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Patrick Neylan "Patrick Neylan" (Orpington, Kent, UK)

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Barbara the Slut and Other People
Barbara the Slut and Other People
by Lauren Holmes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

3.0 out of 5 stars Exercises in creative writing, 18 July 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This debut collection is essentially comedy of the banal. It's not bad, but it does seem to have been written by someone who's taken a writing class and has learned that stories don't need a structure or an ending. That's true, but in their absence something else needs to fill the gap. Also, the title and some of the publicity imply that this is a work of erotica, which it most certainly isn't.

There's a clue in the title "and other people", not "and other stories". These are vignettes: moments from people's lives. That would work better if the characterisation was deeper: if nothing is going to happen in terms of story, then something needs to happen in terms of character. Mostly it doesn't, or, when it does, the characters aren't deep enough for the reader to care.

In Desert Hearts, one of the more entertaining pieces, a law graduate gets a job in a sex shop (the reference to Jane Rule tells you it's a lesbian sex shop). All the gay clichés are there as this straight woman tries to pass off as gay, while her over-working boyfriend becomes increasingly distant. The story is moving inexorably towards a conclusion and Holmes knows it, so, to adhere to the diktat of Great Literature that 'nothing must happen', she simply kills the story, bluntly and implausibly.

The story that starts least promisingly is probably the best: My Humans, in which a couple's relationship is told through the eyes of their rescue dog. The simplicity of the dog's understanding allows the pathos of humans' feelings to come through; pathos that is absent from the characters in the other stories because Holmes doesn't dare show deep emotion. By focusing on the dog, she allows the humanity to shine through.

As an aside, these stories are strangely anachronistic for a collection published in 2015. Almost all the references, cultural and technological, seem to be from the 1990s: VHS, audio tape, Backstreet Boys.

On this evidence, Holmes is a writer of potential but perhaps she needs to emerge from the shadow of her tutors, who are numerously and profusely thanked in the acknowledgements (which appear prominently at the front of the book, not the back). At the moment, her work reads a little too much like exercises for a creative writing class.

by Martin Wagner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.38

3.0 out of 5 stars How far would you go?, 10 July 2016
This review is from: Deutschland (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Deutschland is a short book, detailing a few days in summer for one family. Richard, Suzannah's American second husband, is wrestling with an unspecified guilt. Kate, Suzannah's daughter, is on holiday in Germany with her new lover, Steve, where she challenges him to do something that will test their relationship. Kate's nephews and niece, Tony, Jeff and Sam, spend their days concocting elaborate and dangerous dares. The common theme of pushing the boundaries of what is right holds the narratives together.

The strands of the three stories only really come together at the end, before which the motives of the players are nebulous. Regrettably, the writing and characterisation aren't compelling enough to hold the reader's attention while we wait for the point of the novel to be revealed. The reveal at the end isn't forceful enough to make the exercise worthwhile.

She Monkeys
She Monkeys
Price: £0.00

2.0 out of 5 stars Achingly dull tale of anti-love, 9 Jan. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: She Monkeys (DVD)
When Emma joins the equestrian gymnastics team, the more confident Cassandra befriends her and starts manipulating her. But Emma is so emotionally constipated that she refuses to respond, either positively or negatively. This could have led to a turning of the tables or a psychological power struggle, but the problem in terms of drama is that Emma is so inert that she isn't even passive-aggressive, leaving a huge human void at the centre of the film. What's left is an 83-minute film in which only one thing happens: a split-second of spiteful violence with no consequences in terms of character development. We don't even learn how the victim feels.

The director has done a good job in terms of atmosphere, but that isn't enough to carry the film.

The Koln Concert
The Koln Concert
Price: £13.41

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Like Randy Newman…, 18 Aug. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Koln Concert (Audio CD)
…but drunk.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 7, 2015 3:34 AM BST

The Weight of Silence
The Weight of Silence
Price: £4.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Relentless mediocrity, 14 Aug. 2015
At first I thought this was a crime novel, but there's no serious crime (a bit of scene-setting historical domestic violence doesn't count).

Then I thought it was a mystery novel, but there's no mystery: the missing girls give first-hand accounts of their ordeal throughout.

Then I thought it was a psychological thriller, but the characters are such flat stereotypes that anything as subtle as psychology is beyond them – except the obvious bad guy, Griff, but he's the only major character who doesn't get the first-person treatment, presumably because he's the bad guy and the author doesn't want the readers sympathising with him (maybe she should read Nabokov).

The multiple narrator idea is good (maybe she's been reading Audrey Niffenegger), but it's not much use when the characters – implausibly, given the terrifying events that are unfolding – spend most of their time musing about the past. Gudenkauf isn't a skilled enough writer to balance so many characters: they all talk and think in the same way, and eventually they merge into one. This isn't helped by the simplistic characterisation: people are good or bad.

Add to that the pedestrian narration, artless description and flat dialogue, and we have a thoroughly unexceptional book. By that logic, one star seems harsh, as it's not terrible – undemanding sun-lounge readers can flip through it and find it mildly diverting – but at no point does it transcend mediocrity. It shows a depressing lack of ambition on the author's part.

(This was the other book I rescued from the bin at the Village Hall, along with Genesis by Karin Slaughter. Their failings are oddly similar. Maybe the phantom book dumper had more taste than I gave them credit for.)

Für Mich
Für Mich
Price: £15.69

4.0 out of 5 stars The last Krautrock album, 3 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Für Mich (Audio CD)
There's no doubt that Thomas was the less talented of the Dinger brothers, but Fur Mich – the title "For Me" being a reference to how his brother Klaus dominated their band La Düsseldorf – has some beautiful moments. His drumming on the almost-title track Fur Dich (For You) is a clear reminder of La Düsseldorf, with a vaguely Christmassy melody, but the groove is infectious in the best Krautrock style and there's something quite lovely about the overlay of swirling synthesisers. Nothing else on the album quite matches it, but this is still a delightful listen. It's also the last time that Neu! motorik beat got an outing till the likes of Stereolab rediscovered it in the 1990s.

Genesis (Georgia)
Genesis (Georgia)
by Karin Slaughter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Soap opera with a bit of murder thrown in, 3 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Genesis (Georgia) (Paperback)
I found this in a bin at the village hall. Seeing books in the bin offends me, so I rescued it. Anyway, I like a bit of Rankin, so why not try another crime writer?

The best I can say is it's alright, but it's not really a crime novel. It's soap opera with a bit of crime in the background as a device to connect a group of characters who seem to be the author's main preoccupation (probably because they seem to be leftovers from earlier novels). Slaughter seems obsessed with the minutiae of her characters' lives, and the story very much takes a back seat. A third of the way through the novel we've found out almost nothing about the crime or the investigation, but we know the characters inside out without ever finding out why we're supposed to care.

Slaughter is very much of the 'tell-don't-show' school of novel writing, where everything is explained instead of coming out through the storytelling. She has to tell us what her readers are thinking as they say something, whereas a more skilled writer achieves that by writing the dialogue properly. Her dialogue isn't quite as clunky as the execrable James Patterson, but her plotting is much more rambling (Patterson is brilliant at plotting, but couldn't write dialogue to save his life).

Male crime novelists tend to write taut thrillers rather than the rambling, over-written, easy-reading on offer here. Men like five-minute showers; women like to luxuriate in the bath for an hour. If that generalisation holds good, then this is very much a feminine novel.

Genesis is anything but taut. The first nine pages consist of the thoughts of a woman whose only purpose in the novel seems to be finding the first victim (she does come into it more later, but I'd lost patience by then). She sits in a car, looking out of the window and thinks through her entire life story, including the life stories of her family, in a way that absolutely nobody does in real life (any more than they look in the mirror and mentally describe their appearance: that much-loved staple of poor writers who don't know how else to describe their characters – see the chapter in How Not to Write a Novel called "What colour am I?"). Again and again, characters sit and think about their lives while the story takes a back seat. This gets quite tiresome.

By the time I had read the first third of the book, I still had little idea about the criminal (except that he – or maybe she – is implausibly sadistic) because the author was so obsessed with the characters' back stories that the novel still hadn't got going. If this was Ian Rankin, the narrative of the first 200 pages would have been dealt with in ten. And that was the point where I gave up.

ION Audio Vinyl forever | Digital LP Audio Conversion Turntable Adapter
ION Audio Vinyl forever | Digital LP Audio Conversion Turntable Adapter
Price: £19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not quite 70s technology, 11 July 2015
OK, at the basic level, it works. It transfers your albums to CD. You need to have your turntable within about three feet of your computer, but once there it works.

But the software is rubbish. You record your music, then it asks you to name your tracks. If you get it wrong, these can never be changed. So, if one track has a quiet part, it records it as two tracks. Not only can you not merge them, all the following tracks will have the wrong titles. Ah, you say, why not listen to them before you name them? Sorry, you can't. Whatever name you gave the track when it was recorded is the name it's stuck with. Forever. Best to record albums one track at a time, then go into Windows and assemble them manually. The process is similar to recording tapes, except that you can't get rid of the run-in. So, if you want something that's like recording cassettes the way you did in the 70s, but a bit less sophisticated, then this is the software for you.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 7, 2015 2:00 PM BST

Top Dog: Impress and Influence Everyone You Meet
Top Dog: Impress and Influence Everyone You Meet
by Andy Bounds
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.13

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bitchin', 20 Jun. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Three stars is quite a compliment. Most books like this are utter nonsense, but there are one or two good ideas here among the customary banalities and statements of the obvious. It's really aimed at salesmen (the subtitle should have been 'Impress and Influence Everyone You Have Sales Meetings With'), but many of the lessons are relevant to wider business and even to social situations.

Typically for this genre, it comes in a hideously garish cover that screams 'Like me, pleeeeeeease!'. Even hiding the title won't stop your sniggering fellow commuters guessing what sort of book you're reading: one that proclaims, 'Here's a schmuck who's desperately trying to overcome his inadequacy'. The amateurish layout makes it look like it was self-published (though it isn't), which was enough to make me check LinkedIn to see if the top execs who gave those glowing references at the front actually exist (they do).

Then there are the dogs, which do more to undermine the book's credibility than anything else. Why? The problem isn't that there are far too many pictures of the author's Labradors (though there are) or that those pictures are clearly amateur snapshots (though they are). It's that by including them the authors have ignored one of the most important lessons in their own book: that you need to offer people something that interests them, not what interests you. And I'm not interested in dogs. I know: it's a metaphor. I don't actually want to read about dogs. And listing the key issues at the end of each chapter under the heading 'Doggie Treats' is just puerile.

And, while we're being rude, let's mention the repeated, annoying use of 'pre-prepared'. What do they think the 'pre' in 'prepared' means? Can anything be post-prepared?

So, one star then? Actually, no. These irritations do compromise the book, but not fundamentally. A lot of what it says about presentations and how to control meetings is clear and insightful, and it mercifully doesn't deliver a suite of leveraged nonsense buzzwords to stakeholders up the value chain. The stress on your customer's needs rather than your own product or service is well argued, and on that subject they have the good sense to use one of my favourite business quotes from Theodore Levitt's The Marketing Imagination:

"My customers don't want quarter-inch drill-bits; they want quarter-inch holes."

It has good tips on how to maintain equal relations with top executives, because, despite its title, the book is less about how to dominate others and more about how to gain and maintain equal status with senior business contacts.

Actually, the more I think about it, the less appropriate I find the title. Even ignoring the distracting references to the author's pets, this book is about creating co-operative business relationships, not becoming a dominant pack leader. Also, in a gratifying deviation from the norm, the generic top executive cited in all the examples is female. Your meeting might end in disappointment if you call her a Top Bitch.

So it's three stars, because I'll probably use this book next time I want to bone up before a meeting.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 30, 2015 2:39 PM BST

McAfee Total Protection 2015 - 1 PC (PC) [Frustration-Free Packaging]
McAfee Total Protection 2015 - 1 PC (PC) [Frustration-Free Packaging]

4.0 out of 5 stars Solid, unspectacular, 24 May 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've had my problems with McAfee in the past, most notably with them deleting all my backups. As a result, I'll never use that part of their offering. But this is a decent enough offering as it goes (I was mulling giving it three stars). It does the basic protection job as advertised and its site advisor is a handy tool. Another user pointed out that it causes CPU spikes, but I haven't suffered any of that - although another McAfee did the same to my laptop.

There is no installation disc and I found the installation a bit fiddly. I had to go through the registration process twice, but got there in the end. The control panel is simple and easy to understand, but the software can run slowly at times. I don't like having to set up auto-renew. Otherwise, it's a pretty solid piece of software.

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