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I do like L'Oréal, but for some reason they've never been a brand I've looked to for nail varnishes. I'm drawn to cheap and colourful varnishes, and L'Oréal's demure-looking range never really caught my eye - too small, pricey and grown-up for me! But as a habitual wearer of rich colours, I'd recently been feeling the urge for some gentle pastels or nudes, maybe hoping that brightening up would make the sun come out. A friend had been thinking the same, and said they finally found a good colour - by L'Oréal, no less.
PACKAGING: The bottles are narrow and oblong - very small and easy to overlook. I had my reservations about the tiny size considering the price: £4.99 for a 5ml bottle felt on the steep side. The product does look very smart in its simplicity, and the size and shape are great for storage if you're already overflowing with cosmetics. My only complaint is that the bottle's small base makes it feel a bit wobbly, especially if you're painting one-handed - I'm used to bottles with larger bases, so have to take some extra care not to knock it flying.
COLOURS: I was pleasantly surprised by how much choice there was in the range, once I got up close. There's a heavy leaning towards pinks and minks, very subtle and sophisticated, but also some fun brights and deep evening colours. I thought there was already a broad selection in my little Superdrug, but the L'Oréal website lists over forty colours! The tiny bottles belie a big range. There aren't any "shocking" colours, but the range is versatile, elegant, and especially good for nudes. A flattering nude polish is hard to shop for, but there's a wide range of different tones available. The first one I picked up was Parisian Rooftops (603), a creamy taupe colour that I was anxious wouldn't suit me, but turned out to be just right. I've since picked up the paler Beige Countess (104), another lovely nude, and Magic Croisette (811), a deep navy with faint golden shimmer, and been equally impressed with the quality of both.
APPLICATION: The few times I'd invested in a more middle-range polish I usually came away disappointed, and it's made me a big fan of cheaper brands, but I was glad to find that L'Oréal really delivered: the brush is smooth and firm, spreading easily to coat the whole nail with one stroke, and the polish itself is blissfully creamy and rich. The polishes I've tried so far look great with one coat alone, though I go for at least two for thorough coverage, and are touch-dry in a minute or two.
WEAR: On my first use, I was a bit put out to find signs of minor tip wear only the day after application, having done nothing more strenuous than shampoo my hair, but apart from that the polish lasts three to four days on me without a topcoat, and a bit longer with one. It manages to stick out the hassle of work with only some slightly roughened tips to show for it at the end of the day. I found it was also easy to remove, even with the less abrasive acetone-free remover that I'm currently using. It's always a plus when a polish is not only good to apply and wear, but quick and easy to take off, without a lot of arduous, drying rubbing. Overall, it's not the toughest on earth, but enough to make it worth the money.
The good points outweigh the minor weak points - I was converted with the first stroke, and can't wait to try more of this range. The price is a bit higher than what I'd normally go for, so I'll be choosing discerningly, but the range seems to be frequently on offer. In this case, I think it's worth it for the creamy colours and smooth application, and I'm very happy to have invested.
Published in 2009, "The Windup Girl" garnered a lot of praise and scooped several awards, notably the esteemed Hugo and Nebula awards for best sci-fi/fantasy novel. It was the first time I'd heard of Paolo Bacigalupi, though this isn't his first published work - after a lot of short fiction, this was his first full-length novel and big break. I'd picked up a copy from Waterstones about a year ago, about £7.99, but then never got round to reading it. When I finally did, I was glad I made the effort.
The setting is 23rd-century Bangkok, a dystopian sprawl nominally ruled by the Child Queen, but torn between feuding ministries and overrun with gangsters and refugees. The face of the Earth is no longer as we know it, with many major cities now below sea level. There are no fuel resources left, and food is an even more vital commodity than imaginable now. Many major staple foods are now extinct, with only continuous genetic modification keeping fruit and vegetables ahead of the relentless viral moulds and bugs. It sounds vaguely ridiculous when I try to explain it, but the concept really is compelling: a future where food is constantly mutating and dying, and science must work endlessly to keep ahead of the curve and gain temporary immunity. Don't laugh, but where would we be if potatoes, corn and rice died out?
The "calorie companies" try to keep the global monopoly on safe foodstuffs, but new mutant variants appear constantly, particularly in Thailand. Protagonist Anderson Lake makes it his business to research these new foods, but he must do so on the quiet, since broadcasting his work as a "calorie man" would draw all kinds of unwelcome attention. Under the guise of running a factory in the city, he puts out feelers in the hope of finding the Thai "seedbank" - the secret to their bio-engineering success - and giving his company, AgriGen, a business advantage. Little does he know of the disaster that's waiting just round the corner.
The "windup girl" of the title is Emiko, one of the Japanese-made "New People": a genetically-modified humanoid being, manufactured rather than born. She ekes out a meagre existence in a Bangkok brothel where her jerky limbs and uncanny looks make her the target of universal disgust and ridicule. The book gets pretty ripe in its depiction of Emiko's awful treatment, but it's occasional and doesn't come across as too gratuitous - her story is primarily about attempting to escape and find a life where New People are accepted. Of course, she crosses paths with our hero Anderson at some point, getting embroiled in a dangerous revolution that she barely understands.
Bacigalupi's supporting characters provide most of the book's flavour, likeable and morally grey in equal measure. Contrasted with a fretful businessman and the gentle windup girl, Jaidee Rojjanasukchai and Kanya Chirathivat add some ferocity and backbone to the cast. Two of the Thai Kingdom's despised "white shirts", they monitor the ins and outs of cargo ships: customs officers who carry out their duties with an iron fist and a ready baton. Nicknamed "The Tiger of Bangkok", Jaidee has ruined many fortunes and made countless enemies with his zealous policing, but his recklessness soon leaves him with no allies - apart from Kanya, who is more than she seems. Another character I enjoyed was Tan Hock Seng, a conniving old man in Anderson Lake's employ, whose fear of extradition is the only thing greater than his hatred for the wealthy "foreign devil" he must bow and scrape to daily. These secondary characters paint a much broader picture than Anderson's alone - in fact, I enjoyed reading about them more, with their more colourful experiences of life in Bacigalupi's vibrant, violent city.
Asia seems like a woefully neglected continent in western sci-fi. Bacigalupi, an East Asian Studies graduate who went on to spend time working in China, seems to have enough first-hand experience to make his setting authentic and vivid. Its exotic flavour alone makes "The Windup Girl" stand out from the crowd, bringing to the table a speculative future that's fresh and different but convincingly grounded in reality.
If there's one negative I can think of, it's the amount of jargon and background information that takes getting used to. Bacigalupi has built an impressive world down to the very last details, but, though I enjoyed wondering about calorie-to-joule transfer and cibi.11.s.8 pineapples, at times I found myself feeling mildly punchdrunk from the unfamiliarity. For the most part, though, you can work things out by their context, and the author does a good job of immersing you in his dense, intensely-realised creation while never insulting the reader's intelligence. Despite the clarity of detail, the book manages to stay pretty trim at just over 500 pages.
I found the first two or three chapters a little slow going at times, as new characters and concepts were introduced, but when the story got warmed up it was gripping and paced with skill. The ending was - I hesitate to say disappointing - but a bit of a winding-down, no pun intended. Half of me wishes for news of a sequel, for more closure and exploration of the book's ideas, but I also think its nature as a one-off is part of what makes the book so effective: Bacigapuli wove a taut yarn, buffing it to a mirror shine, and milking the idea any more would risk spoiling it.
Overall, a fascinating and innovative book that I really enjoyed, though it takes your full attention to get through at times. Genetic modification and the threat of global warming have a lot of topical relevance, but the author doesn't get on a high horse or labour any points: rather, they're just aspects of a very dark, intriguing setting. A commendable break-out novel, worthy of the praise it's received.
When I finished my bottle of Cutex's acetone-free nail polish remover, I was all set to buy another one of the same. But my wandering dooyoo eye ("I could try something new and review it!") found Superdrug's own version, so I picked that up instead, at a far cheaper £1.39 for 250ml.
PACKAGING: The product comes in a simple plastic bottle, cylindrical with a lid that screws on a good secure amount. It's not hugely ergonomic, but I suppose a bottle's a bottle. The orange liquid inside is clearly visible, which is always handy, and the basic Superdrug label states that it's acetone free, with Aloe Vera and Vitamin E to protect and condition your nails. Like all Superdrug's own-brand products, it promises 100% happiness guaranteed, and is not tested on animals. It's also suitable for artificial nails, though I don't wear them.
APPLICATION: As you could probably guess, the instructions are to use the liquid with cotton wool, removing polish "quickly and effectively". Though it did do the job, I found it wasn't really "quick". Cutex's acetone-free remover was quite gentle, and this one's slightly more so: I found myself working through my bottle at twice the pace of a harsher remover, at times using an extra couple of cotton wool pads, where before it would have taken one per hand. The mouth of the bottle is quite narrow, so it doesn't spill easily, though I found I needed to pour often to get enough liquid. As to be expected, the product has a strong smell upon opening the bottle and applying: it didn't seem as strong from a distance as other removers I've used, but up close it's very sharp, acetone or not, and it did strike me as a bit sharper than other brands.
QUALITY: I'm always a bit sceptical when nail polish removers claim to be nourishing, or really good for your nails in some way. They have two primary functions: stinking and removing nail varnish, and the best you can hope for otherwise is one that doesn't totally dry your nails out. Though I don't think this one really nourishes at all, at least it's not actively drying for my nail and hands, and while using it I managed to grow my nails a little without issue. Once I got used to it, I didn't particularly mind the slowness, either: acetone-free removers seem to be generally mild, and I'm happy to take the bit of extra time to avoid using acetone. It does work, but it's slightly slower to work than another remover might be.
This is a good budget remover that I'd happily purchase again instead of Cutex's version, which costs nearly twice as much for a smaller bottle. After a few cotton wool pads it can feel like a fussy false economy, but for the most part it works well. If you're used to stronger stuff you might find it weak, but if you're already accustomed to using acetone-free removers its mildness shouldn't be an issue. Overall, the great value for money outweighs any minor niggles I have.
This was my first experience of David Brin's work, in my current attempt to make forays into older sci-fi. A scientist as well as fiction writer, Brin seems best known for his "Uplift" series, as well as this book. I was vaguely aware of the story, having heard of the film adaptation, and as a stand-alone novel it seemed a handy place to start. "The Postman" was first published in two parts in the early 80s, then as a full book in 1985, scooping a few awards for best sci-fi novel. It's currently available for £6.79 off Amazon, though it's the kind of older book easily found with a quick riffle through Oxfam.
Gordon Krantz seems to be the last of his kind: a good man in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. The precise details of the world's ending are unspecified, though there are dark allusions to nuclear radiation, the "Three-Year Winter", airborne contagion, riots, and famine. Nearly two decades "postholocaust", there's barely anyone left but bandits, paranoid survivalist cults, and Gordon. Scavengers are ruthless, settlements are rare and wary of any strangers, and stooping to cannibalism - a nice bit of "long pork" - isn't unheard of.
Gordon is a wanderer, just trying to survive and find a purpose, but the land spares no pity for idealists and dreamers like him. "These days, thirty-four and alone is the same as being ready to die." He ekes out a living entertaining isolated villages with scraps of Shakespeare, poorly-remembered from his studenthood. However, when he stumbles on the ruins of a U.S. Postal Service jeep in the middle of the wilderness, his fortunes are changed forever. The salvaged mailman's uniform becomes more than just a change of clothes, but a symbol of civilisation, community, and an older, better time. It also makes its wearer a fraud, since Gordon is of course no postman.
Brin's writing is fairly unremarkable, but now and again shows a pleasantly lyrical turn of phrase that makes the post-apocalyptic wasteland seem quite gentle - even genteel - to read about. Compared to the more grim and gritty sci-fi of today, "The Postman" comes across as a little dated, charming even, but nonetheless remains an interesting read.
The book threw me off around halfway in, though, bringing in new names, objectives, and character dynamics without prior warning. The introduction of some unflatteringly daft feminists seemed unnecessary, and I don't know what Brin was trying to suggest by it, if anything. I can't say I enjoyed this half as much as the first: I think I preferred to read of Gordon's struggles as a lone wolf than as a leader. The story becomes less about Gordon and more an out-of-the-blue statement on how women can be soldiers too - or can they? Yes they can! Well no, they can't, because they're silly and weak! But no, wait, yes they can! Or can they? The book gets very scattered and patronising in places, a disappointingly far cry from its earlier form. Despite Brin's attempts (I think) to paint women in a strong light (I think), the story's few women are poorly-characterised and silly, generally serving to topple into bed with Gordon at some point. It must be the uniform.
Despite its increasing missteps, "The Postman" at its best is a compelling portrait of how people, even in the most dire circumstances, grasp for any pale imitation of normal life. It's also the story of a man struggling to reconcile his own principles with a greater - even messianic - sense of moral duty. Gordon is at once selfless and selfish, incredibly powerful but also powerless in the new role he falls into almost by accident. The science fiction aspect is mostly understated, providing an ideal setting for a story that's very much on a human scale. It's a shame that the book loses focus with its themes, making less and less sense as it goes on. The answers Brin offers - if any - don't match the questions he raised earlier, so the book ultimately fails to resolve anything in a satisfying way.
Kevin Costner's film adaptation is arguably more famous than its source material, and seems to be regarded with resounding disappointment by fans of the book. Even with my lukewarm response to the book, I could barely sit through the film after reading it. The two bear next to no resemblance in terms of plot, characterisation, or even setting. If you liked the epic, adventurous tone of the film (and Costner's all-American acting chops) you might be underwhelmed by the book's spare style. If you didn't like the film, you may yet enjoy Brin's original text.
I wanted very much to like this book, and I did think it was onto something great for the first half, but the second half was like a different story entirely. I felt that Brin had undermined his own book by the end, but still, it's better than the film by a country mile.
I've never had much luck with liquid-type eyeshadows - or any eyeshadows at all, really - but picked these up in a 3 for 2 sale at Boots after reading some positive reviews. At £2.99 each I was pleased with how affordable they were. Collection 2000 is one of those young budget brands that seems to contain bum notes and hidden gems in equal measure, but I was hopeful that these would be gems.
PACKAGING: The products come well-packaged in smart, sturdy tubes through which the product inside is clearly visible. I admit the proclamation of "ALL DAY CREASE FREE WEAR!", complete with exclamation mark, didn't convince me at first. It's not stated anywhere how much the tube actually contains, but for their compact size they seem to contain a lot. The cap unscrews to reveal a soft, fluffy doe-foot applicator, and also a plastic funnel neck inside the tube. The funnel is quite tight, making it a little difficult to pop the wand in and out, but it also stops you pulling out too much, reducing waste, and keeps the cream inside from spilling or going dry.
COLOURS: So far there are six colours available, all with a shimmery finish as suggested by the name. Gold Rush (1) is a lovely nude gold; Platinum Bling (2) a tarnished antique silver; Rock n Rose (3) a smokey, silvery pink; Copper Pot (4) a rich bronze; Rockpool (5) a bright sky blue; Emerald City (6) a golden green. So far I've tried all but Gold Rush and Rock n Rose, which look a bit light for me. I do wish there were some more everyday colours available, or even a matte range - but I find shimmers are always more useful than I expect, and take a lot of the effort out of applying a nice glamorous eye. Though six colours isn't many, these are good basics, with something to flatter every skin tone and eye colour. The amount of shimmer seems just right: enough to shine without being overdone.
APPLICATION: The limited instructions are to apply the shadow, blend with your finger, and allow thirty seconds' drying time. The cream's versatility is surprising: you can get a nice sheer shimmer by blending out a small amount, or add multiple layers to get the brightest, richest colour. It takes some getting to grips with, and can be tricky to apply and blend before the cream starts to set. Luckily for me, the shimmery colours are forgiving of shoddy application, adding a nice pop of colour even if the blending is rushed. Thirty seconds does seem to be an accurate drying time, and during that time you have to work quickly and try not to crease your lids. Once they're set, they feel slightly thick but fully dry, unlike some other cream or soufflé-type shadows that seem to remain sticky.
WEAR: I was prepared to be let down here, since any eyeshadow creases on me after a couple of hours at most, sans primer. It was a pleasant surprise to find that the cream stays put for the best part of the day, without primer and without creasing awfully. It's slipped more noticeably after a whole eight hours, but that's still impressive considering my eyelids are mostly a lost cause! It seems to last better in a thicker coat than a sheer one, since any creasing or gathering shows up less if there's more colour. It still comes off easily at the end of the day - one stroke with a cleansing wipe and it's gone. If I'm out for any great length of time, I do still prefer to use it with a primer, but it's great to have something that I can throw on in a couple of minutes and wear until at least lunchtime with no problem. Paired with primer, these eyeshadows are tough as old boots.
I'm very pleased to have tried this range. It's a big plus for Collection 2000: easily affordable, clever but simple, and though it's not quite a miracle product it does live up to its promises. A few additions to the colours would be welcome, but the existing choices are great and more functional than they appear. Even if you fall outside of the brand's target demographic of rainbow-coloured younglings, I'd recommend giving these a look.
I'd started running low on concealer recently and, fancying a change, thought I'd take a chance on one of the new MUA products. They've been really diversifying lately, bringing out foundations, a BB cream, and this concealer pen. It's from their Professional range, so it costs a bit more than their usual items - but that's still only £2.00. I ordered it from the Superdrug website, since I never find Professional items in the shop.
PACKAGING: The pen comes in a slim black box with a window, which is a smart touch, though the card is a bit flimsy. Since there's no room on the pen, the box lists the blurb and all the ingredients: a quick and precise fix for "girls on the go", meant to give a "seamless finish and natural glow" to the face, particularly around the eyes. It contains a bunch of parabens, which is a pity, but too many cosmetics still do. The actual pen is a smart, simple black, with a cap at one end to protect the slim brush. The other end twists to push the product out through the bristles. I'd complain that 1.3ml isn't very much concealer at all, especially for quite a chunky pen, but for the price it's still a bargain item.
COLOURS: I've read that there are two colours floating around, but I've only managed to find one: "Radiance", the only version of the item listed on the MUA website. It seems to be their attempt at an all-purpose beige. I've got light olive skin, and it comes out a bit pale on me if I use too much, but in moderation I don't have any problems with it. If you have lighter skin it would probably be a better match, though I think it might still be too dark for anyone who's very fair. The lack of versatility isn't great, even if there is another colour available somewhere, but it's a new addition to the brand so it may be improved yet.
APPLICATION: The instructions state to twist the end of the pen several times on first use, and it took me so many twists I thought I must be doing something wrong! Eventually I succeeded in twisting out a great blob of concealer - it's so easy to overdo it and make a mess, so do be careful. Otherwise, it's easy to use, with the soft brush making it quick and simple to apply. I find it's a bit on the thick, dry side when blending, but not so much that it impedes a smooth finish. My main reservation is the smell: the concealer stinks of talc, even though it's not one of the ingredients as far as I can discern. It's a bizarre choice of fragrance for a facial product, and does linger for a good while after application. I don't dislike the smell, but it seems inappropriate. I don't understand the reasoning behind a perfumed concealer, especially one prominently suggested for use around the eyes.
QUALITY: I wouldn't say it's totally seamless, but the concealer does provide a good, moderate coverage for blemishes and redness. It's thin enough that I can get away with using a colour that's slightly off, but thick enough to still take the edge off imperfections. It has decent staying power, too - not quite all day, but at least five hours. The pen feels a bit cheap (compounded by me yanking the twisty end, thinking it's the cap) and a bristle seems to have come out of the brush now I'm inspecting it again. I've still got a big soft spot for MUA, though, because they offer dirt cheap items and their attempts to branch out are commendable.
Overall, this is a perfectly serviceable concealer. It's not 100% there yet, but it works and is handy and easy to afford. I'll forgive a loose bristle here and there if the product is good, and this one isn't bad by any means. It's worth trying if you're confident you won't have problems with the fragrance, which remains my only real issue. Who wants a perfumed face? I'm not sure.
I was late to the bandwagon with this series, since I'm always a bit suspicious of the current "big thing". Whenever I've dabbled in the latest bestsellers, I've usually come away disappointed. With the recent film having piqued my interest, though, I thought I'd make an exception and see what the fuss was about, aiming to read the whole trilogy before seeing the film. "The Hunger Games" is the first volume, followed by "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay", and they retail for under £4.00 each on Amazon.
I came to this book pretty sceptical, expecting a sanitised American "Battle Royale" thing - which it is, in basic terms - but there's more to Collins' setting than just that. Her unforgiving futuristic dystopia is called Panem, where twelve Districts exist to serve the wealthy, decadent Capitol. As a yearly warning against rebellion, the Capitol chooses one boy and one girl from each of the poorer Districts, pitting them against each other in a propagandist fight to the death: the Hunger Games.
As the title suggests, there's a whole lot of hunger in the Hunger Games. Everyone is hungry, all the damn time, and before long it's the Hunger and Dehydration Games. It's more than a mere gladiatorial match: to keep the action rolling, the arena is huge and heavily trapped, and the "tributes" must fight for food, water, resources, and geographical advantage, as well as against each other. The Games are broadcast across Panem, blow by blow; if tributes put on a good show and gain popularity with the masses, they're more likely to gain sponsors and be sent gifts to help them survive. The last tribute standing is the victor, days or even weeks later. There's a big satirical swipe at our own reality television in there; Collins is no Orwell, but the subtext adds a bit of weight and topical relevance to the story.
Our heroine is Katniss Everdeen, a teenage girl from the poor mining city of District 12. She's tough, and a survivor, often sneaking out of the District to hunt game for her family, but nothing could have prepared her for ending up as a tribute in the Hunger Games. She's trained, manicured, waxed, beautified, fitted with extravagant clothes, told how to impress the cameras, and hyped up as a juvenile superstar by the people about to send her into the arena. It's a cruel game, before the real Games have even begun, and the stoic, uncharismatic Katniss must learn fast how to give the Capitol the show it wants.
Once the actual Hunger Games start, the pages just fly by. There's action, tension, moral dilemmas and thrilling conflict galore. I didn't find it as shocking and violent as some readers do - I've certainly read more gruesome Young Adult fiction before - but it's still sufficiently grim and threatening. Though it starts off steadily, the book really hits its stride once the Games begin.
Collins' writing is competent and highly readable, if plain. Katniss' view is a good vantage point for the action, though she comes across as too detached and wooden at times, and just downright obnoxious at others. Simply writing a book in first-person doesn't make a character relatable - they have to have a real personality, which Katniss doesn't seem to. The rest of the cast are quite two-dimensional and nothing special, instead made interesting by the nightmare scenario into which they're thrown. For the most part, though, Collins' unadorned style helps the story rattle along at a great pace despite the stilted characters and slightly awkward present tense. The ending clearly sets the reader up for the next book, but I think the first volume stands well on its own.
"The Hunger Games" isn't perfect or groundbreaking - I wouldn't call it the next Harry Potter, since a franchise of that scale happens once in a blue moon - but it's nonetheless a bright star in current YA fiction. It's a quick and lightweight read, but if you look deeper than the text it can yield a lot of food for discussion. I feel like I haven't fully bought into it, but I did genuinely enjoy it, far more than I expected to. Take the hype with a pinch of salt, but it's definitely worth checking out.
I hadn't heard of Brandon Sanderson until I was lent some his of books recently, and I've since read a couple. If you're an avid Wheel of Time reader, which I confess I'm not, you might recognise him as the man chosen to finish the last book in the late Robert Jordan's stead, but when I started reading The Final Empire he was still an unknown entity to me. This is the author's second book and the first book in the Mistborn trilogy, followed by The Well of Ascension and The Hero of Ages. It usually costs around £8.99, but is available on Amazon for far less, and you can even buy the whole trilogy in a box set.
I was deeply sceptical when I first picked up The Final Empire. I love fantasy, but the amount of over-long, generic tat is horrendous, and enough to put me off taking a chance on new series. The book's 600+ pages didn't look promising, and even the names on the cover made me purse my lips a bit. An arch-villain called the "Lord Ruler" may as well be called "The Completely Evil Shadow Overlord of the East" or "The Really Really Dark One - Yes, He's Totally Dark, He'll Eat Your Children". However, I also love a bit of fantasy fluff as pure comfort reading, and hoped this would fulfil that need if nothing else.
The author sets his scene early: the city of Luthadel, capital of the Final Empire, seat of the immortal (and bad and evil) Lord Ruler. The sky constantly rains volcanic ash, mortals lock their doors in fear of the mists at night, and the oppressed "skaa" people live to perform manual drudgery for the upper classes. Add a young skaa girl full of latent magical potential, an economy governed by backstabbing wealthy families, and a motley crew with a scheme to overthrow the Lord Ruler, and you have an epic fantasy plot that's good to go.
Our skaa heroine, Vin, finds herself plucked from a life of poverty and violence in the gutter, and thrown into a world of magic, intrigue, and untrustworthy aristrocrats. She takes it all in her stride, making friends and enemies, attempting diplomacy and espionage, and even finding a spot of romance on the way. The characters are likable despite being fairly flat and generic, and having some daft names even by fantasy standards - Breeze and Ham, anyone? It's the ambitious concepts that kept my attention instead.
Sanderson's magical system of "Allomancy" is the jewel in the crown of this book. It's something fresh and different in fantasy fiction: a magic whose users, known as "Allomancers", can augment mental or physical powers by ingesting and "burning" quantities of metal. There are four pure Allomantic metals, each with an alloy that produces an opposite effect. Most Allomancers can only burn one metal and are called "Mistings", with their own nicknames in the community: thugs burn pewter to increase their strength, making great soldiers; tineyes burn tin to amplify their senses, making good scouts or spies; lurchers burn iron to "Pull" nearby metal objects towards them, while coinshots burn steel to "Push" metal away from them; rioters burn zinc to provoke people into a frenzy, while soothers burn brass to calm the emotions of others, making them powerful diplomats; seekers burn bronze to detect other Allomancers nearby, while smokers burn copper to conceal the giveaway signs of Allomantic manipulation.
As we soon find out, there are some Allomancers who can burn every metal, making them powerful and formidable opponents. They can even fly through the city streets, after a fashion, by Pushing and Pulling on metals. They are known as the "Mistborn" of the title, and make Mistings seem like weaklings in comparison. There are also rumours of atium, the half-mythical, most valuable metal, which gives its user powers as yet unknown and can only be burned by a Mistborn.
It sounds complicated at first, but Sanderson implements his concepts well, and the teamwork and rivalry between Allomancers makes for good reading. Anyone who's idly daydreamed of being Magneto can guess what a lot of potential the system has, with the ubiquity of different metals around and inside us every day. Allomancy has interesting repercussions for the world that Sanderson has made. Soldiers rush to throw off their armour if they realise they're fighting an Allomancer. There are even specific guards, "hazekillers", trained to fight against Mistings - they wear no armour, and fight with wooden weapons. Wearing metal is a symbol of great conceit reserved for the very rich and well-protected. Everything's clearly worked out, in fine technical detail, and Allomancy provides a much-needed solid backbone to Sanderson's adventure.
It's not all easy sailing for a Mistborn, as our protagonists find out, when they end up pitted against enemy Allomancers and the terrifyingly inhuman, unstoppable Steel Inquisitors in their quest to reach the Lord Ruler himself. It's a long, tough mission, not without casualties, and there are some impressive Allomantic battles and duels along the way.
Sanderson's prose isn't brilliant, and was my main reservation with the book. It's awkward at best and woeful at worst, full of wooden dialogue, exposition, and clunking attempts at banter. The characters' speech is littered with modern Americanisms that grate with the otherwise traditional fantasy setting - people "figure" a lot, rather than "think", "deduce" or any of a dozen better words that wouldn't kill the tone. Sanderson doesn't seem to know how to show rather than tell, so a lot of the book is repetitious spoonfeeding. His complex magical concepts and court-intrigue subplots almost seem beyond his ability to express; I got the feeling the book would've been a couple of hundred pages shorter if only he was a more fluent and concise writer. The most adventurous word in his arsenal is "maladroitly", and he makes sure to use it often. That said, his simplicity makes the book an easy read despite its scale and length, and once you're accustomed to his style - or lack thereof - it's easier to ignore.
Despite its shortcomings, I did enjoy the book. I was intrigued by its ideas, and think Sanderson has the potential to be great rather than just good. His strength isn't in character or prose, but in plot and concept. I do wish his writing wasn't so stiff and bloated, but he has a flair for magic that makes him stand out from the crowd. I just hope he doesn't waste that potential in the face of his current success and hype - the next two books are even longer than the first, which doesn't bode very well for his improvement. If you fancy some lengthy but unchallenging fantasy with interesting ideas, The Final Empire is a safe choice; but unless he improves dramatically, "safe" is the best I can say about Sanderson.
In "Rip it Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984", music writer Simon Reynolds tries to cover some new ground, producing the definitive (if not the only) book on the history of "post-punk". Born from the ashes of punk's implosion, post-punk saw the rise of daring, experimental new bands who took the guts and DIY ethos of punk a step further, breaking down the limits of conventional rock'n'roll in a fashion that punk arguably failed to do. Reynolds provides a lovingly compiled document of the movement's birth and decline, from the last days of the Sex Pistols to post-punk's petering-out into "New Pop".
The book itself is a nice bit of work, with an eye-catching yellow and pink cover (a cheeky shout-out, I'm guessing, to the Sex Pistols' artwork for "Never Mind the Bollocks") and with a fair sprinkling of black and white images inside (band photos, record artwork and various other artifacts). It cost me £10.99 at Waterstones' a couple of years ago, though it's available on Amazon for much less now. The back and inner cover are glowing with accolades, and the consensus is that Reynolds has produced a timely, detailed and intelligent study of a much-neglected musical era.
Reynolds sets the scene with brief "story so far" of pop and rock in the late seventies. His prologue is titled "The Unfinished Revolution", suggesting that post-punk was the fruition of what punk started but was too rash and close-minded to fully deliver. As punk burnt out, it left behind a new generation of would-be musicians: they had the rebellious spirit of punk, but they didn't dismiss other genres out of hand. They admired the texture and atmosphere of Bowie and Eno's Berlin trilogy, the minimalism of The Velvet Underground and krautrock, and an eclectic mix of black music, disco and dance. These new bands would, in their own ways, go on to reconcile the leftover energy and attitude of punk with a much more far-reaching, inclusive blend of musical influences.
There's an immense amount of ground to cover here, since "post-punk" is a hugely diverse and largely retroactive label; dozens of bands can fall under its umbrella without sounding anything alike, or having anything in common other than a philosophy particular to that point in time. But Reynolds is enthusiastic and unfazed. Keeping roughly chronological, he moves from one city or scene to another, from chapter to chapter, closely following musical developments on both sides of the Atlantic. It's no mean feat, and he juggles a dozen saucers with great skill.
The first half of the book covers post-punk at its most fresh, daring and controversial: John Lydon throwing off the Johnny Rotten name and testing new waters with Public Image Ltd; the emergence of Buzzcocks and Magazine; the early days of Devo and Pere Ubu in the U.S.; "No Wave" developing in New York; the founding of independent labels Factory, Mute and Rough Trade in the U.K.; the art-school roots of Wire and Talking Heads; the political wit of Gang of Four and The Mekons in Leeds; Cabaret Voltaire and The Human League's futuristic electronic dabblings in Sheffield; The Fall and Joy Division's dark musings in Manchester; the shambolic anti-rock of Scritti Politti; the debauched performance art of Throbbing Gristle; the off-the-wall theatrics of Tuxedomoon and The Residents in San Francisco.
The book's second half sees post-punk's experimental peak waning, and its exponents assimilated into pop music: the 2-Tone label and ska revival; Adam and the Ants' breakup and the subsequent success of Bow Wow Wow and Adam Ant solo; the explosion of synthpop with the new Human League, Gary Numan, Ultravox, Visage, Heaven 17 and ABC; the underrated Scottish scene yielding The Associates, Josef K and Orange Juice (who wrote the titular song "Rip it Up"); the fleeting golden age of New Pop with Simple Minds, Duran Duran, Eurythmics, et al; a return to guitar-based sounds with Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Cure and their gothic kindred; Liverpudlian neo-psychedelia with Echo and the Bunnymen and The Teardrop Explodes; the American hardcore punk scene with Black Flag and Hüsker Dü; the industrial trappings of Psychic TV, Einstürzende Neubauten, Swans and Depeche Mode.
There's a lot to learn, and each chapter is filled with interesting facts and anecdotes. Some more notable bands are given greater space than others, understandably, but Reynolds tries to dedicate some time to all of them, offering at least a couple of paragraphs for each and managing to maintain a smooth narrative throughout. If you like any of the above bands, there should be some great titbits for you, or maybe even some grim facts you'd wish you hadn't read. On one hand, I loved to learn that Talking Heads' "The Overload", from their seminal album "Remain in Light", had been inspired by Joy Division - even though the band had never heard a Joy Division record, only read about them in magazines. On the other, it was a shame to read how Frankie Goes to Hollywood were so dominated by their label and producer that almost none of "Welcome to the Pleasuredome" was recorded by the band themselves.
Reynolds' document draws to a close around 1985, where the fresh, experimental drive of post-punk and New Wave fades, to be replaced with indulgent repetition, big budget videos and Live Aid. Reynolds recaps the previously-covered bands and the state of their careers: some fallen by the wayside, ruined by the industry, and a lucky few continuing their cult or global success. He does give some credit to later-blooming bands such as The Smiths, Primal Scream and The Jesus and Mary Chain as heralds of a new era's alternative music - so all isn't lost, though it's clear that the late seventies and early eighties remain closest the author's heart.
Reynolds is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable writer - a fanboy, but a smart one. He doesn't look very deeply into the politics of the time, or explore the subcultures that surrounded a lot of the music, which seems a shame but is understandable in a book that already covers miles of ground. Though eloquent and detailed, Reynolds writes with an accessible light touch that keeps the book entertaining, even through chapters about bands or scenes I didn't know or like. Even in the few times I found myself becoming bored, the chapter would end in favour of a fresh new one; some other chapters I wished were longer, just because I was biased in favour of certain bands, but the variety really keeps the pages turning.
It's an essential read for any fan of punk, New Wave, and that unidentifiable stuff in between, whether you lived it at the time or (like me) love the music but wasn't alive or sentient enough to appreciate it when it was new and happening. "Rip it Up and Start Again" is not only a labour of love, but a well-written, well-researched study of a subject that was crying out for such a book. It isn't an easy genre to condense into one volume - not even a genre at all, really - but Reynolds' effort is nonetheless courageous and unlikely to be bettered for some time, uniting both obvious and obscure bands under one roof with a lot of care.
"The Sex Pistols sang "No Future", but there is a future, and we're trying to build one."
I'm a big fan of Urban Decay's Eyeshadow Primer Potion, a product widely considered to be the big daddy of all eye primers, but I also find Urban Decay a big cut above my usual budget for everyday makeup. Using Primer Potion for non-special days always feels like a huge overkill. I have an oily complexion that makes eyeshadow a nightmare without a good primer, and I really needed to find an alternative that I could use frequently without feeling wasteful. When MUA released their Eye Primer, I snapped up a couple straight away; it's part of their "MUA Professional" range, more expensive than the £1 range they're famous for, but still costing peanuts at £2.50 each.
PACKAGING: The tube comes in a small black box with a cut-away window - a bit flimsy but nonetheless smart for a budget product. The shiny silver print certainly lends a touch of class that MUA's cheaper items often skimp on. On the back, there's a list of ingredients (unfortunately including talc and parabens) and a brief description: "long-lasting, smoothing, no crease". Once removed from the box, the tube itself is much in the same vein: black with silver print, and the same blurb and ingredients. The cap screws off to reveal a simple doe-foot applicator. On first handling the tube, I thought it felt a bit small - but the contained 7.5ml is really a fair amount for the price.
APPLICATION: The instructions provided are straight to the point: apply to eyelids before makeup application. The first time I used this, I was horrified with the results - it didn't seem to work at all, and just made my eyeshadow crease even more badly. This was down to poor application, though, which I realised later; I'd been applying it in the same way I would the Primer Potion, with only a couple of tiny dabs. This product needs to be applied more liberally: swipe the applicator over your whole lid and crease, and don't be afraid to lay it on a bit thick. Though a creamy beige colour at first, it blends in easily and dries neutral. Just be careful not to leave a crusty pale residue at the outside of your eyes, where it hasn't been blended in thoroughly. The doe-foot wand makes it easy to dab the primer on, and is also soft and easy on the skin, unlike some of MUA's cheaper applicators.
QUALITY: Eyeshadow does look more rich when applied afterwards, living up to the "more vibrant colour" promised on the box. It's also harder to blend, fixing fast pretty much instantly, so this primer isn't forgiving of mistakes; luckily, since it's so cheap, it's not the end of the world if you botch an eye and have to start again. As for "long-lasting wear without fading or creasing", it also delivers well, though the more you apply the better. If you use only a light or patchy coat, your eyeshadow will likely have smeared after a whole day out. As long as I apply it thoroughly and generously, I find it keeps my makeup on as well as the Primer Potion - it might take a lot more, but it still costs a lot less! I can use this for short or casual days, as I'd hoped, but it's still strong enough for long days at university or work, where I'm on the go for eight hours. The only thing to be wary of is the aforementioned chalky marks, which there's a bigger risk of if you apply a lot and don't blend it all meticulously.
The main hitch is availability - MUA is exclusive to Superdrug, but not many stores stock the Professional products, so I had to order mine off the Superdrug website. It's worth ordering more than one, or waiting for one of their free delivery offers, to make the most of buying something so cheap online. Nonetheless this is a great primer that I'll always keep around: inexpensive but effective, perfect for everyday use. It can take some getting to grips with, but it's worth it.
Having read a lot of high praise for Superdrug's Vitamin E range, I was quick to snap up a few goodies when I saw them on 3 for 2 sale, including this scrub for £2.99. I'd been trying to find a good exfoliating product as part of my cleansing regime, but a lot of the scrubs I'd tried were a bit too fine for my liking. Seeing oatmeal in the ingredients, I hoped this one would be more substantially scrubby.
PACKAGING: Though the Vitamin E products don't look like much from a distance, they're surprisingly smart up close. The scrub comes in a 100ml opaque tube with a sturdy flip cap, and the plastic has a nice textured finish that doesn't feel cheap. The description promises a gentle but effective scrub that also protects skin from environmental damage and premature ageing. There's a load of vitamins, too - A, B, F, H, and of course E - and horse chestnut extracts in aid of dry skin. The product's also suitable for vegetarians and vegans, cruelty-free with BUAV's stamp of approval - something I always admire Superdrug for.
APPLICATION: The scrub is meant to be applied after your normal cleansing regime, while your face is still wet. Use gentle circular motions to get the scrubbing action going, and follow up with a thorough rinse off. I really enjoy the exfoliating sensation of the chunky, uneven granules. The scrub is creamy in colour, quite thin apart from the oatmeal, with a faint smell that's a bit "generic lotion" but by no means unpleasant. The cereal texture might be too rough for some tastes, but I like the more unrefined feel compared to scrubs that seem more like medicated grit. Only a small amount of scrub is needed, with a little blob being enough to cover my whole face.
QUALITY: I wish there were more products for normal-oily skin in the Vitamin E range, since this is technically intended for normal-dry. I just really wanted a nice facial scrub! I try not to use it too frequently, since it leaves my face feeling a bit buttery immediately after use, but once my skin's fully dry it feels pleasantly nourished rather than greasy. Using the scrub once or twice a week has no adverse effects on my skin, making it softer, smoother and brighter, so it seems to deliver the "soft and radiant skin" promised on the back. It's a good exfoliator with effective moisturising qualities that are very welcome in this dodgy weather. I don't think it's as deep-cleaning as suggested in the blurb, but it definitely works as more superficial scrub to remove dead skin.
Overall, this is a good healthy scrub that I'm very pleased with, and I can't wait to try more of the range. If you fancy a facial scrub that feels both effective and pleasantly natural, I don't think you can go too far wrong with this. If Superdrug broadened the Vitamin E range to include more skin types, I'd be happy, but I like this well enough as it is.
I didn't fancy this product much, not being a big user of masks, but I was at a loss for a third item to choose in Boots' 3 for 2 offer. I'd really enjoyed the other Botanics products I'd tried, so thought I couldn't go too far wrong with this, even if I ended up using it only rarely. At £2.49, it's a very reasonable find, with or without the offer.
PACKAGING: The product comes in a 120g tube, decorated in the Botanics' simple but classy fashion. The clear squeezy plastic, unlike the old white tube in the photo, makes it easy to get the most out of the bottle and monitor how much is left. The cap is screw-on rather than a flip-top, which I'd have preferred since I'm prone to short-sighted fumbling and dropping loose caps (especially with stuff on my face) but it's not a huge deal. The label describes the mask as containing a negative electrical charge, drawing deep impurities from your skin without drying it out - no idea how that works, but it sounds good! The other main ingredient is burdock extract, a purifying anti-oxidant that helps reduce redness and irritation.
APPLICATION: The bottle needs a good shake before use. When I first shook it, I thought the product seemed runny, and was worried it would be hard to apply. Once I'd squeezed out a small amount, though, it turned out to be just right: thin enough to apply smoothly without needing to use too much, and thick enough not to run everywhere. Though a sort of dark khaki when freshly applied, within ten seconds or so it begins to dry, turning grey and hardening on the skin. It feels a bit prickly and warm, but it's not unpleasant, and has no discernable odour. Small dark speckles appear over areas with lots of pores, which I can only assume are the impurities being drawn out by the mask - the visible effectiveness is quite satisfying. It does crack a bit if you move your face too much, so avoid doing anything too mobile or hilarious. (I never can - I've got it on right now, and I just sneezed.) After ten to twenty minutes of relaxation (or chasing after nearby family members) the mask is ready to come off. I thought it would be crusty and difficult to remove, but a splash of water is all it takes to revert it to liquid, and the whole mask washes off in seconds.
QUALITY: Straight after using it I find that my face is softer and smoother, and my pesky large pores are cleaner and tighter. I'm usually too excitable and impatient to leave the mask on for the full twenty minutes, but ten is enough to get visible results. The next day my skin is still clearer and smoother, and I'm able to apply foundation without being greeted by unsightly rough skin I didn't even know was there - even problem areas like my nose are a breeze to apply makeup to. The effects are less apparent a couple of days after use, but I give my face a bit of time to recover before I use the mask again. The product doesn't specify how frequently it should be used, but I like to use it twice a week to keep my face fresh and pores clear - if you have drier, tighter skin, you'd probably only need to use it once a week.
Though I'm not really a mask person, I do love this one: it's inexpensive and functional, making it feel more practical and less decadent than other masks. One tube is lasting me well so far, but I'll be happy to purchase it again in future, and it's become a welcome part of my regime. Recommended if you want a healthy, effective mask product that isn't expensive and fancy.
I always used to skimp on clear polishes, just because I didn't want to have extra bottles getting in my way while I did my nails. That stuff's not even coloured! I just wanted to get to the fun stuff! However, as a heavy wearer of blacks and dark polishes, I was prone to getting stained nails - that was enough to scare me into some kind of action. I still didn't want to amass more bottles than I needed to, so I thought I'd try Barry M's offering: a multi-purpose transparent varnish that, in theory, is the only one you need.
PACKAGING: The product is in Barry M's standard size and format: a clear, square bottle containing 10ml of varnish. I do like Barry M's bottles - the shape is great for storage and they do contain a lot for the price (around £2.99). Though called "3 in 1 Nail Paint" on the official website, its actual label is "Basecoat, Topcoat & Nail Hardener All in One". Can anything really do all that?
APPLICATION: The varnish is simple to apply, and I use it before and after putting on my normal colours. I find Barry M's brushes to be good, if slightly on the narrow side, which can make their polishes a bit streaky and fiddly to put on - however, this varnish has a slightly runnier formula makes it easy to spread and apply quickly. It dries in a couple of minutes, completely clear, and adds a little bit of extra shine.
QUALITY: In my experience, it delivers best as a base coat - I've never had any problems with discoloured nails after using it. As a protective topcoat, it doesn't make a massive difference, maybe eking out an extra day or two of wear, and it won't prevent chipping or denting if you really knock a nail. The nail-hardening effects are the hardest to comment on, since I have quite thick nails that chip or peel only rarely. They were getting brittle before I was in the habit of using clear coats, so perhaps this did help them recover somewhat, but I wouldn't rely on it as a main nail health product. It's a good base coat and decent topcoat, and the nail-hardening aspect is by-the-by for me.
I like this varnish a lot, and it's been a staple in my nail regime ever since I bought it. I'm now on my second bottle - it lasts for ages! There are undoubtedly stronger topcoats that you can buy separately, and proper nailcare products for hardening your nails, but this one's a convenient jack of all trades. I'd recommend it as an effective base coat - it's still cheaper than most - and handy quick fix for those without specific nailcare needs, but it's not the magical panacea it's marketed as.
I've had very few good experiences with eyebrow pencils, but a lot of good experiences with MUA products, so I was in mixed minds when I found that MUA had brought out their own eyebrow pencils. Maybe I'd finally get a good eyebrow pencil, and cheaply at that - or maybe it'd be terrible? Either way, £1 wasn't much to lose.
PACKAGING: The first thing I noticed about my pencil was that it was really long, about seven inches with the cap on - too big to fit into my little makeup bag! About an inch of that is the grooming brush at one end, but still, it's a lot of pencil for such a tiny price. When I first picked it up in Superdrug, I was surprised that it was one of MUA's £1 range and not a MUA Pro item! It looks very smart, with a metallic base on the brush end, as if MUA are upping their packaging ante a little. Both ends of the pencil have plastic caps to protect the brush and the soft crayon, which is a bit fiddly, but seems necessary and I wouldn't leave either of them off.
COLOURS: Unfortunately, the pencil only comes in two colours so far: Brunette, a deep chocolate brown, and Blonde, a lighter brown. I do hope the range is expanded in future, since both shades are quite warm and don't fully cater to people with more black-brown (me) or cool blonde hair. I tried my luck with the Brunette, and it's still perfectly usable, just not a precise match colour-wise.
APPLICATION: I was dreading that this would be as hard and unhelpful as my last Rimmel eyebrow pencil, but the texture turned out to be a joy. The pencil is highly pigmented with a soft, waxy texture that glides on with only the lightest pressure. I was surprised to see the ingredients on it, since pencils rarely list them, but this one includes Carnauba wax (a kind of palm wax), beeswax and cocoa butter. No wonder it's so nice and soft! It can look a bit heavy because it's so rich, but luckily it's great to blend; a few careful strokes followed by a lot of blending is the way to go. The provided brush does an okay job with this, though it's a bit stiff, as these brushes often are. If you have a preferred eyebrow brush you may as well use that, also saving on faffing about with the two separate caps. Nonetheless, it's nice to know that the product is self-contained if need be. Despite its softness, the pencil lasts most of the day, though expect it to have faded somewhat after a whole day out.
Overall, I really like this pencil and I'm glad to have taken a chance on it. The texture is excellent, and you get loads of product for the (very tiny) price. The only downsides are the lack of choice, and needing to sharpen often to keep the tip in shape. If MUA expands the colour range in future, this will be the perfect eyebrow pencil for me; they're already onto a winner with this formula, but since the Brunette isn't quite right on me, I can't give full marks. I do recommend these pencils anyway - they're easily as good or better than pencils that cost two or three times as much, and the colours might suit you better than me.
Tesco's cake aisles are such a temptation, and I can never walk by without something turning my head. All that cake crying out to be eaten! The prices invariably put me off, though: who wants to pay extortionate amounts for bite-sized little fancy snacks? When I read about these Value bars on here, I just had to give them a try, hoping to finally strike cake-related gold.
The bars come in a small box that's one of Tesco Value's better-looking pieces of packaging, costing 50p for a pack of five. Inside, each bar is individually wrapped in plain, clear plastic; they look misleadingly small at about three inches long, but really they're quite thick and the ideal size to enjoy with a cup of tea or a packed lunch. I can happily eat one of them without feeling sickly or over-indulgent, which is too often the case with me and any cake in my vicinity.
The bars contain milk, wheat, gluten, egg, and soya, and are suitable for vegetarians. I don't normally pore over the nutritional value of snacks like this, since they're obviously not that healthy, but it's worth noting that these are pretty low in saturates (4% of your GDA), which is good going compared to other small snacks - Mr Kipling's similar chocolate chip bars contain over twice as much.
They smell and taste much like chocolate chip muffins, but in a more manageable, handy size. The sponge is light but firm, more moist and refined in texture than you'd expect from a cake worth 10p, and the milk chocolate chips are a bit on the sweeter side, but nonetheless chunky and substantial. They taste easily as good as brand-name cake bars I've eaten in the past (which cost way more, to boot).
In the occasionally dodgy realms of Tesco Value, these are a definite winner in my book, and they're great to always keep a few of. I just wish they came in bigger packs, though for a daily treat or lunchbox-filler, five is a perfect number.