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Reviews Written by
Chantal Lyons "C.S. Lyons" (England)
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The Girls
The Girls
by Emma Cline
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic, 24 April 2016
This review is from: The Girls (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I love it when a book matches up to the hype.

It takes a few pages to get comfortable with Cline's style - you get the feeling that she, like a lot of writers of this generation, had a checklist next to her while she wrote, at the top of which said "ensure other every other paragraph contains a figure of speech that may make complete sense, or may only make sense if the reader tries really, really hard to make it make sense". Thus we have lines like "Sasha was quiet. Her silence seemed like a kind of love". Some description could've been trimmed down.

But really, that's my only criticism. Because after the first few pages I was hooked. Cline calibrates the back-and-forth of time superbly. The end is inevitable, the dread ratchets up, and the story refuses to let go after the last word.

"The Girls" is a thriller that could be called feminist, except for me the feminist project is about how to make a better world; it isn't only about exposing the existing one. This book only does the latter, but that's no weakness. The story is, fundamentally, about the vulnerability of girls who think and believe what the world has told them they must think and believe because of their XX chromosome. I dog-eared so many pages so that I could go back to the best lines:

"I was, first and foremost, a thing to be judged, and that shifted the power in every interaction onto the other person."

And then there was an amazing line that I was certain I'd dog-eared, and I can't find it now, which is driving me crazy - but it was something about how girls spend so much time trying to be who they think the world wants, while boys get to focus on simply "becoming themselves" (if I ever find it again, I'll update this review...).

All political/social passion aside, this is a cracker of a reader, and one that I can't recommend enough.


Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future
Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future
by Svetlana Alexievich
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unmissable, 23 April 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I felt privileged to read this book, given Alexievich's fight against state oppression and her recent Nobel Prize for Literature. I wasn't wholly sure what to expect, but I am so glad that I did read it.

The book is essentially a collection of "monologues" from the people that the author interviewed, who all have or had some link to the Chernobyl catastrophe - wives of clean-up workers, scientists, residents within the affected zone, children... there's hardly any sense of actual interviews, because the author so rarely inserts herself, so that the whole thing feels like a multiple-stream-of-consciousness most of the time. No detail is too trivial. I was never bored - I was immersed.

There is so much horror in this book, of course - the wife watching her husband disintegrate inside and out; the little boy who died of a brain tumour because he wore a hat that his father had brought back from Chernobyl; the ignorance of or the deliberate suppression of information by those in positions of authority. But as the blurb promises, there is much life too. Though perhaps most compelling of all, the monologues afford a fascinating glimpse into the cultural and political fabric of the Soviet region within which the disaster of Chernobyl occurred; a glimpse into the mindsets of the people who lived through it. We learn why people volunteered or else went without protest to help "clean up" Chernobyl. I wondered so many times what would have happened had something like Chernobyl occurred somewhere such as the US (the Three Mile Island accident doesn't compare, I don't think) - would people there, ruled by a far more individualistic mindset, have sacrificed their own health and lives in a bid to contain the crisis?

In my experience, the most fascinating stories - true or fiction - are those that contain paradoxes. "Chernobyl Prayer" is one of these - because several monologues touch on or explain how the Chernobyl disaster "liberated" their society, by giving them the impetus and the courage to rally against state suppression; and that it gave the people of Belarus an identity - "Now we have become a people. The people of Chernobyl. Not just a stretch of the road from Russia to Europe."

As the praise from the New Yorker on the front cover says, Alexievich "serves no ideology". She has passed no judgement except through seeking out any and all voices on Chernobyl. I'm pro-nuclear power myself (coal and oil has caused far more pain), but there are still things in this book that chilled me to learn, that I'd never truly grasped before. We must remember the lesson of Chernobyl, and never unlearn it. Even though it feels as though we are already forgetting. After finishing the book, I went on the Wikipedia page for Belarus. It has no section for Chernobyl - just one or two click-through links. I was astounded, given how much Chernobyl has affected the very fabric of Belarus.

A parting passage, from pages 173-4:

"There was a moment when there was a real risk of a nuclear explosion, and it was essential to drain the ground water beneath the reactor so it wouldn't be reached by a molten mix of uranium and graphic which, coming in contact with the water, would achieve critical mass. The power of the resultant explosion would have been three to five megatons. Not only would Kiev and Minsk have been wiped out, but an enormous area of Europe would have been made uninhabitable... The situation required volunteers to dive into the water and open the latch on the drainage valve... The boys dived, repeatedly, and managed to open the latch... Those people are no longer with us."


Miore Ladies 9ct Yellow Gold Pear Shape Emerald Pendant with Curb Chain of 45cm MA9163N
Miore Ladies 9ct Yellow Gold Pear Shape Emerald Pendant with Curb Chain of 45cm MA9163N
Price: £63.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Would make a lovely gift, 16 April 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a beautiful necklace perfect for those who prefer their jewellery to be sophisticatedly understated. The stone, which sits just below the collar bone level when worn, is quite small, with an attractive shape. It comes well-presented in its box too, with a plastic "certificate of authenticity" card. Interestingly, the card says that its gemstones are conflict-free, although the product listing says the emerald is synthetic/lab-made. I suppose a naturally-obtained emerald of this size would cost a lot more! Still, my untrained eyes wouldn't be able to tell the difference. And the gold is certainly authentic (9 carat).

The chain clasp is pretty small, so it's quite fiddly - careful hands are needed to ensure the clasp is definitely secured. Some of my necklaces have an annoying habit whereby the clasper section slides around to the front, but I haven't had that problem with this necklace so far.


Smoke
Smoke
by Dan Vyleta
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Extremely high-brow magical realism, 9 April 2016
This review is from: Smoke (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I don't want to denigrate Vyleta's feat here - although I've personally only given it three stars, it's quite remarkable. The most original story I've read in a long time.

I just never felt gripped, unfortunately. I suppose that's down to two things - I didn't take to the way the plot unfolded, and Vyleta's fantastical concept of Smoke was too clever and complex for me to ever fully get my head around and understand the rules of. The author clearly lived and breathed his alternative England in writing this book, but as a reader I felt way out of my depth.

Vyleta's prose in turns frustrated and pleased me. His descriptions are often beautiful or clever, but there is SO MUCH description. It made a long book even longer. Towards the end I found myself scanning rather than reading properly, just wanting the story to be over and done with. The nicely rounded-off ending was a satisfaction, but ultimately, I think I would've preferred to read a different book or two instead of this one.

One last thing - Stylist Magazine should hang their heads in shame for their sensationalist claim that this book fills "that gaping hold left by both Harry Potter and Northern Lights". Firstly, this is purely an adult novel. Secondly, I don't think a book can justifiably be compared to Harry Potter simply because it happens to feature a boarding school (which provides the setting for only about 10% of the story). The Northern Lights comparison I can understand a bit more, but seriously...


Pictek Binoculars with BAK4 Prism, 8X35mm, with Neck Strap and Bag, for Outdoor Activities, Stadium Sports, Bird-watching, Concerts, Hunting, Hiking - Black
Pictek Binoculars with BAK4 Prism, 8X35mm, with Neck Strap and Bag, for Outdoor Activities, Stadium Sports, Bird-watching, Concerts, Hunting, Hiking - Black
Offered by YongTop
Price: £39.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good quality, 9 April 2016
*Item sent to me in exchange for an honest review*

Admittedly, I haven't used these binoculars anywhere but my London garden/surrounding roofs, to look at birds - I'll update once I've had a chance to use them on more expansive vistas! So far though, the magnification and the clarity are fine.

For the price, the quality of these binoculars is pretty satisfactory. They look and feel robust; not too light, though not uncomfortably heavy. The lenses at either end come with caps, although the front caps can't be detached from the binoculars so do hang a little awkwardly from it when not secured onto the lenses. The body/surface of the binoculars provide good grip, and the adjusting dials are reasonably smooth (although could be slightly less stiff - perhaps they'll become less so with time).

As for the extras - the neoprene bag fits the binoculars snugly, and a shoulder strap is provided that works well enough but may not be comfortable to wear over long periods of time. There's also a cleaning cloth, and an additional neck strap to attach to the binoculars. It would have been helpful if the instructions could have included a bit on how to attach the neck strap, as so far I've been unable to work it out!

Flaws aside, for the retail price, these are a nifty pair of binoculars - ideal for trips or for children when you don't want to risk losing/damaging a more expensive pair.


Philips FC6232/62 Dust Mite Hand Held Vacuum Cleaner, Anti-Allergen with EPA Filter + UV Light
Philips FC6232/62 Dust Mite Hand Held Vacuum Cleaner, Anti-Allergen with EPA Filter + UV Light
Price: £208.26

3.0 out of 5 stars Holding review, 7 April 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Note – I have given the cleaner three stars for now, but will down/upgrade this after a time depending on whether I notice an improvement in my allergy symptoms.

First-off, it’s important to emphasise that this is NOT a substitute for a mini/handheld vacuum cleaner. The suction of this cleaner is not designed for regular vacuuming (being too weak for bigger clumps of matter), and I expect that using it on a surface that hasn’t been vacuumed just before in preparation would be harmful to the item in the long term.

Practically, the cleaner could definitely have been designed better. It’s hefty, and would have really benefitted from having a collapsible stalk so the user could avoid having to use it on floors by crouching or going down on all fours. Not fun on the knees or the back at all. The bulky shape means it can’t be manoeuvred into tighter spaces, and the positioning of the vacuum mouth makes it VERY difficult to effectively access the very edges of floors and other similar places, which is really irritating as I’m sure a lot of allergens can build up there. The cleaner is not chargeable – it has to be plugged in, and the cord seems shorter than the average vacuum’s (certainly shorter than mine). So you may well find that there are spaces you simply won’t be able to reach. Finally, the instructions provided with the cleaner were useless and may as well have not been included at all.

Furniture is easier to use the cleaner on, and due to the reduced suction, when you use it on bed sheets/duvets/other loose fabric, there’s no pulling or fabric getting caught – the cleaner glides over as if going over a floor. So, very useful for beds and curtains in addition to other things like sofas.

You get two filters with the cleaner, one already fitted inside and another as spare. But as another reviewer has already helpfully pointed out, if you use this cleaner regularly, you’re meant to replace the filter every 3 months and at £25 a pop. Which adds up to an awful lot!

If over time this cleaner proves that it has an enhanced ability to get rid of household allergens, then maybe I’ll recommend it to people generally – or at least, those at their wits’ end with allergens in their home.


Murad Redness Therapy Sensitive Skin Soothing Serum 30 ml
Murad Redness Therapy Sensitive Skin Soothing Serum 30 ml
Price: £42.30

4.0 out of 5 stars Works brilliantly, but that price tag..., 5 April 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As other reviewers have explained sufficiently, this serum is meant to be part of a three-product program. A quite expensive one.

I won't be trying out the other products, but I am really pleased with this one - it's just that given the small amount of serum you get for the huge price tag, I don't feel I can give five stars.

The serum is practically odourless, and pretty runny - for the first second or so after you've dispensed it, it doesn't feel like that, but you'd better be quick about getting it onto your skin! It doesn't rub in too well, and I recommend socks/gloves for when applying to your hands and feet. I have only used the serum on my hands and feet - both of which have had horribly dry and flaky skin over the winter. The serum took about a week to work on my feet, though I am concerned about what to do when the serum runs out...

If, like me, you get horribly dry and cracked/irritated skin (and don't have a diagnosed condition like eczema), you may well be desperate enough to get this. Certainly I haven't found success with any other skin creams, and I'm lucky to have been able to review this on the Vine programme. If the price makes you baulk, then I'd suggest the Murad Redness Therapy Beautiful Start.


Dear Amy
Dear Amy
by Helen Callaghan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mostly great, 1 April 2016
This review is from: Dear Amy (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I wouldn't call this "grip lit", personally. It doesn't share the steely grittiness of books like Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train, and I can't see it appealing to male readers. But it is an compelling read, and one that I read faster and faster - and didn't want to put down - as the end approached.

The book has some flaws. Perhaps these will be ironed out a little if there's any further editing to be done before the book's release - there are some very odd bits of present tense thrown in with what is mostly a past-tense narrative, and there's a few scenes that could be removed completely without affecting the plot. I really struggled to get a sense of Margot's age, thinking she was in her late forties pretty far into the book until I found she was in her mid-thirties. I blame the slight tweeness that I felt coming through her narration. More generally, as this is a psychological thriller, a scattering of throwaway clues with pay-off later on would've been appreciated.

Still, the twist at the heart of this book is a fantastic one (if rather far-fetched, but aren't all books in this genre, really?), and the ending is highly satisfying - and end notes are so important. Cambridge was lovingly evoked too, immersing me.

A fun book to discuss at reading groups, I expect!


The Couple Next Door
The Couple Next Door
by Shari Lapena
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars AVOID, 27 Mar. 2016
This review is from: The Couple Next Door (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is one of the worst books I've ever had the misfortune of picking up. I don't like not-finishing books, but I could not bear the thought of wasting more precious reading time, and gave up 60% of the way through.

The biggest problem is the style of the narration. It is utterly detached from any of the characters. Devoid of life. We are always told things, never shown them. For example:

"Anne has a complicated relationship with her parents. When they are having issues with her parents, which is frequently the case, Marco tells Anne that her relationship with her parents is [swear word] up. Maybe it is, but they are the only parents she has. She needs them. She makes things work the best she can, but it isn't easy."

More clumsy info-dumping than a teenager writer's first fantasy novel, in other words...

The whole book actually feels like it was written by a non-native English speaker, or in a different language and then translated in a basic fashion. It doesn't help that the pronouns are skimped on, giving the writing a sense of something like childishness. At other times, it felt like I was reading a screenplay rather than a novel. The dialogue is just as stilted as the rest of the prose. Using more contractions would've certainly helped.

Another issue is the absence of place, of setting. The front cover of the book is really misleading - it looks like a typical suburban house in England. I was thrown to discover on the third page that the story actually happens in New York. Not that you'd know from reading on, because there's no evocation of the city. There are trees. There are roads. There are houses. And that's kind of it.

So how about the plot? Well, that might have made the book halfway to decent, but the agonisingly bad writing means it never has a chance to shine. There are seeds of intriguing elements, but they're simply not worth the self-flagellation of reading "The Couple Next Door".

I am, quite frankly, astounded that Transworld is publishing this, let alone that according to the back of the advanced reader copy, it was "the subject of hotly contested auctions around the world".


Garlic Crusher FREETOO Garlic Press Ginger Mincer Squeezer Chopper Zinc Alloy Structure Stainless Steel Handle with Labor-Saving Leverage Mechanism for Home Chef
Garlic Crusher FREETOO Garlic Press Ginger Mincer Squeezer Chopper Zinc Alloy Structure Stainless Steel Handle with Labor-Saving Leverage Mechanism for Home Chef
Offered by Freetoo
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good quality, good value, 21 Mar. 2016
*Item received in exchange for an honest review*

While I'm no metalworker, I hope the heft and the shininess of this garlic press means it's good quality material. For the retail price, it's great value.

Simple to operate, all you do is pop the cloves of garlic (or slices of ginger) into the compartment, and swing the whole thing shut. You press down till there's a very sudden crunching sound and voila - though it helps to scrape off the minced garlic with a knife. It can also be fiddly getting all the bits of garlic off, but I presume that's an issue with any garlic press.

The press is pretty easy to clean, though a brush rather than a sponge is recommended - the hinge doesn't enable the two halves of the press to part to 180 degrees, so it's easier to get all the last bits of food out using long bristles. Hence why I'm giving four stars rather than five. I've not owned a press before but surely it would be possible to make one with a hinge that swings 180 degrees.

For the price, you can't really go wrong with this item.


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