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Steve Benner "Stonegnome" (Lancaster, UK)
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Philips GC7635/30 PerfectCare Pure Steam Generator Iron - One Perfect Temperature, 240 g Pressurised Steam Boost
Philips GC7635/30 PerfectCare Pure Steam Generator Iron - One Perfect Temperature, 240 g Pressurised Steam Boost
Price: £126.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real man's iron, 30 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The "Philips GC7635/30 PerfectCare Pure Steam Generator Iron" is a proper man's iron. Delivering steam at 5 Bar from a large water reservoir that hardly ever needs refilling, the iron nevertheless only weighs a little more than a kilo at the business end, so you can keep going with it for hours. There are also no fussy temperature controls to get wrong as the iron automatically adapts to the fabric being ironed, so you don't risk ruining the wife's favourite silk blouse if you accidentally iron it straight after doing cotton sheets. Of course, if you want to play with the big league boys and partake of some serious extreme ironing, you'll probably need to upgrade to the bigger 2.5l water tank of the "PerfectCare Aqua GC8638/20" or move up to the 6 Bar steam pressure of the "PerfectCare Expert GC9231/02". In the meantime, though, the "GC7635/30" is an ideal way to make your mark on the domestic laundry. Or rather, not to!


I'm Travelling Alone
I'm Travelling Alone
by Samuel Bjork
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun but adds nothing to the genre, 24 April 2015
This review is from: I'm Travelling Alone (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Samuel Bjųrk is the nom de plume of established Norwegian writer, Frųde Sander Ųien. "I'm Travelling Alone" is the English translation of his 2013 début publication under this name ("Det henger en engel alene i skogen").

This substantial length thriller is a solid and proficient piece of work, which pretty much ticks all the boxes for a successful crime story publication, both in book form and in screen adaptation -- apparently, UK TV rights have already been secured. It also supplies a tick in just about every box in the "I-Spy book of Serial-Killer Stories" and the "101 Essential Elements of Nordic Noir Handbook", too. From its convoluted and coincidence-riddled plot, involving an intricately prepared game of cat-and-mouse between killer and cops (and their more than healthy personal connection to the case) to the individual stereotypes with which it is lengthily populated, this book adheres faithfully to the long-established formula of TV against-the-clock serial-killer thrillers and most especially those from Scandinavia.

If you're looking for an exciting read where the pages almost turn themselves (but where you're never really called up to apply any thinking) then this could be the very thing you're after. If you're after a real puzzler of a crime novel, though, you'd be better off looking elsewhere -- I'd solved this one very early on just from the character-writing.

It is obvious almost from page one where this story will go and how it will turn out. You can confidently expect the good guys to make all of the standard silly mistakes that good guys always make to demonstrate to the world that they're only human after all. You can equally expect the cunning bad guys to be one step ahead of them all the way, even though we know they're nothing like as clever as the good guys really and that goodness will eventually prevail owing to the tenacity of our heroes. The only part in doubt is how much the good guys will need to suffer along the way before they gain the upper hand. But then, that is the ultimately point of such books, is it not?


Operation Napoleon (Reykjavik Murder Mysteries Book 7)
Operation Napoleon (Reykjavik Murder Mysteries Book 7)
Price: £3.95

4.0 out of 5 stars Oddball Icelandic thriller, 15 April 2015
In some ways, it is sad that this English translation (by Victoria Cribb) of the 1999 novel "Napóleonsskjölin" from the pen of Icelandic author, Arnaldur Indrišason, has been more than ten years in being made available. Most of its readers will probably already have read some, or indeed all, of the author's much better known and highly acclaimed "Reykjavik Murder Mystery" series, (eg "Jar City") all of which post-date this story. Buyers of "Operation Napoleon" should be under no illusions at all that this is anything other than an early example of Arnaldur's output -- it is, in fact, the oldest of his books to be made available in English -- and nowhere in it is the author's writing as honed or as subtly nuanced as is to be found in his later books. It does however display the author's characteristic minimalist style which makes for fast and easy reading.

The storytelling is also nowhere near as gentle or genial as is often to be found in the sedate police procedurals of the Erlendur stories. Instead, this is a fast, action-packed and, at times, quite shockingly violent thriller, which draws a strong contrast between the fair-minded, honourable and peaceable Icelanders and the collection of paranoid, egotistical sociopaths that characterise the popular view of the American military.

The book's subtext will undoubtedly have played well to an Icelandic audience in 1999, at a time when feelings in the country still ran high against the continuing presence of American forces on the island as the Iceland Defence Force, stationed at Mišnesheiši near Keflavík. These days, the story comes across as dated and somewhat too laden with Hollywood stereotypes for its own good.

All of this said, if you can look beyond the book's movie script veneer and suspend disbelief over its preposterous underlying premise, there remains much to enjoy here. The pacing is excellent, with tension controlled masterfully throughout. The characterisation -- and tenacity -- of the heroine, Kristín, as well as of those Icelanders we meet is superb. The underlying mystery is kept nicely under wraps, and the reader kept endlessly guessing, pretty much through to the very last words of the book. Even established Erlendur fans are catered for in a couple of sections of the book, too, even though it is not itself a "Reykavik Murder Mystery".

Overall, then, this is probably not a good introduction to the writings of this Icelandic author. It is unlike most of his other books, other than in its presentation of Icelandic outlooks with the subtext.

Fans of fast-paced Hollywood-style thrillers should love it.


We Are All Made of Molecules
We Are All Made of Molecules
by Susin Nielsen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars When worlds collide, 11 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"We Are All Made of Molecules" is the latest young adult novel from Canadian author, Susin Nielsen. The story is told from the alternating first person perspectives of Stewart (13) and Ashley (14). Stewart is academically brilliant but socially clueless; his mother has recently died of cancer. He has always wanted a sister. Ashley is the style-conscious fashionista who is more interested her place in the Social Ladder than she is in school grades. Ashley's parents are recently divorced, and she now lives with her mother, following her father's revelation that he was gay. Ashley has no interest in acquiring a brother. Which is unfortunate, because her mother and Stewart's father have decided that their new relationship has reached a stage where they should all move in together as a family. The resulting collision of worlds is as turbulent and hilarious as you might expect.

The author has crafted her characters' two disparate voices to perfection and skilfully pitches the level at an older reader but in a way that won't leave a younger reader floundering, making it a great read for anyone in their teens upwards. The story is both fun and laced with topical issues, making it excellent educational material as well as a cracking read for its own sake. Both teenagers are lovable albeit in very different ways and the book has a strong feel-good factor throughout, even though it may well make you cry as much as it makes you laugh. The story is cleverly constructed and, while the ending does feel a little contrived and some parts fairly predictable, these do not add up to any serious failing.

Recommended to anyone looking for something fun to read.


Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist's Guide to Britain
Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist's Guide to Britain
by David Crystal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

3.0 out of 5 stars Linguistically and historically erudite but geographically challenged., 11 April 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
David and Hilary Crystal are well-established authorities on the subject of English language history. There is barely any aspect of it upon which they have not already written at length, in detail and with great erudition. Their latest book, "Wordsmiths and Warriors", we are told, "explores the heritage of English through the places of Britain that shaped it. It unites the warriors, whose invasions transformed the language, with the poets, scholars, reformers, and others who helped create its character." We are also informed that the book is aimed at "the English-language tourist", interested in attaching some sense of place to otherwise dry historical landmarks in the rolling landscape of English as a living language.

Each of the book's 57 chapters are named for the geographical locations they feature and are copiously illustrated, mostly with photographs taken by Hilary Crystal herself during a tour undertaken by the couple in 2012. Each of the chapters also ends with a short summary of travel instructions to tell anyone wishing to follow in their footsteps how to get there. One could therefore be forgiven for thinking that this book is essentially a guidebook dedicated to tales of places. Sadly, it isn't. Or, at least, if it is, it serves poorly as one.

The first hint that the book isn't really a tourist's guidebook comes in its organisation. Chapters (and therefore locations) are ordered by the chronology of significant occurrence (or earliest significant occurrence for those few locations which have multiple claims to fame) rather than by region. One can understand the logic for this arrangement -- it allows the text to carry a coherent narrative thread of linguistic progression from one chapter to the next. It doesn't greatly assist with the putting together of any English-language tour of one's own, however. It also undermines the book's stated purpose of providing a sense of place, because the endless hopping around the country from chapter to chapter is utterly disorienting. In addition, the book is actually concerned with recounting details of the actions of people most of whom simply happened to be in the featured location at the time. This puts the spotlight of the book firmly on people not places; only rarely does the linguistic importance of these individuals derive from or even connect to their geographic location.

The book's second failure as a guidebook is its complete lack of maps other than a schematic spot-map of featured locations in the frontispiece. Directions for visiting the sites are given only as written instructions and largely assume that the visitor will be travelling by car. Any successful guidebook writer will tell you that this is a recipe for disaster. Written instructions are wide open to misinterpretation and misunderstanding, can go out of date quickly (but without this being obvious to the hapless soul trying to follow them) and inevitably fail to cover all of the bases ("so, how do I get there by bike from my campsite 7 miles away?") The authors have thought to provide some satellite navigation information to augment their words, but even here their choice is poor, by providing postcodes exclusively for the specifying of destination. Postcodes are comparatively wide area codes, prone to change without notice in some areas and mainly aimed at indicated location of mail delivery locations (houses and businesses). They are hopeless in many rural areas, especially in directing people to locations without postal addresses such as ruins, hilltops and monuments. Lat/long coordinates are usually to be preferred and I cannot understand why the authors didn't opt for these instead of postcodes, especially given the number of times that by their own admission their own satnav system led them astray when using them. And why, oh why, does each chapter not feature a map showing the location of the site in its local context?

As a test of how serious this particular short-coming of the book might actually be in reality, my wife and I decided to visit one of the locations described in the book -- Areley Kings, near Stourport-on-Severn, featured in Chapter 15. This interesting sounding location was entirely unfamiliar to us and didn't involve a long trip for us. We found that we came unstuck very quickly indeed, largely owing to the fact that there is something seriously awry with the use of the points of the compass in this chapter. The book describes the cliff which houses the caves of the Redstone Hermitage at Areley Kings as being "on the north bank of the River Severn" and we are told that "we had to walk along the north bank to see it clearly". Now, the River Severn flows roughly north to south throughout its length, although it is heading in a more or less south-easterly direction between Areley Kings and Stourport-on-Severn. We therefore had difficulty deciding what the "north bank" might be, given that the river is usually described as having west and east banks, rather than north and south. It seemed feasible, though, that someone standing on Stourport Bridge (where we were directed to begin our walk) might regard the bank at its north-eastern end as being the "north bank" of the river. Fortunately, we had the foresight to look up the location of the caves on an OS map (they don't appear on many other maps) before taking the footpath along this bank, for it would not have taken us to the caves whichever direction we'd followed it (the book offering no guidance on that particular choice.) The caves are to be found on the other bank -- the western one by most reckonings. The mistake here isn't down to a simple printing error, either; all of the authors' compass directions in this chapter are in error. It doesn't help either that the caves do not overlook the river, as the book says they do: the cliff lies at an angle to the flow of the river, on what actually used to be the south bank of the river at this point. Confused? We certainly were. I suppose it is too much to ask for language experts ever to accept that words sometimes do, in fact, suffer from limitations best overcome with a simple diagram but this must surely be a strong argument for the addition of maps should this book ever go to a second edition. In the meantime, I strongly recommend that anyone intending to visit any of the locations in this book equip themselves with appropriate maps before setting out.

As a guidebook to places, the book is also let down by the reproduction quality of the photographs that it contains. There is something of an apology for this in the book's introduction by the photographer herself, with David adding that it wasn't the fault of the photographer or her equipment but rather the poor quality of the British summer of 2012 that so many of them do not show locations at their best but instead fully capture the way things were when the couple visited. For me, this once again indicates that the book is not so much as a guidebook as a personal travelogue; a feeling brought more sharply into focus by the text itself which, whilst being hung on the framework of an exposition of place is constructed entirely as an historical survey of significant people. It is personalities that leap off these pages, rather than locations. The pictures then become nothing but a decorative wrapping and, I am sorry to say, technically poor ones at that.

As a time-line and survey of important men (only two women are featured in the whole book) who have made the English language what it is today, this book is probably without parallel. But as a guide to the locations associated with them and their endeavours, it falls very flat indeed. This may not be entirely the authors' fault; it may just be that physical location only rarely connects with linguistic achievement. In fact, if anything, I suspect that this book goes a long way towards making this very point.


Electricity
Electricity
Price: £3.77

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shocking and stunning-as!, 9 April 2015
This review is from: Electricity (Kindle Edition)
"Electricity" was Ray Robinson's 2007 début novel. It concerns 30-something Lily O'Connor who, having been separated from her dysfunctional family as a troubled teenager, suddenly finds her sequestered life is a sleepy northern-eastern seaside town disrupted by the death of her mother, which first throws her back into contact with one of her siblings and subsequently off in search of another. The book chronicles Lily's journey from the isolation of her north-eastern existence to the overwhelming metropolis of London in what starts as a search for someone else but which soon becomes a hunt for herself.

Lily's world, both as a child and later as an adult trying to make sense of the maelstrom of life in the capital, is very much one of squalor and brutality. This is as nothing, however, to the internal and debilitating horrors which Lily must face routinely in the form of epileptic seizures and hallucinations, which can hit her unpredictably, at any time of night or day, leaving her bruised, battered and with enormous holes in her memory. However big and scary the outside world might be, Lily knows that the most threatening thing in the world is her own brain; her outlook on life is clearly shaped by the daily terrors she faces in knowing that she can never escape or hide from the dangers of temporal lobe epilepsy.

The book's narrative is presented entirely in the first person from Lily's perspective, in a voice that is (as she herself might say) authentic-as. Lily is as beguiling as she is intimidating, both for her innocence and for her very lack of it. While at times she shows herself to be utterly naļve about some aspects of the world's workings, it is clear that she has experienced events in her life from which few people walk away unscathed. The book is not all grim, however, with the author repeatedly switching tragedy into comedy and back again in an almost effortless way. Almost all of the book is incredibly moving, though, with little emotional let-up throughout all of its 300-odd pages.

One of my reasons for reading the book was to see how far the 2015 film version (directed by Bryn Higgins and starring Agyness Deyn as Lily) strays from Ray Robinson's original story. In the film, various pat contrivances are used to keep the storyline moving forward and bring the film to an uplifting conclusion. I am happy to report that all of the oddities of the film are entirely the fault of the screen-writer, for none of them appear in the book at all.

Instead, the storyline in the book focuses purely on the occurrences which impact directly on Lily herself. While both book and film powerfully convey the confusion and frustration that Lily repeatedly experiences, both at the effects of her condition and of the inept and often insensitive handling of it that she has to endure at the hands on onlookers and medical professionals alike, the book manages to set these frustrations within a much wider framework. It concentrates very much on Lily as a person and her relationship with others. As a result, it offers a far more rewarding experience than does the film, for all that it is more shocking at times also. The book's ending is better too.

The book must surely win the award for one of the bravest ever written, as well as for being what is probably the most realistic portrait of a woman's attitude to the world ever to come from the pen of a man (so far as another man may judge such a thing!) There are times when this book is a less than easy read; for all that, it remains a hard book ever to put down. Highly recommended.


Airmax Anti Snoring Nasal Dilator
Airmax Anti Snoring Nasal Dilator
Price: £9.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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 Book 1
Those Above: The Empty Throne Book 1
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: £13.01

4 of 5 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, especially with its ending that deviates substantially from that of the book. 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 with Stainless Steel Soleplate 1,800 W - Green/White
Igenix IG3118 Steam Iron with Stainless Steel Soleplate 1,800 W - Green/White
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.


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