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JF (London, England)

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Warhammer Invasion Lcg: Hidden Kingdoms Deluxe Expansion
Warhammer Invasion Lcg: Hidden Kingdoms Deluxe Expansion

3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Purchase for Poles, 19 Jun. 2016
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I expected the English language version and got one in Polish. I returned it and asked for an exchange. Amazon kindly sent me two more Polish versions. Discussing anything with the customer service staff proved impossible in English or Polish so I returned one and kept the other. The game is useless if you can't understand the language but luckily I found some translations on the internet.

As an expansion, it is not quite what I expected. The four factions represented do not each have a core deck and their kingdom card is not as large or impressive as the other factions in the game. But it is still worth getting if you like wood elves, lizardmen, skaven or undead and wish they were better represented in the main game. The ideas are as ingenious as ever from Fantasy Flight, and this is a lot of fun to play. Games are quick and tense with lots of options for both players.

My Best Games of Chess, 1905-54 (Two Volumes Bound As One)
My Best Games of Chess, 1905-54 (Two Volumes Bound As One)
by Dr. S. Tartakower
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the best chess book of all time, 9 Feb. 2015
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It feels a bit strange writing a review of a book that is out of print when I have so many new books on my shelves, but this is my favourite chess book at the moment and I can't resist saying something about it. It is, as the cover states, two volumes bound as one. The first volume covers games from Tartakower's first international tournament at Barmen in 1905 to his triumphant victory at Liege in 1930, when he was 45. The second volume covers his tournament games up to 1954, just two years before he died. That's a vast range of games from which to draw and it's clear that Tartakower is showing us the very best of them, beautifully annotated with wry and judicious comments.

The variations given are light but insightful. There is a stunning purity of thought in these games that is wonderfully instructive. Don't imagine that because Tartakower didn't have the benefit of computer analysis that there is anything faulty in the lines he gives. He was an incredibly accurate player, as were many of the great masters of the past. But his genius is in showing you the master-plan, the strategy, the scheme that unites each tactical stepping stone.

Each game has a subtitle to help fix it in your memory: "Pillage," "The King's Flight," "Rapier Thrusts," "The Heroic Pawn," "Blitzkrieg," "The Draw-Bridge." Tartakower's more detailed analysis is no less succinct and focused. He makes everything seem so easy and inevitable thanks, as he puts it, to "the power to see clear and deep."

But what I like most about this book is that it is really relaxing. You don't feel that you are being taught anything. It is just sheer pleasure to immerse yourself in these games and allow yourself to imagine, while you are in his company, that you understand chess almost as well as this delightfully witty and ironic chess genius.

The translation, by the way, is from Tartakower's French text by Harry Golombek, himself a brilliant writer and three times British champion. The notation is in the descriptive format, which some people might find off-putting.

Fractured Europe: 1600-1721 (Blackwell History of Europe)
Fractured Europe: 1600-1721 (Blackwell History of Europe)
by David J. Sturdy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £29.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Clear and informative, 8 Feb. 2015
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The biggest problem I had with this book was finding it. I don't know why it didn't come up in any of my searches for books about the seventeenth century. I also couldn't find it any of London's bookshops. There are other books that go into more details about some of the topics covered but I wanted a book that gave an overview of the main events going on in Europe at this time. This book certainly does that and does it very well.

I wished for more detail at times. The trouble with overviews is that you don't get caught up in the action. Great events are summed up in a couple of sentences and then it's time to move on. But this book helped me put many things into context. It has a really easy-to-follow summary of the Thirty Years War, for example. In contrast, Peter H. Wilson's book on the topic begins well, with an entertaining description of the defenestration of Prague, but then doesn't really return to its theme until after more than 250 pages of exposition.

So, this is an unpretentious narrative summary that breaks down events into convenient chunks. Some of the facts are presented somewhat drily. There is not much personality here. But it gets the facts across in a workmanlike fashion. This is more likely to appeal to school history departments than to the general public, which perhaps explains why it's so difficult to find in the shops.

Edition: Paperback
Price: £19.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hard core training, 8 Feb. 2015
This review is from: PUMP UP YOUR RATING (Paperback)
This is an excellent book if you're already a strong player struggling to beat the best players you know. It shows you the kind of work you need to do to break out of bad habits. It presents you with some very detailed training material and a study plan. You will need to do a lot of work to get the most out of this book. You will need other books. You will need dedication and a lot of time.

You can't start on page 1 and work through to page 366. The "Training Program" begins after four very dense chapters chock-full of analysis and commentary on the themes of pawn levers, exchanges, positional considerations and calculation. This will take you a few months to work through. Then there is a lot of advice on how to study throughout the rest of the book. There is also advice on the material to use. You could spend many hours studying only the material here, but ideally it should build on books you've already digested about tactical motifs, positional play, end games and your opening repertoire. There is advice on how to use databases, how to prepare your openings, how to toughen up physically and mentally, how to avoid distractions and what endgames you should learn. It even gives advice on your love life -- don't have one!

Yes, this book is for the hard core chess player who wants to improve so much that he will make it his number 1 goal in life. However, if you're a casual chess player who likes to read chess books in bed before going to sleep (a practice that is frowned on in these pages), there is still much to enjoy here because Axel Smith loves writing and he explains everything with a lot of heartfelt words. He writes with honesty, insight and the depth of knowledge that comes only from intense personal experience.

This book won't pump up your rating -- only hard work can do that -- but it is an excellent primer on how to improve at chess for those who are already very good at it indeed.

Perfect Chess Trainer
Perfect Chess Trainer
Price: £3.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great app once you get used to it, 10 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: Perfect Chess Trainer (App)
I struggled with this app when I first installed it. The instructions are very vague. You have to experiment with the functions. There are so many features and they are so versatile that it took me a while to learn how to do everything. Two very basic things held me back: how to load my own PGN files and how to move forward and back through the games. However, I mastered these in the end and it's now one of my favourite chess apps. It can do just about anything from training you in your choice of openings to providing interactive lectures in endgames. It has a very flexible PGN reader, a tactics trainer and there's even a "guess the move" mode that doesn't penalise you for wrong guesses if they're good alternatives to what was played. What makes this particularly useful is that you can load your own files into it and work with them in any of the modes. So if, for example, you have some annotated positions or games, you can load them into the position trainer and it presents them as a tutorial where you have to anticipate each move before you see the explanation for how the position should be played. This is perfect for studying chess in your lunch hour or on the train.

The First World War
The First World War
by Hew Strachan
Edition: Paperback

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning and inspirational, 31 Aug. 2013
This review is from: The First World War (Paperback)
I spent a long time choosing a book about the First World War to take on holiday with me and I think I made the right choice. There was no Kindle version available so I was forced to take the paberback, but I'm glad I did as it's infinitely more satisfying than the Kindle books I sampled on this topic.

It turns out there is a TV series accompanying this book, which I didn't know until I reached the end. I had the impression while reading it that someone had put a gun to Hew Strachan's head and said something like, "Forget the legions of academic essays and lectures you've done up till now give us the First World War in 300 pages or less." That person, it seems, was Alan Clements, who is mentioned in the acknowledgements.

Every sentence has a point. The writing is amazingly lucid and easy to follow. There are revelations on every page and the overall effect is stunning. The book completely overturns popular conceptions of the first world war that have filtered down through films, novels, poetry and the general media. It is informative, logical, comprehensive and concise. You can feel the author's passion for his subject on every page but his presentation is very low-key.

I really can't praise this book enough. One of the remarkable things is how the author combines his insights into tactical military problems with analysis of wider economic and political pressures, so that you understand in a completely new way why events unfolded as they did.

There is only so much you can do in 350 pages (including notes, maps, illustrations and acknowledgements!) but his canvas is huge. It is typical of his approach that his description of the battles of Verdun and the Somme are a brief section in a more wide-ranging chapter.

There are many characters in this great drama, many names of people and places, official titles and roles to remember and loose ends to be tied up, but the author marshals all his facts with the minimum of fuss, gives you everything you need and states his case plainly so that there is never any confusion or doubt.

Above all, the book appears to be a very truthful one. It is very fair in its assessment of who was responsible for specific acts of cruelty, for harsh and difficult decisions, for acts of bravery and for mistakes.

It's a model work for any historian but, like all great literary examples, it's probably impossible to emulate unless, like the author, you have a lifetime's experience of hard work and exhaustive reading on which to draw. I particularly liked the author's statement that '... it seemed otiose to provide a bibliography for this book.' (Acknowledgements, page 335.)

Nevertheless, it has made me want to read more!

Love Reading
Love Reading
Price: £3.59

5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful, 31 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Love Reading (Kindle Edition)
You can tell that the author of this delightful book loves reading. The story is structured around a year in a reading group, in which the group is setting out to re-read 'the classics.'

If you are familiar with Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, A Room With a View, or the stories of Kipling and Dickens you will enjoy this book as much for the clarity of its insights into those well-known works as for the romantic plot. But the author wears his erudition very lightly. The allusions to other works of literature are very skilfully integrated into the story and can be enjoyed without having read the books in question. However, if you have read those books you will probably notice that the well-chosen quotes are not the most obvious ones. I think the author was being a bit playful in digging out incidents and encounters that many readers will have forgotten or overlooked.

The author has a bit of fun, too, with English pub names, of which there are many in this book.

The story itself is quite gripping and kept me guessing almost to the very end. I was wondering if Lucy was going to turn out to be wholly correct in her judgements about certain people and her interpretation of events or whether, like Jane Austen's Emma, she would get a nasty shock.

I won't spoil the story by giving that away but I was very amused to see that Emma was the final classic chosen by the book group and that 'Love Reading' is rounded off very nicely by some appropriate quotes from that immortal novel.

Flashman's Lady (The Flashman Papers, Book 3)
Flashman's Lady (The Flashman Papers, Book 3)
Price: £5.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Sheer pleasure from start to finish, 31 Aug. 2013
I was introduced to Flashman at an age when the sexy bits made a powerful and lasting impression on me. That was over forty years ago but I still return to the Flashman books when I want to experience sheer, uncomplicated pleasure. I try to make reading them a private pleasure but unfortunately they make me laugh out loud, which means my wife always catches me at it.

Flashman's Lady was hilarious in places, so even though I was reading it on a Kindle, I was unable to hide it. Initially I could avoid having to read it aloud by explaining to my wife that it was all about cricket, in which she has no interest and which she doesn't understand. But once the action moved to South East Asia and Flashman encountered a couple of 'Chink girls, one in red silk, t'other in green,' I ran out of excuses and was obliged to give in to her entreaties.

'That sounds like Flashman!' she declared, for she recognised the style from earlier novels I'd been forced to share in similar circumstances. No-one else is so funny, so saucy and so politically incorrect.

Another high point was Flashman's encounter with Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar, 'the most horrible woman I've ever met' who goes through lovers 'like rats through cheese.' The writing here was so vivid and incisive that certain scenes will be etched on my memory forever.

I do have a slight grumble, however, for the Kindle version, though convenient, is nowhere near as good as the paperback. There are many errors, especially with the word 'hell'. This is rendered as h--1 all too frequently, which is not altogether attributable to the brutal editing of Flashman's sister-in-law, Grizel de Rothschild.

Gardens of the Moon (Book 1 of The Malazan Book of the Fallen)
Gardens of the Moon (Book 1 of The Malazan Book of the Fallen)
by Steven Erikson
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £3.60

26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What just happened?, 22 Jan. 2009
Reading this book is a bit like sitting down at a feast where your host keeps presenting dish after dish to whet your appetite, giving you a brief taste of each and then whisking it away to the kitchen again. You love the variety. There is much to look forward to. The aromas are enticing.

But when are you going to get to eat?

Not everyone can feast on tidbits and, after being teased for longer than you can bear, you might make an excuse and slip out for something more substantial.

There are a lot of characters in this book -- about seventy. There are a lot of storylines. But the plot is not really very complex because there is little interaction between the characters. You do not get to know them because they flit in and out of the story like iridescent ghosts. I want more from a novel than this and half way through the book I started to feel frustrated and disappointed. The characters were not evolving. The relationships were flat. It all started to look very dull.

70 characters and just over 700 pages means that each character gets an average of 10 pages of exposition. There is not much room for depth.

Erikson has a good sense of place. He packs in a lot of visual detail. He can be original and very creative. But he often writes a little awkwardly, which makes it difficult to understand what he means. The mysterious way in which the story unfolds also inhibits comprehension. It is all very well thought-out and everything makes sense but sometimes you are left wondering not "What will happen next?" but "What just happened?"

Master and Commander
Master and Commander
by Patrick O'Brian
Edition: Audio CD

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sloppy treatment of a great novel, 16 Jan. 2009
This review is from: Master and Commander (Audio CD)
Despite having listened to this recording several times, I am very disappointed with it. If I'd read the novel first, it would have made a lot more sense. But it put me off reading the novel for a long time because I found the plot desultory and difficult to follow, with many details in the story unexplained.

Robert Hardy reads with gusto but he sounds like he has indigestion and can't wait to get out of the recording studio to draw breath and have a good belch. His characterisation is good but the narrative bowls along at a reckless pace that I could follow only with intense concentration and regular use of the rewind button.

It's a bravura performance and he gets the emphasis right most of the time but too often he stumbles over simple words. He has particular trouble with the Spanish place names and it's quite funny to hear the different ways he pronounces them each time, sometimes drawing them out with such meandering uncertainty that you feel he's keeping all his options open right up until the last syllable, which he delivers with a triumphant flourish.

But even he pulls up short at one point, audibly perplexed by an abrupt narrative transition. It is a feature of O'Brian's style to make abrupt transitions, but he does so in the unabridged novel with craft and cunning. In this abridgement the transitions are arbitrary and brutal and you are left not knowing what happened at key moments. A lot of the original humour has gone, as have the all-important incidents and conversations that shape the relationships that are the real subject of the story.

Some of the original vigour remains, however, and it was this vestige of greatness that led me, finally, to seek out the complete text and a full, unabridged, sensitive recording of it by Christopher Kay. I am very glad I did. The unabridged novel is a work of enduring fascination that can stand comparison with any literary masterpiece of the last three hundred years.

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