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Apollo 11 (UK)

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Hidden City
Hidden City
Price: £9.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vital, furious stuff! Essential listening in 2016., 5 Feb. 2016
This review is from: Hidden City (Audio CD)
Superb. Hidden City is The Cult at full-tilt, and unarguably their best since the transcendent Sonic Temple. To this day, live, The Cult are unbeatable. And while every album since Temple has boasted a clutch of great tracks, they've all felt like fan-only efforts. Anti-climactic; misfires - call them what you will. But on Hidden City, they're BACK.

If you've heard Dark Energy, Hinterland and Deeply Ordered Chaos (the cracking pre-release teasers), then the great news is, tracks like In Blood, Avalanche Of Light and, especially, Heathens and GOAT are every bit their equal. In fact, I'd say the latter two are The Cult at their very best. Musically, this is stripped back rock'n'roll: take some glam rock, Pistols, MC5, and, yes, AC/DC and The Doors, shake it up and crank it LOUD, and you've got Hidden City.

Come to The Cult and you're confronted by two heat sources: Astbury and Duffy. And while the latter is, for my money, arguably the best rock guitarist out there (and a beguiling riff factory, to boot), Hidden City is rawer and more urgent than he's been on record for a very long time. Every album since Sonic Temple has been an exercise in temperance; but on this latest material, Duffy is playing with real anger and fire.

As for the former - Astbury has sometimes struggled as a mouthpiece. Critics have sniggered, and I think it's fair to say that, at times, he's brought some of it on himself; been guilty of posturing, at least lyrically - of juggling tropes (street wisdom, spiritual purity, self-education and, above all, self-respect) without really saying anything new.

On Hidden City, however, he's stepped up. Maybe the world needs what he's got, now more than ever. But there's serious focus; a directness to Astbury in 2016 that's both mature and evident of someone who's done his homework - whose read the books, and desperately wants the world to check itself (before it properly wrecks itself, to paraphrase Chuck D). Vocally, as well, he's nailed the less-is-more style which he started playing with on Choice Of Weapon. (Case in point: Hinterland, with its deceptively clever play with tempo. Astbury almost sounds like he's singing an entirely different song to the band, but, really, what you're hearing is confidence of delivery.)

If like me you'd kept the faith, but found every subsequent Cult album an anti-climax, then Hidden City is your reward. Very, very good indeed!

Humble Brush White Bamboo Toothbrush
Humble Brush White Bamboo Toothbrush
Price: £3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Two billion discarded plastic toothbrushes a year!, 1 Feb. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Two billion toothbrushes PER YEAR end up as landfill, around our planet. That's a lot of discarded plastic. Obviously, putting something in our mouths - like a toothbrush -- we're bound to be picky. I know I wasn't sure about using what looked like a stick. However, the design of this biodegradable bamboo toothbrush is such that it feels no different to the whizz-bang-pop exciting plastic model I'd just sent off to sit in a landfill for the rest of eternity. The brush is, well, it's soft (just like it would be on a similarly branded plastic one) - and the weight is great.

Oh, and by the way, the bamboo is provided through a sustainable source - so it's not starving wildlife. They've really thought this one through.

Feels odd trying to convince you to consider changing your toothbrush - as a toothbrush is, ahem, a toothbrush. But the great thing is: this one won't pollute the planet and eventually find its way into the food-chain.

99 Homes [DVD]
99 Homes [DVD]
Dvd ~ Andrew Garfield
Price: £8.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Highly charged, compelling stuff!, 20 Jan. 2016
This review is from: 99 Homes [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The first 15 minutes of 99 Homes are as powerful as you'll see in any movie. Effectively an indie movie (the list of production house credits involved show this was no easy pitch, and took some pushing to get made), 99 Homes is the tale of Andrew Garfield's blue-collar builder waking up to the harsh realities of an American Dream "rigged," as Michael Shannon's fantastically conniving realtor points out, "to support winners, not losers."

Considering themselves winners-in-making, both men team up for what is never less than an engrossing fiction based on the dirty truth of how canny businessmen made billions going into the Recession, repossessing houses from everyday Americans behind on their mortgage payments.

Both actors put in cracking performances; Garfield showing why he was, sadly, always too good for the Spiderman reboots. And Shannon - well, Shannon is eminently watchable anytime, anywhere. Shot for the best part handheld, 99 Homes has a real urgency to it, and, far from some glam, vibrantly coloured fantasy, the movie presents an America Hollywood rarely bothers with.

Highly, highly recommended.

Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen to Music Now
Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen to Music Now
by Ben Ratliff
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Genius. Brilliant. A bible for music lovers everywhere..., 2 Jan. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Brilliant. Ratliff's hymn to music is (mangled analogy aside) as broad and beaming as any I've read. For one, this guy can write. So much so, that you can practically feel the smiles coming through on every page, he's that good at capturing the thrill - at nailing the mysteries -- of what a damn good song or record does for our soul.

Over the last decade or so there has been a glut of books all attempting to explain how music works on us. Each, to my mind (and my eventual disappointment), however, over-complicated the subject; favoured the physiological over the spiritual – and in doing so, abandoned the basic joy of listening, while never entirely getting around to nailing the glee we feel in the minutes we spend with our favourite tunes.

So, step forward Ben Ratliff, who I reckon has finally delivered the book to properly get to grips with that bizarre, simplistic, yet beguilingly complex thing we call music. Whether you’re a music nut or just curious, Every Song Ever simply deserves to be read.

Ironically, the worst part of Every Song Ever is its introduction. The part where the author maps out his polemic: suggests that the digital state of music (or rather, the digitisation of media, of data: its large-scale applications in small box contraptions like the iPod, and the encircling of music's history into a never-ending 'now') has forever altered our relationship to songs and recordings.

Taken as gospel, Ratliff’s introduction works too hard to validate our current playlist obsession - confirming that music understanding need only be as deep as knowing repetitive from slow, fast or dense. I found the introduction dry and stilted, and, in fact, so enthusiastic and immersive is the author’s sell of the idea, that, taken in isolation, one could be forgiven for believing he was dismissing all the work every great composer or groove-master ever died for, in favour of the categorizations of a latest generation of machine monkeys too lazy to contextualise music beyond quick or slow, happy or sad.

But, then, excuse for the book over, Ratliff pulls a 180, and heads off into the blissful landscape of our musical past, praising and perfectly encapsulating the subliminal ecstasies of how music works on us as he darts between decades.

From how repetition can work different wonders - to how (and why) slow music has the effect it does on us, the great thing about Every Song Ever isn’t Ratliff’s insightful comparisons, his comparing and contrasting pieces of music from otherwise unconnected decades and styles. Rather, it’s the author’s clear and simple way with an explanation. This guy has clearly lived a lifetime enthralled to, and immersed in music, and his knowledge, let alone his insight is a marvel. So often I found myself muttering “Ahh, but of course,” yet each time the author was instilling his brilliant insights in one, or two otherwise light and sprightly lines.

Finishing the book, I came to realise how Ratliff had to build a construct through which to sell his insight – and in doing so, the value of the book’s chapter groupings shone through. But my one concern is that too many people will flick through the introduction and decide the book isn’t for them - should they do so, they’ll not step into arguably one of the best tomes on music available.

Where cookery books are concerned, I tend to recognise the good ones for make me either want to cook or, well, eat. And with that method in mind, given every page of Every Song Ever made me want to go listen to this or that tune, I’d say Ben Ratliff has got it going on.

Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, his Wife and her Alligator
Carrying Albert Home: The Somewhat True Story of a Man, his Wife and her Alligator
by Homer Hickam
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Just lovely..., 2 Jan. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Somebody has got to make a movie of Carrying Albert Home. Not only because it's a warm and endearingly funny tale of love and the importance of counting our blessings - and a pet alligator. But equally for the world that Hickam has pulled together as backdrop.

The story is the quirky tale of a couple's last-ditch attempt to get Albert, their pet alligator, back to a natural home. Their world has collapsed amidst the implosion of the 1920's Great Depression, so they can't look after him anymore. So off they trek on a road-trip with Albert in the back - and along the way, encounter a blend of characters taken from histories real and imagined.

I've not read a fiction writer this warm and accessible since I first picked up Nick Hornby, and I was immediately sucked into the author's wonderful ear for dialogue. Traveling through a sun parched America, you can practically feel the dust and the heat; and the comings and goings of cameo characters never feels laboured or contrived.

This is a book I know I'll be giving to others: it deserves to be a great success all of its own merit, but there's a word of mouth feeling to it. One that will, if there's any justice, see Carrying Albert Home, passed on from friend to friend, as they each discover the wonderful world Hickam has forged. Just lovely.

Tefal Kitchen Machine QB502140 Beater, Die Cast Dough Hook, Beater and Patented Flex Whisk , 1.5 L  - White
Tefal Kitchen Machine QB502140 Beater, Die Cast Dough Hook, Beater and Patented Flex Whisk , 1.5 L - White
Price: £139.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb. Highly recommended., 2 Jan. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Okay, honesty first: given the pricier tag on other brands, I was concerned Tefal might have cut some corners - but, no. This really is a great piece of kitchen equipment. As a child I used to eye my mother's 70s version with a healthy respect, and I'm pleased to say this is now MY work horse to the extent that I can see why every home used to have one.

Out of the box, there's everything you need thrown in. The standard bowl-mixing capability is catered to with several different mixing heads (and four speeds on a easy-to-use dial). A separate shredder gizmo (which slots into the same housings as the stainless steel bowl, and, via three different shred heads can also mince (which is brilliant). Most impressive of all though is the blender. And that, if you ask me, is the mark of a great all-round piece of kitchen equipment: every function is equally good, and well catered to. By trying to under-price the competition, Tefal could so easily have made, say, the blender a bit cheap and tacky. But they haven't. It's every bit as good as a standalone blender: strong, sturdy, and voluminous. So, if you're looking for a one-stop gizmo to handle all your mixing and blending and shredding/mincing needs, rest assured this Tefal is seriously worth your consideration.

It's a weighty piece of equipment. Not as backbreaking as the ones from the 70s, but still sturdy enough to stand maximum use. I made a carrot cake last week, and while the shredding was a breeze, the actual mixing of the cake was child's play. The main body of the machine stood reassuringly firm while it was getting on with the overall mixing (and the volume of the detachable bowl could easy have handled a cake three times the size.

Given my initial concerns about the price, I was really pleased with how great this model looks, too. The white plastic of the many body is sleek and sturdy; and the stainless steel mixing bowl is eye-catching (and, again, big enough to recycle as a fish bowl).

Honestly, given a price comparison with some of the other models out there, I'd say this Tefal isn't just a great piece of multi-functional kitchen equipment, but it's also superb value for money. In fact, if Tefal can do this for the money, I can't work out why the others are charging £100+ more.

Highly recommended.

VELCRO Brand VEL-EC60395 40 mm x 83 cm Easy Hang Strap
VELCRO Brand VEL-EC60395 40 mm x 83 cm Easy Hang Strap
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Superb bit of kit!, 2 Jan. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Very, very clever. This Velcro Easy Hang is so simple, and I can't think why I never got one of these before. With its hardy, thick black, Velcro strap and industry-strong carabiner (the metal clip end), you can hang up to 120kgs with this baby. For hanging golf club bags or bikes from a ceiling, this is excellent. And while the strap opens out to what seems like a maximum of 11", but obviously, for the sake of sturdiness and safety, if you're going to hang something from a garage or loft beam, say, the Velcro is better off wrapped tight. (The more Velcro on Velcro adhesion there is, the stronger the grip.)

This is the kind of kit you'd get on a film shoot - and now it's available commercially. And what a great piece of gear it is. Superb!

The Poison Artist
The Poison Artist
by Jonathan Moore
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less airport thriller than in-flight movie..., 6 Dec. 2015
This review is from: The Poison Artist (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"I haven't read anything so terrifying since Red Dragon," claims Stephen King on the cover of Jonathan Moore's 'The Poison Artist'. Which suggests that King is easily scared, because while the book is pacey, with a tight cast of characters, all set against the backdrop of a wet and generally dark and moody San Francisco, it's hardly Hannibal territory.

There's a pleasing rhythm to Moore's pulp. His style is fast (semicolons are for wimps, apparently), and he has a good eye for a melancholic detail - outside there's much talk of his city's quick changing weather, not least its rain and propensity for fog; while interiors are all aspirational middle-class: real log fires in otherwise cold abodes; half-light catching wine glasses, and creaking real wood floors. Ditto, there's some well researched insight into body chemistry (seeing as the plot, which I'm not going to give anything away on save repeating that it's about a serial killer who takes pleasure in drawing out his/her victim's pain).

But while Moore holds back nicely, drip-feeding background on the main characters, playing the reveal game (and therefore holding your attention through sheer curiosity), by halfway I did begin to wonder whether his latest was ever going to catch fire. And therein, for me, lies the letdown of Moore: while everything about this book screams choice-brand in airport thriller crime-fiction, his main story lacks any second or third-act thrills.

In fact, if this was a movie, it would star Michael Douglas: the premise is good, everything about the production screams quality. But once over that supposedly edgy 'scene' (like Sharon Stone crossing her legs without underwear on), the rest is ho-hum adult thriller and Douglas in a cashmere v-neck sweater trying to bring sexy back.

On Liberty, Utilitarianism and Other Essays (Oxford World's Classics)
On Liberty, Utilitarianism and Other Essays (Oxford World's Classics)
by John Stuart Mill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Quietly brilliant; painfully relevant, 21 Nov. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If reading Mill seems familiar, it's because much of what he mapped out, in thought, has since become the foundation for Western democratic theory. Composed across the mid-19th century, Mill determined much that our societies required to offer each soul a fair chance at contentment. Utilitarianism, in other words.

It's not the easiest read. Far from tough but, like all philosophical narrative, all points are stated clearly so as to avoid room for misinterpretation; Mill's writing also reflects his times, so is a tad floral. Likewise, he resists emotion, and so, as a left-leaning soul, I occasionally mistook him for being heartless (and, for example, when it comes to the relationship between work and levels of pay, and competition, earnestly right-wing). Yet, that was Mill's strength: to state and quietly reiterate the difference between right and wrong, and emotion - sensationalism. This prompted me to question my own belief system - and, in turn, Mill is, I would argue from the perspective of one who knows little about him from a scholarly stance, as important in our mass media driven age as ever.

While the internet and digital communication might have brought us closer together - encouraging the sharing of mass thought and deed -- it has also atomised much of what was left of community. Moreover, with politics feeding off the desires of, and preaching to the individual as a means of both rallying support and thus, ultimately, separating us in a manner diametrically opposite to the group survival of religion, we are now (more than ever) guilty of all living in our own individual worlds.

And given the rhetoric of mass media is also the language of our online existence, complete with its emotional manipulation through sensation, by reading Mill it is possible to see how we are nowhere near the civilised beings we presume to be. In fact, coupled with the observations of Orwell, in terms of politics' abuse and manipulation of language (Politics and the English Language (Penguin Modern Classics) - and the illuminating, entirely sober observations of Tzvetan Todorov's The Inner Enemies of Democracy -- a picture emerges of our modern world as one that is driven dangerously by emotion, without genuine concern for what is, by honest definition, truly right or wrong.

Clementoni Baby - Lewis Racing Car
Clementoni Baby - Lewis Racing Car
Price: £14.99

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great toy, excellent value. Still in use!, 1 Nov. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I reckon this is a great idea. Okay, yes, the three year old boy concerned is more interested in racing the car around. But the fact that it speaks, and encourages speech and counting through a kind of inventory ("two lights... four wheels" etc) is really just a fab bonus. What I particularly liked about this racing car, however, was how robust it is. Both the car and controls are on the large side and, especially, the latter are big and clear, and pleasingly basic. The car itself will take no end of hammering - which, given the age of the learner driver in question, is a given. And for that alone, I think this has proven excellent value.

Overall, it's a great, colourful character for your kids to spend time with. And while some people might question the educational claims of the manufacturer - I reckon anything that engages tiny minds to speak and count, rather than just brainlessly consuming TV-related pieces of plastic, is a good thing. Young minds want to have fun - and this, given it's still a firm favourite around the house several weeks later, is most definitely a winner.

Recommended - not least for such a good price.

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