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Will Stanford

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by Garth Nix
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful culmination, 22 Aug 2014
This review is from: Abhorsen (Paperback)
Abhorsen starts with a massive shock, and just builds from there. Lirael, now Abhorsen-in-waiting, finally takes us deep into Death and all the characters from the trilogy finally come together to defeat the Destroyer. Beyond that, there's little to say that isn't infinitely better discovered in the book itself. Read it, savour it, love it. This is Garth Nix at his phenomenal best, and I only hope he can come close to this quality again in the forthcoming Old Kingdom novels. Talking of which, some clues over Chlorr's past are dropped here...

The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike)
The Cuckoo's Calling (Cormoran Strike)
by Robert Galbraith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not all that, 16 May 2014
It is more than a touch ironic that this mystery novel about the cult of celebrity became a best-seller only when its famous author was revealed. It is even more ironic that as Lula Landry's life of fame and riches masks an emptiness and lack of identity, so too does this novel's public reputation hide that it never really knows what it's doing. As a detective novel, it suffers from a complete lack of revelations and/or twists until the very end of its 500 pages and a very generic PI set-up. As a character-based drama, it suffers from two-dimensional characters and pulled punches. Assistant Robin is meant to be torn between the exciting world of private investigation and her disapproving fiancé, but the latter only appears very briefly in the novel and her choice to remain with Strike is painfully dragged out across the whole novel; Strike himself is jaded but not too jaded, troubled but not too troubled and flippant but not too flippant, and his personal life sub-plot goes nowhere. As social commentary on celebrity, the novel is too black-and-white; characters are invariably shallow, self-obsessed caricatures and media/public interest in models/rappers/et al is extrapolated to a bizarre degree of rabid. Despite this almost fantastical edge, the novel is for no apparent reason firmly grounded in April/May 2010, around the last general election. It's as if Rowling just couldn't be bothered to update the cultural references when the book took longer to write than expected. It's a strange read, and while the mystery itself is wrapped up with a nice level of closure I felt very unsatisfied when reaching the end. I doubt I'll be reading any more Strike novels.

Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Definitive Collection (Series 1-13) [DVD]
Agatha Christie's Poirot - The Definitive Collection (Series 1-13) [DVD]
Dvd ~ David Suchet
Price: £57.00

37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Packaging - Let's Not Overreact, 6 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Of course, the Poirot series all together in one set is fantastic. A stunning televisual achievement, and wonderful to be able to work through from the very beginning again. The old episodes still hold up very well! Extra features are sparse, with the excellent ITV docs from the end of the series (Being Poirot) and the Orient Express adaptation, but only one feature new to DVD - a short interview with David Suchet. Similar features with other major cast/writers/etc. would have been very nice, but you can't have it all.

Now to the packaging. It's not perfect, but it really isn't the end of the world. When presenting 35 discs space is an issue, and unfortunately here discs are stacked in twos. Every fourth disc does require removing/replacing/holding/balancing three to unearth the one desired, which is annoying. I do feel that this set would be better in four DVD cases rather than two huge ones, as the sections can get a bit caught. This afternoon when replacing one of the first discs and closing the box, the next disc section caught a later disc and quite literally fired it across my living room floor at some speed. Obviously this is not ideal, but I don't expect it to damage the discs at any point. This first run of the set erroneously uses the collection nine disc art for the penultimate disc, which rather wrecks the aesthetic, but other than that the presentational style of the set is actually very good (look at the cover, it's really quite beautiful - and the two big DVD cases look pleasingly bookish when facing spine outwards from the cardboard casing). While it might not be the easiest to navigate through, this is absolutely no reason to be dissuaded from buying. Enjoy a piece of television history, complete at last!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 8, 2013 6:52 PM GMT

Waterloo Road: Legends [DVD]
Waterloo Road: Legends [DVD]
Dvd ~ Amanda Burton
Price: £11.30

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What a weird selection, 2 Aug 2013
This review is from: Waterloo Road: Legends [DVD] (DVD)
There's a lot of Waterloo Road now, so I don't have any issue with a "highlights" DVD for the more casual audience. However, from the product description there seem to be some weird choices here. My doubts are as follows:

Nothing from series 1 and 2? A big omission there, with most of the quality original characters absent from these "legends".

The eighth episode of series 4 is an absolute classic for sure, but the bumper 90 minute episode that opened that series (which introduced the long-running Kelly family) would make far more sense for inclusion here.

Episode 1 of series 5 is, in my opinion, by far the worst ever episode of Waterloo Road. There was a series of let downs in terms of both cast and the falling through of a new school building off-screen, so it's no wonder that the first episode of this run struggled massively. But why it's included in this set is an absolute mystery. It also appears to be the only episode here to feature original character Kim Campbell, and unfortunately it shows her in the worst possible light in falling for Tom Chamber's silly-voiced panto villain (his character did improve over the next few weeks, thankfully, but there's no evidence of that to be found here). The other series 5 episode included is good but unremarkable, and I'm not sure why it's been chosen here.

It also seems that there are no episodes from series 6 included, and as the Jonah/Cesca story was one of the show's best received storylines ever and climaxed terrifically towards the end of that run, it's an odd omission. The tenth episode of that series, a Grantly-heavy story which also featured Steph's return and a guest spot from footballer John Barnes, would have been a good pick too.

This could have been a nice little set, but unfortunately I don't think it shows off the best of Waterloo Road enough. Buy with caution.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 4, 2014 6:39 PM GMT

Doctor Who: Shockwave (Destiny of the Doctor 7)
Doctor Who: Shockwave (Destiny of the Doctor 7)
by James Swallow
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £7.02

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A suprising highlight, 18 July 2013
I didn't expect much from what is now a very dated-feeling era of Doctor Who being recaptured in audio form, but I am delighted to be proved wrong. This is a beautiful story, charged with genuine emotion and an excellent performance from Sophie Aldred. Ace is full of youth, the Doctor (while more Scottish than he's ever been before) is callous yet kind and original character Nine Jay is wonderfully realised. The dynamic, and slight suspicion, of the Doctor/companion pairing is realised perfectly. Even the ghastly synth-y style music of the time is used well, adding an alien feel and capturing emotions behind the narrative instead of getting in the way, as it tended to do back in the 80s. The story works well alone, and also as a part of the ongoing Destiny of the Doctor story which is oh-so-slowly coming together. All involved should be very proud of this, and it may very well be the best in the series so far.

The Casual Vacancy
The Casual Vacancy
by J.K. Rowling
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A demonstration of real talent, 18 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Casual Vacancy (Hardcover)
JK Rowling is a great author. She always was. But the last Harry Potter book was atrocious, a mess of faux-maturity and gratuitous death without any depth, refusing to choose between her original children's book ending and the "growing up" style she'd cultivated over the years and suffering massively as a result. The Casual Vacancy, I am delighted to learn, is free of this encumbrance and sees Rowling achieve a new level of maturity while retaining the ridiculous level of readability that made her a household name in the first place.

It's not perfect by any means: the teenage characters remain the emotional heart of the story, and although the reason for this becomes clear by the end it can make one wonder just how "adult" this book really is. A lot of the time, it feels like the adult book for people who are only just adults (or longing for the day when they become one), and while this is no bad thing it perhaps may disappoint some considering the marketing behind this novel. Rowling's depiction of anger, a big weakness in Harry Potter too, has unfortunately not developed much either. Something about Simon Price's violent outbursts do not ring true, and the character lacks impact as a result. The characters are slightly caricatured at points, but intended to be real and recognisable at their core - this is mostly accomplished, but there are times when dialogue begins to feel forced. The plot devices involving the Internet lack a sense of reality also, seeming to be more at home at the turn of the century rather than ten years later.

But I don't want to dwell on the few negatives, as this is a really enjoyable novel. The characters are multi-faceted and have genuine depth to them, and I imagine readers may differ in with whom their sympathies lie. The story is interesting, well structured and builds to a stunning set piece of a climax. It is touching, and at times it is disturbing. The small weaknesses in the writing style are easily overlooked, and are more than negated by the strength of the general narrative. Also, I should mention that Rowling has got over her immature attitude to characters' deaths in this novel; with the narrative coming from a sudden death in the community, we get to see genuine fallout and far-reaching meaning behind a life ending. As someone who tends to shamefully neglect modern adult fiction in favour of the old stuff, I am very glad I gave this book a shot and am starting to feel I should find my way to discovering contemporary authors much more often. Highly recommended.

(As a point of interest, I am interested to see the forthcoming TV adaptation of this novel but feel its story is much better suited to the novel form. It might be an idea to read before watching in this case, in order to understand the characters' internal depths.)

Sally Lockhart Mysteries - (Ruby in the Smoke & Shadow in the North) [DVD]
Sally Lockhart Mysteries - (Ruby in the Smoke & Shadow in the North) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Billie Piper
Price: £7.15

4.0 out of 5 stars 4.5 for Ruby in the Smoke, 3 for Shadow in the North, 15 July 2013
The Ruby in the Smoke's adaptation here is a very enjoyable piece of television, capturing the spirit of adventure well and presenting a compelling tale along with it. It's well-acted, and it's especially lovely to see Matt Smith investing his usual energy into this early supporting role for him.

The Shadow in the North, however, suffers greatly from sticking far too close to its novel. It may make sense in the book for Rosa and Nicholas to be married and away from the main events of the novel, but their disappearance after a small cameo at the start of the film - replaced by a random elderly uncle who barely says a word for the entire ninety minutes - is so unnecessary it is almost laughable. The mystery is harder to follow and, with no personal connection to Sally or the others, far less interesting than The Ruby in the Smoke. There is no longer any sense of depth to the characters, not helped by the absence of Jim Taylor's narration (despite the same screenwriter being used). The continuity between the two films is poor elsewhere too, with no explanation for Sally's career development or moving into her own rooms, and no reference to little Adelaide despite the first film ending with a determination not to give up the search for her.

Conclusion: get this for the first film, and watch the second as a mild curiosity. In hindsight, it's not hard to see why the remaining two novels were never adapted.

Robin Hood : The Complete BBC Series 1 Box Set [2006] [DVD]
Robin Hood : The Complete BBC Series 1 Box Set [2006] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Jonas Armstrong
Price: £15.07

5.0 out of 5 stars Solid first series, 13 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've chosen to go for five stars here, but really I consider it 4 and a half. The approach to Robin Hood here is a meeting of the medieval and the modern, and in general it works wonderfully. The parallels with modern wars and society are drawn clearly, but not spoon fed to the audience. The choice of language is mostly very good, with (despite what some seem to think) a clear old-fashioned style in its lack of contractions and so forth while remaining understandable to all ages today. There are some slips, some over-reliance on contrived catch phrases and glaringly modern phrases - I don't think anyone was impressed at the Sheriff mentioning "pillow talk", let's be honest - but in the grand scheme of things these do not matter. (Unfortunately these minor annoyances are turned up to 11 in series 2, but that's a complaint for another day.) The series remains an immensely fun set of tales, where Robin can win a swordfight with ease and pause to snog a woman before jumping backwards off a roof.

Robin himself is an imperfect leader with a strong sense of good, and that is in-keeping with previous forms of the legend. Marian is a more independent woman than traditionally, which helps highlight the more modern tensions in the story. The enemy figures of the Sheriff and Gisbourne are drawn well, with the former a star of his own pantomime and the latter brooding and troubled. It's an interesting pairing, and makes for some tensions that pay off even more in later series. As for the merry men, as it's hard not to call them, Allan-a-dale is a bit annoying (if he says "I'm not being funny, but" one more time...) and Robin's sidekick Much is a bit too much of a comic butt at times, but the others are very strong and likeable. Little John and his crony Roy (an original creation) are particular favourites of mine, showing what happens to outlaws without a purpose and giving them both a kind of mini-redemption tale within the series. (Their two fellow outlaws randomly disappear between episodes 2 and 3, but it's best to ignore that.)

Unfortunately, after a terrific opening run of episodes the closing stages of the series do not quite deliver. They're not bad, it just feels like all the energy was spent in the earlier episodes and by the rather rushed ending of episode 13 there's little left to give. It's a shame, but doesn't detract from the brilliance that comes before (episodes 1, 2, 4 and 8 are particular stand-outs).

The extras here are extensive, with plenty of behind the scenes looks and character profiles. Some deleted scenes would have been nice, but it's still a good collection. There are two minor issues with what is included, the first being that some sections of interview are duplicated between them leading to some distracting bouts of deja vu. Secondly, the entirety of the behind the scenes filming took place before Anjali Jay joined the cast as Djaq, causing a rather notable omission in the several talks of how the cast dynamic works (and no indication of how and indeed why her character was developed). As the character of Djaq is different from the rest of Robin's gang in many ways, it is a big missed opportunity to provide more insight to the viewer.

All in all, this is a very strong set and well worth a buy. It's a beautifully rendered interpretation of the legend, and the extras make clear the amount of care that went into the production. I look forward to revisiting the other two series through their DVD sets in the future.

The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Completed by David Madden)
The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Completed by David Madden)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A very good attempt at an impossible task, 29 Jun 2013
I can't help feeling that the only way one could really enjoy a completed version of Drood (or any other unfinished novel) is to be in complete ignorance of its dual authorship, or at least of exactly where one writer takes over from the other. It is very hard to not think "would Dickens have done that?" over and over again while reading Madden's half, and this serves as an inevitable distraction from the engaging narrative that the latter maintains. But it's a testament to Madden's attention to detail and thoroughness in his completion that at times the reader can almost forget that this is the case.

Madden's ambition in tackling this impossible task is also clear. He doesn't shy away from extrapolating some crucial narrative events from Dickens' writing, and describing them in a style that treads the line between imitation and parody skilfully: the climactic scene towards the end is described in a recognisably Dickensian style, characters such as Sapsea and Datchery develop beyond Dickens' descriptions believably, and Madden even makes a very decent attempt at creating a Dickensian character of his own in Nicholas Mander Endcombe (although, unfortunately, this character does not reappear until the story's conclusion after his introductory chapter). The conclusion is believable, not only from the clues Dickens left but in how it is written, and provides possibly the best closure possible for this narrative. Although as the story gathers pace Madden deviates from Dickens' serialisation style notably, the cross cutting of six very short chapters in one "part" at the climax is so effective it is hard to be too bothered about it.

However, it is not all perfect. As with original creation Endcombe, Madden seems to have trouble juggling all the different characters and balancing their prominence. Rosa especially is notably absent for a great deal of Madden's half, and only returns to the narrative once the story has found its resolution. Despite the narrative claims that Rosa has grown into a strong young woman, her marginalisation in the narrative tends to suggest the opposite. (Helena's role in the story's climax is very strong, so I would not suggest that the novel's females are all given short shrift - but it would have been nice for them all to find a role to play.) The ending, as another reviewer has mentioned, is imbalanced with a great deal of concluding scenes that Madden seems to have had trouble choosing between so they are simply all included next to each other. Particularly jarring is the mention of "the real Cloisterham" towards the end; this may well have been something Dickens would have written, but he would invariably have placed it in a foreword or afterword rather than embedded it in the main narrative.

Madden's half of the story at times feels too recursive, too reliant on what has gone before; it is a testament to his knowledge of Dickens' half that he can use earlier dialogue and events so skilfully to draw the story out, but when a discussion between characters in the novel becomes hard to distinguish from a discussion between scholars discussing Dickens' intentions for the story, it has gone a bit too far. But then, with a mystery to unravel, such scenes must surely have formed part of Dickens' plans for the second half anyway? While this completion may have benefited from a slight re-draft from a second pair of eyes, just to iron out those few strikingly not-quite-Dickens moments, this still remains a wonderful achievement and an enjoyable novel in its own right.

Offered by FLASH
Price: £5.37

3.0 out of 5 stars Hopefully they've got this out of their system now, 1 Jun 2013
This review is from: Conduit (Audio CD)
In 2011, Funeral for a Friend sounded reinvigorated with their new line-up finding the youthful edge of their early work again. Now, they've gone way too far in the energetic direction. The intricacies, the contrasts... they're pretty much all gone now. There are glimpses of the brilliance FfaF are capable of, mostly through the lyrics, and particularly evident in Nails (which is the best track here by an absolute mile). But it's hard not to miss those elements that made the last album so strong. It's not awful, and it has grown on me a lot since the first listen, but it's still a massive let down. Add to that the miniscule length - under half an hour is an EP, lads, let's be honest, and the last track was released before (with slightly less crashy drums, still not convinced by the new guy I'm afraid) too. Hoping this is them getting this pent up energy out of their system and moving on to something far more meaningful next time around.

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