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Ben Saunders (Stirling, Scotland)

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GCSE English Text Guide - Frankenstein
GCSE English Text Guide - Frankenstein
by CGP Books
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.36

5.0 out of 5 stars I wish I'd studied Frankenstein at school..., 23 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It’s some time since I did my GCSEs (1998), but I ordered this because I am a fan of Frankenstein and wanted to see whether it would help me get more out of the text. Even as someone who went on to do A level in English Literature, I’d say that it did.

First of all, although this is a thin book, at about 60 pages, it’s perhaps worth noting that it’s much larger than I expected. Other revision notes that I’ve used have tended to be pocket-sized but this one is larger than A4.

Content-wise, it begins with some brief background about when the novel was written and some of its contemporary influences, then proceeds to analyse it, first by chapter, then by character, then by theme. There is obviously some repetition here, but I think it’s helpful to reinforce key points and to prepare students for different questions.

After this, there’s then a section of literary techniques and another on essay writing and exams, though the latter could presumably be reproduced in almost any GCSE guide with only the examples changed. Finally, there’s a two-page ‘graphic novel’ or cartoon-strip style summary of the story, which is a helpful reminder of key events.

Each section is pretty short. There’s generally only one or two pages of analysis per chapter, theme, or character and given the layout – with lots of bullet points and coloured boxes – that isn’t a lot of text. I doubt the explanation of, for instance, Rousseau’s views on how society corrupts natural man is really sufficient for understanding of that, but it’s probably enough for the purpose of being dropped in to a GCSE essay on Frankenstein.

Personally, while I found the format easy to get information from, I did find the tendency for so many key words to be underlined and in colour slightly off-putting. At times it’s like reading an online document with lots of hyperlinks (except, of course, they’re not in fact links).

Overall, however, I would recommend this book to any GCSE student lucky enough to be studying Frankenstein at school. In fact, there’s probably enough here to serve as a ‘bluffer’s guide’ for someone who hasn’t even read the novel, not that either I or the authors endorse this. (It could be handy for anyone studying a related text who wants some points of comparison.) The best use will require you to have read the novel before, and again after, consulting this guide, but it contains lots of helpful pointers towards good marks.

Panasonic RP-DJS150E-R Fully Folding DJ Style Headphone
Panasonic RP-DJS150E-R Fully Folding DJ Style Headphone
Price: £15.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Style - don't know about substance, 11 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
These are described as ‘DJ style’ headphones, but I should say that I’m not DJ and cannot really comment on whether they’re suitable for professional use (which may require specialist equipment). I ordered these for the purpose of listening to music at home and work without disturbing my girlfriend and co-workers. This means that they’re effectively replacing cheap computer speakers, so it’s probably not too much of a surprise when I say that the sound quality – in my admittedly rather amateur opinion – is significantly better.

Perhaps because of this, I did find not only that I could turn the volume down considerably, but that I had to – not only to give a listening experience like I had before but to avoid it being uncomfortably loud. This is actually a bit of a pain. These speakers don’t have their own volume control, so I had to adjust it on my laptop (both the speakers and Windows Media, such was the adjustment necessary) and this means I have to fiddle with things every time that I want to go from headphones to speakers, or vice versa.

At least with the volume quiet, I have no problem conversing with my girlfriend next to me, even while listening to music. That can be a plus, but it means that they’re not so good for blocking out background noise, which was part of my purpose for ordering them. On the other hand, my girlfriend couldn’t hear my music, so at least they work well on that front – though, again, this is on low volume (perhaps they give off more noise pollution at higher volumes).

Panasonic RPHXS200EA On Ear Street Headphones - Blue
Panasonic RPHXS200EA On Ear Street Headphones - Blue
Price: £19.77

4.0 out of 5 stars Better than I'm used to, 9 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I see that some people consider these headphones (RRP £35, though currently with a significant discount from Amazon) ‘cheap’. No doubt you can spend a lot more if you’re after specialist equipment, or just paying for a brand name/logo, but I should start out by saying that I consider these pretty expensive for headphones. My prior experience is generally of much cheaper ones, such as my old Gameboy and Walkman.

First impression was that these are probably chunkier than they needed to be, but the plastic seems fairly strong and the hinges make them more portable – and hopefully less likely to break – than they would otherwise be. I think I have quite a large head, but they fit fine and can be adjusted to different positions. The earpieces fit on the ear, rather than plugging into your ear or completely covering your ear. I have found them slightly uncomfortable after long periods of wear, but that may be a matter of getting used to them (I don’t wear any headphones often).

I was very impressed with the sound quality. Granted, I’m mainly comparing to quite basic computer speakers, since that’s what these are effectively replacing. Nonetheless, when I’m listening to music or speech on my laptop, I found them very clear. They are also rather loud. I had to turn the volume down considerably, which had to be done on my laptop, since this don’t have their own volume control. This is a bit of a pain if I want to swap between headphones and no headphones.

They don’t block out much by way of outside noise, which is a shame in some ways as that was part of my reason for ordering them. At least with the volume quiet, I have no problem conversing with my girlfriend next to me. On the other hand, she says she couldn’t hear my music, so at least they don’t cause much noise pollution – though, again, this is on low volume. Perhaps they give off more noise when listened to at higher volumes, but you’re probably putting your own hearing at risk then.

Cetaphil 236 ml Moisturising Lotion
Cetaphil 236 ml Moisturising Lotion
Price: £7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fine, but seems to be tested on animals, 2 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Being a bloke, my daily beauty regimen basically amounts to a shower. I tend to use moisturiser as required, when my skin is feeling dry, rather than on a daily basis. Even so, I do tend to have a pot of my own, rather than continually scrounging from my girlfriend. Normally I go for the cheap stuff, so this Cetaphil is more than I’d normally spend, but I was happy to try a free sample.

First of all, I found the pump dispenser pretty handy. It means you can get as much, or as little, as you want with very little mess. The downside is I’m not sure how easy it will be to get the last of it out of the bottle – mine still has plenty in, so this hasn’t been a difficulty yet, but I’d imagine that it could be a problem.

As I said, I tend to apply moisturiser ‘as needed’, such as to my face after shaving. My girlfriend pointed out that not all moisturisers are suitable for facial use (apparently), but lest there be any doubt the instructions say “Can be applied daily to the face and body as often as needed”. I have to say, I didn’t find these very helpful. Is it to be applied daily? Or as often as needed?

When applied, it feels a little greasy at first, but it rubs in fine. I’ve not noticed any dramatic difference to my skin, but nor have I from any other moisturiser really. The real test will probably be in the winter, when I often suffer from dry, cracked knuckles, but having only had it a month I’m not able to comment on how effective it is at dealing with this. Based on my current use, I’d say that it delivers all that I expect from a moisturiser.

One thing I will say is that there’s nothing on the bottle about animal testing. After a bit of burrowing online, it seems that the product itself uses vegetarian ingredients, but it’s made in Canada and apparently animal testing of cosmetics is a legal requirement there. This may be something that you wish to investigate if you’re against such testing.

Philips S5130/06 Series 5000 Electric Shaver with Smart Click Precision Trimmer
Philips S5130/06 Series 5000 Electric Shaver with Smart Click Precision Trimmer
Offered by Activecare Online
Price: £70.06

3.0 out of 5 stars Not mad on rotaries, 23 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I converted from manual/wet shaving to using an electric razor a few years ago, largely due to the convenience. Hitherto however I’ve used a Braun series 3 ((ASIN B00J05R9DW)), which is a foil or straight razor, more like a traditional manual razor. This has been my first experience of a rotary shaver, so my comments may reflect that switch rather than the specific model in question. I only shave every 2-3 days normally and, since I have to write this review within a month, I haven’t had a great deal of experience with it yet.

I did find it funny to use at first. Rather than going straight up or down you have to move it in small circles. The first time I used it, it really did feel like little knives across my skin, though not like it was actually cutting into me (which it hasn’t, as yet at least). Thankfully, it hasn’t taken long to get used to it. The way each of the three heads pivots separately makes it pretty safe and actually it feels more comfortable than my previous foil razor to use.

The downside, however, is that I don’t think I’ve managed to get as good a shave. Where I am shaved it’s a good, close cut, but I find it easy to miss bits and time-consuming to avoid this, going over my face several times. This could be largely down to the user of course and I’ll probably find that I get a bit better with more practice, but I do think the rotary design is trickier than a foil shaver.

There is a separate beard trimmer, which is useful for some parts, including sideburns and under the nose. Because it’s separate, rather than just being attached to the shaver (as it was on my old model), I don’t usually bother though, making do with the main head of the shaver, often trying to use just one of the three discs. Obviously the result of this is down to me, but I’m just highlighting the fact that I find the separate part more hassle than it’s worth, compared to having the beard-trimmer built in to the shaver.

For now at least, I intend to keep using this one, rather than going back to my older Braun. This is largely because the Braun is probably needing a new head now, and because I want to give this a fair go. It remains to be seen how I feel when this one needs a replacement head, but I’ll update the review if I have any significant change of opinion or new information.

Rexel JOY 75 mm A4 Lever Arch File - Blissful Blue
Rexel JOY 75 mm A4 Lever Arch File - Blissful Blue
Price: £8.35

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Works fine, but doesn't bring joy or bliss, 23 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Being a humanities-based academic, I get through a lot of papers and lever-arch files are my main means of storing and organising pages and pages of notes – this is one of around thirty in my office now. The rest are mostly black ones bought in relatively cheap multi-packs from a well-known office supply chain, so the bright blue of this one certainly stands out. I’d say that it was probably more suited to school or home use than serious business, because of the colour, but your mileage may vary on this. If you like to colour code different documents then this could be an advantage.

According to the spine, this holds 375 sheets of A4. I have yet to fill it, and wouldn’t be counting them if I had, but this sounds about right. It’s pretty much the same size as my existing binders. The trouble that I have had in the past is some binders warping or distorting under the weight of their contents when stored upright for long periods. Since I only have a month to review this, I cannot comment yet on its durability, but I will say that it didn’t seem to line up perfectly when closed, even from when I got it – this may have been minor damage in transit and it’s not significant enough to be a problem, but perhaps it doesn’t bode well.

Others have said that it’s not big enough for plastic document wallets. I was a little worried about that, since I’m a big user of those too, but I would say that it is just big enough. I’ve attached a photo showing these – perhaps you can also see what I mean about the corners not being quite in line, though it’s difficult to tell from the photo.

Given my needs, I’ll probably stick to buying cheaper folders in bulk in future, but if you only want one or two binders and like the colours on offer then these do a fine job.
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BLACK+DECKER WW100-GB All-in-One Window and Glass Vacuum Cleaner
BLACK+DECKER WW100-GB All-in-One Window and Glass Vacuum Cleaner
Price: £35.95

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars No real improvement, 7 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I don’t recall ever having heard of a glass vacuum before being offered one of these, but I thought I’d give it a try to see whether it made cleaning our windows any easier. My first impression when it arrived was that it looked like a toy, being fairly chunky, rounded plastic. Hopefully this means that it will prove more robust than some gadgets.

The instructions aren’t terribly clear – there’s very little text, so you have to go by a series of pictures and a bit of trial and error. Basically, you add water to the internal reservoir (it seems that this is designed to work without adding cleaning products) then point at your glass surface and squeeze the trigger to spray. You then use the cloth on one side of the head to wipe, before rotating the head and vacuuming up the dirty water.

Having tried this on our shower screen and conservatory windows, it does leave them slightly cleaner than they were before, but that’s to be expected – I’m not convinced that they’re really cleaner than they would have been had I cleaned them the old-fashioned way. Moreover, despite the product blurb’s claim that it leaves a streak-free finish every time, I found that it did streak, though this could be dependent upon the angle at which you hold it and the force that you apply.

While an all-in-one tool sounds like a good idea, I found that the need to keep rotating the head and pressing various buttons was probably more effort than it’s worth. It is handy that you can use this to spray and then again to suck the water up again, rather than using a separate spray bottle, but I tend to prefer using a separate sponge or cloth so that I don’t have to rotate the head.

Overall, I haven’t found that this device has made window cleaning much easier or led to noticeably better results so, on that basis, I’m not really inclined to recommend it. I do, however, see that it could come in handy for some other purposes, such as sucking up minor spillages round the house.

I'd give it a 5/10 if I could. I didn't have to pay for mine, but if I'd paid the RRP then I would be disappointed, so I'll go with 2*.

British Politics For Dummies (For Dummies Series)
British Politics For Dummies (For Dummies Series)
by Julian Knight
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.18

5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough, despite some minor inaccuracies, 2 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Although British politics is not my specialism, I should say that I’m a lecturer in politics at a Russell Group university, so I ordered this to assess its potential use for my teaching, rather than because I know nothing about politics.

This second edition was published in 2015 and seemingly written before the general election, though it is sufficiently up to date to discuss the rise of UKIP and the Scottish Independence referendum.

I was struck by how comprehensive this is. Though the focus is ostensibly British politics, this would actually be a pretty handy introduction to politics in general, albeit UK-centric. There is a whole chapter explaining US politics in order to make better sense of the ‘special relationship’, discussion of major political ideologies, including ones that have had little impact in Britain such as communism and fascism, and a discussion of various electoral systems including the ‘Alternative Vote’. This goes well beyond what might be expected from the title and makes this a potentially handy reference source.

I was, however, surprised that there was not more information on the historical evolution of the British political system and key thinkers who have shaped political ideas (Locke and Smith are mentioned in passing, but I don’t recall even a mention of Thomas Hobbes or J. S. Mill). Perhaps it could be argued that such material is not essential to an understanding of current British politics, but I would say that some of the material included is even less essential.

Material is generally explained in a clear and accessible way. No doubt a lot will be familiar to you, even if you don’t pay close attention to politics (for instance, the discussion of major UK newspapers), but not assuming much, if anything, by way of background knowledge means that this would be a good text for someone ‘new’ to British politics – such as an immigrant or teenager (it could be very useful for A Level General Studies, for instance).

There were at least a couple of occasions on which I thought things were over-simplified to the point of being misleading. For instance, in discussing the role of the Prime Minister, it begins by stating that the PM leads the largest party in the House of Commons, then adds “No majority, no keys to number 10!” (p. 223). Though usually the case, this is not necessarily so. Had Nick Clegg rejected any deal with the Conservatives in 2010 then Gordon Brown might have remained PM despite not leading the largest party or, indeed, a majority (even the Lab-LibDem coalition would not have had a majority).

Or, to pick another example, on p. 100 it is stated that foreign nationals cannot vote in UK general elections (with the exception of Irish and commonwealth citizens). This is not quite accurate, since someone holding dual citizenship (UK and, say, US) can vote even though they are a foreign national. What is really meant, it seems, is that someone cannot vote simply in virtue of residing in the UK: they need some qualifying citizenship. This highlights an important ambiguity in talk of ‘the people’ of Britain – it means, in effect, the citizens, rather than the residents. In light of this, it would be worth adding, to the list of exclusions, that expatriates lose voting rights after 15 years away.

These examples may appear nitpicky, and I suppose they are, but I raise them only to suggest that, on at least these points, the information presented is at best misleading, if not technically wrong. Nonetheless, someone ignorant of British politics could certainly learn a lot from this book. While I would caution that it is difficult for any book to impart genuine understanding, I would recommend this particular title as a starting point to anyone seeking to inform themselves about British politics.

Hallmark Birthday Card 'Tres Chic Perfume' - Small
Hallmark Birthday Card 'Tres Chic Perfume' - Small
Price: £3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good quality card, but not convinced it fits Royal Mail's standard letter, 22 Jun. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
£3.99 is more than I would normally spend on a card, but since I was offered it free for review purposes it was hard to refuse. It is good quality card, as you’d expect for the price, and appears well made. The ‘très chic’ design will no doubt appeal to anyone who is, or considers themselves, glamorous and sophisticated. As others have said, the envelope looks a little cheap in comparison, though I wouldn’t worry too much about that myself once used.

One worry I did have was whether this really would post as a ‘standard letter’. The product dimensions given say that it’s 1.2cm deep, due to the three dimensional rosette attachment, and 118g. Anything thicker than 0.5cm, or heavier than 100g, is a ‘large letter’ according to Royal Mail, despite it being a small card in its other dimensions. I didn’t weigh it, but my own attempt to measure it in the envelope suggests that it’s certainly less than 1.2cm, but pretty close to 0.5cm. I decided not to post it myself, but this may be something to watch out for if you intend to do so.

AmazonBasics Everyday Fitted Sheet, Double - Lilac
AmazonBasics Everyday Fitted Sheet, Double - Lilac
Price: £18.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Better than our previous sheet, 22 Jun. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I ordered this to replace one of our older, non-fitted sheets. It was a good match colour-wise (not really the colour shown on the product page though) and goes with our existing quilt covers, but being fitted (i.e. elasticated all round) makes it easier to put on and means the corners don’t keep coming off the mattress if you move around at night. I hadn’t measured the size of our bed before ordering, but it’s a standard double bed and the sheet fits fine.

The material, despite being 100% cotton, felt a little odd at first, particularly after washing it, when it seemed almost plasticy. I was wondering whether it had been given some kind of coating, though there’s no indication of this (the packaging was very sparse and tells you less about the product than the Amazon page). Once dry and on the bed, however, it was comfortable enough. I suspect that it will feel a little softer after a few more wash cycles, but it’s already softer and less stiff than many new sheets that I’ve had in the past.

Since the Vine programme requires reviews within a month, I can’t really comment yet on how well this will last, but other items that I’ve had from the AmazonBasics range have proved well-made and durable. If this proves the exception and falls apart in a couple of months then I’ll be back to update my review, but my first impressions are definitely favourable.

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