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C. Green "happily low brow" (Quenington, Glos, UK)
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Motorola Moto 360 Smartwatch - Dark Chrome/Black Leather Strap
Motorola Moto 360 Smartwatch - Dark Chrome/Black Leather Strap
Price: £171.04

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

1 of 1 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.


Bedlam
Bedlam
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: £2.27

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
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
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.


Hornby Gloucester City Pullman Train Set
Hornby Gloucester City Pullman Train Set
Price: £119.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good For Beginners But Limited Long Term Appeal By Itself, 25 Nov. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I find that reviewing the Hornby Gloucester City Pullman Train Set is difficult because I really have nothing to compare it to. Somehow I managed to skip model trains as a child, so my experience of 'playing' with them is limited to some sketchy memories having goes with sets belonging to friends or, more commonly, their fathers.

Therefore all I can really say is what I thought of this one specific set, and not how it compares to any other Hornby sets out there now or the sets of yesteryear.

Overall I'd say that I was impressed but not blown away. In terms of what you get in the box there is everything you need to run a basic model railway except the board to mount it on. There's the train, a few carriages, enough track to build a decent sized oval but nothing more, and a controller. Buy this set by itself and you can have a fully functioning model railway up and running in next to no time, so its not a bad place for as starter to begin even if its potential is limited.

When it comes to build quality, train itself is the most impressive component, nicely detailed but feeling solid in the hand and with an impressive amount of oomph when running. The carriages share the detail but lack the same solidity and felt just slightly too plasticky. A couple of knocks, drops or bumps and I suspect the shine will wear off them quickly. The track is fine, but has to be handled carefully to avoid bending and the controller, whilst doing what it needs too, is very basic and frankly feels rather cheap and tacky.

Instructions are okay, but nothing more. They tell you everything you need to know to set things up, but they're printed on cheap paper and with too small a type-face. If you're an avid model train collector this is obviously not a problem, but its not terribly good for the absolute beginner.

When it comes to how much enjoyment you'll get out of the set I guess it will all depend on how badly you're bitten by the model train bug. if its love at first sight then you'll no doubt go off and acquire further sets and accessories to create an ever more impressive railway. In that case the potential for enjoyment is unlimited. However, if it doesn't immediately grab you then the potential is pretty limited. Driving a small train around the same oval of track again and again can quite quickly lose its appeal.

So if you're already an avid collector of Hornby model railways, or think you're on course to becoming one, this probably counts as a four or five star product by default. However, if like me you're never likely to add more trains, tracks, stations, houses and other models to your collection then the long term appeal of this one set is always going to limited.


Brothers in Blood (Roman Legion 13)
Brothers in Blood (Roman Legion 13)
by Simon Scarrow
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Better Entry In The Series, 25 Nov. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
After thirteen 'Roman Legion' novels, Simon Scarrow has gotten the formula for the series pretty much perfected and applying the old 'if it aint broke' principle he doesn't deviate from it with 'Brothers In Blood'. Macro and Cato are present and correct, and still serving with the Legions in Britannia after their adventure in Blood Crows. There's the usual mix of mass battles, political intrigue, daring, against the odds missions, historical factoids and slightly soapy character development (or lack thereof in Macro's case). If you've read more than a couple of the previous novels, you'll know pretty much what to expect. The location, supporting characters and specific plot details may differ, but essential ingredients are the same.

In terms of how Brothers In Blood compares to the previous books, I would say that its probably one of the better ones. Scarrow has gotten balance of military action, historical minutiae, political intrigue and character development just about right this time. Cato and Macro are always at their best when they're allowed to do what they do best, which is be soldiers, and here that's exactly what they're allowed to be, rather than being press-ganged into being Imperial Spies or similar.

Simon Scarrow even manages to throw up a few surprises along the way, which is rare for a series that sticks so rigidly to a formula. The final plot twists at the end for example, whilst not completely shocking, were pleasantly surprising.

The question remains as to how long the series can continue for. Whilst this is one of the better recent entries, the slight whiff of staleness creeps in now and again, and as I doubt the author will shake the formula up by doing anything as radical as killing off a lead character, will familiarity begin to breed contempt.

Certainly I don't feel that the series is a 'must read' any more. A decent way to pass the time yes, but the predictability and lack of genuine risk for the main protagonists robs Brothers In Blood of the vital spark that makes such books un-put-downable.


Waiting For Doggo
Waiting For Doggo
by Mark Mills
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Passable But Bland Rom-Com That Lacks Bite, 27 Oct. 2014
This review is from: Waiting For Doggo (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Waiting For Doggo has charm but is a slight and highly predictable novel that feels more like a television script converted into a novel than an intentional work of literary fiction. Fitfully amusing but never laugh-out loud funny, it lacks sufficient emotional depth to really grab the reader. Characters remain two dimensional 'types', even the ostensible lead, and you never begin to care greatly for any of them. The good characters are good, the bad characters are obviously untrustworthy and the 'crazy' characters sport the standard eccentric tics that all such individuals in Rom-Coms must have. Even the titular Doggo remains something of a non-entity, defined more by his unattractive appearance than any unique or original character traits.

The whole book also has a somewhat smug, metropolitan feel to is. Set within the vapid world of advertising, everyone in the book has a good job, is wonderfully tolerant and inclusive (unless they're the irredeemable cad or the office harridan), lives in nice areas and works in incredibly cool offices. No-one struggles for money or has unresolvable personal issues.

Even a brief sojourn to the countryside (well, Henley-upon-Thames, which just about counts) feels like a Londoner's idea of the perfect trip to the country, with ageing hippyish but well to-do parents living a bohemian life in a ramshackle but extensive house, a nice middle-class wedding to attend and no filthy wellies or inconvenient weather to spoil the bucolic fun.

Overall, Waiting for Doggo feels a little too much like recycled Richard Curtis to me, from the gentle humour interspersed with some swearing and a smattering of sex, through the uniformly white, well-to-do middle-class cast with their first world problems and on to the predictable and slight saccharine romantic plot-line. As with many of Curtis' efforts, it needed more bite, more unpredictability and less sugar.

However, if you fancy an unchallenging, passably entertaining read then Waiting for Doggo isn't going to offend your sensibilities. Though neither is it going to excite the senses nor stir the emotions.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 9, 2014 9:06 AM GMT


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