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The Day Of The Jackal
The Day Of The Jackal
by Frederick Forsyth
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Days don't get better than this, 5 Aug 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Day Of The Jackal (Paperback)
Let's be frank here. If your weekend was two days, one of the of the triffids and the other one of the Jackal, you'd probably have to have your blood pressure checked. This is where folk like Lee Child learned to write nerve-shredding suspense, techie gun-play, gripping step by step set ups and cat and mouse mindgames to rival Tom and Jerry at their most inventive.
The story pounds along with pace and verve and tourniquet-tight plotting without a wasted word or flabby scene to be found. For those not in the know, the story involves a militant right-wing group called the OAS who feel betrayed by Charles De Gaulle's grant of independence to Algeria. To wipe him out, they must hire an assassin from abroad who spends the entire book avoiding capture, planning his hit, getting false identities, advanced rifles, swapping cars and identities while the global authorities who have got wind of the plan chase him about Europe, always 5 minutes behind him.
It's a "dad" book in the best possible way. The assassination is played out in skin itching real time and one has to remember to breath out during the finale for fear of dropping dead. I urge you to give it a try whether you're a fan of a thriller or not. This is how it's done. Bourne, Reacher and the rest are the sons of The Jackal. Find out how it began.

The Day of the Triffids (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Day of the Triffids (Penguin Modern Classics)
by John Wyndham
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A day to remember, 5 Aug 2012
Now for some of you, this will mean one thing. A rather frightening (but not actually sure if it IS frightening as I haven't seen it since 1981 when it was broadcast) BBC TV adaptation. Here's what I remember about it:
1. A man with a beard wandered around a still and spooky empty London town.
2. The plants were a bit Dr. Who but made a dolphin-y clicky noise.
3. I have no idea how it ended or anything more than the above.
The younger of you will p'raps recall a more modern version with Eddie Izzard in it back in 2009. I watched some of this hoping it would be all scary and haunting like my 1981 memory. It wasn't. I'm not blaming Eddie Izzard for this. Merely the folk who cast him.

Anyhoo, the book appears on the BBC Big Read list at the excellent spot of 120. (Between Clavell's Shogun and Wilson's Lola Rose). And it is, by and large, brilliant. Wyndham creates a genuinely eerie empty England, full of bleak deserted streets and wind blown litter, punctuated by the desperate shrieks of the blinded staggering about helplessly. The plants are oddly chilling, hovering as they do in sinister groups, developing consciousness and hunting patterns. Our characters struggle with coping without government or supplies, groups cropping up claiming to lead the survivors into a new future and we get many philosophical ideas about what it is to be human, survival over living, our fellow man and other thought provoking whatnot, all the while the clicking and rustling of man eating plants shuffle at the end of the drive waiting waiting patiently to strike. A fantastic chilling apocalypse of a story with a very British bleakness to it. Check it out.

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution
by Richard Dawkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We get it, Dicky, we get it. Enough already., 30 July 2012
Now I'm a fan of "The Dawk," as most smart people are. Some find him irritating, I know. Some can't cope with the huge ribbony crease of a wrinkle he's got down his forehead to his eyebrows like a duelling scar - a crease I'm sure that has come from 50 years scowling at Catholics. Other people think that banging on about atheism is exactly the same about banging on about the baby Jesus so he's just another type of fundamentalist who worships laboratories and petri dishes instead of churches and chalices.

All of the above are true. Or at least would be true if RD also believed that glass petri dishes magically turned into skin by chanting an incantation and wafting some incense about. Which, as far as my reading of The Selfish Gene goes, he doesn't.

So I'm not likely to be too impartial about his new book which attempts to spread forth the wondrous examples of evolutionary evidence that surround us. Of which, it would appear, there is a helluva load.

It's a marvellous book, however I would have enjoyed it more if Dicky D (a much better soubriquet and one which would endear him to all) didn't feel the need to scoff and pity and patronise the religious throughout it. No need.

Yes, there is need in his previous book, which was specifically a challenge to the idea of a God.

But this one is back to his sciencey biology thing which he does so much better and is dampened by his snarky, spikey sniping at Christians throughout. It has no place in this book and undermines it I feel. Imagine if the Selfish Gene read like this:

"We are all made up of encoded genes which act as a recipe for our bodies and minds. Anyone who thinks we're made up of anything else, and 40% of Americans do, is a dangerous twit.

That's kind of how it reads. Although he doesn't say "twit."

You can tell he's itching to though.

Let it go, Dicky. Let it go.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 1, 2012 10:54 PM BST

The Associate
The Associate
by John Grisham
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars If this had a plot, this would be a plot spoiler..., 30 July 2012
This review is from: The Associate (Paperback)
Jonathan Grisham's latest pulse-pounding paperback set among box-files, affidavits and green-shaded desk lamps has been heralded by those who are paid good money to herald things, as "a return to the ground that made him famous." Which I can assure you, the discerning few, means he has at last run out of ideas and he's decided to rewrite The Firm.

Personally I quite enjoyed The Firm, back in the day. Had a terrible original jacket on the first edition - legal desklamps and legal pads on, not a desk, but a coffin! Dan-dan-daaah! It was like a Point Horror novel. I don't recall the tagline, but if it wasn't "he's studied the death!" then someone needs to have words.

Wasn't a bad movie either. Had that great jazz piano score, a tight and zippy direction by Sidney Pollack and Tom Cruise playing a young hot shot maverick for a change.

The Associate, however, attempts the same pacey, new-lawyer made to do shady things by shady folk plot and drops it's briefs in a manner even Robin Asquith would consider vulgar.

In this one, the threat hanging over our Maverick Legal Eagle is the threat to expose a video tape of a college dorm frat-house gang-bang in which he appears to be involved (although isn't actually seen having sex. Hmn). The owner of this tape blackmails the Renegade lawyer chap into dropping his promise of heartfelt pro bono work (publicising U2 or something) and going to work for a big firm as a spy in a big trillion dollar legal battle. So far, so blah.

Anyhap, it takes about 7/8 of the novel - our legal maverick renegade copying files and sneaking PDFs up his jumper - for his dad to find out. Not in a clever way. His dad says "wotcha been up to kid?" and Renegade Q Maverick says "oh nuthin' just being blackmailed over a sex tape." Dad promptly visits the girl in the video and asks her not to press charges. She says "oh all right."

I mean, what?

This done, the dad goes to the Feds, explains about the blackmail, the Feds descend on the blackmailer's hotel room, to find he's run off. And that's it.

I (still) mean, what?

I am wondering if you are familiar - in a way clearly that Mr Grish-Lightening isn't - with the literary phrase "Deus Ex Machina?" You're a smart, discerning bunch so I imagine you are. But in case you've fallen over onto this site by accident while looking for news of It Bites' reunion tour (2hrs of "Callin' All The Heroes . . . the shootin' up the town boys") it means this: The Ghost In The Machine. It's a term for a solution that comes from nowhere to solve all problems.

Classic example is the Cavalry coming over the hill to the rescue in old Cowboy movies. Saviours from nowhere, with no relation to the plot or characters until that point. It's lazy and unsatisfying, as anyone who watched Jurassic Park's crappy "phew, we've been fortunately saved, that's a bit of luck," ending when the T-Rex wanders on and eats the Raptors. It's bad writing and no decent story does it.

It's the reason Superman catches Lex Luthor at the end of the movie, rather than Luthor falling under a bus. It's the reason Elliot helps ET get to the spaceship instead of staying home and letting him get a cab. It's the reason Victor Frankenstien destroys the monster he created, rather than waiting for Nick Berry to turn up on a vintage mototbike and cart him off to jail. As an audience, we need the hero to defeat the villain, we need that catharsis, we need that "closure" if you like and we need it to mean something. If The Emperor had been killed by a chicken bone in the throat at the end of Return Of The Jedi, instead of being killed by his apprentice Darth Vadar to save Vadar's son, yes evil would have been vanquished. But we wouldn't have cheered.

If you're writing a story y'self, be good to remember this. Gives your finale a real punch. The sort of punch that letting the hero's dad sort it all out with a phone call really misses, frankly.

Still, I'm a sucker for this sort of drivel so I'll probably reasd the next one...

Whatever Works [DVD] [2010]
Whatever Works [DVD] [2010]
Dvd ~ Larry David
Price: 5.56

4 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Whatever worked before, 30 July 2012
This review is from: Whatever Works [DVD] [2010] (DVD)
Firstly, cards on the table: I would consider myself a Woody Allen fan, as far as that goes. I have all his early/mid-period movies. Some on DVD, some on VHS and many lovingly taped from TV, with nicely hand-drawn matching labels in oldy-fashionedy writing. The first one I saw was `Manhattan', on late night BBC1 when I was 13 years old. My friend Neal and I both got into a frothing girly shrieking fit the next morning in school when we realised we had found our Holy Grail and both proceeded to hunt down every movie we could. Luckily, the Everyman cinema in Hampstead (carrot cake, espresso and black polo-necks a must) had a season of 3 movies a week where we both boned up, in every sense. (I mean it. What could be more exciting to a speccy, scrawny pseudo-intellectual teenage city-dweller than watching a speccy, scrawny pseudo-intellectual twenty-something city-dweller being quippy and smart with a selection of beautiful women?)

I guess I was lucky to be the age I was, as my most susceptible, mouldable and impressionable years (1984-94) coincided snugly with the Woodman's most consistent run. Get this lot:

Broadway Danny Rose; Purple Rose Of Cairo; Hannah & Her Sisters; Radio Days; September; Another Woman; Crimes & Misdemeanours; New York Stories; Alice; Shadows & Fog; Husbands & Wives and - ker-ching - Bullets Over Broadway.

What's not to like? (Well, since you ask, 1990's "Scenes From A Mall," the Woodster's first attempt at performing in someone else's movie since "The Front." The movie young Neal and I chose - like twitwits - to drag our pals along to, to show how great Woody Allen was. Sheesh. A move akin to trying convince someone of Jack Palance's cinematic stature by screening "City Slickers II - The Legend Of Curly's Gold").

Anyhow, as you pop-culture newshounds will know, the end of this run - 1993 - saw the melt-down of Woodlington's career when he decided he couldn't live without the love, companionship of his adopted daughter.

Anyhoo, since this event, the Woodboro has continued to churn out a movie a year and they have, by and large, been utter drivel. I mean it, crappiest crapola of the first order, and I'm not the first person to say so. How's this for a run of utter pants that nobody outside Paris has seen:

Celebrity; Sweet & Lowdown; Small Time Crooks; The Curse Of The Jade Scorpion; Hollywood Ending; Anything Else; Melinda & Melinda; Matchpoint . . . yadda yadda and so on.

But every year I brace myself, swallow hard, take a deep breath and settle in to the dark hoping that this time, this year, he'll be back on form.

This year, 2009, I officially give up.

To save y'self the price of the DVD, the movie goes like this:
1.Take an aging, unattractive, bespectacled New York dwelling Jewish intellectual.
2.Give him a selection of colourful fat male Jewish friends he can kvetch with in street cafes about philosophy and art.
3.Force him into a relationship with a kooky simple minded beautiful nubile 20-something southern girl.
4.Have them walk and talk and watch b/w movies and eat Chinese food in brick-lined New York apartments.
5.Finally, she'll fall in love with him. They have sex. He cheers up.

Sigh. Even having Larry David play the lead couldn't save it. Even watching it in a Manhattan as I did doesn't help.

So, my theory is this. Like many, many artists, creative types need grit to make a pearl.

During his biggest trauma, Allen came up with Husbands & Wives and Bullets Over Broadway, which are about as good as he gets. Then he falls in love, moves in with his beloved and has churned out drivel ever since.

One loses count of artists whose success/happiness/fullfillment/age/family has coincided with the complete downturn in their art and the drying up of their inspiration. Steven Speilberg, Steve Martin, Madonna, blimey even Ben Elton - add your own once-greats to the list.

Some say that age and success means they lose their vitality, their hunger, their need to please and this isn't surprising nor a crime. Well that's as maybe and Ill accept that and go quielty into this good night.

However if that is so, could they keep their art to themselves then? Have private showings for their happy and successful friends? I'll understand, truly.

Be happy, Woody. Or be productive. Don't try both.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 7, 2012 9:40 AM GMT

Juliet, Naked
Juliet, Naked
by Nick Hornby
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Low Fidelity, 30 July 2012
This review is from: Juliet, Naked (Paperback)
"...This, Rob thought, was unbearable. Did this question really still come up after all these years? Clearly it did and clearly it became harder to answer as you got older. In the time before Laura, it had been easy. He was young and he liked exactly the same music as the young woman asking the question, who was either on her way to University, or an undergraduate, or recently graduated. So Rob could say that he listened to the Smiths (sic) and Dylan and Joni Mitchell and the young woman would nod and add The Fall to his list. Telling a girl that you liked Joni Mitchell was really another way of saying. "If the worst comes to the worst and we get pregnant, it'll be okay..." HIGH FIDELITY

We'll get to this quote and the reason for it in a moment.

But sigh. Why do I even get my hopes up? What was I expecting?
Well it doesn't matter because what I got was another example of Nick Hornby's breathtaking inability to write a character that doesn't act, think and talk like a thoughtful, obsessive, tender, thirty something North London football and pop music fan.

I guess I didn't notice this gargantuan talent failing in his early days. Remember Fever Pitch? His first-person memoir? It was all "I felt this, I went here, I thought that, I watched Arsenal win the FA cup final." And us readers took this to our hearts. He had a nice, chummy, chatty, email tone of voice. He sounded much like what he was - a thoughtful, obsessive, tender, thirty something North London football and pop music fan.

(I resisted reading FP for years, actually, as it was clearly a book about life as an Arsenal supporter. Many otherwise trustworthy blokes encouraged me to read it as they said it wasn't just about football, it was about male obsessions of all types. So I gave in and read it.

And it's 250 pages about football.

Frankly, my teen obsessions were Chuck Berry, Star Wars, Suzi Quattro and Action Force and it far too little about those).

Next up? Well, he got away with his one-voice trick again. High Fidelity. Cleverly it was a story written in the first person ("I felt this, I went here, I thought that, I watched The Clash play Brixton Academy") about, yes, a thoughtful, obsessive, tender, thirty something North London football and pop music fan. So it sounded pretty realistic. As it would.

But the Hornster was clearly tiring of this. He wanted to try something else. Something more ambitious. (But not too ambitious, obviously. That would involve writing).

So he bashed out "About A Boy," a novel HALF about a thoughtful, obsessive, tender, thirty something North London football and pop music fan, and half - genius! - about a thoughtful, obsessive, tender, teen something North London folk music and Countdown fan.

Nice work Nicky boy.

Since then? Oh Mr Train-Set, give it up already.

"How To Be Good" was written in the guise of a middle aged woman going through a marriage breakdown. A middle aged woman who, frankly, thought, spoke and acted like a thoughtful, obsessive, tender, thirty something North London football and pop music fan.

And "A Long Way Down," which had many voices - middle aged men, housewives, teenage girls, pensioners etc - all of whom tended to think, speak and act like, oooh, let's say thoughtful, obsessive, tender, thirty something North London football and pop music fans.

I'm being mean, I know. I've met the chap and he's thoroughly charming. And in truth, I don't mind if he can only write in his own voice. If he can only write about what he thinks about his interests in his world. That's fine. It's not a bad thing. Blimey, journalists make a decent enough living doing exactly that.

It's just, know your limitations Nick, that's all. Stop attempting fiction. Or at least, don't attempt fiction unless of course it's about - oh I don't know, the thoughts and ideas of a . . . hmm...what shall we say? A thoughtful, obsessive, tender, thirty something North London football and pop music fan.

Which brings us to Juliet, Naked.

The main character - Juliet - lives with a fellow. Ordinary bloke. How would I describe him? A sort of thoughtful, obsessive, tender, thirty something North London football and pop music fan type, I suppose. She falls out with him over his thoughtful, obsessive, tender pop music fandom and starts a relationship with someone else. By way of a change, a thoughtful, obsessive, tender pop star. Oh yes.

I won't bore you with the story - which is the usual guff about growing and learning to be a better person and finding out what life is about (surprisingly, it turns out there's more to life than being a thoughtful, obsessive, tender pop-music fan. But not much more. Clearly none of the characters have bothered reading High Fidelity. Or been to see "About A Boy. Which is odd, as they're designed to appeal to thoughtful, obsessive, tender, thirty something North London couples).

But anyhoo.
The problems, as always, are the attempts at characters outside Nick Hornby's immediate frame of reference. The voices. Or rather, the one voice that gets passed around. The reader spends the entire book scanning for the "she saids" or "he thoughts" or the "Duncan decideds" or the "Annie believeds" because, without them, one has no bloody clue whose turn it is to have a go on the page as every character, bar none, thinks, talks and acts like a thoughtful, obsessive, tender, thirty something North London football and pop music fan.

Remember the extract above? From High Fidelity?
Well it isn't. I was playing with you then. I swapped the names to make it more tricky to spot, but it's actually a quote from `Juliet Naked' and is meant to be a middle aged female museum worker talking to an aging Northern Soul fan.

Not that you'd know.
Scroll back up and read it again.

Enjoy it? No, of course you didn't. It's exactly the same idea he's been typing out for the last decade. In exactly the same obsessive, tender, thirty something North London football and pop music fan voice.

I could go on. But I won't as I've just realised I'm getting all het up and crosspatch thinking about it.

So my final word in this, a bigoted self righteous hypocritical rant of a review: for non thoughtful, obsessive, tender, thirty something North London football and pop music fans, there's not much fun to be had here I'm afraid. In fact, there's not much to be had if you are one as you've heard it all before when you wrote it in your own damned diary when you were 15.

Nick Hornby. A fine journalist and chronicler of modern life. Not very good at much more. But hell, that's okay.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 4, 2014 7:27 PM BST

Kane and Abel 30th Anniversary Edition
Kane and Abel 30th Anniversary Edition
by Jeffrey Archer
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dammit Marjorie!, 30 July 2012
I have absolutely no idea why I was pretty much unable to put this book down. On the surface, I could not have been less interested in something Dan Brown called "the ultimate tale of sibling rivalry." (Dan Brown shows his now famous grasp of language here. They're not actually siblings. They're just two blokes, Dan. You twit). I also know very little about Mr Archer apart from this:

a. He has a posh penthouse on the Thames full of expensive art and often has folk over for shepherds pie and champagne. I have NO CLUE why I know this.
b. He is disliked by almost everyone you can think of.

His first book "Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less" was made into a 1980s TV drama, complete with lots of shoulder pads and champagne corks and luxury yachts and casinos and sort of "Howards Way" style glamour. Catch it on YouTube. NOTE: It also has one of those excellent "sing the title to the theme tune" theme tunes like "The Sweeney."

So that's everything I knew about ole JA. But there's his book in the top 200 of all time faves and according to the copy I picked up in the store, it sold a million in the first week, 2 million in a month and 30 million to date. So I gave it a whirl.

And what a bizarre thing it is. Again, as I say, I ploughed through the thing in about 4 days, which ain't bad going for a 545 page blockbuster. Have you read it? You probably have. Here's the odd thing. NOTHING HAPPENS.

It doesn't. Honestly, I can't recall a single incident from the book and I only finished it 2 days ago. 545 pages of two men's lives and their intertwining struggles. And I can recall absolutely zero happening.

Oh, apart from buying and selling stock. There's bloody loads of that.

Were the 1980s really like this? Stephen Fry & Hugh Laurie used to do a sketch set in this sort of high-flying 1980s business-world where it was all "goddammit" and "take over share options" and "old man Seagrove will never go for a merger," and whatnot. Anyway, that's the whole book. Men buying stock options and selling stock options back again and then ...well that's about it. Then there are some beautiful women and some luxury yachts and such, until one of them drops dead. I won't spoil it by telling you which one. (Kane).

So in theory it would be tedious and dull and moronic and dated and of no interest. And yet I ploughed through it
like it was . . . oh I don't know. Something really pagey-turnery and better thought of. Robert Ludlum? Lee Child? Something like that.

What worries me is that, on the reverse of the book, the Washington Post says of Archer: "A storyteller in the class of Alexander Dumas." Now Alexander Dumas is also on my reading list for this year (Count Of Monte Christo) so now I'm worried that the Count spends 600 pages buying shares in Monte Christo Inc and floating them as preferential holding stock on the Dow Jones while drinking champagne with Kate O'Mara off the coast of Guernsey. I guess there's only one way to find out.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 12, 2012 1:56 PM BST

The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds
by H.G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dan dan daaaaaah!, 30 July 2012
This review is from: The War of the Worlds (Paperback)
Brilliant. And NOT, before you say anything, because all the way through I was imagining Jeff Wayne's music going "dan-dan-daaaaaaaaaah, dan-dan-dahhhhhhhh!"or Richard Burton's voice.

But sort of that.

Anyway it's great. Genuinely exciting, wonderfully evocative and incredibly smart. And considerably better than the Speilberg/Cruise movie. Which takes a long time setting up Cruise as a crane worker, foreshadowing him taking over a fighting machine in the climax...and then he doesn't. Thus rendering the first 5 minutes as uttely pointless and misleading a characterisation to rival Nicholas Cage's Beatlemania in "The Rock" which pays off at the end by him quoting...Elton John

The Thirty-Nine Steps
The Thirty-Nine Steps
by John Buchan
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.75

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rippingest of yarn rippers, 30 July 2012
This review is from: The Thirty-Nine Steps (Paperback)
Absolutely terrific harmless boys-own guff of the first order. Chases, disguises, escapes, monoplanes, heavy tweed jackets, pipes, fisticuffs, explosives, dastardly foreign conspirators and well done the British, old chap. Raced through this in 2 sittings. Nice work by penguin on the retro-look jacket also.

Wuthering Heights (Wordsworth Classics)
Wuthering Heights (Wordsworth Classics)
by Emily Bronte
Edition: Paperback
Price: 1.99

7 of 17 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Heathcliff, it's me, it's Cathy...go home now., 30 July 2012
Oh for heaven's sake Bronte, give over.

This has been my hardest battle to finish yet. Jeez Louise, is there anything remotely likeable or identifiable in the gruelling, wind swept, dark brooding heavy-browed, heavy booted stomping, yelling, bickering, cursing, beatings and rain-lashed untimely sickly deaths of this 356 page "gothic" drear-fest.

"My, the yeomandry yonder fairly lash the whetstone nary minding the trivet or tyranny of dour Heathcliffe! I shall never go to The Grange! I shall stamp my foot until the vapours consume me and I upset the tureen of victuals! Nary will I allow my cousin access to The Heights for the turnpike is sultry and verily his surtout and briches are not fit for the tannery!" (repeat to fade)

Nope. Didn't care, wasn't remotely interested. Bugger off out of my window-oh-woah-woah Cathy, you're letting the draft in.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 19, 2014 7:53 AM BST

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