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GM Jones (Reading, UK)

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Traveller's Duty (The Traveller Series Book 1)
Traveller's Duty (The Traveller Series Book 1)
Price: £2.46

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Promising start to an intriguing fantasy, 13 July 2013
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Usually I'm pretty wary of self-published fiction. Yes, there's good stuff, but there's so much utter dross out there by writers whose ego outshines their talent that I don't think they're worth spending actual cash money on unless you're completely sure or the author is a mate of yours.

So I wasn't expecting to like this as much as I did. And I did like it, quite a lot. The story is a pretty original one for fantasy, and the characters are captivating, particularly Sarah. It's well plotted and the narrative builds with appropriate increase of tension. It's too short, of course, and it ends on a cliffhanger - this is not a self-contained novella, but the first part of a series - but there's plenty of good stuff here too. The prose is deceptively simple, yet evocative, placing our heroes in a quite specific place and time, and their relationship with other characters and each other is well realised.

The story is intriguing and information is drip-fed in a careful way that allows the reader to piece the back story together by themselves, with plenty left as a mystery for future instalments.

The best character is Sarah, by a mile. The other characters tend to be less well drawn, their likability a reflection of the kindness and understanding with which they treat this abused, brave teenager, with the bodily scars and the hair-trigger temper. I hope that the other main character, Connor, is fleshed out a little more in future books. At the moment he's something of a cypher.

There's a certain element of Self-Publisher's Curse detectible at a few points. There are a few typos and a couple of pacing issues. In particular, the first argument Connor has with his parents doesn't feel very real to me and moves far too quickly. But at the end, these are pretty minor quibbles. There's a quirky, original story going on here, one well worth the expenditure of a couple of quid.

I really liked this, but I'm giving it 4 stars because it feels like a prologue, and the real meat of the story is yet to come. On the evidence of this first outing though, it's a journey I intend on following. And oh look, the second one is out now!

BiC For Her Medium Ballpoint Pen (Box of 12) - Black
BiC For Her Medium Ballpoint Pen (Box of 12) - Black
Price: £21.84

28 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At last a suitable product for the Fairer Sex!, 1 Sept. 2012
Seriously though, why all this mockery? This seems like a perfectly sensible idea by Bic. Women need their own pens to use, because trying to use man pens (Hitherto known as "pens") can be dangerous for the delicate constitution of the fairer sex.

I remember lending a pen to a lady once, and boy do I regret it! She was trying to write her shopping list, silly lamb, but couldn't hold on to the masculine trunk of the male pen, and ended up accidentally stabbing herself right in the boobs! No amount of kittens with pink bows around their necks could stop her feminine weeping. Were I not a heartless bastard, I might not have left her living in a sea-cave, pregnant with twins, while her tyrannical half-brother made away with her inheritance.

Bic are just trying to help. They recognise that women are weak and pathetic and their hands don't work, and they can't stand the sight of anything that isn't pink, so I applaud them in their attempt to redress the balance by creating a writing implement specifically designed for their weird, clumsy fingers. I'd been under the mistaken assumption that women were human beings, of all things! When in fact they are a strange type of sea creature related to the walrus, and so need pens calibrated for use with flippers.

And every now and then I have to remind myself that this is supposed to be the 21st Century.

No Title Available

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Waste of money, 11 Feb. 2012
Product refuses point-blank to pair with my Samsung Galaxy Ace which, as this is the whole point of it, is something of a minus.

I'm Proud Of The BBC
I'm Proud Of The BBC
Price: £0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Mitch Benn for the win!, 22 May 2011
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Catchy of tune, important of message, and witty of deceptively simple lyric, "I'm Proud of the BBC" may well be the finest song in the history of recorded music. If there were any justice in the world it would be no.1 for at least a year.

Warehouse 13 - Season 1 [DVD]
Warehouse 13 - Season 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Eddie McClintock
Price: £9.76

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Starts off walking, ends up running, 22 July 2010
What a strange, exciting little show this is. I was impressed, and I wasn't expecting to be.

I've read some very mediocre reviews of this series, and only picked it up because of the dearth of interesting TV DVD releases around at this time of year. I just got it for something to watch, and was steadily drawn in.

This show has been compared a lot to Sanctuary in terms of quality, and while I see the similarities, Warehouse 13 is better. It has better production values, more interesting characters and a much greater sense of fun.

The concept is easy to grasp, and very high-concept, apparently inspired by the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where we see the Ark of the Covenant secured in a giant warehouse, hidden forever. Warehouse 13 is about the people who work for that warehouse.

Starting off with an intriguing, double-length first episode, we're given a number of standalones where the agents are sent after the Artefact of the Week, and then sometime around the mid-point the series really starts jogging with the introduction of James MacPherson, the former Warehouse agent who's turned to the dark side. From hereon there's a run of increasingly exciting episodes until the season finale, which is as ace as you could want, ending with a stunner of a cliffhanger.

The characters are all brilliant. Yes, this series wears its influences on its sleeve, but as far as I'm concerned it's what you do with them that counts. Myka and Peter make a great pairing with their funny, bickering, brother-sister relationship (And Joanne Kelly, who plays Myka, is gorgeous). Saul Rubinek is a standout as their seemingly avuncular boss Artie, by turns friendly, funny, irascible and cold.

My favourite character though has to be Claudia, the teenage whiz-kid. With her bouncing around, her sassy attitude, her teen-speak dialogue ("Rad, Dude"! Etc) and her strange, angular face, she's rather adorable.

Yes, I have criticisms. The nature of the artefacts the group collect is never really explained. Why do these things have magic powers? What caused them to be? It's brushed off in the first series, but I do hope we get some answers later on.

It's also a shame that MacPherson is such a mwa-ha-ha black-hat cliché, and of course he has to be English, doesn't he? What would a US series be without a British baddie? We should be thankful he isn't the head of an international oil company. That'll probably be next season.

Overall though, I'd mark this series as "promising". There are definite signs with the last few episodes and the growing mythology around the warehouse that it might become more than it is, really step up to the plate and prove itself in future seasons.

This isn't certain, but I hope it does, `cos I'd love to be along for that ride.

The Court of the Air
The Court of the Air
by Stephen Hunt
Edition: Paperback

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful, inventive read, 16 Jun. 2010
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This review is from: The Court of the Air (Paperback)
Stephen Hunt's "The Court of The Air" has been out for some time now, but until recently I've been put off reading it by negative comments and often mixed reviews. Well, I finally took the plunge and, while I can see how it might not be for everyone, what's certain is that it's definitely for me.

I read this 600-page beast in 3 days flat (Admittedly I don't have much of a life). It's a dizzying joy of a novel, a colourful mish-mash of ideas and influences of such startling vividness that at times it was like a splash of cold water in the face.

Needless to say, I loved this novel.

The background concerns the two rival countries of Jackals and Quatershift, which are ruled by twisted parodies of real political systems - One a cruel kind of constitutional monarchy, the kind that nobody would want to be monarch of, the other an extreme form of Communism which takes the concept of "equality for all" to insane and gruesome lengths. Add to this a touch of the French Revolution and the English civil war, a free state of intelligent steam-powered robots (often the most sympathetic characters), some secret police, a mutating/superpower bestowing fog known as "feymist" (Which may also be the entrance to another reality), Long-dead, subterranean Aztec-style civilizations with ancient insect gods (Who want to come back), bizarre land disturbances known as "floatquakes" which send sections of land bouncing upwards into space(!), Dickensian squalor, a touch of social commentary, and quite a lot else - in fact, so much idea and invention it's impossible to mention it all in one review - all funnelled through a comparatively straightforward plot about two fugitive orphans with a destiny, a grand political conspiracy, and a Crown Prince who doesn't want to have his arms chopped off come Coronation day.

In short, it's bonkers. And utterly, utterly brilliant.

Admittedly the book can be a bit of a challenge, at least initially. No, not much is explained, and the author does require you to do some of the work yourself, but that's fine and a perfectly acceptable way to write. Perhaps readers who expect to be spoonfed, expect novels to be like a form of text television where no thought is required on the part of the audience, will be disappointed, but I didn't mind at all. I had no trouble understanding any of the concepts, the plot or what the overarching themes were. I was never confused and never bored, not for a moment. And I make no claims to genius.

Having said that, a little more physical description could have come in handy on occasion, as I sometimes had trouble visualising objects, people and settings from Hunt's terse one-line sketches.

Also, something I only noticed after reading it is that it's an oddly asexual novel. Not only is there no romance, (Which I was a little disappointed about as I was expecting fireworks when Molly and Oliver finally met) but as far as I can remember very few, if any, of the characters in the book had a wife or a husband or a significant other of any kind. Not a criticism as such, but something I found a little odd in retrospect.

But overall I'm happy to say, after Having finally gotten around to reading this, I'll be buying the other three (so far) in this series and devouring them all in one enormous book-based gulp. I've just discovered my new favourite author.

Don't let the nay-sayers put you off - if you like fantasy fiction and don't mind a read that challenges you, crack this open as soon as you can get your hands on it!

Salute the Dark (Shadows of the Apt 4)
Salute the Dark (Shadows of the Apt 4)
by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tchaikovsky's Fourth, 30 April 2010
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If Shadows of the Apt were a TV show, then Salute The Dark would be the epic two-part season climax, where all the season's plot threads and character arcs come together, and there's a great big fight and a general clearing of the decks for season 2.

So what do we have with this, the fourth novel in the Shadows sequence? We see Tchaikovsky's opus reaching a crescendo, is what, and it's a bloody fun ride. Emphasis on the bloody.

There's a lot of death in the novel, some of it shocking and unexpected, as much-liked characters present from the start of the series are scythed down. Some of these demises are genuinely upsetting. This winnowing of characters is important, though, because it gives us the feeling that this really is it, this is the big one, and none of our heroes might survive the day. You really don't know who's going to survive - or if anyone is.

As such, it gives the novel a sense of mythic scale and sense of urgency the previous books only hinted at. I read this book in three days flat, and begrudged any time when I was dragged away from it for such boring duties as eating, sleeping and going to work.

The story? Well, you must know the story by now, because if you haven't read the first three books you've no business reading this one - you'll be utterly lost, for starters. So suffice it to say that the multiplicity of plots that have budded and bloomed in previous books continue to expand into full flower... Che is brave and loveable and Stenwold is doughty and anxious, and Tynisa is a fearless warrior-tart, we learn about the culture of the Commonweal in depth for the first time, there are great battles and clever tricks and sudden reversals and a pint-and-a-half of derring-do in every chapter. And Tisamon, as ever, is a giant prat. Though I wouldn't say it to his face.

One thing I particularly admire in Tchaikovsky's writing is his depiction of extended battle scenes. Too often in novels of this kind people start fighting and I zone out, uninterested in Whatsisname's sword-thrust and So-and-so's parry and feint. Tchaikovsky holds the interest by bringing a rare eloquence and narrative brio to his battle scenes, and a sense of authenticity doubtless garnered from his side-interest in live-action roleplaying (Read his website!). This brings a welcome sense of value for money, as I'm actually reading all of it...

Downsides are few - I've pointed out before that there's little descriptive colour to these novels, and that's a problem which remains - if you even consider that a problem. Also, with so many plots and dozens of viewpoint characters, it's inevitable that some of them get comparatively short shrift - in particular Taki, the chirpy fly-kinden aeronaut, my favourite new character from Dragonfly Falling, who for most of the novel is consigned to a bit of a narrative cul-de-sac (Although that could just be my own prejudice, because I fancy her).

I'd also like to learn more about the mythological areas of the story, about the Moth-kinden and their magic and the dreaded Days of Lore. But all that? That's not much. That barely dents the carapace, because this book is magnificent.
Although it marks a climax to what we've been reading so far, there are plenty of seeds laid in the plot of Salute that will grow in later volumes - And I for one can't wait. Stay tuned for Shadows of the Apt, season 2!

Volume 5, The Wind in the Wing-Casings*, is out in August, I believe. (Is it just me or does he seem to be writing these at a rate of three a year?)

*I jest, of course. Its called The Scarab Path.

Escape from Hell!
Escape from Hell!
by Hal Duncan
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Impossible to escape!, 28 Nov. 2009
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This review is from: Escape from Hell! (Paperback)
A short novel that packs an awful lot in, Escape from Hell is a metaphysical fantasy recast as a Hollywood blockbuster, and packs a powerful punch.

The central thesis is one that is restated several times in the book itself - "nobody deserves to be here". Not even a killer deserves to be tortured for all eternity.

To this end you find yourself cheering on cold-hearted hitman Seven as he breaks his bonds of punishment and runs rampant through Hell, collecting a group of others who also don't deserve to be there.

Apart from Seven, who we learn was offed by his employers after defaulting on a hit, we find in the prologue a range of characters who deserve nothing but our sympathy - Eli, a suicidal tramp tormented by an undisclosed episode in his previous life as a university professor, Matthew, a gay teenager beaten to death by a bigoted mob, and Belle, a heroin-addicted prostitute who is, as we later learn, little more than a child herself.

All are consigned to Hell, in this book envisioned as eternity in the worst situation of your life - forever. Their fates in the first section of the novel are so horrible that you'll be cheering them on as they escape, shoot guards, blow up helicopters, all that good Michael Bay stuff. And there's a kicker of an ending too. I'd love to see the sequel.

In short - well worth your time. And if you don't like it, well, it is quite short.

Who Killed Amanda Palmer
Who Killed Amanda Palmer
Price: £18.69

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genius in madness, 28 Nov. 2009
I'd never heard of Amanda Palmer before yesterday, or the Dresden Dolls. Now I have, I'm wondering how I ever lived my life without her.
There are a lot of female singer-songwriters around this year, it seems, mostly taking the same easy-listening folk trail as each other. And that's all fine.

But here is Amanda Palmer, whose music is loud and punky and aggressively sexual. This is not a woman who is waiting around for some beau to sweep her off her feet, rather one who has already finished with him and moved onto several other ones. Her voice is deep and growly and knowing, a wine-addled sixty-a-day roar, her music is replete with pianos, guitars, violins, trumpets, shouty exuberance, and much else besides. And she sounds like she's having just a great whale of a time, and inviting us along for the ride.

There is not a single bad song on this album. Seriously. How rare is that? An album without a single duff track. Even the slow ones, where you're thinking, "Uh-oh, here comes the token ballad". The token ballad is mint. All the token ballads are mint.

And this is all before you reach the track "Oasis". Which is something of a revelation in itself. Listen to the sound of your own jaw hitting the table as you think, "How on earth can she be singing about this? And how can she be making it so much fun?"

No, this is not an album for the Laura Marling/Lisa Hannigan crowd, this is for people who like a bit of good bloody meat on their music. An album for those whom like their women a little bit scary and a little bit out there.

Me, I'm completely in love...

The River King
The River King
by Alice Hoffman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful, moving masterpiece, 6 Oct. 2009
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This review is from: The River King (Paperback)
I'm quite new to the world of Alice Hoffman - my first one was the impressive The Ice Queen - and I'm slowly working my way through her back catalogue. The River King is the third one I've read, and it's utterly superb.

What I love about this is what I love about all her novels - the wry, poetic prose style, the brilliant characters, the literary sensibility married to a solid, meaty plot - and most of all, the generous compassion she has for all these flawed, unhappy people. Hoffman, I sense, believes in people, that they are fundamentally good (With one or two exceptions) and that makes a refreshing change from much of modern fiction.

The River King is a literary novel with the plot motor of a murder-mystery. A bullied student at the snobbish, privileged Haddan School is found dead, floating in the nearby river, and the story then investigates the lives of the student, his friends and enemies, his teachers, and that of a righteous, honest police detective who senses that the death was not suicide and who investigates mulishly, doggedly, tirelessly, even though he puts his own friendships and livelihood at risk. You'll end up wanting this guy to be your dad.

And while this goes on the story comments on so much else - loneliness, bullying, the horrible practice of "hazing", of guilt-by-proxy, of strange weather, of unreasonable parental pressure, of small, poor lives given a new chance, of the resentment of townsfolk for the rich students of the posh school across the road, of wrong choices, and above all of love, and redemption, and hope.

And a one-eyed cat, and some very surly swans.

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