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Book Critic (UK)

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Conversations with Spirits
Conversations with Spirits
Price: £3.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable romp, 1 Mar. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A hugely enjoyable romp through the world of the post-Victorian obsession with spiritualism. The plot centres on a well-plotted stunt intended to prove the veracity of J.P. Bessant, a reclusive medium championed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The plot is entertaining enough, revolving around Sir Arthur's well-known naiveté and desperation to believe every trick and trickster who falls in his path. But the main joy of this delightful little novel lies with its hero and protagonist, the deliciously flawed, rude, obnoxious, alcoholic, chain-smoking, louche and idle Trelawney Hart, a well-known materialist and sceptic, hired by Sir Arthur to report on Bessant's spectacle in hope of proving that it could not be done by natural means. Hart has a dysfunctional relationship with the world and most of it's population - everyone but the local tramp Billy, who becomes Trelawney's sidekick for the duration of the tale and, hopefully - as it seems by the end - in further books to come.

Alice and the Fly
Alice and the Fly
by James Rice
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, cruel, compelling, 1 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Alice and the Fly (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Teenage Greg has schizophrenia. He's a psychological mess, but those around him, those entrusted with his care, aren't much better; Greg's philandering father; his image-fixated, obsessive-compulsive mother;his teacher and amateur psychologist Miss Hayes, who means well but has troubles of her own - no one seems to be keeping any kind of watchful eye on this vulnerable boy as he wades through a world that is always confusing and mostly cruel.
This is a darkly disturbing journey through the mind of a lonely, disconnected boy with a mental illness and an all-consuming fear of spiders. A tale told in diary extracts and a police report, so you know from the start it's not going to end in candy floss and rainbows. I thought I knew who Greg's victim had to be but I was wrong, there's a cruel and startling twist.
Compelling, depressing, with the compulsive fascination of a train wreck, Alice and the Fly has none of the sweetness or softness of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. There is a dog in this tale too, a dog Greg loves, so you know that's not going to end well, because it never does, does it?

Vidal Sassoon Salonist, Dark Neutral Brown Number 4/0
Vidal Sassoon Salonist, Dark Neutral Brown Number 4/0
Offered by Health in The Post
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Great results but quite tricky to use, 1 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
You open the box and are met with an impressive array of brushes, mixing trays, tubes, gloves and bottles. All very exciting and much nicer quality than the bargain basement stuff I usually use to colour my hair.
The selling point of this dye (which, while far from cripplingly expensive by most standards, costs four times more times more than the B&M jollop I usually use) is that it dyes roots separately to the rest of the hair, avoiding any noticeable colour-change. In effect, it attempts to replicate an expensive salon job.
I deliberately let my roots grow out a bit first to really put it to the test, and am happy to report it has done a very nice job indeed. Though this colour (dark neutral brown 4) is slightly lighter and of a warmer shade than I usually use, there's no detectible difference in colour between my natural roots and previously-dyed hair, even in strong light. The colour is fantastic, bright and vibrant and the condition is marvellous. I'm thrilled with the results.
I was less thrilled by how easy it was to use. It is decidedly faffy; much more so than my regular, shake it up and slap it on stuff. I usually budget around 40 minutes to do my roots, this took exactly twice as long - not a huge span of time, admittedly but the fiddleyness made it feel like a lot longer. My problem was in getting the stuff on the roots evenly. You mix the product in the usual way - a colour added to an activator - then brush it on to roots with the flat brush provided. There's a lot of parting and brushing. I found it tiring on the arms and unless you can literally surround yourself with mirrors, it's incredibly hard to see what you're doing. I ended up doing it mostly by feel (which us what they suggest in the instructions) rather than sight and even that was tricky. I felt like Esma Cannon trying to zip up her dress in Carry on Cruising.
You then go about your business for 20 minutes, then come back for more, mixing the serum with remaining colour cream in the wee bowl provided, smoothing it through all of your hair in the usual fashion, waiting another ten minutes then rinsing and shampooing. Then you apply the conditioner. This was far and away my favourite bit of the process. The conditioner is gorgeous and deliciously scented - in fact, the whole kit and caboodle smells good, no nasty chemistry lab pongs to be found here at all. I'm glad there's a big tube of the conditioner because it's almost worth the cost of the kit alone. I love the way it's conditioned my hair. I don't think it's ever been so soft, shiny and all-over wonderful.
In short, the results are very good indeed. Are they salon good? Not quite, but almost, and much cheaper, of course. I am impressed. I'd definitely consider shelling out for this product again but I do think there's a case for reverting to half-forgotten teenage habits, being a girly girl and getting a friend round to help, because it's dreadfully tricky to do it well on your own.

Travel Money Belt (Black)
Travel Money Belt (Black)
Offered by Grabbits
Price: £17.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Strong and well-made, 1 Mar. 2015
Well made, very strong yet slim and extremely lightweight - you cannot see it under all but the lightest clothing. The adjustable, elasticated waist-strap should fit all but the very most corpulent.

There are four pockets, a small velcro-closed one for cash and cards, and two zipped pockets, one sized for a passport and another, much larger one which could hold airline tickets, a phone, all sorts of stuff. One small pocket is tucked in behind the backing, which is a little small, but could be used for folded cash or rail tickets. In short, it's surprisingly ample for its size and will easily accommodate all your valuables safely hidden and out of the reach of pickpockets.

I was particularly impressed by the durability of this belt. It's made of woven nylon with a mesh backing so it doesn't make you sweat. The stitching is strong and well-dine; it's not going to fall apart any time soon.

Those Above (The Empty Throne)
Those Above (The Empty Throne)
by Daniel Polansky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.92

2.0 out of 5 stars Sadly tedious, 1 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Oh my goodness, I thought. A new fantasy series, how thrilling. I was so excited to read Those Above, I thought I was in for a treat, but it was SO boring. From the very first chapter - which is little more than a fifteen page long description of a sword which I thought would never end - and on into the next several chapters, which all follow the same theme of description-heavy introductions to characters and situations. A fantasy novel really needs to open with more of a bang. It needs, above all, to have a strong plot and good world building.The world building is there, with the usual plethora of characters and locations and allusions to past histories that you'll find in any high fantasy novel - and that should all be interesting, exciting, anticipatory, but it never is. There was nothing fresh about the characters, just the usual stock fantasy types, and the plot just never caught fire. Nothing ever seemed to get going. For four hundred plus pages, nothing happened - at least, stuff happened but there was no story arc, no solid plot-line to pull it together. Everything floats in an unmemorable morass of unnecessary detail.

I remember last year, reading that publishers - never ones to take a chance on a new idea, always ready to jump on bandwagons - in the wake of the success of Game of Thrones, were desperate to find new high fantasy (having ignored and denigrated the genre for decades). I suppose there'll be a lot more coming through in the next year or so; I hope they're more exciting than this.

Ultrasport Telescopic Bicycle Bracket for 1 to 2 Bicycles - Black
Ultrasport Telescopic Bicycle Bracket for 1 to 2 Bicycles - Black
Price: £81.66

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Seinfeld is here, 27 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I remember watching Seinfeld in the dim and distant past and being impressed by the bike hanging on his wall. Now at last I have a chance to have one myself, on my garage wall if not my living room,

My garage is a brick built modern one with a high ceiling and so I was able to fix the ceiling bracket to which the pole assembly connects reasonably well. For safety's sake and because I am a worrier I also screwed the base plate in place too. One of my bikes is a quite a bit heavier than the other and so that went on the lower position. As with any system of this type you have take into account the weight of your bikes and that the top one has to be lifted into position some distance from the ground.

Once in place and with all the brackets and mounts locked on place it all seemed sturdy enough although I was a bit nervous the next day but without cause as all was still in place when I opened up the garage.

This is a good system for mounting your bikes, it is easy enough to fit but a high ceilinged brick built garage or room is best as you need a solid roof and floor surface to maintain tension to keep the system in place.


The Chimes
The Chimes
by Anna Smaill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Musical, magical dystopian tale, 19 Feb. 2015
This review is from: The Chimes (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I read many wonderful books but rarely anything so singular, poetic, exceptional, as utterly unique as The Chimes.
On the surface, this is yet another post-apocalyptic, dystopian story of life amidst the horrors of a state ruled by a remote elite - in this case, a quasi-religious order of absolutist purity, where words are nothing and music is all. The Order exert control by stealing memory, effectively crippling all dissent, keeping the population cowed and bovine, "nameless wandering ones... clustered for comfort... like sheep on the public green: memorylost". The Ravensguild, a loose gathering of dissenters able to retain memories, keep memory for others and pass them on, have been all but wiped out. Those who remain live isolated, in terror of discovery.
This is an absorbing and enthralling story lifted beyond mere page-turnery by enchanting, lyrical writing of unusual breadth and depth of imagination. Engaging characters speak a curious new language to fit this strange world ruled by music. People travel in beats, smell in song, move lento or alto -
"The first street I pass carries the waft and song of peanuts cooked in caramel... I pass bakers singing yeasted bread... the homely note of one tune weaves its way out of the rest... a solo voice singing, though it's not so much a tune so much as a quick underbreath patter to match the rhythm of boiling water and hissing water." It's clever, charming stuff, but never clumsy, difficult or unreadable. It does not get in the way of the story. It's a little challenging at first, but once you adapt to its rhythms and pace, the language soon makes perfect sense and what emerges is a cracking tale told with a softly musical, poetic touch. Anna Smaill's prose sings on the page and makes the grim, fallen world she imagines almost beautiful.
I feel the cover needs a mention too: so pure and stark with a centre-piece of vivid colour and detail. I couldn't stop looking at it.
Rarely do books hold quite such a rich and profound depth of wonders as this. This is the best book I've read this year by miles. If there's a better book to come, I can't wait to read it.

AquaAudio™ Cubo - Waterproof Bluetooth Wireless Speaker with Strong Suction Cup for Showers, Bathroom, Pool, Boat, Car, Beach, Outdoor etc. / Optimized Buttons for Easy Control / Amazingly Powerful & Crystal Clear Sound / Compatible with All Devices with Bluetooth Capability + Siri Compatible - 10 hours Playtime Rechargeable Battery / with Built-in Mic for use as a Powerful Hands-free Speakerphone [100% SATISFACTION GUARANTEE - WE GUARANTEE YOU WILL LOVE IT!] (Silver)
AquaAudio™ Cubo - Waterproof Bluetooth Wireless Speaker with Strong Suction Cup for Showers, Bathroom, Pool, Boat, Car, Beach, Outdoor etc. / Optimized Buttons for Easy Control / Amazingly Powerful & Crystal Clear Sound / Compatible with All Devices with Bluetooth Capability + Siri Compatible - 10 hours Playtime Rechargeable Battery / with Built-in Mic for use as a Powerful Hands-free Speakerphone [100% SATISFACTION GUARANTEE - WE GUARANTEE YOU WILL LOVE IT!] (Silver)
Offered by Gideon Direct
Price: £29.95

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shower singalong, 18 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This bathroom speaker, made from lightweight plastic with a rather unconvincing metal effect, has a large sucker with which it will stick to almost any shiny surface. In most bathrooms with glazed tiles and glass shower screens this should be no problem. Once stuck in place it seems pretty stable and after a week in position it has not fallen off yet.

The front panel has an array of soft-touch buttons to control the speaker's connection, volume, track selection and to connect to Siri on iOS devices. Setup is very easy and there is a two colour status LED supplemented by a reassuring voice which announces power off/on and connection changes.

The sound quality is great given the price and size limitations and is good and loud too.

The only real problem I have with it is my concern that the plastic shell might break if it fell onto a tiled floor. I mounted mine just above a shelf with object below to cushion the fall. Here we have a catch-22 issue: if it had a stronger and more attractive metal casing would it then me more likely to detach itself from any surface it was stuck to? But then if it did have a stronger shell it would be more likely to survive a fall.

Overall, this is a good buy, a waterproof Bluetooth speaker with great sound and a good range of features.

The Good
Great price
Good sound quality
Easy setup
Printed User Guide
Splash proof
Powerful sucker mount

The Bad
The plastic body may not be impact proof

This is a great buy, a waterproof Bluetooth speaker with great sound and a good range of features.

NETGEAR AC785-100EUS AirCard AC785 Mobile Hotspot with super-fast 4G LTE
NETGEAR AC785-100EUS AirCard AC785 Mobile Hotspot with super-fast 4G LTE
Price: £104.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for the traveller, 15 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is one of the most useful little devices I have ever owned and it has solved several pressing mobile data issues for me. I love it and would not be without I am unfortunate enough to be a TalkTalk mobile phone customer and in consequence often have no data signal or at best a poor one both in my home and when out and about. This device allows me to get around these problems and to use my phone and other mobile devices whenever and wherever I need.
Basically, this is a mobile 3G/4G mobile data modem that auto configures itself to any UK mobile network using a prepaid or contract SIM card and allows you to then connect multiple devices to it by WiFi. Once the SIM card is inserted you just connect automatically to the wifi signal using your computer web browser and configure the network to meet your needs . Through the set up pages you can rename and set up your new WiFinetwork as you wish - 2.4Ghz, 5Ghz network streams or both plus the option for a Guest Network to allow friends to connect without needing to know your password. The essential information, including the network name and login, can optionally be displayed on the built in colour LCD screen to allow for easy future connections.
Make sure you get a SIM card that is not restricted by the internet provider. Some cards will work only in phones and will not work in data only devices. I use a card from EE in my unit and it works fine. Although my carrier was correctly identified as Vodafone (TalkTalk is a Vodafone MVNO) it is possible that some users of smaller MVNO networks may have to manually configure the device to use the built in settings of the parent carrier network. This is easily done in the router control panel pages using your web browser.
One great thing about this device is it allows any WiFi capable device to have access to the latest 4G mobile network. In many cases this will give faster download speeds than can be obtained at home over broadband.
I have this little device mounted in my car and powered by a USB cord from my car power outlet. At home I have installed the DC113A booster unit from Netgear, not yet available from Amazon, which boosts the WiFisignal and enhances the 3G/4G signal reception. Often when out and about on my travels in poor reception areas I carry the AC785 with me as I found it always get a better data signal from it than from my phone.
The build quality is very good, tough and sturdy with nothing snap off, scratch or break. It has a quality upmarket feel to it and does not seem lightweight or plasticky. It uses a replaceable internal battery, which gives me a good day or so of use, and has a standard micro USB slot for external power. A mains adapter is supplied for home use.

The Good -
Compact size
Auto configures for UK carriers
Good battery life
Uses 2.4Ghz and/or 5Ghz network streams
Accessory signal booster available
Mains or battery power
Allows multiple WiFi devices to connect
Sturdy and tough build quality
Colour LCD status LCD screen
Easy to set up and configure
Mains power adapter supplied
Standard micro USB slot for power input
Android/iOS app available

The Bad
Some SIM cards are restricted by the carrier
Some MVNO users may have to configure carrier APN manually
No carry case provided
Cheaper rival devices available

Cheesecloth Unbleached Filter Butter Muslin Quality for Strainer and Bags (6 Square Yards)
Cheesecloth Unbleached Filter Butter Muslin Quality for Strainer and Bags (6 Square Yards)
Offered by Grabbits
Price: £17.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great quality, great value, so versatile, 14 Feb. 2015
Sent to me for free in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
This is the very highest quality, food-grade cheesecloth: heavy (44 x 36 count) and unbleached with a fine, close weave. At just £5.99, it is astoundingly great value and, unlike most culinary cheesecloth I've used, this does not come cut in squares, but a generous six yards length. Enough, if you felt inclined, to make a summer dress out of it. But I had better uses in mind.

I have used it to strain and wrap tofu, to strain a recent batch of sloe gin - when it took out all the tiny, gritty sediment that always collects on the bottom of the bottle, leaving beautiful, jewelled, crystal-clear liquor. It is the obvious choice for jelly bags when jam making season comes around again. It made some brilliant little bouquet garni bags from garden herbs. I've cut some squares and made bath-soaks with oatmeal and lavender (this cheesecloth was especially good for this. Being of such a strong and heavy weight, it did not leak or split. No nasty, gritty lavender under my rear and half-cooked porridge blocking the drains). A friend suggested it would make great herb tea bags too - something else to try.

My number one use for it so far has been for nut milk. We grow a lot of hazelnuts and we all enjoy hazelnut milk. However, straining, even with a very close sieve, still leaves little bits of nut behind to choke the unwary. Using the cheesecloth, laid across a colander I was able to make the smoothest, most delicious hazelnut milk ever. Everyone loved it.

300g shelled hazelnuts (you can keep the skin on)
1.5 L water
Optional sweetener (sugar syrup, agave nectar, honey, maple syrup)
and/or vanilla essence to taste

Soak your nuts in water overnight. Drain. Put then in a good, strong blender with the water, as much sweetener and/or vanilla if you're using it (sometimes we like it sweet, sometimes not) and blitz the lot until you have a smooth milk. Line a colander with a layer of your Jolly Chefs' cheesecloth and set it over a bowl or jug. Pour in the nut milk and let it strain, giving a good squeeze at the end. And that's it. Couldn't be simpler. And don't throw away the nutty grits, they make great additions to bread, biscuits and granola.

This cloth is such great quality it can be machine washed and used over and over again so it's a thrifty choice too. I've loved using it.

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