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Daniel Bor (Cambridge, UK)
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Herzog (Penguin Classics)
Herzog (Penguin Classics)
by Saul Bellow
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superlative US novel about an academic's touch with madness, 27 Sep 2008
Stunning novel about a middle aged academic almost driven insane by various personal and ideological crises, but who eventually manages to find some peace after experiencing events that finally seem to connect him with reality. I absolutely adored the quality of style and character, and although the plot is incredibly thin, you don't care because it is constructed so brilliantly to allow all those fascinating, perfectly described reminiscences. Definitely I was generally having that feeling of sickening jealousy for the sheer ability demonstrated, albieit in quite a showy way. There are many incredible lines, either simply involving profound observations on life, or via the wonderful eye for character details that Bellow has. The use of letters as a kind of stream of consciousness device works fantastically. Herzog's character is one of the most stunningly rich and real I've ever come across in literature, and the peripheral characters also feel very real and vivid. This novel seems incredibly autobiographical, in fact, and many of the details probably were taken from Bellow's life. The only slight criticism I have is that in one or two places it felt a little contrived. Ramona is obviously set up as the "healthy" choice and feels slightly thin for it. And why oh why would Herzog keep his gun in his pocket when visiting his daughter? This to me seemed totally unbelievable, and merely a silly device. But these tiny quibbles aside, this is definitely one of the best American novels I've ever read.


The Book Thief
The Book Thief
by Markus Zusak
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, well paced, but also immature and stylistically flawed, 27 Sep 2008
This review is from: The Book Thief (Paperback)
Not just essentially a children's book, but a rather immaturely written novel, centring on a warm-hearted German family in a small village near Munich around the time of WWII. The narrator is Death, which is an interesting device, since it allows a useful distance, almost an innocence, to reign over the proceedings. But I don't believe this device was fully worked out, as one never really understands how Death works - is he omnipotent, as is implied in some places, or almost completely ignorant, as is implied in others? Also, Death allows the novel to talk a lot about "souls" and "hearts", which seriously weakened it for me. The plot is well-paced, very engaging, and includes some fascinating, believable details about the hardships of trying to survive amidst the war - for these reasons I did enjoy reading the novel, and was even moved in places. However, it's also rather sentimental, shies away from the full brutality of events, and constantly borders on the simplistic. The style is too fussy, too inventive, and some of the language is just ridiculous in its attempts to generate vivid metaphors. There are many other semi-adult books out there that deal with WWII and the holocaust so much better (Maus particularly springs to mind).


Kafka On The Shore (Vintage Magic)
Kafka On The Shore (Vintage Magic)
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, compelling, but also annoyingly convoluted., 27 Sep 2008
This novel has two parallel and intertwining threads. The first concerns a 15 year old boy who runs away from his father's home and who seems pre-destined to sleep with his mother and sister. The second concerns a retired, semi-retarded man, whose mind was partially stolen in a childhood supernatural accident, but who has supernatural gifts in return. He goes on a quest to find some peace. The characters all behave in that natural, simple way with simple dialogue that is one of Murakami's trademarks, but which I found somewhat annoying at times in this particular novel. The plot, for all its surreal, bizarre twists, is strangely compelling and I found the book very gripping. It is clear that there is a tapestry of ideas within the novel, and this makes it rich and fascinating, but for me it also seemed to verge on confused and convoluted, and I think the ambiguities were a little too numerous for my tastes.


The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness
The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness
by Max Velmans
Edition: Paperback
Price: 26.82

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid, comprehensive, up-to-date collection., 27 Sep 2008
Almost as good an academic compendium of current thinking in the philosophy and science of consciousness as you could reasonably expect. It was breathtaking in its comprehensiveness and scope, and there were some wonderful, fascinating chapters (the Gazzaniga, Baars, Tononi, Rees, and Crick chapters were especially strong - all were from the science half) amidst the 55 on offer. The chapters all offered useful further reading sections, and many offered useful summaries. However, the structure of the book was rather bizarre, for instance including a "contemporary theories" section, which could so easily have been subsumed into the philosophical and scientific sections. There were also some rather poor chapters, and I would have preferred an abstract to start each chapter. Leaving these niggles aside, though, this is a brilliant collection and well worth at least dipping into for anyone who has an interest in the subject (a relevant university background would make the book a lot more worthwhile).


Proform 695 Elliptical
Proform 695 Elliptical

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Physically well built, let down by the electronics, 26 Sep 2008
This review is from: Proform 695 Elliptical (Sports)
Positives:
- The machine feels solid and heavy, and looks as if it will last.
- It rides very smoothly.
- It has a good stride length of 18 inches (45 cm).
- If you are regularly going to move the machine, the folding mechanism is very clever and reasonably easy. This not only saves space, but shifts the centre of gravity, making it far easier to get on its wheels than most non-folding X-trainers. However because the machine is nicely heavy, folding and moving is still not trivial.

Negatives:
- The handheld heartrate monitor is rubbish - too unreliable to use, basically.
- There is no pickup for a heartrate chest strap, so this machine will basically not be able to pick up your heart rate.
- There are no heartrate programs (contrary to what it says on the Proform website currently).
- The digital display is horribly crude for a 300 machine. For instance, there is no reset button, no memory store of any kind, and the display, while large, only has 2 slots for exercise info, which cannot be configuered. So you only get to see duration a 3rd of the time or so.
- The cup holder is enormous, and was placed low enough that it kept painfully brushing against my legs whenever I exericsed (I'm only 1.7 m).

Summary:
For me, the good folding mechanism and solid build of the machine were totally negated by the lack of heartrate functionality and the awfully primitive display and electronics/options, and I sent mine back for a Tunturi (more expensive, but so much better, and worth it in the long run, I thought).


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