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Blue Fire (The Healing Wars, Book 2): 2/3
Blue Fire (The Healing Wars, Book 2): 2/3
by Janice Hardy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Tween fantasy sequel that doesn't quite live up to the debut, 22 Feb. 2015
It’s several weeks after THE PAIN MERCHANTS. There’s a price on Nya’s head, trackers are on her trail and the Duke is tightening his grip over the divided city but she and Tali are determined to find as many Takers as possible before they leave Geveg. When Nya is captured by men keen on claiming the reward, she’s taken to Baseer – the Duke’s own capital. There she discovers an underground resistance determined to replace the Duke, but the resistance is divided and there are uncomfortable links to her parents. Worse, the Duke has developed an indestructible army of Undying – Takers armoured in pynvium - and together with Vinnot, is developing a new and terrifying weapon to cement his control over the three cities – a weapon that he needs Nya to wield for him ...

The second in Janice Hardy’s tween-marketed PAIN MERCHANTS TRILOGY broadens out the world building and the scale of Nya’s struggle but the large cast of characters made it difficult to keep track of who’s who and results in none ever really standing out. Having read the first book in 2009, I also found it difficult to remember what had happened before because Hardy only gives a brief recap of previous events. There are some great ideas here – I still like the way healing can be used and exploited and I liked the fact that the opposition are not homogenous and has its own divisions. Unfortunately the book simply isn’t long enough to allow for life to be breathed into the characters or for the scope to be fully expanded. I was also disappointed in the Duke (who’s two-dimensional at best), the traditional fantasy focus on a legitimate heir rather than examining democracy left me disappointed and the ending is rushed and failed to satisfy me. There’s still enough here for me to want to check out the finale but this sequel simply didn’t live up to the promise of the first book for me.

What does work are Nya’s reactions to the things that she’s done and the things she knows she’s going to have to do. I wished that there’d been more of her relationship with Tali given that Tali remains essentially a plot point more than a character, but there are promising hints of information on Nya’s parents and their connection to the Duke, which I hope will be expanded upon in the conclusion.


Finish All in One Max Lemon Dishwasher Tablets (Pack of 74)
Finish All in One Max Lemon Dishwasher Tablets (Pack of 74)
Price: £20.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent product but I can't see the difference between this and other Finish products, 14 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I generally buy Finish products because I find that they leave a good finish on my dishes. Despite the hype they're using to bill this, I can't say that I honestly saw it as being any different to the other Finish products I've used but it still did a decent finish.


Replica
Replica
by Jack Heath
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars YA SF thriller with a great premise but doesn't quite go the distance, 14 Feb. 2015
This review is from: Replica (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
17-year-old Chloe Zimetski wakes up in the basement of her house. She’s lost her memory and can’t move. Her captor is a girl who looks exactly like her but the real shock comes when she realises that her head has been separated from her body. She soon discovers that she’s an android created from open source artificial software to serve as the real Chloe’s stand in while she investigates why a group of sinister men are following her. But events soon spiral out of control and the Chloe-bot finds herself in the middle of a conspiracy involving murder, primate military companies and quantum computers. Even worse, she discovers that her creator has secrets of her own that could hurt Chloe more deeply then she could possible imagine …

Jack Heath’s YA SF thriller is a fast-paced affair that touches on what artificial life is and the implications of quantum computing. Normally I enjoy slick YA thrillers but here I wished that the book had been a little longer as I wanted more reflection by Chloe on her relationship with Becky and her parents and the dangers and benefits of quantum computing. I also felt that the plot was stretched a little too far at times, especially in relation to a key character death which lacks impact. That said, Chloe is a believable character and Heath does a good job of showing her coming to terms with who and what she is. Heath also raises interesting points about the role of private military companies and how their interests can diverge from their governmental paymasters. All in all, while this book didn’t quite come good for me, it was still an interesting read that kept me turning the pages and I’d certainly check out his other work.

One of the best scenes in the book is where Chloe goes on line to check out the AI used to make her. There’s a particularly chilling moment where she encounters another AI on line who asks for her help and I really wished that Heath had made more of this, even had Chloe engage with the on-line people who helped to make her. I also liked the scenes between Chloe and Becky and wished that this had been allowed to develop more, mainly because there aren’t enough lesbian relationships in YA right now.


A Conspiracy of Alchemists: Chronicles of Light and Shadow (Chronicles of Light & Shadow 1)
A Conspiracy of Alchemists: Chronicles of Light and Shadow (Chronicles of Light & Shadow 1)
by Liesel Schwarz
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars So-so Steampunk Debut, 11 Feb. 2015
It’s 1903. Elle Chance owns an airship called The Water Lily, piloting charters and errands for various clients. When Patrice, an old friend, asks her to transport a wooden box to England off the books, she finds herself caught up in the affairs of the handsome and infuriating Hugh Marsh. Marsh is a warlock and the package pitches Elle straight into the middle of an age-old battle between the warlocks and alchemists (and in turn, the forces of light and shadow).

When alchemists kidnap Elle’s father, they two must put aside their antagonism to search for him. But as their journey takes them to Venice, Vienna and Istanbul, Elle’s deepest family secrets are revealed and she learns truths about herself that she isn’t ready to acknowledge …

Liesel Schwarz’s debut novel mixes steampunk, adventure and romance to so-so effect. The world-building puts an interesting spin on the familiar premise of a battle between good and bad magical creatures in a world where science is in the ascendency. I liked the idea of the alliance between vampires and alchemists but wish that it had been executed beyond clichéd conversations between two-dimensional villains. The spark reactors are fascinating and I enjoyed how Schwarz incorporates the traditional steampunk elements of dirigibles and goggles. Unfortunately the plot and romance elements let it down. Superficially the main driver of the plot is the need to find Elle’s father and recover the wooden box after it’s stolen but the search doesn’t get going until half way through and even then, neither Elle nor Marsh bust a gut. Indeed, Elle seems more bothered about whether she’s in love with Marsh, who ticks every romance male box (arrogant, domineering and yet handsome and noble). I’m not a fan of romances where the female character is shown to be consistently wrong or imperilled, so Schwarz’s writing here didn’t appeal and the reveal that Elle is the magical world’s biggest hope if only she’d accept her destiny made me eye roll. I also found the fairy-narrated sections to be too ham-fisted in their foreshadowing. This is a shame because there’s promise here – Schwarz has clearly researched the period and it’s interesting to see steampunk that dares to leave London. I’m invested enough to want to read the sequel but hope that Schwarz can move past the cliché to stake her own claim on the genre.


Renew Life Ultimate Flora Critical Care 50 Billion Enteric Coated 30 Vegetable Capsules
Renew Life Ultimate Flora Critical Care 50 Billion Enteric Coated 30 Vegetable Capsules
Price: £32.43

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Potent product that's definitely having a beneficial effect, 10 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Bought these on the recommendation of a friend who's been using them to mitigate IBS symptoms. I was somewhat skeptical, having tried a number of probiotic products and not noticed any discernible effects, but these did have an immediate impact. I've been taking them for a month and have noticed that I'm less bloated than was previously the case and I no longer have abdominal twinges. There's also been an improvement in my symptoms. I don't know if these effects will continue long term and I am taking this product with a number of other pro and prebiotics but I'm impressed enough to have ordered another two bottles.

I have noticed that the capsules are bigger than those deployed in my other probiotics (about twice the size) although they are easy enough to swallow with water. Also, although there's nothing to say that this needs to be kept in the fridge, I think it's best to do so as I have discovered that probiotics are very sensitive to temperature and light.


OptiBac Probiotics Saccharomyces boulardii - Pack of 80 Capsules
OptiBac Probiotics Saccharomyces boulardii - Pack of 80 Capsules
Price: £23.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't work for me but that doesn't mean it won't work for you, 26 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Bought this on the recommendation of a couple of friends who swear that it's helped them with their IBS. I have been taking the maximum recommended dose of 6 capsules per day but sad to say it's made absolutely no difference to me at all. I'm finishing the packet on the basis that it's not causing any deterioration in my symptoms either but I won't be buying another one. Saying that, I do know a number of people who swear by this product so if you're suffering it has to be worth a try because different things seem to work for different people and IBS can vary from person to person.


Kärcher WV50 Window Vac - Window Cleaning Vacuum
Kärcher WV50 Window Vac - Window Cleaning Vacuum
Price: £39.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The vacuum is great but the battery life is a disappointment, 3 Jan. 2015
Bought this on the recommendation of my parents for use in my shower. Was a little dubious because it's quite a bulky to handle but it's surprisingly light for its size and easy to manoeuvre. The vac is easy and quick to charge but the battery life isn't great - I have to recharge it after 3 uses, which is a little annoying and makes me doubt the manufacturer's claim that it can do 60m2 on a single charge. It is very good at taking away the condensation on my shower though - the width of the rubber blades means that it covers a pretty big area and it doesn't leave any streaks or miss sections. Both the ceramic tiles and the glass shower door are left completely dry when I've finished. The water compartment is easy to empty (there's a little rubber plug that you simply release to pour the water out) and it holds a decent amount. My only other criticism is that the operation button is a little hair trigger at times - it's located on the inside of the handle, which means that when I'm using it I sometimes turn it off by accident - Karcher might want to look at relocating it on its next iteration of this device.

If you've got a condensation problem in your shower or on your windows then I'd definitely recommend checking out this product, but make sure you shop around and get it for a decent price.


Changing Planes: Armchair Travel for the Mind (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
Changing Planes: Armchair Travel for the Mind (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
Price: £3.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating collection of anthropological fantasy/science fiction short stories, 30 Dec. 2014
Ursula Le Guin’s collection of 16 anthropologically-styled short stories hinge around the premise that people who find themselves stuck in airports are able to slip between dimensional planes. The first story SITA DULIP’S METHOD sets out the premise, with each of the following 15 stories taking place on a different plane and setting out aspects of its culture as experienced by other travellers or academics. It’s a fascinating collection with Le Guin using each of the worlds to make a point about this one and I enjoyed the combination of barbed acidity and satire that she deploys with an effortless sweep of her pen. This is the first Le Guin I’ve read in many years and it’s reminded me of how much I admired and loved her work and certainly encouraged me to check out more of her work.

Of the 15 stories, my favourite is THE ROYALS OF HEGN, which is biting satire on the nature of class and the part that each of the ruling class and working class play in sustaining and reinforcing the other. However, GREAT JOY runs it a very close second – another satire, it imagines what happens when one of the planes is effectively privatised by a wealthy US elite who form a corporation that turns the plane’s population into virtual slaves forced to work in artificially created lands dedicated to American holidays, e.g. one where it’s Christmas all year long. I also enjoyed THE FLIERS OF GY, which is a moving tale of a world filled with bird-like people but where only a small minority are cursed with the ability to fly and the thought-provoking THE ISLAND OF IMMORTALS, which is set in a plane where the people of one small island are blessed with immortality. Although there are no obvious duds within the collection, I was less moved by THE BUILDING, which looks at the activities of an oppressed minority on a plane – purely because it was so open to interpretation and SOCIAL DREAMING OF THE FRIN, which didn’t appeal because of its focus on dreaming and the nature of dreaming, which is a subject that’s never really appealed to me. This was just a personal thing though and I would honestly have no hesitation in recommending this to either fans of Le Guin or those who are new to her work.


Damned Busters (Angry Robot)
Damned Busters (Angry Robot)
by Matthew Hughes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Amusing first in a comedy fantasy superhero trilogy, 30 Dec. 2014
Mild-mannered actuary Chesney Anstruther lives a quiet life consisting of work, a weekly poker game with some work colleagues and reading graphic novels featuring his favourite superhero, The Driver. But while making a poker table one night, he inadvertently summons a demon who offers him the standard contract of signing his soul away in return for his heart’s desire. The only problem is that Chesney refuses to sign and that causes a crisis in Hell that results in all the workers going on strike, which in turn causes chaos on Earth as people are no longer tempted by sin.

With the help of a televangelist called Billy Lee Hardacre and his evangelical mother, Chesney works out a deal with Satan that sees him forming a superhero duo with a weasel headed demon called Xaphan ...

The first in Matthew Hughes’s comedy fantasy trilogy is an amusing read with an interesting twist on superhero origin stories. Chesney is an interesting enough foil – a fundamentally decent guy who’s possibly on the autism spectrum – his stubborn refusal to sign a contract with Satan is the driving force for the book’s events. I enjoyed the relationship he has with sidekick Xaphan (whose conversation and attitudes comes straight from the 1920s) and the way he explores the limits and twists in the accommodation that he reaches with Satan. However, the trilogy came from a short story idea and that shows in the pacing, with a lot of time spent on the set-up rather than in the main story-arc that relates to the plans certain interests have for the city and the main conflict in the story is confined to the final quarter and summarily dismissed in an unsatisfying way. I was also disappointed with the female characters, who are confined to Chesney’s hypocritical and hectoring mother, the petulant, bitchy and unobtainable crush Poppy and the brassy and sexually forward Melda who doesn’t hide her designs on Chesney’s superhero alter-ego. Despite these issues, Hughes’s light touch and the potential of the material makes me interested in checking out the sequel to see where the overall story goes.

For me the best scenes are those where Chesney begins his superhero work and has to learn how to juggle his real and superhero identities. There are some good lines and amusing situations and I enjoyed Hughes’s wry narrative tone, which will ensure I check out the next book.


Hidden: An Alex Verus novel
Hidden: An Alex Verus novel
by Benedict Jacka
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Anne steps into the limelight in the fifth book in the ALEX VERUS SERIES, 30 Dec. 2014
It’s several months after CHOSEN. Anne and Sonder have cut off contact with Alex as a result of what happened to the Nightstalkers and rumours are circulating of Richard’s return but Alex is keeping busy with his magic shop, picking up work from Talisid and training Luna.

When Anne’s thrown out of the apprentice programme after attacking one of the other apprentices, she makes it clear that she doesn’t want Alex’s help. But Anne has enemies who are still interested in her and a past that’s unwilling to let her go and Alex is the only person she can turn to …

The fifth in Benedict Jacka’s ALEX VERUS SERIES is focused more on Anne than on Alex, although her experiences force Alex to examine his choices. The shift in the relationship between Alex, Anne and Sonder helps to shape each of the characters while adding tension to the plot and I enjoyed the movement in the over-riding Richard story arc, particularly the way things are set up for the next book. I enjoyed the shift of focus to Anne’s story because of the impact it has on Alex and how it forces him to re-examine his behaviour and choices but I am beginning to find the Dark mages a little ‘samey’ in terms of their behaviour and characteristics (although the glimpses of Richard promise a more sophisticated antagonist). This gripe aside, the plot packs a punchy pace and I enjoyed the way Jacka brings in characters and events from the preceding books, which is why I will definitely be checking it out.

There’s a sense of the pieces slipping into place as regards the overall story arc for this series and I’m intrigued to know more of Richard’s plans and of the place that Anne (who becomes a much more significant character here) will play in future events. Given how well the friendship works between Alex and Anne, I very much hope that Jacka doesn’t decide to turn her into a romantic foil because it’s refreshing to have a male and female character who can have a conversation without ending up in bed. My main gripe was the lack of any confrontation between Alex and Sonder (who is incredibly petulant for most of the book). All in all though, this remains one of my favourite fantasy series and I’m really looking forward to reading the next book.


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