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Steve Benner "Stonegnome" (Lancaster, UK)
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Igenix Liteway LW0538 Bayonet Cap Energy Saving LED GLS Lamp 6 W
Igenix Liteway LW0538 Bayonet Cap Energy Saving LED GLS Lamp 6 W
Offered by BestBuyUk
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars At last!, 24 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
At long last, with the "Liteway 6W BC GLS LED" bulb the world finally has a decent low-energy alternative to the old-fashioned incandescent bulb of yesteryear. At 500 lumen, this 6W version is closer to being a 60W equivalent than the 40W stated in the packaging. Being LED, the bulb attains full brightness from switch-on, with no warm-up time unlike the the more common Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) type of bulb. The "Liteway" should have a much longer operational life than CFL bulbs, too -- the manufacturers offer a 3 year warranty -- so should work out even cheaper to run over its lifetime too.

Unlike many LED lights, which produce a harsh light and are dangerously bright to look at directly, the coating on this bulb generates a nice, warm and softly diffused light that is hard to distinguish from that of a conventional filament bulb. Indeed, I did a direct comparison with one of the last few 60W filament bulbs that remains functional in my house and found it hard to tell the two apart.

I haven't checked the spectral quality of the light, but it feels to be close to traditional tungsten full-spectrum light rather than bathing everything in the dreadful green cast of CFL or the harsh blue of raw LEDs. Anyone who hates modern lighting and yearns for the comfort of more traditional indoor lighting would do well to give these bulbs a try.


A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding
A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding
by Jackie Copleton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

5.0 out of 5 stars Toward a mutual understanding, 21 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Jackie Copleton's debut novel, "A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding", is an elegantly constructed and powerfully emotional exploration of familial ties, love, loss, grief, guilt and forgiveness centred on Nagasaki and the aftermath -- both immediate and long-term -- of the American A-bomb attack on that Japanese city on 9th August 1945. The story's present day is 1984 or thereabouts. The tale is recounted by an old woman, Amaterasu Takahashi, herself a hibashku (survivor of the bombing) who believes she lost both her daughter and grandson in the attack. Together with her now deceased husband, Amaterasu left Japan shortly after the war to build a new life in the USA and has not been back since. When a man knocks on her door one day claiming to be her long-lost grandson, old wounds are opened afresh, as Amaterasu is forced to look back at family events leading up to the fateful day of pikadon ('flash - bang') and to wonder anew if she herself might, in fact, have been the reason her daughter was killed that day.

The story unfolds gradually and enticingly, with the author providing progressively more things for the reader to wonder about as the book proceeds. The tale is recounted principally in Amaterasu's voice but also through the added device of interlaced diary entries and letters to fill in gaps from the perspective of others. The writing is evocative and engaging throughout, most especially at the personal level of Amaterasu's own feelings of guilt, the reasons for which emerge only gradually, albeit with few real surprises along the way. The tale is no less intriguing for all that much of it can be guessed at along the way, while the horrors of pikadon are raw and agonisingly portrayed but without ever dominating or unbalancing the narrative. The use at the head of every chapter of cleverly selected quotations from "An English dictionary of Japanese culture", (published in 1986 and edited by Bates Hoffer and Nobuyuki Honna) also serve to polish the authentic Japanese patina with which the author imbues her story.

Highly recommended.


Brief History of Iceland
Brief History of Iceland
by Gunnar Karlsson
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Whistle-stop tour of the Icelandic past, 18 July 2015
"A Brief History of Iceland", by Gunnar Karlsson, professor of history at the University of Iceland, was originally published in 2000 (in Icelandic) as a collection of some 30+ double-spread chapters which provide a concise, if shallow, synopsis of the main social, political and economic events in the history of this island nation from its earliest colonisation in the late ninth century to the turn of the second millennium of the Christian Era. The English translation is by Anna Yates has a few oddities -- it appears to be pitched largely for a British readership and yet slips occasionally into US-oriented phraseology and terminology (using "sidewalk" rather than "pavement", for instance) which is odd but never disturbing.

This revised second edition extends the original publication with a new chapter covering the banking collapse of 2010, as well as additional material in the chapter on 'Liberated Women' to include the election of Jóhanna Siguršardóttir as Iceland's first female Prime Minister in February 2009.

The book is comprehensive without becoming too detailed or complex (although, oddly perhaps, no mention is made anywhere of Iceland's history of tolerance of and support for gay rights, nor of it having the distinction of having had the world's first openly lesbian head of government.) As an academic historian, the author steers well clear of most Icelanders' tendency to over romanticise -- or even fictionalise -- events in its history but manages to keep the tone pitched perfectly for a general, novice audience. As a result, the book is provides an ideal overview of the full span of Icelandic history and would make either an excellent introduction to more detailed study, or else provide the interested tourist with a basic understanding of how this island nation became what it is today. Given the current speed of change in Iceland, however, it will may soon be in need of yet further expansion and revision.


Fern Verrow: Recipes from the Farm Kitchen
Fern Verrow: Recipes from the Farm Kitchen
by Harry Astley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Biodynamic foodie goodness, 15 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The book, "Fern Verrow", takes its title from the name of the Herefordshire farm run by biodynamic growers, Jane Scotter and Harry Astley, and from which they supply high quality seasonal produce all year round via their weekly market stall at Spa Terminus, Bermondsey. This book is essentially a collection of recipes, arranged seasonally, and peppered here and there with element-based spiritualistic asides, elaborating upon and espousing the benefits of the biodynamic approach to growing and farming which the authors practice.

Before acquiring Fern Verrow and turning their hand to farming, Jane Scotter and Harry Astley both trained as Cordon Bleu chefs; this background shines through almost all of the recipes, which offer a somewhat anachronistic blend of haute cuisine prissiness with biodynamic-inspired appreciation and humility. As a result, you'll find recipes such as 'fresh peas and baby carrots' (which is pretty much exactly what it sounds to be -- a simple side dish, but presented with the potential of being a complete meal) rubbing shoulders with complex dishes such as 'summer vegetable lasagne', which requires several hours to make and looks like it would feed an army! Sadly, there is no indication of likely preparation or cooking times in any of the recipe summaries, so no easy, at-a-glance way to distinguish quick dishes from mammoth baking sessions.

The book features a wide range of dish types as well a high proportion of unusual dishes which very much lift it out of the ordinary run-of-the-mill farmhouse recipe book category. A couple of these recipes may need some hunting around for a specialist food shop to source ingredients, while several -- such as nettle soup, elderflower cake, wildflower and hedgerow salad, and wild garlic mayonnaise -- will require some foraging in local hedgerows, or down at the bottom of the garden, possibly with a botanical key in hand. All of the recipes are presented in enticing ways, though, so you'll probably be eager to try them out, and won't mind in the slightest.

The book does not represent itself in any way as a vegetarian cookbook (nor is it one) but for the record, vegetarians will find much to like here (provided that photographs of dead or cooked animals don't offend). A very high proportion of the recipes are meat-free, or could easily be adapted to be so.

Production standards for the book are very high; the prose is well written and very readable, and there are copious full-page photographs which make it a joy to browse. On a purely practical note, though, I found it a bit too big and heavy for convenient use at the stove, as opposed to simply reading it. Maybe I need a farmhouse kitchen to put around it?


Oblivion (Reykjavik Murder Mysteries 11)
Oblivion (Reykjavik Murder Mysteries 11)
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Dramatic and exciting -- something of a change for Erlendur!, 14 July 2015
"Oblivion" is the third of Arnaldur Indrišason's 'Reykjavík Murder Mystery' prequel stories, although sadly only the second to make it into English translation. Originally published in 2014 under the title 'Kamp Knox', this excellent translation (by Victoria Cribb) has appeared in pretty short order.

Set in 1979, "Oblivion" features a young Detective Erlendur, newly appointed to Reykavík's CID, after his activities in the earlier volume, "Reykjavík Nights". Officially, therefore, the book is regarded as the eleventh in the 'Reykjavík Murder Mysteries' series, as far as English-language readers are concerned.

In this volume, Erlendur and his senior partner, Marion Briem, are in pursuit of the murderer of an Icelandic aircraft mechanic whose body has been found dumped in the heating plant waste-water lake near Svartsengi -- a setting which readers familiar with Iceland may recognise as the forerunner of the modern day tourist attraction of Bláa Lóniš (Blue Lagoon). At the same time, Erlendur continues to pursue his own particular obsession with mysteries of disappeared persons -- in this case, of a young woman who disappeared inexplicably on her way to college almost 25 years earlier.

Intertwined with both cases are connections to the American Air Force presence on the island as the Iceland Defense Force at NASKEF (Naval Air Station Keflavik), which allows the author scope for exploring the tensions of that particular arrangement. There are faint echoes here of some aspects of this author's early story, "Operation Napoleon", although, thankfully, no trace of that book's more preposterous elements. The story also features long-gone aspects of Reykjavík, such as the former prefab Quonset and Nissen hut barracks in Reykjavík, which in the immediate post-war years was turned into slum housing for Icelanders, becoming colloquially known as Camp Knox.

The story is much less of a police procedural than others in this series and is by far the fastest moving as well as most dramatic and exciting. The writing is top-notch, with the story-line kept taut, delivering cleverly played suspense in all the right places -- the quality of these stories really is improving with each new book. Long-term readers eager for more information (or confirmation of their suspicions) regarding the gender of Marion Briem will find lots of tantalising clues but little by way of concrete indication either way!

For those who have read the other Erlendur stories, this latest volume provides an excellent addition to the series. It really does call out for the earlier "The Match" to be made available in English, too -- let's hope that this happens some day soon.


Coffee (PRS - Polity Resources series)
Coffee (PRS - Polity Resources series)
by Gavin Fridell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars In support of coffee statecraft, 9 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Gavin Fridell is Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair of International Development at Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Nova Scotia. His book, "Coffee", is a thorough examination of the economic history of coffee production through the ages, which spells out clearly the social injustices which have become endemic to it. In looking at the current state of coffee trading worldwide, the author delivers a scathing indictment of the rise of neoliberal free trade, highlighting the hardships that are being created for millions of small coffee growers in some of the world's poorest countries whilst a handful of the world's richest multinational corporations cash in on ever growing profits for themselves. It also exposes the hypocrisy of international coffee chains like Starbucks who purport to support fair trade but instead work to capitalise on ethical consumerism by subverting "fair trade" to a mere brand choice whilst simultaneously watering down the benefits that such initiatives are able to deliver to those so desperately in need of them.

The author argues passionately and at length (almost at too much length -- certainly with too much repetition) for the reinstatement of some form of coffee market regulation along the lines of the former International Coffee Agreement (ICA) to stabilise prices, eliminate speculative investment in coffee futures and so buffer coffee producers from the inherent uncertainties of coffee bean production. He demonstrates (again repeatedly and at length) the role that 'coffee statecraft', as he terms it -- i.e. state intervention in, support for and manipulation of the coffee markets -- has continued to play since the abolition of the ICA, both in providing a buffer as well as in some cases actually being responsible for some of the "boom and bust" roller-coaster that is the global coffee market. He highlights the great benefits that are to be derived from coffee producing nations exercising such coffee statecraft sensibly to the benefit of the poorer producers, and argues for it to be central in bringing about much needed stability to the coffee market. This is especially necessary now in the current climate of a grossly uneven "free market", with a growing need to combat the ridiculous notion of consumer sovereignty upon which multinational capitalist hegemony is built.

The book is not a terribly easy read for non-specialists, although the author does his best to make much of the material accessible to the lay reader. My principal gripe is that although the main text of six chapters runs to just short of 150 pages (there are another 30 of notes, further reading and index) it nevertheless contains a lot of repetition. After reading the whole book I felt I had heard many of the author's main points at least three times, and in some cases even more. But perhaps that is what is needed to make the world's coffee consumers sit up and take notice?


Tigerman
Tigerman
Price: £5.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Made of win; onehunnerten pro cent thirteen thirty-seven, 7 July 2015
This review is from: Tigerman (Kindle Edition)
Nick Harkaway's third novel, "Tigerman", concerns itself with the remains of British colonialism in the age of global corporate neoliberalism, fatherhood (and the effects of its absence upon middle aged men), industrial contamination on the grand scale, mutant tomato plants, the stark vulnerability and expendability of the humble foot soldier, offshoring writ large (albeit in invisible ink) and the dire need we have for comic book superheroes in the world today. Readers of this author's earlier books, "The Gone-Away World" and "Angelmaker", will recognise the incongruous mix of ingredients from which he somehow conjures a distinctive and delectable brand of fantasy, which, through its very concoctedness, brings the reality of the true world more sharply into focus.

The quality of Harkaway's writing seems to improve with each new book. In this latest, it is simultaneously more relaxed and more taut than before, the author allowing more time in the narrative for outrageous asides that bizarrely heighten tension by seemingly deflating it at peak moments but never overplaying things or slowing the plot. The book is not entirely without its glitches -- a couple of loose threads here and there; a somewhat ragged and rushed ending -- but what few there are are generally minor, easily forgiven and do not warrant the withholding of any stars from the overall rating.

The book will not be to everyone's taste, but if you're looking for something that scores a full eleven on the weirdness scale and clocks in at onehunnerten pro cent leet on the awesomeness scale of win, this is definitely the book for you. And even if you don't think you are looking for such a thing, the book may still be worth a try because often you don't know what a good thing looks like until it smacks you in the face.


Ashes to Dust: Thora Gudmundsdottir Book 3
Ashes to Dust: Thora Gudmundsdottir Book 3
by Yrsa Sigurdardottir
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Formulaic, simplistic and far-fetched Nordic whodunnit, 5 July 2015
"Ashes to Dust" is the third of Yrsa Siguršardóttir's 'Thóra Gudmundsdóttir murder mysteries'. The original was first published in Icelandic simply as "Aska (Ash)" in 2007. This edition has been translated into excellent idiomatic English by Philip Roughton and first appeared in 2010.

Anyone who has read either of the forerunners to the book will know exactly what to expect here, for the author does not deviate from her earlier formulaic approach to mystery-writing aimed mostly, I suspect, at a female audience. As with the earlier books, there is a fair amount of "tourist Iceland" in the locations chosen for the story -- in this case in the form of the Westman Isles (both its annual rock music festival and its historical Eldfell eruption on Heimaey in 1973) -- as well as mundane home life intrusions for the protagonist, presumably to help the reader relate to the character. These latter elements continue storylines from the earlier "Last Rituals" and "My Soul to Take" but with the love interest element pruned back to a bare minimum (no pun intended). The end product is a somewhat forced and overly fanciful storyline, which is nevertheless firmly grounded in the everyday and mundane, producing a dissonance in the narrative which will probably infuriate more readers than find it endearing.

Overall, the book is too formulaic, as well as simultaneously too simplistic and too far-fetched to be of much value to lovers of complex mystery tales. Things are made worse by the central "mystery" and the consequent solution to the murders being blindingly obvious to all but the dimmest of readers from very early on and yet spun out in the narrative until almost the end in some very poorly judged pacing of the plot. The book is light-hearted enough to be entertaining for those not worried about its lack of intellectual challenge but ultimately it has to be said that there are many much better murder mysteries -- even Icelandic ones -- out there.

2.5 stars, really.


How Music Got Free: What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime?
How Music Got Free: What happens when an entire generation commits the same crime?
by Stephen Witt
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

5.0 out of 5 stars A great factual whodunnit!, 4 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Stephen Witte's account of the rise of MP3 and online music piracy and its effect on the commercial music industry is an absolutely fascinating read. "How Music Got Free" is written very much in style of a detective novel, with each chapter ending on something of a cliffhanger. The author has not only undertaken an unparalleled amount of research, he has also done an excellent job of presenting a potentially dry and dusty topic in an engaging and entertaining manner. The book is essential reading for anyone wanting an understanding of how the marketing of music in particular and attitudes to intellectual property rights in general have each shifted under the influence of the internet and the rise of generation for whom piracy is the norm.

Highly recommended.


The Breath Co Fresh Breath Dry Mouth Lozenges - Mandarin Mint, 72 Pieces
The Breath Co Fresh Breath Dry Mouth Lozenges - Mandarin Mint, 72 Pieces
Price: £8.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Meh!, 4 July 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"The Breath Co Fresh Breath Dry Mouth Lozenges" are very strange things indeed. In the mouth they appear as a cross between an indigestion tablet and a piece of vaguely orange scented chewing gum. They do produce a lot of saliva and they probably freshen the breath (hard for me to judge on myself) but the cost is a very sour taste in the mouth and a queazy feeling in the stomach. Not for me, I'm afraid; your mileage may vary.


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