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velissaria
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Member since: 07.06.2009

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    • Stoker (DVD) / DVD / 39 Readings / 38 Ratings
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      13.03.2013 08:22
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      Don't miss it!

      Another masterpiece by South Korean director Chan-wook Park, who playfully, coldly and ruthlessly explores the darkness of the human psyche.

      The movie is his Anglophone début in American movie industry, and is not only as good as the trailer, but hugely better and even more mysterious and captivating. It simply blows your mind away. Fortunately, I ignored the negative Anglophobe reviews and watched it. It's the most complete artistic work by Chan-wook Park in his career so far, an ingenious masterpiece, with the only minor complaint being the lack of the explicit violence he depicts in his Korean movies; this is not his fault though, but the request of the American companies involved, and still he manages to make us shiver with the cruelty of the violent scenes depicted and insinuated.

      To fully appreciate this movie, you must have watched Old Boy and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance, and in general to be a fan of Korean and Japanese cinema. The script is excellent, violent, unpredicted, the plot mysterious and sinister, and not for those who love the silliness of American spoon-fed cinema. If you don't like or understand international cinema, then don't bother. This movie and Matthew Goode's performance are Oscar material, if Oscars were not political travesties.

      I have never watched such a cinematic masterpiece before. Highly stylised, every move, every word, the posture of the actors, every tiny detail has a meaning. The mansion filmed on location has an ominous air of decadence. The plot is Hitchcockian and clearly outlined: India is a strange girl, with something dark and off about her. Her mother is a depressed rich stay-at-home housewife, and we understand that her marriage has become a chore. When India's father has a mysterious car accident, uncle Charlie, an unbelievably handsome man, suddenly appears. And bad things start happening.

      Who, what and why? The movie builds up the plot and the suspension like a dance or the notes of a symphony! This is something I have felt with other movies by Park, and they are the only movies I watch again and again to fully take in and appreciate every detail, and the beautiful music throughout. Little by little, every nod, word, step, bring us to the climax, to the end, the answer to the questions and the harsh reality. There are no easy supernatural explanations here. Only the malevolence of the human heart.

      * This is a movie-only review. Also published on Imdb and Amazon*

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        27.05.2012 20:39
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        Read something else unless you are a fan of the series

        A story about a group of mercenary ex-soldiers meeting mysterious deaths, set at the border between Canada and Maine. When a museum in Baghdad is ransacked in the aftermath of a fierce battle between US troops and the Fedayeen, a small locked box goes missing. After the end of the war, private investigator Charlie Parker is hired by the father of an Iraq war veteran who committed suicide to look into his son's death. Soon, Parker makes a link between a number of seemingly unrelated deaths of ex-soldiers. What is killing them?

        Despite the hype by the British press, this book left me indifferent. My conclusion is that you must have read the previous 8 books in the series in order for the central characters to become interesting, since they are minimally developed in this book.

        But first and foremost, it is a book that does not know what it wants to be. A mystery? A thriller? Crime fiction? Adventure? Horror? Eventually it becomes a bit of everything and nothing. I found the story boring, with no depth, and with little supernatural element, without substance, just for marketing purposes and to please the fans of the genre; but they will be strongly disappointed, so better to stay away. Where did the book reviewers of Daily Mail and The Guardian find the "scary" and "dark" story? I cannot understand. The Little Red Riding Hood is more mysterious and terrifying in comparison. The characters of "Herod", "Collector" and "Captain" are truly demonic and dark, but their involvement in the plot is insignificant and without having read the previous books, I didn't get a clue what they really were about. The author does not make any effort to link the books together and offer a bigger picture.

        Charlie Parker appears one-dimensional, like all the lonely "film-noir" private eyes, but because the book is the ninth in the series, the author obviously believes that the readers already know much about the main character and does not bother to tell us anything new or interesting about him. The other characters, especially the ex-soldiers, are completely predictable in their mannerisms, without any depth. I found the female presence - essentially absence - unacceptable in a supposedly modern novel. The couple of women with a bit of a role in the story, speak and act as caricatures from the '50s.

        Connolly is praised by the press for his "realistic" dialogues. I will disagree again. They reminded me of the standard male cool and macho orientated lingo of film-noir and pulp fiction. His prose definitely did not sound like poetry to me (another praise for his writing by professional reviewers). I also found very annoying the fact that the narrative suddenly changes from first person - of the central hero Charlie Parker - to third person - of other characters - kind of randomly, without plan or reason through the chapters.

        The only praise I found to hold some truth is that although the author is Irish, he writes about North America and Maine effortlessly.

        * John Connolly (2011) "The Whisperers". Available in Kindle Edition (£4.99), Hardcover (£9.95) and Paperback (£4.31). Source: Amazon.co.uk

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        08.01.2012 19:54
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        My first choice

        * The company:

        Bausch + Lomb is a huge company in contact lenses and solutions. When I first started wearing contacts, 20+ years ago due to myopia, my consultant ophthalmologist prescribed me B&L without hesitation, and they have been the brand I'd consider first since. This doesn't mean, however, that the company has been free from glitches: a few years ago, ReNu, one of their contact lens disinfecting solutions, was accused for being contaminated and the company had to take action. However, the products by B&L remain highly innovative: the company offers contact lenses for a number of conditions, even those that previously did not have contact lenses available, such as: myopia & presbyopia (for Near-sighted/Far-sighted), Astigmatism, Cataract, and a Vision Shaping Treatment: it uses customized shaping lenses to correct your vision while you sleep so you can enjoy clear vision while you're awake! (it's expensive though, at about $1500/ year). More on the company and products on www.bausch.com

        * The colours:

        Since I must wear contacts for vision correction, I was delighted when coloured contacts became more affordable, as I like to own different colours and wear them according to my mood. My natural eyes are a "milk chocolate" brown and the B&L Soflens Natural Colors are an ideal option because they are created especially for dark eyes. Of course, the end colour varies a bit depending on your natural colour, and it tends to be a bit darker if you have dark eyes like mine. However, I have read comments from people with black eyes even, and they are very satisfied with the colour change. The great thing is that these lenses manage to cover my natural colour completely, but look very natural at the same time. They are available in nine colours: topaz, pacific, platinum, india, amazon, emerald, jade, aquamarine, indigo, and you can find online photos of how they look, through a simple google search.

        I've used emerald, which is a dark green, but I wanted a lighter green shade and chose Jade, which looks great and VERY natural. People (even the passport control agency and police officers thought that green was my natural colour!). Topaz gives me very very intense dark blue eyes, but it is an unnatural colour by definition, and Indigo subtle purple eyes, which again, as you can see on the photo is unnatural, but still people get confused and think I have mauve eyes. People don't notice that I wear contacts, unless they come very close, and I get compliments from strangers, men and women, for the colours :) This makes the chore of having to correct my vision a lot more bearable and fun, plus I don't need to wear eye shadow very often, which can get into my eyes after a day's wear and then it hurts :(

        * A few important tech bits that you need to know:

        If you read reviews usually from people who wear coloured contacts purely for fun, and thus don't have experience using contact lenses, they sometimes complain that the B&L Soflens Natural Colors hurt their eyes and are uncomfortable. Well, these contacts are made of Polymacon and the company keeps them in a solution that may cause sensitivity to some. After you buy them it is best to transfer them into your usual solution for 24h before wearing them for the first time. Also, they have a standard diameter of 14mm, but a base curve of either 8.5 or 9.1. To put it simply, if you choose the wrong base curve then the lens won't "sit" properly onto your eye, it will move around, and it's not the lens' fault. You need to follow your optician's prescription.

        Another thing is that these lenses have only 38.6% water. Thus, they are a bit more rigid than more 'high water' lenses, but this means they are easier to handle, because they are not so slippery on your fingers and they tend to stay more firmly on your eyes. I have dry eyes, so the fact that they don't require so much water suits me. However, some people may find the low water content uncomfortable, as most lenses on the market use high water contents. Again, check what you usually wear, to make your choice wisely.

        Despite what some people say, I can definitely NOT feel the lenses while wearing them, and they are comfortable. I totally forget they are there. But if I wear them for more than 12hs and my eyes get dry, then the lenses will get dry too and they will start "slipping" (moving around as I blink). This is a faux-pas and creepy to someone who is talking to you(!), but it is most importantly a sign that
        you need to remove the lenses and that your eyes are getting tired. Always keep some lubricating drops suitable for contact lenses at hand. I must admit that there have been a couple of cases where the contact was hurting my left eye (which is super sensitive) very intensely from the start, as if there was a foreign body on it. On inspection, there was no visible fault with the contact, but I had to throw it away. However, that's me not having the time to bother to send the contact back to the seller for proper inspection, and I also know that my left eye has been super sensitive and it reacts strangely sometimes, even with other contact lens brands. If it happens to you, try to send the contact back where you bought it from asap after buying it for proper control and ask for a replacement.

        Some people also complain that the pupil hole of these lenses is small. This is either an advantage, because your natural colour won't show through the hole, or a disadvantage, because it may affect your night vision. Again, be informed! It seems most people don't realise that actually, B&L lenses come in two pupil radius options: 8.4 and 8.7, whereas most other coloured contacts are a standard 8.7. You need to choose what suits your eyes best. I wear the standard 8.7 and I have no problems. The colour doesn't show (maybe because my pupils naturally dilate more often) and I've never experienced any problems with my night vision or my driving.

        The B&L Soflens Natural Colors contacts are designed for daily wear and are "monthlies", i.e. it is advised to change them after a month's use. I keep mine for longer, taking a lot of care disinfecting them properly, and never had problems, but I recommend that you do only what your optician suggests. They are also designed only for day wear, i.e. you must remove them every night and you should not fall asleep wearing them. I have slept with them on for up to 2 h and my eyes have felt dry afterwards, needing to use lubricating drops. Not something I recommend doing as you may get infections.

        You pay about 25 GBP for a box of two (unfortunately of the same power, so if you need different power for each eye you need to pay another 25 GBP and you end up with two pairs, either you like it or not). Do shop around; prices vary and you can save a few pounds by choosing the best online company. There are a few good ones around.

        *Comparison to other brands:

        I tried Freshlook coloured contacts some years back and found them very uncomfortable in my eyes. I did not like the colour result either. I recently tried Expressions Colors by Coopervision in grey and the colour is more noticeably fake, and during the first days my lower peripheral vision of the left eye was a bit blurred (again, that's my moody left eye giving me problems). They were also more slippery due to higher water content and difficult to handle, but I slept with them on for about 7 hours (out of necessity as I missed the train home and I was at a friend's) and I could not believe that they felt comfortable when I woke up and did not stick to my eye! (I kept trying to lubricate my eyes and eyelids with water, though, throughout the night).

        * Summary:

        I give them 4 stars, removing one star for the very low water content. However, the B&L lenses are my first choice. They give you a good choice of colours, a choice of the pupil radius and base curve and a good choice of power (not all coloured contacts accommodate the higher ends of vision correction). Most colours are very natural even on dark eyes and you get lots of compliments! Because of the choice on radius and base curve, I suggest you see an optician for a prescription, to make sure you get the best fit for your eyes.

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        • Vivitar 5190 / Digital Camera / 70 Readings / 68 Ratings
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          06.12.2011 19:34
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          Not a brand I will ever trust again.

          It was back in December 2006 when I came across this camera. It was sold at Superdrug for £40, and considering that it was a 5 megapixel camera, that was an amazing bargain at the time. Unfortunately, that was before my reviewing times, and I was not used to be using the internet to read reviews before buying a product. It was after I bought it that I read a lot of bad reviews about it. Still, I decided to stick to it and try it for myself - a bad decision that I now regret!

          The camera apparently comes in different colours, but mine is silver. The box looked well-made and professional, with the camera in a small black pouch, a usb cable, a CD Rom with drivers and an instruction manual. As I said, the camera's features were very promising:

          * 5.0 mega Pixels - very high at the time
          * 8 X Digital Zoom - I had noticed that it did not have any optical zoom, which is considered superior, but I thought that an 8x digital one would be good for everyday use
          * 1.5 TFT Display
          * Video recording function
          * External MMC/SD Card slots - but no card was provided with the camera
          * Web cam function

          The camera itself is small and compact, about 2" x 5" which would be a plus if it were not that flimsy. It's made of plastic and it feels too light and cheap.

          * Taking photos:

          I am not impressed at all with this. I cannot believe it is supposed to be 5.0 mega Pixels as my 2.0 mega pixels phones used to take better pictures. The resulting photos were not clear and either too dark or too over exposed. I just wanted a camera for everyday use, and it failed. The settings are automatic and apart from switching the flash on or off you don't get many further options. If you use it outdoors under natural daylight the result is better, but indoors, either the result is too dark and "yellow-y" without flash, or too "white" for being over exposed with the flash on. I would say, it is only suitable for daylight outdoor use for taking general scenery photos. It's rubbish at zooming or at photographing objects. Of course, it does not have a macro function, so don't even try to get a close up photo of some detail.

          The TFT display is OK and it is easy to use the usb cable and transfer the photos on to your computer. No card is provided with the camera, but the camera has some internal memory, so you can take about 10-15 photos without needing one, which is convenient. It also has a setting for taking low resolution, middle resolution or higher resolution photographs, which affects the memory size of each photo. However, because the photo quality is so bad, I usually opt for maximum resolution.

          * Video function:

          I've used this once in broad daylight and I must say that the result was surprisingly good and clear.

          * Web cam:

          I use it as a webcam sometimes. It is OK as a basic webcam but one problem is that it is very difficult to make it stand on or near your screen. Especially with the new flat screens it is impossible. In addition, modern webcams, even the basic ones for £20 or so, have built in microphones, whereas you need a separate microphone for this one.

          The biggest disappointment I had while using it as a webcam is that it works with Windows XP but when I tried it on my brother's pc that runs Vista, I could not make it work. The computer recognised the camera as an external USB device and I could transfer my photos or videos, but it did not recognise the webcam function at all. Even after uploading the drivers to the computer from the CD, still the Windows Vista could not recognise the webcam function. I searched online trying to find some new camera drivers, thinking there would be an update. I couldn't find any, so I decided to contact the company hoping that they would point me to updated drivers for this camera. It was end of 2009 and after some internet search I realised that Vivitar belonged by then to Sakar International (http://www.sakar.com/). The reply was utterly disappointing. They were "sorry" to inform me that the camera was "an old model" and not listed among the products that they manufactured after purchasing the brand name of Vivitar. So, they decided not to offer any tech or software support at all. They claimed that they did not even have any of the old cameras, its accessories in stock, or its information at all.

          I think that this is a very irresponsible approach towards the Vivitar customers and consumers in general.  

          Lately, I am having problems making it work as a webcam even with my Windows XP. For some reason I cannot make it work with Skype any more.

          * Battery life:

          Despite its limited functions, it is a real power sucker. It takes 3 AAA Batteries which it consumes pretty quickly.

          As a result, I cannot recommend it at all and I am thinking to simply give it to a charity for recycling parts.

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            08.11.2011 23:46
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            You should definitely give it a try

            I never thought I'd write a review about a clothes conditioner, because I don't feel strongly about them. I like using them to keep the fibres soft and fragrant, and I've tried quite a few different brands. Many smell lovely when you open the lid, but the commonest problem is that the smell disappears after the washing. So, we usually buy whichever brand is on offer.

            We found Comfort Concentrate Tropical Burst on offer as well, so we decided to give it a try. It is very easy to spot on the supermarket shelves, because of the intense orange colour of the lid and the liquid. I like concentrate liquids, because the bottle is smaller and thus are more manageable, take less space in the cupboard and less plastic makes them more environment friendly. This orange liquid has a powerful pleasant orange/pineapple smell. You only need 1/3 (18 ml) of the cup for handwash, about 2/3 (35 ml) for a standard 4-5 kg load, and a full cup (55 ml) for large loads or super softness and freshness.

            You must pour the liquid into the washing machine drawer and not directly onto fabrics. I cannot say that the clothes became much softer than with other conditioners, but definitely this is the conditioner that made them smell the best. Furthermore, the smell lingered after I tidied the clothes in their cupboards and wardrobes, and even after wearing them! My other half was very impressed with Comfort Tropical burst, and commented on how the nice subtle smell of freshness stays with his shirts all day long. We like it so much, that we are now prepared to pay more for it, rather than try other conditioners on offer. It costs about £2.90 - £3.30, but we bought our most recent bottle on offer yesterday from Morrisons for £2 for 1.5 L which equals to 42 washes!

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            • vivatic.com / Internet Site / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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              01.11.2011 21:07

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              I registered in April 2011 and now deleted my account. You need £25 to qualify for a reward. You don't get invitations by email but you must check the site every day. They promise work from home, but whenever I tried there "were no jobs available" for me. Got fed up.

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              23.09.2011 20:59
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              Recommended

              Torberta (aka Torby) is a 14 year-old orphan who lost her parents in a car accident and since then she acquired a special skill: she can hear and talk to dead people, but she cannot see them. Her relatives find her strange and spooky, and believe that she is mentally unstable, so they enrol her at St Christopher's Academy, a boarding school for kids and teenagers with mental problems and learning difficulties, and they try to keep their contact with her to a minimum. Torberta prefers staying at school anyway, as she has a few friends there and she feels safe. She can also communicate with the ghost of a young man named Charlie, who has become kind of her guardian angel. The problem is that other ghosts try to communicate with her as well, most of the time for their own selfish reasons, making Torby's life miserable.

              On her website, the author explains that after many failed attempts to find an agent, she decided to self-publish the book, initially on Amazon's Kindle and later on paper. This review regards the printed version of the book and I don't believe that because it is a self-published book it is deprived in literary quality. The book aims primarily at young adults, but I found it suitable for older teenagers and older adults as well.

              It is essentially a well-written, bitter-sweet story about what could be an average teenager who feels insecure, lonely and abandoned. Torby feels rejected by her relatives, but even more so by her own dead parents, as she tries to understand whether they have "moved on" after their deaths, and why they never tried to communicate with her since she has that special gift. Sometimes, she also doubts her own sanity.

              The language and dialogues flow very well, and the story is well-written. The description of the boarding school brings to the readers' minds memories of their own school years with the favourite and boring teachers, the nice kids and the bullies. It feels like a combination of The Sixth Sense and Harry Potter.

              However, it is unfortunate that the author reveals Torby's fate on the back cover summary. There is absolutely no need for that direct revelation - the title could be considered ambiguous or just a game of impressions - as it makes the story more predictable. In addition, until around page 160, the story is mostly a description of Torby's everyday life at the Academy and at her relatives' house. It's only after chapter 14 (out of 24) that new characters and some mystery and action are introduced. If there were some hints that things went wrong here and there in the earlier chapters, the story would be more balanced and more enjoyable.

              The font size is adequate for easy reading, wit lots of space between paragraphs and dialogues. However, if the text alignment were justified and there were indentation at the beginning of each new paragraph or dialogue line, the book would look more professional. In addition, to separate the different sections within chapters, three stars (***) instead of a full line of them would be enough.

              The author gives food for though regarding metaphysics, the paranormal and life after death. It is a pleasant read and I generally recommend it, but maybe not so suitable for the very emotional and fragile teenagers with issues around death and suicide.

              Many thanks to the author and the Fantasy Book Review website (www.fantasybookreview.co.uk) for providing my review copy.

              Mawhiney Shannon, The Death of Torberta Turchin. Charleston: USA, 2011. pp. 307. ISBN 1460937902, ISBN-13 978-1460937907.

              Availability:

              * Amazon.com Kindle Edition $5.74, paperback (new) $11.69
              * Amazon.co.uk Kindle Edition £2.14, paperback (currently only used) from £10.94

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            • groupon.co.uk / Internet Site / 75 Readings / 71 Ratings
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              14.08.2011 16:22
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              Reluctant to use again

              * How it works:

              Groupon is a company that promotes discount services and goods in four categories:
              Restaurants and Bars,
              Film and Entertainment,
              Beauty and Well-being, and
              Sport and Leisure

              You choose your city / town or the nearest place from a list, you submit your email, and every day you get a message with the deals that are on at the time. There used to be only one or two deals per day, but now there are more. There is also a "National Deal" each day, which is valid all over the country, and regarding London, they have recently added the option to receive emails specifically for South, North, East or West London.

              Groupon basically acts as a mediator between the customer and the retailer / service provider. The premise is that if enough people buy a deal on the same day, then the goods or services can be offered at heavily discounted prices. Groupon promises discounts up to 90% off, and often advertises deals for 70% or 50% off. If enough people buy the deal, then you get a confirmation that the deal is on, and an e-voucher to use through email. You also get 6 pounds for every friend you recommend and who buys a deal.

              * What's the catch?

              The catch is that as most of the deals regard various services (hair salons, Spas etc.) these places heavily exaggerate on the original value of the services offered with the coupon and make the discount appear much bigger than it is. In addition, you must follow certain rules and restrictions as to when to book, the service may be of low quality, and as the deal consists usually of a package there is the danger that the provider b@llsh@its you and offers you fewer services on the day.

              * My experience:

              This is exactly what happened to me. I received as a gift a voucher for the "award winning" Macs Salon in London. Supposed value of services: 290 pounds(!), Groupon voucher: only 59 pounds. The package included: cut, blow dry, half head of highlights, a facial, an intensive conditioning treatment, scalp massage and a glass of champagne and fresh fruit juice. I was delighted!

              The voucher was valid for six months, 7 days a week apart from December, so I booked an appointment in advance without any difficulty. I made it clear that I had a Groupon voucher both on the phone and in person, when I arrived at the salon, and I gave it immediately to the reception.

              I did have my cut and blow-dry, as well as half-head of highlights, but I was asked to pay £10 extra for a toner or else I was told that my hair colour would have looked uneven. I had to pay, as I was caught in a situation that I didn't want my hair to end up looking weird, but I thought that this was unfair, and should have been included as a service in the highlights deal. The customer is not a specialist to know in advance what is needed. A highlights deal should be a complete deal for half-head highlights, as stated. Even worse, I did not receive any intensive conditioning treatment, only the standard 2 minutes conditioner after shampooing, and I did not receive any "relaxing 20 minute scalp massage" either. When I returned home, I had a look online for reviews by other customers who had used the same Groupon deal, and other ladies made the same comment.

              Worst of all, I was not even given the facial. The staff tried to quietly get me my coat and get rid of me, but when I said "I did not have my facial!" and talked to the staff about it, the receptionist told me a story that my beauty therapist was pregnant and had to go urgently to the hospital. I found that strange, as another lady had just finished her facial! She gave me a "voucher" telling me that I could use it to get the facial on a different day. I took the "voucher" without arguing further, as I was quite tired and disappointed by that point. When I returned home, I had a look at the supposed "voucher" and it was just an appointment notebook page with the date of my original appointment and the words "mini facial" on it. No explanation, no "free mini facial", no name of authorisation, absolutely nothing.

              While I was at the salon (I spent around 3 hours there), I noticed that the staff was very busy, but they did not have a clear idea which customer with a coupon was entitled to what. I then realised that they had another Groupon deal running at the time, with a different offer, and the staff was completely confused who was having what. This must be the fault of the reception desk, as they should have informed the staff accordingly.

              During the past few months, I hoped that I could go back and at least claim my facial. However, as I live in Hampshire and that coupon was a gift, I have been so busy that I could not find the time to go all the way to London and confront the reception about a "voucher" which they may not even accept. I decided to write to Groupon directly about my experience, and I narrated to them on email what I just told you. I expected a carefully considered reply by a manager, along the lines: "we will investigate the issue and get back to you with the results", provided that I attached in my email both a copy of my e-voucher and a scan of the supposed Salon "voucher" for the facial. I got very disappointed when I got a general, non-committal reply saying that they were sorry for my bad experience, they forwarded my comments to all involved parties, and that they would do their best to make sure this won't happen again. To me this is fobbing off. When a company takes your comments seriously, a senior manager sends you a message and a follow-up discussing what went wrong and what *specific* actions will be taken to make sure this won't happen again.

              *Verdict:

              I was very disappointed with the overall service and I find myself reluctant to use the service again, if the participants don't honour their deals. Groupon should make some effort to guarantee the quality of the deals, especially as now there are rival companies such as KGB Deals.

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              • Newvistalive.com / Internet Site / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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                13.08.2011 18:28

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                Very high threshold (50 pounds) + I have completed a lot of surveys with them and I never got credited for any of them. I contacted them and they asked me for survey codes and dates, which of course I had not written down. So, if you give them a try, ALWAYS write down the survey code, date and points after you complete them. They never appear on the "my earnings" tab. I noticed on the forum that many other members had problems with missing points.

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              • Duma Key - Stephen King / Fiction Book / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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                06.08.2011 19:45

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                Very long book (almost 600 pages). It belongs mainly in the drama/fantasy books by King (like Bag of Bones, Dark Tower, Gerald's Game) so the fans of his 'purer' horror stories (Salem's Lot, Pet Cemetery, The Cell, The Mist) may be disappointed. The action / horror really exists in only the last 200 pages. Excellent all-round characters though and interesting mystery, as usual by King.

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              • Apartment 16 - Adam Nevill / Fiction Book / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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                05.07.2011 10:23

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                Very good prose, very dark, Gothic style and scary. Very well researched and the author knows his stuff. It focuses only on two characters though, and I would have liked more interaction with the rest of the inhabitants in the building and more development regarding Stephen.

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              • Still Life - Joy Fielding / Fiction Book / 0 Readings / 0 Ratings
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                05.07.2011 10:15

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                Unfortunately, although the premise is interesting and I had high hopes for this one, it's more 'chick-lit' than crime and totally predictable. So, I am bored and I think I'll give it up.

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              • More +
                10.06.2011 15:51
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                Very good value for money, with excellent ingredients. You must give it a try.

                "Wish upon a jar" is a Soap & Glory product. These products are easy to spot at Boots, as their boxes are bright pink or red, with lots of info on the package and a retro glamorous B&W photograph. I've noticed that some of them are made in Switzerland and some in the States. This instantly says "quality" to me, as I don't like to use cosmetics of dubious manufacturing origins.

                Apart from Boots, the products are also available from Asos.com and Harvey Nichols, so the brand tries to be quite exclusive. For more information you can visit: http://www.soapandglory.com

                * The promises:

                Soap & Glory is a company that uses a lot of talking and hype on the packaging of its products. So much so, that it is difficult to know what to believe.

                "Wish upon a jar" comes in a bright pink box with a beautiful retro photo of a lady who looks like Ava Gardner. It is described as a "21 day Collagen Overhaul Cream" that contains a "superactive" formula that "must not be overused". It is aimed at ageing, dull and tired skin and the manufacturer suggest to use this intensive facial treatment using only one jar each season, i.e. once every three months, for a three week period only, and to always combine it with a suncream. I am not sure what bad thing is supposed to happen to you if you use it for longer. I used the jar intensively for 4 weeks, and then I focused its use around my eyes and mouth. The company mentions danger of hypersensitivity, but I have not experienced any. They also make it clear that you must not put it inside your eyes by accident, as it will hurt and blur your vision.

                It promises to boost moisture levels, smooth fine lines and wrinkles, brighten tired skin and hide imperfections.

                * My reality - They talk the talk but do they walk the walk? Lets see what the facts are.

                Inside the box, it was a bit of a surprise, because instead of the usual cream pot, the cream is inside a silver sphere. I initially thought it looked a bit tacky, but I must admit that 3 months down the line and the sphere is as shiny as when I first looked at it. I am so impressed by it that I don't want to throw it away and I think I will keep it to store jewellery.

                The cream itself is of thick-ish, slightly sticky, consistency, slightly pink in colour, with a discreet bubblegum fragrance. I found that very girly and pleasant, as it is not overpowering. Despite the thick-ish consistency, the cream is applied easily and gets absorbed without flaking. It gives a uniform appearance to the skin surface, but the big problem for me was the opposite: I thought that the thick-ish cream would adequately moisturise my skin, but unfortunately, I felt my skin dry a bit after the application. I was going through a rough patch with my skin, that can get oily with large pores around the nose but dry in general. Although I felt that the cream plumped my skin, and I was very happy with that, I felt the dry areas remaining dry. Even when I applied a moisturiser on top, as recommended by the company, the two creams did not blend well. "Wish upon a jar" seemed to be creating a kind of a barrier, and my skin remained kind of tight and dry.

                This cream brags that has "TRIPLE-ACTION YOUTHFAKETM Diamond spheres" (indeed, it has Diamond Copolymer in the formulation) to invisibly illuminate the skin with a spectrum of blue glow to instantly minimise the look of lines, wrinkles, and shadows. Although I do agree that the skin does appear brighter and more uniform upon application, I think the rest is exaggeration. It cannot hide "large pores, pigmentation or discolouration" because it does not have any added colour to it.

                I must say that I like the fact that Soap & Glory are clear on the box and on their websites about the ingredients of their products, but when I looked at them for this review, I was perplexed because the order of the ingredients on the box and on the website is slightly different. As the higher an ingredient is on the list, the more abundant it is supposed to be in the formulation, I don't understand why there is no consistency. This product has been manufactured in Switzerland and tested for its efficacy in Italy and the UK, according to the information on the box. As I have seen ingredient inconsistency in the past, with Olay, it makes me wonder if companies change the ingredients slightly depending on the place of manufacturing and the market their are targeting. So, with international products I don't usually rely just on the brand name, but check the small print on the individual box to avoid surprises (i.e. buy a product with the same brand name but different formulation, because it was intended for a different country).

                It is true that the "Wish upon a jar" formula features all the latest anti-ageing ingredients at a very good price. It's got Jojoba Seed Oil, Shea Butter, Orange Peel Oil, Panax Ginseng Root Extract, Passion fruit Seed Oil, Purple passionflower Seed Oil, Gynostemma Pentaphyllum Extract (china's 'immortality' herb), Hyaluronic acid, Sodium Lactate (strong antimicrobial and humectant), a form of vitamin E, Rose Centifolia Flower Extract, two forms of vitamin C, and Palmitoyl Oligopeptide and Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-7 like the Boots creams. It's good to see that Silicone (dimethicone) is low on the list, as it can clog pores and cause irritations, and it has no parabens. Mica, a naturally occurring group of minerals, gives a sparkly white appearance, and diamond mineral powder corrects the skin tone. So, it is true that the formula has antioxidants, and a mix of clinically proven anti-wrinkle peptides, oxygen boosters, puffiness reducers, pore and fine-line disguisers.

                The normal price is £14.30 for 50 ml, but Boots often does 3 for 2 Soap & Glory offers. I think it is a very good price for all the good ingredients this cream has in the formula.

                * In brief:

                This cream does plump up the skin, visibly smooths lines (including crow feet) and makes your face look brighter and more even in colour. I find it great around the eyes and to target specific wrinkle prone areas. In my case, unfortunately, with my skin having a bad time, it did not provide the levels of moisture I expected and needed, and it did not work well with my other creams. However, I would encourage you to try it because it is very good value for money, with excellent ingredients, much cheaper than Boots no 7 Protect and Perfect series, and everybody's skin reacts in a different way. Btw, I did not experience any irritation or other adverse reaction.

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                  17.04.2011 16:25
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                  Better to just chop some citrus fruit, onion and garlic, as they have the same effect

                  * Introduction - I wish my neighbours read this. I know you love your cat and try to keep it active by letting it outdoors, but please think of your neighbours. We have 2-3 cats in our neighbourhood and:
                  1) they don't wear collars with bells, which is very inconsiderate towards wild birds (we try to increase their numbers by spending quite a lot of money on wild bird food) and
                  2) they foul everywhere in our freshly dug gardens.

                  This can be very frustrating and I actually consider it anti-social behaviour (on behalf of the owners, not the cats obviously). Although I love animals, I try to be hostile towards the cats, so that they don't get encouraged to visit our front and back gardens and I am afraid I don't feel inclined to get to know and have a friendly relationship with their owners either. You may think this is unfair / tough but believe me, when you have worked for 3-4 hours on your garden during the weekend and you find a lot of smelly cat poop covered with horse flies on Monday morning, you get infuriated.

                  * What is this product? - The product comes in a simple plastic bottle and it is a cat and dog repellent. Its smell is designed to discourage cats and dogs from fouling lawns and gardens.

                  Its full name is "Vapet Get Off my Garden" and the label looks like the dooyoo picture. On Amazon.co.uk however, you can find the same product under two different pages, titles and labels. The one page features the product as shown in dooyoo, with the title "Get Off My Garden Scatter Crystals". Its weight is 450g and its price is currently £3.11. The other page shows a smaller bottle, 249g, with the title "Vapet Get Off My Garden Crystals", a darker green product in it, a different label and the much higher price of £5.06! It's interesting that this label is in German, so the product seems to be a German import. I have no idea why Amazon.co.uk sells it, but it shows how important is to shop around and not to trust retailers. I used to be able to buy a small bottle (225g) from Poundland, but now they seem to only sell an imitation product.

                  The product is in the form of soft jelly-like green crystals which have a very strong lemony-citronella smell. Because the smell is so strong, cats and dogs won't want to foul that area and "over a period of weeks" they will be trained to foul somewhere else, i.e. on your neighbour's garden who doesn't apply Get Off >:)

                  Using the product is a simple task: you remove any poop and clean the area with water - and vinegar, I add - and then you scatter the crystals on the soil, avoiding contact with soft stemmed plants, grasses and leaves, as some discolouration may occur. I haven't experienced any serious side-effects by using this close to my plants. You must, however, keep it away from fish ponds. It can also be used on concrete, paving and around lawns and plant beds. A 225g bottle covers 25 m2. I noticed that in our case, a single use at our small front garden almost empties the whole bottle, as you must put plenty of it out there to get even some temporary results. Vapet also produces Get Off sprays for outdoor and indoor use.

                  *Does it work? - Not much. The principle behind Get Off is very basic really: it tries to eliminate previous fouling odours, so that the animals foul somewhere else. But cats, especially, can be very persistent and they love freshly dug soil. Even if you remove the whole fouled soil area and replace it with fresh soil, if they love the feel of your garden they will return! Get Off works for 2-3 days, but then the smell goes away and the cats return. It seems that it is sensitive to frost and heat, and after it rains, the gel becomes a transparent slime which is completely ineffective. Ideally, you need to keep treating your garden every 2-3 days with it to have any effect, but it gets considerably expensive because it is not a cheap product. This is its biggest disadvantage: to have to use it week after week and being expensive.

                  * Conclusion - I think this is a short term quick fix. Personally, I'm fed up spending my money on it. I recently tried alternative methods, like a combination of lots of bamboo skewers (although they don't look particularly nice and the cats will try going round them) and a mixture of finely chopped lemons, oranges, onion and garlic spread around. It's not a perfect solution, but it works as well; the citrus fruits, onions and garlic are more easily available, last longer (about 5 days) and are cheaper.

                  Some people put down pepper and powdered mustard to punish the cat after it licks its paws, but I think this serves no purpose apart from revenge, because the animal won't be able to associate this pain with having fouled in a garden earlier. Others say that some plants deter cats, such as coleus canina, rue, lavender, and geranium. I had geranium and lavender in the garden and they did not deter them at all. I've even heard that lion (!) poop completely scares cats off, but it's rather difficult to get hold of, and would you really like your garden to smell of it?! Ultrasonic devices get good reviews, but if you have other pets or a pond with fish you must check with the manufacturer. In our case they are no good, as the fouling mostly happens in the front garden and such a device would get stolen. I am seriously thinking of covering areas around the plants with slate, but why should I compromise the looks of my garden because of somebody else's cats??

                  The best solution is for cat owners to keep their cats indoors for parts of the day/night and encourage them to go to a litter tray in their house or garden, before they go out. I'm fed up with our neighbours leaving their cat outdoors 24/7 in heat, frost or snow. It's not better than a stray.

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                    24.03.2011 00:26
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                    I cannot recommend it to any horror story fan

                    When I received by Real Readers a book to review that was written by Peter Straub, I got excited for I had already read and enjoyed his two works with Stephen King, namely the 'Black House' and the 'Talisman' (although I never quite understood how it is possible to co-author a fictional story). Unfortunately, the book under review, entitled 'A Dark Matter', did not live up to my expectations.

                    "Terrifying...impossible to put down" writes Stephen King; "A new horror epic" states Sunday Express; boring and pointless, I say. I am an avid reader who loves crime and horror stories, but this book is neither. It is a rather weak, badly planned social drama, that is not sure what it wants to be: a horror/crime/drama/serial killer story? In the end, it becomes a mismatch of everything. There is a supernatural element indeed, which has cleverly been hyped by the marketing team and the media, but the only terrifying thing in this book is how slow and pointless it is, to the point of mental torture for the reader who tries to finish it.

                    The premise sounds interesting and if developed in a different way it could have been a success: in the 1960s a charming hippie 'guru' type called Spencer Mallon, with an interest in ancient languages and the occult, arrives in an American town and gets the devotion of three college kids and a group of four teenagers. His vision is to organise some kind of a ritual in a local meadow, which however goes terribly wrong. As a result, one kid disappears and another is found dismembered. The surviving kids never reveal many details and they just seem to go on with their lives, but each one of them was traumatised by the event in a different way. Forty years later, writer Lee Harwell, once a teenager who escaped Mallon's charm and did not take part in any of the events, tries to finally find out what happened back then and why it damaged his friends so much. He tries to talk to them and persuade them to open up, and this becomes the main theme of the book.

                    Supposedly, main character Lee acquired a renewed interest in the events in the meadow when his other book projects did not go very well with his publisher, and this must reflect Straub's situation in real life. According to Wikipedia, he published an earlier, longer draft of 'A Dark Matter' in a limited edition under the title 'The Skylark'. It seems to the reader that 'A Dark Matter' is the publisher's effort to save the story by editing it, but the editing was not extensive enough or successful second time round either. Although the first person narrator is Lee, the story gets told by the point of view of his friends as well, but there are numerous repetitions and incoherent ramblings that certainly don't create "brilliant psychological portraits". I still believe that Stephen King has a unique unsurpassed charisma in developing well-rounded characters in his tales. The characters here are not well-developed; we only get a glimpse of their young selves and then a glimpse of their middle-aged ones and I did not feel connected to any of them. We never find out what happened to Mallon either. His character remains very one-dimensional and then disappears from the story.

                    The first 40 pages are quite confusing, and Straub uses pretentious language and an inconsistent narrative style throughout the book. In some parts the language is simple and the narration flows, yet in other parts the language gets twisted and the narration confusing as he draws quotes from the American 19th century novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne that mean nothing to the non-American reader not familiar with his work. The pace of the book is uneven, with loads of unnecessary padding. As the story goes on, Straub releases very few new information. In reality, the story progresses in the last 60 pages and the reader can't help but feeling that this could be a short 100 page novella instead of a struggling 439 page novel. When the last character finally gives a more complete narration regarding what happened in the meadow all those years ago and why it was traumatic, many parts seem silly and certainly not horrifying as expected. How critics can compare this failure to Akira Kurosawa 's masterpiece 'Rashomon', at least according to Amazon US, escapes me and I consider it an insult to the Japanese film master.

                    This book was a most boring and pointless read and I cannot recommend it to any horror story fan. It may be more suitable for those who like slow-paced dramas with a slight supernatural hint.

                    Peter Straub is an American writer whose horror fiction has apparently received many prestigious awards. How did he get it so wrong here? You can find out more about him at http://www.peterstraub.net/

                    Peter Straub, 'A Dark Matter', London: Phoenix, paperback edition 2011, £6.99. pp. 439. ISNB 978-0-7538-2882-3.

                    Many thanks to Real Readers for providing a review copy.

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