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ds (Whitby, UK)

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The Gone-Away World
The Gone-Away World
by Nick Harkaway
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's hard to know where to begin..., 29 May 2008
This review is from: The Gone-Away World (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
...with this book. It manages to be a mix of a whole range of disparate influences while at the same time showing a wild and startlingly original (mostly comic) imagination.

This book is not an unadulterated triumph though. For one thing, it is too long in places, which sometimes makes this book a harder read than it needs to be. However, when it's good it is truly stellar, with overtones of Catch 22, Doctor Strangelove, Kurt Vonnegut and even the absurdism of Robert Rankin, inter alia.

The central conceit is a good one: the story told first person through the eyes of a nameless narrator. There is a reason for this but I have no wish to create a review full of spoilers, so I won't reveal it. Things begin with the setting up of a faintly Mad Max post-apocalyptic narrative, then pulling the rug from under it and veering into flashback, pulling us back towards the thread at the story's start, showing us how the narrator (and we) got to that point. This part of the book is the better, painting a picture of a place that is difficult to identify. It carries more than a hint of Americana about it, while dropping in lots of British pop-culture references, including a passing reference to Preston and pork pies near the start. Not only that, but we manage to get a whole bunch of other references to cheesy martial arts movies. It is however an indication that Harkaway has talent that he manages to imbue incidental characters like Master Wu with rather more nuance and depth than might have been initially expected. He is in fact just one of several of these characters, like Ronnie Cheung, General George Copsen and Ike Thermite who are all, in their way, beautifully and economically drawn

The second section of the book, after we rejoin the thread that starts at the book's beginning, is weaker and could do with the most trimming. While his characterisations are nicely concise, his narrative at this point is less so, There are lots of great ideas floating around, though they could have done with a little tightening. It seems to me that Harkaway probably has some talent for sketch comedy because he writes some fantastically good set-pieces, including the scenes where our narrator arrives at a government installation and is interposed into a wonderfully and wittily absurd exchange between two civil servants.

There is likely to be a huge amount of marketing hype surrounding this book. The talk will overcook its many virtues but it shouldn't hide the fact that this is a hugely impressive debut and, in spite of its faults is something that could bear multiple readings to uncover delights you may not have caught first time around. Recommended.

The Golden Compass [DVD] [2007]
The Golden Compass [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Nicole Kidman
Price: £3.00

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Rather unfairly maligned, 28 April 2008
To listen to most of the reviews and publicity for this movie you'd think that this was a turkey on a par with Ishtar or Heaven's Gate. True, it has had a long gestation with a merry-go-round of directors and writers before finally seeing the light of day, but this is a much better watch than you may have been led to believe. If you have read the books, some small things might jar, but not greatly I must say.

The casting is generally very good. Dakota Blue Richards is pretty much perfect as Lyra. The one thing that had me head-scratching was that it seemed to me that Nicole Kidman and Eva Green were playing each other's most suitable roles. That notwithstanding, Kidman is quite imperially icy as Mrs Coulter, full of the menace, malice and froideur that the novel ascribes to her. And of course, after being played by one Bond already in Timothy Dalton at the NT, Daniel Craig didn't seem a bad choice for Asriel here, full of the glowering obsession that he so obviously possesses.

Although the film does stand alone, it really does help to have read the books first. The imagery of the Magisterium, though not explicit is certainly fairly clear and is precisely what I had in mind after reading the novels. The visuals are stunning, as one might expect, though the fight scenes (specifically later scenes with Iorek Byrnison) have that rather annoying tendency of modern CGI to fly around rather needlessly to showcase the render farm's processing power. A minor irritation for me.

It's not perfect of course. I've mentioned a couple of little peeves already and the ending's another. However, what works in a novel doesn't translate well to the screen so it's quite natural that the narrative gets cut where it does. The first part of the film does seem to take a little time to get started and jumps around a little. To someone who knows the story this is not a problem becasue it is setting things up for later, but might throw the more casual viewer a little.

The script is surprisingly good, though I still wonder how good it was compared to what Tom Stoppard may have produced. Perhaps the reviews reflect the fact that this is not an obvious Hollywood film. It's fairly grim in places and, like the books, deals with some very big ideas indeed. Perhaps it requires more investment in thought and concentration than most fare. It's certainly not a film for the very young.

For those who have not seen the film at the cinema I'd recommend giving it a go to make up your own mind about its merits.

The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose
The Infinite Wisdom of Harriet Rose
by Diana Janney
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps it's just me..., 11 April 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
...but I am curiously not as engaged by this book as I hoped to be. I am about half way through it by now and, while an entertaining read, I am not feeling the desperate page turning need I have with my favourite books; this is not the best of signs.

But, as I said, It think this is just me. Sharp, witty and superficially thoughtful in that deep and meaningless way that we tend to be as teenagers, the book is very well written and has some really nice one-liners. But because I'm a man in my late thirties living in the north I feel very little empathy with the characters and their cosily middle-class metropolitan milieu. That's not the author's fault. It's not mine either, just the way things are.

This problem is particularly acute for me with Harriet, with whom I feel little or no connection. and that's a problem if she's the protagonist. Things work a little better when we are inside her head, contemplating her meditations or her ongoing battles with the infuriatingly coquettish Charlotte, and not concentrating on her lifestyle.

Supporting characters get their moments: Harriet's mother, Nana, Harriet's headteacher Mrs Grout, with whom she has a beautifully acid encounter early on to name but three. For some reason I couldn't get out of my head the idea of this as an ITV sitcom with Nana being played by Honor Blackman or Joanna Lumley. For me, that's the vibe the book gave off.

In short then, not a book I love greatly, though I do like it in places and certainly worth a try if you don't mind the setting.

Knocker Jungle
Knocker Jungle
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £9.38

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Certainly a 70's album, 9 April 2008
This review is from: Knocker Jungle (Audio CD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The first thing I noticed was that this album is pretty much the same age as I am, which gave me some pause for thought at least.

In terms of its sound, it is quite distinctly in and of its time, making me think of the style of US west coast music around that time. Sometimes the sound works, sometimes it quite doesn't. I found the rather mannered singing on "I don't Know Why" quite funny for example, and it rather spoiled that song a little for me.

The general vibe is somewhat suffused with the scent of patchouli and could best be described as relaxed. On the couple of listens I've had of the album since receiving it none of the tracks (other than the first with its silly vocals) leaps out, though it has to be said that there's nothing violently disagreeable here, mostly floating past in a pretty pleasant way.

As a couple of others have said, though it's an obscurity and not a classic, it's certainly worth a listen and others may find it more engaging than I did.

Once Upon a Time in the North (His Dark Materials)
Once Upon a Time in the North (His Dark Materials)
by Philip Pullman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

177 of 187 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Joyous but short, 2 April 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
First things first, let's get the rating out of the way. I give this book four stars simply because it isn't long enough. And I was a little disappointed when I'd finished it because I just didn't want it to stop. Perhaps that's a sign of how good the book actually is.

But to take off that star, one has to consider the reasons why it deserved the full five in the first place. The title should give things away just a little; this is essentially a western short story. And a rollicking good one too, because this is the tale of how Lee Scoresby the aeronaut and the bear Iorek Byrnison first met. The events take place a full thirty-five years before the climax of His Dark Materials Boxed set (His Dark Materials), when Lee is but a young man of 24 and newly introduced to the balloon he has recently won in a poker game. As a result his flying is best described as inexpert.

So it is that Lee (and his daemon Hester) arrive in the town of Novy Odense and become involved in a stand-off between a put-upon sailor named van Berda and the power of corporate privilege. After meeting a shady figure from his past, Lee decides he must choose a side, which is how he comes across Iorek.

As you'd expect from something written by Pullman, the story reads with an effortless grace and is beautifully and finely observed and constructed. The extras, like Lyra's Oxford before it are in turn intriguing and useful, including documents and artefacts connected to the narrative itself, as well as a board game, 'Peril At The Pole'.

The last couple of pages are especially curious and relate to Lyra and her correspondence with a minor character from book one.

As with Lyra's Oxford, the slight disappointment is that there isn't more to read but it seems as if, for the moment, this is the way Pullman will realise this world: in fits and starts, and I suppose this is better by far than nothing at all.

An essential purchase for fans of His Dark Materials.
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Absolutely - Absolutely Everything [DVD]
Absolutely - Absolutely Everything [DVD]
Dvd ~ Peter Baikie
Offered by TwoRedSevens
Price: £11.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Joy! A comedy classic finally gets a new airing, 1 April 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
At last, after nearly 15 years away and no repeats worth speaking of, Absolutely returns. Many have compared it in some ways to Python; these comparisons are quite reasonable because of the sustained levels of what can only described as utter idiocy, delivered with the bite, intelligence and wit to justify it, including the music: anyone remember "Bank Holiday"? The linkage and continuity actually reminds me much more of Spike Milligan's Q series. Looking back, this was probably the first series to mix those kinds of "Dick Emery" charcter strands with the more iconoclastic PYthon and Milligan.

And what wonderful strandss they are, bearing comparison to the Fast Show: a cavalcade of wonderful recurring characters and situations: Don and George, Callum Gilhooley, The unbelievably bellicose nationalist poet & playwright McGlashan, Bert the old man, The Nice Family, Denzil and Gwynedd (my personal fave), Morwenna Banks' little girl ("It's true, it's true, it is!"), the foul and yet brilliantly lavatorial Frank Hovis and of course the majesty of the Stoneybridge Town council, with its Stony Bridge. There is just an embarrassment of riches on offer here with a gratifyingly high hit rate, with so much more comic invention than we see so often now.

And when they say Everything they mean it. Many episodes have audio and video commentaries from the team and an extra disc contains a set of background items and discussions about character origins and so forth. The transfer quality is, at times, only adequate, though that might have something to do with the quality of the original source tapes. It's sad that better care hadn't been taken with them.

Another slight annoyance is the lack of either chaptering or subtitles on episodes. It might also have been nice to have some kind of printed material with it too, but for the price one can hardly carp too much.

Sketch comedy is, at the moment, in something of a low period with very few shows of the type prospering. The last was Little Britain, which has creatively run out of steam somewhat. Oh, how Channel 4 must wish for something now that could fill Absolutely's slot with the audiences it had, and with half the wit and invention. I am still, to this day, astounded that many more people don't remember and celebrate it in the same way as the aforementioned (and also wonderful) Fast Show.

In spite of gripes about transfer quality, the fact that this is priced so reasonably makes this series a total steal and an absolutely (ho, ho) essential purpose if you like quality comedy of any sort.

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions
Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions
by Dan Ariely
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, with caveats, 18 Mar. 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
As others have mentioned, this book does suffer in comparison somewhat to Dubner and Levitt's wonderful Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. For me at least the foremost reason is that this is one of those books that would benefit from having a European edition. Much of the cultural context and the examples are highly US-centric. Indeed, I suspect some of the behavioural experiments performed might elicit different results in Europe, but this doesn't seem to have pervaded this work. and this is odd, considering the author is not a native of the US [Note: any European behavioural economists or research students might care to reflect on this for a moment and wonder if there is any research mileage here].

Many of the experiments are interesting in a limited way, but manage to have rather localised results extrapolated to reach some questionable conclusions. And he does sometimes have a tendency to be rather unsubtle and repetitious in hammering home a point, as if he's writing for a particularly dim first-year undergraduate: the first chapter is a case in point.

If all this sounds like a litany of whinges, please don't let it put you off, because this is actually a very interesting book. Ariely generally writes in an engaging, crisp and sometimes witty style. His explanations are concise and mostly work pretty well in a non-academic context.

While you may not agree with everything you read here (in fact, some of it I vehemently disagreed with) you might at least begin to ask yourself questions that you may not have stopped to consider. You may even start to notice some of the things Ariely talks about a little more closely. That can't be a bad thing.

[I wanted to give this 3 and a half stars, but have rounded up to four because 3 sounds rather harsher than it deserves]

Unbalance Unbalance Volume 3: v. 3
Unbalance Unbalance Volume 3: v. 3
by Soo-Hyon Lee
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bubbling along nicely, 14 Mar. 2008
After seeing a musical with his teacher at the end of volume 2, Jin-ho has some serious explaining to do to his father. His solution is ingenious but takes advantage of Ji-Soo, placing her in a very awkward position. Ji-Soo is extremely upset at being used by Jin-ho in this way (we soon discover why) and Young-Gi becomes very angry with Jin-ho for doing it.

After taking som e advice from an interesting source, Jin-ho apologises to Ji-Soo and, sort-of, explains the circumstances. However, this partial truth-telling comes back to haunt him after a film club visit to a water park.

That's just getting the pot boiling for the real bombshell that hits at the end of the volume.

Even though the proportions of the female characters are slightly suspect (let's just say they're heavy up top) the artwork of this is really nice still. not only that but the story itself is very delicately observed. I am really starting to care what happens to these characters.

Certainly worth picking up with the first two volumes to get you to speed.

The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid
The Life And Times Of The Thunderbolt Kid
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warm and Witty, 13 Mar. 2008
Like much (well, alright pretty much all) of Bryson's output, this book is soft-centered. In amongst the wit and the occasional sarcasm there is a very real sense of affection and love for the things he writes about. In this case, the topic is his own childhood and the background in which it happened: post-war America. He speaks with real warmth and pride about his parents, though oddly rather less about his older siblings, perhaps because of that age gap.

It's a book in a sort of similar vein to Andrew Collins' 'Where Did It All Go Right?' in that, unusually in these times, it's not a memoir of childhood misery; how could it be with the tales of the fragrant Lumpy Kowalski, the Butters kids, paper rounds disrupted by psychopathic labradors and all the rest.

The last chapter of all is really rather touching and echoes the feelings many of us have returning to the places we grew up: it's all different now. The naive hopefulness and optimism of Bryson's childhood seems to be gone forever and he almost seems to have written this book as an elegy for them. Don't let that rather downbeat note dissuade you though, this book is a wonderful treat from start to finish, full of real belly laughs and intelligent, sharp writing.

Unbalance Unbalance Volume 2: v. 2
Unbalance Unbalance Volume 2: v. 2
by Soo-Hyon Lee
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, 6 Mar. 2008
After volume 1 where we began by meeting the main characters, here comes the second installment and the pace moves up a gear.

Things start off when our protagonists awake to find that they have slept together overnight, though neither can remember what has happened. Hae-Young gets worried when she skips a period and takes a pregnancy test. And that's when things start to get complicated...

Quite a lot happens in this volume and I found myself getting involved with the characters pretty quickly. I started to care what happened and how they felt. The artwork is still good, if a little unrealistic at times; some of the women in this story must have the most awful back pain judging by the size of their chests. And it also looks as if we haven't found out the whole picture (as it turns out, we haven't if you've seen further ahead).

It's certainly worth a read and is one of my faves at the moment.

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