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The Nightmare Place
The Nightmare Place
by Steve Mosby
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.00

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the Nightmare Place, 26 Sept. 2014
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This review is from: The Nightmare Place (Hardcover)
Mosby does a good line in monsters, which is to say, a particularly horrible line in monsters. In the Nightmare Place the monster is called the Creeper, in case you are in any doubt. The victims of his rapidly escalating trail of violence talk of him in almost mythic terms. He embodies hate. Hate comes off him in waves; it twists the world around him. As the police try desperately to find out who he is, all we know is that he is a man and he hates women.

Another thing that Mosby does well is dragging the monster out into the light and pulling off his mask. Underneath, the monster is just a man. It is not clear that this is a settling conclusion. Scooby Doo taught us this is where the horror ends. For Mosby that is just the start.

Violence permeates the Nightmare Place – the threat of violence, the act of violence, its consequences, but, more intriguingly, it’s about how, by inaction and a thousand socially sanctioned accommodations, we allow violence to happen and how we deal with that violence in our lives and in society.

We are stuck with it: stuck in the world, stuck with each other, stuck with ourselves. We can’t escape it, we can’t hide from it. DI Zoe Dolan prides herself on having escaped from the bleak estates of her childhood. But as she methodically chases down the Creeper, that past methodically catches up with her till the two entwined stories bring us to a satisfying conclusion.

All these elements, and more, are drawn together in a tight and driven plot. This is a detective story, so we expect puzzles to be solved and twists to keep us guessing. But here the mysteries and turns feel like an organic part of the story. Rather than simply being a mechanism to keep us turning the pages, they serve to build on the dark themes of the book. Initially, no one can work out how the Creeper gets into the houses. On one level it’s a standard locked room mystery, but here it gives us the feeling that somehow all that violence and hate was already there, or that it had been invited in.

Despite the tight plotting, Mosby creates quite spaces where we see into the lives of the characters. With a deft economy, he sketches the outlines of their everyday existence and makes it feel like they inhabit a world far larger than the confines of the story. We may not like them necessarily, but that is not the point. When they are threatened, it feels as if something unique and irreplaceable would be lost. We earn the right to go on living not because we are brave, or good, or do great things, but simply because we are alive.


Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder
Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder
by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.45

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Taleb goes emeritus, 21 Jun. 2014
The other reviews of this book will no doubt tell you about antifragility, what it means, what it doesn't mean. Read them, read the book: it might actually be worth it.

That's not what this review is about.

Taleb thinks he's smarter than you. Hell, he *knows* it and he's not afraid to tell you. At length. After a while, you get used to the constant irritation, or you give up. If you've read Taleb's earlier books, you'll be partly immunised against, or have developed an allergic reaction to his style (I've never met anyone who actually enjoys it). Either way, you'll know what to expect - prose with all the subtlety, taste and understated elegance of chunky gold Rolex and a fist full of gold sovereigns. He's actually worse here. To borrow a phrase from academia, an institution he clearly loathes deeply, he gives every impression of having "gone emeritus".

It is a well-known phenomenon that those who have become accustomed to the polite - usually captive - attention of others when talking about their area of expertise, find that people will politely attend to their tangential musings as well. Slowly, this erodes the ability to self-edit. In the sufferer’s mind, attention to the tangential is indicative not of tolerance, but of actual interest. Over time, the tangents diverge more radically, the digressions lengthen interminably, and glazed looks are mistaken for rapture: the sufferer believes he is instant master of all his deft and subtle wit is turned to.

He is not.

So here, inter alia, we find Taleb presenting his predilections as universals. His diet advice is brilliant: eat only that which your ancestors ate. Easy advice to follow if one is, as Taleb is, of Mediterranean descent. Less appetising if your ancestors eked an existence from the friable soils of Iceland, subsisting at the thinner times on sheep eyeballs and fermented shark. His exercise advice is, if anything, even better. One could summarise it as “lift heavy things once” without shedding any of the nuance. On public speaking he has this to say: mumble. I think the reasoning is that if you mumble, people will assume you are used to being listened to and therefore that you are important. If there was ever a purer expression of the emeritus mindset than this, I have yet to see it.

If you stripped out the rambling, what’s left would make an easy evening’s light reading. Whether what’s left would be more or less interesting is likely up to your individual taste. I quite enjoyed it.


David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants
by Malcolm Gladwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

47 of 47 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't quite pull it off, 25 May 2014
Gladwell has a formula: he picks a grand thesis - in this case that what are ordinarily perceived of as disadvantages might not be wholly negative - and then carefully arranges around it anecdotes of such simple humanity that one is forced, between dabbing the tears away and spontaneous rounds of applause, to swallow the damn thing whole.

There's a circle of scientific hell set aside for those who build their theses from anecdotes and artfully chosen evidence. However, people love anecdotes and when skilfully done it can bamboozle the critical faculties of the audience like a well rehearsed magic trick. The problem is, in David and Goliath, the patter seems a bit more forced, Gladwell fluffs the shuffle and we can, quite clearly, see a dove's head poking out of his sleeve and cooing insistently.

The anecdotes drag out a bit too long, to the extent that you start to wonder not only what the point is, but whether there's a point at all. Sometimes the point is separated so distantly from the anecdote that a quick flick back through the book is necessary. When that happens, the author has lost control and the effect falls to pieces. Gladwell relies so heavily on effect rather than a coherent argument that if we don't buy into it completely, we don't buy into it at all.

That's not to say that there's nothing in the book worth reading. There are some excellent paradoxical nuggets of insight and he still has a knack for taking something familiar - like the story of David and Goliath, which opens the book - and giving you a whole new way of looking at it. He also has a collection of stories about people that are fascinating in their own right.

So, yes, there are high points scattered through the book, but the whole seems half finished as if he didn't have the time to properly gather his thoughts together before committing them to the printer.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2014 11:54 AM GMT


Trance [DVD]
Trance [DVD]
Dvd ~ James McAvoy
Price: £4.10

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Hypnotically dull, 18 May 2014
This review is from: Trance [DVD] (DVD)
Trance is a twisty thriller in which neither the characters nor the audience know what’s going on and by the end it’s clear that neither the characters nor the audience really cares. The plot revolves around the theft of a Goya painting. Simon (James McAvoy) is the insider at a London auction house, Franck (Vincent Cassel) the criminal mastermind and Elizabeth (Rosaria Dawson) the hypnotist drafted in to help McAvoy remember where he put the painting when he forgets.

Hypnotism is the engine that keeps the plot revolving. Early on, Elizabeth states that hypnotism has its limits, but the film forgets this as it lurches from one improbability to another. If it had stuck to its thesis it might have been more interesting, but in a film where one person can make any other think or feel anything, it’s not long before we realise that a world where we can make people do whatever we want is a very dull place. Consequently, the twists come and go like the episodes in a bad dream where what happens next has little connection to what went before. It would be a confusing film if one of the characters didn’t spend half an hour explaining it to the rest. In a better film that wouldn’t have been necessary.

Although the plot isn’t up to much, the film does look good. Reflections and shadows are used to suggest that things are not always as they appear. The characters address their own reflections, or seem to be talking away from each other out into the night. It’s all of a part with the ideas in the silly script, but unfortunately, it seems to serve no greater purpose. There should be more to it, but there’s not. The actors and actresses do what they can with McAvoy in particular doing his best to find an emotion to express that will stick on the glossy façade of the film. He tries a lot, but the one that suits best is genuine puzzlement.

It is depressing to think that this is the kind of film that people will say is intelligent, that it really makes you think. An intelligent person is thinking all the time and a good film should give them something to think about. It should challenge what you are thinking and not at the level of pulling the chair out from under you as you try to sit.

At the end, the film says, “The choice is yours. Do you want to remember or do you want to forget?” I’d rather forget. But I can’t. That’s why life is worth living and this film is a crock.


To Say Nothing of the Dog (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
To Say Nothing of the Dog (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Connie Willis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, moving, deep, 18 May 2014
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It turns out that if you want to write a thoughtful and deeply moving book about the philosophy of history, its importance in the affairs of mankind and the meaning of time and loss then the best way to do it is to write it in a style that blends equal parts of Jerome K Jerome, Kurt Vonnegut and P.G. Wodehouse. It's also important to throw in a little time travel and a Bishop's Bird Stump.

For quite a while, I thought I was reading a very good emulation of a Wodehouse novel - To Say Nothing of the Dog made me laugh the same way Wodehouse does (embarrassingly, uncontrollably) - but there are humane touches that lift it out of knockabout comedy and slowly draw you into the lives of the characters. This is where the time travel is handy. The characters from the future dropped into the middle of Victorian England give a perspective on the lives of the Victorians that Wodehouse never provided for his 20th century gadabouts. Slowly, one gets an inkling for what it might have been like to live back then.

The mechanics of the time travel aren't very important, which is a blessed relief. Sci-fi can get a bit tedious in the presence of time travel. One gets thrust into po-faced considerations of the paradoxes caused by the ability to kill one's own grandfather. The deal here seems to be that that kind of stuff isn't allowed. If one tries it on, the universe intervenes in ways that make one suspect that it might have a sense of humour. Indeed the whole notion of time travel gets a gentle ribbing with the paraphernalia of time travel being eerily reminiscent of the trappings of a Victorian séance. There is a séance, which, of course, unwinds amusingly, but it also underscores an interesting point: given the chance to meet your own grandfather back in the day, wouldn't you rather have a nice chat than shoot him?

Instead, time travel is a Heath Robinson engine that drives the magnificently daft mystery plot and, whilst the characters bimble around history with a little H, there are some interesting observations about History with a big one.

The mystery plot revolves around Lady Schrapnell’s obsession with creating in 21st Century Oxford a perfect reconstruction of Coventry Cathedral as it was on the eve of its destruction during the Second World War. Almost every piece is in place except for one: the Bishop’s Bird Stump. The Lady’s hapless minions are thrust backwards in time again and again to find the Stump, an item of almost zero historic consequence.

Through this seemingly tiny hole in history, we are led deep into the intricately tangled lives of a forgotten Victorian family and reminded quite clearly that History is far more than a picture perfect reconstruction of a single moment in time. We are also reminded that any History is necessarily built up from almost nothing. A single line in a Parish register is forced to stand in for a time, a place, a whole society. Here we are dealing clearly with fiction, but any History worth reading requires the same imaginative effort to breathe life into the facts and figures.

That sounds heavy, but it’s not. The skill of Connie Willis is that the whole skips lightly, effortlessly across deep waters. As two Oxbridge dons argue by the riverside about their theories of history and Darwin, we feel the brief shadow of the totalitarian nightmares of the twentieth century, then one don pushes the other in the water and we laugh.


Uriwell Adult
Uriwell Adult
Offered by Mobility Smart
Price: £33.92

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The ideal companion for any concert/festival., 5 Aug. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Uriwell Adult (Kitchen & Home)
The Uriwell is practical and comfortable, ideal for ladies - and gentlemen as well (it is classier than weeing in a bottle!)


Dark Room
Dark Room
by Steve Mosby
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars And darkness was upon the face of the deep, 11 Mar. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Dark Room (Hardcover)
There are moments in Steve Mosby's "Dark Room" where the tension becomes almost unbearable, but even in its quieter passages - in some cases quietly beautiful and beautifully touching - you feel uneasy. Something just beneath the surface, just out of sight, something locked away in the dark room is restless and turning in the blood warm darkness.

A synopsis of the plot would do the book an injustice. All the usual elements of a crime novel are there - a brutal and cryptic series of murders, a charismatic detective with more baggage than a Hungarian billionaire - and the story unfolds (to the astonishment of this reader at least) like a magic trick performed right under his nose. The plot twists and turns less than his earlier books, but there is much to keep you thinking. Better, there is much to keep you thoughtful.

The setting of this and Mosby's other novels is familiar but otherworldly. His nonspecific European city inhabits a point adrift in space and time - a near future being dragged back down beneath the cold waves by a thousand years of mistakes and secrets. In this world of anonymous concrete tower blocks and wind-waved grasslands the past can never be escaped, but it seems to hold important clues. If one can stand to look at it long enough without flinching there might be answers there. Maybe.

Swain Woods - the backdrop for one of many unforgettable scenes - is a place I played in when I was a child. In reality it's maybe less than a kilometre from end to end. But in Dark Room as in my imagination, it rolls on to the horizon. There are wild animals in Mosby's version too, wolves probably, with great big teeth the better to eat you with. This is a folk tale - the abandoned underworld the detectives visit briefly is called Trolls East - with its roots planted deep in the human psyche, pale searching roots that infiltrate the dark places within us.

And what dark places these are. It would be hard to describe them here without giving anything away, but the mere mention of the Yellow Man - a character from an earlier book - appears like a blight on the page, something malignant and festering, hard to look at, but impossible to turn away from.

I thought several times of Larkin's dismal line that "man hands on misery to man". In the Dark Room the stain of original sin is handed on down the male line like a treasured heirloom, passing from father to son. At least with the original original sin there seemed to be a plan. Here, there might not even be that. A Son could die for it and we would never know why. Coincidences and connections layer over each other. Patterns form out of the static and dissolve again.

There is comfort there for those who seek it, there may even be a purpose to it all, but at the end of this excellent book one needs to think very, very carefully about the words 'happily ever after'.


The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Routledge Classics)
The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Routledge Classics)
by Karl Popper
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A philosophical book for the working scientist, 11 Mar. 2013
Most of the working scientists I've talked to know about falsification. Fewer have heard of Popper and most of those who have know him solely as Mr Falsification. A very small number have actually read him and there appear to be two reasons - beyond simple ignorance of his existence - why many haven't. First, they think that falsification is the be all and end all of his philosophy. Second, because it *is* a philosophy and philosophy is a synonym for hair splitting, irrelevant word play and deliberate obfuscation. (A third group think that there's no need to read Popper because Kuhn.)

Before anything else, it helps to get these two things straight. There's a lot in the book besides falsification and Popper's writing style is exceptionally clear. It is an example of what philosophy can be at its best: rich with ideas so clearly stated they seem self evident. Popper himself was rightly scathing of some of the nonsense that masqueraded as philosophy in the 20th century and sought to write as clearly as possible. He largely succeeded. To clear up the third point, you'd best read the book.

Popper points out that science is a kind of accelerated evolutionary process. He argues that there need not be any sure process for generating `true' theories because human imagination is fertile enough that we can generate theories of such abundance and ingenuity that as long as we have some process for winnowing out the wrong, we might eventually find the right. The engine of this process is the simple logical observation that although we can never know for certain that a theory is correct, we can know that it is not. Consequently, it is the job of scientists to do their damndest to falsify their theories.

If it was as simple as that, the book would be a lot shorter, but the principle of falsification is one example of a much broader philosophy that is expanded on in this and later books, and is stated most succinctly by the title of two: Conjectures and Refutations (Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (Routledge Classics);) and his autobiography, Unended Quest (Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography (Routledge Classics)). The idea is that we can never accept that any theory is final, or correct. This would lead to paralysis if it were not for the acute observation that we can treat as provisionally true any hypothesis that has not yet been falsified. Theories might appear to us as castles in the air, but we can inhabit them for as long as it takes to work out how deep the foundations go.

In other parts of the book he uses the same framework to lay out the importance of the scientific literature and reproducibility. He deals with ideas of simplicity, which have implications for anyone who has ever wielded Occam's razor and he delineates the relationship between observation and theory, between science and everything else.

Feynman had little time for philosophy, saying "Philosophy of science is as useful to scientists as ornithology is to birds" For a man who said that, he said a good deal that sounded like philosophy of science. Perhaps the most famous aphorism of his is that "Science is belief in the ignorance of experts". That might stand as paraphrase for Popper's book. Much flows from this and Feynman may well have seen it all clearly. But he was a genius, for the rest of us there's Popper.

[Considering his subject matter, Popper is a pleasure to read. However, there are sections of the book that now seem dated and slower going than the rest because they deal with the dismantling of arguments and philosophical approaches that have long since been discarded. That Popper had a good deal to do with the timely death of these ideas is a testament to the force and clarity of his arguments. Other traces of the arguments and misunderstandings of the time can be found in the numerous footnotes and appendices of later versions in which Popper gives amusing vent to his grumpiness at the manifold misunderstandings of his arguments, particularly surrounding falsification.]


Breaking Bad - Season 1-4 [DVD]
Breaking Bad - Season 1-4 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Bryan Cranston
Price: £33.00

36 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wise men who at their end know dark is right…, 10 Feb. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Breaking Bad, like The Wire, is damn fine TV. But, where the Wire tried to show us everything that’s wrong with modern America, by showing us everything that’s wrong with modern America, Breaking Bad goes exactly the other way. In its protagonist, Walter White, we find the contradictions of modern America distilled down to a single man: he does all the wrong things for the right reasons. When he finds out he’s sick, he argues convincingly that he does not want to be well because being well felt to him like sickness and sickness feels like being alive.

Somewhere along the spectacular descent of Walter White from "contributor to a Nobel Prize in Chemistry" to a pitiless feud with the drug cartels, he asks himself "at what point did it all go wrong?" The act that precipitates the question is characteristic of the depth of the show. They build a whole episode out of Walt’s obsession with tracking down and killing a single fly that threatens the purity of the ‘product’. The fly – tiny, irritating, but surprisingly durable – is what went wrong. What went wrong was Walt’s conscience: he had one. It is characteristic of Walt's inability to see himself, or the situation he finds himself in, that he focuses instead on the point where the whole enterprise turns back on him or someone like him, when the kind of guy he could share a beer with becomes the victim rather than those at the bottom of the food chain, the desperate consumers of the chemically sublime crystal meth he produces. In the end, that news comes to him out of the clear blue sky. Walt is smart enough that he should have seen it already. Instead he wastes his intelligence on micromanaging the focus of his conscience, from his family, to his partner, to his employer. By such careful accommodations Walt ensures that he doesn’t burn up in the descent, but the effect is pyrotechnic anyway. He does it so well we cheer him on the way down.

Clues to where it might have gone wrong can be found in the starting point. The Nobel Prize is never mentioned - the camera tracks briefly over it in the first episode – but, for Walt, life has never quite equalled the promise. He contributes to a Nobel Prize, but doesn't win it. The company he helped build has brought riches, fame (and the girl) to the other founding partner, but not to him. Even teaching high-school chemistry, a task he relishes in a way that makes you wish he'd been your chemistry teacher, hasn’t quite worked out the way he’d hoped. It doesn't pay the bills and his students look down on him; literally, when they find him washing hubcaps at his second job in a car wash run by a man in possession of the second greatest set of eyebrows in western civilization.

Walt has always been the also ran, the runner up but it’s hard to say at first whether this was just bad luck or some flaw in his character. It might be considered a very bad flaw that the comfortable life he has isn’t enough for him, but then again, when all around you have more, even only slightly more, who doesn’t feel left behind? Luck, as it happens, plays a decisive role when Walt finds out he has lung cancer: the kind where you don’t get better.

Ordinarily one might consider lung cancer to be bad luck, but for Walt it might not be. It doesn’t just make him feel alive; Walt realizes – as if for the first time – that he is alive. In an exquisitely awkward scene in which Walt’s family pass round a cushion that confers on them the right to speak honestly about Walt’s cancer and what treatment Walt should take, we see how Walt sees himself. He sits silent, smothered, beneath the accumulating weight of other people’s thoughts and feelings, the family argues and bickers over what’s right for Walt till he can’t take it anymore. He grabs the cushion and delivers a speech that to the family – and maybe to Walt himself – is about dying right, dying with dignity and without threat of financial ruin. He makes it sound like a noble choice. To us, Walt’s choice to die gives him the only means he has found to be alive. And those means are not noble at all.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 15, 2013 8:23 PM BST


Undead And Unwed: Number 1 in series (Undead/Queen Betsy)
Undead And Unwed: Number 1 in series (Undead/Queen Betsy)
by MaryJanice Davidson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Ab-Fab!, 13 Nov. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A fabulous and fair heroine, a fabulous and dark Master, a fabulously gay friend, a fabulously rich friend, fabulous Italian designer shoes, and... a cat called 'Giselle'! What more to expect from vampire chick lit'? It is very light and ... very naughty in chapter 26 ;-)
There is no doubt that Betsy is shoe-obsessed, but she is not self-obsessed: she is a great character.


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