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Doha (London, UK)
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The Road to Character
The Road to Character
by David Brooks
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.59

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An important book in an ego-driven world, 1 May 2015
This review is from: The Road to Character (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In The Road To Character, David Brooks identifies the key internal qualities that elevate a human life from a consuming, self-centred existence to serving something more than itself. Drawing on a wide range of sources, he uses historical figures to illustrate how they exemplified each quality, and these stories could be quite dark - necessarily. The thing to really appreciate in these examinations is how, as well as the positive effects of the characteristics, Brooks also points out the negative ways in which they lived those qualities. It's a reminder for caution, that those traits can cut both ways, and why self-knowledge is a fundamental process in creating character.

He defines what character is, and each section is devoted to a particular quality. He starts by making a distinction between our two selves: Adam I who is self-serving and appetitive, and the moral and service-driven Adam II.

I found this book an affirmation of the beliefs and values I've been taught since childhood, which often seem out of place in the modern age, and the fact that it's a mainstream, mostly secular voice bringing these values to the fore is powerful to me, as a person with a religious upbringing, but also a lover of the classic children's literature whose backbone is made up of these same things - struggle against your self, self-respect, reflection and circumspection, the need for boundaries, and so on.

I'm glad this is a #1 bestseller. I hope that means that we can expect society at large to return to old-world values, because service and self-mastery shouldn't ever go out of fashion.

There's a line that spoke to me most strongly, because it's the sum of my own life's experience, that after trauma, "You don't come out healed, you come out different." Amen.


MICRO Nail Electric Nail Polisher
MICRO Nail Electric Nail Polisher
Price: £19.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A bit basic, 1 May 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This piece of kit basically does two things: buff and shine. It does a fairly pleasant job, and quickly. It comes with two of each roller, and a little pouch to keep them in, and takes two AA batteries. The operation is straightforward, and the instructions are clear.

I'm not sure why, but I'm not overwhelmed by it. Another family member who used it *really* loved it, although we both agree that we'd get better results manually. But the big plus is how quickly you can touch up with this, although the fun in doing your nails is taking your time with it! I appreciate sometimes you just need to get it done, so this is good for time-saving. I think the nature of the roller-head makes it hard to reach the deepest part of the nailbed properly, so it can be a little un-uniform towards the back, although I was afraid of spending too long with the buffing-head to reach those parts in case I ended up thinning my nail too much.

A direct quote from family member, "With the short amount of time I spent on it, I am impressed with the result. This is a really good addition to your self-care collection." So that's two opinions to help you decide!


A Scientific Approach to Writing for Engineers & Scientists (IEEE PCS Professional Engineering Communication Series)
A Scientific Approach to Writing for Engineers & Scientists (IEEE PCS Professional Engineering Communication Series)
by Robert E. Berger
Edition: Paperback
Price: £25.15

4.0 out of 5 stars Thorough guide, but not for the casual user, 12 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm not a student anymore, but I was once a scientist. This guide interested me because I figured it would be clearer and more practical than other writing guides. I write for an entertainment website right now, and have found the manual useful. It's not really the subject matter that is an issue when it comes to writing, but the desired clarity of communication, and I desired clarity.

It's a really excellent, thorough guide, which I use mainly for reference. Although my current area of writing is in entertainment, bringing scientific rigour to it certainly makes it better writing. On the other hand, I recognise that for us scientists, it's more useful to have a straight-up no nonsense guide, than digging up a buried hook in a more flowery book. It might be more than an average undergrad is interested in, but certainly for anyone who needs to write important papers at postgrad level, who wants a little extra support in constructing clear work, this should be helpful. It starts at the basics of the purpose of clear writing, and moving on to basic grammar and sentence construction, to addressing the overarching themes over the course of a piece of writing.

On the downside, it can be a little dense, and sometimes the conciseness of the guide itself makes accessing it hard work. For someone with less previous exposure to grammar, this may not be the right book. It's the kind of book best mined if you have the time to study it a little more deeply. It's worthwhile, but it's not casual!


The Raven's Head
The Raven's Head
by Karen Maitland
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too dark, 12 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Raven's Head (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Raven's Head is a dark historical piece, with a thread of esoteric running through it. In France, Vincent is an apprentice scribe who starts off with ambition that outweighs his ability to follow it. Because of that ambition, he finds himself sent on an errand to transport an object - the Raven's Head - and he ends up in England after a string of curious events.

But this book's not for me. If I didn't have to review it, I wouldn't have read past the first chapter. It's clever, tightly-constructed, and well-written, but there are a few reasons it's not for me.

1) Vincent's character. I need to like the main character to like a book, and I couldn't like Vincent, no matter how much I tried. He was occasionally amusing, but he was crass and objectifying. He had a little self-awareness that actually made him worse.

2) Child abuse. I know historically, these practices likely happened, but I'm not robust enough to make it through such unrelenting misery, torture, and abuse inflicted on children (or anyone, but it being children was just so much worse). It was too dark for me, and I wish I could unread it.

It's my first book from this author, so I didn't really know what to expect, but it's unlikely I'll read her again.


Pinzon Everyday Cotton, Light Brown Double Fitted Sheet
Pinzon Everyday Cotton, Light Brown Double Fitted Sheet
Price: £14.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Good fit everyday sheet, 24 Dec. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My general concern with fitted sheets is whether they'll fit deeper mattresses: not to worry. Even on an extra-deep orthopaedic mattress, the fit is generous enough to even tuck a little under so it doesn't slip off or over. The mattress protector, which is a bit heavier, also fits nicely inside it without them interfering with each other.

The sheet itself is light, with a nice compact weave. I got this for family members who tend towards using hospital-grade heavy cotton sheets, so this was a little different to their usual, but their feedback is positive. The colour is nice and neutral -- it's not so much brown as beige. It's machine-washable and doesn't need ironing (does anyone iron their bedsheets?). All in all, it's exactly what it says it is, so it's all good.


Sony MHC-ECL99BT 700W Bluetooth High Power Home Audio System
Sony MHC-ECL99BT 700W Bluetooth High Power Home Audio System
Offered by electronic empire
Price: £169.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really exceptional, 24 Dec. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This home audio system is, in a word, slick. A thing of beauty, fully boxed it comes in at around 25kg according to the delivery note. It's pretty easy to connect it all together. The downside is that the mains cable isn't that long, so without an extension lead it's difficult to place it too far from it. But that's a very small concern, put against how impressive its design and output is, and its intuitive design.

The system comprises a two speakers, a subwoofer and the control unit. The control unit also houses a CD drive, which plays normal audio CDs as well as MP3 CDs. There is also an aerial attachment for radio, and a remote control (batteries included). If left inactive a while, the machine also automatically switches off.

Its best connectivity feature is the bluetooth: I hook it up to my laptop which lets me play pretty much anything I want that crosses my soundcard. Connected to a projector on one side and speakers on the other, it's almost a home cinema right there. Although its designed with Apple devices in mind (which I worried about, since I don't have any Apple devices), the bluetooth function takes care of everything else.

The sound clarity and performance is exceptional, although I find the subwoofer too much (don't want to disturb the neighbours) so I don't use it day-to-day, although I can see taking it out for special occasions.

Having this has also breathed new life into my (enormous) CD collection (sadly left by the wayside this many a year, since digital downloading's made it practically redundant), and rediscovering old CDs over again has been an experience by itself. (Now if there were a couple of tape decks, THAT would've been absolutely perfect...)


My Heart and Other Black Holes
My Heart and Other Black Holes
by Jasmine Warga
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.24

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How to step away from the edge, 9 Dec. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Jasmine Warga tackles the difficult subjects of teen depression and suicidal ideation in this book. It's a hard note to hit right, but she does it, deftly painting the bleak hopelessness of existence that is both their world, but also giving vivid reality to the characters, their struggles, and ultimately, their hopes.

[sort of spoily ahead]

I think the challenge in writing this book is to really make us a) believe that Aysel and Roman don't want to live and are serious about dying, and b) you have to make their realities compellingly dark but also sympathetic. If we can't be with Aysel, look out with her eyes, then the story doesn't work. Similarly, if we can't believe her transition from desperately wanting to be dead to desperately wanting to live, it takes the heart and backbone out of the story.

Making her catalyst another person is a given, but that that other person, instead of being a manic pixie dream-boy, is someone in as much pain and despair as her is the best stroke. It's what gives it its edge and realism. Because they meet as suicide partners - people who help each other achieve their own deaths - it creates a pressure and tension in their relationship that there's no obvious way to defuse. That added layer of conflict is what keeps you on tenterhooks because it's one we understand so well: not letting down the team.

I hesitate to compare it to The Fault In Our Stars, because that's become an unmeaningful and overused comparison for any book that takes on teens and dying - its similarity lies in the tone, and the spare writing that is both fluid and poignant. But more than that, it reminded me of how I felt when I read another suicide book, Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, except rather than leaving you hollowed out, it gives you a bone. And I do bat for happy endings, even if the tragic ones have more genius.

Reading this book reminded me what it is about YA that keeps me reading it, long past my own teens. It's this - because YA is about outsiders, and I've always been an outsider. Reading this took me back to the bleaker, darker places of growing up in an aching, almost visceral way. To be thoroughly present with the narrator is what makes a successful read, to me.

I found one thing majorly problematic, but I want to keep it separate from the suicidey parts of the book. Aysel's dad's crime...I don't get why he's branded a cold-blooded psycho murderer, when he clearly snapped under provocation. By the descriptions, he seems to suffer a mixture of bipolar disorder and bouts of paranoia, and the kids in his shop clearly, CLEARLY went out of their way to provoke him. Why aren't they held responsible? This happens too much in real life for me to be okay with this kind of representation.

The lack of accountability for their role in inciting his breakdown makes me angry because it's just so typical, and ethnic minorities are easy pickings. I agree, the fact that a boy ended up dying because of his actions is something he needs to be accountable for, but it's also clear that he was mentally ill, needed help, and that he was goaded into losing it. They weren't angels, they were stupid boys who pushed a mentally unstable man too far, and ended up coming to harm because of it.

Whew. Just getting that out there.


Braun Thermoscan IRT 3020 Compact Ear Thermometer
Braun Thermoscan IRT 3020 Compact Ear Thermometer
Price: £22.27

5.0 out of 5 stars High quality from Braun, 11 Nov. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Very pleased with this compact and easy thermometer. It's ready to use straight out of the box, with a lens filter already fitted. A box of lens filter refills has you ready to go for a while, too. While it's very lightweight, it is sturdy with all the expected production quality of Braun products. It is programmed to celsius by default, but you can toggle between it and fahrenheit -- I don't, because I use the former, but it can be done for anyone who prefers the latter. While it comes out a little dear for irregular, personal home use, this is certainly an excellent addition to the first aid box for people working with kids, as one of my family members do. Knowing these have been clinically tested and calibrated for accuracy also gives you extra peace of mind.

I personally use this daily for bbt readings in fertility monitoring, and I find it excellently convenient. I keep it right beside my bed so I can take my temps the moment I wake up, and since I am the only user, I reuse the same filter several times. I haven't found this to be problematic, although the instruction book does advise using a new one every time (but they would - they want you to buy more!). In any case, there is a middle ground: I don't see any harm in reusing one on the same person and same ear a few times.

The instruction book is also very clear, and it's super intuitive to use: you ease it into your ear, give yourself an ear-tug to settle the probe (see instruction book), press the button for a long beep when you're ready, and wait a few seconds for the short double-beep which signals that it's done. Wipe off, put away. Easy.


Oral-B CrossAction Electric Toothbrush Replacement Heads - 8 Counts
Oral-B CrossAction Electric Toothbrush Replacement Heads - 8 Counts
Price: £19.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cross-action heads give a deep clean, 22 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Got this for family members using the TriZone SmartSeries 5000. The cross-action heads are actually a step-up from the fairly ordinary heads the brushes originally came with, and provide a thorough clean and really get into the gaps and corners from all sides. My folks are very pleased with them.

As mentioned on the packaging, these are compatible with the Pro, Tri-zone and Vitality series.


Boompods Earpods In Ear Headphones for iPod/iPhone/iPad - Blue
Boompods Earpods In Ear Headphones for iPod/iPhone/iPad - Blue
Price: £24.94

4.0 out of 5 stars Boompods, 22 Oct. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Love these little blue things - the colour would be the best part if the 'phones themselves weren't such a great fit. I have weird ears which means I have ALWAYS had problems with in-ear headphones - they just don't stay in, and if I can find a way to wedge them in, they they hurt. Admittedly, this is what has made me avoid them for years, but I found myself needing a pair recently and these came at exactly the right time.

The no-tangle cords don't tangle, but to be honest, I'm not sure how they're *really* more special than the apple-type phones, whose cords have that special plasticisation that also resists tangling. They feel nicer, and maybe the wiring is more protected, so I'm not complaining. The phone comes with extra ear-cups of different sizes, so once I switched over to the smaller ones, it was perfect. They're high-fidelity and noise-blocking, which makes them good to use out. The bass *is* noticeably stronger, although since I don't use them for music, that's not an issue to me. The flexi-pod carrycase is probably my favourite part - it pops up to open and you twine the cord around the core and snap it shut. I just love the smooth feel of the case.

The downside is that the mic and in-line controls are designed to only be compatible with Apple devices, none of which I own, so for me, these become your standard 3mm earphones and no more, but that's more than enough for me!


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