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Reviews Written by
C. Green "happily low brow" (Quenington, Glos, UK)

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The Shadow Artist
The Shadow Artist
Price: £3.21

2.0 out of 5 stars One Implausible Moment After Another, 1 Sept. 2015
This review is from: The Shadow Artist (Kindle Edition)
‘The Shadow Artist’ is not a good book if you’re British, have spent any time in London or the Home Counties, have ever banked with a British bank, been to the Isle of Man, or have even a passing understanding of how financial markets work. In fact generally it’s not a good book no matter who you are.

It pains me to write that because the author seems to have put a lot of effort into it, and his prose style isn’t terrible. Unfortunately much of the rest is.

Not that it starts too badly. The opening chapters suggest a passable if somewhat bland thriller. There are a couple of implausible plot developments that give you pause, such as the idea that an undercover CIA agent would choose to have a large tattoo of eagles claws inked on her torso to commemorate passing a particularly gruelling training course, when trying to remain as anonymous as possible would surely be more beneficial in her chosen career. These are minor blips however, and can be quickly forgotten.

Then however, comes the scene in the London pub and possibly the least plausible cockney character since Dick Van Dycke said ‘ello Mary Poppins!’. Not only does no-one in contemporary London really use rhyming slang anymore (and having lived in the East End for four years and London as a whole for 10 I know this for certain) the rhymes used by the waitress (in the sort of pub that would never, ever have a waitress) are just laughable.

Then the plot moves on to an Arsenal games at the Emirate Stadium where characters can apparently move around, from section to section at will, and suddenly I’m starting to think that the book’s American author hasn’t really spent much time in the UK or at Premier League Football matches.

Or really spent a great deal of time researching how financial markets work and how, even with a billion Dollars and some decent trading software, its less than plausible that anyone could deliberately engineer the collapse the value of the Swiss Franc.

In fact after a while The Shadow Artist just becomes one implausible event after another, some major, such as the Thames freezing in London (although a small river in Wiltshire is still free flowing), to the small, such as being able to call up a branch of Barclays Bank in central London on a whim at any time of day to see if they have safety deposit boxes or Town Halls in small English market towns having their own tax offices. By about two thirds of the way through the book, all of these plot holes had piled up to the point that suspending disbelief, something that is vital with thrillers, ceased to be possible.

I stuck it out to the end more because I felt honour bound to write an honest review of the entire book rather than because I was enjoying the experience of reading it. I rather wish however, that I hadn’t bothered, as events because increasingly non-sensical and allegedly smart characters behaved in increasingly stupid ways simply to drive the plot forward. By the end it seemed like even the author had given up trying to force the plot to make any real sense and was winging it.

He even went so far as to end on that oldest of clichés of the spy recovering in a tropical paradise and getting an unwelcome call from his/her boss demanding they return to action as soon as possible, and leaving it on an open ‘will they or wont they’ note.

Personally, having slogged through The Shadow Artist I hope they wont.

Note: This is a review of a free galley copy of The Shadow Artist supplied by the publisher via NetGalley

Philips SHK2000BL/00 Light Headphones with Volume Control Blue
Philips SHK2000BL/00 Light Headphones with Volume Control Blue
Price: £19.97

3.0 out of 5 stars Okay but you can do better, 28 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Philips SHK2000BL/00 Light Headphones with Volume Control Blue are the second set of children's headphones we have owned, having previously purchased a set of JVC HA-KD10-A Tiny Headphones for Kids for our son. Had I not been offered the Philips set via the Amazon Vine Programme we would probably have bought another set of the excellent JVC headphones for our daughter now she's getting old enough to start using them.

I might still buy another JVC set, because frankly they are greatly superior to the Philips, both in terms of performance and build quality. Whilst the JVC units feel robust (our existing set have survived since 2013) and have comfortable fabric lined ear pads, the Philips feels light and cheaper by contrast, and neither of my children liked the scratchy foam padding.

In terms of general sound quality there's not much choose between Philip or JVC, but I felt that the volume limiter on the JVC units was better, which is one of the critical features that you buy childrens' headphones for.

So overall not a terrible product, but there are better options out there at a similar price

Electrolux EAP300 Healthy Living Oxygen Air Purifier - White
Electrolux EAP300 Healthy Living Oxygen Air Purifier - White
Price: £256.77

3.0 out of 5 stars Quiet and Unobtrusive But Also Somewhat Pointless, 28 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I received the Electrolux EAP300 Healthy Living Oxygen Air Purifier via the Amazon Vine Progamme. I chose it because I was curious to see whether it would have any noticeably positive impact on the air quality in my house.

Having now run it for several weeks I can say, quite frankly, that I really haven't noticed any difference. Admittedly I live in a small rural village and so benefit from fresh country air. Possibly if I was living in a more urban environment, with higher pollution levels, something like this device would be welcome, but I'm struggling to see the point of it for someone in my circumstances. I'm not sure any marginal increase in interior air quality really justifies the additional power consumption it requires.

Now the EAP 300 is clever in that it has an 'air quality sensor' that tells you how bad the air is when you turn it on and shows you how much better it is after you've run it for several hours, making it seem like its doing good things. Since that sensor is housed behind a small aperture on top of the EAP 300 I am somewhat doubtful about how accurate it is or how representative its readings are of air quality in an entire room. Bearing mind its proximity to the Purifier and the clean air being pumped out at the rear of the device and you would expect it to show improved air quality even if the rest of the room is still as dusty as always.

To the EAP300's credit, it is at least very quiet; generating nothing more than just a low hum. Its also easy to set up and doesn't look too ugly.

For me however, none of this is enough to outweigh the fact that I really can't see the obvious benefit of having it running. Yes, if there was an asthma sufferer in a house it might be a help, but for your average home I struggle to see the point. Any tangential benefits certainly don't for me justify the initial purchase price or running costs.

Ultrasport Accessory Set Heidi for Round Wood Double Swing
Ultrasport Accessory Set Heidi for Round Wood Double Swing
Price: £69.07

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good As Long As You're Happy With Some DIY, 21 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As long as you don't mind sourcing some sturdy round wooden posts to act as the legs and crossbar, and you're confident enough to drill all the holes necessary to bolt everything together, then this kit will make a decent children's swing set.

As with other Ultrasport equipment I have used, everything is made out of sturdy and resilient materials, and should survive both the British climate and heavy use by energetic children quite successfully. Once you've purchased the materials for your frame then the whole thing is quite easy to put together.

My only observation is that the marketing photos show a completed swing set that uses five posts only; one for the crossbar and one for each leg. Whilst this may be perfectly strong enough you may want to consider adding a cross bar between each pair of legs to create an A-Frame and provide greater structural strength. Especially if larger and heavier children will be using the set.

Philips GC9630/20 Perfect Care Elite Steam Generator Iron with Optimal Temperature and 420 g Steam Boost - Navy
Philips GC9630/20 Perfect Care Elite Steam Generator Iron with Optimal Temperature and 420 g Steam Boost - Navy
Price: £292.70

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Top Of The Range But Very Good, 21 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Prior to being sent the Philips GC9630/20 Perfect Care Elite Steam Generator Iron courtesy of the Vine programme I only had one previous experience of using a steam generator, which was at my parents' house using a Morphy Richards unit. That had taught me that generators tended to make ironing quicker simply by the fact that you didn't need to refill the reservoir so often, but beyond that there had seemed little difference with a traditional steam iron. With the Morphy Richards you still had to adjust the hot plate temperature setting to make sure fabrics didn't burn, and the 'iron' part was still a relatively bulky thing. Using it hadn't made me want to dash out and buy a steam generator to replace our perfectly serviceable iron.

By contrast to the Morphy Richards however, using the Philips GC9630/20 is a far smoother experience, if you'll pardon the expression, and a very different one to using a standard iron, in a good way.

As with all generators there is the inherent benefit with using the Philips of not having to repeatedly refill the reservoir when doing a large batch of ironing. This sounds like a small thing, but it saves a substantial amount of time overall. In fact the Philips uses so little water to generate a large amount of steam that you can complete several batches of ironing between refills.

The steam is also always on-tap and ready to go instantaneously. Whereas most standard irons, when you ask them to generate a blast of steam take a few seconds to do so and the quantity is relatively small, the Philips GC9630/20 produces instant, high volume blasts on request and can maintain them almost indefinitely if asked to do so.

In fact the GC9630/20 relies primarily on steam to smooth clothes. There is the usual hotplate of course, but there is no option to set the surface temperature. One heat fits all, with the on-demand steam providing an extra blast when necessary.

I will confess that I was doubtful about whether this would work, and had assumed that some very clever technology would adjust the temperature automatically for best results. But no, it really is as simple as I have described, and despite my doubts its works extremely well, with smooth results irrespective of the type of clothing or material being ironed.

It also means that the ‘handset’ part of the GC9620/20 is both very sleek and very light, with no need for bulky temperature controllers or similar.

Overall the unit’s whole design is pretty good. There are well thought out integral ‘cubbyholes’ for storing the power cable and steam hoses in when the unit is put away, and a ‘lock’ to keep the handset in place when its being transported. There’s an automatic shut off timer so that you can’t accidentally leave the generator switched on, plus reduced steam and boost settings if you need them.

Like all generators the GC9630/30 is pretty bulky and quite heavy, which is unavoidable. I would recommend, if you don’t have one already, investing in a sturdy ironing board to use with it. Otherwise there’s a risk of board collapse. It’s also not the easiest to carry. The handset lock helps by preventing the handset from falling off in transit, but you still need two hands to carry it, especially with a full reservoir.
Those are minor complaints however, and common to most steam generators. Other than those I can’t really fault the GC9630/30 at this stage. I can’t comment on the descaling features yet, as I haven’t needed to use them, or on the product’s sturdiness or reliability. Based on early impressions however, this seems to be an effective and high quality product, as you would expect for a top of the range device.

Disposable Asset: An Espionage Thriller
Disposable Asset: An Espionage Thriller
by John Altman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.66

3.0 out of 5 stars A Cold, Hard Thriller, 18 Aug. 2015
Disposable Asset by John Altman is one of those somewhat nihilistic thrillers that seem to almost revel in the fact that they contain almost no wholly sympathetic or innocent characters, and where there are no entirely happy endings to be had. In this sort of thriller anyone can die, from hardened spies to children, and do and where all sides are guilty of using questionable methods.

As such I found it a difficult book to warm to. Its not that I expect every thriller to feature an incorruptible hero or a binary fight between good and evil, but John Altman's tale of a female assassin on the run in Russia is so unrelentingly dark and cynical that it can't really be described as a fun read.

It does feature plenty of action however, with a propulsive narrative that never stands still for more than a moment. There are also plenty of twists and turns and it keeps the reader guessing over the eventual outcome almost to the last. The main characters are also well drawn, even if none of them are exactly likeable.

Altman does allow events to veer into the realm of the implausible now and again, which doesn't sit terribly well with the gritty, shades of grey, real world realism vibe the book seems to be trying to cultivate. Trying to believe that Cassie, the hunted assassin, can be converted, La Femme Nikita-like (a movie/TV Show this book owes a sizeable and unacknowledged debt to) from homeless kid to almost indestructible assassin and crack shot in a short twelve months takes some effort. As does the incompetence/naivety of some of those she comes up against.

On the whole though, the plot holds together and remains engaging enough. Its just a pity that Altman couldn't find a way to inject more warmth into proceedings. Even when he does, as when Cassie comes into contact with Nickolai late on in the book, he manages to quickly poor cold water on anything approaching a genuine emotional connection and in the most brutal way possible.

So an easy enough book to read, but a difficult one to really warm to.

This review is of a pre-publication copy of Disposable Asset supplied by the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Concord Spin Highchair (Phantom Black)
Concord Spin Highchair (Phantom Black)

5.0 out of 5 stars Genius, 18 Aug. 2015
This is an updated version of a review I submitted a couple of years ago. The Concord Spin Highchair is so good I thought it was worth updating

Original Review: Normally I wouldn't bother reviewing something as functional as a highchair, but the Concord Spin Highchair is such a work of genius I wanted to let other people know.

First let me say that the Concord Spin is the third proper high chair we have actually owned, and like most parents with two children we have tried out multiple others over the years in restaurants and friends houses, so I feel I have some expertise in this area.

I also don't use the word genius lightly, or tend to award many things five stars on Amazon. However in this case both accolades are deserved.

Why? Well where to start?

1. Its light but sturdy - Made from plastic and aluminium the Spin is light enough to pick up one handed, but feels solid and sturdy. The plastic parts are connected to the metal using solid pins, so can't come away over time, and the metal frame gives the whole this a rigidity that is is reassuring when you're putting your child in it.

2. Its compact - Before realising how good it was the thing that attracted me to the Spin was its size when set up. We have a small kitchen, so I didn't want a highchair that was too bulky, and with its slim profile the Spin meets that requirement. However, even better is how small it is when collapsed. Once you fold it up as small as it will go it measures barely two feet by three feet by less than a couple of inches; small enough to store in a cupboard or prop against a wall out of the way. Its so light and compact when folded up you can use it as a travel highchair if you need to.

3. It folds up so easily - Pull one handle, rotate the seat, collapse the legs, put the tray away and you're done. It takes about ten seconds to collapse the Spin or to set it up, which means you really can put it away when its not in use and not have to waste too much time when you need it again. You can even collapse it one handed with a bit of practice, which is important when you're holding a small child, and its light enough to carry in one hand whilst holding a child with the other.

4. Its easy to keep clean - We've had our Spin for several months now and it looks almost brand new. The materials used are pretty much stain resistant and a quick wipe down is usually enough to keep them clean. The design means there are no awkward crannies where food gets stuck. The fact that you can remove the tray to wipe it down makes keeping it clean a doddle. The padding is machine washable and pretty stain resistant. Even the straps can be removed for washing periodically, something you can't do with a lot of highchairs.

5. It looks good - A minor consideration, but true.

6. Its safe and comfortable - With or without the tray in place my daughter, who is now ten months old, feels secure when strapped in and there's a child-proof lock to prevent little fingers accidentally undoing the straps. Whilst the Spin is relatively compact, its big enough to be used with older toddlers and based on the fact that my daughter seems quite happy when sat in it for longer periods of time, its obviously quite comfortable both with and without the removable padding,

Are there any downsides? None that I have found yet. My wife has commented that it would be nice if it had wheels, but that about the only limitation I can think of apart from the price tag. However I can honestly say it is definitely worth the money.

Update: Since writing my original review my daughter has grown too old for highchairs, and the Concord Spin is now in the hands of my parents who use it when younger grandchildren and other babies & toddler come to visit, which is quite frequently. It therefore continues to get pretty heavy usage, but despite that it remains in almost perfect condition. After two years nothing has broken off and nothing has stopped working. The plastic and galvanised metal frame remain unstained and almost unscratched. Only the padding has been discarded, but out of convenience rather than due to wear and tear since it avoids the need for regular runs through the washing machine. Its still in store somewhere, but just not used on a day to day basis.

So I feel I can add longevity to the list of the Concord's plus points.

The Sword of Moses
The Sword of Moses
Price: £0.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Undone By Poor Pacing, Humourless Execution and Gaping Implausibilities, 17 Aug. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
'The Sword of Moses' is yet another entry into the sub-genre I might loosely describe as 'Hunt The Relic Thrillers'. If you have ever read a book where a group of plucky heroes hunt for a previously-believed-to-be-mythical object in order to thwart a nefarious plot/conspiracy then you'll know the sort of thing I mean. They work to a pretty standard formula; there's usually an attractive male or female expert in antiquities/art who is sucked into the hunt due to their expertise and will then periodically provide helpful exposition in the form of factual or semi-factual information regarding the relic that's being hunted, along with cracking the inevitably clues regarding the object's whereabouts. There will often also be a non-academic military/spy type along for the ride to provide muscle and a potential love interest. There's often an older mentor figure too. The settings are invariably exotic and often take in regions around the Arabian Gulf. The bad guys are usually megalomaniacs who want the relic in order to rule the world, make a vast fortune, resurrect the Third Reich or something similar.

Mostly such books are written to be disposable airport thrillers, with loose grasps on both plausibility and the laws of physics but plenty of action, plot twists, romance, sex (sometimes) and, hopefully, a sense of humour. They will also, ideally, have a turbo-charged, propulsive narrative that obscures the more ridiculous aspects of the plot and allows the reader to suspend their disbelief. If they do then such books can, when done well, be considered guilty pleasures that will easily help pass the time on the beach or a long flight.

The Sword of Moses ticks most of the boxes required to be part of the genre. It has the missing relic, nefarious plot, plucky academic heroine, and exotic locales. Its also crammed with the expected 'fact' filled exposition in an attempt to lend it an air of realism. It should therefore fall squarely into the category of 'vacuously entertaining pulp'.

Instead it falls into the bin marked 'turgid slog' for two critical reasons. Firstly, it is incredibly po-faced. It would appear that, despite it obviously being an implausible thriller about the theft of the Ark of the Covenant and featuring ex-Stasi Occultists as the bad guys, Dominic Selwood believes he's writing a Le Carre-style espionage thriller. The result is a book with no sense of its own inherent ridiculousness and not even an hint of sly humour. I am not suggesting that books of this type should be constantly winking at their readership, but to succeed they require a lightness of tone that The Sword of Moses completely lacks. Books of this sort should be enjoyable and exciting, not miserable and depressing.

To compound matters Selwood also get's the book's pacing completely wrong. Where the narrative for this sort of novel should be fast paced and in a state of constant forward motion, The Sword of Moses is slow and meandering, with constant stop-starts. At one point early on for example, the heroine is returned back to the precise location where she began the story with nothing to show for her endeavours (and dozens of pages of plot), only for the story to restart almost from scratch and send her off in another direction. In a better paced book that return to the beginning and the unnecessary sense of the story stalling would have been avoided entirely and the transition from one adventure to the next would have been faster and smoother.

Not only does the turgid, disjointed pacing make it difficult for the reader to become gripped by the story, it also provides time for the implausibilities and plot holes to become more apparent. Nowhere is this more obvious than during a terrorist attack/robbery on a the Burj Al Arab Hotel in Dubai that occurs about a third of the way into the novel. Whilst such an attack is not entirely implausible and similar incidents are portrayed in thrillers all the time, the one in The Sword of Moses is so ridiculous in its conception and execution that it challenges even the strongest suspension of disbelief. Now, in a book with a faster pace this would be bad but not necessarily fatal as the plot would have quickly moved on, the reader's attention would have been directed elsewhere and the episode rapidly forgotten. In The Sword of Moses however, with its more sedate narrative, you have time to dwell on the utter nonsense that a bunch of terrorists, having attacked a world famous hotel in the middle of the UAE and killed hundreds of people over the space of at least half an hour (having had time to torture someone quite slowly in the process) could simply fly away in a helicopter unchallenged and without pursuit to parts unknown.

The combined result of this and similarly risible events (an unsupervised mass gathering of hardened Devil Worshippers at Stone Henge anyone?), mixed with the misjudged pacing and over-serious tone is to rob the The Sword of Moses of a critical requirement of all thrillers in this sub-genre; a genuine sense of escapist excitement. The already unlikely story begins to fall apart under the weight of its implausibilities, tension dissipates, the reader is no longer gripped and they cease to be invested in the plot and how it will play out. What should be a light, fast paced, enjoyable ride becomes a turgid slog, and no successful thriller should or can ever be described as that.

Magimix Nespresso 11344 Coffee Machine, 1260 Watt, Black
Magimix Nespresso 11344 Coffee Machine, 1260 Watt, Black
Price: £143.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A Great Little Nespresso Machine With Just A Few Minor Niggles, 13 Aug. 2015
After several years of owning a perfectly decent Krups built Nescafe Dolce Gusto Coffee Machine I decided to take the plunge and swap across to Nespresso. Whilst the Dolce Gusto produced a perfectly decent espresso, lungo or americano its attempts at anything involving frothed milk were horrendous, relying as they did on powdered milk in capsules.

Having researched the range of Nespresso machines carefully I plumped for the 11344 Coffee Machine (also known as the U-Milk) from Magimix for several reasons. Firstly it had an integral milk frother, secondly it was reasonably compact, thirdly it wasn't too overly complicated (something you appreciate when half-asleep in the morning), fourthly it wasn't too expensive and fifthly it came in black.

After about four months of trouble free ownership I have to say that I am very pleased with my choice. Not only does it do everything my old Dolce Gusto machine would do just as well or better, but it also makes genuinely excellent Cappuccinos and Lattes. Despite what other reviews might say, the milk frother works brilliantly, creating enough warmed, frothed milk for a decent Cappuccino quickly and almost silently.

The U-Milk is also small and discreet enough to disappear into the background of pretty much any kitchen and not take up too much space when doing so. Its also remarkably easy to operate and maintain, with minimal cleaning required beyond the periodic emptying of used pod bin and internal drip tray. The front drip tray hardly ever needs cleaning thanks to the machine's surprisingly effective anti-drip system.

The only niggle I have encountered is with the U-Milk's controls. These are three touch sensitive buttons on top of the machine which light up when its switched on. The choice of which button you press determines the amount of water that passes through the pod and into your cup. The issue that I have encountered is that these buttons can at times be overly sensitive and at others annoyingly unresponsive. Sometimes even a light unintentional brush of the hand can swap the setting from Ristretto to Lungo, or vice-versa without you even noticing, resulting in underfilled or overflowing cups. On other occasions, when trying to put extra water through a pod, which is done by pressing a button after the initial flow has finished but before the pod automatically ejected, there is no response and you end up having to insert another pod in order to get the volume of coffee you want. The flush, almost invisible buttons may give the U-Milk a sleek look and make it easy to wipe down, but I would happily sacrifice those advantages for controls that were more reliable.

Despite this mildly irritating flaw however, the U-Milk is an excellent coffee machine that produces good coffee in multiple varieties. Yes, you really have to subscribe to Nespresso's somewhat pretentious service in order to use it (Nespresso 'compatible' pods are available from other suppliers but experience has taught me they can be less than reliable), but their on-line ordering and postal delivery system is highly efficient, and their range of coffees is wide enough that you should find one you like. Overall, having used Dolce Gusto and Tassimo machines in past I would say that both the U-Milk itself and Nespresso generally are a cut above and worth the extra cost and hassle.

The Darwin Elevator (The Dire Earth Cycle Book 1)
The Darwin Elevator (The Dire Earth Cycle Book 1)
Price: £2.39

2.0 out of 5 stars Bad science, poor characterisation and the need for a stricter editor fatally undermine this Elevator, 13 Aug. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I genuinely wanted to like The Darwin Elevator and I did manage to push through to the end, but overall I have to mark this one down as a miss.

A combination of weak characterisation, a rambling, unfocused narrative, world-building that just doesn't feel even vaguely plausible (and seems designed more to support the plot than because its supported by any inherent logic) and ignorance over the basic laws of physics that would govern the titular Elevator, leave Jason M. Hough's novel holed below the water line. Add in excessive, unjustified length that tried this reader's patience and you have a first novel that works hard but trips over its feet too many times.

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