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Reviews Written by
Simon Thomas "bookaholic" (Oxford/Somerset, UK)
(VINE VOICE)   

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AmazonBasics A100 USB-Powered Computer Speakers - Black
AmazonBasics A100 USB-Powered Computer Speakers - Black
Price: £11.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very pleased!, 3 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I don't have a lot of experience with laptop speakers, I will confess - these are the first I've ever owned - but I'm still really impressed by the sound quality, the ease of use, and the change it makes to the listening experience.

They take no time at all to set up, the length of the cables means they can be place neatly on either side of my desk (I guess some people might prefer a longer cable, but that doesn't bother me) and I can plug into the USB socket and the headphone socket despite being on opposite sides of my laptop. Very pleased!


Rust and Bone [DVD]
Rust and Bone [DVD]
Dvd ~ Marion Cotillard
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Marion Cotillard on top form, 26 Oct. 2013
This review is from: Rust and Bone [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
One of the most underrated actresses of recent years, in my opinion, is Marion Cotillard. Although she's appeared in big films like Inception, it is in films like Rust and Bone where she really gets the opportunity to show what she can do.

The film isn't always comfortable watching, and it certainly isn't all peaches and cream, but this gives Cotillard (and, indeed, the rest of the impressive cast) a chance to show her range. Her depiction of coping with mental and physical injury is poignant and beautiful, and her actions which follow are believable, hovering on the line between empathetic and destructive.

Definitely not your usual love story, but a great choice by Cotillard, and further proof of her talent.


Comply S-400 Active Earphone Tips (Medium) - Charcoal Black 3 pairs
Comply S-400 Active Earphone Tips (Medium) - Charcoal Black 3 pairs

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Impressed, 20 Jun. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I was a little sceptical about these, as they seemed to promise quite a lot, but they actually decreased the amount of background noise very well, as well as being comfortable (and I often have problem with discomfort from headphones.)

My only criticism was that the packaging was very difficult to get into, and to get the earphones out of without squashing them a bit out of shape.


I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend
I Was Jane Austen's Best Friend
by Cora Harrison
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Fun and frivolous, 23 Nov. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A fun and frivolous book for those who love Jane Austen - obviously not up to the standards of that wonderful author, but a nice gift for the Austen-lover in your life. There does seem to be no end to the Austen books that will be published, but I'm not complaining!


The Earth Hums in B Flat
The Earth Hums in B Flat
by Mari Strachan
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A really engaging read., 23 Nov. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Strachan's novel is set in a small town in 1950s North Wales, where 12 year old Gwenni Morgan and her family live. The typical atmosphere of a close-knit community pervades - everybody knows everybody else, and there is no chance of keeping secrets for long, yet there is far greater intimacy and neighbourly care than would be possible in a city. If the reader isn't always immediately 'in on' the whispered secrets, it's because we see the world through the naive, slightly unworldly eyes of Gwenni herself. Here's how she opens the novel:

I fly in my sleep every night. When I was little I could fly without being asleep; now I can't, even though I practise and practise. And after what I saw last night I want more than ever to fly wide-awake. Mam always says: I want never gets. Is that true?

Mari Strachan has said that her starting point for the novel was the image of a girl sitting in hair, struggling to fly. Gwenni's flying isn't the start of a fantasy novel, nor does it play a huge role - other than setting the tone. The reader doesn't know whether to believe her or not - or how seriously she believes what she says. While she's up there, flying, she sees the whole earth and can hear it humming - in, you guessed it, B flat. I like the title. The earth's humming isn't integral to the novel, but it gives the reader the right sense - of an ethereal girl, with a big imagination.

The events of the novel, through less hazy eyes, could border on gritty. Running like a thread through The Earth Hums in B Flat is a murder investigation - but this is nothing like Christie or Sayers or - Heaven forbid - Rankin, Brown, Larsson etc. The investigation lends momentum and a puzzle to the novel, but the more significant focus is upon the Morgan family - Gwenni, her irritable older sister Bethan, her tempestuous mother 'Mam' and incredibly patient father 'Tada' - not to mention an assortment of relatives and neighbours. This is definitely a novel about a community.

Gwenni's mother is almost an ogress, but not quite - because she is believable. She openly favours Bethan over Gwenni, constantly treating the latter to sharp words and angry looks. She accepts her husband's endlessly patient adoration without even seeming to notice it - and then shouting at him for some imagined misdemeanour. Her behaviour is gradually explained... but to understand is not always to forgive, and I found her a very difficult character to love. Which is presumably what I was intended to feel.

Gwenni, on the other hand, is easy to feel affection towards. She accepts everything at face value, even while believing herself to be a competent detective figure. She is somehow both dreamy and determined, unable to make sense of the people and events around her: the reader peers over her shoulder, detecting answers before Gwenni does, and wondering anxiously when she'll catch up. Here's a quick snippet of her thoughts, which constantly frame the narrative:

Alwenna says that Mr. Williams winds his wife up every morning; she says you can tell by the way Mrs. Williams talks more slowly in the afternoons and has nothing at all to say by evening. When I told Mam she said: Don't be silly, Gwenni.

I'm a big believer that style is the most important part of a work of fiction, ahead of character and a long way ahead of plot. For a first novel, The Earth Hums in B Flat is remarkable on this front. Gwenni's voice is utterly credible, and never irritating. It doesn't feel as though an adult writer has 'written down' to a child's perspective - it simply feels like a child's perspective. Strachan doesn't overwrite anything, but is subtle and consistent. There are plenty of plot twists along the way, but they are never jerky - things slowly dawn on Gwenni, or are even never quite vocalised. Strachan's prose is deceptively simple - for this is actually a very complex novel, as we all gradually realised as the book group discussion unfolded. Just the sort of thing I love.


The Slap
The Slap
by Christos Tsiolkas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 23 Nov. 2012
This review is from: The Slap (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I thought Tsiolkas wrote really well, but what could have been a really interesting novel about a problematic moral dilemma just turned out to be rather reprehensible. Absolutely everybody was obnoxious, and nobody's choices bore up to examination. It was as though the author had just piled nastiness upon nastiness, with no redeeming features for anyone.

I will read something else by this author, because I do believe he can write really engagingly and well, but I hope his topic is more interesting and malleable next time.


AmazonBasics USB 2.0 A-Male to B-Male Cable (1.8 Metres) [Amazon Frustration-Free Packaging]
AmazonBasics USB 2.0 A-Male to B-Male Cable (1.8 Metres) [Amazon Frustration-Free Packaging]

5.0 out of 5 stars Does what it says on the tin!, 27 Aug. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This did everything I was hoping it would do! Difficult to really 'review' something quite simple, but it certainly works...


Grand Designs 3D Self Build & Develop (2008)
Grand Designs 3D Self Build & Develop (2008)

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Doh, 9 Dec. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm afraid I couldn't even get this DVD to work... but I expect that is my fault rather than theirs. If you struggle with technology... maybe not for you.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 16, 2010 1:49 PM BST


A Fraction of the Whole
A Fraction of the Whole
by Steve Toltz
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Fraction of the Whole, 9 Dec. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This review copy came split into three separate books, which was something of a bonus perhaps, but it felt rather more like a gimmick. The copies I then saw published were not done in this manner, which probably works better, but it's encouraging to know that there is scope for originality in the publishing world. When does originality become pretentiousness? In some ways, that is also the theme of the book itself.


The Bradshaw Variations
The Bradshaw Variations
by Rachel Cusk
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as her earlier work, 9 Dec. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Rachel Cusk's novel is acceptable, but she has shown greater promise before than is delivered in this book. Instead of writing a vast amount about this book, I recommend you try Arlington Park.


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