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C. Green "happily low brow" (Quenington, Glos, UK)

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Mr Beams MB702 Wireless Motion-Sensing Mini Stick-Anywhere LED Night Lights, White
Mr Beams MB702 Wireless Motion-Sensing Mini Stick-Anywhere LED Night Lights, White
Price: £19.70

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Small But Bright Enough and Reliable, 24 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As the last person to go to bed in our house on most nights, I usually end up stumbling around in the dark, not wanting to turn on bright overhead lights for fear of disturbing sleeping children. With the Mr Beams MB702's however, such nocturnal stumblings are done away with. One of these small units at the bottom of the stairs automatically lights my way up, preventing me from tripping over discarded toys, without creating enough illumination to disturb anyone else. Then it switches itself off until someone else has a need to head downstairs in the middle of the night and half asleep to get a glass of water or similar. In the morning it can be picked up an put away somewhere its motion detector will not be set-off until its need the following evening.

As such its an incredibly useful little light. Its small enough to disappear into the background, but bright enough to illuminate an entire stairwell sufficiently to see where you're going. The motion detector is reliable and just about sensitive enough, and its also light sensitive so it doesn't come on if left out in daylight or with overhead lights on.

The only downsides are that for such a small unit it takes a significant quantity of batteries (x4 AAA), and the build quality is definitely on the cheap side. In the two units I was sent I had to work quite hard to get the batteries to fit into their compartment, and the plastic cases don't feel terribly robust. How durable these lights are remains to be seen.

Also, and this is a word of warning rather than a criticism, there is no off-switch on these lights, so if you're intending to fix them permanently in place be prepared for them to come on in low light conditions even if you don't want/need them to. The only way to switch them off is to remove the batteries, which isn't the greatest solution.

Otherwise they offer a low cost alternative to always-on plug in night lights, and are a great way to avoid the pain of standing on a Lego brick in bare feet in the dark.

Mr Beams Outdoor Wireless Motion Sensor Activated 80-Lumen Led Path Lights with Ground Stakes, Set of 2
Mr Beams Outdoor Wireless Motion Sensor Activated 80-Lumen Led Path Lights with Ground Stakes, Set of 2
Price: £39.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly Decent Battery Powered Path Lights, But Nothing To Get Excited About, 17 Mar. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I very much would like to give 'Mr Beams Outdoor Wireless Motion Sensor Activated 80-Lumen Led Path Lights with Ground Stakes' a four star rating, because they seem like decent enough outdoor lights. However, with the best will in the world I can only give them three stars simply because they're 'okay', rather than great. They do what they're meant to do, which is provide automatic, ground level, outdoor lighting and that's it. The build quality is 'okay'. The packaging is 'okay'. The sensitivity of the motion detector is 'okay'. They look 'okay'. They provide a decent amount of light over a reasonably wide area. They're easy to set up. Nothing about them however, is 'great' or made me really like them. If you're looking for a set of outdoor lights to illuminate a pathway and don't want to have to run a shielded power cable or suffer the poor luminescence of solar lighting, these will do the job in a perfectly adequate fashion. Beyond that I am struggling to find anything more positive to say about them.

Although I will offer a few more practical observations:
1. These are deigned to illuminate paths. The light is deliberately angled downwards in one direction and this cannot be adjusted. If you're looking to illuminate a very wide area these are not the right lights for you.
2. Each light takes four batteries, which are easy enough to fit but will eventually run out. I can't say at this stage how long they will last because I haven't used the lights for more than a few days, but if you don't fancy having to keep plenty of spare batteries around just in case and having to replace them periodically these are not the lights for you.
3. The motion detectors are reasonably sensitive and have a pretty decent range on them, which means the lights will often come on even if you don't want them to. There is no way to adjust the range, sensitivity or direction of the motion detectors, or to override them, so you may want to think twice about whether you want lights over which you have no control once they're installed.

Foxglove Summer (PC Peter Grant Book Book 5)
Foxglove Summer (PC Peter Grant Book Book 5)
Price: £5.99

3.0 out of 5 stars A Trip To The Country That Goes Somewhat Awry, 16 Mar. 2015
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Definitely the weakest instalment in the Peter Grant series, Foxglove Summer suffers from the shift out of London, which had been a both character in its own right and one of the strengths of the previous novels. By contrast the Herefordshire setting of this latest novel just doesn't work as well or have the same strong sense of place and atmosphere to it. As a rural resident with some familiarity with the part of the world where the book is set I can say that Ben Aaronovitch doesn't quite pin down the countryside setting with the same accuracy that he brings to the capital. It feels too much like an outsiders concept of what modern rural life is probably like that has been informed more by their own prejudices than first-hand experience; a bit like JK Rowling's the Casual Vacancy but without the overt left-wing agit-prop.

The story too, doesn't feel as solidly conceived or executed as previous novels. It meanders a little too much in the early stages, with Grant too much of an observer for too long when you know that, inevitably, he will be thrust centre stage at some point. There are also too many blind alleys and subplots that are set up and then taken nowhere, such as Nightingale's former colleague from the Folly and his somewhat mysterious 'grand daughter'.

As for the ending, it is abrupt to say the least. Were we expecting to return to the same setting and characters in the next novel this would not necessarily be a problem, but as this very much has the feel of a one-off adventure the lack of closure for most of the incidental characters and subplots feels unsatisfactory.

Overall this feels like filler intended to keep the series ticking over. Its not a terrible effort or a complete loss of form. Aaronovitch's writing style remains immensely accessible, and Grant remains a likeable lead character. However, you just know that the author can deliver far better when the story and his characters remain within the boundaries of the M25.

Motorola Moto 360 Stainless Steel Smartwatch and Heart Rate/Activity Tracker with Bluetooth Connectivity Compatible with Android 4.3+ Smartphones - Dark Steel/Black Leather Strap
Motorola Moto 360 Stainless Steel Smartwatch and Heart Rate/Activity Tracker with Bluetooth Connectivity Compatible with Android 4.3+ Smartphones - Dark Steel/Black Leather Strap
Price: £176.29

4.0 out of 5 stars A Thing of Beauty and Quality (And Quite Smart Too), 16 Feb. 2015
A couple of years ago, on a whim, I purchased a Sony Smartwatch II, and for a while I enjoyed the novelty of wearing it, but after four or five months I began drifting back to wearing my old, analogue watch more-often-than-not and in the end the Smartwatch II joined the growing pile of old mobile phones and other obsolete tech in a drawer somewhere. It wasn't that I hated the Smartwatch or that it didn't work as advertised; it's simply that I didn't find it indispensable enough to get past its boxy looks, the constant need for recharging and the sometimes iffy performance when it came to maintaining the link to my phone.

Now to be honest I don't find the Moto 360 indispensable either. Yes, sometimes it's nice to be able to glance at your wrist to see who has emailed you or sent you a text without digging out your phone from a bag or under a pile of papers in another room, but having previously had a smart watch and then stopped using it I know I can happily live without such conveniences.

However, despite this I know that I will continue to use the Moto 360 for a long time to come for two simple reasons; it is a thing of both quality and beauty. Facts I realised almost immediately the first time I picked a display unit up in a store in the US during some idle browsing and why I purchased one about ten minutes later.

Whereas the SWII looked and felt like a digital watch circa-1983, sported an ugly rubbed cover over the micro-USB port used to charge it, and boasted indifferent build quality (the black enamelling the metal strap that my SWII came with began to rub off after about a month), the Moto 360 looks like a classic watch but also feels like a high quality product where due care and attention has been paid to the design.

The version that I own, which is actually the Steel model, feels and is solid*. The seals between the back, side and front plates are so tight and flush as to be almost invisible. The crown, when pushed, provides a hint of mechanical resistance that is reassuring. The screen, which apart from the narrow case around it and a small black band at the bottom occupies almost the entire face of the watch, is crystal clear and hard wearing (after one month of continuous wear not even a hint of a scratch or blemish). Add in the wireless charging dock that not only makes charging easy (no fiddly and ugly rubber caps over mini-USB ports to ruin the look of the Moto360) but also more practical by turning the watch into a desk or bedside clock when off your wrist, and you have a device that has been designed to be as robust and user friendly as possible.

Moreover, with its bevelled edges and minimalist design the Moto360 has a tactile quality that just makes you want to stroke it but is also subtle enough to not stand out on your wrist as an obvious piece of technology. When I wore the SWII, with its angular design, people were always asking whether it was a smartwatch. With the Moto360 I have only been asked twice, and in both cases it was when I glanced at it to check an incoming messages.

The bottom line is that I love the Moto360 because it is a beautifully designed and built watch. The fact that it is also a smartwatch, and it is pretty good in that department too, is an undeniable bonus but for me almost a secondary consideration.

*Having played around with the Dark Chrome version in-store I can testify that it looks and feels equally well built. My choice of the Steel finish was entirely on aesthetic grounds.

TP-LINK TL-WPA4220 AV500 Powerline 300M Wi-Fi Extender/Wi-Fi Booster/Hotspot with Two Ethernet Ports (Easy Configuration, Wi-Fi Clone for Smartphone/Tablets/Laptop)
TP-LINK TL-WPA4220 AV500 Powerline 300M Wi-Fi Extender/Wi-Fi Booster/Hotspot with Two Ethernet Ports (Easy Configuration, Wi-Fi Clone for Smartphone/Tablets/Laptop)
Price: £32.98

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not Compatible With Chromecast, 16 Feb. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I am giving TP-LINK TL-WPR4220 AV500 Powerline a two star rating for one specific reason; its not compatible with Google's Chromecast.

Prior to purchasing the TL-WPR4220 I had a TL-PA6030 Powerline unit plugged into a socket in our sitting room so that I could connect up our PVR and BluRay Player to our router, and that worked fine. However, since we suffered some wi-fi signal degradation in the same room and relocating the main router wasn't really an option I thought I would swap the PA6030 for the WPR4220. Having done so I set the WPR4220 to mimic our router SSID and everything seemed to be working fine. The wired connections all worked and wi-fi signal strength in the sitting room did improve.

However, then the problems began. At first I assumed it was a fault with the Chromecast, which started regularly disconnecting from the phones and tablets being used to control it (something it had never done before) and either refusing to reconnect or vanishing entirely from the network. Rebooting it or the App you were trying to 'Cast' sometimes fixed the problem, but not always. It started to get really frustrating, to the point where I began looking at alternatives to the Chromecast.

Then, out of idle curiosity I did a web search under 'TP-Link, wi-fi, Chromecast issues' and discovered from various forums (including TP-LINK's own) that this is a common issue with the TP-LINK's wi-fi enabled Powerline units. Apparently they simply can't communicate reliably with the Chromecast, resulting in the latter periodically disappearing from home networks, and so far TP-LINK have not offered any sort of firmware update to resolve the problem.

I'm aware that this is a very specific issue that will not be encountered by everyone, but since the one thing I bought the TL-WPA4220 to do it does badly, and everything else it does my old TL-PA6030 could also do, it pretty much makes the new unit a waste of money. For that reason I really can only give it two stars at best.

Tacwise 0396 18G/ 25mm Nails (Box of 5000)
Tacwise 0396 18G/ 25mm Nails (Box of 5000)
Price: £3.32

3.0 out of 5 stars Glorified Tacks That Work For Quick Fixes, 29 Jan. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Personally I would describe these as large tacks rather than nails. Whilst they will hold down lighter weight materials, I wouldn't recommend using them on anything bulky or heavy or where you want a really strong, long lasting reliable hold. Or if you do, I would back them up with some larger and more substantial traditional nails or screws.

Price: £4.31

2.0 out of 5 stars A Virtual Adventure To Avoid, 12 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Bedlam (Kindle Edition)
After run of excellent comic crime novels early in his career (including the utterly brilliant Country Of The Blind) Christopher Brookmyre's output has slowly become more hit and miss, and with Bedlam is definitely a case of the latter rather than the former.

Effectively pure Sci-Fi (after the quasi Sci-Fi of Pandaemonium), Bedlam is a series of interesting idea and concepts in search of a compelling plot to hang them on. Unfortunately, what it has is a narrative structure that tries too hard to be tricksy and clever, and in doing so robs the story of real momentum or gives you characters you really care about. I have no problem with authors jumbling up timelines and sending their stories flying off in multiple directions as long as they make an effort to take the reader with them when they do. With Bedlam, Christopher Brookmyre seems intent on simply confusing the reader with his constant, seemingly inexplicable shifts in place, time and reality, and preventing us from really getting to grips with the various plot strands or characters we jump between.

Add in a plethora of technical jargon, and the fact that the key storyline is set in a computer generated universe where the hero apparently can't die so removing a genuine sense of jeopardy until the wider stakes become clear quite late on, and you have a book that is impenetrable for the tech/gaming-novice, lacking in genuine thrills and difficult to fully engage with.

I struggled on with it past the point (a long way in, I might add) where the plot and what is at stake finally begins to become clear, but only because I was on a twelve hour flight with limited alternative reading options. Once it eventually became apparent where the story was going I can't say my attitude towards the book improved much. Whilst the book does make some serious and quite interesting points regarding where our increasingly interconnected world is heading, the story remains resolutely un-engaging throughout. Not only is it hard to truly care about virtual characters in a virtual world, but it become doubly so when those characters are poorly drawn, remain literally and figuratively one dimensional and the real world stakes aren't actually that great. By the end I was skipping pages and then sections just to get to the end, which is not a good sign.

One to avoid

The Atlantis Gene: A Thriller (The Origin Mystery, Book 1) (Atlantis Trilogy)
The Atlantis Gene: A Thriller (The Origin Mystery, Book 1) (Atlantis Trilogy)
Price: £0.99

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Many Ideas In Search Of A Cohesive Plot, 26 Nov. 2014
The Atlantis Gene (and its follow-up that I don't have the energy to review separately) are both examples of decent ideas in search of some narrative discipline.

Essentially offering yet another twist on the Chariots of the Gods myth, The Atlantis Gene is chock full of ideas and concepts. So much so that they often overwhelm the narrative and leave it struggling to keep up. Aliens, genetics, hidden conspiracies, end-of-the-world cataclysms, lost civilisations, regeneration; the list of plot developments is simply too numerous for any book to cope with effectively.

A classic example of a self-published work, had The Atlantis Gene landed in the hands of decent editor at an earlier stage I am sure some AG Riddle's myriad ideas would have been relegated to later novels in the series, leaving a cleaner, more focused and grounded first entry that was easier to get to grips with. Instead we have book that bounces from wild plot development to even wilder plot development at such speed that I never really managed to engage with events on the page.

I came back for the second volume in the series really out of curiosity to see if it improved on Part 1, only to discover that if anything it was even worse, with even wilder flights of technological fancy unsupported by anything approaching a cohesive plot or plausible, realistic characters.

I definitely will not be coming back for part 3.

I Am Pilgrim
I Am Pilgrim
Price: £3.66

3.0 out of 5 stars Not As Good As It Thinks It Is, 26 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: I Am Pilgrim (Kindle Edition)
Everything about I Am Pilgrim is excessive. From its length to the complexity of its narrative structure, from the number of plot holes to the overblown writing style and from the sheer number of locales it features to the marketing hype that went with its publication. Even the title comes across as a shout.

Unfortunately nothing about the book really justifies all the excess. Beneath all the flashbacks, in-your-face 'factual' research and chapter ending cliff-hangers, the plot is both entirely derivative and, if you think about it for more than a second or two, entirely implausible, the characters are unmemorable despite interminably long back stories, the writing style is utterly self-indulgent and oddly smug and the whole endeavour has the slight whiff of a Ludlum-esque, doorstep sized airport-thriller from the 1970's gussied up with some contemporary trappings.

Its not a terrible novel, and if you can get past its obvious failings its will pass the time to a reasonably entertaining degree, but it definitely isn't the work of incomparable genius that much of the marketing blurb would have you believe it is. There are far better (and shorter) thrillers out there more deserving of your time and attention.

The Blooding
The Blooding
Price: £3.59

4.0 out of 5 stars A Partial Return to Form, 26 Nov. 2014
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This review is from: The Blooding (Kindle Edition)
After the disappointing 'Revolution' and an almost interminable wait for publication of this follow-up, 'The Blooding' marks a partial return to form for Matthew Hawkwood and his creator James McGee.

I say partial because The Blooding never hits the heights of Hawkwood's earlier adventures in London. In fact, ever since McGee pulled his hero away from his career as a Bow Street Runner the series has suffered in terms of both quality and a sense of identity. Whilst the former is partially restored by this latest installment, the series continues to struggle when it comes to the latter, with The Blooding lacking a distinctive edge to set it apart from the myriad of other historical adventure novels on the market.

At least this time McGee has ditched the attempts to link Hawkwood's adventures too closely to real historical events, which hamstrung Revolution so badly. There are still some attempts to make events in the book fit with the historical record, but generally this is far more of a free form adventure, and as a result a more exciting and dramatically more satisfying one.

Not that initially appears to be, with the story taking just a little to long to really get going and kick into gear. This is mostly as a consequence of McGee's decision to interweave two narrative threads, one featuring the adult Hawkwood and the other flashing back to his childhood.

Whilst the latter provides new insight into the character's origins, contains some exciting moments, and is important for establishing events later in the book, the need to constantly swap between threads slows both of them down unnecessarily and makes it harder to engage properly with either. Once the two narratives come together later in the book the pace picks up and so does the reader's ability to engage with events. In hindsight it may have worked better if McGee had told the tale of Hawkwood's origins as a length prologue prior to the latter story, instead of trying to mix the two together.

Whatever the earlier structural issues, the book's latter stages more than make up for them. With the story becoming essentially one extended chase sequence, whilst blending in elements that will be familiar to anyone who has read Last of the Mohicans or watched Dances with Wolves, the pace of the narrative and the excitement levels build quickly until The Blooding becomes almost un-put-downable.

Most satisfying of all the book ends on a development which suggests that next time we see Matthew Hawkwood he will be back in the milieu that serves him best; that of Bow Street and London in the early 19th Century. Even if The Blooding isn't a totally successful return to form for our hero, we can be thankful that it get's him one step closer to a return home.

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