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Reviews Written by
P. M. Fernandez "exilefromgroggs" (London)
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Staedtler Triplus Fineliners 20 Assorted Colours With Magic Zip Pencil Case 334ZPC20 (Pencil case color may vary)
Staedtler Triplus Fineliners 20 Assorted Colours With Magic Zip Pencil Case 334ZPC20 (Pencil case color may vary)

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely pens, 22 Oct. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My daughter writes ... "After seeing these pens in a shop a couple of years ago, I was very tempted to get some, but was somewhat dissuaded by the price. However, this set is great value for money, the pencil case is made of a good-quality material, and very clever, and the pens are amazing! They are really pigmented even though the nib is only 0.3mm wide, and can be used for writing or colouring in. I use them for revision as there is plenty of range of colour, and my notes are much more colourful! The pens do not run out quickly, either; I've nearly filled a notebook using them and they've been fine. I love the pencil case, as it is big enough for extra essentials such as highlighters and pencils, so all you need is in one place. I'm very happy with them."


Claymation 2.0 (PC CD)
Claymation 2.0 (PC CD)

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A rewarding introduction to animation, 22 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Claymation 2.0 (PC CD) (CD-ROM)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
We've bounced all sorts of software applications round our computers in the past, but this one has possibly had the most substantial impact.

Designed for stop-frame animation (take a series of pictures quite similar, string them together, add audio etc), it enables such films to be put together in a straightforward and accessible way. My son (software-tester-in-chief), who had previously done a little animation of a model dalek with Windows MovieMaker and an add-on, animated some chocolate cars (the fruit of which can be seen at [...]). It takes patience and dedication - this constituted a couple of hours work - but is pretty effective.

However, having opened the can of worms that is video editing and production, my son rapidly became more absorbed by other possibilities, which led to the purchase of more general video editing software and may well lead to buying a new video camera, (or one that is more useful than the old DV one) and constructing new greenscreen equipment ... and doubtless to more YouTube videos.

This software is still particularly well-suited to producing animations, and would most likely continue to be used for this, even with more sophisticated general software. It's a very good starting place for somebody dipping their toes into the field of video creation.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 31, 2010 8:37 AM GMT


Zoo City
Zoo City
by Lauren Beukes
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic new world from a fine writer, 1 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Zoo City (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Having read Beukes' previous book, Moxyland, I was really pleased to have the opportunity to review this one. It didn't disappoint.

Beukes is South African, and cut her writing teeth (as it were) as a journalist. Her command of writing is evident - it is a gripping and subtle read. More significantly for a novel, it is a work of strong imagination - labelling is a little difficult: cyberpunk kind of covers it partly, but there's also some SF and fantasy/magic in there.

This is a world in which killing somebody results in you acquiring an animal "familiar" - think of Pullman's daemons in His Dark Materials Trilogy: Northern Lights, Subtle Knife, Amber Spyglass - which in turn leads to you being stigmatised in mainstream society. However, these bonds strengthen your ability to do "magic" - I think! The first person (there's only one in this book, after the disorientating four in Moxyland!), Zinzi, has a sloth as her familiar, and the circumstances in which she acquired the sloth are only gradually revealed. Her magical gift is the ability to find lost items - things of emotional significance to a person she senses as being connected to them through a psychic thread, which she can follow to locate them.

When a client dies before paying her, she takes on the task of trying to find a lost teen popstar ... and it hardly comes as a surprise that there is more to this case than meets the eye.

It is set against a backdrop of political asylum, urban decay and civil unrest within Africa. It is pretty violent, and yet, as far as I can tell, reasonable in its portrayal of society, as modified by the existential changes that follow from this SF/fantasy premise.

What else is good? It's the right length - around 350 pages! The book comes with extras - an offer for a tie-in CD, some short stories based on Moxyland, acknowledgements which filled in some background. It's interesting to see how the new media have changed the process of writing - Beukes was assisted by various people online and IRL along the way, which leads to interesting echoey depths to the book.

Two niggles. Firstly, the castlist is quite long, and made-up (as far as I know) terms were bandied liberally about, which I found somewhat disorientating. I probably need to read it again to make sure I've untangled everything. And secondly, the book is very "of the moment" - Lady Gaga, the South African World Cup and a new iPhone being typical reference points. The downside of the largescale absorption of things like this from the culture is that it's fairly likely that a good number of them will, within a couple of years, look dated. That will be a shame - the writing in Zoo City merits a good shelflife.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 2, 2010 8:39 AM BST


Mum's Family Calendar 2011
Mum's Family Calendar 2011
by Sandra Boynton
Edition: Calendar

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just what we need, 24 Sept. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
It's surprisingly challenging to find a calendar that is big enough to cope with five peoples' activities (legibly), fun, attractive and usable. We've used this calendar for the last three years - the 2011 one will be our fourth - and it does exactly what we need it to. Also it puts the most important person - mum! - in the first column. Unsurprisingly, this review looks pretty much like last year's one!!


Philips Imageo Colour Changing Tablelights
Philips Imageo Colour Changing Tablelights

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty, but ..., 24 Sept. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As objects, these are well-designed, aesthetic and practical. They charge by induction (ie without cords), using a base which itself is low-key. They feel reasonably rugged.

They don't create a huge amount of light. Conceptually, they are probably a substitute for tealights and holders - perhaps if you are bothered by the idea of naked flames on the table, these would be preferable. They do invite fiddling - but then, so do candles, and these are likely to be less messy.

I think they are probably also an option as nightlights in children's rooms - our daughter certainly expressed interest in having one in her room overnight - though in actual fact, she's past the stage where she really needs one.

However, since they don't create a great deal of illumination, two probably wouldn't be enough, except on a small table - and frankly, the light they create just doesn't have the same ambience as candlelight. I'm not sure whether their lines and shape qualifies them as being "minimalist" - or the fact that they represent more "stuff" in the house means that they are clutter. And as such, I really can't see them becoming a "must-have" accessory. Also (sorry, Philips) I think you could probably get a very similar thing - albeit perhaps not so well designed - from a Chinese supplier for about a sixth of the price.


Lego Creator 5893 Offroad Power
Lego Creator 5893 Offroad Power
Offered by toys2day-de
Price: £79.98

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We love lego, 20 Sept. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Lego has changed so much, even in the time that it has taken my children to reach their teenage years. When we were first buying it, Duplo and Technic were the main branches off the Lego treetrunk. In the last 15 years or so, we have seen a proliferation of Lego "themes" and tie-ins with films, with accompanying digital media. They have been uniformly high quality, well-packaged and enjoyable to work with, and the sets have probably led to the most imaginative and collaborative play for the children. I would rate Lego and Playmobil as being my favourite children's play systems.

This set represents Lego more as I remember it from the pre-Lego-Star-Wars era. It is a large set, and comes with instructions for three different models - a bit like a stripped-down Lego Technic, or even a Meccano set. There are lots of "bits that go" - my children worked together to produce the most complex model, which had a winch that retracted with the press of a button, and working doors, steering and suspension. It absorbed their attention together in a way that few other games or media do, and resulted in a satisfactory creation at the end of it. There is an educational aspect - the toy is structured in a way that relates to how real vehicles are structured, and the children build solutions to problems like how to get a steering wheel to steer a car. The eventual toy has some use for imaginative play, or can of course be dismantled and remade into something else.

A couple of brief comments. Firstly, Lego is pricey. For this you get quality - but Lego isn't the sort of stuff that you can generally buy significant amounts with on pocket money. Secondly, the target age range for this kit is 9-12. I think it would be quite taxing for a 9-10 year old to work on by him or herself. Finally, there is the proliferation of assembly instructions ...! Over the years, we have acquired quite a few Lego kits of one sort and another, and the assembly instructions tend to disappear. Perhaps there's space for Kindle versions, that you can download at a later stage. The risk can be that you end up with a large pile of bricks and only a vague idea of what they should look like assembled - and once you work on storing all your Lego together, it only gets worse! Anyway, caveat emptor, and all that - but it hasn't really put us off at all!


Words Rock Version 2
Words Rock Version 2

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well intentioned, 26 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Words Rock Version 2 (CD-ROM)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
We're heading out of "educational software" territory now, and over the course of the years, we've spent a fair amount of time and money on software that we hoped would make our children into prodigies in one area or another. To be honest, they just don't work that well.

The trouble is there are two objectives that are pretty difficult to reconcile. The first is education - passing on a body of information to a (usually reluctant) student. The second is entertainment - providing a distracting activity that ... well, put simply, doesn't feel like education. When presented like that, it's fairly easy to see that it is a bit of a hiding to nothing to try and write entertaining educational software.

My son (13) installed and ran this package, which is targeted at 5-15 year olds (KS1-3). His reaction to it was that he thought the gameplay was unlikely to hold the attention of people outside the age range of 5-10. It claims a wide variety of tasks, but he said he felt they were fundamentally repetitive. My younger daughter (9) said that she didn't find it terribly interesting, either.

Sorry, it feels bad to write off a whole category of well-intentioned endeavour, but there you go!


Chemistry: Getting a Big Reaction! (Basher)
Chemistry: Getting a Big Reaction! (Basher)
by Simon Basher
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun, if a little contrived, 17 July 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
We have one of these books for the elements. To be honest, the concept works more naturally for a subset of the elements than it does for "chemistry" in general - including such abstract ideas as pH, Activation Energy and Reactivity Series.

In broad terms, different ideas from the subject are portrayed as cartoony characters, with their traits described in accessible terms. This is to get across key ideas from the subject, though as I've said already, it's not easy to anthropomorphise many of them. The collection of characters together gives some idea of the scope of the subject, which is good, and the description of the characters does help to open the subject up. The additional "bitesize" facts at the bottom of each page add interesting trivia.

The "poster" is uninspiring - a folded-up A4 sheet with some of the characters from the book on it.

I don't think that this book is likely to change lives - it won't hold the attention of the average child for much more than half an hour, I fear - but it is possibly of more value as a book for all the family, children and adults, which helps to show that there is quite a lot to chemistry.


A Web of Air (Mortal Engines)
A Web of Air (Mortal Engines)
by Philip Reeve
Edition: Paperback

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but not great, 16 July 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Sometimes you read a book from a series, and want to go and beg, steal or borrow the rest of the series to find out all the rest of what happens. There are no shortage of children's books that fit that category, both from when I was growing up (Swallows and Amazons) and also since I became an adult (Stormbreaker (Alex Rider 1), Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Book 1)). But this book wasn't one of them.

There is much to commend. Reeve's universe is well-put-together and coherent, and sufficiently subtle to be one of the things that would encourage me to read more. The story is interesting and pacey. The characters are complex enough for the target readership. It is science fiction, and not too many liberties are taken with the science.

However, it seems somewhat derivative - I felt that there were too many echoes of Pullman's "His Dark Materials" world. The prose didn't seem natural to me. I was worried early on that the book was going to become an introduction to alliteration.

More fundamental were the issues that I had with the philosophy of the book. Reeve seems intent to present a kind of Dawkinsian view of religion - it is all stupid, misguided, manipulative, and belief in God/fate/horoscopes amounts to much the same sort of thing and is self-deception - and science - it is the most important thing, by definition. And although it seems unlikely, Reeve presents an even less satisfying view of what it means to be human than Dawkins himself. At least Dawkins allows himself to be inspired by the beauty of science. Fever Crumb, the heroine of the books, aspires to a Jedi- or Vulcan-like devotion to rationalism. She is prepared to forsake almost all human relationships, apparently, for the sake of being "rational" and pursuing "science". Art and beauty have no value; emotional expression has no real value for her.

It may be the case that in later books, Fever Crumb grows up, and learns to be more human. But this is apparently book six in the series - that's something over 1500 pages in which the readers will have had pounded into them that the highest good for a human is to be rationalistic, and to forego human emotions. This fundamentally undermines the ability for Fever Crumb to be a satisfying heroine, and the thought of the books prior to this one in the series having the same deeply flawed message about what it means to be human is what would most discourage me from reading them.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 30, 2012 2:02 PM BST


Meanwhile: Pick Any Path. 3,856 Story Possibilities (Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens)
Meanwhile: Pick Any Path. 3,856 Story Possibilities (Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens)
by Jason Shiga
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ... in an alternate reality ..., 29 May 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I enjoyed this - and indeed, still am enjoying it.

Conceptually, it's a graphic novel version of those "pick your own adventure books", where you decide what the protagonist does at certain junctures, and this determines what happens next - and ultimately, the outcome of the book. Or possibly, it's like a role playing game with no dungeon master. Straightforward enough, although unusual for such a diversity of options to be presented in one fairly slim volume. It goes further than that - for the most part, "pick your own adventure" books behave in a fairly deterministic manner - there tends to be a fairly obvious karma-like / action-reaction-like pattern of behaviour. In this story, the narrative apparently diverges from time to time on the outcome of the toss of a coin. Philosophically, the story is trying to take us out of the realm of fate, justice and consequence, into the universe/multiverse of modern science.

Shiga's book itself has an iconic identity - its own specific style - both from the point of view of the images and also the navigation. It is fairly easy to follow. An odd process takes place. It isn't so much that each time I read it, I find a new story with its own narrative and ending, but each time I read it, my understanding of the potentiality of the story as a whole increases. The story itself (or an individual strand of the whole thing) isn't long, and yet it feels like quite a rich and deep book.

This is a fascinating book, and I've not exhausted it yet.


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