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Reviews Written by
M.D. Smart (London, UK)
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   

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Wahl Lithium Pro Hair Clipper
Wahl Lithium Pro Hair Clipper
Price: £36.50

3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to Wahl's usual standard, 31 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have owned Wahl clippers before - not these, a much more solid, heavy model - and always got a good, even cut using them. Unfortunately this new version did not produce the same results. On the plus side, the clipper charges very quickly is extremely light and easy to hold, it also doesn't require the constant swapping of the comb to achieve different lengths - in this case a click wheel moves the comb in and out to vary the closeness of the cut. However, perhaps precisely because the thing is so lightweight, I found it far more prone to missing clumps of hair in some places and cutting too close in others. It doesn't feel like it would survive being dropped either - not very sturdy.

I would definitely recommend Wahl clippers in general but not this particular one.


Freedom's Child
Freedom's Child
by Jax Miller
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.00

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars My Name Is Freedom (just in case you'd forgotten the last two dozen times I told you), 16 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Freedom's Child (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Having finally finished Freedom's Child, I'm still not entirely sure whether it was a brilliant piece of satire or just a really bad book.

Right from the first page this novel lays on the Southern cliches, not so much with a trowel as with a shovel. Everybody drinks bourbon and chews tobacco, country music plays on every jukebox, there are bullfrogs in the rushes....you get the picture. And the whole thing is told in what I can only describe as a coarse parody of hard-boiled American Noir from the 'Thirties and 'Forties. For example:

"...the day's as gray as the cigarette smoke from a whore in Times Square on a frigid January morning..."

The prose is like that all the way through, so OTT that it's unintentionally hilarious. The entire book - story, characters, everything - is overdone in the same manner. From the hard-drinking, potty-mouthed Freedom herself to Virgil Paul, mad evangelical preacher who takes a masturbation break halfway through his sermons, to Lynn Delaney, the 600 lb cocaine addict who runs her own crime family from the seat of her mobility scooter. Honestly, if you actually set out to write a comedy you'd be hard-pressed to come up with gold like this.

The basic scenario of a woman in Witness Protection who risks everything when she hears of her daughter's disappearance has plenty of potential, but Jax Miller piles far too much on top - arson, drugs, rape, gun-running, skinhead gangs, religious cults, even a Native American shaman believe it or not - as if she threw every single idea she'd ever had into this one book. It's just too much to take seriously. Then, after more than 300 pages of build up the book just fizzles out, ending in a few limp paragraphs. All the storylines are wrapped up so quickly, you barely realise it's all over until the epilogue begins, 'Nine months later...'.

One final complaint: if the narrator said "My name is Freedom" one more time, I'd have probably hurled the book through my television screen. In case I haven't made my feelings clear, I do not recommend this book.


The Vanishing Point
The Vanishing Point
by Val McDermid
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Beyond far-fetched..., 10 Aug. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Vanishing Point (Paperback)
I usually read any new Val McDermid novel fairly soon after release, but I put off starting this one for a long time - mainly due to the critical reviews I saw from other readers. After finally getting around to it, I'm sorry to say I agree with most of the complaints. I did keep reading till the end, it wasn't so awful that I felt like giving up, but I can't say I enjoyed it.

The characters are completely unbelievable, particularly the two central females: Scarlett, the 'bimbo' reality star who we are supposed to believe is secretly an expert media manipulator but is still dim enough to love a man with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and Stephanie the supposedly intelligent ghostwriter who, for some unknown reason, becomes Scarlett's best friend despite them having nothing in common, and who is also stupid enough to be in a relationship with a thoroughly unpleasant man. Both prose and dialogue are cheesy beyond belief, and the ultimate offence is the ending, which throws any remaining vestiges of believability out of the window in one of the most ludicrous (and abrupt) climaxes I've ever read.

I imagine the original intention was perhaps to try and say something about fame and the cult of celebrity...but it didn't come off. It's hard to believe this is the same writer responsible for books like A Place of Execution and the best of the Tony Hill series. I suppose every author has their 'off books'; this is definitely one of Val's.


Olympus Tough TG-4 Compact Digital Camera - Black
Olympus Tough TG-4 Compact Digital Camera - Black
Price: £278.11

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent little camera for the amateur photographer, 9 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
These days I suspect many people exclusively use the camera on their mobile phone to take pictures, I certainly have for the past few years...you forget how much more a dedicated camera can offer. This Olympus model, as the name suggests, is a hardy little camera which allows you as much control over your photography as you want, from simple holiday snaps to more advanced pictures. You'll need a memory card (the camera does have some internal memory but it's tiny), and after charging up you're ready to go. It's small and light but seems tough, and battery life is good. It's a shame there was no case included, however.

For complete beginners, the TG-4 will do pretty much everything for you, all you have to do is press the shutter and you can expect very pleasing results; as you grow more familiar with the various functions, you can begin to take control over things like aperture and shutter speed, and try out the numerous features. I haven't begun to experiment with all the modes, but I have tried the macro which produced excellent close-up results, and the video, which is also very good quality although it eats up the memory quickly. There are other functions for night photography, creating panoramas and much more.

If you like to share your photos on social media, one of the benefits of taking snaps with your phone is that you can post them online immediately. Olympus have an answer to this; the TG-4 is wifi-enabled, and by downloading the free official app, you can share almost as quickly and easily. I did have a couple of problems linking the camera to my phone at first, but eventually it worked and I now use this feature all the time.

Overall, the Olympus TG-4 produces excellent results with minimum effort, and offers plenty of scope for the more experienced amateur. It's not cheap, but it's well made, robust and a pleasure to use.


The House of Hidden Mothers
The House of Hidden Mothers
by Meera Syal
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.29

4.0 out of 5 stars A moving story of motherhood, 1 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've always been a fan of Meera Syal and enjoyed her previous two novels, but it's been so long since the last one I began to think she had given up writing for good. Finally, here is her third book, and much like the previous two, it isn't necessarily exactly what you'd expect if you are only familiar with the author as a comedy actress. There is humour here, but the book deals with some tough, distressing subjects. I felt it was a little overlong; it took me a while to become fully engaged, but it eventually proved to be a thoroughly rewarding and moving read, with a strong undercurrent of anger at the abuses women still have to endure. I'd definitely recommend it, as long as you're not expecting a breezy comedy. As Meera herself put it in the title of her second book: life isn't all ha ha, hee hee.


The Blood Doctor
The Blood Doctor
by Barbara Vine
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £19.98

3.0 out of 5 stars Decent enough but not one of her best, 31 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Ruth Rendell published many of her finest books under the pen name Barabara Vine, but sadly this isn't one of them. It's well written as always and full of compelling characters; she deals sensitively with the narrator and his partner's inability to have a child, and there is a lot of fascinating inside information about the workings of the House of Lords and about Victorian medicine.

However, the solution to the central mystery of nineteenth century royal physician Henry Nanther's odd behaviour is so glaringly obvious from very early on in the story that his descendant Martin's continuing bafflement is difficult to credit and eventually becomes wearisome. Still worth reading, but I'd recommend most of the other Vine novels ahead of this one.


Little Black Lies
Little Black Lies
by Sharon Bolton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is dark stuff..., 31 July 2015
This review is from: Little Black Lies (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Catrin, a conservationist living on the Falklands ten years after the Argentine invasion, has been struggling for almost three years to cope with the loss of her two children in a tragic accident, for which she blames her former best friend Rachel. The third anniversary of their deaths is approaching, and Catrin prepares to finally take her revenge - by killing Rachel. However her plans are complicated by the disappearance of a child from a visiting cruise ship, the third boy to have vanished on the Islands in the past two years, and by Callum, the man she had an affair with before she lost her sons. As Catrin puts her plan into action, it begins to seem her tragic loss and the mystery of the disappearing boys may be connected...

A word of warning: this is a dark tale...and when I say dark, I mean pitch black. Not only because of the subject matter of dead and missing children; the bleak isolation of the setting and the raw forces of nature echo the mood of the story. Nevertheless, if you're prepared for a somewhat grim read, this is a highly impressive novel. the story is related in turn by Catrin, Callum and Rachel, and Sharon Bolton creates a memorable trio of flawed (and not necessarily always sympathetic) characters, describing their unbearable burdens of grief and rage with unflinching insight. The setting is highly evocative, beautiful yet somehow sinister, well chosen to reflect the unfolding events. It's also a compelling mystery with several twists and a final shocking revelation on the last page.

I did try one of the author's earlier books a few years ago (back when she was known as S J Bolton) and I must admit I wasn't all that taken with it; this is far more mature, accomplished and affecting. More like this, please.


Inside Out [DVD]
Inside Out [DVD]
Price: £9.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pixar back to their best, 28 July 2015
This review is from: Inside Out [DVD] (DVD)
After a couple of ho-hum sequels, Pixar are back on form with their latest, Inside Out. The setting of 11-year-old Riley's mind, controlled by her five primary Emotions, is brilliantly and gorgeously realised; the inventiveness is dazzling, full of clever touches. There's some great humour too, but overall the film is actually a fairly serious, complex and moving tale about growing up and leaving childhood behind. I imagine most of the ideas will go sailing over children's heads, but for older kids and adults this is a real treat. Make sure you stay for the credits, when there are a series of peeks inside the heads of a teacher, bus driver, dog and cat amongst others!


Philips HR1875/21 Avance Collection Quick Clean Juicer, 2.5 Litre, 1000 Watt - Brushed Stainless Steel
Philips HR1875/21 Avance Collection Quick Clean Juicer, 2.5 Litre, 1000 Watt - Brushed Stainless Steel
Price: £125.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Smart, easy to use juicer, 6 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've always wanted a juicer but this is the first I've ever owned. It's quite a large heavy machine, but still less bulky than other juicers I've looked at, and is rather smart with its silver and black trim. Having unpacked the box, I discovered the only real negative point about this product: the 'instructions' consist of a tiny few diagrams and are wholly inadequate. Not that it's too difficult to work out what to do for yourself, but surely the manufacturers could afford to supply something a little more useful? I've had the same experience with a couple of other Philips products recently; I don't know if it's a general trend or not, but I imagine most people would appreciate a more detailed explanation of all the features.

Having said that, the machine is actually pretty easy to use. Fruit requires a little preparation depending on the type you're using - stones, stalks and leaves all need to be removed, though small pips (e.g. apple cores) can be left. With regards to the skin, the general rule seems to be you should remove any inedible peel; oranges need the peel removed for instance, whereas pears do not. The machine also cannot cope with thick fruits like bananas, which I imagine would clog up the spout.

Much is made of the 'quick clean' function, but don't imagine you won't have to wash the machine properly to keep it in good order. The Quick Clean is really more of a 'quick rinse' - it clears the insides so you can carry on juicing a new fruit without risk of getting the remains of the previous fruit mixed in, but it is not a thorough clean by any means; you'll still need to dismantle and wash the various parts, which are at least dishwasher safe.

I've really enjoyed experimenting with different combinations and the results have been delicious - I haven't tried any vegetables yet but I plan to. Overall a great kitchen gadget if you enjoy fresh juice...but please, Philips, hire someone new to write proper instruction manuals!


LEGO 41105 Friends Pop Star Show Stage
LEGO 41105 Friends Pop Star Show Stage
Price: £29.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lego Friends hit the stage, 4 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This set is one of the larger models in the new Lego Friends pop star theme, depicting the stage on which singer Livi is giving a performance. It's a pretty impressive recreation of a modern music concert too, full of the clever and effective little details that are Lego's trademark. Livi appears before her audience from behind a revolving blue curved screen; there's a small handle to the side of the set which turns Livi's platform plus the four large neon displays that surround the stage in unison, enabling her to make a spectacular entrance. The stage area itself is split into three catwalks, connected to the main part by pegs so they can be repositioned as desired. The central area is lined by coloured 'lights' while the two side areas house Livi's backing group, with keyboards to one side and drums to the other. The set comes Livi herself plus one regular Friend character, Andrea; it's a slight pity there isn't a third isn't included so the band could be complete straight out of the box.

The set is suitable for about ages 8 or above I'd say; some adult assistance may be required, particularly for building and connecting the lever system beneath the stage which turns the platform and displays. It's all very colourful and looks the part although I must admit, considering it's one of the more expensive sets, there didn't seem a lot more to it than, say, the Dressing Room set, which is ten pounds cheaper. However, there's no question that my daughter is thrilled with it, so I suppose that makes it worth the asking price.


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