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M. D. Taylor (Kent, UK)

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The Ultimate Dreamer
The Ultimate Dreamer
by Stuart Farquhar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.27

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly creative first novel, 31 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: The Ultimate Dreamer (Paperback)
This the most creative, original novel I have read in quite a long time. I was astounded by what Stuart Farquhar tried to achieve in the book, and all the more so when it all came together at the end and I found he had pulled it off for the entire duration of the story. It's quirky, fun and jokey, but novelistic basics like plotting and pacing are also handled with aplomb. The comparisons with Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett are justifiable; however, while the book might be in the same neck of the woods as their novels, the author has a distinct voice of his own. If you like those authors and have a Kindle, get the sample and dive in; when you get to the end of the sample, bear in mind that there isn't any dip in quality from that point onwards to the end.

If I have a criticism, it is that I found some of the secondary characters a bit samey, making it easy to forget who was who when the focus was on them. However, this is really a novel that's about creative fun with ideas and on that front it was absolutely outstanding.

Eternal Knight (The Orb Book 1)
Eternal Knight (The Orb Book 1)
Price: £0.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good First Novel, 9 Aug. 2013
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This is a good first novel. I've given it four stars but it's not far off five. The story is set against the background of 'the wasting', i.e. the planet is dying and food is in short supply. Roughly speaking, the story then divides into three sections: the first establishes a quest-type storyline and the beginnings of that quest; then there is a lengthy middle section set in courtly society; and finally the story breaks out of the courtly confines and heads towards a fitting denouement. Without wanting to give away any spoilers, the magical elements and plot are all tied together very well and what begins as pleasant but fairly standard fare - a quest - turns into something more: a competition for power and competing interpretations of history and 'reality' that ratchet up the tension. The characters are not too simplistic: they might often be trying to do what they believe is right but they're not immune to personal ambition, pride or desire for revenge either. It's not as complex (or convoluted) as George RR Martin but it is well done, and there are twists to the plot that will almost certainly catch you out.

Occasionally, there were turns of phrase that seemed a little out of place ('Let's do this.') and, overall, it is not a ground-breaking novel; however, the story is a surprisingly good 'ripping yarn' and I look forward to the sequel.

Enchantress (The Evermen Saga, Book One)
Enchantress (The Evermen Saga, Book One)

4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good First Novel, 23 Mar. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Since this Kindle book was free I think the author deserves a review in return. Overall, and especially given that it's a self-published (plus Amazon) effort, and a first novel, I have to say that James Maxwell has done an excellent job. Enchantress is more enjoyable than many books by signed authors.

There are some caveats, but nothing too bad. I felt that some of the writing, especially the dialogue, in the first half was a little perfunctory and stilted, but as the story picked up pace, the author seemed to find his flow and that reservation melted away. There are also very occasional typos, but they're very few and far between, perhaps one every forty pages or so, to hazard a guess. A publishing house would probably have weeded them out. However, this is to be very picky: the typos are very minor, scarcely disrupt the flow and, to be fair, it is very, very hard to pull out every single typing error. To have got it down to such an insignificant level is a job very well done.

Other than that, the story is easy to read and follow (it's not Steven Erikson), by-and-large suitable for teenagers onwards (it would probably get a 15 rating if it were a film) and builds to a suitably dramatic climax. It would make a good holiday read. The system of magic is based on runes and a substance called 'essence', and it's cogent, integral to the story and used to good effect. The premiss is established early on and the story follows that through. It's very well plotted and the pacing is spot on: plot-threads diverge and come together again with aplomb. It's definitely one of James Maxwell's strengths. There's a range of cultures and the world hangs together well. World-building is another strength. The general tone of the novel reminds me of Adrian Tchaikovsky, if that's any help to would-be readers.

In summary, James Maxwell has the potential to be a very successful, popular fantasy author. This is a very accomplished first novel and, if you like the genre, you will probably find it an enjoyable romp through a well-constructed world. It's better than many novels from signed authors and fully deserving of all the positive reviews.

Nokia C3-01 Sim Free Mobile Phone - Silver
Nokia C3-01 Sim Free Mobile Phone - Silver

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars All looks; little substance, 31 Oct. 2011
I had one of these phones for a short while and the overall experience was disappointing. There are good points, but the bad points outweigh them.

First, the good:

- The look and brushed metal finish. It looks smart and classy. Not necessarily a phone for teenagers, but for mature adults, it looks good.
- The buttons. Oh, if only all phones had buttons like this! A good size, not much danger of pressing the wrong button, nice tactile, resistance.
- Nice, clear screen.

And that's about it. The good points are the things that you'll notice in a shop, the things that might well lead you to buy this phone. But it's when you start using it that it starts to disappoint, i.e. when you've paid up and got it home. So, the bad:

- Dismal battery life. Use it to read a few web pages, make a few calls, etc. each day, and expect to be charging the battery every day or two.
- Touch screen: hmmm, could be better, could be worse. It's easy to accidentally select an item when you're really trying to scroll through the menu. The reason for that is that menu items take up the full width of the screen - no scroll bars - so scrolling necessarily means putting your finger on a menu item to scroll . . . and surprise, surprise, sometimes you select instead of scrolling.
- Call quality: average.
- Signal: average.
- No Nokia maps (and they can't be installed); no Google maps either
- No voice dialling (despite what some websites say; if in doubt, check the downloadable manual on Nokia's website)

I had a Nokia phone for four-and-a-half years: excellent, reliable, durable - and even after that long, the battery would last a week between charges. But the Nokia C3-01 . . . Well, you can buy better phones for that money, even some older Nokia phones are better. Just look around for something better: this one is all looks and not much substance.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 9, 2013 8:04 AM BST

Dyson DC25 Animal  Lightweight Dyson Ball Upright Vacuum Cleaner for Pet Owners
Dyson DC25 Animal Lightweight Dyson Ball Upright Vacuum Cleaner for Pet Owners

22 of 28 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Ghastly, plastic monstrosity, 7 Nov. 2010
Oh! How I hate this machine! Having just spent fifteen minutes vacuum cleaning around our living room and hallway I felt the call of civic duty urging me to warn others off this over-engineered, over-hyped, vile machine. On the TV adverts you might see James Dyson effortlessly steering around the corner of a sofa and telling us what a marvellous invention the ball is - but it's not. Yes, it might be a touch easier to push it forward in a curve, but it was never that difficult with a bog standard Hoover anyway. And what you will find are that there are times when you want to go in a straight line, but the DC25 wants to go in a curve. Furthermore, it actually seems heavier and harder to push than any other vacuum cleaner I've ever known. The ball is little more than a gimmick.

And then there are the attachments . . . Using these is like participating in some rejected task from the Krypton Factor. Push this, pull that, try to yank the implement off. Pull out the stick, detach the hose, try to work out if the brush thing is supposed to come off the nozzle - and if so, how? - or whether that will break something. Ah! And then the stick is longer than the hose, so there's a constant strain as you pull to extend the hose. Honestly, it's harder work than the Bullworker I used to use to work out.

So, do yourself a favour. Buy another vacuum cleaner for about half the price - it's probably just as good if not better than this - and spend the saved money on something you'll actually like. On the other hand, if you want a mental and physical workout at the same time as you're cleaning your humble abode, buy this.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 11, 2014 1:54 PM BST

Lexmark Impact S305 Wireless 3-in-1 Inkjet Printer
Lexmark Impact S305 Wireless 3-in-1 Inkjet Printer

55 of 55 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just not very good, 22 May 2010
I bought this printer after reading various positive reviews, including the ones here. I wanted a printer that would be reasonably good at printing photos and which I could print to from computers running both Windows and Linux. It came down to a choice between this and a similarly priced model from HP. I wish I'd chosen the HP one, having had five years of good service from our previous HP printer. However, I chose this printer because, as well as the features I've already mentioned, it had individual colour cartridges and offered double-sided printing. It should be less wasteful to run. So, what's wrong with it?

First, let's be clear, text documents print well, fast and sharp - but surely that's the bare minimum to be expected from a printer. Photo printing is very poor: the prints are much darker than they appear on screen, so a lot of colour and detail is lost in darker areas of pictures. Otherwise, it over-saturates the colours: a pastel pink will appear as Barbie pink. I've printed from different computers and it's the same from all of them: it's not that I've used an unusually bright screen. What's worse, if you're using Windows, there's no way to lighten the prints: the options just don't provide any way to adjust the brightness and colour. The Lexmark software for Windows just doesn't give any scope for these adjustments - which is funny, because the Linux drivers do! So, if you use Linux you can roughly calibrate the printer for much better results. However, before Linux users get smug, if you're using Linux there's no double-sided printing. On Windows there is.

The double-sided printing might not be what you expect, though: you have to turn the paper around by hand to print on the second side, although it works so that it will print all of the odd-numbered pages first, then you turn the whole lot around (and upside down) and press OK to print all of the even numbers. If the document only has two pages, and you want to print on two sides of just one sheet of paper, you're out of luck because after printing the odd-numbered pages (just page 1 in this case), the printer prints an extra page with an arrow and instructions telling the user to put the printed page back in the printer the other way around and upside down. So two pieces of paper will be used anyway: you might as well just print one-sided.

Oh well! Isn't it handy that it's wireless? For text documents, it is - though, obviously, having to manually turn the paper around for two-sided printing removes the advantage of being able to print from a distance. But I've tried printing A4-sized photos wirelessly, and it's so, so slow to print: it takes around 12 minutes (Yes, 12 minutes - that's not a mistake) to print a single photo to A4 size over the wireless connection. Over the USB lead it's much quicker: about one minute. This isn't because our wireless network is slow: I could upload the same photo (from a 10MP DSLR) to Flickr many times over in the time it takes the printer to produce it's horrible darkened version of the photo.

I tried updating the firmware, and nothing improved. So, would I recommend this printer? No! No! No!
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 19, 2012 8:58 PM BST

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Penguin Social Sciences)
Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (Penguin Social Sciences)
by Michel Foucault
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic - pure and simple, 25 May 2006
So far as the social sciences are concerned, this is one of the most influential books to have been published in the last fifty years. Whereas radical social theorists used cite Marx most commonly, now they cite Foucault as often as not. And of all Foucault's work, this seems to be the most cited.

It begins with a description of a gruesome execution (not for the squeamish) and then moves on to describe a system of punishment a mere eighty years later that is utterly different: in place of the hanging, drawing and quartering there is a detailed timetable for a disciplinary regime in a prison. Why the drastic change? Foucault claims the target of punishment is no longer the body, but the 'soul': the soul is to be disciplined and prisoners reformed. It's all connected with the rise of capitalism and a move towards the ordered, disciplinary society. Famously, Foucault explains the principle of the panopticon in which a few guards in a central observation tower can observe a large number of prisoners in a circular prison. This vividly illustrates the way in which modern societies use surveillance techniques to control people. Knowledge combines with power to form an efficient means to conduct people's conduct. (Foucault picks up on the double meaning of 'conduct'.)

It's a great, original analysis of one aspect of modernity. Foucault is much more readable than certain other authors associated with postmodernism (not that Foucault himself accepted the label): if you're accustomed to reading academic material, it's not a difficult read, though the general public might struggle. And you don't have to buy into any general theory of power, postmodern relativism, etc. to get something from it. A brilliant intellect was at work in the writing of this book: it's well worth a read.

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