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Aidan J. McQuade (Ireland)
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Screwed
Screwed
by Eoin Colfer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Another midnight run, kind of..., 15 Sep 2013
This review is from: Screwed (Paperback)
I remember watching the Robert DeNiro/Charles Grodin movie Midnight Run when it first came out and looking at my watch after about an hour and a half and thinking: "Fantastic! There is another hour to go!"

I had a similar reaction after about 200 pages of this book: "Great! There is another 100 pages to go!"

Screwed is the second in Eoin Colfer's series about the misadventures of ex-Irish Army sergeant Daniel McEvoy on the fringes of the New Jersey criminal underworld. In this novel Dan is required to deliver a package to a criminal in New York in order to part-pay a debt to another local crime lord. Nobody says "Its a midnight run, for crissake!" but you know, because this is Dan's world, that the rest of the book is going to chart a couple of days for Dan similarly fraught to the ones Grodin and DeNiro endured all those years ago. Indeed, nothing is ever as straightforward as Dan would like it to be and the novel charts Dan's subsequent antics hoping from frying pans to fires and back again.

The series seems to be finding its feet with this novel: its funny, exciting, and with a welcome reduction on some of the wise cracking of the previous novel even if Dan does tend rather too often to "with one bound" free himself from some terrifying situations. Still the novel is knowing enough to forgive this and leaves one looking forward to the next installment.


Insurrection
Insurrection
by Liam O'Flaherty
Edition: Paperback

2.0 out of 5 stars Citizen philosophers and a dimwit go to war for Old Ireland, 5 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Insurrection (Paperback)
Liam O'Flaherty's 1950 novel is an account of a small group of rebels progress through Easter Week 1916, starting with the storming of the General Post Office, through an action clearly based on the intense fighting around Mount Street Bridge, to the final hours around the GPO leading up to the surrender.

As in his books Skerrit and The Informer, O'Flaherty's principle protagonist is a pretty dim one, in this case a Connemara man Bartley Madden, who is transformed, though not intellectually, by his experiences during the novel. How much you enjoy having a Stage Irishman at the centre of the novel you are reading is probably a matter of personal taste, but I could have done without it. Such a device seems to have been chosen by O'Flaherty in order to explore his own political and philosophical ideas, and it is these more than the fighting that are central to his concerns in this novel.

And, unfortunately this makes for a rather unbelievable and clumsy novel. Pages are taken up with philosophical and cod-philosophical discourse. Perhaps this is how soldiers, most particularly citizen-soldiers, spend their time in battle. But even if it rings true for some I found many of their conversations uninteresting and the view of O'Flaherty, who had been a combatant in both the first world war and the struggles around Irish independence, bleak.

Those who know a little about the 1916 rising will recognise that O'Flaherty is generally faithful to the course of events and the geography of Dublin. However if one is searching for a gripping introduction to the 1916 rebellion, Charles Townsend's historical account is both more informative and, for me, much more exciting.


HHhH
HHhH
by Laurent Binet
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Heroism, resistance and its consequence, 19 Aug 2013
This review is from: HHhH (Paperback)
HHhH is the story of Operation Anthropoid: the plot to assassinate the truly vile Reinhard Heydrich, the architect of the genocide of the Jews and Roma, by the Czechoslovak government in exile in collaboration with the in-country resistance.

In spite of being very familiar with the story from other books and movies, I found this one of the most exciting books that I have read in a long time: truly gripping, action packed and ultimately a story of devastating tragedy.

In homage to this Czechoslovakian epic the French author, Laurent Binet, has adopted a very "Kunderian" style, weaving in and out of the story himself, as the Czech writer Milan Kundera often does, with his personal reflections upon it and concerns on how he can do the story and his heroes Kubis and Gabcik (along with the hordes of other resistants and Czech civilians who made the operation possible and paid with their lives) justice.

Many readers may find this approach irritating and something of a turn-off (I didn't, finding it engaging and interesting in and of itself), but the substance of the story is still compelling. Binet calls this the story of the single greatest act of resistance in the course of the Second World War. It is hard to argue with that and this book is a fine tribute.


Pope Francis
Pope Francis
by Paul Vallely
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A quiet Damascus during a very Dirty War, 19 Aug 2013
This review is from: Pope Francis (Paperback)
Untying the Knots is an exemplary work of biography and journalism. Rather than rush to print with Jorge Mario Bergoglio's election as pope Paul Vallely, the author, spent some considerable time travelling to Rome and Buenos Aires to meet friends and enemies of the new pope.

Despite being a relatively short book it is teeming with detail, including sketches of Argentinian politics, the origins and conduct of the "Dirty War", and the machinations of two papal elections, as well as the origins and career of the new pope, Francis.

The central issues of the book relate to Bergoglio's personal conduct during the Dirty War and what sort of a pope he will be. In relation to the first question Vallely explores in some depth the key question relating to Bergoglio's role in the kidnapping and torture of two Jesuit priests by the military junta when he was Provincial of that order.

The answer to that first question is fundamental in Vallely's assessment of the second. In the end Vallely paints a convincing picture of a man who was politically conservative and personally authoritarian in his youth, making some dreadful mistakes as a result. But while remaining quite conservative Bergoglio appear to be someone who, as a result of deep shame at past misconduct and misjudgement, has grown into a generous and courageous figure.

It will be interesting to see the sort of pope that Bergoglio becomes as Francis but Vallely presents considerable evidence to suggest a hopeful prospect based on his radical conduct in the first months of his pontificate.


A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided
A World on Fire: An Epic History of Two Nations Divided
by Amanda Foreman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An international perspective on an American tragedy, 1 Aug 2013
A World on Fire is a remarkable achievement. It is a history of the American Civil War taken from the very novel perspective of the relationship between Britain and the US during the war. Hence the principal characters are Lord Lyons, the British representative to the US, Charles Francis Adams, the US minister to London, and Seward the US Secretary of State with a host of other political and diplomatic figures in support.

This approach illuminates aspects of the war little touched upon by more conventional US histories, notably the real risk to Union victory posed by recognition of the South by the European powers, and the closeness to war between the US and Britain on a number of occasions. Consequently this book provides a more critical portrayal of Seward than, say, Doris Kearns Goodwin's masterful biography of Lincoln, Team of Rivals.

This diplomatic history of the war is told within the framework of a more conventional political and military narrative of the course of the war. Here a perspective on the fighting is offered by, principally, the letters and memoirs of the British and Irish volunteers who fought for both North and South.

At times it is difficult to keep up with the astonishing cast of characters that Foreman has assembled, but it is well worth the effort for the startlingly fresh perspective that this book puts on the American Civil War.


Captain Alatriste - The Spanish Musketeer [DVD]
Captain Alatriste - The Spanish Musketeer [DVD]
Dvd ~ Viggo Mortensen
Price: £2.90

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Episodes from a mercenary life, 30 Jun 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
There is much to admire in this adaptation of Arturo Perez-Reverte's series of novels about the Spanish soldier and sword-for-hire Diego Alatriste. Unfortunately the territory that the movie tries to cover reduces to little more than sketches, or rather randomly chosen incidents, the frequently tightly plotted stories from the books. Hence the evolving relationships between Diego and Inigo, his foster son, and their various friends and lovers are underdeveloped and the movie, while conveying a strong sense of melancholy, has little emotional resonance.

Having said that those who have read the books may enjoy this as a companion to them: it is beautifully shot, the combat scenes provide a strong sense of the nastiness of killing with edged weapons, and Viggo Mortensen is a charismatic presence in the lead role.


The Boy in the River: A shocking true story of ritual murder and sacrifice in the heart of London
The Boy in the River: A shocking true story of ritual murder and sacrifice in the heart of London
by Richard Hoskins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another journey to the heart of darkness, 12 Jun 2013
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The Boy in the River is Richard Hoskins fine account of his involvement in the investigation of the murder of baby "Adam" - a child whose headless torso was found in the Thames, the victim of a ritual sacrifice. Hoskins knowledge of African religions provided particular insight into this case illuminating a particularly vile and little known aspect of human trafficking: that for human sacrifice.

His knowledge, honed through academic research, originated from his work as a missionary in Congo, and his memoir of this time and the tragedy he and his family suffered there is compelling. Towards the end of the book Hoskins leaves, perhaps deliberately, several loose ends in relation to this tragedy. But this is probably fair enough: the book must have been a particularly difficult one to write. As it stands it is an accessible and brave work on one of the darkest aspects of modern society.


Broadchurch [DVD]
Broadchurch [DVD]
Dvd ~ Olivia Colman
Price: £9.00

17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best British television drama of the decade, 23 April 2013
This review is from: Broadchurch [DVD] (DVD)
Broadchurch is one of the most exceptional British dramas in many years. A gripping thriller with an outstanding cast it focusses on the hunt for the killer of an 11 year old boy in a small seaside community on Britain's Jurassic Coast.

Like the first series of The Killing Broadchurch doesn't flinch from exploring the devastating grief of the murdered boy's family. But it goes further than this and looks at the impact of the killing on the wider community, now poisoned by suspicion and fear.

It is probably invidious to single out anyone from this cast so exceptional it is, but Olivia Colman, as one of the detectives, adds to her reputation as one of the finest actresses working anywhere in the world, and Andrew Buchan and Jody Whittaker as the parents of the murdered boy deliver exceptionally difficult performances brilliantly. David Tennant as the spiky and outwardly unsympathetic lead investigator is a superbly unshowy centre to the whole drama.

Broadchurch is a television masterpiece. Easily the best British drama of the decade.


I Give It a Year [DVD] [2013]
I Give It a Year [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Rose Byrne
Price: £3.00

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Schadenfreude for the tender hearted, 22 April 2013
This is a very enjoyable, anti-romantic, romcom. A couple of ill matched people get married after a whirlwind romance. As the realities of two such different people living together during the first year of marriage begin to bite each finds themselves attracted to other people and the difficulties mount.

Much of the movie is very predictable, but it is raised above bog romcom standard by plenty of great gags and an uniformly excellent cast with Olivia Coleman and Minnie Driver particularly brilliantly funny in supporting roles.

All in all an extremely entertaining way to spend a few hours.


The Twelve Caesars
The Twelve Caesars
by Matthew Dennison
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The risks and rewards of meglomania, 22 April 2013
This review is from: The Twelve Caesars (Paperback)
This is a very enjoyable account of Roman history through the prism of the careers of the first 12 Caesars. These were not nice people. Even the "good" emperors were bloody men slaughtering guilty and innocent alike: Titus, for example, celebrated his father's and brother's birthdays by putting to death thousands of prisoners from the Jewish Revolt. The bad ones, like Caligula and Nero, were even more murderous lunatics.

The book takes as its starting point Suetonius account of the lives but develops its own themes and opinions based on other primary and secondary sources. It does seem to presume significant background knowledge of the lives but I found it entertaining and informative even with limited knowledge of many of the lives.


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