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J. Dawson (Edinburgh, UK)
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   

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Russell Hobbs 20581 Smartglide Pro Steam Generator Iron - 2800 Watt
Russell Hobbs 20581 Smartglide Pro Steam Generator Iron - 2800 Watt
Price: £109.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Cumbersome but effective, 4 May 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In order to fully understand this review, I think it's necessary to start by explaining a little about Amazon's Vine programme. Those of us who are fortunate enough to have been invited to join rare offered items which we receive for free in exchange for writing honest reviews of them. At the time of writing, these reviews must be written within 30 days in order to be offered further items. It's a powerful incentive to keep up with your reviews as you never know what you will be offered. So when I say this item has been sitting behind a chair for several weeks, you must realise that this may well mean I have missed out on hundreds of pounds worth of other Vine merchandise. That alone says much about this item.

It is HUGE. I should be charging rent. Dragging this beast out to tackle any normal household ironing job feels akin to driving an articulated lorry down to the shops to pick up your groceries. And for that reason alone, I am sceptical of how much use I will really get out of it. This wants a dedicated station in a utility room in an ideal world, though if you have a small business (eg a B&B) that involved lots of ironing, it may well be worthwhile.

When I finally braved it, the instructions were reassuringly straightforward and the unit itself feels incredibly substantial and well made without being off-puttingly heavy. Like other reviewers, I am not keen on the idea of an anti-scale cartridge that must be replaces within a matter of mere weeks, as that seems like it might add a substantial cost to this already pricey item if you were using it heavily or lived in a hard water area.

First thing I noticed was that the oddly shaped (but easily removed) water tank means one might have a tendency not to hold it level which might be an issue when gauging fill level, so make sure it's sitting on a flat surface when you check whether it is below the max fill line. One thing I did not like is that you can't see what most of the buttons on the base unit actually are without pushing them as the symbols only show when illuminated, but this would only be a small issue when using the unit for the first time. I also just about jumped out of my skin when, a few moments after switching the unit on, it let out an ungodly noise which I assume was telling me the steam function had reached full temperature. The time it took for this to happen was remarkably short, so big points for that, but partial deduction for scaring the bejeezus out of me in the process. As this repeats itself as the thermostat works to maintain its temperature, I soon got used to it. It's a fairly brief noise which the unit only makes intermittently, but it is surprisingly loud, especially when you realise it's basically an iron - not normally the noisiest of household appliances!

I gave this unit a proper testing - had an unworn linen dress waiting to be returned to the shop which had sat in its bag for a couple of weeks so was pretty wrinkled. This unit did not actually work magic on it, but it did do, in just a few relatively painless minutes, sufficiently well that I am happy to return the dress now. I can imagine it would be a real life saver with curtains or last minute steaming of an outfit you don't have time to fully iron before wearing.

It's nice that it feels so sturdy, and that the base plate has nonslip surfaces and stays cool so it should be relatively safe. The steam function is really impressive too, it almost feels like you are using an industrial unit. I don't actually have space to do a traditional iron at the moment, but will be eager to try it once I move house. Size and cartridge replacement aside, I really liked how this unit actually feels in use.


Purina ONE Indoor Wet Tuna & Chicken Mini Fillets in Gravy, 8 x 85 g (Pack of 5)
Purina ONE Indoor Wet Tuna & Chicken Mini Fillets in Gravy, 8 x 85 g (Pack of 5)
Price: £14.95

2.0 out of 5 stars The cat was unimpressed, 16 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have an incredibly fussy rescue cat who, in the course of the six months I have had her, has refused to eat any food other than the brand the shelter provided and, occasionally, titbits from my own meals. So when I opened my first sachet of this and she was lapping at it before it even made it into the bowl, I had high hopes that perhaps our options were opening up a bit. Sadly, her enthusiasm was short-lived. It turned out she was resorting to her regular trick of licking off all the gravy/jelly bits and refusing to touch the meat. All subsequent attempts provided the same result, so it seems I have merely found one more brand of food that my cat will waste. I'm sure this is no reflection on the food, but for us it was merely another failure.


The Offering
The Offering
by Grace McCleen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Striking at the dark heart of authority that destroys innocence, 16 April 2015
This review is from: The Offering (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you are looking for a light read or a cheerful diversion, steer clear. "The Offering" is hard work. It is, as many other reviewers have already pointed out, beautifully written and offers,in parts, a most lyrical meditation on the beauty of nature and the changing seasons. However the novel has a very dark heart where innocence leads to spectacular downfall and authority figures inadvertantly collude in the destruction of childhood and purity. It seems Grace McCleen is highly suspicious of all sorts of institutions, and with this book she effectively strikes at the heart of two very powerful ones, evangelical Christianity and mental health care.

Not an easy read, but a drawn-out, gently unfolding one fraught with menace and slow corruption and decay. If you are prepared to enter Madeline's worlds of the mental hospital in which she has been incarcerated most of her life and the rural Eden from which she was brutally expelled, this is a very rewarding book. But making that journey will take you to some very dark places and you may not find redemption at the end.


Philips GC3811/80 Azur Performer Steam Iron with 160 g Steam Boost and Steam Glide Plus Soleplate, 2400 Watt, Multi-Colour
Philips GC3811/80 Azur Performer Steam Iron with 160 g Steam Boost and Steam Glide Plus Soleplate, 2400 Watt, Multi-Colour
Price: £42.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great all-rounder, 16 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
No one likes ironing, but this model offered some good features that made a tedious task go a little more smoothly (pun intended!) The "nose" is really pointy to allow it to get into the smallest spaces and work on finer details. The spray and steam on demand features were really helpful to ensure the areas that most needed pressing could be specially targeted. And the resting plate was really stable so you never felt there was a danger of it the iron tipping when not in use.

I also had a go at using it as a vertical steamer and although it didn't completely remove creases when used this way, it did show a marked improvement in the appearance of the fabric, so would be ideal for rush jobs on the way out the door!

I only had a couple of minor niggles, neither of which much affected overall performance. It's difficult to see the waterline when filling this iron, and difficult to direct the spray when using the spray feature. I'm sure the latter will improve with practice, and it still worked really well so will be happy to continue using this.


Reasons to Stay Alive
Reasons to Stay Alive
by Matt Haig
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be required reading, 16 April 2015
This review is from: Reasons to Stay Alive (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Having suffered from depression and being intermittently suicidal for many years, I have read a lot on the subject. Almost inevitably one compares one's own experience when it is a firsthand account such as the one in Matt Haig's book. But of course everyone's experience of mental illness is different, and initially Matt's experience of depression was so different from my own that I really wondered whether this book would prove useful to me. But this is more than just a case study, it is also a discussion of depression, how it feels, how to combat it, and most importantly for me, what it feels like to come back from it. One of the difficulties of chronic depression is knowing that you are unlikely to ever be completely free of it, so to hear someone eloquently describe what they think they have gained from the experience, and what it feels like to recover from a breakdown, and how to live life without allowing the illness to take over - all of these are invaluable to other sufferers. Matt Haig's account is indeed one of the few I have read that helps me to feel (cautiously and realistically) optimistic about my future. His experiences may not be universal, but his compassion and strength are contagious, and should be widely read by everyone affected by mental health issues - whether as a sufferer or concerned loved one - which is to say pretty much everyone.


Braun Silk Epil 9 9-558 Wet & Dry Cordless Epilator with 5 Extras Attachments
Braun Silk Epil 9 9-558 Wet & Dry Cordless Epilator with 5 Extras Attachments
Price: £105.59

3.0 out of 5 stars . Definitely a cut above, 11 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have had really bad luck with epilators in the past but thought this deluxe version might be a cut above (no pun intended) and indeed that seems to be the case. My main issue is that I have extremely sensitive skin, and epilators usually feel like they are delivering tiny jolts of electricity every time the hit a hair. This would be reason enough to be wary but the worst part is that the ones I have used in the past also seem to be totally ineffective at actually removing hair. I don't know how those two things can co-exist, but trust me that in my experience they certainly do! My first test of this epilator was straight out of the box (it comes charged and ready to go) on dry legs that desperately needed a shave. As with other epilators, I still found I usually had to go over each area many times before it caught all the hairs - an annoyance akin to trying to hoover up that one random bit of lint that just refuses to go! It was also a bit painful, but nothing like as bad as the epilators I have used in the past. I'd think that with continued use I might even get used to it. Also, the patches of my legs that I focused on did seem to be very smooth after a good going over. I haven't yet tried it on wet skin, nor have I tested the facial epilator as I am lucky enough to have very fine and light body hair so no need for facial grooming as yet! I was impressed with it and liked the little details like the light that actually shows up the hairs you are aiming for. I found there were two barriers to this that left me overall unconvinced it's right for me. The first was to do with my sensitivity - within ten minutes of using it both my legs were covered with red, itchy bumps where the hairs had been removed. This is pretty normal for me and wouldn't necessarily put me off, though it is annoying. The other was that by the time I'd gone over and over the same areas to remove all the hair, I could have shaved multiple times. It's been a couple of weeks since then and my legs do still feel relatively smooth. I expect that in the main, I will stick with my good old fashioned razor. However, for people who have thicker or darker body hair and less sensitive skin, this might be worth a try. Definitely a big difference between this and cheaper versions!


Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
by Ben Fountain
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent depiction of modern American heroes, 11 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I loved this book but I am not surprised to find opinions here are divided. The thing that surprises me is the reasons people give for disliking it. I've seen some people say the characters are underdeveloped and whilst it's true that we rarely get more than a glance at most of the members of Bravo, this is a portrait of one man's inner battle, and we certainly examine that in considerable detail. The rest is largely set dressing. Similarly, to readers who complain that nothing happens - often the most momentous things that happen to human beings are internal. We don't need to have great dramatic events in our lives to feel great dramatic shifts in our thinking or indeed in our very selves. I think "Billy Lynn" explores that very idea beautifully and Ben Fountain's device of setting all the action on a single day is an ingenious method of focusing in on our protagonist's struggle at a macro level. I also read several reviews that claim the characters are broad stereotypes, which I'd call an oversimplification. Yes there are characters who act as "shorthand" for a group of people. But there are others who are much more three dimensional, eg Billy's family, his sergeant, the film director. Often these characters are as inscrutable as real human beings, and BIlly's feelings towards them just as complex. And as for the stereotypes, well, it takes some truth for a belief to establish itself. I grew up in the States and one of the things I loved about this book is that I recognised these people, the settings, the conversations... I haven't lived in America for 20 years, I didn't serve in Iraq and I've never got the VIP treatment from a major league sporting event - but all of this rang totally true to my ear. It may not be as universal as "Catch-22" or "Slaughterhouse 5" but I'd say Billy Lynn sits quite comfortably alongside more modern wartime tales eg "Born on the Fourth of July", and is well worth a read to give a slightly different viewpoint into the modern soldier's psyche.


Dettol Power and Fresh Citrus Zest Spray 750 ml (Pack of 3)
Dettol Power and Fresh Citrus Zest Spray 750 ml (Pack of 3)
Price: £10.47

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Just fine, 23 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This seems to have done a fine job of cleaning up my kitchen in advance of my mother visiting. Obviously I can't speak for its claims of killing 99.9% (or whatever) bacteria that it meets, nor am I sure that I want it to do so. My hob still has some burnt on marks on it so it doesn't work miracles either. The smell is standard citrus household cleaner scent so relatively inoffensive though not necessarily appealing. The big thing though, is that I really didn't notice any obvious significant difference between this and, well, pretty much any household cleaner I have ever used. So nothing wrong with it, but personally I'll prioritise price and/or eco-friendliness over this item in future.


AmiGami Butterfly and Heart Punch
AmiGami Butterfly and Heart Punch
Price: £13.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pricey, pretty, pointless - or is that pricey and pretty pointless?, 23 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Not entirely sure who these are being marketed to. They seem really pricey for a child's toy, and also not terribly durable, so more suitable for display than play. For that reason alone, I'd expect them to hold more appeal (once the initial novelty wears off) for adult collectors of kawaii paraphenalia and toys.

If you are considering buying one of these for a child, do take this into account. They will not be able to play with the "finished" toy as the pins work out fairly easily. The parts don't necessarily sit where you want them to. It's also a personal bugbear of mine to see things like this advertised as being creative - please tell me how sticking precut, pre-patterned paper shapes and stickers onto a plastic toy (already designated as a butterly and with only 5 holes for the pegs) is creative? If you want to buy creative toys for a child, the same price will buy lots of pens, paper, clay, a set of decent quality pens or watercolour pencils - just about anything would be better than this.

On top of that, everything here is so curly and patterned and busy that the finished item doesn't look much like a butterfly or indeed anything else, just a mess of pink flowers, polka dots, and plastic. The fact that the basic plastic figure has so much pattern already on it means the stickers probably won't even be visible if used. As far as I can see, this is too cutesy for most adults and will provide perhaps half an hour of pointless entertainment for most children before being consigned to a shelf.


My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises
My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises
by Fredrik Backman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Worth persevering if you're finding this a bit twee, 20 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I wish that I could give this book 3.5 stars. During the first few chapters, I absolutely loathed it. I found the main character, a precocious 7 year old outcast, completely unbelievable and inconsistent in her behaviour, her titular granny needed a good smack, the supporting characters were mainly irritating caricatures, the fairy tale sequences bored me, and the whole thing seemed to have been written by someone who thought they were being very clever but actually had no ear for dialogue or comedy.

So why 3.5 stars? Because as the book went on and quite contrary to my expectations, I found myself drawn into the story. The above flaws still held true, but they grated less, and a few of the less verbose characters actually stirred some connection for me. By then end, I was lapping it up with enthusiasm and ended up really enjoying the story.

Fredrik Backman has told a compelling story here, and the interweaving of real life traumas with Granny's fair tales is a neat little trick and rather nicely handled. But I do think the characters are not at all realistic and mostly are pretty annoying. Because the story focuses on Elsa, the flaws are more evident in her case. Her knowledge seems very inconsistent and many stories, particularly ones that allegedly happened before the book's timeline, just stretch credulity well beyond its limits (eg what mother would really tell her daughter "Daddy's gone to heaven" as a joke, and what child would respond with such composure as the story here?!). And it seems the author tries way too hard to make granny outrageous.

This is translated from Swedish so in such cases it's always possible that the fault is in the translation, it's difficult to know for sure. I enjoyed it in the end but would be wary of reading other work by the same author in case it was populated with similarly poorly developed characters.


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