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C. Green "happily low brow" (Quenington, Glos, UK)
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Philips GC4521/87 Azur Performer Steam Iron - 200g Steam Boost, Safety Auto Off, 2600 Watt, Black
Philips GC4521/87 Azur Performer Steam Iron - 200g Steam Boost, Safety Auto Off, 2600 Watt, Black
Price: £49.00

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Generally Solid But With One Significant Flaw, 30 Sep 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Reviewing something as functional and pedestrian as an iron can be a tricky proposition. After all, what can you really say about an iron. Does it smooth clothes well? Does it generate sufficient amounts of steam? An iron that didn't do both those things really wouldn't deserve to be on the market, so they sought of go without saying.

Therefore what you have to focus on are the added extras. In the case of the Philips Performer Steam Iron they are build quality and how user friendly it is. In the case of the former I really can't fault it. It feels solid and well built from decent materials. Nothing feels flimsy or cheap.

When it comes to how user friendly it is, some trouble seems to have been taken to make life easier for the user. For example, the water filler cap cover hinges sideways, so that you can fill the iron when its being held horizontally, making it easier hold under a tap. There is also a system that collects any pieces of scale that form in the water tank and allows for them to be removed easily. Its too soon to know how well this works, but living in an area with very hard water its a nice extra that will be appreciated if it does as advertised.

Overall I would probably award it a solid four stars for being user friendly were it not for one oversight. For some reason, having done everything else right, Philips have decided to fit the iron with a power cable that is far too short, making it awkward to iron unless you're standing right next to a power socket.

This is such a basic but fundamental flaw that I feel its only fair to knock a whole star off my overall rating for the iron, bringing it down from a solid 'I Like It' four to a 'Its Okay' three. Were it a cheap, disposable unit I could put such a design flaw down to understandable penny pinching by the manufacturer, but considering that the Performer Steam Iron is priced and marketed as a premium product it comes across a major oversight. This is a shame, because its otherwise a decent, well built iron.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 1, 2014 9:41 AM BST


Hot Wheels Track Builder System Playset
Hot Wheels Track Builder System Playset
Price: £29.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There Are Better and Quieter Alternatives Out There, 10 Sep 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Back in when I was a child in the 70's my brother and I used to love playing with our Darda Cars (which you can still buy), a toy car racing track system from Germany that used clockwork to fire matchbox sized vehicles through a series of loops and jumps. I was therefore curious to see what the modern equivalent from Hotwheels would be like and whether my son, aged four as I was back in the late 70's, would enjoy playing with it as much as I loved mucking around with the Darda system.

In terms of enjoyment, my son certainly loved playing with the Hotwheels when we first got it out, and was more than capable of setting up the course and also altering its configuration to suit his own imagination. However, after about three days the appeal quickly waned and since then he has hardly played with it at all. I'm not certain why this is, and like most 4 year-olds he's not capable of really explaining why himself, but I suspect its due to the set's limitations. Whilst you can make a few different configurations with what's in the box, the need to have the motorised 'accelerator' in a certain place and the fact that the cars (and only some will fit on the track) simply travel from point a to b and then stop limits both its flexibility and its long term entertainment value

From a parental perspective I can't say that this waning interest came as much of a disappointment to my wife and I. Whilst the Playset is reasonably well built, it does contain numerous fiddly rubber-bands that can easily come loose and require repeated reattachment by a parent. When out the set also takes up quite a lot of room. More irritating however, is the constant whirring made by the 'accelerator' unit (plus the fact that its yet another toy that requires a regular supply of batteries). This is not a toy for quiet and peaceful play.

Overall, when I compare it to my childhood Darda set it definitely comes up short. With no need for battery driven 'accelerators' or elastic band powered 'kickers' to propel the cars, the Darda sets allowed for far quieter yet faster and more energetic play. They were also far more flexible in terms of the tracks you could lay out, and once your track was built all you had to do was pull the car back and let go; there was no need to constantly reset the various obstacles.

So whilst the Hot Wheels Track Builder System Playset isn't a terrible toy, I know there is a similar and far superior alternative out there on the market, and for that reason alone I can only award this a weak three-stars at best.


Shattered Trident
Shattered Trident
by Larry Bond
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.21

3.0 out of 5 stars Tries to be too big and ends up too dry, 10 Sep 2014
I have enjoyed the previous three Jerry Mitchell novels from Larry Bond, but have to consider Shattered Trident a misfire. Whilst all of Bond's books have relied heavily on their technical accuracy and the level of attention given to establishing a wider geopolitical setting that both detailed and plausible, Shattered Trident spends too long on the 'big picture' stuff and not enough on the smaller scale human drama. It can hardly be considered a successful Jerry Mitchell novel when Mitchell himself feels almost shoehorned into the plot.

The result is a book that is too dry and lacks a solid emotional hook to keep the reader interested. As a portrayal of how and armed conflict in the South China Sea might play out its frighteningly plausible, but as an exciting, edge of your seat thriller it leaves a great deal to be desired.

Hopefully next time Bond and his co-author Chris Carlson will reduce the scale and tighten the focus more.


Bank of Fear
Bank of Fear
Price: £3.96

2.0 out of 5 stars A Hugely Dated and Very Underpowered Thriller, 10 Sep 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Bank of Fear (Kindle Edition)
The first thing to mention about Bank of Fear is that it was written back in 1996 and has now been republished. This wouldn't be a problem except that the plot is centred around the Iraqi ex-pat community in London in the mid-1990's and follows events just prior to and immediately after the fictional assassination of Saddam Hussein. As a consequence of the real-world events that have taken place in Iraq and globally since 1996, Bank of Fear always has the slight feel of a dated museum piece, which could have a negative impact on a reader's enjoyment of the book. It certainly did for me, with the fictional events portrayed robbed of any verisimilitude by their real life counterparts.

Even if you can get past the glaring issue of the plot having been overtaken by reality, you will find further weaknesses in Bank of Fear that are entirely the fault of the author. I'm a fan of many of David Ignatius' espionage novels, but cannot say that this one grabbed me. The characters are weak, their interelationships under developed and the plot lacks both focus and sufficient drama. It also veers too often into the realm of the implausible, despite great effort being taken to bombard the reader with technical jargon to justify improbable feats of computer hackery and other unlikely events, and relies in the end too much on (un)happy coincidence at the denouement.

Overall Bank of Fear just doesn't really work a satisfying thriller, even if you treat it as a period piece. I am unsurprised that it had slipped out of publication, and I cannot say that there is much to celebrate over its reappearance now. One for Ignatius completists only I think.


Bitmore Juucee 2600mAh Ultra Compact Portable Battery Backup Charger with LED Torch
Bitmore Juucee 2600mAh Ultra Compact Portable Battery Backup Charger with LED Torch
Price: £12.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Does The Job, 9 Sep 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
What can you say about what is essentially a rechargeable battery-come-torch?

Well, its seems well built. It does the job its intended too, even if it doesn't recharge your phone or tablet terribly quickly and is better used as a back-up power source. The torch is a nice additional touch. The whole thing isn't too bulky or heavy either, although that makes it easy to lose in a large bag.

If there's a downside its only in the design of the switch to turn on the charging function and/or torch. At first I thought the torch needed to be on when charging a device, which seemed to be a critical design flaw. However, it turns out that the Juucee (terrible name BTW) will provide a charge if the switch is slid half-way along its track, but I only discovered that by accident and there's nothing on the device to indicate where the switch should be positioned so trial an error is required.

Apart from that and the fact that the USB/mini-USB cable that came with it was badly built and so didn't fit my phone or tablet, this is a perfectly decent backup power supply with a little bit of extra-functionality.


Quick
Quick
Price: £3.59

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Possibly The Dumbest Book I Have Ever Read, 9 Sep 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Quick (Kindle Edition)
'Quick' by Steve Worland was a definite 'suck it and see' purchase for me. I knew nothing about the author or his previous works before handing over my money and taking my chances. All I knew was that I fancied reading something packed with mindless action and Worland's novels came up on Goodreads as being akin to Matthew Reilly in terms of their action quotient.

Unfortunately it turns out that Steve Worland takes the 'mindless' part of mindless action just a little too seriously, because Quick has to be one of the dumbest books I have read in a long time.

When it comes to the 'action & adventure' genre, I have no problem with suspending my disbelief when events take a turn for the more improbable. However, in order to do so a book has to have some sort of internal logic to it. I have to be able to believe that in the fictional world that the author has created the improbable is theoretically possible.

However, in the case of 'Quick' Worland has decided to set his story in what is quite definitely meant to be the real world, going so far as to include real people from the world of Formula one such as Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and journalist James Allen. Unfortunately has then tries to insert into the real world a plot of such breathtaking implausibility that suspension of disbelief just becomes impossible.

For example, you are expected to believe that in the 'real' world of Formula 1 an individual with limited racing experience who hasn't gotten behind the wheel of a race car in six years and has never raced a Formula 1 case, would be allowed to race in the Monaco Grand Prix and no-one would bat an eyelid. Or that, after a massive crash at a Grandprix in Dubai, with cars in flames and a driver's life at stake, the safety marshals would hold back from helping out of fear and/or incompetence long enough for an untrained spectator to rush on to the track and heroically save the day. Or that a group of would-be thieves could walk around the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai wearing Formula 1 driver's helmets without comment, and despite the local cops being forwarned of a probable robbery. Or that they could secretly park mini-heilcopters on the mall roof and no-one would notice.

And these are even the most outrageously dumb plot developments within Quick. This is a book where characters take actions that deliberately endanger their own criminal conspiracies for no apparent reason, or fail to go to the authorities for the flimsiest of motivations, and where, after a major terrorist attack the local fire department fail to turn up for over twenty minutes. And don't get me started with the scene in the tunnel near the end.

Ah, yes, some would say, but Quick is meant to be an OTT tale and isn't meant to be taken seriously, and I accept that. I could also buy into some (but definitely not all) of the outrageous moments of action and illogical plot developments if the author had set the book in a more fictitious world of his own creation. If he'd used a made-up racing series rather than Formula 1 and created fictional locations rather than Kuala Lumpur, Dubai and Monaco I might have been able to suspend my disbelief further, but he didn't. He set Quick in the very real world and made a big deal of doing so by throwing in lots of factual information about F1 racing and the people in it, and all that served to do was make an already unbelievable story seem even more unbelievably stupid.

In fact, the only three things that Quick has got going for it is the fact that its very fast paced (but not fast enough to get over the many gaping plot holes), the prose isn't terrible (although every character seems to talk either like an Australian even when they're not or a national stereo-type) and its chock-full of action.

However, none of those things are enough to redeem what is an irredeemably stupid and badly plotted book. I only made it to the end out of sheer morbid curiosity over how ridiculously unbelievable it could become. When I reached the sequence in the tunnel near the end it managed to surpass my wildest imaginings.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 6, 2014 4:28 PM BST


Graveyard of Memories (A John Rain Novel)
Graveyard of Memories (A John Rain Novel)
Price: £3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Flashback to John Rain's Youth and a Lesser Entry in the Series, 7 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Having read all of Barry Eisler's previous novels (including the less that stellar Treven series) and most of his short stories I would consider myself a fan. As with most authors some of his books are better than others, with the earlier Rain novels generally being stronger than the more recent efforts in my opinion. Graveyard of Memories continues that pattern by not being a bad effort but also not being amongst Eisler's better works.

It has some obvious strengths, with its portrayal of 70's Tokyo being one of them. The book gives the reader a genuine feel for the city during that period of rapid economic growth just prior to the 80's boom. The action is also up to the usual high standards we expect of Eisler. It was also intriguing to meet the young, callow, ill-disciplined John Rain in his pre-uber-cool-assassin days and to get a better understanding of where he came from.

Where the books falls down however, is in the plot, which I found both overly convoluted and not particularly involving. I have no problem with twisting, complex plots, full of betrayals and intrigue. I just prefer the convolutions to feel less forced than they do here. As for the lack of emotional involvement, whilst the danger Rain finds himself in feels genuine the fact that this is prequel to the earlier books he features in leave no doubt that he will survive and we never really learn enough about any of the other characters, good or bad, to care much about their eventual fates. Without an emotional involvement in the story as it unfolds I remained curiously detached throughout and found it easy to put the book down during even the most exciting passages.

Even the token love interest sub-plot that Eisler throws in failed to generate any additional sense of genuine jeopardy. Whilst making the woman disabled was an interesting approach, and Eisler managed to do so without leaving the character defined purely by her disability, he didn't give her enough depth to make me really care what happened to her. Her relationship with Rain also felt forced and unrealistic, with the characters lacking genuine chemistry. This is fault I have found with other Eisler novels, in particular Fault Line, where characters end up in romantic or sexual relationships almost by default rather than because it feels like a natural progression. It often feels like Eisler includes a romantic subplot even if the story doesn't demand one, like he's working to a formula and needs to tick a box.

As usual he then compounds the problem by including some truly cringe worthy sex scenes. I'm no prude but Eisler's descriptions of sex definitely veer towards the unnecessarily gratuitous, and include all the tenderness and emotion of his action sequences. Like the love-interest it also feels like he includes them to meet some sort of quota rather than because they're integral to the story.

So overall I would rate this as one of the lesser Rain entries in the Rain series. Interesting, entertaining in places and atmospheric yes, but also unfocused and included too many unnecessary elements.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 14, 2014 10:52 AM BST


Runner
Runner
Price: £2.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Some Clever Ideas But Didn't Totally Grab Me, 31 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Runner (Kindle Edition)
Patrick Lee's three previous novels, The Breach, Ghost Country and Deep Sky were all full of intriguing ideas and plenty of action, and his latest, Runner, is no different.

Dropping the characters and settings of his previously trilogy, Runner introduces readers to a new central hero, Sam Dryden. Like his previous leading man, Travis Chase, Sam is a super capable but troubled individual and like Chase he finds himself thrown into the middle of a web of intrigue and conspiracy from which he must escape. As in The Breach, et al, those conspiracies and intrigues involve new technologies, dangerous experiments and off-the-record government programs.

It all makes for an exciting and on the whole reasonably original sci-fi tinged thriller. As the title suggests, there's action from almost the first page and it barely lets up until the end. Some of it is rather over the top, with an escape from a Chicago skyscraper petty much busting out of the realms of plausibility, but if you can suspend your disbelief long enough you can go along with the ridiculousness of it all.

The central conspiracy that Dryden uncovers is also well conceived. Its not entirely original, but Lee grounds it in enough 'reality' to at least make it feel vaguely plausible. Its certainly far less 'out-there' than anything in his earlier novels.

So plot-and-action-wise Runner ticks most of the necessary boxes. However, the reason I can't give it more than three stars is that despite its strengths at no point did it ever really grab me as all decent thrillers should. Not once did I become so hooked that I just had to keep reading or was I gripped by an undeniable desire to go back and continue where I left off. Sure, I was entertained but that was about it, and that's really not good enough for a book that, from the title down is meant to be one long adrenalin rush.

I struggle to put my finger on precisely why Runner didn't pull me in as it was meant to, but I think it was mostly due to the characters. At no point did I really empathise with Sam or Rachel. They remain resolutely two dimensional creations; more a collection of character traits rather than real people. The rest of the cast by contrast don't even get a second dimension, and feel like they are there only to serve the plot rather than to behave as real, relatable individuals. At one point a whole team of bad guys are killed simultaneously in a spectacular car crash and the violence of their deaths barely register due to them being nothing more than names on the page.

The consequence of this is a book which is big on action and intrigue but where its hard to really invest or immerse yourself in the story. That for me means it fails in one of the key tasks of any thriller, and can only ever deserve a maximum of three stars


Philips Sonicare HX6511/44 EasyClean Sensitive Rechargeable Toothbrush
Philips Sonicare HX6511/44 EasyClean Sensitive Rechargeable Toothbrush
Price: £44.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Another Great Sonicare, 23 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is the second Sonicare that I have owned and I would happily keep buying them, as they're about the best electric toothbrush on the market. Not that I will need to buy another, since they tend to be built well and last a long time; something that's true for this latest model.

In fact this Sonicare model is pretty much identical to the older versions. The changes are mostly cosmetic and on the whole they're changes for the better. Gone, for example, are the blue rubbberised sections on the handle which used to become stained and grubby. In their place is a plain white, sleeker finish that should wear better.

Other than that and a slight change to the on-off button, this is pretty much the same Sonicare as before; which means it quiet, has a decent battery life and provides an excellent clean. As before the only downside are the expensive replacement brush heads, but as each head tends to last a reasonably long time that's a minor niggle.

Recommended


Melissa & Doug Animal Rescue Shape Sorting Truck
Melissa & Doug Animal Rescue Shape Sorting Truck
Price: £13.79

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun with a flaw, 23 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a fun wooden shape sorter that's perfect for toddlers and children from about 18 months and up. Its nicely built out of natural materials, with colourful and interesting shapes. Additional entertainment is offered by the fact that the truck actually rolls on its wheels and the driver and passenger can also be removed.

If there is a downside its that, because the shapes are wide and flat, they can be inserted in the 'wrong' holes, which somewhat defeats the purpose of a shape 'sorter'. For example 22 month old daughter found it quite easy to slot the crocodile through the hole for pretty much any other animal. This robs the sorter of much of its potential as a learning tool.

Still, despite this obvious flaw its a fun, attractive toy.


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