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Reviews Written by
Ben "candlemasbear" (Redditch, UK)
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Will the Middle East Implode? (Global Futures)
Will the Middle East Implode? (Global Futures)
by Mohammed Ayoob
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars an excellent place to start, 16 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A fine introduction to the tortured political situation in the middle east, from the fallout from the Arab Spring to the rise of militancy and, of course, the threat of a new Intifada in Israel-Palestine.

Subjects are covered in brief but the analysis is sharp and much is covered in a relatively small space.


The Virgins
The Virgins
by Pamela Erens
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing and enchanting all at once, 5 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Virgins (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Erens' tale of teen life and coming of age in middle class America could easily be dismissed as merely one of (way too) many but her taut prose and unflinching exploration of the inner monologue makes this a compelling read.


The Crane Wife
The Crane Wife
by Patrick Ness
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Elegant and lyrical re-telling of the Japanese folktale, 28 May 2014
This review is from: The Crane Wife (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I was initially put off by descriptions of Patrick Ness as an author of young adult fiction. Thankfully I was intrigued enough by the premise of this story to read a sample and was instantly hooked.

The story is loosely based upon the Japanese folktale of the man who discovers a crane in his garden then falls in love with a mysterious woman who turns out to be the crane in human form. So George, the middle aged divorcee falls in love with Kumiko, an artist who appears out of nowhere. But there is much more to this tale than just that. We meet the fascinating characters that populate George’s world: his permanently angry daughter and her infuriatingly shallow co-workers, his sweet grandson, his workshy employee. All the people in George’s life become involved in a tangle of relationships that ultimately resolve themselves in a tragic but life-affirming way.

As such The Crane Wife is an elegant and lyrical meditation on love, loss and the meaning of life. It’s not great art by any means but I enjoyed every damn minute of it and I suggest you give it a try. I doubt you’ll regret it.


The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter (The Glasgow Trilogy)
The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter (The Glasgow Trilogy)
by Malcolm Mackay
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Cracking thriller, 18 April 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I really enjoyed this trawl through the Glasgow underworld although it did frighten me a little!

Mackay wastes little time on fancy prose and concentrates on telling a deceptively simple tale about a contract killer and the job he is hired to carry out. The sentences and chapters are short and the reader is carried breathlessly along in a very enjoyable thriller. Punchy, effective and utterly compelling.

I look forward to reading what follows.


The Silent Wife
The Silent Wife
by A. S. A. Harrison
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Ponderous prose, 18 April 2014
This review is from: The Silent Wife (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I did not complete this book as I found the introduction too wordy and ponderous. You will see from my other reviews that complexity or word length is not something I usually have a problem with. I am conscious of some good reviews so I will attempt to read this again and update the review if I feel differently then.


Dare Me
Dare Me
by Megan Abbott
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.64

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 18 April 2014
This review is from: Dare Me (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I guess my expectations were raised by the very positive reviews this had been given by other authors and its inclusion in the CWA Dagger Awards but I have to say I was very disappointed.

To begin with the setting (girl's school) and the theme of teen angst has been overdone in my opinion. You have to have written something as truly brilliant and original as Eleanor Catton's The Rehearsal to hold my attention in this area now.

In the second place, I found the style a little too economical - I would describe it as clipped. It is probably an American trait to remove joining words from sentences, that I accept (with gritted teeth), but there was so much compression that I found myself finding it hard to read because it felt wrong to my ears.

I can't comment on the plot because (to my shame) I did not complete the novel. It is rare that this happens which I suppose is the best comment I can make upon my experience of this book.


Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me (Penguin Modern Classics)
Tomorrow in the Battle Think on Me (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Javier Marķas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Elegant and hypnotising prose, 21 Mar 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Javier Marias writes in a unique and fascinating manner. His characters are revealed in all their complexity by an uncompromising use of stream-of-consciousness which in lesser hands would be overwhelming but in his capable hands allow a story to be told whilst evoking all of the senses.

This unusual approach is particularly rewarding in this strange tale: the story of a man having an affair with a married woman who suddenly drops dead and leaves him with a series of emotional quandaries as how best to handle the events of the evening and the consequences that follow.

Rich, eloquent and deeply satisfying.


Something You Are (Underground)
Something You Are (Underground)
by Hanna Jameson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.50

4.0 out of 5 stars A powerful debut from an exciting young talent, 21 Mar 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Originally written whilst a teenager, this debut thriller from Hanna Jameson left me impressed and eager to read more of her work.

The subject is unremarkable in itself: the story of Nic, an emotionally-damaged hitman who agrees to try and find the missing daughter of a local ‘businessman’. As Nic trawls through the dark underbelly of London’s less attractive side we are introduced to a range of characters and situations that have always disturbed and fascinated crime fiction readers in equal measure: nightclubs, prostitution, drug dens and dodgy deals. Jameson keeps our attention (and our sympathy for her main character) by displaying Nic’s desperate desire to be normal and not be part of this seedy picture. He wasn’t born evil: he takes no pleasure in what he does (although he performs his duties with professional detachment) and he attempts to find something meaningful in what little human contact he experiences – whether through the unconventional friendship with his flatmate, the dysfunctional interactions with his sister or through his (mostly failed) relationships with women.

Jameson tells her story in a punchy, fast-paced style. The narrative unfolds in a series of short chapters laced with snappy, realistic dialogue, pop culture references and a series of physical dangers and emotional dilemmas which propel the reader forward, desperate to know what happens next. At such I often found the book unputdownable, keeping my attention for several hours at a time and only stopping when the need for sleep made it impossible to continue.

Be warned - there is a fair amount of realistically-described sex and violence. Some reviewers have objected to this but I have to say I find these criticisms strange. This novel is clearly labelled as being about a hitman’s travels through the London underworld: an absence of violence and sexual content would have been odd.

Jameson is far from the complete package yet. Her characters are a little simply-drawn and there is little descriptive content in her work at present. But surely this will come: age can only bring experience and the maturity to make her work even better. I look forward to following her journey as a writer and in returning to the London underworld through her eyes in novels to come.


BitDefender Internet Security 2013 - 1 User 1 Year
BitDefender Internet Security 2013 - 1 User 1 Year
Price: £30.87

3.0 out of 5 stars Confusing interface and lack of information/reassurance, 21 Mar 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Looking for a cheaper alternative to Norton, I recently gave a trial to Bitdefender.

Although I have no complaint about the performance of Bitdefender in keeping out viruses and other nasties – the program appears to have functioned adequately in this regard - I have decided to return to Norton because of three areas of concern.

Firstly, I found the user interface confusing. This may well be due to my lack of tech knowledge but it hampered my confidence that the program was working (or indeed doing anything at all).

This connects to my second area of concern – the lack of information as to what the program was doing at any given time. A feature of Norton I like is that it tells me everything it is doing, no matter how trivial. As someone with no knowledge I look to be reassured by my anti-virus software. Silence makes me nervous.

The final straw came when the program appeared to be blocking the regular Windows updates. I couldn’t find any confirmation of this but after I removed Bitdefender the updates returned to working as usual.

As I say, I have no reason to think that this program is not a very good anti-virus package. Unfortunately, for those of us who need to know what a program is actually doing it falls short.


The Gatekeepers [DVD]
The Gatekeepers [DVD]
Dvd ~ Dror Moreh
Offered by videosanddvds
Price: £4.35

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Honest and compelling, 22 Oct 2013
This review is from: The Gatekeepers [DVD] (DVD)
Aeschylus, the Greek dramatist, famously said that `in war, truth is the first casualty.' For wars to gain the backing of a wider population there must be a taking of sides, a construction of narratives that justify one side's military actions and a determined effort to suppress anything that questions those narratives in case it weakens support. In those circumstances, truth - in the purest sense - doesn't stand a chance.

Which, having been said, makes this film all the more remarkable.

At the end of the 1967 War between Israel and its neighbours, the fledging state gained possession of the territories that had formerly been seen as belonging to the Palestinians. The decision of the State of Israel to hold onto these territories - and to begin the military Occupation of them - undoubtedly satisfied the desires held by many Israelis. But it also created a permanent state of insecurity as the state was forced to justify its actions and faced resistance from many quarters, especially from those in the West Bank and Gaza who objected to Israeli military rule.

Some of the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories looked to military solutions, engaging in acts of terror and resistance against the Israeli state. This pushed the Israeli Security Agency - commonly known as Shin Bet - to prominence. It's role in developing intelligence networks, arresting `terrorists' and attempting to foresee and prevent attacks was seen as essential to the survival of the State of Israel. From 1967 Shin Bet agents routinely engaged in morally-questionable activities: covert surveillance of anyone outside of the political mainstream; mass detentions; the creation of networks of paid informers; the torture of suspects; and assassinations of `enemy' fighters as well as those who generated support for them.

Remarkably, film-maker Dror Moreh has persuaded six former heads of Shin Bet to discuss these things in front of his camera. For 100 minutes these former `gatekeepers' open up (to a greater or lesser degree) about the ethics of their activities, about their relationships with Israeli political leaders and even with the role that the State of Israel has played in the `peace process' with the Palestinians.

The Gatekeepers does not take a pro-Palestinian position: the film never veers from a strictly Israeli interpretation of the events of the last 45 years and Palestinian voices are completely absent from this movie.

What it does do, however, is reveal the inner doubts that even those at the heart of the state feel about the things that have been done in the name of protecting Israel. One director is unrepentant about his role in the execution of two bus hijackers but confesses to feeling disturbed at the moral implications of what went on during his period in office. Another notes with disdain the way in which the Zionist terrorists who killed Israeli Prime Minister Rabin were quietly released from prison in order to appease the right-wingers in the government. While one is convinced that political assassinations have helped reduce terrorist attacks, others are more critical about these actions and suggest that efforts to build a genuine peace process with the Palestinians are more apparent than real. All of them express their frustration at the hypocritical and self-serving behaviour of the politicians under whom they have served.

This movie then represents a very rare achievement: Dror Moreh has managed to encourage six men at the heart of controversial policies in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to talk about what they did with searing honesty. Their exposition of what happened and, more importantly, how they now feel about their contribution to events makes compulsive viewing. It also serves as an intelligent contribution to the whole debate about the conflict - a worthwhile attempt to get to at least part of the truth of what goes on in the Middle East. It's not a normal movie: there is of course no happy ending here. But as a means of advancing understanding this is film-making of the highest order.

If you care about Israel and the Palestinians you simply must watch The Gatekeepers.


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