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H Pedder "bookworm" (UK)

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The Unfixed Stars
The Unfixed Stars
by Michael Byers
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars This is one of those 'what if..?' books, 19 Jan. 2011
This review is from: The Unfixed Stars (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
What would it have been like to have discovered Pluto? This book takes a specific subject, using the inspirational work of real people, and tells the tale of Clyde Tombaugh and much more besides. I have an interest in astronomy, and biography, but this book doesn't really fall into either category. It's inspired by Tombaugh, but its main focus is not the discovery of Pluto. There are several themes, plots and sub-plots running through this novel, so you don't need to have a particular interest or knowledge of astronomy.

It's quite a lengthy book, and I found it quite slow to start - so do persevere if you can! As each thread gains momentum, so does the overall intrigue and interest of the book itself. The prose is readable, in that the voices of the characters can be felt with each switch of perspective.

Maybe this would be an enjoyable introduction to the historical world of astronomy, showing that there's excitement, controversy and scandal in all walks of life!

Just three stars? Well, I wasn't gripped the whole time, it took a bit of effort at times to keep going. Difficult to pinpoint the exact reason why; I love a factual or challenging book but there was just something about this which struggled to pique my interest at times. I think the pace itself was just rather slow. I never really reached the point where I actually cared all that much about any of the characters, which is such a shame! I can't dismiss this book altogether though, because the prose really is well-written, and the subject matter could be so very enthralling!

Morphy Richards 48322 Easy Use Breadmaker
Morphy Richards 48322 Easy Use Breadmaker

27 of 34 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars not a patch on my old panasonic :o(, 2 Jan. 2011
This breadmaker was bought to replace a Panasonic one that I previously had but unfortunately got damaged. I opted to change because I was lured by the idea that there's always something better, and by Morphy Richards' bold claim that they're the number one breadmaker. I REALLY wish I'd stuck with the Panasonic and just bought an identical replacement, as this isn't a patch on that one.

As described on the blurb, there are 13 programmes and a 12-hour delay timer (handy for overnight baking and a pre-requisite, for me, for any breadmaker). THe viewing window is handy. and it's easy to clean and easy to use - so thumbs up there. There are plenty of options here for very light to very dark crust, plus an extra bake (although not sure what that'd be used for). Hence the two stars in this review. OK, now for the cons...

The bread - the whole point of buying this - is disappointing. I've followed the recipe in the instruction booklet that comes with this machine to the very letter, and the bread always turns out to be quite heavy, not light and fluffy, with a thick crust and overall chewy texture. It feels more like a brioche loaf - only without the buttery goodness! It goes stale very quickly - as I know fresh bread does, but this seems even quicker than normal. Every time I've made a loaf, the mixing blade in the pan gets well and truly embedded into the loaf; this used to happen occasionally on my old breadmaker but seems to happen without fail on this, and it's so stuck into the bread that it can only be removed once it's cooled and you start slicing through the bread. A real inconvenience.

The recipes given with this machine are plentiful, but I don't like the Americanised way of measuring using cups - I'd rather stick to grams/ounces etc. It does come with two measuring cups and some measuring spoons, which is handy, but annoyingly the recipes call for the inclusion of skimmed milk powder...what if you want to use proper milk instead (as even suggested in the booklet)? It doesn't give a liquid equivalent so you have to guess. I've tried making the loaf without any milk or milk powder (as per my previous machine) but the end result is still so disappointing.

I don't know why the bread this produces is so dense and chewy; I've used a breadmaker for a year or so and never had problems before now. It's such a disappointment (especially as this was a gift!) and I'm only hoping that something will go wrong with it so that I can take it back to the shop for an exchange (a different brand altogether, hopefully a Panasonic!) under the year's warranty.

If you're looking at getting a breadmaker, do lots of research - ultimately, the appearance (which, by the way, I'm not fond of in this, it's quite an odd shape) is irrelevant, it's the bread it produces that matters. A timer is very useful, as it allows you make bread overnight ready for the morning - everything else is embellishment I guess. With this Morphy Richards breadmaker, the only things going for it are its viewing window and ease of use - nothing that separates it from others. What does separate it, is the terrible bread it makes!
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 8, 2012 2:49 AM BST

Three Cups Of Tea
Three Cups Of Tea
by Greg Mortenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly inspiring, 31 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Three Cups Of Tea (Paperback)
Greg Mortenson is an American with a big heart. He dedicated years of life to helping remote villages in the near-inhospitable mountains of Pakistan and Afghanistan acquire the resources to build a school. Sounds simple, but the tale told here shows how many obstacles Dr. Greg had to overcome. His story is utterly inspiring.

This book is testament to Greg's dedication, perseverance and absolute commitment to helping villagers take their first step to educating their next generation. This is, as Greg believes, the key in the battle against terrorism. Educating children is the only way to truly stop the infiltration of the Taliban, which spreads the Jihadist message through teaching children at a young age. If these children are offered a broad education, with an objective subject base that shows no bias or prejudice, and offers all children an opportunity to continue their education into adulthood. The book is also an insight into the beautiful terrain of the mountains that slice through Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the village life experienced in these remote areas.

Greg Mortenson's tale is not preaching, nor is it righteous - his humble manner is evident; in fact his impassioned 'quest' ventures into the obsessive so that at times I did question his actions and his motives. THis is no bad thing, it added an element of 'mortal human' to the story - it would be easy to portray Greg as some kind of superman which he obviously isn't. He's just a very kind, caring and committed philanthropist who went to extreme measures to put words into actions.

I finished this book feeling inspired, truly. It made me simply happy that there are people who care so much. I'd love to have the capacity, or tenacity, to do something as charitable as this - it's easier to find reasons not to, but this book does at least ignite a spark that suggests even the little things we do can help.

Garlic Zoom (Original) (Colours May Vary)
Garlic Zoom (Original) (Colours May Vary)
Offered by Colanders FBA
Price: £9.84

4.0 out of 5 stars Handy gadget with a few little flaws, 30 Dec. 2010
An avid user of garlic in cooking, this gadget does save me time and mess - and certainly eradicates the pervading smell of garlic that clings to my hands usually, despite using that clever little metal soap bar trick!

Remove the peel from the clove(s), put the clove(s) into the gadget and then roll it along a surface; I find it works better if I place a teatowel on the work surface rather than doing it directly on the worktop, it seems to need something to grip to. Within seconds the garlic is chopped it, quite uniformly and smaller than possible to do with a knife (usually).

There are a few drawbacks, though. One: quite a lot of the chopped garlic remains in the gadget, and it's difficult to get these bits out due to its small and fiddly shape. This means that if you wanted, say, 2 cloves for your recipe you might need to consider chopping two and a half (for example) to ensure you got all the garlic you needed. Seems a bit wasteful! Two: the chopping blades within this thing are very sharp (as you'd expect) but there's no protection or protective mechanism, nor are the blades fixed to the gadget - so as soon as you open it up (either to empty the chopped garlic, put the clove in, or to wash it) the blades are exposed and liable to fall out.

I will continue to use this, but only if the recipe calls for it - just the odd clove here or there and it's easier to prepare it with a knife. Good gadget, though, and handy - plus it's a little novelty adorning the worktop!

Isabella Moon
Isabella Moon
by Laura Benedict
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Poor, maybe just not my style?!, 30 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Isabella Moon (Hardcover)
The cover of this book is more interesting than the book itself, unfortunately. The blurb caught my interest, but a few pages into the text and it rapidly dwindled. The prose is dull, unimaginative, cliched and somewhat soulless. I cared so little about the characters, and Benedict seemed to pay little attention to their development and complexity - it all seemed so one-dimensional. The plot is as other reviews and the as the blurb says - I had high hopes of a ghostly chiller with elements of crime/thriller thrown in, but was quite disappointed. In honesty, I decided to cut my losses halfway through and never even bothered to finish this book.

Maybe it's just not written in a style that suits my taste, but if so that's because I enjoy a book which plays with the beauty of language and weaves words to create a story that is believable (regardless of how believable the subject matter). This really didn't do it. I didn't give it one star because I'd only give a single star rating if I absolutely vehemently detested something and I couldn't muster enough energy for this book to care that much. There are so many budding authors and new writers entering the market, every book needs to offer something different; an idea, a character, a unique writing style - this was none of the above.

The Behaviour Of Moths
The Behaviour Of Moths
by Poppy Adams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Gripping and lacking in equal measure, 29 Dec. 2010
This review is from: The Behaviour Of Moths (Paperback)
The tale of the inhabitants of Bulburrow Court spans five decades, and is told from the perspective of Ginny - the elder sister. She recounts her youth, spent with her father - the renowned lepidopterist (moth collector/expert), her alcoholic mother and wayward sister Vivi. The narrative flits from present day, with Ginny as an elderly lone keeper of the empty house, to her recollection of the past.

I was, for the most part, intrigued by Ginny's quirky narrative and her engaging reminiscence. There are, as proclaimed on the front cover from a Daily Mail review, echoes of Mark Haddon. However, there were substantial chunks when I was simply bored. Adams goes into so much detail about moths, their behaviour etc that it almost seems as though she's flaunting her knowledge and Natural Sciences degree to the extreme. Yes, I know Ginny is a character who probably would recount this in such detail but to do so as often and as in-depth as she does is a little bit too much. I found myself skipping pages just to get to a point where my interest was piqued again. I'm all for adding depth to characters but I think Adams misjudged the balance of this with keeping the narrative thread going at a respectable pace!

Also, as another review has said, there's no real conclusion. I reached the end of the book (despite, at times, unsure whether to continue but I did) only to feel wholly dissatisfied. It's frustrating - it may be to some people's taste, and I myself really dislike being spoon-fed the answers to anything - but this felt just unfinished! Too vague to be of any real use.

I can't give it less than 3 stars because generally I enjoyed the narrative and found myself turning the pages eagerly. Yet I can't give it more than 3 stars because it's just as frustratingly dull at times, and the ending is so ambiguous that I couldn't get 'closure'.

Philips AZD208/05 Docking Entertainment System with Dynamic Bass Boost
Philips AZD208/05 Docking Entertainment System with Dynamic Bass Boost

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good value, truly portable, nice design!, 27 Oct. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
EDIT 01.12.10
Only had this a month or so, and one of the speakers seems to have stopped working already so whenever a song's recorded in stereo (as most are) it means you can't hear some of the song's layers. Haven't done anything untoward with the unit, it's been sitting comfortably on a table top without disturbance! Songs lose half of their sense and depth...hopefully it's not a common fault but who knows.

Original review:
For the price, this is a really good value piece of equipment. It looks and feels more expensive than it actually is. I love the glossy white finish, and the CD bit feels sturdy as does the rest of it. There is a handle built into the unit at the back, which makes it easy to carry and truly portable.

It plugs into the mains (but does also take batteries), so is a handy charger for any iPod. It plays music from the iPod which can be controlled either directly on your iPod or via the controls on the unit itself. The only issue I have is that the bit which your iPod plugs into is quite fiddly. It's a connection which seems to be sprung loaded, so you have to get behind it to pull it forward so you can slot your iPod onto it. This can be a bit fiddly at first - although it may be easier with iPod nanos with them being smaller. It could have done with perhaps being fixed more centrally, so you don't need to hold it in place while docking your iPod.

CD player - the disc clips in, so it's firmly fixed into the player and hence, even with movement, it doesn't skip. I've actually tried swinging the player back and forth when it's playing a disc, and there's still no interruption to the CD playing! You can program up to 12 tracks, and there's a shuffle/repeat option. Everything you'd expect. I have also played CD-R/RW discs and they work too.

The radio is manually tuned, but has good reception even without the aerial extended. I quite like manual tuning; I usually end up tuning in manually even when it's digital because I can't find the station I want!

Sound quality is good - not deafening at maximum volume, but as you'd expect from something at such a price, there is a little distortion when it's turned up to full vol, particularly with the Bass Boost activated. I think this is a great little music station, with just a few minor flaws which can be overlooked with the price you pay. Ideal perhaps for tweens to teens as it really is everything in one for music. There's even a jack for plugging in other MP3 players.

I haven't given it the full 5 stars because of the fiddly connection for the iPod, but once you get used to it it's fine so maybe I'm being too picky. But if you take into account the good price, I imagine this would be an ideal present for Christmas for music-lovers!

Gaggia Brera Fully Automatic Bean to Cup Espresso Coffee Machine
Gaggia Brera Fully Automatic Bean to Cup Espresso Coffee Machine
Offered by Caffe Shop Ltd
Price: £499.00

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top class coffee - gorgeousness in a cup!, 25 Oct. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you are a coffee connoisseur, and you have the cash to consider this coffee machine, then buy it. It is a truly beautiful piece of equipment, with slick style and attention to detail at every curve.

It's compact, fitting nicely on my kitchen worktop. It feels thoroughly sturdy - it doesn't slip on the surface and all of the hatches, knobs and levers feel well-made. The digital display gives a comprehensive at-a-glance guide to your selection and, once you get the hang of what the symbols mean, it's a quick and easy routine to get the perfect cup of coffee with the touch of only a few buttons.

You can change the strength of the coffee (mild/medium/strong) and this means that more beans are ground per gram for stronger brews. The mild really is mild - suitable for novice coffee drinkers! Not only can you select whether you want an espresso, or a longer drink, but you can programme it so that the long drink pours a coffee perfectly suited to your cup sizes! Although, saying that, the factory setting suited our coffee cups just fine.

Coffee beans go into the hopper, by lifting up the lid on top of the machine. The grinder can be adjusted (apparently, I haven't had the urge to try this yet though) so beans can be ground finer or more coarsely according to your taste. You choose the strength, press the short/long drink button and voila! A few quiet grinds and gurgles later it pours a perfect cup of coffee. The water tank holds a good quantity of water, it makes several cups before needing a refill. It does also take ground coffee, which is poured into a nifty little 'spout' in the top.

Everything is so easily accessible and it really does feel idiot-proof - the build quality and user-friendliness makes it suitable for even the most gadget-averse person.

There are absolutely NO coffee beans residue in the cup - nothing short of miraculous given it's going from bean to cup with just an in-built filter. Every last dreg is drinkable. If I had to be really picky, I could say that the temperature of the coffee isn't really that hot - it's warm and probably at the optimum temperature for immediate drinking. If (like me) you like things super hot, or sometimes make a drink and forget about it for a few minutes, this coffee might not be hot enough for your taste. But I've asked family and friends who've had coffees I've made for them using this, and they've all said it's just the right temperature.

The frother is a great addition. I love milky hot chocolate, so this also makes a perfect cup of proper frothy hot chocolate. It also dispenses just plain hot water so it could, in effect, completely replace your kettle! It's quieter than a kettle for sure.

Finally - cleaning and maintenance. It is so easy to clean, with clear guidance on what to clean and when. Parts are easy to get to and can be rinsed with water. It even cleans itself every time you switch it on and off!

It says in the manual that, after 60 seconds of inactivity, the machine goes into standby but it hasn't done so yet for me - I just put it on standby manually. This may be a flaw or it might just be that I inadvertently stroke it as I walk past! :o)

This IS expensive - probably almost twice the price of the next best machine you'd find in the Argos catalogue. But if you are passionate about the perfect cup of coffee, and/or have money to spend, I cannot find any reason why you shouldn't have the pleasure of this lovely little gadget in your kitchen. I'm considering buying a new kitchen to do it justice...
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 5, 2011 12:47 PM GMT

F-Secure Online Back Up (Unlimited) (Mac/PC CD)
F-Secure Online Back Up (Unlimited) (Mac/PC CD)

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If you can place your trust!, 20 Oct. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
An ideal concept - removing the need for an external hard drive and putting your files from your home computer onto the online backup instead. I did this, then decided I felt a bit unsure about it all and got an external hard drive anyway! I know that I have this physically accessible and it can be stored in a fireproof safe for protection. It may just be me, but I was uneasy with the idea of trusting my backup to this - not for any other reason than my own personal preference.

If you want the ease of uploading files etc as a backup onto somewhere else, it's ideal - just not for me!

Obstacles to Young Love
Obstacles to Young Love
by David Nobbs
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A love story for life, 20 Oct. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Once upon a time...
This is a traditional love story about Naomi and Timothy, two young lovers who meet as 17 year old classmates. The tale follows their lives from their first intimate encounter until middle-agedness (if that's not a word it should be). Their lives intertwine and Nobbs weaves the narrative thread between their encounters and their lives with skill and intrigue. Some things change, some things stagnate - their lives and that of their families and friends form the foundation of this plot-driven enchanting novel. I won't go into detail of the contents as so much is hinged on the plot it would be a shame to give it away - but the characters are loveable and loathable, the plot is engaging and I was hooked from start to finish.

The prose style isn't pretentious, it lures the reader in and, as chapters change perspective from one character to another, so does the style of prose. The voice of the characters really emerges through the narrative, Naomi's ambitious confidence and Timothy's self-deprecating dryness. It is witty, humorous and features great characters.

I felt that it stalled about halfway through - at the halfway point I felt that the story was so well-progressed that it really ought to have been reaching a close. But, when you do reach the actual end of the story, if you're like me you're glad that the story did in fact continue beyond this halfway point!

It's a charming and astute portrayal of young love and old love and everything in between.

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