Night Terrors by Tim Waggoner Book Review – 3 Stars

Night Terrors

For many people clowns are the stuff of nightmares and there they should remain.  In the modern age you can pretty much live a life free of these demon entertainers; just avoid going to the circus, CBEEBIES and any films about IT.  But what about if the clowns of your dreams decided to leave and come to the real world?  In the world of ‘Night Terrors’ not only do you have to get along with your nightmare, but you may just have to buddy up with them as cops.

The line between the real world and dreams is a surprisingly thin one.  To the majority of us we will never know, but some people bond with their nightmares and can travel from one world to the other.  Audra is one such person and with the help of her psychotic clown sidekick, Mr Jinx, she must help police this line.  Usually, the job is the occasional chasing of a nightmarish creature along the city streets, but recently these events have been happening more regularly and covering them up is becoming impossible.  Are the worlds of the wake and the asleep about to collide and what happens if it does?

I am a fan of Tim Waggoner and in particular his Nekropolis books that star Zombie PI Matt Richter; a series of great action adventure books that took place in a brilliantly realised world.  ‘Night Terrors’ does not stray too far from this template as the world of Hell is similar to that of dreams.  However, in this series it allows Waggoner to bring in far more human elements to the story as half is set on Earth.  On a plus note this means that you can identify well with the characters, especially Audra, but best of all is seeing the dream and wake versions of the same characters.

The element I found most interesting was Jinx’s insane dream version compared to his more benign and intelligent wake version.  The relationship between the two partners is complex, Jinx was born of Audra’s nightmares, but has become somewhat of a protector to her.  Although a beast of nightmarish qualities, Jinx knows what he is; it is Audra’s lack of professionalism that is the biggest danger at times.

The characters of the book work well and there are some fun sidekicks included later.  However, the book concentrates too much at times on the action.  There are big set pieces as supernatural beings take on one another.  These are ok in moderation, but are a little too numerous here.  It is not helped that there is often little consequence to the action as a team of dream weavers just repair things and make humans forget.

There is a nugget of a good idea at the centre of ‘Night Terrors’, but it suffers as much from anything from being similar to the Nekropolis books, but not as good.  I would have preferred more Richter stories than spending time here.  Waggoner seemingly wanted to merge his ideas of hell with the real world, but rather than enhancing the tension, it has lessened as all he consequences are tidied away.

3 Stars

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Oi Cat! by Kes Gray and Jim Field Book Review – 4.5 Stars @_JimField

Oi Cat

When did children’s books become so Meta?  Back in the day each Thomas the Tank Engine adventure was separate from the other as if they lived in their own episodic wildness, but not today.  In this world of Nintendo Switches and online platforms the average adult is too scared to venture onto, we have metaphysical children books.  Books that reflect back on previous outings in the series.  If you are going to get the most out of ‘‘Oi Cat!’’, you best know about your ‘‘Oi Frog!’’ and ‘‘Oi Dog!’’ too.

When we last left the creatures of ‘‘Oi Frog and Friends’’ world they perched precariously on a selection of odd items.  One unhappy customer of Frogs rhyming solution was Cat.  This feline found itself having to sit on gnats and that is not a comfortable place to be.  Therefore, Cat goes about looking for an alternative place to nestle, but Frog won’t let Cat off easily – you must follow the rules.

Both original outings by Kes Gray and Jim Field were examples of daft excellence.  ‘‘Frog’’ and ‘‘Dog’’ are basically books about rhyming animals with silly things.  The fun is in seeing Field’s illustrations as he shows a pony having to sit in macaroni etc.  Things are little different in ‘‘Oi Cat!’’, but there is a twist.  The rules that Frog makes everyone live by come to the fore. In this dictatorial landscape we find our hero, Cat.  The book plays a little on gentle questioning of authority, but really it is still an excuse to have a load of animals doing silly things.

The combination of Gray’s writing and Field’s illustrations work wonderfully once again, no matter what Gray fires at Field, he can draw it.  Fans of the series will love this outing as it is essentially more of the same, but delve a little deeper and it is playing with the lore of the world.  Not many children’s books create a universe in which the characters inhabit, but Gray has achieved it.  New readers to the books would be best tackling them in order as you will otherwise lose out on some of the in jokes and the bigger picture.  Fans should grab this with abandon, they will especially love the ending.

4.5 Stars

Ultrasport Horserider Home Trainer Review – 4 Stars

Horserider

Exercise is not always fun and in fact can be a little dull.  One thing I like to do is exercise in front of the TV so that I can work my body, whilst vegetating my brain.  The ‘Ultrasport Horserider’ is the type of tool that has been used in the UK for centuries; you find old fake horses in Stately Homes for people to exercise on when it rained.  This horse is just about light enough to carry about the place, but you will probably want to store it close by to where you exercise and it is not really pretty enough to be on full display all the time.

Even as odd as it looks once built, it is a sight for sore eyes when compared to how it arrives.  On a positive note the box is not actually that big, but the negative is that you need to build it.  It is probably best tackled by two people as they are some tricky elements that are helped when one person is holding and the other is tightening.  The instructions need to be followed carefully, but anyone who has tackled an IKEA flat pack will know the drill.

Once built the ‘Ultrasport Horserider’ is significantly different from an exercise bike.  It uses far more muscle groups as a combination of your own body weight and the machine’s resistance works on legs, arms and stomach.  There are a range of tensions to choose from, but if you are anything like me the lowest will work to begin with as they applied enough pressure.  Being lifted as you exercise feels like a slightly more fun and different way to exercise and the good thing is that it a smooth action so you are not punishing joints.  I would recommend this to someone bored of their exercise bike, or for someone considering getting some sort of home exercise machine – it is a good alternative.

4 Stars

Knock Knock Pirate by Caryl Hart and Nick East Book Review – 3.5 Stars

Knock Knock Pirate

There are certain subject matters that seem to resonate well with the toddler demographic; dinosaurs, animals, pirates.  ‘Knock Knock Pirate’ by Caryl Hart and Nick East takes one of these big hitters and brings the pirates to the child.  When a child is visited by some pirates she is in for more than she bargained for as they confiscate her house and sail it away to look for treasure.  Can the child help the salty crew before they make her walk the plank?

‘Knock’ is a charming book that really plays up a child’s love of pirates.  If you know a child like this, then this book will have instant appeal.  It hits many a cliché and East’s illustrations really give the book a sense of fun and movement.  The pirates bring with them a sense of anarchy and many a mischievous kid will enjoy their antics.  There are so many things to look at on each page that a lot of entertainment is just had talking about what is going on and not really focussing on the narrative.

It is some of Hart’s choices that bring the book down from being a must have.  Within the book is a counting element, but it feels a little sporadic.  One minute you are counting up, then next the story is progressing.  It gives the story a slightly stilted feel and this is also seen in some of the rhymes.  They don’t all scan perfectly, so you find yourself stumbling over some of the words as the timing is slightly out.

There is enough contained within the illustrations and daft nature of the tale to entertain most children, but especially those that love the high seas.  With a little more finessing on the wordage front, it would have been one for all, as it is, stick to pirate loving children.

3.5 Stars

AmazonBasics Cylinder Vacuum Cleaner Hoover with bag Review – 4 Stars

BAsic Hoover

I am increasingly finding that the modern basic level products are pretty snazzy.  I hold on to cars or vacuum cleaners for years, so when I get a new basic level one, it is far fancier than I am used to.  The ‘AmazonBasics Cylinder Hoover’ is basic in that it is a little old school, but not because it cannot do the job.  Being a plugged and bagged hoover, it has both the positives and negatives of these.  As much as I like my wireless and bagless hoover, it is not the most powerful of beasts, indeed it is quicker to use, but you feel like you are required to go around the floor twice.  The ‘AmazonBasics’ has that great suction power you get from being plugged into the wall’ a little heavier and cumbersome, but gets the job done.

It is the bag that is a little too old school; the need to replace it and buy more bags every few weeks does feel like a thing of the past.  There does not seem to be any obvious reason why the main body of the hoover could not have been adapted to contain the mess – price perhaps?  Or maybe that is no longer basic.

What you do get is a very solid vacuum cleaner that comes in at a very reasonable price.  You can drag it along by the hose and it is certainly lighter than a Henry.  The lead is a decent length and is housed in the cleaner itself, so you don’t have to wrap it around and around as you finish.  There are a series of attachments that you would want that let you get into the nooks and crannies, or have a little go over the upholstery.

For the price point this ‘AmazonBasics’ hoover offers a great price point for some serious suction.  It is small enough to lift and carry, but this does mean it requires emptying more often than some of the bigger cleaners on the market.  In turn, as it uses bags, you will require more small bags.  Having got used to a world of bagless vacuums, going back to bags feels a little odd, but there are many people happy to continue using them – in this case, this is a great option.

4 Stars

Spark by John Twelve Hawks Book Review – 4 Stars @john12hawks

Spark

What is it that gives us humans drive?  Death.  The knowledge that our time is finite and that we will all die drives humans to get things done whilst there is still time.  Therefore, what would you do if you think you are already dead?  I surmise, not much.  What’s the point of getting out of bed if you are already dead?  The concept of walking around and being able to understand you are dead, means that you can’t really be dead.  This does not stop Jacob being good at what he does.  He may think he is dead, but rather than sitting around all day, he gets up and does his day job as an assassin for a shadowy corporation.

Jacob has an illness called Cotard’s Syndrome that makes him think he is dead.  For his own safety he should be kept in a hospital, but that is not what corporation DBG have in mind.  They get Jacob released and use his lack of empathy to their advantage.  A good killer goes about their business with no feelings and Jacob is unable to feel any.  That is until he is send out on one job and the small Spark that remains in him starts to flicker once more.

‘Spark’ is a high concept thriller that never forgets to get down and dirty when it needs to.  The premise is ‘Jason Bourne’ like as Jacob is almost an engineered killer, developed because he has the rare ability to have no empathy.  As a main character this makes him a little odd as he perceives the world in a strange manner.  Thankfully, John Twelve Hawks does a great job of slowly revealing what happened to Jacob and explaining why he is like he is.  The sections where Jacob goes into details about his Spark are a little plodding, but don’t go on for too long.

A book like ‘Spark’ could have struggles by changing the character of Jacob too quickly.  One minute a mindless killer, the next in love.  This does not happen.  Hawks slowly builds up Jacob’s character so that he has enough motivation to be a little human, but never truly becomes like the rest of us.  It is great to see a damaged character, remain damaged.  Hawks works around the edges of Jacob’s personality to make him sympathetic and does not alter him fundamentally.

As well as being an interesting character study, ‘Spark’ has some great action scenes.  Jacob is a killer and death follows him.  His inability to read other people means that he finds himself being betrayed often.  No one in this book can be trusted as we see through the eyes of Jacob’s and these themselves cannot be trusted.  ‘Spark’ is an intelligent thriller that does not forget to be fun, with only a few nagging pace issues, it is a fun book and one of Hawks’ best.

4 Stars

Roccat Khan AIMO 7.1 Surround Gaming Headset Review – 4 Stars @ROCCAT

Roccot headphones

Gaming is increasingly becoming popular as an e-sport; people watching other people play games.  I am a huge gamer, but have never gotten into this; the limited time I have to play, I want to be in control.  Despite my misgivings e-sports remain popular and some players are getting big bucks.  Sitting in front of a monitor all day for cash can look a little dull, so they may just need something that gives them an aesthetic edge, as well as providing a competitive one.

The ‘Roccat Khan 7.1’ headphones are a lovely chunk of quality kit.  They work on console, but are best as on PC as you can install the drivers to get the full 7.1 experience over the basic stereo.  One of the USPs of this set is that the lights on the side alter as you play different sounding things; this may be great on the e-sports circuit or on a live stream, but for most people playing on their own with no camera trained on them, it is a little useless.  You cannot even see the lights yourself and if the lights change in the woods and there is no one there to see it, does anyone care?

Thankfully, the light element of the ‘Roccat’s is not its best feature.  The set itself is very comfortable and has very good soundproofing.  The set can be used as a plug and play, so you don’t need to be a PC expert to get on and use them.  I did find that the sound quality was excellent and helped you become immersed in the game, but my online pals said that the mic was a little crackly.  Therefore, I am going to reinstall the software and see if I can get an even clearer sound.  As a set of high quality gaming headphones the ‘Roccat’s look the part and give off a great sound.  Like so many PC peripherals though, to get the very best out of them, you may need to tweak a few settings.

4 Stars