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B. Wright (Gloucester, UK)

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Her Father's Daughter
Her Father's Daughter
by Marie Sizun
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A sad, beautiful read to savour, 4 July 2016
This review is from: Her Father's Daughter (Paperback)
Peirene continue to impress me with their great catalogues of European literature. This is one of my favourites from them, a family drama that explores the loss of innocence and shifting dynamics of familial love.

Set in Paris to the backdrop of the Second World War, the novella focuses on one daughter's efforts to gain the love of her estranged father, imprisoned during the war and recently returned to the home. In doing so, she loses her childlike exuberance, cultivated by her mother, and also distances herself from her mother's affections.

It is a sad book, told from the perspective of the child. Sizun does a wonderful job of getting inside a child's head, showing the innocence of her attempts to find love, and the fears, the uncertainties that drive her questioning. It is a tale of the damage caused by war, of growing up too quickly in a broken family. I read this in one sitting, savouring the language and beautiful phrases. It is well worth your time.

Saturday Requiem: A Frieda Klein Novel (6)
Saturday Requiem: A Frieda Klein Novel (6)
by Nicci French
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Lacks the focus & intrigue of earlier novels in the series, 4 July 2016
I was a big fan of Blue Monday and Tuesday's Gone, but have found the later novels in the series inconsistent. This one ranks as one of the weaker entries for me. There's nothing bad about it as such, but it never really grabbed me and I felt it lacked focus.

Part of the problem for me lies in the nature of the investigation here: Frieda is looking into a historical crime, where a teenager was accused of killing her family and has been instituionalised in a hospital for the criminally insane. This meant that much of the plot was driven by Frieda and Yvette Long (Karlsson's recovering from a broken leg during this book!) going back and forth asking questions and reviewing evidence. The sense of place - such a huge part of the earlier novels - was also lacking here. There were no oppressive London streets and, bar a brief mention of the Hardy Tree and the River Effra, little of the fascinating historical insights that I loved.

There just seemed to be a lack of energy here, the novel never drew me in like some of the others in the series. I was left unsatisfied with the ending, with how quickly things are resolved and how little seems to have changed from the start. We're well on the way to closing out this series now, and I look forward to Sunday's instalment, but this felt like little more than a stop-gap to me.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 21, 2016 12:46 PM BST

Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)
Rise of the Tomb Raider (Xbox One)
Offered by Game Trade Online
Price: £21.76

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A slightly hollow experience after 2013's excellent Tomb Raider reboot, 2 Jan. 2016
I really enjoyed 2013's Tomb Raider reboot and was looking forward to playing this release. This is a great follow-up but I am a little disappointed as it is mostly more of the same rather than an attempt to build on the previous game. It never grabbed me in the same way.

Once again, the world is stunning, with some amazing locations. The combat flows smoothly and a new crafting system makes fights more interesting as Lara can create smoke grenades or molotov cocktails out of items lying around the landscape. Otherwise the core weapons and mechanics remain the same. Movement is fluid and it is fun sneaking around to find a stealthy way to pick off enemies.

As I got into the game though, I started to feel that I'd seen this before: once again, it is a religious fanatic who is trying to stop Lara and take the artefact for himself. The environments too were quite similar, with a Soviet prison, a small shanty town and abandoned ruins appearing on Lara's journey. The story is not as strong either - I didn't connect with the characters in the same way as the 2013 reboot, and the desire to clear her dad's name didn't have me as engrossed as Lara's plight to save her friends.

This is a big game. The open world is huge but often feels empty and the various missions and challenges are a little bit of a slog. The addition of more tombs is a welcome one though - these are optional and occasionally quite easy, but the feeling of beating a tomb is more rewarding than killing another group of enemy soldiers.

I found the main story took me just under 20 hours, and I had more than half of the achievements when I had finished. Fortunately (in my opinion), the multiplayer has been removed and in its place is a score attack mode where you can replay individual chapters. This is a fun addition and adds some longevity to the game beyond the collectibles that are still littered across the map.

It is hard to criticize as it's all put together so well, but it felt a little hollow to me. I guess I just wanted more from the sequel. The storyline closes with the possibility of a follow-up to this, and it will be interesting to see where Square Enix takes the series next. All in, this is a great game, but it is not as good as the previous one.

Travelers Rest
Travelers Rest
by Keith Lee Morris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.48

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting story at its core, but marred by overwriting and a slow first half, 2 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Travelers Rest (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The thought of a mix of Stephen King and David Lynch had me itching to read this. Sadly it didn't live up to expectations - I found this heavy going.

It is a shame as the novel really picks up in the second half, but the first part of the book is ponderous and ambling as the author tries to set the scene. The writing didn't click with me, and I found the long-winded sentences irritating more than hypnotic. I felt that the early part of the novel is overwritten. In chapter 12, for example, 6 lines are given over to describing an old armoire, with the same paragraph concluding 'Oak dresser, clawfoot bathtub in the bathroom with its black and white floor'. There are many little asides scattered throughout the novel too, which try to add an element of humour. For me, these just disrupted the flow of the narrative.

The novel is told from the perspective of the Addisons, with chapters switching between the four of them. It was good to have several narrative voices, but I didn't like any of them. There is too much time given over to description of the hotel and the surrounding areas, but little to characterization. I found Dewey in particular to be precocious and never felt his narrative voice matched his years.

All that being said, there is a good plot at the core of the book. The hotel, Travelers Rest, is a good character (if you can call it that) and the story that the author weaves around it is interesting. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the ending, but I found myself drawn in a little after the halfway point and enjoyed the second part of the novel. There were several times early on where I was very tempted to give up on Travelers Rest, but I am glad that I got through - there is reward here in being patient.

Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel
Welcome to Night Vale: A Novel
by Joseph Fink
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A treat for fans of WTNV, but newcomers may be baffled, 23 Oct. 2015
This is everything I could have wanted from a Night Vale novel. It has many of the familiar names - Old Woman Josie and Erikas, Steve Carlsberg (ugh!), John Peters (you know, the farmer?), Carlos and of course, Cecil, amongst others - and places too, but delves deeper into the lives of several Night Vale residents, expanding on this delightfully weird world that Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have created.

I felt that it took a little while for the book to hit its stride, with the early chapters sounding a little too similar to the podcast, but once the characters were properly introduced and we get the story from their view, I found myself hooked. Chapters alternate between Jackie and Diane, with occasional interruptions from Cecil reading the news, the traffic, the ads... At its core, the story plays with the concept of time and space, looking at what it is to grow up, to remember, or to forget, to find a place for yourself in a confused world. There are some lovely moments of insight here, in among the madness.

Fans of the podcast will feel right at home, but newcomers may be confused. Why are libraries so dangerous? Why is Diane's house sentient and her son a shapeshifter? Why are the secret police not so secret? I've been listening to the podcast for a long time and I have no answers, but have learned to accept the weirdness without questioning it. Suspension of disbelief is essential to enjoying the novel - It is all wrapped up in the usual WTNV humour and weirdness, at times reminding me of Douglas Adams, of H.P. Lovecraft, with maybe a smidgen of Neil Gaiman and Stephen King.

But at the same time, it is very much Night Vale. It's well written and great fun and I loved it. I hope that there will be more WTNV novels to come.

AEG APF6130 PowerForce All Floor Bagged Cylinder Vacuum Cleaner, 700 Watts - Chocolate Brown
AEG APF6130 PowerForce All Floor Bagged Cylinder Vacuum Cleaner, 700 Watts - Chocolate Brown
Offered by Lunneys Online
Price: £98.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent vacuum, but not a bagless cleaner, 16 Sept. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is an excellent vacuum - powerful and fairly lightweight - but it is not bagless (you can see the bag in the 4th product image).

Out of the box you get the main unit, the hose attachment, and then three cleaner heads: two large for cleaning either hard floor or carpet, and a smaller one for upholstery. There is also a small nozzle for crevices and hard to reach areas. It's important to note that there is no soft bristle small attachment so you will need to purchase this separately if required.

There is also an excellent instruction guide. Simple, easy to read and with visual step-by-step guides to use of the vacuum, from basic use to how to change the bag and cleaning the filters, AEG should be praised for getting this spot on.

As for how the vacuum is in action, it packs a lot of oomph. There's a power dial to set as required - at full power, it sticks to the carpet. I found that around the middle setting gave good cleaning performance without holding fast to the surface... Even on low power it is pretty capable. It is exceptionally quiet too on low power, and at higher settings is no louder than a hair dryer. I found the cord length to be reasonable, and shouldn't pose a problem with getting up/down stairs or moving around the house.

Confusion over the bag aside, I have been very impressed with this. It is easy to manoeuvre and provides excellent cleaning power. I would recommend highly for anyone looking for a cylinder cleaner.

Philips HX8372/51 Sonicare Air Floss Pro Rechargeable Power Flosser with 250 ml Listerine
Philips HX8372/51 Sonicare Air Floss Pro Rechargeable Power Flosser with 250 ml Listerine

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as the basic model, 11 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I find flossing very tedious, so the idea of an Air Floss to speed up the process is very appealing. I have previously used the standard version of the Air Floss and was curious to see what the difference was with the Pro.

Turns out, not very much. Out of the box, you get two floss heads and a small bottle of Listerine. The unit is slightly heavier, the well for mouthwash/water is larger and there is the option of a burst mode, switching from one, two or three bursts at the push of the button. This seems to me to be something of a pointless feature, as you can always just use three single bursts to mimic the effect of three quick bursts.

The heads that come with the Pro are not as good as the standard heads - they have a wider aperture for the liquid so it is harder to target gaps between teeth. I felt that I was just spraying water into my mouth, rather than actually blasting food debris and plaque. This was borne out when I flossed immediately afterwards and still brought out a lot of plaque from between my teeth.

So while I would recommend an Air Floss, I would suggest the standard model over the Pro. The extra features do not justify the cost, and in some ways the Pro is a step down.

Panasonic RPHD10EK Hi - Fi Monitor Headphones - Black
Panasonic RPHD10EK Hi - Fi Monitor Headphones - Black
Offered by EStore99
Price: £155.62

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-balanced headphones with excellent build quality, 9 Aug. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
These are no frills headphones, good-looking and with excellent build quality. Out of the box, there are two cables - 1.2m for mobile, and a 3m cable for home use - and also a nice leather bag for storage. They have a clean and well-rounded tone, reproducing the music as it was recorded (no bass boost on these). On the whole, the sound is excellent when listening to CD and high quality downloads. However, standard or lower quality MP3s sound very poor by comparison. There is some sound bleed, and sound isolation is not brilliant - I had to turn the volume up significantly to hear the audio when I used these on the tube.

The problem for me was in the size of them. They are lightweight, and with the large cushioned pads, generally comfortable for wearing over long periods. However, I found that they would not stay in place and kept slipping off my head while I was using them. The slide adjustment to move them horizontally as well as the usual vertical adjustment helped to some extent, but I found the slipping too much of a disturbance to wear them for too long.

These are not for me due to this issue, but others will find them more comfortable and a better fit. The headphones look like they are built to last, and the sound is well balanced, though some may feel slightly characterless. I feel that these still represent decent value for money and would recommend them to others, with the proviso that they need to be tried for size before purchase.

Rare Replay (Xbox One)
Rare Replay (Xbox One)
Offered by BellaLuna
Price: £8.95

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful collection of gaming classics, 4 Aug. 2015
With its collection of 30 games and a wealth of behind-the-scenes content, Rare Replay is a great collection that represents excellent value for money. I’ve had my copy for a few days now and feel that I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer.

The collection groups assorted games from Rare’s first in 1985 through to Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise, though it is worth noting that Goldeneye and the Donkey Kong games are not included. Games that have previously been released on Xbox 360 appear in their ported form (including any DLC), with backwardly compatible digital copies downloaded to the Xbox One game library (these can also be accessed through Rare Replay but play outside the main environment), while other games are on the disc. Older games play in a 4:3 environment with a themed background to fill the remaining space on screen, while X360 games have no graphical updates as far as I’m aware.

The games themselves are lovingly presented in an imitation cinema environment, with ‘posters’ to access the games. As you play through, you complete milestones and receive a stamp for a ticket, with each new level granting you access to more behind-the-scenes content. This is a nice touch, though it is a shame that the content isn’t available from the start. Every game can be played as a stand-alone, but there are also snapshots for some of the older games, each with 5 challenges to complete. Themed playlists – drawn from a number of games and offering grouped missions such as surviving for a certain amount of time or with a limited number of lives etc – also offer a new way of playing these games. This is a great way for new players to get straight in to older titles that are not already familiar.

Rare Replay is not without its faults. Some of the older games do not hold up well, and you are often thrown in with little information about what to do (though instructions can be accessed through the Xbox One help menu). Due to the inclusion of digital copies for the Xbox 360 games, it is also a mammoth 50GB to install on the system. I have had a few issues with stability too, with occasional crashes and some of the controls on earlier games not working quite right, either not recognising input or reacting slowly. Hopefully these issues will be patched shortly. The claim of 10,000 gamerscore, while technically true, breaks down as 3,000 in Rare Replay and 7,000 across the Xbox 360 games, so anyone who has played these previously will not be able to doublestack achievements.

These are fairly minor issues though, and I cannot recommend the collection highly enough. It is presented with the usual Rare humour throughout, right from the introductory medley with all of the characters ‘singing’ along, to the posters and background themes, it is a wonderful celebration of all that Rare has given to the gaming world.

Philips Sonicare HX8911/04 HealthyWhite+ Electric toothbrush
Philips Sonicare HX8911/04 HealthyWhite+ Electric toothbrush
Price: £49.99

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent battery life & great cleaning power, 26 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is an excellent toothbrush. Having switched to this brush from an Oral-B model, my teeth feel much cleaner after brushing. I have been so happy with the results of the Sonicare that I would not go back.

The brush is easy to use, switching between cleaning modes with a single press of the on/off button. These modes are adjustable using the +/- button too (ranging from 1 - 3), which allows those with sensitive gums the option to change the power of the brush. The battery life is also excellent, and does live up to the three weeks that is suggested, and charging is quick. It may take a little getting used to the sensation of using the brush though, as it pulses rather than spins like the Oral-B. This is supposed to get further between teeth and down to the gums, and I have noticed that my teeth are much cleaner before flossing with this brush. This is also helped by the shape of the brush head, which is smaller than I'd imagined, but is able to get between gaps better due to its size.

The 'white' mode is supposed to offer noticeable improvement in a few weeks, but in reality I have not been able to tell the difference and have reverted back to 'clean' mode. While brushing, there is a two-minute timer, with 30-second buzzes to suggest changing quarter. Using 'clean' mode, the brush stops immediately at two minutes, where 'white' will keep going until the user chooses to stop the brush.

After several weeks of using this brush, my teeth feel much cleaner and I would not switch back to the Oral-B. However, I am not sure this model offers the best value for money. A less expensive brush in the Sonicare range may be a better option - there are several that provide whitening modes, though to be honest, I have found that I stick to the basic cleaning function. For those who are trying to choose between Sonicare and Oral-B, or thinking of moving across to the Philips range, I would heartily recommend making the jump.

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