships that I find had to accept. I can accept some problems, but not to the level these two manage to bring it to without any real resolution.
I guess you could say I felt more exasperated than sympathetic to some of the character problems that are mentioned, and this then didn't help the overall storyline. I was also once again left somewhat disappointed with the whole ending to the book, and much like The Third Victim I felt that it could have been a lot stronger.
Perhaps if Lisa Gardner could try a little less on the romantic side, and delve deeper in to the suspense side it would make for a better overall book. At times it felt like it had so much going for it, but then at the final hurdle it would just fall down and become far too predictable. Not something you want to have happening reading a novel that is supposed to be a thriller (albeit with romantic overtones). I've read plenty of thriller's with a romantic angle that manage to make this work, and this is where I get frustrated with Lisa Gardner because she is good - And makes it work, but then it all begins to fall apart as the novel goes on.
~ Final Thoughts ~
This isn't a great novel. It works as a read in a series of books, but beyond that it really doesn't have enough to say go out and read it. And this frustrates me, because as I've mentioned I do feel that Lisa Gardner does a great job in aspects of the novel, but it is then let down so badly elsewhere it just makes it an okay, but ultimately poor read.
Her ending once again is a let down, and the weakest point of the whole book, despite an excellent build up (in the suspense) to it all.
Her characters are also getting to the point whereby your losing sympathy for them and their plight, and it actually wouldn't take much to turn this around if she really wanted to. A slightly better editorial team might be one way to perhaps achieve this?
So 2 out of 5 stars from me. It does enough to make it so dire that I give it one star, but not enough to lift it to more than 2.
~ Availability ~
I picked mine up from the local charity shop, but I've seen it around varying in price from £3-00 to just under £6-00, so if you want to read it, it's worth looking around.
~ About the Author ~
John Katzenbach is American and has (I believe) written 14 novels.
Perhaps his best-known novel is Hart's War, which was made in to a motion picture starring Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell. Just Cause was another that was made in to a motion picture.
John Katzenbach was a court reporter for the Miami Herald, and also for the Miami News, but he now writes full time, living in Massachusetts with his wife.
State of Mind was published in 1997.
~ Book Synopsis ~
First of all, this is set in a slightly futuristic setting, but not really too far in to the future (although dates aren't given, the dialogue suggests its very much parallel to our time now and the way of life we live, but with a very definite change in dates some years ahead). The story begins with a woman who is caring for her dying mother, living in the remote swamps of Florida. Susan does word puzzles, and she is very good at it. She often gets puzzles sent back to her by readers of her work, and initially the puzzle she is currently looking at doesn't seem problematic, although she is concerned because it hasn't come via the usual routes - and so it appears someone knows where she is living. However, this worry heightens when she unravels the clue - "I have found you."
Jeffrey Clayton is a professor of abnormal psychology and he lectures as usual but is surprised to find his alarm showing someone has entered the lecture room that has set of the metal detector. This means he is in likely in danger, and as he talks, he begins to scour the room to try and work out who has triggered the alarm, and what it might mean for him. He goes back to his desk, and sitting down places his hand on the gun he has for such emergencies.
But this alarm isn't because a student has murderous intent. Instead once the lecture finishes, someone approaches Jeffrey from the 51st State. A state so new, most people still aren't sure it even exists. Special Agent Robert Martin pushes Jeffrey's buttons, knowing that Jeffrey doesn't want to get involved once again with profiling a killer. But Robert's mission is also different - Because he believes that the killer is also Jeffrey's father, someone Jeffrey's mother went in to hiding with him and Susan, 25 years earlier, and was believed to have died some time shortly after that. Not only that, someone that Martin's believed committed a similar murder just after Jeffrey's mother left, but Martin's couldn't find enough evidence then to convict him. 25 years later, and history was repeating itself.
Robert explains that the very doctrine of the 51st State is at risk. This state was set up to be a safe haven from the escalating violence seen elsewhere in the country, where you needed armed escorts just to leave work and get to your cars. The 51st State promised that it was so secure you didn't even need to lock your doors.
But the killer was threatening to derail all this, and Jeffrey could provide them with some of the answers they needed.
Soon, Jeffrey, Susan and their mother are all drawn in to a terrifying game of cat and mouse, as Jeffrey realises that his presence in the new state wasn't just to give help and advise on the mind of a serial killer, but was also so he could be used as bait to draw him out.
Will they all survive the nightmare? Or will the killer once again get away with murder?
~ Thoughts on the book ~
I haven't read one of John Katzenbach's books before, and I saw this in a pile at my parents, so grabbed it to read and I most certainly wasn't disappointed.
It's a fairly hefty novel (their paperback is well over 500 pages), and while in some instances this can detract from a book, I felt it enabled the whole plot and background to be written in well, without too many loose ends - if anything I can't remember seeing one loose end.
It does mean there is slightly more room for some mistakes, but I didn't notice anything glaring wrong with it - So point in its favour.
In general, the plot and sub-plots scattered through the book were intriguing for me, and while it wasn't driven entirely by the thriller aspect you might find in some novels, it held up well with the psychological issues that were raised, and kept in one notch above so many in this genre of writing, even if at times it wasn't a "unique" look at some of the problems it brought up.
I love Val McDermid's writing when she is taking on the more psychological aspects, and this is where I also found I enjoyed reading this novel. I didn't skip pages just to get to the action, and while it was slower than some books might be to get going, it gave a good grounding, which then really helped the novel to move along as it went on.
I also found the characters believable, both main and secondary, and the sub-plots were enough to balance the book without losing too much, which can often happen in books written with a psychological edge. The chapters were also nicely balanced, giving good views of the "thriller", "psychological" and "human" aspects as they went along and I didn't feel as if I was lost in the maze of it all.
Having a family "haunted" and then hunted by a father for so long was also a neat twist in the whole scheme of things, and gave the book a different layer not often seen. This then brought part of the ending that I found was nothing like I would have guessed, and also left it open for a possible sequel, and yet it also managed to "wrap up" the novel on this occasion as well (I've yet to find out if a sequel was then written).
~ Final thoughts ~
I really enjoyed the book, and considering it was my first read of any of John Katzenbach's, its left me wanting to hunt down others. The story is nicely paced, even allowing for the "slower" beginning, which does really set the rest of the novel up nicely.
If I had to sum it all up in one word, it would be it left me "intrigued". Not only was the plot this time around intriguing, but also intrigued to know if there is a sequel, and if there is, what happens to Jeffrey and Susan next! But saying that, if there isn't another novel featuring them, this book was still wrapped up enough to allow it to stand-alone.
I would suggest that if someone likes Val McDermid's Wire in the Blood series of books, this is someone who will give you a great alternative in a similar area, even if it is set slightly ahead in the future, I still think we can see a relevance to life today.
A full 5 stars from me on this occasion - and if you want to see your serial killers in a slightly different light, this is a book I thoroughly recommend.
~ Availability ~
Since this was a copy that my parents had I didn't pay for it. But looking around, on Amazon its listed starting from just £0-17p (exc. Posting and packing).
~ About the Author ~
Val McDermid began her writing career as a journalist, before turning to writing novels, and is without a doubt the UK's best known female writer of thriller books.
Even those who might not have read her books, are likely to know her for her best known series - Wire in the Blood, which has been made into a TV series featuring Robson Green, and currently Simone Lahbib.
Blue Genes was first published in 1996 and is the 5th novel to feature the lead Kate Brannigan.
~ Book Synopsis ~
The main character is called Kate Brannigan, and she is a private investigator and junior partner in the firm she works for. Our introduction to her has Kate setting up the "death" of her boyfriend (who happens to be away and doesn't know that his obituary has appeared in the local paper) as Kate attempts to try and find out who is behind a funeral scam, praying on those who have just lost loved ones.
However, her cover is blown when Richard (her boyfriend) arrives back home unexpectedly, just as the person Kate is trying to track down arrives on the doorstep.
Needless to say, Kate's not impressed her chance to catch these people at it seems to have gone, and her mood over the next couple of days isn't improved when she finds out that the senior partner in the Private Investigation firm (Mortensen and Brannigan) has lost the plot, having come back off holiday in Australia with a fiancé in tow. Not only that, but he tells Kate he is selling up to marry and move back "down under" and she realizes she isn't going to be able to buy his "half" of the company.
To add to the complications, her best friend Alexis (who is also a reporter) comes and asks a favour. For Kate to look in to the death of Sarah Blackstone who Kate finds out was involved in the fertility treatment of Alexis's partner, who had recently become pregnant. Kate soon realizes that Alexis has asked for her help because Sarah was flying under the ethics radar in some of her treatments, and so could Alexis be implicated in the events of Sarah's death?
~ Thoughts on the Book ~
Kate Brannigan is a character that is pretty complex, and isn't going to be to everyone's taste. Personally I find myself swaying between two schools of thought whenever I read one of the Kate Brannigan novels, and that is enjoyment of the character, but also some frustrations.
If you had to sum Kate Brannigan up in three words mine would most likely be: Tenacious, stubborn and independent.
And this sums up how I view her character, because all of these words can be viewed in a positive way, but they can also be negative at times. It's this mix, which does make it hard for me to really know what to say about this book, because I find I swing from enjoyment reading it, to frustration.
Val McDermid is well known for the way she manages to write about criminal elements in her books, and she uses her knowledge of Manchester exceptionally well when writing this novel and we get much of what you would expect from a novel by Val McDermid. A very strong lead character, a good thriller in the mix, and excellent interaction with the other characters, wart's an all.
This book isn't as psychologically thrilling as the Wire in the Blood series, but it still is a good strong contender as a crime style in its own right. If you can remove yourself from expecting the sort of book you would get with Wire in the Blood (and it's counterparts) then this book isn't going to be too much of a disappointment. However if you go in expecting the lead to be like Tony Hill then this book isn't going to deliver.
It doesn't mean the book is "weaker", just in a slightly different category.
I suspect that women might enjoy these books more, simply because it has a strong female role, and also often strong female secondary characters. And this is where if I have any real complaint I find it - because while its all well and good to have strong female leads, at times I feel the feminism drum is banged just a little too much. One comparison I would make is that Karin Slaughter can use a strong female character, but she has a balance that I sometimes miss with Kate Brannigan and Co, and this book also shows this.
~ Final thoughts ~
Val McDermid is a good solid writer of Crime and Thriller books, and once again she doesn't drop the ball with this attempt. It is much lighter than some of her other work, but also has the ingredients of mystery, humour (albeit dark at times), location and characters (main and secondary) that still puts her above many other writers out there, and certainly above a lot of British writers of today.
I would recommend that you read the Kate Brannigan in sequence. Although you can read them out of order, I feel that you really only get the best understanding of these characters reading from the beginning, so you can understand their development and also their friendships and how they graduate, because Val McDermid does rely so heavily on character interactions in a lot of her writing and this is fairly typical of that.
One thing this book does well, and again is a feature of some of Val McDermid writings is to have more than one plot going at a time, but without it losing the integrity of each plot line as the story progresses. While this might seem a "messy" way to write, in this instance it works, because you sense Kate is just like this, busy, often juggling more than one commitment and so it can at times be like trying to follow more than one piece of string.
So, it's a good book, but its not one of Val McDermid's greatest, especially if you tend to read it as a stand alone novel. I would give this book 4 stars - its good, very good in places, but on occasion stumbles slightly.
~ Availability ~
Seen online from several retailers, beginning as little as 0.70 pence (exc. Post and packing).
From Amazon (New Paperback) it is listed as being available from £5.49
· ISBN-10: 0006498310
· ISBN-13: 978-0006498315
~ Kodak ~
Kodak first began selling cameras in 1888! Their marketing tag line was: "you press the button, we do the rest," and from that moment, Kodak certainly led the way in Camera production and products.
The advent of the Digital camera did see Kodak struggle to keep up not only with the times, but also lose out on their printing side. However in recent years, Kodak has fought back somewhat and still offers a good range of items in the digital camera market.
On review today is the Kodak Easyshare Z8612 IS 8 MP camera. I am not a 'photographer' and so my review won't necessarily have the more technical stuff explained - simply because I can't, but I hope it will give an insight into my experience with this.
~ The camera in general ~
Okay, this isn't the prettiest beast on the market, but then I didn't want pink, or blue, or sparkly. I wanted good photography, but still with a Point and Shot digital camera on a fairly limited budget. Looking around, I eventually narrowed my choices down to the Kodak and the Fujifilm Finepix S5800. Both have very similar specifications, and both are currently under £100 from Argos (December 2008).
We effectively wanted something with at least 8MP (Mega pixels), a good zoom - which has to be optical to keep your quality, digital zooms lose quality - and if possible a good movie mode - and finally, within a pretty tight budget. As mentioned, both these cameras had these attributes.
I then did some trawling around local camera shops and managed to find both cameras available to test out at different places. It was after this try out, it was decided to go with the Kodak rather than the Fuji.
~ So initial impressions ~
As I've said, the Kodak isn't the prettiest beast on the market. It's black, and fairly 'square' to look at, but then again so was the Fuji. Both have lens that protrude more than some other models of camera, but again I knew that I was going to have to compromise and lose a little of the flexibility that a smaller camera can offer in terms of just fitting in to your pocket. It doesn't mean the Kodak doesn't fit a pocket, but its generally not your trousers, but your coat pocket! So if being able to carry the camera around discreetly is important, then this camera isn't one to look at.
Holding the camera is also a vital consideration I have to make. I suffer with arthritis, so weight and also the camera design while holding it were also important considerations. Again, there was little difference between the two, but overall I felt the Kodak was just that little lighter (I've no idea what the official weights are) and more importantly it felt more comfortable in my grip. After about five minutes, the Fuji began to make my hand ache quite badly - Now I know a lot of consumers are not going to even think twice about this aspect of buying a camera, but I wanted to include this into my review anyway because it might still be useful for some to know.
Overall, the camera feels solidly built, and none of the buttons or movement of the lens feel cheap, despite its price.
Before use, we did ensure we had a SD Media card to plug in, although it has a very small amount of internal memory, unless you really drop the mega pixel settings, this isn't going to be anything like enough, and would only give a few pictures at a time. You can also use a SDHC card if you want to, particularly if you use the Video mode on the camera. Again I don't know the full technical detail so I'm afraid that is the sum total of my knowledge about the cards!
~ Switching on and ready to go ~
The camera comes supplied with a standard lithium battery. You can use Li-ion rechargeable batteries, and we bought the Kodak version (CRV3) plus charger for less than £15-00 on Ebay. It meant we also had a spare CRV3 as part of the purchase, so we've always got a battery charged and ready to use.
The switching on and off of this camera is very easy to work out. I had my first pictures taken without having to look once at the manual, which shows if you're used to a digital camera, a lot of its initial use is very instinctive, and this is a huge plus point in its favour in my opinion.
However, the pop up flash does 'pop' up each time you turn the camera on. Now I personally don't find it a nuisance, but I imagine that some people might. The reason I think they have this pop up is because the flash doesn't automatically appear when it is needed - you have to push the 'on' switch to get the flash to work if you have pushed it back down again - so by doing it automatically, its just to make sure you have the flash if needed.
Other than that, it's fairly quick to get itself set up and ready to use. Again, I can only compare this to our older digital camera (Sony Cybershot), plus my parents and sisters own digital cameras, and the Fuji I tested at the time, but I didn't think it was any slower than any camera I've used previously.
The rear viewer is nice and clear, and you get a good-sized area to see your image through. Now again, this camera doesn't have a viewfinder, and so some people might consider that a point against it, personally I've not used the viewfinder in the 3 years we've had our old camera once - So I doubt it would be an issue for us, but I guess in very bright sunlight conditions it might cause a problem with reflection on the screen.
~ Point and Press ~
As I've said, I'm not a photographer, so while I can use this camera in various manual modes, I'm just going to settle for the Auto setting it offers. Later, once I get more used to it, I might dabble with the settings a little more - but it isn't why we bought the camera. Therefore, as a point and press it seems to work exceptionally well. Its picked up each setting I've thrown at it without incident so far, and done so quickly. From Macro to Landscape, it didn't hesitate getting its settings sorted, and so far I've been extremely impressed with it all.
As I've said, I had managed to get pictures without even having to look at the manual, and once home we did some more practice shots with it - and apart from one uncertainty (how to view your pictures back) everything else was done without having to look at the manual that is supplied with it - so that really does put some points in its favour in my book.
The manual is pretty hefty, but in reality its because its supplied with a half dozen or more languages all in one place. The English portion of the manual is only a few pages - A fraction of the overall size. While I can understand Kodak wanting to have a 'standard' box that they can effectively ship wherever they want to in these language zones, I'm afraid I do object to the waste of paper, print etc to send out a manual that is in reality only relevant on a few pages to each customer.
The camera also comes with its own disc of Kodak Software, but since we use an external SD Card, and plug that straight in, I've yet to upload anything off the CD to use, so I can't comment about that aspect.
It also can be used within the Kodak Easyshare system - but again since this isn't something I'm ever likely to use, I can't comment about that aspect of the camera.
~ The pictures ~
First of all, I'm been extremely impressed with the quality of the pictures we've had from the camera. The Zoom capabilities are superb for this sort of camera and that has particularly impressed. Often when you use a zoom feature on a camera you get a lot of blurring, but the image stabiliser system seems to really stop a lot of that, and so far we've not used it on the tripod at all on Zoom setting. There will be occasions when that will be advisable, but again this seems to be excellent at allowing you just to point zoom and press without real picture quality loss.
You can also use its focus feature, which gives you a green line when its found the focus you need, but again if we've needed to take a picture quickly (and so haven't had time for the focus finder to be used) we've noticed no real loss of picture quality.
Colours seem far better than I imagined they would and again, I've not noticed any discernable differences in different light conditions. We've kept the settings at the highest mega pixels on offer, and this has enabled us to crop down photos, without losing quality.
Edit: I also forgot to mention you have the option of Panoramic mode using 3 shots that "stitch" together. I've tried it once, and there is no real distortion showing, again something I've seen in other cameras with this feature. Great for those landscape wide angle shots.
~ Final thoughts ~
This camera isn't without its faults, particularly the flash popping up when you turn it on. Also the lack of a viewfinder for some people might be frustrating. And while it comes with a lens cover, it isn't held in place that well - but again I guess that's another safety consideration, because it allows the cover to 'pop' off if you forget to remove it before switching the camera on, because your lens does move and if you've got the lens cap strapped to the body, it would hold it back!
But, despite these problems - I find they are small and irritating, and certainly don't detract from the picture quality and ease of use this camera gives. The zoom feature on this is very good indeed, and the video quality for a camera of this sort isn't bad either!
Overall, 4 out of 5 stars from me.
~ Finally, some technical information - taken from the Argos website Dec. 2008 ~
* Body material: Plastic.
* 8.1m pixels.
* 12 x optical zoom.
* 5 x digital zoom.
* 2.5in LCD screen.
* Digital Image stabilization.
* In-camera red eye fix.
* Face Detection.
* Anti blur optical.
* SD memory card compatible.
* 21Mb internal memory.
* Maximum ISO range: 1600.
* 16 scene modes.
* Pictbridge compatible.
* Accessories included in box - USB cables, lens cap, neck strap, Kodak EasyShare software, Getting Started Guide, Custom insert for optional Kodak EasyShare camera and printer docks.
* Lithium battery (AA), supplied.
* Weight 290g.
* Size (H)6.6, (W)10.4, (D)7cm.
Also my review on Ciao
Lisa Gardner - The Third Victim.
Better than third place.
~ About the Author ~
Lisa Gardner is American, best known for her thriller books and at last count when writing this review she had eight New York Times Best Selling Crime books. She also wrote romance novels using the pseudonym Alicia Scott and it was how her writing career was launched.
She has written a small series featuring the FBI profiler Pierce Quincy, and The Third Victim is part of this mini series. Deputy Rainie (Lorraine) Conner is the other main character in this novel.
~ Book Synopsis ~
Deputy Rainie Connor is one of only three full time Sheriff or Deputy's to be assigned to work in the small town of Bakersville, Oregon. She is currently on patrol with a rookie, who cannot carry a firearm until he completes his training, but he can help her with day-to-day mundane events that make up their usual working day.
Only one day becomes something far more than just the usual day of handing out tickets for minor violations, with a call coming over the radio that changes everyone's lives completely.
"Shots fired" is the initial report coming through the walkie-talkie, and the report is coming from the local school. While en-route, Rainie is radioed by the Sheriff of the town - her boss - insisting she is the primary and will work the scene, even though he is closer and will arrive not only before Rainie but also has the experience she doesn't to handle such an investigation.
Once Rainie arrives, chaos greets her. The crime scene is already compromised, and no-one is sure if the shooter is still in the building. Sheriff O'Grady's car is parked up, but he is nowhere to be seen.
Rainie and her companion begin to search the school, coming across the town's paramedics desperately trying to save someone's life - and then they stumble across O'Grady, who is facing the one person who is armed - His son.
After they make the arrest of Danny O'Grady, it becomes apparent one teacher and two children are now dead.
Rainie's investigation is soon erupting around her, with outside influences coming to help, but in some cases, hindering the investigation. And to complicate matter, FBI profiler Pierce Quincy arrives and offers his help. Once he and Rainie begin to investigate further, O'Grady's sons' involvement doesn't seem as straightforward as the evidence might suggest.
~ Thoughts on the Book ~
I had already read another of Gardner's books, 'The Perfect Husband', which I had enjoyed, albeit not convinced it was one of the strongest thriller books I had read, but enjoyable nevertheless. Then I came across this book in a number on sale in our local Lidl for £1-49 each, and so picked it up knowing if this was as good as the previous book I had read it was going to be worth every penny.
I wasn't disappointed. If anything I felt this book had better character depth, and the bad guys were much better written and added to the overall feel well.
Actually the subject matter of the book is already something I've not seen tackled before, and that is a school shooting. It also became apparent not only by reading Lisa Gardner's own notes on the book, but also as you read the novel, that a lot of research had gone on, looking into these events and why they can happen.
This research really does help the book, and takes a sensitive subject and tackles it head on without becoming sensational. Not an easy balance to achieve and for this alone Lisa Gardner has to be praised.
So, already a point in her favour - She has presented a tragedy without making it sensational and so keeps it pertinent to the overall story.
As mentioned, the characters are well done, with good depth and this also includes the villains of the piece. Danny O'Grady is presented well, as a damaged teenager who is befriended by someone who moulds Danny to do his bidding for him, and so we get given a very different angle on how the villain of the piece operates.
It also means we get shown aspects of the villains character, but they are still kept deep in the background, making it difficult for the reader to work out who they are.
We also get glimpses of the shady past of Rainie Connor, and her past is developed more as the book goes along. Again this works well within the context of the book plot and doesn't feel just like an attempt to fill the pages unlike some books I've read recently. We also begin to see the relationship between her and Quincy develop, even though they are both damaged goods for their own reasons - and this adds to the tension.
So, we have flawed main characters, a villain who even a good way through the book is difficult to pin down, good narrative that gives us great descriptions and dialogue, and an intense crime that doesn't fall into the trap of becoming sensationalised. All in all - A good book.
So, does it have any faults? It's only marked down as 4 stars.
Overall this is a great book, but I felt just a little flat when I read the ending. It's hard to explain what I felt, but compared to how well the rest of the book had worked, this was the weakest point for me. Rainie Connor has an ending that just didn't seem right and somehow I felt annoyed she was placed in to the position she was, and wish we had been given more of an idea what happened to her - and while I suspect that we get to know in the follow up book in the series, I think it could have easily been tied up here, since there is no guarantee that you can either read the next book, or want to read it. A minor gripe it might be, but a gripe nonetheless.
~ Final Thoughts ~
Lisa Gardner is the sort of author that isn't going to give you great memorable writing, but she falls into a group of writers who don't pretend to be something they aren't and so I don't classify that as a failing.
The characters are excellent, and while the initial plot is driven, this does disperse into the background as the character flaws and desires begin to show through, and again while a lot of writers do this, this novel does it better than most who only manage passable, mediocre attempts.
Part of the reason this works is because we are left with no doubt who has been involved with the shooting - Danny O'Grady. What we don't know is who else is involved and it's the delving into the background that brings up dead ends and red herrings for the investigation team that pull this book a notch or two above the norm.
So, we have the thriller aspect and also the psychology that other writers (most notably Val McDermid) have used well and as mentioned earlier it's pretty obvious that Lisa Gardner has done a lot of work to get the background psychology and that air of realism makes a lot of difference.
So 4 out of 5 stars - The ending is the only point where I felt some disappointment and considering the obvious work that has gone into the book, it's a shame something like that has let it down.
~ Availability ~
As mentioned I paid £ 1-49 from Lidl the other week but looking around online I've seen it from £ 3-49 (exc. Postage).
Also posted on Ciao
The Grave Tattoo.
~ About the Author ~
Val McDermid began her writing career as a journalist, before turning to writing novels, and is without a doubt the UK's best known female writer of thriller books.
Even those who might not have read her books, are likely to know her for her best known series - Wire in the Blood, which has been made into a TV series featuring Robson Green, and currently Simone Lahbib.
The Grave Tattoo was first published in 2006.
~ The Book synopsis ~
After unusual amounts of rain, a body is uncovered in the peat hillsides of The Lake District.
It becomes apparent this is a fairly old body, but its even more intriguing to find that it is covered in a variety of tattoos.
Meanwhile in London, local Lake District lass Jane Gresham is barely surviving her time in the capital. Her home consists of a flat on a run down housing estate, but she has also struck up a very unusual friendship with one of the local girls, Tenile, who is an enigma to those who know her - She often plays truant from school, but is completely taken with poetry and literature, and it is this connection that forges the relationship she has with Jane.
Jane is a Wordsworth expert and has always been fascinated with Christian Fletcher, and when she finds out about the body, her instinct is that despite official stories to the contrary, she has always believed Christian made his way back to the area, and could this tattoo covered body be that of Christian Fletcher?
In order to find out Jane goes back home to The Lakes. In the meantime Tenile becomes a suspect in the murder of her mothers current live in lover, and so she also flees London to follow Jane. Once in The Lake District, the body count in the area also begins to rise, and what seemed like tragic events to begin with suddenly take on a much more sinister turn.
~ Thoughts on the book ~
I was intrigued when I read the back cover because I could tell this might be a slightly different direction to the usual Val McDermid book, and I actually like the idea of what it was about, so was pleased when a family member decided to give me a copy as a present.
I'm still not sure what I think about this book. One part of me loved it, the other part of me wondered if it really was that good?
So what am I not sure about? Well to begin with I found some of the characters just not as in-depth as I'm used to reading, particularly with a Val McDermid novel. Her biggest strength for me has always been the depth of character she has put in, whether it's a good guy, the baddie, or simply a secondary character.
Yet here I didn't quite connect with the characters in the same way, and yet I didn't absolutely dislike them, but they could have been much stronger in my opinion.
Of the characters the biggest disappointment was Tenile who just wasn't convincing. I felt her character was unrealistic and certainly not someone I've ever known in real life, again something that Val McDermid is usually so good at getting right. I've known a lot of people from neighbourhoods she supposedly comes from, and the differences with her were just too marked. I suppose it might be somewhere someone is like her, but I just can't imagine it.
I have nothing against Teniles background, but I really think she would have been far more believable had her family been more grounded. Tenile worked in the context of the story, but didn't quite work in the context of her own background.
What I did enjoy was the atmospheric descriptions that were piled right throughout the book. This is another strong area of McDermid's writing and she doesn't disappoint with edgy writing, often mixed well with more mundane events. This is important when you have a historical aspect in the story, as this does, because it helps keep you focused when hopping between the different times.
But unfortunately this also brings me to my biggest gripe of the whole book, and that were the "flashbacks" that McDermid inserted throughout the whole thing. While it was fairly interesting at the beginning, and helped set the scenes, by the midway point I was gaining absolutely nothing from reading them, and when I came to these passages in the book, I actually began to skip them altogether, and it didn't stop me from understanding the story or not getting any of the plot that was unfolding in the rest of the book. Totally unnecessary in my opinion, because by being able to completely ignore these passages, it shows how little they contributed to the overall story.
At times as well, it also felt as if there were just too many secondary characters. Again this is something that McDermid is usually so strong with, but here it just got too convoluted at times, and strangled some of the dialogue. Thankfully, McDermid is a good enough writer to just about rescue the book in this instance, and so while I find it bizarre an area she is usually so strong at is now weakened, it is still well above some other writers out there.
McDermid does manage to keep the pace (with the exception of the flashback excerpts) of the book going along well, and this is another signature of her writing and fortunately this doesn't disappoint in any way, although the ending does feel a little rushed. I personally would have preferred the removal of most of the flashback sequences, and used the space freed up to improve and tighten the ending up. It feels almost as if McDermid was at her word limit, and so couldn't finish the book as neatly as she might otherwise have done.
I admit I was actually a little disappointed when the true villain was revealed because it just didn't seem 'quite' right.
~ Final Thoughts ~
Okay, so I've pointed out the flaws for me when I read this, and it's certainly not without them! But, overall McDermid is a very good writer, and fortunately this does show even in the weaker areas of the book, and its this that rescues it for me.
If I was asked is this one of Val McDermid's best novels, I'm afraid I would say no. Its a slight departure in style to her usual novels, and feels like its a very personal book for her - And perhaps that is part of the reason why it doesn't stand out as strongly as others she has written for me.
Overall, the action does pick up at a nice pace, and while some of the secondary characters don't feel as strong as they usually would, the main ones (with the exception of Tenile) all feel good and solid, and most importantly believable.
I think perhaps the biggest problem is that most McDermid readers know what they are going to get from her - Strong, sometimes even gory thrillers that don't compromise and pack a punch. In this instance, McDermid has moved away from her usual Cops (or Psychologists) and Robbers in a frantic chase against the clock to stop some serial killer or rapist, to a more staid intriguing crime story with an edge of a thriller, but is based heavily on historical events intermingled with fiction.
And it sort of works, but not without its faults. I've tried long and hard to think about how I'm going to rate this book - Hell I even began writing this review weeks ago, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the book, or how to rate it.
One part of me feels it is well written, and a good read. Another part of me thinks that McDermid almost tried too hard with this project, and that some passages are certainly superfluous, while others aren't tight enough. So I ended up wavering between enjoying the book, and getting frustrated with it!
So, I think 3 stars is ultimately the fairest score I can give this. Satisfactory, but not one of her best. Perhaps a good book for someone who is more interested in historical crime novels. I will keep it and most likely read it again at some point in the future, but I don't think it will survive on the shelf beyond a second reading.
~ Availability ~
I was given my copy, but looking around I've seen it on offer from £1-49 upwards.
On average paperbacks seem to be around the £3-50 mark online, exc. Postage.
Also posted on Ciao.
Speaking in Tongues - Jeffrey Deaver
~ About the Author ~
Jeffrey Deaver is American and has a number of accomplishments under his belt. He was also a journalist and Attorney, he has also been a folk singer, and is now a number one best selling writer, best known for his crime and thriller style. He is also the winner of various awards in the industry.
Perhaps his best known work is The Bone Collector which was made into a movie, starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. The Bone Collector is also the first book to feature Lincoln Rhyme who then features in further books to complete a series.
Speaking in Tongues is a standalone novel published in 2000.
~ The Book Synopsis ~
Meg McCall has an appointment with her psychologist, where she is seen not by her usual doctor, but Dr. Bill Peters. Once the session begins, Meg finds she is getting more from this one session than she has achieved in all the ones prior to it, and so she is asked to write down how she feels about her dysfunctional family.
Normally Meg wouldn't have managed to write anything, but Dr. Peters is so persuasive she finds the words pour out on to the page, and all the anger she has been holding back is brought to the fore.
Meanwhile, Tate Collier is working at his home, the aged but family plot in Virginia. Once not only one of the county's and state's finest lawyers, but one of the countries best - he now finds it hard to reconcile the mistakes he made while working at the top of his game.
Nowadays he prefers to be community advocate in rural Virginia, fighting for injustice, and trying to rebuild his life.
This means also trying to be a father (of sorts) to his teenage daughter, Meg, as well as be civil to Bett, his ex-wife.
But their lives are about to implode when Meg seems to run away - but soon Tate and Bett discover that Tate's life has come back to haunt him.
To save Meg, Bett and Tate must avoid recrimination, and work together to help their daughter.
~ Thoughts on the Book ~
Whilst Jeffrey Deaver has been around for some time, I admit this is the first time I have delved into on of his novels, and overall I wasn't too disappointed.
I admit it isn't a novel that has the same intensity levels that some books have, and until I read some more of Deaver's work, I can't say at this stage if the same goes compared to his other work.
However, it doesn't mean it this loses out because of it, and while it isn't at the highest of tempos it is still a good overall psychological thriller.
The main premise is between the relationships of the characters, and somewhat predictably, there is the broken down marriage, and rebellious teenage daughter. This allows Deaver to introduce his main villain of the piece, the mysterious Bill Peters - who we begin to realize is using an alias and has killed in order to maintain his charade and he is out for revenge against Tate.
We are also quickly shown that his anger is directed at Tate, and it also ties in a little too conveniently as to why Tate left practicing as a highflying prosecutor to become an advocate of rights in his hometown.
As I've mentioned, it's a good book, but honestly nothing more than that. While the plot is enough to hold your attention, I also felt as if I've read this somewhere before - it just wasn't quite unique or strong enough to make it stand out from the crowd.
The characters again feel mixed and I felt while there was some dimension and belief about them, again at times I felt they were rather staid and they could be characters plucked from other books and just re-jigged to use here.
Megan is possibly for me the strongest character of the book, and while some of the dialogue didn't feel all that great, overall I just felt everything worked well when it was focusing on her, and the dilemma she was in.
Tate and Bett are the two weakest characters and this is primarily because we get numerous accounts exploring their relationship, past and present - and it just felt like Deaver was attempting to fill pages with text, rather than it bringing something worthwhile to the overall story.
Its fine that we get background, and it works well for this, but once the story really begins to take off, it just doesn't seem necessary a lot of the time. The crux of the story doesn't revolve around their relationship, and in some ways I wished he had focused more on one of the other main characters to flesh them out a little. But, that's personal preference.
I found it a little disconcerting we get given the reasons behind the kidnap of Megan pretty early on as well - I feel it could have easily have been fleshed out and kept a secret for much longer, and therefore improving the overall story. It takes excellent story telling to maintain the interest once we know the "why" this is happening, and fortunately, this story while not excellent - did just enough to keep me reading.
~ Final thoughts ~
Overall, Jeffrey Deaver works a good strong story, and the intrigue and suspense we are given with the exception of Tate and Bett's background is good.
But as I've mentioned there are areas of weakness that are a shame to see, because it is a good idea and story, but it is let down because of some implausible ideas and characterization and elaborate attempts to give us the reasons "why" when I feel it would have been best left for later, adding to the suspense of it all.
So in general I just feel this isn't as involving as it could have been, but its an okay read. It's the sort of book I would suggest someone picks up if they are looking to read something that still has reasonable strength, but isn't a book you need to concentrate on too hard, with characters you can quickly establish in your mind and understand.
If however you are looking to read a deeply disturbing psychological thriller that is full of pace, and full of complex characters and depth this isn't the book to read.
Deaver fans might feel otherwise, but until I've read other books of his I can't compare it.
A thriller that doesn't quite match up to the idea. Overall I give this book 3 out of 5 stars. Not great, but not the worst out there.
~ Availability ~
I had this from a local charity shop for £1-00, but it does seem widely available and I've seen it on Amazon.co.uk for £5-49 (exc. Postage)
· ISBN-10: 0340640235
· ISBN-13: 978-0340640234
A plotline that was murdered!
The Murder Game by Beverly Barton
~ About Beverly Barton ~
Born and raised in Alabama, Beverly had her first novel published in 1990. She was by then a mother whose children had left the nest, and so started writing to help fill in some of her time.
She considers herself to have two writing styles. Some books are noted as being romantic suspense, the others just simply romance books in nature.
She has now written over 60 novels in both genres.
The Murder game was released in 2008.
~ The book synopsis. ~
We begin with someone being hunted through woodland. A woman is trying desperately to escape the clutches of her tormentor, but eventually he wins and she is killed. He has now killed 5 women in 5 different states.
But the game for the hunter has changed. No longer satisfied just with killing someone, he knows he needs an adversary to make the hunt and kill more exciting -
Because he has done this sort of thing before, only his cousin and former partner in crime is now dead. Leaving him with no-one to battle his wits against.
But then he decides on the two people who can be those adversaries. Private Investigator Griffon Powell, and FBI Agent Nicole Baxter had brought down another serial killer, his cousin no less and the only person the FBI were willing to attribute to the previous killings. Only 2 people disagreed with this and had always maintained there were indeed two separate killers. Who better to drag into his games?
Griffon and Nicole are bitter enemies, forced together initially by circumstances beyond their control, are now forced to work together a second time. Only this time, the stakes are much higher and emotions begin to come into play like they never thought possible.
To catch this psychopathic killer they both need to not only work together, but also possibly lose everything close to them, and by then it might be too late.
~ My thoughts on the book ~
Overall the plotline and writing was good enough. It wasn't the most tense of thriller novels I've read, but it was good enough to want to keep finding out more about who the killer was, what motivated him and also how Griffin and Nicole both dealt with the situation.
We get nicely balanced looks into Griffin and Nicole's past that helps us understand not only their desire to hunt the killer down, but also why they interact with people in the way that they do. -
The romantic angle Beverly Barton is known for tends to take a bit of a back seat in this story, and that's not such a bad thing. Unfortunately I've not read any of her other books, so I don't know how this might compare to others in this particular genre.
There was a nice balance of intricacy, which makes it a nice easy read but without it becoming so boring you switch off straight away. Her writing style in this novel means she likes to give you more than just the viewpoint of the hunter and the people chasing him. You also get a nice look at the victims and how it affects them, but without it being overly gory or too insensitive.
It's nicely paced, but again as I've said an easy enough read, all good points in any book, but particularly in this genre. But this also did have the feeling of "I've read this all before." Because of the way it came across.
Its not the sort of in-depth writing that can keep you occupied discussing with someone else for example, but still good enough for you to perhaps mention it for someone to look out for.
And tell someone to look out for it I would - Except for some glaring issues I had reading this!
Now, reading the first part of this review you would think I enjoyed the book - and in many ways I did. But there are some glaring mistakes and plotline issues with it that really wrecked any enjoyment I was getting from reading it all.
First of all, Griffin Powell and his lost 10 years. We later find out what caused him to disappear for 10 years, and how he amassed his fortune. It all just was too contrived to fit into this storyline, and so felt totally unbelievable. Now I've no problem with this aspect being brought into the story, but if you are going to show the characters flaws and past history, I prefer to see it in a much more plausible setting and not one so obviously set up to mirror the present events going on around him.
But, despite my moans about this aspect, it isn't what annoys me the most.
What annoyed me more than anything were absolutely appalling errors in storyline continuity, spelling mistakes, and geographical errors.
The biggest issue for me was the way we suddenly "lost" a body! We had 5 known murders, in 5 different states.
Suddenly we are down to four whilst in discussions about the murders. Now I was so stunned by this I actually read the passages out to my partner, and then read from the beginning again to see if I hadn't mistaken something and the numbers were right for this particular aspect of the book.
I could not find any reason why suddenly we were down to 4 murders! Not one - and yet right at the end of the book - miraculously we get the right figure given (allowing for additional bodies to appear). And this wasn't just something mentioned once mistakenly, it was mentioned in more than one passage in the book!
This completely ruined the rest of the book for me because I just kept thinking back to this mistake the whole way through and wondering how it wasn't spotted or did I really miss something even after reading it through from the start again. Mind you, the spelling and grammatical errors right the way through the book were also astounding! I accept the occasional typing error can occur, but again in this instance I thought it was way above what I would normally find and so isn't acceptable.
There was also a geographical error, and considering I'm not American, to have picked up on that is enough for me to wonder was it someone who wasn't qualified proof reading this story!
~ So final thoughts ~
Overall, this wouldn't have been a bad book to read, and I would have given it 4 stars. But as you've probably noticed the errors it produced were enough to effectively ruin all the good work it did contain.
So therefore I won't recommend this book to anyone, nor am I likely to read another Beverly Barton book unless it's a freebie. The mistakes right the way through are not good enough for a writer who has written so many books previously. Had this been her first attempt I could forgive it more, but not over 60 books later. Her editing team need a bomb putting under them basically.
So it's a poor 1 star from me.
~ Availability ~
I paid £3-87 from Tesco's for my copy. It seems to be widely available from other suppliers, and prices do seem to vary from £1-34 used (exc. P&P)
This review will also be on Ciao.