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Caterina (UK)
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Shiverton Hall
Shiverton Hall
by Emerald Fennell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.03

4.0 out of 5 stars Pacy, spooky and colourful - and in need of more work, 20 May 2013
This review is from: Shiverton Hall (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I ordered this book for my 8 year old, and on delving into it, concluded that it was too advanced for him (which is not, of course, a criticism of the book in any way). I can't see that an age is recommended on the synopsis, but I would have said age 9 or 10 upwards was appropriate, bearing in mind the spooky content and the depiction of social relationships which might well just be beyond a younger child's comprehension.

Anyway, having ordered it through Vine, since my tester could not read it, I did so myself. And put it this way, although there were some things I didn't like about it, and some things I thought an editor should have sorted out, at the end of a long day at work I really found myself looking forward to reading it. I was keen to open it again. And this has got to be high praise.

The plot has been summarized in several reviews - Arthur Bannister, the son of an impoverished single mother who lives in a flat (so they must be really really poor) is mysteriously awarded a scholarship to Shiverton Hall, a boarding school set in creepy grounds with a coat of arms made up of an axe, a ship, a skull, and a pair of iron shackles. Once at school Arthur makes friends with Penny and George and Jake, has to contend against the thuggish and snobbish Forge triplets, falls in love with the beautiful Amber, and has to deal with a sinister and threatening spooky presence, which takes on the form of its victims "imaginary friends" from early childhood. The main story is accompanied by "flashbacks" to the eighteenth century and the sinister Lord Shiverton, and to what appears to be a curse placed on the Hall at that time and subsequently.

What's good about the book is its joie de vivre and colour and pace, the vigor with which the horrid "friends" are depicted, and the scene setting. I've read somewhere, I think, that it originally started off as a plot for a TV programme or film. Certainly there are excellent "set piece" scenes which would translate very well onto film - in a car park, in a wood at night, by the side of a fountain. They are very visual and dramatic. The book is enthusiastic, and imaginative, and full of vim, with no padding out or slow scenes, and a great twist at the end, and I think that a child who likes books would enjoy reading it (subject to the point above about age). So all this is good and if you have a 10 year old keen reader who likes spooky stories I would definitely recommend it.

I do think though that it deserved a bit more work: it gave me the impression that it was a really good start that hadn't been finished. One thing that irritated me intensely when I started to read it (in fact, I almost put in down, though I'm glad I didn't) was the lack of research that seems to have been done into the period to which the "flashback" parts of the story relate - the way the slave trade operated, clothes in the eighteenth century, even hymns. Somebody could have made a bit more effort with this. And I think there were other weaknesses: the time spent on Arthur's home life and his relationship with his brother, despite the fact that his brother does not appear again in the story (or maybe he does in subsequent books?); the perpetuation of this annoying idea that scholarship boys or girls are subjected to snobbish bullying at boarding school; the weak characterization of Arthur's friends and even of Arthur himself; and the rather clunky writing style. (In all fairness, I was reading a review copy, because that was what was supplied to Vine, but I would assume that this is pretty close to final, if not completely final.)

All these shortcomings could have been put right, and I would like to think that if this does well, the next book - and I do hope there will be one - will give the impression of having had a bit more time spent on it by Bloomsbury.

Postscript: subsequently, when our library books ran out, I offered this to my 8 year old tester. He read it with considerable enjoyment, and talked about it afterwards, in particular being struck by the exciting twist and the dramatic "big scene" at the end, but yes, as I suspected he would, he found it scary and shivered in bed that night. It has a creeeeepy element to it!


Sculpey Glow in the Dark Oven Bake Modelling Clay
Sculpey Glow in the Dark Oven Bake Modelling Clay

4.0 out of 5 stars Glow in the dark modelling clay, 23 Mar 2013
= Durability:4.0 out of 5 stars  = Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars  = Educational:3.0 out of 5 stars 
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I would not say that you get an awful lot of clay in this pack - six 1oz packs. Ouch! But the great strength of it is that the models glow really well. I've tried other glow in the dark kits of various types and this is far and away the best. (As others have commented, models look best if some non-glow in the dark is added for detail.) I'm surprised by the comments in some reviews that the orange doesn't glow well. I suppose it is probably not as bright as the others - but it looks pretty bright to me.
One word of advice: the cooking time (15 mins per 6mm thickness, at 130 degrees) can work out quite long. Best to think about this as you're making models, and avoid any mega thick monsters. And gas/electricity economy would probably suggest baking them all in one go - though whether your kids will agree to this is of course another matter.
I'd buy this again, happy to recommend it.


Hanson HX5000 Glass Electronic Bathroom Scale
Hanson HX5000 Glass Electronic Bathroom Scale
Price: 11.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Can anyone think of a function for bathroom scales that don't work?, 12 Mar 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I decided to treat myself to digital scales (as opposed to my old fashioned ones). After unpacking them and merrily throwing away the packaging (doh!) I leapt on them, only to discover to my horror that I had put on 6 lb overnight. Well, I thought, it must just be that my old scales were faulty, I'm fatter than I thought. Then just on the offchance, before heading off to the gym for the next 96 hours, I tried the spare (digital) scales in the bathroom, as well as my old scales which thankfully I had not thrown away. And yes, the old scales were right, and these, the new ones, were 6 lb out. (Phew!)
Being a saddo I then tried them with various household items, checking with the old bathroom scales and even the kitchen scales and the results were wildly erratic -sometimes they registered nothing at all even with a fairly significant weight on them, sometimes gave excess readings. (But no accurate ones.) Then I tried with myselfd again and lo and behold this time I had lost 10 lb (cancel gym membership).
Obviously this is something to do with the initialisation. I've tried and tried to re-initialise them without success - the message that flashes up on them is not that specified in the instructions. (And yes, I'm using them on a hard floor.) So now I'm left having spent money on a useless product - they are simply far too erratic to rely on. And to get my money back of course I've got to go to the time and trouble of queueing up in the post office - even with a pre-printed returns label you have to queue. Let alone going to the bother of finding something to package them in.
This is a big item, and one that has only one function. My experience is that it cannot perform that function reliably. Returning something this big is a pain in the backside (maybe like me you'll have to lug it into work and do it in your lunch break?). So my advice would be not to buy these scales unless you're happy, potentially, to put up with the nusiance of returning them - and whatever you do, don't destroy the packaging until you've tested them thoroughly, using another set of scales for this purpose. Do not make my mistake and destroy the packaging! Because you may need to use it for a return.


Letterland Stories Level 3a (Letterland at Home)
Letterland Stories Level 3a (Letterland at Home)
by Lyn Wendon
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.42

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Colourful, attractive and imaginative, 14 Feb 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you are looking at moving on an early reader, this is a good resource. I used it after going through the Reading Corner Phonics and initial Read with Ladybird books. It was more challenging with a wider vocabulary but held my sons' interest well.The pictures are large and colorful and imaginative. (Plus one advantage I have found with Letterland books is that they contain quite a lot of material - so are significantly more economical than certain other series.) In terms of age group - well, that will depend on your child. I used this in Year 1. A child will need to be good with phonics to be able to cope with it.

I must admit that I am a bit startled by some of the comments here to the effect that the Letterland books are dated. I can't really understand where that comes from. They are imaginative, bright books with colorful drawings. No, unlike say the Oxford Reading Tree (which I found awfully tedious) they don't attempt to show modern life - they show a fantasy world! Talking snakes and cats and kings and queens!

I also want to comment on the idea that using phonics means Letterland is superseded. I'm not qualified to comment on how the Letterland books integrate with phonics based methods of teaching. What I can say is that I used the phonics Read Write system - flashcards, ditties, storybooks - to teach my sons to read. I found it really effective. But I also found that Letterland books were a good secondary resource. I basically just used them for reading practice alongside the Read Write system. If I'd spent all my time with sons using the phonics books available, ploughing through the interminable adventures of Biff and Chip and what not, I suspect they would have become bored solid and I would have torn my hair out - it is the zaniness of Letterland books which makes them attractive to children.


Darkness Falls (Immortal Beloved)
Darkness Falls (Immortal Beloved)
by Cate Tiernan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.60

3.0 out of 5 stars Immortal beloved, 11 Feb 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In this second book of a trilogy, heroine Nastasya is resident in a "rehab centre for wayward immortals". Nastasya herself is immortal, as are her co-residents, including romantic hero Reyn, with whom she has exchanged fevered kisses. Reyn is the son of Erik the Bloodletter, who was responsible for the slaughter or Nastasya's family: not surprisingly this has placed some difficulties in the way of their romance. Meanwhile, something bad is looming, and it seems to be out to get Nastasya, who has to leave the rehab centre, fearful that she's bringing evil to it. And out in the real world her past catches up with her. Will she find her way back to safety and Reyn, and come to terms with her own powers?

I quite liked this. Reyn comes across as a bit of a college jock, but there is an element of romance. The idea that Nastasya wants to exchange fevered kisses with him in a stable is believable. And the anti-hero is seriously bad. One things that did disappoint me though, was that we see relatively little of Nastastya's past life as an immortal, after the death of her family. And at over 350 pages I think it could have been cut back somewhat. Overall - light escapist reading in the bath with a glass of wine. But not comparable to Elizabeth Kostova.


Mebby Jelly Baby Silver Awarded Changing Mat (Soft Pink)
Mebby Jelly Baby Silver Awarded Changing Mat (Soft Pink)
Price: 26.67

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointingly thin and hard, 28 Nov 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Like another reviewer I mistakenly thought this was a memory foam mat (it isn't) and was disappointed to receive something surprisingly thin and flimsy seeming (and hard!) with a hollow in the underside. Rather than my baby sinking into a comfortable foam cushion which held him in place, he seemed to be balanced on a rather hard surface which wasn't what I had expected at all.

In particular I had hoped that this mat would support his head and neck because when being changed he tends to thrash his head around. However it did not do this at all, or stop him rolling about. Plus the surface was porous (not good with something that will inevitably have unpleasant liquids spilt on it) and I didn't want the extra expense and washing hassle of having to use a liner.

Overall not what I had expected and I felt bad about paying what I felt was too much for something very like my old ordinary mat, which did not notably increase my young man's comfort when being changed.


Tommee Tippee Sangenic Nappy Disposal Tub
Tommee Tippee Sangenic Nappy Disposal Tub
Price: 12.49

38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bye bye whiffy room, 10 Oct 2012
If you are expecting a new baby this is one of the products I would really recommend investing in, though you need to factor in the cost of the refill cartridges (and postage for them if like me you buy refill packs online). Basically, you pop a dirty nappy into the unit, push it down into the film, turn a little knob so the nappy is covered up by the film entirely (this bit is essential) and hey presto no more nasty smell in the room. And you don't have to take the dirty nappy out to the dustbin or have it ponging away in the kitchen bin. I find there is no smell from the unit, so long as I've remembered to twist the little knob. I empty it once a week (though I only use it for pooey nappies) and splash some bleach or anti bacterial spray around in it when I do. I wouldn't stuff my head in it and draw a deep breath but that is not what it's for. I find a 3 pack refill lasts me around 2-3 months, and I buy my refills from Amazon (I don't know where they would be sold on the high street). A product that is used every day and makes life that little bit easier with babies and toddlers around.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 20, 2014 4:09 PM GMT


Slime Squad Vs The Fearsome Fists: Book 1
Slime Squad Vs The Fearsome Fists: Book 1
by Steve Cole
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great boys' reading, 10 Oct 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The Slime Squad books are great for encouraging young boys to read independently. (This isn't meant to be sexist: I haven't got any girls so don't know if a girl would like them or not. There is certainly a female monster member in the Squad who is feisty and likeable.) The books are full of jokes (the sort of yucky ones boys love) and are lighthearted and fast moving. I've actually read a few of them myself and enjoyed them. If your ambition is to get a young boy reading independently I would strongly recommend the series- I suspect parents may not find them as congenial as familiar series like the Secret Seven but the point is that they do a great job in moving children on to independent reading. In terms of age, I first got these for my eldest son at 6 and at 7 he still enjoys re-reading them. If you're looking for books to encourage boys' independent reading, other series I would recommend are Bug Buddies (rather simpler, great for reception and year one) and Steve Coles other series, Astrosaurs, Astrosaurs Academy, and Cows In Action.


Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives)
Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives)
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shiny and witty, 10 Oct 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Having just posted a very sour review of Bill Bryson's "At Home", I feel I should redress the balance by praising this great little book. It is a very short, accessible, well written and entertaining introduction to Shakespeare's life and times. (It doesn't deal in any detail with his works: there is a brief discussion of the Sonnets, but that's pretty much it.) The first 8 chapters take the reader from Shakespeare's birth and early years to his death, and the last deals with the widespread belief that Shakespeare did not in fact write Shakespeare. The scene - Elizabethan and Jacobean England - is set really well and the brutality of life in the sixteenth century is made very clear. Some reviewers have commented that it is a slight work: I suppose that is true. But it is an introduction: what is wrong with that? We cannot all be born with a great knowledge of Elizabethan England and Shakespeare's life. A warning, though: this book is so good that you may well find yourself keenly buying other books on the period and on Shakespeare.
After reading this book I felt that Bill Bryson should get some sort of award for his services to increasing human knowledge and understanding. After reading "At Home", sadly, my enthusiasm for this cause took a dent.


At Home: A short history of private life
At Home: A short history of private life
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

16 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Retitle: "A random collection of facts, some interesting, many rather dull, and far too many horribly tedious", 9 Oct 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I would have given this 2 stars, but for the fact that its subtitle ("A short history of private life") is so horribly misleading. A more accurate subtitle would be that I have suggested above.

Bill Bryson says in his introduction to the book that "whatever happens in the word...eventually ends up, in one way or another, in your house". Of course this is true. But it is no excuse for failing completely to filter the information he provides. Every Christmas a tedious array of "gift books" are wheeled out which provide a random selection of facts, dealt with in a shallow way. This is what this book reminded me of. The idea that it is a history of private life, anchored around a Victorian rectory in Norfolk, is ridiculous.

For instance, in Chapter 9, "The Cellar", we have a lengthy discussion of the Erie Canal and hydraulic cement, early American colonists' use of wood, stone as a building material, brick, John Nash, coal smoke, Coade stone, building in Chicago, and cast iron. (The reason given for this is that the cellar provides a sense of the superstructure of the house.) In "The Passage" we learn about the Eiffel Tower, about the lifestyles of the super-rich in the US in the nineteenth century, about concrete, and about Alexander Graham Bell. In "The Study" we learn about mice, rats, bed mites, bedbugs, hygiene in the home, bats, and locusts. I could go on and on. But the bottom line is that if I wanted to learn about these topics I'd buy a book on them.

To be fair, not all of the chapters are this disparate. "The Bathroom" discusses hygiene - but in very general terms - and sewerage: flush toilets, cholera, John Snow, and yellow fever. "The Nursery" does discuss childhood - but goes on to encompass chimney sweeps, child factory workers, the lives of the poor in London in the 1830s, Malthus, workhouses, Engels, Dr Barnardo, and Darwin. "The Bedroom" does discuss bedding and sleeping habits, before discussing sex in a rather melodramatic way, and then going on to sexually transmitted diseases, Fanny Burney's mastectomy, Victorian mourning customs, live burial, grave robbery and cremation. There is a large illustration of a "penile pricing ring" in this chapter but nothing in it - nor, so far as I could see, in the whole book - on contraception. I would have thought that had more of an effect on private life in the bedroom than grave robbery and found the omission very surprising.

Bill Bryson also says in his introduction that he has had to be "painfully selective". It shows. There are many pages where adjacent paragraphs don't seem to fit together all that well, giving the impression that something has been cut out. There are also many infelicities of language and many places where I found myself thinking "does that sentence even make sense?". I suspect that this is because the subject is so enormous - sex, death, childhood, illness and medicine, hygiene, architecture, electricity, furnishings, religion - that it simply can't be dealt with in one book, and very heavy handed cutting has taken place.

I bought this in hardcover because I've enjoyed his other works so much and have read them till they've fallen apart. But my hardback is on its way to Oxfam. I am glad to have finished it and think Bill Bryson's editor would have done him a favour, when the first draft of this was produced, by suggesting that this time he had bitten off very much more than he could chew .
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 11, 2013 2:34 PM GMT


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