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Keris Nine
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A Crown for Cold Silver
A Crown for Cold Silver
by Alex Marshall
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Hope Strikes Back at the Empire, 14 April 2015
It seems to me that the biggest challenge of any fantasy writer is to find an innovative way to make its inevitable warring kingdoms storyline interesting, without straying too far away from the familiar aspects that define the genre in the first place. I don't think Alex Marshall comes up with anything new in A Crown for Cold Silver, certainly not with a rather bland generic title like that (I don't think Star Wars is an option either), but there's strong characterisation here, a richly developed world that has potential for further expansion and plenty of meaningful incidental detail. Whether this is further developed remains to be seen, but the best thing about A Crown For Cold Silver is that even coming in at 650 pages, there's never a dull moment.

As conventional as it might sound, the best part of the book is the lead-up to the Big Battle. The battle could by no means be described as anti-climatic (the Star will never be the same again), but the greater achievement of the book is in the time it takes to develop each of the characters, revealing the formerly notorious Five Villains and the Stricken Queen, Cold Cobalt Zosia. Without any conscious planning on their part, these diverse characters become reunited after a fashion under the banner of a new "Zosia" who will stand up to the combined threat posed by Queen Indsorith's Crimson Empire and its uneasy alliance with the fundamentalist Immaculate religious order of the Black Pope, Darth Va... I mean, Y'Homa. It takes a while to work out where everyone stands and how this Empire operates, but it's a lot of fun getting there.

You can expect some of the familiar conventions, but done in a fresh way. There's precious little sorcery, but there most certainly are witches, devils, shamans and even mysterious Goddesses whose powers we've yet to see fully explored, as well as other otherworldly objects, such as Gates. It's the characterisation that is most memorable however, Maroto and Tapai Purna the strongest characters if not the central ones, but there are interesting aspects to Zosia, Portoles (Chewbacca?), Sullen and Hoartrap the Touch, few of them having anything in common, each of them with ambiguous and sometimes dubious motivations, but all of them fascinating to observe when they come into contact with one another.

It's Alex Marshall's nuanced characterisation, witty dialogue and imaginative manipulation of characters and situations into conflict with one another that make this work so well. There's plenty of incident, there's a whole world and political/religious conflict to work out along the way, but Marshall's writing never allows any aspect to be weaker than the other, and there's consequently never a dull moment when you're looking ahead to where it's going. There are of course a few twists to throw in to prevent you guessing how things will play out, and inevitably the promise of further developments to come, but as it is, A Crown For Cold Silver stands wonderfully on its own as a great new fantasy debut.


AmazonBasics Office Chair with Mid-Height Mesh Back
AmazonBasics Office Chair with Mid-Height Mesh Back

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good value, study construction, a little inflexible, 13 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a good quality chair, lightweight, sturdy and easy to assemble. Bolts and washers are packed in separate well labelled packs, and the instructions are well notated, so there's no mistaking which bolts are for which bit. Spare bolts and washers are provided and labelled as such. Not sure why but they are there, but it's better than finding yourself missing a piece. We all know how infuriating that can be. No such problems here. No additional tools are required either - everything can be fitted with the Allen key provided.

When assembled, the chair feels sturdy, the seat height is adjustable, the mesh back comfortable. Arm-rests are adjustable too, in width, but not height. The swivel operation is very smooth. For safety reasons, presumably, locking castors only move freely when sitting on the chair. Ergonomic and safety requirements to ensure that your back is supported and kept upright are also are also undoubtedly the reason why the back is positioned a little rigidly. Unfortunately, regulations don't always make for great flexibility or comfort.

The tilt tension consequently is very tight, and it feels like it is pushing against you. The back sits a little far forward, and you can't really lean back, which leaves you feeling that your perched on the edge of the seat. You can fiddle about with bolts to loosen this up a little, but obviously I wouldn't recommend you do this. If you can get used to sitting in an upright position or only sit at your computer for a few hours, this does a terrific job and is relatively comfortable. If you spend longer periods at the PC, well then you might need to invest in something a little more expensive.


Airmax Anti Snoring Nasal Dilator
Airmax Anti Snoring Nasal Dilator
Offered by All Mall Shop
Price: £9.62

3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't work for me, 13 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It might take some getting used to for some, but personally I didn't find the Airmax nasal dilator uncomfortable to wear. It's made of a soft rubbery plastic, medical quality, that doesn't pinch, doesn't stretch, but fits neatly into the nose. The intent is to widen the nasal passage and it does this successfully, allowing you to breathe more easily through the nose, particularly if you have a deviated septum or if you have a cold and find congestion is causing breathing difficulties that make sleeping a problem. In my experience however at least, I didn't find that it helped reduce snoring.

Snoring, for most people, involves many more factors than simply breathing more easily through the nasal passage. Judging from some of the other reviews here, some however clearly find this helps, but it had little or no effect in my experience. At the very least, it does help breathing through the nose, and I would certainly use it again for that alone. I can't however recommend this as a gusranteed cure for snoring, but it may help you sleep better, and at a relativedly cheap price, it's certainly worth a try.


Hario CHJMN-70T 700 ml 1-Piece Glass Chacha Kyusu Maru Tea Pot
Hario CHJMN-70T 700 ml 1-Piece Glass Chacha Kyusu Maru Tea Pot
Offered by J-Groove - Ships directly from Japan -
Price: £11.48

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Makes tea-drinking a real pleasure, 13 April 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
The Hario 700ml makes a lovely pot of tea that is perfect for an individual drinker. It shipped directly from Japan and took just over a week to arrive. Made entirely of glass, it was obviously securely packaged and arrived safely. The glass is not thick or heavy. This is a light and delicate pot, but the glass but certainly seems strengthened and durable, or is at least designed to be tough.

The glass lid fits neatly, but doesn't click in anywhere. It shouldn't slip, but you might feel more secure keeping a finger on top while pouring. The steam from the hot water will gather and condense on the lid. I personally rinse the tea-pot with a little hot water before adding and brewing the tea. I found that the Hario glass keeps the heat in well, and it certainly won't go cold before you finish the pot - not at 700 mls anyway.

Most importantly, it just makes a lovely cup of tea. White tea, green tea, rooibos - the large round mesh filter is so fine that not a grain of a leaf gets through. The tea never looks murky and pours clean. Taste is perfect every time.


A Song of Shadows: A Charlie Parker Thriller: 13
A Song of Shadows: A Charlie Parker Thriller: 13
by John Connolly
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dead man walking, 9 April 2015
Charlie Parker comes across all kinds of horrors in his work as a Private Detective, particularly for one who is sensitive to or who tends to attract things of a somewhat supernatural character. The horror that comes up in A Song of Shadows however is one that is rather disturbingly entirely man-made - or, depending on your view of evil, perhaps not - extending to those involved in the running of the Nazi death camps during WWII, and their victims.

Parker got a bit too close to the after-life in his last case, and at the start of A Song of Shadows he's in recovery in the small coastal town of Boreas in Maine. Lucky to be alive at all, he's making his first tentative, painful steps to recovery, but - needless to say - it's not too long before trouble turns up on his doorstep, and needless to say, it's never anything minor either. A dead body washed up on the beach, a burnt house with a family murdered and their son missing, a young neighbouring girl who has unsettling dreams. It's all very sinister, but only the beginning of something much bigger and darker...

What is great about A Song of Shadows - and it really is one of the best John Connolly's I've read - is how comfortable the author is with his leading character and the nature of the world he operates in. There's a complete mastery of all the elements here, a writer who has their own voice and is capable of doing anything with it. What's exciting about this is the nature of the world Connolly has created and how there's a greater sense of a bigger picture gradually forming in the Charlie Parker books, a wider consideration of all questions of Evil and how it operates in our world. Connolly has undoubtedly done a lot of historical research on Nazi concentration camps, but it's how he integrates into the world of Charlie Parker that is really impressive.

This is a measure of the growing brilliance of Connolly's writing. It goes beyond the well established characters of Parker, Louis and Angel, even past the usual stock law-enforcement types you usually find in such books (although Parker has always been fairly original). Each of them has distinct personalities and lives, even old Nazis. All the little added details are meaningful, dialogue and conversations are revealing of character, as well as often being sharp and wonderfully humorous. This is terrific writing, never ostentatious, always enriching, and another superb entry into an impressive crime series.


Alceste: Teatro Real (Bolton) [Blu-ray] [2015]
Alceste: Teatro Real (Bolton) [Blu-ray] [2015]
Dvd ~ Gluck
Price: £30.07

5.0 out of 5 stars The Princess Di-es, 6 April 2015
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best. That's the principal behind Gluck's reformist operas, reducing the stories and the nature of operatic expression to their dramatic essence, without over-elaboration or ornamentation. It's also the case this time (mostly) with director Krzysztof Warlikowski in his production of Gluck's Alceste for the Teatro Real in Madrid, one of the final productions under the artistic direction of the late Gérard Mortier. Warlikowski views Alceste as a royal drama about a queen who dies for love. Taking that as a starting point and thinking of it in terms of how that story has modern-day universal relevance, he applies it to the death of Princess Diana, but can a modern-day tabloid story really be considered to be comparable with ancient mythology?

Surprisingly, by getting right back to the essence of what Alceste is all about, and bringing a strong artistic and creative impulse to bear upon the work, the director is able to make the parallel meaningful, but it's evidently not an approach that is going to appeal to everyone. Typically, the director sets the tone and lays out his ideas in a prologue before the opera starts. This time it involves a five-minute film that shows Angela Denoke's Alceste being interviewed Princess Diana-style, where she covers many of the same issues and problems revealed in TV interviews with Diana. In it, she frankly discusses the difficulties of being in the public eye, of being unable to cope, of her post-natal depression and her rumoured suicide attempts.

That might seem like it has little to do with Alceste offering her own life in sacrifice to Apollo in exchange for her husband King Admeto who has just died, but it does provide us with some kind of background character detail that is credible for someone in her position which may be relevant as far as understanding the decision she has taken. Controversially, Warlikowski also creates entirely new dialogues (in English) to fill out the kind of anguish, confusion and uncertainty Alceste feels and reveal how it tears at family bonds. The director even introduces Admeto's father as a speaking character, and if the dialogue doesn't really carry the same kind of poetic force as Gluck and Calzabigi's compositon, the purpose is clear and no less effective.

It's perhaps not so clear from the set design, but the effectiveness of the treatment is evident from the powerful pay-off in the finale. The stage and set design are of course not exactly what you would expect for Alceste, Act I taking place at a hospital, while Act III is set in a morgue rather than in Hell. That, as you might also expect, is actually the least of Warlikowski's conceits, the director even introducing a gypsy dance for no discernible reason, but much of the strangeness can be related to the state of mind of an Alceste who wanders around in a daze, more suicidal in her grief than sacrificial. A fairly bonkers Hercules fits in well here. The conclusion however, a wheelchair-bound locked-in Alceste with husband and children presenting a distorted view of "happy families" is however utterly devastating, its bleakly realistic view contrasting with the (forced) happy end of Gluck's music.

Warlikowski isn't afraid to confront such questions and work with the score in this way, making full use of the dance music not for ballets but to play out the dramatic setting he has imposed on the opera. As is often the case with Warlikowski, however, the singing performances aren't given as much attention as the staging. Ivor Bolton conducts the 1776 Paris version of the work well enough, but I'm not convinced that the Madrid orchestra really have the precision and rhythm to hold down and bring out the full dynamic of the score. This Alceste therefore needs to be a strong actress, and Angela Denoke brings a great dramatic intensity to the role. The Baroque dramatic soprano range isn't always within her comfort zone, she's inconsistent and can sound shrill when striving to reach and hold the high notes, but there's no question she gives it everything. The same could be said about Willard White as the Grand Priest and Thanatos, not always secure on the lower register, but he makes his presence felt. Paul Groves is a strong and lyrical Admeto, equally intense on the dramatic level alongside Denoke.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 13, 2015 8:50 PM BST


Last Night on Earth
Last Night on Earth
by Kevin Maher
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An immaculate conception, 6 April 2015
This review is from: Last Night on Earth (Hardcover)
Last Night on Earth has much of the material that made The Fields a delightful, entertaining and a thoughtful read. It's very much rooted in the Irish immigrant in London experience, and uses the cultural juxtaposition to examine with the difficulties and the strange twists of fate that life throws at you. Yes, it deals with depression, breakdown, opens with a spectacularly sweary and sweaty mess of a birth scene that leaves Jay and Shauna with a brain-damaged child Bonnie, but you might as well get used to Maher's writing being right in your face from the start, because it doesn't let up. More importantly, even though it builds up to an epic end-of-the-world situation, it doesn't let you down in the end either.

Don't be fooled by the fresh-off-the-boat Irish humour. Jay's unconventional perspective, language and manner is revealing of a ferociously intelligent, warmly open and deeply loving outlook on the world. Even within the cynical world of London and the media business (brilliantly satirised), Jay's voice finds truth and humour in life itself. Philosophical and psychoanalytical, Last Night on Earth, for all its linguistic playfulness and gorgeously descriptive, tactile, explosive writing is however not looking for answers to big questions. It's interested in the things that define who we are and the lengths we go to attain them, or run away from them. With the emphasis on Bonnie - "this strange and innocent wounded thing" - it's specifically probing of the most painful human vulnerabilities.

It's family that contains all the love and all the pain in Jay's life. The pain is linked to the notion of silence (the silence of Bonnie, the silence of Jay's Mammy, the silence of Shauna), and it's a confrontation of that silence that seems to bring out all Jay's volubility. The silence however is just as meaningful and expressive as the onslaught of words that come from the irrepressible Jay, speaking of the kind of wisdom that can't be put into words, that can't be found in the philosophy books Jay reads. Even the "fillums" are as much a way to fill the emptiness and keep the hurt at bay as fitting life to a structure of words and images that make it seem more meaningful. Using a variety of means, taking in the trivial, the familiar, the esoteric and the mystical, Maher makes Jay the centre of a dazzling word-whirlwind of all the joys, agonies and confusion of life.

It's outrageously funny, but Last Night on Earth is also an extraordinarily beautiful book, richer, more varied and much more accomplished than The Fields (as wonderfully original a debut as that was). There's one scene alone that imagines Bonnie's life as it might be in in two and a half pages of stunning, heart-achingly beautiful prose, but every single page in the book has a moment of insightful brilliance, a strikingly witty or painfully funny observation with the ability to touch on the remarkable and otherworldly with the most delightful linguistic twists and playfulness. Mostly, it's bursting with love, the love of language, love for its characters, love for all the richness of the human experience, as painful as it might sometimes be. "So much pain in so much love."


Wake
Wake
by Elizabeth Knox
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Unusual NZ horror-mystery, but it gets there in the end, 3 April 2015
This review is from: Wake (Paperback)
According to the publisher blurb, Wake is a "breathtaking tale of horror and survival", but after the initial nightmarish situation that wipes out most of the population of a small New Zealand coastal town, there would appear to be much more survival than horror in the story. The way the remaining 14 survivors deal with their situation isn't entirely conventional however, finding themselves in more of a surreal 'Lost' type situation that you begin to think might never live up to its promise. But hang in there, it does eventually deliver...

It doesn't help that you find it hard to relate to how any of the characters react to being trapped within what effectively seems to be a bubble, cut off entirely from the outside world. Their actions seem strange, there's little evidence of anyone sympathising with anyone else, and although some couples form, there's little real sense of them bonding as a group as you might expect in order to organise and resolve their problem. There's also not much sense of breakdown, considering what they've experienced and the danger that they still apparently face.

There are a few odd events however and one or two mystery figures among their number - a man in black, a woman with what appears to be a kind of multiple personality disorder - that suggests that we haven't really got the whole story here, and, by about half way through, things start picking up momentum and the intrigue develops. The horror, it would seem, hasn't gone away. If you need any further reason to stick with Wake, the author manages to tie things up pretty well and the ending doesn't let you down.


Tefal Secure Aluminium Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker
Tefal Secure Aluminium Stainless Steel Pressure Cooker
Price: £44.51

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For Gas cookers only?, 1 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's not terribly clear from the production description, and there's strangely no mention of it on the packaging, the manual or any documentation that comes included, but the Tefal Secure 5 pressure cooker is,according to the description provided on Amazon, designed for Gas cookers only. The bottom is slightly concave to draw the flame in, rather than let it lap around the outside, and there is a flame symbol on the bottom. I don't know what the issues might be with using it on other cookers, but having used it on a ceramic hob without being aware of this recommendation, I found it worked perfectly there, cooking and steaming according to the times provided in the booklet.

It's immediately noticeable just how lightweight this aluminium model is compared to other pressure cookers. Other conventional pressure cookers can become rather difficult to handle when immersion cooking anything substantial, like potatoes or stews, but this one is much more manageable. The locking system is good, the indicators all helpful and simple to engage, allowing you to switch between pressure cooking to steam release, with the ability to let the steam out gradually A warning indicator will let you know when all the steam has been expelled. Great results from both steaming and immersion cooking, all working to the recommended times in the booklet. 5.7 litres is a good size and suitable for large or smaller amounts, whether cooking for a family, a couple, or an individual with a good appetite!

I haven't felt compelled to try to cook other dishes, mainly due to the lack of recipes and guidance in the booklet. Pressure cookers are clearly versatile, and are certainly economical in terms of the reduced cooking time required, but while instructions are often provided in recipes for conventional oven and microwave oven cooking, and indications are usually given for slow cooking, there is a lack of information here and elsewhere on how exactly, for example, you cook a chicken in a pressure cooker. Without better instructions, I'd be reluctant to experiment. As a basic cooking tool for steaming and cooking vegetables however, I'm very impressed with this Tefal aluminium cooker.


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: £99.15

5.0 out of 5 stars Precison less-pain hair-removal, 1 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
You should be wary if you're considering buying this Braun Epilator on the strength of its promise to be 'virtually painless'. It's certainly less painful than waxing - particularly in those more sensitive areas - but other than shaving, there is no effective method of hair-removal that is entirely pain-free. The benefit of the Braun is that it combines the least painful experience with the most effective hair-removal capability. It really does leave a lasting smooth finish, with less of the smarting and redness of other methods.

The main epilator, the Epil 9, is very well constructed and designed for maximum effectiveness. The head is wider than previous models and it has two speeds, which means that it can remove more hair in one stroke, get deeper to the root of the hair and in theory be less painful. In practice it works really well, although it's by no means 'virtually painless'. Other features that add to the overall quality and effectiveness of the package here are the LED light and the shaver head/trimmer cap which can be used alongside epilation or as an alternative to it if you daren't go there in some sensitive areas.

The facial epilator is a worthwhile complementary tool that is part of this bundle. It's evidently smaller, but with more tightly arranged tweezers to get at the finer hairs. Facial epilation is not for the faint-hearted, but there is no easier method of epilation, not even in salons, and the results you get with this little Braun device are just as good. The main epilator is mains rechargeable, and uses a two-pin plug, so you may need an adaptor for this. The facial epilator uses a single AA battery which is included. The set also comes with a drawstring travel bag, which can also be useful just for protection and storage in the bathroom.


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