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Charles Green "happily low brow" (Gloucestershire, UK)
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   

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Awakening (The Witch Who Came In From The Cold Season 2)
Awakening (The Witch Who Came In From The Cold Season 2)
Price: £1.52

4.0 out of 5 stars A Positive Start To Season 2 (But You Need To Read Season 1 First), 17 Feb. 2017
Awakening is the first episode of the second 'season' of The Witch Who Came In From The Cold (TWWCIFTC for short).

Written by a collective of proven authors including Max Gladstone, Ian Tregillis and, as in the case of this episode, Lindsay Smith, TWWCIFTC is produced by Serial Box, who specialise in e-publishing serialised genre fiction. A new 'episode' of TWWCIFTC, in the form of a short story, is published as an e-book every week, with 20+ episodes forming a single season which follows one single overarching story.

After publishing the highly enjoyable Season 1 in 2016, Serial Box has now begun releasing TWWCIFTC Season 2. If you haven't read Season 1, which is available as a single volume e-book, then I would not recommend tackling Season 2 until you have. Awakening picks up straight where S1 left-off, and whilst it does provide a decent refresher for those already familiar with the story, newcomers will be left scratching their heads and unlikely to return for Episode 2.

Therefore this is very much one for fans of the previous season only. As someone who enjoyed TWWCIFTC first time out I enjoyed the return to Cold War Prague and the battle between Ice and Fire. Lindsay Smith does a good job of picking up the story where S1 left it and getting it moving again, whilst refreshing the reader's memory of who's who and what happened previously. It too early to say if Season 2 will manage to correct the previous Season's flaws, such as a central plot that tended to meander in circles and lacked a truly satisfying denoument. It will take a few more Episodes from different authors to see if this Season manages to remain more focused despite being the product of collective effort.

What Awakening does maintain is Season 1's sense of time and place, and the nice mix of Cold War spy thriller and urban-fantasy. The ability to mix those two genres was one of the key selling points of TWWCIFTC, and if Lindsay, Gladstone and others can continue to do that then it will be worth sticking with the series.

I received my copy of Awakening as a free pre-publication edition via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review. This review is also reproduced on Goodreads


A Dangerous Crossing
A Dangerous Crossing
by Rachel Rhys
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Slow, Unengaging And Not Really The Murder Mystery Its Marketed As Being, 1 Feb. 2017
This review is from: A Dangerous Crossing (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I am afraid that when it comes to A dangerous Crossing I fall squarely into the category of readers who found it entirely un-involving. Whilst it is marketed a Murder Mystery and indeed there are secrets galore to be uncovered and even a murder towards the end, it is most definitely not a thriller. Instead its more of a chamber piece that uses the confines of an Ocean Liner bound for Australia just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War to examine what happens when a group of disparate characters, nearly all harbouring secrets, come into contact with one another for an extended period of time. The fact that these interactions ultimately result in a violent death is really incidental.

Now some might find such a novel highly entertaining, but I am not such a person. I found the pace glacially slow, the characters both unengaging and one-dimensional and their various secrets of little genuine interest. Rhys' prose, whilst competent enough, generated little in the way of genuine atmosphere or real tension and often became blighted by the excessive use of similes. Overall nothing in Dangerous Crossing grabbed me and compelled me to read the novel.

Not even the lazy, hackneyed trick of providing a prologue that reveals there will be a murder before flashing back to before it happens so that you read on to find out who was killed, why and who-done-it was enough to keep me gripped. Knowing there will be a murder simply isn't enough. You still need things like a slow build of tension and compelling characters whose fate you care about to hold your attention. Dangerous Crossing has none of these things.

I slogged on to the end only because I was sent a free copy courtesy of the Amazon Vine Programme in exchange for an honest review, so felt compelled to finish the book. In other circumstance I doubt I would have stuck with it much beyond a third of the way through the journey.


Rotary Men's Quartz Watch with Silver Dial Chronograph Display and Black Leather Strap GS00341/21
Rotary Men's Quartz Watch with Silver Dial Chronograph Display and Black Leather Strap GS00341/21
Price: £84.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Well Made & Affordable, with Classic Looks and a Lack of Ostentation, 4 Jan. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is the third Rotary watch I have owned. As with the previous two, its a well made, affordable time-piece. Despite the words 'silver' in the name, it sports an entirely stainless steel case. The watch face is also described as 'silver' but to my mind seems more white with a mother-of-pearl-like sheen. The hands are blue; as is the moonphase. The latter is really too small to be of any practical use, but it looks attractive. The same can also be said of the day & date dials on the chronograph. The strap is black and real leather. If its anything like the leather straps on other Rotary watches I have owned it will beging to crack and split within a year or so of continuous wear, but that's not unexpected for this type of strap. Overall its a well designed, classic analogue men's watch at an affordable price.

That being said, whether or not it appeals to you will probably depend greatly on how it looks. As someone who already owns a more industrial looking, black-faced analogue watch and two Moto 360 Smart Watches, having a white faced alternative with a more classic appearance appealed to me. I also like the fact that it isn't too bulky on my wrist and is far from ostentatious. Worn with a suit or jacket it looks entirely in-keeping. If you're looking for a watch which stands-out, is more obviously masculine in style or has a more contemporary feel to it then this probably isn't the one for you.


Carmen C80008 Hair Dryer with Overheat Protection, 2200 W - Black
Carmen C80008 Hair Dryer with Overheat Protection, 2200 W - Black
Offered by Electrical Emporium
Price: £19.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Sound But Unremarkable Budget Hair Dryer, 23 Dec. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As other reviews have stated, this is a perfectly decent, if somewhat unremarkable hair dryer. The build quality is perfectly acceptable, with no loose switches or covers and solid enough materials used throughout. The design is serviceable but otherwise pretty anonymous. The addition of some gold accents here and there are a half-hearted attempt to jazz up what is an entirely functional device, but they just come across as slightly tacky and add nothing in terms of look or performance.

When it comes to performance there are three temperature settings and three heat settings, controlled by two separate rocker switches on the handle. The differentiation between settings is clear and the switches are nice and precise. On the hottest and highest speed settings the dryer feels sufficiently powerful. It is noisy, but that't to be expected for this type of product and price-point. My only very minor niggle is the length and weight of the power cable. A lighter gauge and marginally longer cable would have been nice. Not only does the choice of cable make the dryer unnecessarily heavy, but if you're over six foot and want to use it standing up you need to be stood relatively close to the power socket.

However, its a very minor complaint. Overall the Carmen C80008 Hair Dryer is perfectly sound budget hair dryer, something that no amount of D-List Celebrity endorsements or gold accents is going to disguise. How reliable and resilient it will prove to be over the long term only time will determine, but so far it does what's required of it and does it reasonably well. On that basis, bearing in mind the RRP, I can't find much to fault it for.


Brabantia Pedal Bin newIcon with Plastic Inner Bucket, 30 Litre - Matt Steel
Brabantia Pedal Bin newIcon with Plastic Inner Bucket, 30 Litre - Matt Steel
Price: £39.89

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great, Long Lasting, Hard Wearing Bin. Petty About The Cost Of The Bags, 20 Dec. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
If you're already familiar with other Brabantia bins or their wider product range you'll know what to expect with this model. Built from high quality, hard wearing materials, its the sort of product that will last for years. Everything about it, from the packaging to the unobtrusive but sleek design to the precision with which the mechanism operates screams quality. That is reflected in the price of course, and anyone who hasn't owned a Brabantia bin might wonder if they're worth the money. As the owner of two already and now a third courtesy of the Vine Program I can say definitively yes. I have owned both my pre-existing two bins for over eight years and they are going as strong today as they were when I bought them. They also look pretty much brand new when I get around to cleaning them up. Yes, initial outlay is high, but you're not going to new to buy another bin for a decade or more.

You will need to buy bags of course, and for me this is the only weak point with Brabantia bins; the bags are stupidly expensive for what they are. Yes, they fit the bins precisely, they don't split or leak and they have tough drawstrings, but they're still not worth the five pounds-plus for forty bags you'll pay even with discounts on Amazon. Fortunately, you can use generic and far cheaper bin bags instead. Yes, they don't fit so well and tend to poke out from under the lid, but that's a relatively small sacrifice for the money you'll save.

So buy the bin, its worth the investment, but avoid the bags.


Sylvanian Families Treehouse
Sylvanian Families Treehouse
Price: £31.97

3.0 out of 5 stars Well Built But Not Enough Bang For Your Buck, 12 Dec. 2016
This review is from: Sylvanian Families Treehouse (Toy)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As with all Sylvanian Families products this is a well designed, sturdy toy made from decent quality materials. The plastic pieces are tough and durable and once connected together the whole thing feels more than able to stand up to the less than tender mercies of your average four to seven or eight year-old. In that respect Syvlanian Families is very much like Playmobil; rugged and resilient.

Where this set inparticular and Sylvanian Families as a whole oftern suffer by comparison to Paymobil however, is in how much bang you get for your buck. If this was a Playmobil set in addition to the tree house itself you would get at least one figure and some accessories too, allowing a child to play with it straight out of the box and giving a greater sense of value. With Sylvanian families by contrast all you get is the tree house, despite the packaging being covered in photos of it covered in figures and furniture. Now I wouldn't expect the set to come with all the items shown in the photos, but surely supplying one or maybe two figures with the tree house isn't too much to ask. Without them opening the set has the definite feel of an anti-climax.

Its for this reason that I can really only award this set three stars and an 'okay' rating. If I was buying this for a child who didn't already own a considerable quantity of Sylvanian Families merchandise I would feel it necessary to also buy at least one set of figures so that they could play with it straight away, making an already quite expensive present even more costly. Even if the recipient had lots of Sylvanian Families sets already I would still question whether this set represent decent value for money considering how little you get in the box.


Sylvanian Families Beechwood Hall
Sylvanian Families Beechwood Hall
Price: £44.97

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Set For Real Sylvanian Families Officianados, 7 Dec. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
So, first here are the pluses and minuses for Sylvanian Families Beechwood Hall:

Pluses:
1. Its a big set. There's plenty of potential to fill the house with lots of Sylvanian Family furniture and creatures.
2. Its well constructed from decent quality materials.
3. Its easy enough to construct
4. It will combine easily with other Sylvanian Family sets

Minuses:
1. All you get is the house; that's it. Ignore the pictures of the house filled with characters and furniture. To achieve that you will need to buy many other Sylvanian Family sets.
2. Also ignore the pictures showing wall-paper on the walls and curtains on the windows. All you get are bare plastic walls.

Overall I would suggest that this is a set for children who are real, confirmed fans of Sylvanian Families and who have already acquired a substantial quantity of figures and furniture. Its definitely not a starter set. You also need to temper expectations when it comes to what you're getting for your money. The pictures make it appear to be a far more luxurious set than it actually is. With time and effort you could probably replicate what you can see in the photos, but what you get to begin with is very much a blank canvas.

I was fortunate enough to receive Beechwood Hall via the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for this review. Having had the opportunity to try it out via my four year old daughter (who already owned some Sylvanian Families sets) would I consider it worth buying? Yes, if your child already has lots of other Sylvanian Families merchandise but not if they're just starting out. Would I consider it good value for money? Honestly, no; not what is essentially just an empty plastic box with a couple of lights.


No Title Available

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Deeply Unsatisfying Clone Of The Bourne Identity, 7 Dec. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Scott Reardon must obviously be a big fan of the Matt Damon movie of the Bourne Identity. How else to explain how much The Prometheus Man pays what could most generously be described as 'homage' to that modern-classic of cinema?

After all, like in the movie, The Prometheus Man features secret government programs aimed at creating enhanced secret-agents, a hero with symptoms of amnesia, an innocent young woman/love interest for the troubled hero who is swept up in events, car chases through Paris, and a road trip across Europe whilst chased by seemingly unstoppable assassins. Someone with a more suspicious and less generous mind might suspect that Reardon has simply copied all the best bits from the film, rather than come up with anything approaching an original plot.

However, despite the obvious and sometimes unnerving similarities between movie and book (the car chase in particular feel like it's been lifted wholesale from Bourne), I will give Reardon the benefit of the doubt and chalk it up as being entirely unintentional. The fact that there are also plenty of elements of the book that aren’t directly copied from the any of the Bourne movies is just about enough to get him off a charge of cut-and-dried plagiarism.

What neither they nor the uncannily Bourne-esque part of The Prometheus Man do however, is add up to a genuinely satisfying thriller. Yes, the plot moves quickly and there’s a reasonable amount of action, but it all feels very predictable and superficial. Characters remain entirely one-dimensional, their actions driven entirely by the needs of the plot rather than anything approaching logic or plausible human behaviour.

The plot itself, as I’ve already made clear, is a cobbled together amalgam of various better thrillers that doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. It might just about offer enough to sustain a fast moving, pop-corn action movie, but what works in that genre doesn’t on the printed page. Inherent implausibilities that may have slipped past on the screen, masked by soundtrack and editing, don’t here. Sketchy character relationships that charismatic actors might be able to carry-off just feel insubstantial. The hackneyed, plagiarised conspiracy underpinning events comes across as being just that.

By the time the story stutters to a close after the obligatory shoot-out in an abandoned building and with a coda that is straight out of Hollywood cliche, as a reader you feel not only have you experienced pretty much every aspect of The Prometheus Man somewhere else, but that Scott Reardon has done nothing to improve on what has gone before. As a result the book feels like both a lazy rehash of better works and a pointless one too.


Bowers & Wilkins P5 Bluetooth Wireless On-Ear Headphones - Black
Bowers & Wilkins P5 Bluetooth Wireless On-Ear Headphones - Black
Price: £229.10

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High Quality Headphones Designed and Built With Thought and Care, 21 Nov. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
For those unaware of Bowers & Wilkins, they are best known as manufacturers of high end speaker systems beloved by the music recording industry and, some might say, audio nerds. Unless you were the sort of person willing to part with hundreds or even thousands of pounds for speakers with crystal clear sound and a staggering dynamic range then the chances are you would only have encountered B&W via the 'Zeppelin' iPod speaker dock they released a number of years back and was usually found for sale in places like John Lewis and Selfridges (B&W still make a wireless version).

For a number of years however, B&W have also been producing headphones. Like B&W's speakers, these are expensive when compared to competitors prices, but boast of superlative sound and build quality. The P5 Bluetooth Wireless Headphones are one set in the middle of a range that runs from the C5 In-ear Headphones to the P9 Signature Over The Ear set. The question is, are they worth the not-inconsiderable price tag?

Well that's impossible to answer, since everyone will have differing priorities when buying headphones. However I can say that the P5 Bluetooth Wireless Headphones (there is also a cheaper wired P5) are a fantastic piece kit. Yes, they lack any form of active noise cancellation (B&W don't offer it on any headphones), they aren't over-the-ear cans (you have to step-up to a P7 for that) and they don't fit with the current trend for bright colours. If you can get past all of that though, and are willing to fork out the money, there is a huge amount to recommend them.

For a start the audio quality, as you would expect with B&W, is both rich and pin sharp. The acoustic range is great, even when streaming digital music where compression has removed much of the original audio complexity. It so good that you don't mind the lack of noise cancellation. Certainly I didn't when using the P5s on a busy intercity train into London Paddington; although I have yet to challenge them with the background noise on a busy flight.

The materials used in the P5's construction are also high grade. There's no cheap plastic anywhere on the headphones. Hinges and slides are all engineered chromed metal. The leather feels thick and well stitched.

The P5s are also extremely comfortable to wear. The leather and cushioning on both the band and the ear pieces is soft and high quality, whilst the set as a whole grips the head securely but not painfully. The hinges on the ear pieces and the extenders on the band are precise enough to allow you to adjust the P5 to fit your head size and shape perfectly.

The P5's are also very user friendly and seem reliable. Paring over bluetooth is very simple (although slightly worryingly at no time when connecting to my Motorola X, iPod Shuffle or Sony Xperia Tablet was I asked for a pairing code) and the connection seems strong and stable. Other reviews on Amazon report issues with range and reliability of the Bluetooth, but I have encountered none so far. Charging is also a doddle, and the controls straightforward. Best of all the buttons that control volume and allow you to skip tracks remotely are big enough to find and operate easily by touch alone, but aren't so sensitive that the slightest inadvertent bump activates them. The only function I haven't yet had a chance to try is the mic to allow you to use the P5's as a telephone headset, but I doubt many people buying such a high quality set of headphones will have this the performance of this feature as a priority.

Not that B&W appear to have allowed any feature, no matter how incidental, to escape careful attention to detail. For example, despite being wireless the P5 does come with a detachable cable to allow for a hard connection. In order to attach this cable to the headphones the user has to temporarily remove one of the earpiece cushion pads. On any other headphone set that would probably have involved some sort of awkward unclipping of the pad and a risk of damage in the process. With the P5 the pads are held in place by strong magnets that keep them fully secured but allow them to be easily lifted off with minimal force. Its a slick, elegant and above all entirely practical solution.

This level of quality extends elsewhere too. Even carrying pouch for the P5's, quilted like a high fashion clutch bag, feels robust and well made, with an internal pocket to take the charger cable and hard-wire connector and two substantial magnets to hold it closed. Velcro tapes to keep the cables neatly stowed are also provided.

The overall impression this gives is of a product designed not only with technical flare but with genuine care and thought. It elevates the P5s above the status of a casual and almost disposable accessory and into something you want to look after and keep for the long term. I am exceedingly grateful to have been offered my pair via the Amazon Vine Program in exchange for this honest review.


Retribution: A Paul Richter Novella
Retribution: A Paul Richter Novella
Price: £1.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great To Have Richter Back; Pity About The Plot Holes, 13 Nov. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I heartily agree with other reviewers that its good to have Paul Richter back, albeit in a novella rather than a full length adventure, but with the latter coming next year this serves as a decent refresher for James Barrington's cool, sardonic intelligence operative.

My only complaint, and its a significant one by any measure, is that the bad guy's plan in 'Retribution' is incredibly flakey. I'm not going to expand further for fear of spoilers, but even as I read the book it occurred to me that there were far simpler, less' in-your-face' ways to get hold of the information they wanted, and that in any event had it not been for an entirely un-forseeable set of coincidental circumstances they would have failed entirely in their goals.

As a result the plot of Retribution does feel somewhat thrown together. Yes, the action is exciting and its great to be back in the company of Richter and his colleagues after so long, but as a coherent story it doesn't quite stand up. I can only hope that whatever adventures Barrington has in mind for Richter's next, full length outing, they make more sense than Retribution's.


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