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Steve Benner "Stonegnome" (Lancaster, UK)

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Airmax Anti Snoring Nasal Dilator
Airmax Anti Snoring Nasal Dilator
Price: £9.27

2.0 out of 5 stars Scary bananas!, 26 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My wife has a problem with snoring. Or, more accurately, I have a problem with my wife's snoring. I sent for an "Airmax Anti Snoring Nasal Dilator" in the hope that it would enable me to sleep more easily at night by alleviating said problem. Upon presenting it to my wife, however, I was rewarded with one of those silent looks that communicated so much more effectively than any words possibly could that if I thought she was putting THAT thing up her nose, then I most certainly had another think coming. I can't say that I entirely blame her.

I wonder if I could buy another one and adapt them as a pair of earplugs...?

Those Above (The Empty Throne)
Those Above (The Empty Throne)
by Daniel Polansky
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious world-building from the master of noir, 25 Mar. 2015
"Those Above" is Daniel Polansky's most ambitious novel to date. Those readers already familiar with his "Low Town" stories ("Low Town: The Straight Razor Cure", "Tomorrow, the Killing", and "She Who Waits") may find this one a bit of a shock. Where the "Low Town" novels are bleak, dark and event-driven, "Those Above" offers a more varied and more detailed painting of fanciful world full of wonders and strange things, all drawn in intricate detail and with a more relaxed and meandering sense of story. Where Low Town is a first-person narrative entirely centered on the experiences of a single individual throughout, the world of this new novel is infinitely wider and more complex. The epic scale of "Those Above" makes the narrower confines of "Low Town" feel almost homely.

The book follows the fortunes of four disparate individuals -- Bas, a battle-scarred army general; Eudokia, a scheming politician/socialite/high priestest; Calla, seneschal to a high-placed lord; Thistle, an unemployed youth from the slums and would-be criminal. The world they inhabit lies in the shadow of a controlling master race -- the Highers, or Immortals -- who long ago subjugated the world's human population but who are now pretty much content to lead lofty lives of almost indifferent isolation in their glittering mountain-top fastness, the Roost. Confident in a belief that their past bloody and violent demonstrations of their superiority will keep the inferior race of humans in their place, 'those above' give little more than passing notice to the affairs -- and miseries -- of the humans of the world, preferring instead to give their attention to more pleasing and entertaining matters more suited to their own more godly status.

Daniel Polansky's writing is almost invariably finely honed and rarely less than a delight to read (although the publishers have messed this up a fair bit at least in the Kindle edition, which is chock full of errors). That said, some readers may find some phrases a little ponderous and there are some parts, most especially the lighter, brighter sections where the author feels to miss his stride somewhat. It is only once things turn darker and more serious that he really feels to be fully in his element, handling things with masterly aplomb in all the bits where it really matters.

Apart from the opening teaser, the story builds slowly and sedately -- so much so, in fact, that by half way in, one has pretty much come to wonder whether it is indeed going anywhere at all. Suddenly, however, the author starts to release the handbrake and for the second half of the book things start to run away very rapidly indeed. Sadly, though, this book is itself only the first half of the full tale of "The Empty Throne" and just at the point when things are really getting exciting one discovers that one has, in fact, turned the last page. Which brings me to my final comparison with the author's earlier "Low Town" novels: where each volume of the earlier series presented a full and complete storyline, giving at least some sense of completion at their end, "Those Above" is never anything other than the first half of a much larger story, each story strand not so much resolving as being gathered into a new position in readiness for the telling of the real story still to be revealed.

Turning the last page of this book is therefore a very frustrating experience indeed, especially at the time of writing when readers will have to wait another year or so for the release of "Those Below" in order to find out how it ends. In that regard at least, 2016 just cannot come fast enough!

Electricity [DVD] [2015]
Electricity [DVD] [2015]
Dvd ~ Agyness Deyn
Price: £11.25

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's grim oop North; darn Sarf too, it seems, 24 Mar. 2015
This review is from: Electricity [DVD] [2015] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Ray Robinson's novel about epilipsy, "Electricity", is here brought to the silver screen by director, Bryn Higgins, in a sensitive adaptation by Joe Fisher, enhanced by excellent cinematography by Si Bell and original soundtrack by John Lunn. The lead role of Lily O'Connor is played by former catwalk model, Agyness Deyn, in a powerful and gutsy performance that puts most of the rest of the cast well and truly in the shade. Like the book, the film is a disturbing and disorienting experience. It chronicles Lily's journey from the isolation of her north-eastern seaside home to the bewildering metropolis of the capital as she struggles to reunite a scattered trio of dysfunctional siblings following the death of their mother. The squalor and brutality of the outside world is as nothing, however, to the internal and debilitating horrors which Lily must face routinely as an epileptic, whose seizures and hallucinations hit her randomly and unpredictably throughout her day, leaving her bruised, battered and with enormous holes in her memory.

The film portrays Lily's experiences graphically and always from her perspective rather than from that of any external observer. In this way, it powerfully conveys the confusion and frustration that she forever experiences, both at the effects of the condition itself and of the inept and often insensitive handling of its consequences by onlookers and medical professionals alike. Ms Deyn gives a truly heart-breaking performance throughout, with the production's stark, hand-held shooting and low-key but startling visual effects adding grit and punch to an already bleak experience.

For all of its many positives, though, I didn't find the film to work fully as a cinematic endeavour. For a start, I found the cast to be way too uneven; while Agyness Deyn and Tom Georgeson (Al) shine in every one of their scenes (for all that the latter only has about three lines), I thought Paul Anderson too hackneyed for comfort in his portrayal of Lily's brother turned poker professional, Barry O'Connor, whilst Christian Cooke (Mikey O'Connor) and Lenora Crichlow (Mel) failed to be at all convincing in either of their roles. Purists (like me) may also find Deyn's pronounced Rossendale accent, which she (wisely) makes no attempt to moderate throughout the film, as well as Georgeson's scouse brogue to be glaringly at odds with their supposed north-eastern origins in Saltburn-by-the-Sea.

More problematic, however, is the fact that the film's surface storyline more often than not gets in the way of its real narrative, introducing -- and then having to discard -- altogether too many social and personal side issues, which whilst adding tension and conflict fail really to be resolved, or else are rapidly wound up in altogether too pat a manner. As a result, this feels to be a film with too many messages, most of which are ineffectively delivered and each essentially serving to distract from the all important central one. By the end, I was very much left wondering whether I really needed to have been put through quite so many wringers to get to where the film left me. I'd like to give it 3.5 stars, really.

Igenix IG3118 Steam Iron in Green and White with Stainless Steel Soleplate, 1800 Watt
Igenix IG3118 Steam Iron in Green and White with Stainless Steel Soleplate, 1800 Watt
Price: £17.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good budget iron, 22 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The "Igenix IG3118 Steam Iron" is an inexpensive 1800 watt steam iron that pretty much does what you'd expect of it. The iron is a good weight, heavy enough to do its job well without being tiring to use. It has a very pointed toe -- useful for small detailed bits -- although, of course, there is no steam at the point. The rest of the stainless steel sole delivers steam smoothly and without spitting or dripping. It can also be used as a dry iron if required.

My wife tested it on the broderie anglais and interlaced ribbon trimming of a duvet cover (does anyone really iron the entire cover?) and it made an excellent job of it, on the 'medium' steam setting and on bone dry fabric.

The instructions are straightforward and the diagram of the controls is easy to understand although slightly wrong on one point, mixing the location of the spray and steam burst controls. The one thing that would have been more helpful is a clearer indication of the recommended frequency of the cleaning cycle. The recommendation to clean 'once a fortnight' is surely based on an assumed usage rate. Those of us who only use an iron about once a fortnight presumably don't need to run the cleaning process every time?

As a budget iron, complete with two year warranty, this product shouldn't disappoint at all.

The Mountain Can Wait
The Mountain Can Wait
by Sarah Leipciger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good creative writing but..., 9 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Mountain Can Wait (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
There is something about "The Mountain Can Wait" that quickly announces the fact that its Canadian author, Sarah Leipciger, studied and now teaches creative writing. The book follows all of the rules for the production of a good piece of creative fiction. First of all, it sticks to what the author knows, providing an engaging evocation of contemporary bush life working the lumber plantations of the Canadian Pacific Ranges, a life she clearly sampled during her early years and student life in British Columbia. Secondly, it places the story in a new and unfamiliar setting, eschewing the overworked logging camp angle for the rarely portrayed and far less dramatic lives of the planting crews. The story offers shed-loads of inter-personal tensions through its central protagonist, Tom, a down-to-earth bushman struggling to raise two teenagers on his own, whilst maintain a seasonal plantation planting business against tough competition. By his own admission, Tom is someone who is in his element in the wilds or amongst machines, who can make or mend almost anything but really doesn't have a clue when it comes to people.

The main characters in the book are all portrayed as solid, three-dimensional characters, who are credible and act in believable ways. They each have their failings and their foibles, which the author portrays convincingly. The story flows well, too, with good pacing and a balance of perspective between the two principals, Tom and his son, Curtis, as well a balance of action against pure description. The author's prose is slick and easy to read.

In theory, then, all of the ingredients are present which should make for a really good story. So why, then, did I reach the end, still wondering why the story never really caught fire? Perhaps it was because ultimately, for all of their trials and tribulations, no-one felt to change much between the start and the end of the book. As a result, I felt to have accompanied both Tom and Curtis on their respective journeys and to have shared the scenery with them but had no sense that their journeys had contributed much to their final destinations. By the end, there is a sense that time has passed and that things are different but not in any significant way.

Perhaps I missed the spark, but for me this book never really lights up as I felt it should. Lots of it are a good read but the overall feel by the end is one of flatness and disappointment. And I couldn't help but feel that the mountain is still waiting.

The Devil's Detective
The Devil's Detective
by Simon Kurt Unsworth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

4.0 out of 5 stars A Hellishly Good Read, 6 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Devil's Detective (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Simon Kurt Unsworth's vision of Hell is a most intriguing one. In his début novel, "The Devil's Detective", he depicts the Underworld not so much as the traditional burning pit of fire, in which the souls of sinners spend eternity being tormented, but rather as some Steam-punk Gothic industrial city of dirt, darkness, toil and tedium. Into it, unredeemed souls are plucked from the sea of Limbo to be reincarnated into fresh flesh to atone for sins of their former lives, the natures of which they are kept unaware, in the vain but ever-present hope that they may be selected, as some are periodically at random, for Elevation to the glories of Heaven. Gone are the eternal fires and the individually tailored punishments. In this reformed Hell, these are replaced by factories and farms and a life of subordination to Hell's Demons and their desires, overseen by an invisible but all-powerful Bureaucracy. In this version of Hell, its human citizens labour relentlessly without purpose or reward but fed just enough hope to make the toil and the misery worse.

Amongst their number is Thomas Fool, Information Man, whose role it is to investigate Hell's crimes and report their causes to his unseen masters. Hell being Hell, there are, of course, far more crimes each day than he can hope to solve (and, Hell being Hell, justice is not on offer either way) so most of his crime reports are returned stamped 'DNI' (Did Not Investigate). Until that is, someone -- or some thing -- begins committing crimes that even Hell considers so serious that they are in urgent need of investigation and solution. And Thomas Fool starts to realise that he has no idea about even how to start to think about solving a crime in Hell.

The book itself is hard to categorise. In some regards, it has similarities with Daniel Polanksy's "Low Town" trilogy, whilst the more fantastical imaginings, such as the Man of Plants and Flowers, and The Questioning are worthy indeed of Sheri S. Tepper at her most inventive ("The True Game", "Raising the Stones", "The Visitor" or even "Still Life"). In other regards, the book is well nigh unique.

All of that said, it is not without some faults. Perhaps its greatest is the repetitive nature of many of its scenarios, giving the impression on more than one occasion of "having been here before" earlier in the book. There are the occasional slips that should have been picked up by the publishers' editors, too, such as the misuse of "footstep" whenever "foot print" is intended. What faults the writing has, however, are easily forgiven because of the author's skilful story telling particularly his handling of mystery and intrigue. While the mystery that Thomas Fool is charged with solving shouldn't tax a reader's powers of deduction over much, the suspense of just how everything will pan out is fully maintained right up the very last page. There are plenty of shocks and surprises along the way, not least of all because the author is clearly a writer who is not afraid to ignore many of the rules about how stories should be structured and narratives play out. And that alone makes for a very refreshing change.

This book is not an easy read, by any means, especially for the squeamish. It is, nevertheless, a rewarding and worthwhile one for anyone looking for a something out of the ordinary.

The Rocks
The Rocks
by Peter Nichols
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.58

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rollicking tale of the Med, 2 Mar. 2015
This review is from: The Rocks (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"The Rocks", by Peter Nichols, is a rollicking beach read, set largely in Mallorca or else in and around the Mediterranean generally. Its story-line spans an almost 60-year period across three generations of two interconnected families and centred around two very different ex-pat Brits long settled in Mallorca, Lulu Davenport and Gerald Rutledge.

When the story opens, in 2005, the two are barely on speaking terms with clearly a long history behind their current animosity. Over the course of some 420 pages, the author gradually and quite cleverly winds the clock backwards through the various lives and times of these two characters, culminating (for the reader) in 1948, with details of the couple's whirlwind romance and ill-fated marriage. Running counter to the unfurling back-story of Lulu and Gerald is a seemingly similarly ill-fated relationship between Gerald's daughter, Aegina, and Lulu's son, Luc, whose own lives provide a powerful undertow to that of their parents just as the island of Mallorca provides an undertow to their own lives.

The narrative is presented in an unsettling reverse chronology, making it one of those books that you continue reading not to find out what is going to happen, so much as what already has. The complex interplay between four principals, each of whom the author paints in great detail, also requires rather more attention to detail than is demanded by most holiday romance novels. By way of contrast, the content and tone of the book fundamentally offers the standard mix of exotic scenery, sun, sea and sex of any standard holiday read. Throughout all of its light and fluffy content, however, there runs a more serious, darker undercurrent which, overall, lifts this novel above the heads of the crowd and makes it something a little more substantial than it at first appears. "The Rocks" isn't great literature by any means but equally it is no shabby read either.

A Place Called Winter
A Place Called Winter
by Patrick Gale
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.00

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Powerful put pedestrian period piece, 27 Feb. 2015
This review is from: A Place Called Winter (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"A Place Called Winter" is Patrick Gale's first attempt at an historical novel. The book is semi-biographical, in that it is based on the real-life character of the author's maternal great-grandfather, Harry Cane, who fled England in the early years of the twentieth century in order to escape a potential family scandal as a consequence on illicit love affair and started a new life as a Canadian homesteader. It is impossible to tell how much of Patrick Gale's novel is true to reality and how much is of his own imagining but the book gave me the impression that where facts were known, Gale had felt obliged to include them, even when they deviate quite some way from the narrative ideals of a purely fictional tale.

As a consequence, I feel, the early stages of the book are over-burdened with preparative background details which often feel irrelevant and which render a pedestrian air to the story, for all that they establish a strong feeling for the character of the protagonist. Apart from the opening "teaser" scene, borrowed from the end of the story, chronologically, it is not until half way through the book that any tension is introduced, though, and not until the two-thirds mark that the reader (and Harry Gale) finally get to meet the eponymous Canadian homesteading settlement, Winter, where everything finally starts coming together.

For readers principally interested in the Edwardian period detail that the author manages to portray so elegantly, none of the book's structural shortcomings will matter a great deal. It is, indeed, very much to the author's credit that even though nothing much of import occurs during the first half of the book, the read is never boring or tedious. It may be also that the book's gentle first half actually heightens the dramatic impact of the its closing chapters, for these certainly do feel to have been underpinned by all that precedes them.

Established fans of the author may find this book a bit of an odd departure from his usual style. Whether or not they will be able to forgive him this is hard to say but I have no doubt that "A Place Called Winter" will win him many new followers.


Expert Shield - THE Screen Protectors for: Sony Cameras *Lifetime Guarantee* (Sony A7 Full Frame/A7R/A7S Crystal Clear Expert Shield)
Expert Shield - THE Screen Protectors for: Sony Cameras *Lifetime Guarantee* (Sony A7 Full Frame/A7R/A7S Crystal Clear Expert Shield)
Offered by Expert Shield
Price: £7.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Swings and roundabouts, 26 Feb. 2015
One of the nice features of the Sony A7S full-frame mirrorless camera is its high quality tilting rear LED display screen. Sadly, this display screen does not fully rotate out of the way when not in use and so is permanently exposed on the back of the camera, making it susceptible to greasing from handling and viewfinder usage, as well as everyday knocks and scuffs. It makes sense, therefore, to consider fitting some sort of protection to this screen, especially given the camera's hefty almost £2000 price tag.

The "Crystal Clear Expert Shield" offers what at first glimpse appears to be a fairly standard protective film approach. Upon opening the product, however, it is clear that production quality is a notch up on the usual cheap tablet and smartphone protective films, which invariably degrade screen visibility, either with their poor optical quality, or else with air pockets that invariably get trapped under them whilst they are being applied and which are them impossible to push out. The "Expert Shield" is high transparency and has a reflectivity that closely matches that of the A7S screen.

Fitting the "Expert Shield" is no easy matter, though, and it is worth reading and rereading the instructions carefully so that you are comfortable with what the operation entails before you start. Like all such films, it appears to attract any and all dust and tiny specks of dirt from miles around as soon as you peel away the backing sheet from the sticky surface, making it imperative that you not only wipe away all dust and grease from the screen itself before applying the shield but also choose a dust- and dirt-free work area for the fitting operation. I failed to do this on my first attempt and ended up with a ruined shield as a consequence. The manufacturers assured me that it should be perfectly possible to clean the product with some sticky tape but they kindly replaced it for me anyway, under their much-vaunted "Lifetime Warranty" policy -- for which the product definitely gets a bonus star!

I was more successful on my second attempt, but even though I thought I had been scrupulous in cleaning around the work area, I still managed to get one small speck of something on the sticky surface just as I was about to apply it to the screen. The recommended sticky tape trick did the job this time, though. As noted by another reviewer, however, the version supplied for the A7S seems just a tiny fraction of a millimetre too long for the camera screen and I therefore found it impossible to get all of the edges to sit perfectly flat. Squeezing the few bubbles that got trapped was, however, fairly straightforward.

I also found it tricky to persuade the final layer of protective film to come away without it simply lifting the Shield from the screen. Whether this was because the film was a less than perfect fit, or because it is actually too low a tack for the highly polished (and, I suspect, coated) screen of the Sony is hard to say. As a result, for the first few days that the Shield was in place, it was all too easy to catch it on things that lifted one corner and threatened to peel it off. After a while, however, it seemed to bed down somewhat and it no longer seems to be prone to this.

Optically, the Shield does not impair the Sony's superb screen quality to any significant degree, as long as you keep it clean. I do find, however, that it picks up finger and face grease even more readily than the screen does on its own, as well as being harder to clean except with the lint-free cloth supplied. The Sony screen always came up spotless for me with a wipe of any convenient cloth or tissue -- even a sleeve in extremis. Treat the Shield that way, though, and you will be left with a statically attracted layer of lint uniformly distributed across its surface!

I am still not sure whether or not to recommend the product. On the one hand, it is a comparatively small price to pay to protect a potentially vulnerable part of an expensive piece of kit and the company behind it are unparalleled in their commitment to customer satisfaction. On the other, it appears to necessitate a small but appreciable extra level of care to be applied to the cleaning of the screen to keep it looking its best. I am not sure if what is lost on the swings is, in fact, regained on the roundabout, in this case. Perhaps time will tell.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 27, 2015 12:10 PM GMT

AmazonBasics Bluetooth Stereo Headset with Microphone
AmazonBasics Bluetooth Stereo Headset with Microphone

4.0 out of 5 stars Good quality cordless stereo headphone solution, 26 Feb. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Amazon's own brand "AmazonBasics Bluetooth Stereo Headphones with microphone" is a reasonable pair of wireless headphones, offering lightweight and cord-free sound for any bluetooth sound device, such as smartphone, laptop computer, MP3 player, tablet or Kindle Fire HD. I tested them with both Android smartphone and Macbook computer. In both cases, bluetooth pairing was simple and rapid, although I did have problems with the Macbook periodically dropping the connection, even though I was always within a metre of it, although this may have had more to do with the ageing nature of my Macbook than any intrinsic fault in the 'phones; I didn't have the same problem when paired with the phone.

Music quality from iTunes on the laptop was reasonable but not stunning; clarity was good, without any noticeable gaps in frequency. Lovers of heavy bass may find the sound a little too lightweight for their taste; lovers of high volumes may find them disappointing too. Sound levels from the Samsung Galaxy smartphone was another matter altogether, however, with the phone well able to overdrive them, even on a very low volume setting.

Microphone quality is surprisingly good too, giving a clearer call than from the phone's built in microphone. One issue to be aware of, though, if using these for handsfree calling is that if you aren't actually wearing the headphones on your ears, but are simply wearing them around your neck, they quickly generate an horrendous feedback howl for the caller. While this may be a good way of dealing with nuisance callers, it's probably not a good way to keep your friends!

Once you've worked out how to wear them, the headphones are very comfortable as well as stable. Indeed, it's very easy to forget they're there. No pricing information was available at the time of writing, so it's hard to say whether or not these represent good value. They are certainly well worth having if you need a reasonable quality cordless stereo headphone solution.

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