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Karura (London)
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Essential Baking
Essential Baking
by Murdoch Books
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An essential addition to my recipe book collection, 29 April 2011
This review is from: Essential Baking (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As a fan of baking and collector of recipe books, I could hardly pass up the chance to pick up a book calling itself 'Essential Baking'. Right from the moment it arrived at my house, I knew I had made a good decision- as soon as I opened the book to flick through it, I wanted to get to the kitchen right away and start baking.

Essential Baking is divided into various sections, covering cakes, muffins, slices, breads and various other bits and pieces- no surprise there, you say, but this book has the edge over the competition thanks to a healthy inclusion of hints and tips. Not only does the book add in some background details about the different types of cakes and baking equipment needed to make them, but it also has 'what went wrong' sections, offering invaluable explanations as to why your latest masterpiece may not look exactly as it did on the page.

When done correctly (yes, I too had a few 'what went wrong' moments!), all the recipes I've cooked so far have been tasty and well received by friends and family. One thing I've noticed is that the book often knows best- even if you think you know what you're doing, straying from the guidelines can lead to problems. For example, when the book told me to roll out some pastry between two sheets of baking parchment, I ignored this advice, not realising that this particular pastry was much stickier than normal, and that rolling it out directly on the wooden board would be very messy!

Overall, however, this is a great book, filled with tasty recipes and useful tips. Of course, no one book can contain everything, but if you happen to enjoy baking and fancy investing in a recipe book or two, this one should be near the top of your list.


Afterlife
Afterlife
by Sean O'Brien
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Slow paced and lacking direction, 20 April 2011
This review is from: Afterlife (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
One long hot summer in the seventies, four Cambridge graduates head to the country for one last round of enjoyment before the realities of adulthood set in. There's bold, brash Alex- ladies' man, aspiring writer and a bit of a jerk; the weaker-willed Martin, who is content to trail along in Alex's wake even as he hopes to start a PhD on an obscure local poet; Jane, the effortlessly talented yet ethereal poet and Susie, the practical and pragmatic cornerstone of the group. Amidst a haze of drugs and alcohol, deep undercurrents of tension run through the group, but it is only the arrival of a pair of American students that ignites the smouldering resentments.

Right from the very first paragraph, I could tell that Afterlife and I weren't going to get on; with its long, meandering phrases and overabundant literary references, it seemed yet another addition to the pile of books that aim for 'cleverness' at the expense of clarity. Told from the perspective of Martin as he looks back on That One Fateful Summer, the prose is full of rambling internal narrations, but the dialogue sections proved even worse, with it all too often being unclear who was supposed to be saying what.

Nonetheless, I decided to persevere, and after 180 or so pages of long hot days in which the protagonists smoked joints, downed pints and did very little else, the pace began to pick up. Unfortunately, by that point, most of the characters had managed to make themselves as hateful as possible- Alex and his new friends from being complete and utter jerks, and the likes of Martin and Jane simply through being too weak-willed and ineffectual to do anything about it. The only sympathetic characters are Martin's pragmatic girlfriend Susie and pub regular Gareth, but they seem to exist more as plot devices than characters to be developed in their own right.

Fortunately, right at the end, the book does improve a little, and although I wouldn't say it justified having read through the entire thing, at least the final chapter didn't leave me feeling completely unsatisfied. This should only be taken as consolation for those currently working their way through the book, however- if you've yet to crack open the cover of Afterlife, don't bother.


Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements
Periodic Tales: The Curious Lives of the Elements
by Hugh Aldersey-Williams
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable book that left me wanting more, 12 April 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As you might guess from the title, Periodic Tales is a collection of vignettes about many of the chemical elements, from simple hydrogen through to the heavier metals. Framed by the author's own explorations and experiments, Periodic Tales is packed with facts about the elements and their discoverers, and is sure to delight science lovers both amateur and professional.

Rather than going through the perioidic table sequentially, Periodic Tales takes a more ciricuitous route, grouping together elements in chapters such as 'power','beauty' and 'craft'. Each of the elements covered has a few pages devoted to it, covering its discovery and the journey that led it to its current place in our society. The book is well written and informative throughout, filled with interesting titbits such as the fact that aluminium was once considered more precious than gold, and one chemist decided to put his new element on display in a curiosity shop rather than announcing its discovery via more conventional means. This is science as it should be told- a very human collection of stories rather than a dry textbook stating bare facts.

If I do have one complaint, however, it's that the book doesn't have the space to cover everything. At 400 pages, it might already seem like a big investment of reading time, but with several important elements omitted, I would love to read more of what the author has to say about these fundamental building blocks of matter- perhaps in the form of a 'More Periodic Tales' sequel. Another slight niggle is that the images in the book are all printed in black and white, which makes it hard to see what is going on in many of them- I would rather have had colour plates at the centre of the book.

Overall, I cannot recommend this book enough for anyone who is even vaguely interested in chemistry, physics and the elements- this is an entertaining and informative book that deserves a place on many shelves.


Know Your Cattle
Know Your Cattle
by Jack Byard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Useful little book, 28 Mar. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Know Your Cattle (Paperback)
Having recently decided it would be interesting to learn a bit about the various different breeds of cattle, I wanted a simple and straightforward introduction- and this book exactly fit the bill. Each of the 44 breeds covered in this book has its own double page spread, with one page devoted to facts about the breed, and the other page given over to a colour photo.

Aside from a reference to the horns on Viking helmets (a popular myth but not actually true), as far as I can judge, the text seems accurate and provides a decent background and introduction for each breed. Most of the photos are of a decent quality, although a couple of them were blurry or low resolution. Also, confusingly, the text describes the Simmental breed as having a white head, but the cow picture is completely black.

These nitpicks aside, this is a good little book overall, and will make a handy reference guide for anyone interested in learning the basics about cattle breeds. On the strength of this, I would certainly consider adding Know Your Pigs to my collection as well.


Morphy Richards Premium Plus 48319 Breadmaker, Stainless Steel
Morphy Richards Premium Plus 48319 Breadmaker, Stainless Steel

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All singing, all dancing, 6 Feb. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As a complete breadmaker novice prior to getting this product, I liked the idea of getting one, but had no idea what to look for, how much effort the actual bread making would involve, or even if the breadmaker would suffer the fate of most kitchen gadgets and end up banished to the back of a rarely-opened cupboard. Fortunately, right from the start, the product has proven easy to use, with the results pleasing friends, family and housemates alike.

In terms of size, the breadmaker is a bit on the bulky side- I have it on top of a low shelving unit, but I imagine it might be a bit overpowering if placed on a work surface at standard height. The unit is operated by four buttons on the front, with an LED screen indicating selected program, baking progress and time remaining. It's all very simple to use, but a read through the manual is recommend before getting started, as there are a couple of subtleties to getting things working correctly, such as knowing that you have to hold down the start button for three seconds once you've selected your program to activate the breadmaker

Other features include a light so that you can see into the breadmaker as it does its thing (although the window often gets steamed up), a delay timer that lets you put the ingredients in the night before and have the bread freshly baked when you get up the next morning, a fruit and nut dispenser that automatically takes care of adding larger items to the mix so you don't have to remember to do and a 'keep warm' setting that, unsurprisingly, keeps the bread for up to an hour after it has finished baking.

Well then, enough about all these extra features, what about the basic function- to make bread? As I said earlier, I'm no expert in the field of breadmakers, but certainly this one has more than lived up to my expectations. Operation is very simple- put in ingredients and come back three hours later to find that bread has magically appeared, and the results are always delicious- my personal favourite being the granary loaf. The breadmaker comes with its own booklet of recipes which cover all the basics and many interesting variations (including gluten-free), but there is of course the option to devise your own recipes or use shop-bought bread mixes- in fact, the breadmaker comes with customisable settings so that you can set your own timings.

And it's not just ready-baked loaves either- the breadmaker will also whip up dough for rolls, croissants and the like, whilst more unexpected options include jams, pasta and even rice pudding! There's certainly no shortage of options, and whether you choose to experiment or just stick with your favourite recipes, the breadmaker should see no shortage of use.

Of course, few things are perfect, and on that note I do have a few niggles with this item. Although the 'unique collapsible blade' is supposed to fall flat and be easily removable from the bottom of the bread after cooking, it does often get stuck in the loaf anyway- not a big deal but something you have to be aware of when you start slicing. The other issue is that, after the bread has finished baking, the 'keep warm' timer starts counting back up to one hour, and unless you hang around watching it, it can be hard to tell whether it's still in the final baking phase (timer counting down) or has finished and is now in the 'keep warm' phase (timer counting up). Considering that the LED screen has little icons to differentiate between kneading, rising and baking phases, surely it could have done the same for 'keep warm'.

These few issues aside, this breadmaker is a great piece of kit, and I've thoroughly enjoyed making (and eating) a whole variety of different breads. It's simple and delicious- what more could you ask for?


Samsung Q2 8GB MP4 Player With FM Radio - White
Samsung Q2 8GB MP4 Player With FM Radio - White

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent but not outstanding mid-range mp3 player, 29 Jan. 2011
As the owner of both an iPod nano and an Android smartphone, this device was always going to seem a little surplus to my requirements, but nonetheless, I decided to test it out and see how it stacked up against the rest.

In appearance, the Q2 is unremarkable- it feels solid but also a little plasticky on the finish. The USB connector is a little fiddly, and if you don't get the knack of unplugging it from the device, there is always the feeling that you are on the verge of breaking it. The controls and display are adequate, but overall it looks and feels like a poor man's iPod- of course, essentially that is what it is, but it would have been nice if Samsung could have dressed it up a bit more distinctively.

In terms of operation, I didn't find the menus particularly intuitive to use, although ultimately they do the job. Transferring music from Windows is as simple as drag and drop, but from some reason copying the exact same mp3 files over from Linux gave me a 'content not supported' error when I then tried to play them. Once up and running, playback is of a good quality with ample battery life.

Despite being sold as an mp4 player, the Samsung Q2 doesn't actually support the mp4 format, although other video formats can be watched- not that I imagine many people will want to watch videos on a such a tiny screen. The device also comes with a couple of games preinstalled, although they are pretty simplistic and unlikely to hold anyone's attention for long. In fact, apart from music playback, the only other feature you'll probably be interested in is the FM radio.

Overall, this wouldn't be my player of choice, but that's because I was already willing to fork out more for a higher end product. If you're looking for a robust music player for a more modest budget, however, this one should fit your needs nicely.


Belkin Wireless G Universal Range Extender
Belkin Wireless G Universal Range Extender

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A complete and utter pain- avoid!, 24 Dec. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought this over a year ago as a quick and easy way of getting wireless to every corner of the house (thick walls mean a regular wireless router isn't enough), and almost immediately I regretted not reading the reviews. Fortunately, after much pain and struggle, I managed to get it working, and although I wasn't really sure how I'd done it in the end, I decided to just leave it alone as long as it was doing its job.

Unfortunately, recently we changed our internet service provider and I needed to log into the range extender to change the security setup from the old WEP password to the new WPA one. After a while, I was able to log into the extender's web interface, but whenever I attempted to change anything, the page would timeout and refuse to let me reconnect. Maybe after a day of banging my head repeatedly on this brick wall I might be able to get it working again, but it's such a headache that I've decided to just put this to one side and buy something that actually does what I want with a minimum of fuss. I wouldn't even give this away to my worst enemy- no one deserves to struggle so much getting such a basic bit of kit set up.


Far North
Far North
by Marcel Theroux
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent novel, 22 Nov. 2010
This review is from: Far North (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
On the frozen edges of a failed state, Makepeace patrols the streets, holding onto the last memories of the city's downfall. But one day it seems to Makepeace that there might be other people alive and well beyond the city limits, inspiring a journey to find out what has become of the human race.

Since other reviewers compared Far North to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, I decided to give both a try, and I have to say this novel wins hands down. Written in a style reminiscent of an Iain Banks novel, Far North relates Makepeace's present whilst slowly unveiling snippets from the past, making for compelling reading. Here we are at the end of the world, but how did we get there? What secrets lie buried in the ice and snow of the Far North? Where The Road was an endless monologue showcasing the same scenes of desolation over and over, Far North contains journeys, human interactions, surprises and emotions. Days after I had finished reading it, scenes from Makepeace's life and travels would still pop into my mind, a testament to the power of this novel.

At the centre of the story is Makepeace, a character who one can engage with throughout the adventure- a far cry from the nameless and often irritating heroes of The Road. We travel with Makepeace throughout a world where scarce resources have only inflamed human greed and self-interest, where false friends are all too common but true allies equally hard to come by. This is a very human story, set at humanity's end, but filled with a fierce spark of life where The Road was all dull grey ashes. This is certainly a novel that surpassed all my expectations, and one that I would not hesitate to recommend.


The Maze Runner
The Maze Runner
by James Dashner
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good novel, but lacking that extra something, 1 Nov. 2010
This review is from: The Maze Runner (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
When Thomas emerges from The Box, he has no memory of who he is or where he came from- the only thing he knows is his name. Now, he finds himself in The Glade, a small settlement of teenage boys situated at the centre of a deadly and dangerous maze. For two years, the boys have been searching for a way out of the maze, but Thomas' arrival might just be the catalyst that sets everything in motion.

Thanks to the likes of The Hunger Games, dystopian futures seem to be all the rage in teen fiction these days, making it that much harder for new contenders in the field to make an impression. Fortunately, The Maze Runner starts well, hitting the ground running as both reader and main character are thrust into a strange new world full of mysteries and unanswered questions. Burning with the need to find out, I raced through the first few chapters, but after the first third or so of the novel, I began to realise I was feeling vaguely dissatisfied.

As events unfold, anyone who has read this kind of fiction before will find that the narrative is often predictable, and the quality of prose, whilst solid, is not quite good enough to tie it all together. By the closing chapters, everything feels a little messy and hastily thrown together; it's still enjoyable and intriguing enough for me to want to read the next book in the trilogy, but with authors like Suzanne Collins and Patrick Ness having set the bar so high for young adult novels, The Maze Runner can't quite capture that extra sparkle. A good novel, but not an outstanding must-read.


The Rehearsal
The Rehearsal
by Eleanor Catton
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 22 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not as clever as it thinks it is, 23 Oct. 2010
This review is from: The Rehearsal (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
When a high school teacher is outed as having gotten a little too close to one of his sixth-form students, the scandal ripples throughout the school and beyond. Whilst the other girls at the school are awakened to the potency of their own sexuality, the students at a nearby drama college are inspired to incorporate the events into their annual school play. But what of what we read really happened, and what was just acted out on the stage?

According to some of the hype written about it, The Rehearsal is the future of the novel- and for the sake of my continued enjoyment of books, I can only hope that those critics are wrong. This is a novel without substance, where characters are merely mouthpieces for the author's trite musing rather than personalities in their own right, and so little happens that getting through the book is a chore rather than a pleasure.

In an attempt to disguise its essential lack of substance, the book is not only split into two separate story threads- one following the schoolgirls, the other following a first year student at the drama college- but it is also told in a non chronological order, with vignettes from throughout the year all mixed together. Other authors have managed to pull off this kind of timeline skipping with panache, but here it gives you even less incentive to care, since the effort of fitting everything together far outweighs the reward.

Ultimately, with its lacklustre characters and paper thin story, The Rehearsal is little more than a slog. Whatever profound thoughts the author was trying to convey are lost in a sea of monotony. With so many superior stories out there, I wouldn't recommend that anyone wasted their time on this one.


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