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FictionFan (Kirkintilloch, Scotland)

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B&O PLAY by Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H5 Wireless Bluetooth In-Ear Headphones, Black
B&O PLAY by Bang & Olufsen Beoplay H5 Wireless Bluetooth In-Ear Headphones, Black
Price: £199.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Can't recommend..., 20 July 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Well, it took me over an hour of faffing about with these to get them to work at all. All the lights were doing what they were supposed to and my laptop was claiming it had paired with them, but nothing. I kept getting a pop-up saying the Beoplay was being installed and would take a few minutes... and then nothing. To be sure my laptop was perfoming properly, I reconnected to my Aves bluetooth receiver - working perfectly. I gave up and switched them off. Then tried again half an hour later and they worked! I've never had a bluetooth device that was so hard to pair - not that the instructions are hard (though of course in minute print and a dozen languages so a pain to find the bit you want), but the actual pairing not working again and again, and no indication of why not or what to do about it. During the course of this lengthy process, I had the opportunity to try out most of the different earbuds and not one makes them comfortable, nor secure enough to stay in the ear for long even when not doing anything energetic. The sound quality is fine, but no more spectacular than much cheaper buds, and it feels a bit unbalanced - that the sound is louder from one than the other (and yes, I did swap them around to check it wasn't my ears).

My Kindle Fire, which again works perfectly with my other bluetooth devices, doesn't even 'see' this one. I've given up trying to connect with it.

Other points: the lights are on the earbud so impossible to see without taking them out of the ear - so all the little bleeps that are supposed to tell you they're working seem somewhat redundant. The packaging comes with an entirely unnecessary large piece of moulded foam which I assume will be non-biodegradable. The magnets are not strong enough to hold the buds in the charger securely, so that the slightest nudge is likely to make them fall out. All a case of style over simplicity, quality and the environment, I think. I got these as part of the Amazon Vine programme, but had I bought them, I'd be returning them.

Update: 15/7/16 - And today they work with the Kindle Fire! Absoultely no idea why they wouldn't work yesterday and I have done nothing today that might have made them work. I've considered upping my rating as a result, but in truth, the fact that it was all such a hassle and success in pairing seems to be intermittent, combined with the fact that they don't stay in the ears - think I'll stick with the original 2 stars.

Snug Essential Polycotton Standard Pillowcase, Cream, 2-Piece
Snug Essential Polycotton Standard Pillowcase, Cream, 2-Piece
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Great for the price..., 18 July 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had fairly low expectations of these - 2 pillowcases for £5.99! But I'm pleased to say they're very good quality for the price - well-finished, a bit thin, perhaps, but not too much so, and with a good deep flap inside that holds the pillow securely so that it's not always popping out of the end of the pillowcase. They fit a standard pillow well. They're pretty creased when they arrive but, once washed, they are nice and soft and don't require ironing. I was expecting they might be good for lower pillows that don't get seen much, but actually they're perfectly acceptable for main pillows too. The colour is quite a deep yellowish cream. Recommended.

Beyonce Heat Seduction Eau de Toilette for Her 50 ml
Beyonce Heat Seduction Eau de Toilette for Her 50 ml
Price: £30.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice scent but strange branding..., 18 July 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
First impressions – the scent comes in minimal but attractive packaging. The box is black with gold, perfect for gift-giving. The bottle is also quite pretty, more of a classic design than modern, I'd say. As far as I can tell, the body of the bottle is glass and the top plastic, but I could be wrong. However if the body is plastic, it's certainly quite convincing as glass.

Of course, the important thing is the scent itself. I prefer eau de toilette to eau de parfum usually, finding it rather more subtle, and that's the case with this. I was a bit bamboozled by the product description which says the product is both floral and sensual – two things that don't go together in my mind with regards to scent. In my opinion, this is not a sensual scent – I get no muskiness or real depth from it. In fact, it is a light, floral scent, perfectly suitable for daytime or, with perhaps an added layering, for evening. It is quite sweet, but unlike another reviewer, I don't find it sickly – I like it. However, I suspect that's because it could be considered as rather old-fashioned, which works fine for me.

Scents are always a matter of taste and quite difficult to describe. If you're looking for something immediately noticeable, something sensual for nights out, then I'd say this isn't for you. However, if you're looking for a light background scent with a summery, floral feel, then you may enjoy this. In truth, it seems to me neither scent nor bottle suits the Beyoncé branding, and the “Heat Seduction” bit seems like a complete misnaming. However, I'm just popping out to the supermarket, so if I find young men following me down the aisles sniffing and gazing longingly at me, I'll update the review...

RHS Miniature Garden Grower: Terrariums & Other Tiny Gardens to Grow Indoors & Out
RHS Miniature Garden Grower: Terrariums & Other Tiny Gardens to Grow Indoors & Out
by Holly Farrell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Full of ideas..., 16 July 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a well produced and good quality book, just bigger than A5 size, that would make a great gift for anyone who enjoys gardening or growing indoor plants. It has five sections - miniature landscapes, terrariums, vertical gardens, water and wildlife gardens, and productive gardens.

The instructions are fairly straightforward and nicely laid out on pages that are heavily illustrated with drawings and the occasional photo. To be honest, being quite stylised, the drawings didn't give me much of a feel for what the finished projects would look like, and I felt it would have been helpful to have photographic examples of each garden to give a clearer idea. The photos that are included are more of a coffee-table artiness than a practical guide.

However, the book is attractive and has some intriguing ideas, such as using small teapots as planters to grow herbs like chamomile and mint that can be used for tea. Or having miniature gardens specifically designed to attract bees. Or if you have a child with a liking for creepy-crawlies, a miniature garden to attract "minibeasts". Or how about a carnivorous plant terrarium? There are even ideas for creating pictures through plants. I have enjoyed browsing through it, and am really quite taken with the teapot idea...

Manuka Doctor ApiClear Skin Ease Repair Gel 25 ml
Manuka Doctor ApiClear Skin Ease Repair Gel 25 ml
Price: £2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant to use..., 15 July 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The problem with getting things like this to review through the Amazon Vine programme is that we are obliged to review within 30 days. At this time of year, I should have been bitten by at least one hungry midge by now, but sadly not. Nor has my cat scratched me - almost unheard of for a full 30 day period! So unfortunately I haven't had an opportunity to test this and can only apologise for a rather pointless review.

It's perfectly pleasant to use, spreads well and leaves an invisible barrier. It feels quite cooling on normal skin, so I hope it would be effective on irritated skin. It doesn't have a strong smell.

As soon as I get bitten, scratched or irritated in any other way, I will update the review. But I fear I'm not willing to provoke the cat or stick my hand on the grill just to test it - what a wuss!

Patimax Long Lasting Premium Ultra Clumping Cat Litter
Patimax Long Lasting Premium Ultra Clumping Cat Litter

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Gunky, gluey cement..., 15 July 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This started out great and I thought I was really going to like it. It definitely works well in terms of odour control, but it does it by producing its own aroma, of baby powder, whenever the cats dig in it. After a few days I realised the constant smell of baby powder pervading the house wasn't much preferable to the smell of cat poo, and was considerably worse than the smell of cat pee (as disguised in my usual cat litter, Catsan).

The clumping works very well. Too well. If you fill the litter tray so deep that the cats can't dig to the bottom, then it might be OK, though then the cats spray the litter over the edge of the box and all over the floor. But if the urine clump actually goes all the way to the bottom, then it cements itself to the base of the box and becomes almost impossible to scrape off. Actually, not "almost" impossible - just impossible. Also, if the cat does a big piddle then the clump becomes a soggy, gluey, stringy mess - yuck! And all sticks to the scoop. I found I was really hating cleaning out the box - which with two cats who actually come in from outdoors to use the loo (annoying!), I have to do several times a day.

Today, I changed back to my old litter, but when I emptied both boxes, each had a cemented layer of gunk on the bottom, despite me having used this for only two weeks and clearing the lumps out within a few hours every time. Can't remove it, not even with my steam cleaner - two new boxes will be required. I dread to imagine what the boxes would end up like if this stuff was used long-term. I started out meaning to give this two stars, but actually as I've written the review, I've realised I don't just "not like" this product, I "hate" it - so in Amazon's ratings, that makes it 1-star for me.

TeckNet Pro 2.4G Wireless Mouse,Nano Receiver,6 Buttons,24 Month Battery Life,2400 DPI 3 Adjustment Levels
TeckNet Pro 2.4G Wireless Mouse,Nano Receiver,6 Buttons,24 Month Battery Life,2400 DPI 3 Adjustment Levels
Offered by Innovation Goal UK
Price: £8.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's fine, but you get what you pay for..., 15 July 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought this to replace a much more expensive Logitech mouse, so it's probably unfair to make comparisons... but I'm going to anyway.

The good bits...

It comes in a little cardboard box with a padded plastic inner - probably the easiest to open and least environmentally unfriendly piece of tech kit I've ever bought.

It is completely plug and play - no hassle at all. The little receiver is stored in the base of the mouse.

You can change the tracking speed - there seem to be three speeds. My preference is for the slowest one.

The less good bits...

It's considerably smaller than any mouse I've had before and is therefore less supportive and less comfortable. I suspect my wrist will begin to suffer quite quickly. One of the reasons I've always liked the Logitech is the ergonomic design. This one looks the same but the size difference removes the benefits.

It comes without batteries. OK, this is only going to be an issue if you don't have any lying around. It takes 2 AAAs.

It doesn't seem to allow free-scrolling, which the Logitech does. I use that feature all the time, and with this mouse scrolling bit by bit will require more hand movements, hence more stress on the wrist and fingers, and is also much slower for getting quickly up or down a long page. I thought maybe it would be possible to change the programming to allow free-scrolling but...

It comes with no instructions and the TeckNet site has no manual or drivers for this model - the M003.

So, I'll be popping over now to buy the Logitech I should have bought in the first place, and this will be relegated to the drawer in case I ever need an emergency replacement. It's fine, but you get what you pay for.

Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm (British Library Crime Classics)
Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm (British Library Crime Classics)
by Gil North
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Dark and menacing..., 12 July 2016
When Sergeant Caleb Cluff is called out to the scene of a sudden death, it looks like a clear-cut case of suicide. After the death of the mother she had looked after through her youth, Amy Wright in her loneliness had made a bad marriage to a younger man who only married her for her money. Made miserable by him, she is found in her bedroom with the gas tap turned on. Although everyone holds Alf Wright morally responsible for her death, legally he seems to be in the clear. But Cluff can't accept the coroner's verdict, partly out of guilt because he, like everyone else, knew that Wright was cruel to Amy but had done nothing to stop it. Since there's to be no official police investigation, Cluff takes some time off and begins to pursue Wright himself.

This book is being re-published to celebrate the author's centenary. Written in 1960, the book feels more modern than the other British Library Crime Classics books I've read so far. It's much darker and Cluff, though a man of high moral principle, is something of a maverick, following his own path to justice when the system fails. North has a distinctive writing style – short, sharp sentences that nevertheless allow him to deliver some excellent descriptive prose and create an ever-growing atmosphere of tension as the book progresses. It took me a few chapters to get tuned in to his style, but once I had, I found I was totally gripped and ended up reading the whole book in one session.

The characterisation is excellent, not just of Cluff and the other major players, but even of minor peripheral characters North introduces in passing to add depth to his portrayal of the town. North does have a rather unfortunate obsession with describing the breasts of every woman who appears. (I was going to comment that this was probably to do with the time of writing but then remembered how often I've sighed over the same obsession in some contemporary male authors!) However, it's not enough of an issue to spoil the overall enjoyment, and otherwise I felt his female characters rang as true as the men.

The first part of the story takes place in Gunnarshaw, a fictionalised version of Skipton in Yorkshire. It takes North very little time to give a real flavour of life in a small town at a period when neighbours still knew each others' history and business. Cluff lives in Gunnarshaw, alone in a cottage with his dog and cat for company, and knows the people of the town in the way local police officers did in rural communities back then. North takes us behind one or two of the net curtains in the town to catch a glimpse of Cluff as seen through the eyes of the residents, and he's revealed as someone who is trusted by the people he works amongst. However, his single-mindedness isn't always appreciated by his bosses and colleagues in the police – he's a man who tends to go his own way and it's probably only his ability to get results that saves him from the wrath of his superiors. He sees himself as some kind of arbiter of the town's morals, quite prepared to tell someone to leave town if he feels they're a bad lot.

In this case, he pretty much stalks Wright, hoping that somehow he'll give himself away. Cluff's behaviour is threatening and intimidating, and he finally drives Wright to flee Gunnarshaw and go into hiding on a farm on the moors. And it's when the scene shifts to the moors that the plot begins to both thicken and darken, taking an entirely unexpected turn. North uses the wildness and isolation of the setting to build up a brilliant atmosphere of menace and terror, while gradually the action ratchets up to a truly thrilling climax.

The book has an enjoyable and informative spoiler-free introduction from Martin Edwards, who tells us a little about the author's life and puts his books into the context of their place in the development of the detective story. A great start to the series – it's hard to understand why books as good as this become 'forgotten', and I'm delighted the British Library have brought North back for a new audience. I know they're bringing out at least one more in the series, The Methods of Sergeant Cluff, in September, and hope they'll go on to re-publish the rest of the series.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.

Mrs Hudson and the Malabar Rose (A Sherlock Holmes & Mrs Hudson Mystery 2)
Mrs Hudson and the Malabar Rose (A Sherlock Holmes & Mrs Hudson Mystery 2)
Price: £1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The other mastermind in 221b..., 11 July 2016
Two clients turn up at Sherlock Holmes' rooms in 221b Baker Street – a woman whose son-in-law has gone missing, and a representative of the Home Office who is concerned for the safety of the Malabar Rose, a priceless ruby gifted to the Queen with the condition that it is put on public display. Rather dismissively, Holmes brushes off the woman, suggesting her daughter's husband has merely left her and will no doubt show up soon. He then turns his attention to ensuring the security of the ruby. Fortunately, Mrs Hudson doesn't share his lack of concern regarding the missing man and decides to undertake her own investigation, with the help of her servant, our narrator, young Flotsam. As the two cases proceed, it gradually appears that there may be some links between them...

Well, I have to say that, despite all my anti-Holmes-pastiche prejudices and against all expectation, I thoroughly enjoyed this romp! It's very well written with a good plot, and the Victorian world as seen through the eyes of Flottie is believably depicted. It's a slightly cosier London than the one the original Holmes inhabited, but that works fine with the gentle humour in the book and the friendliness and support of the little community that surrounds Mrs Hudson and Flottie.

There is a tongue-in-cheek aspect to the portrayal of both Holmes and Watson, each with their well-known traits slightly exaggerated. Holmes, it transpires, is perhaps not quite the great mastermind we thought, or at least not the only one in the household. As Mrs Hudson's genius reveals itself, each of her discoveries is met by a knowing nod from Holmes as if to say he knew all along... but the reader isn't so sure! Watson seems to have upped his alcohol intake quite a lot, along with his buffoonery and his susceptibility to a finely-turned ankle. Normally, these things would have me frothing at the mouth and possibly even gnashing my teeth but, partly because Holmes and Watson aren't the central characters in the book, and partly because the mockery is done with warm affection for the originals, somehow it all works.

Flottie herself is a great character. A young orphan, Mrs Hudson took her in at a point when Flottie had been heading towards crime in order to survive. Flottie's gratitude and admiration for her benefactor make both characters very likeable. I was particularly impressed by the way Davies handles Flottie's 'voice'. Although she is a 14-year-old uneducated maidservant at the time of the case, Davies quickly lets the reader know that Flottie is in fact telling the story in retrospect from when she is much older. In the intervening years, Mrs Hudson set her on the path to a good education and a successful career. This allows her to speak with an educated voice and a good vocabulary – no faux Cockney maid talk! It also means she can be more insightful and humorous about events than would sound realistic from the mouth of a 14-year-old.

The plot takes us into the world of theatre with conjurers, exotic dancers, and elaborate trickery, and it all takes place around Christmas so we get some mouthwatering descriptions of the kind of Christmas fare Mrs Hudson whips up for her lodgers when she's not out detecting. The mystery is not so much whodunit as how was it done – or, in the case of the potential theft of the ruby, how will it be done and how can it be prevented. There are enough nods to the original stories to satisfy Holmes geeks, but catching these references isn't necessary to enjoying this story on its own account. All in all, excellent writing, a strong plot, some likeable characters and plenty of humour – one of the best spins on the Holmes stories I've come across, and I'll certainly be reading more in this series. Most enjoyable!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Canelo.

The Rat Stone Serenade: A DCI Daley Thriller
The Rat Stone Serenade: A DCI Daley Thriller
Price: £0.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much of a good thing..., 8 July 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A hundred years ago, blacksmith Nathaniel Stuart was driven off his property in Blaan, a village on the southernmost tip of the remote Kintyre peninsula on the west coast of Scotland. Of tinker stock, Stuart cursed the landowner Archie Shannon, declaring that every fifty years calamity will befall his family and their descendants until the end of time. Fifty years later, young Archie Shannon hid from his mother in the woods behind their home for a lark – and was never seen again. Now, in the present day, the Shannon family is returning to their ancestral home in Blaan for the annual general meeting of the hugely successful international company they now own. But things take a sinister turn when the bones of a young child are discovered on the Rat Stone, an ancient site surrounded by much superstition and fear...

There is so much to like about this book that I really wish I was recommending it more highly. It's very well written, and the recurring characters of DCI Daley and his small team are done well – each with a distinct personality, each flawed, but all likeable as individuals and working well together as a team. The remoteness of this part of the world is increased when an unusually severe snowstorm cuts off the roads to the mainland and causes power cuts throughout the area. Meyrick creates an excellent atmosphere of isolation and menace, with some nicely spine-tingling supernatural undertones. With no likelihood of reinforcements getting through any time soon, it's up to Daley and his colleagues not just to investigate the old bones but to try to stop the sudden crime wave that is sweeping through the village.

And therein lies the problem. Too much, too much! The body count is completely ridiculous! For a large proportion of the early part of the book, each chapter introduces us to someone who is then gruesomely killed. It seems like there's a million strands each resulting in gory death for someone and for a long time, too long, the connection between all these events is entirely unclear. And with so many deaths happening so quickly, these characters are no more than names, so that when they're referred to later in the book, I was having real difficulties remembering who they were or how and where they died.

The book is like an Irish stew – everything has been thrown in. One detective is an alcoholic trying to lay off the booze, while a couple of the others are having an affair with each other. There are dead businessmen, human sacrifices, dodgy business dealings, vicars with secrets, ex-nuns, tinkers' curses and about three people all having visions, either supernatural, caused by drink or due to brain damage. Corpses with their skin flayed, corpses on bonfires, corpses on sacrificial stones. Every now and again new people had to arrive by helicopter or boat just so there would be more people to bump off. One felt an investigation wasn't really necessary – leave it a couple of days and only the bad guy would be left alive!

One of the detectives is given what I think is supposed to be a Glasgow accent, though it feels more like an anglicised speaker's idea of what a generic Scottish dialect sounded like circa 1950 – a bit too Sunday Post (which will mean nothing to non-Scots – sorry! Twee, perhaps, is the closest comparison). However, kudos to the author for at least trying to keep the book feeling Scottish in tone, and I must say my 'ear' did get tuned in to the dialect after a while, and it began to sound more authentic.

It picks up towards the end and, while the supernatural stuff is left hanging for the most part, the rest of it is explained, even if the credibility is stretched way past breaking point. Despite all the ridiculous stuff, it's still very readable because of the overall quality of the writing. Although I really feel this one goes so far over the top it becomes farcical, I would be willing to read another in this series. I was reminded of the artist Agatha Troy, in Ngaio Marsh's books, who never knew when one of her pictures was finished and needed her lover Roderick Alleyn to tell her when to stop painting. I really hope Meyrick can find an editor who will perform the same function for him (the stopping bit, not the lover-ing bit!) and tell him when enough is enough. Loads of potential in this series – I hope in future books to see it fulfilled.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 8, 2016 6:35 PM BST

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