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whateverhernameis (UK)

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38 of 59 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh Taylor, why did you have to conform?, 28 Oct. 2014
This review is from: 1989 (Audio CD)
I'll start by saying I like Taylor Swift, so much so that I went and saw her Red Tour (a rarity for me). I also initially scoffed at fellow listeners who lamented her departure into pop, surely Taylor's talented and distinctive enough that it won't matter? (Besides, the 'pop' songs on Red were good).

Now I'm thinking they were right and I was wrong. I felt so disappointed when I listened to the
album from beginning to end. It's not so much that the song writing is worse but the sound itself is just... unsatisfying.

For the most part, Taylor now just sounds like everyone else. The lyrics are (mostly) still there but I find they are subdued, not enhanced, by the bizarre pop style influences like the shrieking `stay' in `All You Had To Do Was Stay' or the forced out-of-nowhere chorus in `I Wish You Would'. The songs are also darker and I was cringing a bit at the thought of her younger fans listening to them in `Style' and `Wildest Dreams' (hopefully the clothes coming off will go over their heads, although I suppose they probably hear worse anyway than I did at that age). Even the way Taylor sings now, could easily be mistaken for someone else.

One of the most striking songs for me was `Style', when Taylor talks about her 'tight little skirt', which reminds me of You Belong With Me's 'you wear short skirts / I wear t-shirts'. This feels a metaphor for the whole album and transformation; Taylor's becoming the antithesis of 'uncool'. I think this is why the official reviews are so favourable, it's not so much the music, as the fact Taylor is no longer an awkward anomaly - she's just like the rest with some better lyrics. She's not a challenge to the sexist orthodoxy that suggests all girls need to wear short skirts or sound like everyone else to fit in, because that's exactly what she is doing now. I think it's a sad loss for those of us that really valued the rawness and authenticity of her earlier music.

Her uncoolness (which all of us girls have somewhere) is gone or now feels false in someone so polished. I really don't recognise or relate to what Taylor's singing about now; I just don't have relationships like the ones she describes and I don't understand why someone being `handsome as hell' (Wildest Dreams) makes them good boyfriend material - and moreover if you know that from the outset - why do it at all? It seems self-destructive in a way that her songs never have before. I love the fact Taylor has always been so honest in her songs but this album doesn't feel empowering because of it, it feels the opposite, cynical and degraded. The closest she comes is in `I Know Places' and `Clean', streets ahead of anything else on the album - but notice how they are last on the track list.

Yet, Taylor's personal following is a formidable force now, so the reality is she doesn't have to honour her roots or really do anything much at all to be successful. 1989 is (mostly) a good pop album, if you ignore the fact that it's Taylor Swift, whose dedicated listeners know she can sound better than this. She's a real musician; pop is for people who can sing and dance passably but don't write their own songs. The best songs on 1989 like 'I Know Places' or `Clean', could have easily been on Speak Now or Red. Why couldn't she just do her own thing without needing to categorise herself? It doesn't make you more creative to do what everyone else does, it just stifles your originality.

One has to wonder whether Taylor has really been shaking anything off. To me it feels like she's in retreat, fading into conformity, rather than giving us that authentic female voice she always has - and one that's so frowned upon in our western societies. The idea that women are vulnerable and strong all that the same time, that we feel things strongly but we have the agency, that we love our boys but ultimately we do our own thing. These things feel entirely absent in this album in a way that they never have before - it doesn't feel like a `rebirth' so much as a white flag.
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 1, 2015 9:37 PM GMT

The Maze Runner
The Maze Runner
Price: £3.66

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Maze was a good idea but the novel does not stand up to scrutiny, 24 Aug. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Maze Runner (Kindle Edition)
NB: Plot / character spoilers

I decided to give The Maze Runner a try after seeing its new movie trailer and at £2.40 for a Kindle copy it seemed a bargain. Overall, I found it to be a good few hours of entertainment but the ending / writing / characterisation left something to be desired.

The novel's strongest asset was the concept of the Maze. I found this compelling enough that it outweighed the other reservations I had so I could finish the book. It felt original and fresh, despite the popularity and quantity of the YA dystopian fiction genre and other comparable ideas as in The Hunger Games. However, Dashner did not make the best possible use of it. The first few chapters are spent on Thomas tediously asking questions and getting no answers, then wanting to be a runner and then BOOM there's some drama in the maze. But thereafter everything changes so much that we don't spend enough time dwelling on the suspense and intrigue of it (as well as the Glade society) - everything becomes a side show to Thomas's 'brilliance' which I found frustrating. I think the novel would have benefited from a bit of restructuring to address this. The language - 'shuck' 'klunk' etc. was a bit jarring at first but it grew on me.

This brings us to Thomas. I didn't find him as difficult to read as other reviewers have, although I found him to be progressively more implausible as the novel progressed. Dashner probably made a mistake by making Thomas the all singing all dancing protagonist to the point of eclipsing all the other gladers in importance (especially as it turns out they are all supposed to be really smart). Minho felt like the best developed, although he was quickly demoted to side-kick as in the case of Chuck. It seemed highly unlikely to me that one would arrive with only faint memories and quickly supersede everyone else who had been there for years. The plot also suffered in the last quarter (is Dashner a seat of the pants writer? It felt like it had been made up as we went along, so we went in circles a bit) and dramatic revelations turned out to be rather predicable which was a shame.

Dashner also could have done with a bit more creativity in his prose. in describing Teresa's voice we had: "He was somewhere very close to sleep when a voice spoke in his head, a pretty, feminine voice that sounded as if it came from a fairy goddess trapped in his skull." This was needlessly cringeworthy and what does a fairy goddess sound like? Not an illuminating description. There were enough incidents like this to make one wonder whether his editor had taken a vacation.

Why was there only one significant female character? If our inmates were selected by ability and intellect this is not plausible. Teresa's arrival also would have been a good time for the characters to debate why there had been no girls previously (as In The Knife Of Never Letting Go, Patrick Ness) but this doesn't happen - a missed opportunity. Teresa also does not develop properly in her own right, but just seems to be summoned as the plot requires. Despite having more memories than Thomas and the others, she still isn't his equal and it's very predictable that she will ultimately also serve as his love interest. If she had had better relationships with other characters, it may have helped.

Then we had the biggest problem - the same trap which Veronica Roth fell foul of with the Divergent series - what is beyond the Maze? This was where I completely lost interest and we became victim to a whole host of post-apocalyptic cliches. It's also why I'm reluctant to read on as Dashner doesn't seem to be doing much differently here, it almost would have been better to have a trilogy just in the Maze. The unknown is much more effective than telling us about it (think of The Road, very full of suspense, primarily because there is a lot we don't know). We're also cursed with the 1984 / Truman Show type situation, which for me always ruins the sense that you have experienced something organic with the characters (unless you know it from the start, like the Hunger Games). It feels a bit parody-like, unless done with great originality, unfortunately Dashner fell short here.

In short, for a few hours (mainly in the Maze focused parts) I found myself entertained. However the novel doesn't really stand up to close scrutiny regarding plot and characterisation. If you're just wanting some light reading, this is a reasonable choice and for younger readers I think it's a safe bet. If you're looking for something a bit deeper, look elsewhere.

Allegiant (Divergent, Book 3)
Allegiant (Divergent, Book 3)
by Veronica Roth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.00

111 of 119 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I was expecting that it would (eventually) get better. It didn't., 29 April 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
NB: Plot and ending spoilers.

Like many other readers here, I felt compelled to write a review. This has been on my mind for days and I need to get it off my chest; I'm still having irritated outbursts whenever I think about this book.

Firstly, I really enjoyed the first two and eagerly read them having watched the first film. The story was interesting and held my attention, the characters were unique and likeable. Although there were tragedies and difficult topics, they were dealt with sensitively and with due care and consideration.

Needless to say, Allegiant was not like that. I persevered (had I known the ending, I wouldn't have), expecting that it would improve and fall into place. It didn't. I was genuinely upset at the end. I was left with the sense the whole book was a missed opportunity and the overwhelming feeling that I had been cheated of my time and money. I felt the characters had not received a just and well-thought out ending. Unsurprisingly, I have several complaints that made this book an actively negative contribution to my reading experience.

Firstly, we had Tobias' voice. This could have been brilliant. He's an engaging character; damaged, courageous, kind, fiercely loyal, all the things that make someone appealing in YA fiction. This was the first missed opportunity, the first hurdle at which our author had some inexplicable problem. Tobias was (amazingly) terribly boring. There was nothing distinctive about his voice. I kept having to check whether it was him or Tris, such was my confusion. I do not suffer from a short attention span, it was just poorly written (why? I don't know, there was nothing in the previous books that suggested this would be the case). He had a miraculous character change from an independent and headstrong man to a naive loser, who seemed suddenly incapable of independent will and ideas. Why would a character that is suspicious of authority and what other people tell him about himself (given he was horribly abused), suddenly believe some ridiculous category inflicted upon him by an obviously misguided group of people? Why would he ignore Tris, when he had already learned his lesson in the previous book? It is implausible and had no understandable mitigating circumstances which could justify it. But alas, this was the most minor of the offences that make this book utterly unsatisfying.

Secondly on characters; Evelyn and Marcus. Roth had done some great work here with deep, interesting plots - people with genuinely complex and difficult relationships. Did we get any closure here? No. Evelyn just ran away and Marcus disappeared without a event. The possibilities here were immense, why the cop out?

Then we had what was beyond the fence. This was a massive, irredeemable anti-climax and if I'd been a bit more cynical I would have given up and realised it wasn't going to improve, as this was probably the point of no return. The premise is a very boring, dressed up utopian idea about purity (in this case genetic rather than racial) that lead to exterminations and random experiments. There was the Purity War which was never properly explained as well as being a bit far-fetched. Even the characters seemed to have trouble with it. This bizarre context also randomly incorporated Big Brother (but wasn't as scary or compelling), which added nothing but further implausibility. It is perhaps unsurprising then that the characters were underdeveloped or poor imitations of previous ones, so I didn't feel anything about them, other than confused and disappointed that they weren't better.

The ending. Where to begin. The logic was odd, like everything else. The Bureau was a relatively benign dictatorship as far as they go and simply reseting the city did not seem all that bad, given it was a mess. The fact the characters wanted to leave in the first place suggests that they didn't care very much about what happened there, so why bother at all? They also had time to go and collect various people to save, so why not do that and leave everyone else? or notify Evelyn and Marcus so they could put aside their numerable differences to negotiate a truce in time for the greater good or self preservation? The possibilities were vast but once again missed.

Finally, I categorically disagree that Tris' 'sacrifice' was something to be particularly proud of. I understand the biblical no greater love than laying down your life for your friends etc. But nothing about this made any sense. Tris could have saved Chicago (albeit with above plot flaws) without being shot and killed by a supposed former friend of her mother's. This would have redeemed it in my eyes, I could have forgiven all of the above of Roth had granted us this; killing her was unnecessary and upsetting. It would have been better to have her injured (and make us wonder whether she was dead) and then have the happy ending we all wanted. I don't buy the realism line or excuse, nothing about this book was 'real', so why start now? I don't read fiction for realism, thanks very much, I have my own life for that. I read books for entertainment and this was not entertaining. Tragedy can be, but this wasn't, it felt unfair. After this sad demise, I kept expecting that she would miraculously survive somehow; she's a survivor after all and had beaten the odds every time. But the disappointment continued. Instead I had an ending full of unsatisfying grief (this wasn't enough in my view, Tobias was until the end quite dull) and a rubbish scattering of ashes scene. This was not a good ending. Where was the closure? What had Tobias learnt? Life's not fair, you'll never get what you want, those that love you always leave, tough luck? What had Tris learned? Sacrifice means dying for a good cause? It doesn't have too, as she had already understood. I think her parents would have wanted her to live and have a good life (doesn't every parent?); arguably they died so she could have that. Why kill her? I'm utterly mystified.

So in short: I'd avoid the series altogether or at the very least avoid this book. I wish I had. If you feel like you want to finish it, prepare to be unsatisfied and disappointed. All I got out of it was feeling thoroughly depressed and now irritated. I'm also 20 pounds poorer.

As someone else has already said, you might as well make up your own ending after Insurgent, it will be much better than Roth's strange and inexplicable attempt.
Comment Comments (11) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 30, 2015 10:21 PM BST

Kipling Women's Seoul Backpack
Kipling Women's Seoul Backpack

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Was disappointed at first..., 21 Oct. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've got to say when I opened the overly-sized packaging I was disappointed. I'm used to very well-padded rucksacks and this one didn't appear as substantial as I hoped it would be. Also the image gives the impression of it having more useable pockets than it actually does (in reality it has one large pouch, a second smaller one with room for a wallet, phone etc.. and a flat zip pocket). The straps are also tiny, I'm a woman not a fairy.

However, when I started using it these reservations were more or less overridden (which was a relief) by the fact this is a really good rucksack. I've just started university and the amount of stuff I can fit in the main pocket still surprises me (four chunky history books, a large notebook, a diary, pencil case, water bottle). The smaller pocket was also pretty full and somehow it didn't look swollen. More importantly, despite the tiny straps and lack of sizeable padding, this rucksack doesn't hurt my back at all unlike previous purchases. So I now do feel it was worth the money.

My only remaining concern is the laptop pouch - I'm not sure I'd want to carry anything expensive in it but it may be sufficient, as the padding in the rucksack turned out to be. Overall, I think it is a good quality product and probably the best rucksack I've had, so I would recommend it (but don't buy it just for the laptop compartment, would be my only cautionary note).

The Sims 3: Generations (PC/Mac DVD)
The Sims 3: Generations (PC/Mac DVD)
Offered by EUROGAMES
Price: £14.99

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Improves the game., 28 July 2011
= Fun:5.0 out of 5 stars 
Firstly, this is a really fun expansion pack that you can't eat up all at once (or so I think), this is down to the fact that the new features involve and are relevant to most aspects of your Sim's lifetime. Saying this, it is relatively child/teen orientated, so if you don't enjoy raising a family you won't notice a lot of new content but it may still improve general gameplay (midlife crisis aspirations, new items like walking sticks for elders etc..)

Imaginary Friends: I've only come across one so far (sent in the post from a mysterious relative) and it was essentially a clown toy. They grow up with your Sim if you form a good bond with them. At first they are pretty fun and it's a nice addition. However I've got to say by the time my Sim became an adult I was quite sick of it following him around everywhere... I didn't manage to make my Sim's friend real though, which may have made it more interesting.
Pranks: These are a bit weird but are a good addition for the more mischievous Sims. You can see where you've put them (pink shiny light) so you don't forget and they are funny to watch.
Tree houses: I like these, simply to look at frankly but it's a good place to dump the kid Sims for awhile. It's a nice feature. There are also many other toy-like items and outdoor activities for children. (There's a dress-up box which is adorable).
Teen features: The 'mood swing' brings on new aspirations, I got points for skipping school for example. My Sim parents had a random 'free vacation' which meant they went away, so I only had my teen Sim to worry about for 2 Sim days which was nice. In this time you could throw wild parties etc.. I'm not sure if there was a curfew before but there's one now. There are also options such as driving lessons, prom and a graduation ceremony (which you don't see unfortunately) when your Sim becomes a young adult.

As others have pointed out it's a shame there is no new neighbourhood but in a way it would just be more of the same so I can see why it wasn't added. A lot of the material is for your lot rather than a wider setting. I disagree that it is more like a stuff pack simply because of the additions like teen 'mood swings' and the midlife crisis which do improve general gameplay quite significantly in my opinion.

Overall I think this expansion pack stops the game dragging as much, particularly in the earlier years where it can all get a bit repetitive. However it is probably only worth the money if you actually like the family-orientated kind of games as other reviewers have said otherwise you won't benefit fully from all the new features.

AQA A2 Economics Student Unit Guide Unit 4: The National and International Economy (Student Unit Guides)
AQA A2 Economics Student Unit Guide Unit 4: The National and International Economy (Student Unit Guides)
by Ray Powell
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Really useful., 20 Jun. 2011
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is an excellent revision guide (as are the other editions for previous units).

1. Content: It covers all of the key areas, linking them to the specification and examiner's comments. The end of each chapter has a section specifying the type of questions you can expect and the frequent mistakes that candidates make.
2. Practice Questions: I personally prefer to use past questions from AQA but the sample essays and examiner feedback is a useful reference and good for generally getting a feel for the exam style.
3. It's small and thin: You might laugh, but this cannot be underestimated, textbooks are a nightmare to carry around (Economics is a particular offender I think). It also feels less intimidating, so it's easier to end up casually reading a chapter without feeling like you're engaging in something very painful.

1. It gives the impression of being concise but is convoluted in parts: At times, I felt like aspects of the topic were drawn out in an unnecessarily complex way. In the first instance, some of the examples felt incredibly similar (demand-pull, cost-push in the Philips Curve chapter) thus it was confusing when the author tried to draw distinctions. Some of the explanations, I felt, could have been reduced into one paragraph. However this is really a minor criticism and isn't a big problem provided you have notes or other textbooks to iron out any discrepancies.

Overall, this is a great revision guide. It is an excellent accompaniment to other resources, certainly worth the money and helps to consolidate your knowledge nicely.

Speak Now
Speak Now
Price: £5.00

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A white veil occasion..., 26 Oct. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Speak Now (Audio CD)
I'm a recent convert to Taylor Swift and I was nothing short of impressed with this album.

I was surprised to find a different kind of sound with some much darker and intense emotions but - it's all the more relatable because of it. The album begins "Mine" a song that could have easily been on Fearless as it follows a similar style and then as the album progresses we find darker songs such as "Haunted".

I'd say her song writing is more honest and developed, less names this time but the detail and imagery makes for some powerful listening. There is more exploration of feelings and as a listener you can sense a lot of genuine emotion. The work also strikes a nice balance of sweetness and light with songs such as; "Mean" and "Speak Now", which are amongst my favourites. As always with Taylor, any songs you don't initially take to will grow on you and I find there's always something to be taken from them.

Speak Now covers many different themes; falling in love, heartbreak and coming of age. I think Swift captures all of these very nicely and as always her music is an easy listen, with catchy melodies that will resound in your head long after you've stopped listening.

Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA
by Tim Weiner
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant., 31 Aug. 2010
"The Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA" is a fascinating read from beginning to end. It seemed a little intimidating at first, as it's 601 pages long excluding the notes.. but don't be put off by this, it's remarkably easy to read. Weiner has an amazing talent for narrative, as a journalist I suppose we should expect this but the information is nicely integrated - I didn't feel utterly bombarded. This is an achievement as it's worth considering just how much is condensed; over 60 years of failings, it's quite the catalogue.

It's so frightening it's almost comic. The gist is - the CIA is so incompetent that it missed all the crucial events and ultimately didn't prevent the kind of disaster it was created to prevent, another Pearl Harbour.

This book is well sourced, and quotes from on the record agents make it almost laughable experience at times - "We'd be delighted to trade those missiles." It's so well written that it reads almost like a story, as readers we are spoilt with atmosphere and get a good idea of what the people were like. This is the best kind of history book. Although It doesn't go into great depth about some events, there are other books for that and there is certainly enough to get a good understanding.

I disagree with what some have said about it being a biased account, in the face of the overwhelming failure that is the CIA I think it would be hard to be anything but critical. But saying this, I think one of the main things this book conveys very effectively is just how difficult it is to create a useful intelligence organisation. The problems are highlighted but also the causes of them - making it largely clear what needs to be done, or rather what should have been done.

I found this to be remarkable read, albeit terrifying (I'm glad I'm not relying on these people) and I'm sure I'll never look at the CIA in the same way. I'd really recommend this book, as something so well researched and written deserves attention.

The Russian Revolution from Lenin to Stalin, 1917-29 (Papermacs)
The Russian Revolution from Lenin to Stalin, 1917-29 (Papermacs)
by Edward Hallett Carr
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Really useful, especially for revision., 31 Aug. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book was a great read. Having studied this area earlier in the year, I wanted to do some extra research and this certainly fulfilled that purpose.

As it says in the title it covers 1917-1929, which means the Revolution, the Civil War and the power struggle. It does go into depth about the economic policies such as the NEP, The Five Year Plans and Collectivization. I think Carr manages to strike a nice balance between the politics and economic issues so you get a nice scope into both areas, it is nicely organised into chapters - so you can dip in and out depending on your needs. It also has a brief but insightful summary at the end about how effective/significant the revolution was. For those who don't know, E.H.Carr is widely regarded in this area so it's written by a reliable author and is well sourced.

The language isn't too complicated, it's easy enough to get through and it's not very intimidating in size making it very student friendly. I found that it covered some extra areas that we had only touched on in lessons such as the USSR's relationship with the rest of the world. It made some interesting points about Stalin and his motives.

I think this is an excellent book, if you're a student it will be a nice revision aid or read-around-the-subject material. If you are just generally curious about Russian history this would also suit you, it's relatively easy to understand and covers all the main areas of interest.

Carnival of Rust
Carnival of Rust

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fantastic album., 29 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Carnival of Rust (Audio CD)
It almost goes without saying that bands like Poets of the Fall are few and far between, and albums like Carnival of Rust are also hard to come by. It's the kind of album you'll have on loop for days whilst its songs slowly conquer your most played lists.

Signs of Life was a hard act to follow but Carnival of Rust stands in its own right as an excellent body of work. As usual Poets of the Fall have produced lyrics that are heartfelt, powerful and catchy. There is a variety of songs, "Roses" is softer and uplifting whereas "Locking Up The Sun" is darker - both of which I love. Carnival of Rust is an album that is enjoyable from beginning to end, no skipping required. Each song is unique and interesting with a story to draw upon.

I think it's a real shame that this band seem to be virtually unheard of in the UK as they are deserving of far more credit for their work. I'd highly recommend this album and the rest - they don't disappoint and are worth every penny.

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