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Steve D (London, England)

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A Song for Arbonne
A Song for Arbonne
by Guy Gavriel Kay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A song worth singing, 3 Aug. 2011
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This review is from: A Song for Arbonne (Paperback)
Reading one of Guy Gavriel Kay's books is always a special event for me. I have to put everything else aside, sit down and lose myself in his world. His wonderfully lyrical writing style always takes me a few pages to get my head around, because it is so different, eloquent and - imo - so superior to other writers in the genre. He paints pictures with words yet not a word is wasted, and every one goes towards building character or atmosphere or a sense of time and place. Another thing I like about GGK is that, although he writes in the fantasy genre, most of his books are stand-alone novels that require no prior knowledge to be enjoyed, even though many of them are set in the same world (but in different regions). This is not high fantasy, or even epic fantasy, though, so be warned. This is historical fantasy, and Kay's evocative writing is perfectly suited to this sub-genre.

A Song for Arbonne is another jewel in his crown, I think. It is his version of Medieval France, starting 23 years before the main text as the heir to the country's throne rides out to meet with her lover, and then jumping ahead to tell of the subsequent feud between her husband and lover, interweaving this with religious intolerance and political struggles between the Arbonnais and the neighbouring Gorhautians. It tells of the troubadour culture, and how they moved freely between the powers, spying and lending their services in many other ways. As always, GGK keeps the action on focused on his characters (who are - again - wonderful) and builds layer upon layer of complexity into their relationships which always has some emotional pay-off in the end. There is romance and intrigue, excitement and humour, and one particular large scale battle which is handled superbly.

Along with the genius of Steven Erikson, Kay is fast becoming my favourite author, and this is just another wonderful novel, which deserves to be ranked alongside his brilliant Tigana, and The Lions of Al-Rassan.


A Song of Ice and Fire (5) - A Dance With Dragons: Book 5
A Song of Ice and Fire (5) - A Dance With Dragons: Book 5
Price: £12.99

108 of 119 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 2 Aug. 2011
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This is a difficult review to write, as I don't want to post any spoilers, so won't be making many plot or character-specific comments.

For most of ADWD I was wondering when something was going to happen. It took a long time (the best part of 70% of the way through, I think). And, when something big and exciting did happen (and it only really happens once), it was almost like stepping back to A Storm of Swords, back when the characters were mesmerising and the shocks were shocking. But then it was over, a cliffhanger was left, and that character was not seen again until the end of the book. The excitement lasted for, at most, five pages.

To be clear, I didn't hate it. There are many aspects that are handled with Martin's usual flair: one new viewpoint character who fights for Dany's cause, especially, and another returning one who had been put through some real trials to the point where he struggles to remember his own name. Arya's training continues to intrigue as well.

But most of this novel seemed to move things on very little. It reintroduces favourite characters who had been withdrawn from A Feast For Crows for the sake of length. This splitting of characters and locations was a huge mistake that has pretty much scuppered both books, in my opinion. There is a lot of treading water here, a lot of needless obstacles thrown in the way just to stop characters getting where they need to be. It's not boring. It's just not really anything, and that's the problem. You know that, by the end, you're not going to find any resolution at all, and it is frustrating.

I think GRRM needs to take a look at Steven Erikson. Erikson wrote a ten book series, and each book in that series - barring the ninth one - had it's own story with a beginning, middle and end, whilst still advancing the main plotlines. Erikson didn't really do cliffhangers, yet the readers still flocked back. Love him or hate him, you've got to give him credit for that, at least. George should take note.

As it stands, I think the next book needs to be very special to really win me back. He's got two books to wrap it up, and he needs to get a move on. I won't be at all surprised if he extends the series even further. This book has left me disappointed but, to be honest, quite unsurprised. Perhaps that's the most telling aspect of it all, for me.

Re the Kindle edition: the formatting is poor. There is a nasty recurring problem in that one character will finish talking and then another will start, but there's no line break so you carry on reading like it was the first character talking. It meant I had to keep pausing and working it out. Very annoying, and it happens all the way through the book.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 25, 2011 10:53 AM BST


Game Of Thrones / O.S.T.
Game Of Thrones / O.S.T.

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fire & Blood, 8 July 2011
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There might be some minor spoilers if you have yet to see the tv series, so please beware.

First off, I hate it when tv soundtracks are released and they see fit to change the opening title music, either by extending it or re-recording it or whatever. So I'm very happy that Ramin (Clash of the Titans) Djawadi's 'Main Titles' on this cd is exactly the version heard on the show. HBO have a knack for creating memorable opening title sequences (The Sopranos, The Wire, Band of Brothers etc) and Game of Thrones is right up there with them, and I personally even prefer it to those greats.

After the 'Main Titles' we get another 28 cues from the series. Many of them are quieter, more introspective and atmospheric pieces that reflect the show's character driven, dramatic nature. I was hoping that the music from particular scenes would be included and, happily, all of the ones I wanted are here. Of the recurring themes, my favourite is the one used for the Starks, which is included here as 'Goodbye Brother' and is later reprised as 'Kill Them All', from the highly emotional scene between Catelyn and Robb in the final episode. There are several tracks here from that episode, and the cd ends rather well with a sequence of them, including the episode's double climax of 'The Night's Watch' and 'Fire And Blood', and ending with (surprise!) 'Finale'. It's a fantastic crescendo to the cd, as it was to the first season itself.

Elsewhere, one of my favourite scenes, Arya's first 'dancing' lesson, is represented by 'The Pointy End', and also shows up in 'Things I Do For Love', which so memorably ended the first episode. Away from the quieter pieces we get bombast in the shape of 'The King's Arrival', and some of the action sequences such as 'The Assassin's Dagger'. I won't go through them all!

If you liked the series as much as I did, and if the music from certain scenes stuck in your head to the point where -like me - you had to keep re-watching them, then you will love this.

In short, Djawadi has done a fine job. This is great stuff.


A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire)
A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire)
by George R. R. Martin
Edition: Paperback

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lives up to its title, 15 Jun. 2011
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The second in Martin's A Song of Ice & Fire series and sequel to A Game of Thrones, this is a mammoth book. It may only have 700-odd pages, but the text is small and it feels much longer. I don't want to go into to many details of the plot in case it spoils it for anyone. Suffice to say, the title is very accurate. Picking up where the first book left off, the Seven Kingdoms are once again divided, with multiple lords laying claim to the Iron Throne. We are finally introduced to Robert Baratheon's other brother, Stannis, who has succumbed to the persuasions of the Lord of Light, and Melisandre - the Red Woman - is using dark magic to turn events his way. There is much politicking, power-struggling, intrigue, murder, sex, violence and emotion. As is the style of these books, Martin continues to tell the story from multiple points-of-view, with each chapter devoted to a character, leaving them on mini-cliffhangers before returning to them several chapters later. Some of the characters return from the first novel, some are new. Some stories are resolved, others left hanging for the next book.

In some ways, I don't feel this one was as successful as A Game of Thrones or as awesome as the third book, A Storm of Swords. I can't quite put my finger on why - perhaps it is just that bit too long, too sprawling, too epic for its own good. Perhaps there are just too many paragraphs full of inconsequential character names, or pages describing the food at a banquet (at times it reads like a flippin' menu).

Anyway, it's still a great read, and the twists and turns are many. It's most definitely for grown-ups. The characterisation is fantastic, the action brutal and - if you're anything like me - you'll feel like cheering every time certain characters names appear at the start of a chapter. I just prefer the books that came before and after.


The Lions of Al-Rassan
The Lions of Al-Rassan
by Guy Gavriel Kay
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerising, 15 Jun. 2011
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This review is from: The Lions of Al-Rassan (Paperback)
This is the second of Kay's novels that I've read. The first was Tigana which, although based on medieval Italy, still qualified as 'high fantasy'. The Lions of Al-Rassan moves away from that territory. Although it is still set in a world of Kay's creation, it reads more as a historical novel than fantasy, and uses reconquista Spain as the building blocks for a sweeping adventure. There are no fantastic creatures or magic, it is very much a story about people, places, race and religion. There are three religions involved: the Kindath - a parallel of the Jews; the Asharites - a parallel of the Moors; and the Jaddites - a parallel of the Christians. The novel's three main characters come from each of those religions: Jehane is the Kindath, Ammar ibn Khairan the Asharite, and Rodrigo Belmonte the Jaddite (and a parallel to El-Cid). There are lots of other wonderful characters, too. Alvar, a youthful soldier who grows immensely during the course of the book, is one of my favourites, along with Husari, the Asharite merchant, and Miranda Belmonte, Rodrigo's strong-willed wife.

The story is very much about these characters, and how situations forced upon them make them work together, dealing with a lot of political backstabbing and religious intolerance. Naturally there is a lot of disagreement, humour, romance and heartbreak along the way. The action is handled deftly - there is not a huge amount of violence in the book, but what there is has a much greater impact for its scarcity. There are some scenes of a sexual nature, nothing too explicit, though.

The prologue, set fifteen years before the main story, sees Ammar sent to assassinate the last of the Khalifs at the instruction of his king. Then, at the beginning of the novel, he is betrayed by the same king on a day that sees many die in the city of Fezana. This brings Ammar into contact with Jehane, as she helps someone escape the killings, and the story spirals outward from there.

Many of the major events are used as a backdrop - GGK keeps everything on a personal level, and the characters are so beautifully written that I couldn't help getting caught up in their troubles. They are all given equal space to breathe, both male and female. In fact the female characters are marvellous - none of them get in peril and stand around waiting to be saved - they are all strong, determined, fully realised people, and more than a match for the men.

Kay has such a lyrical style that it's hard not to keep stopping and re-reading passages just to savour his use of language. It took me a few pages to get my head around it, having just come off the back of authors who are maybe not quite so eloquent, but once I was into it I was hooked. I found it had great depth, was exciting, dark and deeply moving in places. For those looking for traditional fantasy I would still say Tigana is a better starting point for Kay's work, but for anyone else I can't recommend The Lions of Al-Rassan highly enough.


A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire)
A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire)
by George R. R. Martin
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stick 'em with the pointy end, 15 Jun. 2011
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So I had been planning to re-read this marvellous book for a while, and the tv series prompted me, finally, to pick it up again. It's one of those books that once you've started it's almost impossible to stop. Martin chose to write each chapter from the point of view of a different character, and each chapter is headed by the character's name. He switches back and forth between them, and has this downright evil habit of ending chapters on cliffhangers, just to make sure you keep turning those pages.

For this book he uses Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, as his main protagonist. Other chapters use the viewpoints of his children - Bran, Jon, Sansa and (my favourite) Arya - and his wife, Catelyn, plus Tyrion of the House Lannister, and Daenerys Targaryen. At first, some of them are more interesting than others. For much of the book I found Sansa's chapters extremely irritating. But here's the thing: once certain events kick into motion her story becomes quite heartbreaking. All the irritation was forgotten and I started to feel very sorry for her. I think the problem is that, compared to Arya, she's just not much fun. Arya and Tyrion are the real stars of the show, for me. Tyrion's chapters are written with a dark wit and cynicism, whilst Arya's give her tomboy nature a charm and heart that just sucks you into her world.

The story is set in a medieval fantasy world called Westeros, and the country most of this book takes place in is called The Seven Kingdoms, once divided but subsequently united by Aegon Targaryen, otherwise known as Aegon the Dragon and who himself was fleeing troubles in his homeland of Valyria. To cut a long story short, he was then ousted from the throne and replaced by Robert Baratheon, and the story begins several years after this event. The King's Hand, John Arryn, has died, and Robert travels north to Winterfell to enlist the services of his old friend, Eddard Stark. Trouble is brewing between the Great Houses and, reluctantly, Ned agrees to help. Meanwhile, to the north and beyond The Wall (a 700 foot tall barrier made of ice) a supernatural threat is growing, and to the east beyond The Narrow Sea the descendants of Aegon Targaryen are plotting to take back their throne.

People hear the word 'fantasy' and they conjure up twee images of hobbits and elves and dwarves and wizards throwing magic around and they think it's all for kids. Well, this isn't. This is a fantasy story, yes, but it's most definitely for adults. There are no orcs or goblins. All of the characters are human, all of them are painted in shades of grey. It's dark and twisted and completely uncompromising. Martin's writing style flows really well. If I have a problem with him it's his tendency to over-describe how everyone (and I mean *everyone*) is dressed, or what they're eating, and he reels out names of background characters like there's no tomorrow, and inevitably they all start to sound the same. He could maybe do with editing some of that material out (he doesn't in subsequent books - in fact, in places, it only gets worse).

But, ultimately, it's a minor gripe - this book, and the series as a whole, is top drawer. He's not as wildly inventive as Steven Erikson, or as eloquent as Guy Gavriel Kay, but it doesn't matter. A Game of Thrones is thrilling, moving, dark beyond belief, throws twist after twist at you in ways that make perfect sense. It's full of action, drama, suspense, sex and murder and - above all else - it is about the characters, and they are so beautifully realised that they will come alive in your imagination.

It's not even the best book in the series to date and, on that basis, I would've given it 4.5 stars if half stars were available.


The Crippled God: The Malazan Book of the Fallen 10
The Crippled God: The Malazan Book of the Fallen 10
by Steven Erikson
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And now the end is near ..., 21 Mar. 2011
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First things first: The Crippled God is a HUGE book and, for its first half, I didn't think I was going to like it. Much like Reaper's Gale and Dust of Dreams, my two least favourite books in the series, there is a lot of talk to start off with, a lot of build up, a lot of conversations between lesser characters who, by and large, aren't quite as familiar (or good) as those that have, erm, fallen along the way.

As Adjunct Tavore is leading her army of Bonehunters and their various allies to a final confrontation much of the first half of the book is about the armies making their way east towards Kolanse, and the suffering they go through along the way. This is fine in theory but in practice it goes on a bit too long. Then, suddenly, about half way through, it's like Erikson flicks a switch, shifts through the gears, and suddenly he's back in the groove that I thought maybe he'd left behind at about book six. It suddenly gets very exciting, and he starts pulling together plot threads from the entire length of the series. Characters I thought he had forgotten about, and had been wishing would turn up, turned up. Suddenly I was reading with a big grin on my face, despite the odds facing my favourite characters. Suddenly it becomes a novel of epic, awe-inspiring moments of invention and quieter moments of humour and emotion. It's Erikson back to his best.

I don't want to go into too much detail and spoil anything. If you're reading this then you've undoubtedly read the previous nine novels. You know what you're going to get. Yes, there are still unanswered questions after the final page is turned. But, still, I suspect that maybe some of these have been left for Ian Esslemont to deal with in his companion series. Perhaps that's too easy an answer, and perhaps it shouldn't be so, but at the moment I'm willing to forgive Erikson all his foibles, all his maddening unexplained events and over-wrought self-indulgence.

Scoring this book is very difficult. Based on its own merits, the first half would get a 3, whilst the second half would get a 5. As a finale to such a mammoth series - well, as Nigel Tuffnell might say, this one goes to 11. It's that good.

In the end these tales of The Malazan Book of the Fallen get the grandest of send-offs. I can't imagine that, given the scope of everything he has attempted over these ten novels, Erikson could have come up with anything closer to the perfect ending. He has delivered the most epic, sprawling, original, inventive, infuriating, exhilarating, amusing, confusing, heartbreaking, uplifting and uncompromising series that I have ever read.

And, perhaps most (and best) of all, he did it his way.


BenQ G2222HDL 21.5-inch Widescreen LED Back-Light Monitor (Full-HD, DVI-D, Glossy Black, 5ms, Vista Premium)
BenQ G2222HDL 21.5-inch Widescreen LED Back-Light Monitor (Full-HD, DVI-D, Glossy Black, 5ms, Vista Premium)

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific monitor at a great price, 25 Feb. 2011
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I got this monitor to replace an ageing Benq 17" and I am blown away by it - which is probably unsurprising when my old monitor had a maximum resolution of 1280x1024 and this one is 1920x1080!

Installation was simple - I am running Windows 7 64 bit and, at first, it went with a generic plug & play monitor driver. The disc that came with the monitor was not recognised for my operating system, but I got around this by going to Device Manager --> Monitors, then right-clicking on the 'Generic P&P Monitor' --> Properties and choosing 'Update Driver', then locating the driver folders on the cd, and the system did the rest. Perhaps a little too cumbersome a process but it worked and I am now running the latest drivers for the monitor.

In terms of performance, it took me a while to sort out the user settings for colour, contrast, brightness etc but I am now really happy with it. Most of the pre-defined settings aren't great, apart from 'Eco', which is good for when I'm working, runs at 30% less power (apparently) and is easy on the eyes. I use my own user settings for playing games. I've tried Crysis Warhead, Starcraft II and World of Warcraft, all on the highest settings, and they look fantastic on this monitor, crisp and clear, with great depth of field. The colour and contrast are outstanding.

For £[] I think this monitor is an absolute steal. The image is brilliant. For the price, you forsake a little in terms of the stand, but generally it looks good, too. I really can't fault the quality of the monitor, although no doubt you'd get even better quality if you were prepared to pay more. For those on a budget, though, I can't recommend it highly enough.

Edit: According to all the sources I've seen, the monitor is wall mountable, and there are four screw holes in the back. However, I haven't tried this, and it doesn't come with the accessories to enable you to do it 'out of the box'. I guess this is to be expected for the price. Strangely, it doesn't even seem to mention the possibility in the manual (there are only instructions for setting up the stand), although Benq's website gives dimensions 'With Wall Mount'.

Also, it comes with a D-Sub cable but no DVI cable, so this would be another extra expense if you don't have one to hand. There is no HDMI input.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 15, 2011 2:02 PM BST


The Redeemer: A Harry Hole thriller (Oslo Sequence 4)
The Redeemer: A Harry Hole thriller (Oslo Sequence 4)
Price: £4.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Nesbo cracker, 24 Jan. 2011
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This was the fourth of my Nesbo reads and he hasn't let me down yet. The opening is interesting, as it takes place some 12 years before the events in the book, and tells of a particular crime, although we are not told who committed this act, or who the victim was.

We then jump to the present day, when a member of the Salvation Army is shot dead at a Christmas gathering. We are told the tale from both Harry's point of view and that of the killer, whose identity naturally remains a mystery until the latter stages. It's another suitably tortuous plot that Harry Hole has to unravel and things get mighty personal along the way.

I'd say this is the first of Nesbo's novels that I've read which can probably be enjoyed without having read those prior to it (that are currently available in English). Whereas The Redbreast, Nemesis and The Devil's Star all had different main plotlines, they were effectively a trilogy as there was one particular strand that wove its way through them. That strand gets mentioned frequently in The Redeemer, but it doesn't play a major part in the plot as it did in the previous novels. Having said that, there is a revelation towards the end which I found quite shocking.

Nesbo, for me, is a master at building suspense. Whilst he has never quite topped one particular sequence in The Redbreast, he comes very close on several occasions here. Harry's flaws are laid bare for all to see, and it's these flaws that make him such a winning character, imo. His friendships with Halvorsen and Beatte are tested thoroughly here, and a couple of new characters turn up who bring different dynamics to the table. None of them are quite on a par with Tom Waaler, though. Yet.

In short, a fantastic read. If you haven't caught up with Jo Nesbo yet, and you're even remotely interested in crime fiction, I can't recommend his work highly enough.

The Kindle formatting on this one is odd: there is a line space between each and every paragraph. This is fine in principle but, unfortunately, there is nothing to differentiate between the end of a paragraph and the end of a section, apart from each new section starting without an indent. If you're reading quickly and don't spot the lack of an indent it can get a bit confusing until you realise you're reading about a different character.


Stand By Stand By
Stand By Stand By
Price: £4.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, 24 Jan. 2011
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This review is from: Stand By Stand By (Kindle Edition)
This is the first of Ryan's novels I've read, and the first of his Geordie Sharp novels. It concerns the Provisional IRA, and how Sharp (a member of the SAS) becomes embroiled in a personal crusade to hunt down one of its leaders. I don't want to spoil it any further than that, because the twist and turns are probably the most notable part of the book.

It's a decent read, although there are many rough edges. This was Ryan's debut work of fiction, but I haven't read any others so don't know if his style improves. Again, I don't want to spoil any major plot points, but there was one particular life-changing moment for our Geordie to which his only response was "Oh no!" - which made me laugh. Of course, saying 'oh no' on its own isn't a problem but, given the context and the presence of the exclamation mark, it just didn't seem very convincing. Considering the depth of knowledge he brings to the subject, and his obvious efforts to lend authenticity to the situations, I would hope that Ryan has worked on his characterisation/dialogue in subsequent novels.

Also, the latter stages of the book rely on your suspension of disbelief at one huge coincidence that happens half way round the world in Colombia. It was a little too convenient, imo, even if the seeds had been laid earlier on.

Having said all that, I did enjoy it. There is a great build up of menace that escalates as matters progress, although I felt he could have done much more with it than he actually does. However, the ending has to be read to be believed - it's jaw on the floor stuff.

The Kindle formatting is good, no complaints at all here.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 15, 2011 12:57 AM GMT


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