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A Most Wanted Man
A Most Wanted Man
by John Le Carré
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Master Takes a Break, 21 Aug 2009
This review is from: A Most Wanted Man (Paperback)
Le Carre at his best combines several elements to create irresistible novels. Strong characterisation, complex plotting, devilish twists and a world-weary cyncism combine to carry readers to thriller nirvana. Unfortunately "A Most Wanted Man", a post-9/11 Hamburg-based thriller, has only the cynicism. Characterisation is poor, with banker Brue a stereotypical anguished Brit abroad; human rights lawyer Richter a anti-establishment cut-out; and the central figure, Issa, never explained or given any personality beyond a crude can't-cope-with-western-ways-and-women trope. The minor characters, particularly the devilish intelligence officers, are cruder still. The plot is plodding - I kept waiting for a surprise, a twist, or even something exciting to happen, but in vain. The technology and methodology of the spooks, with their instant and comprehensive data capture ability, doesn't feel genuine or, indeed, interesting. And why-oh-why anguish about the iniquities of counter-terrorism just isn't enough to support a good thriller. The prose style is good, yet I struggled to finish it.

Pro: if you want to reinforce your view that the "war on terror" is clunky and dubious, this book may help. Con: dead dull.


The Last Picture Show [DVD] [2001]
The Last Picture Show [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ Timothy Bottoms
Price: £4.76

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Melancholy magic, 21 Aug 2009
"The Last Picture Show" is a gentle, sad coming of age movie. Its take on friendship, sex, hope and the sometimes grim realities of life is carefully constructed on a base of outstanding characterisation. When a middle-aged housewife is left waiting for the arrival of her young lover, you feel devastated right alongside her. When a beautiful teenager arrives at a pool party to be told to strip on the diving board, you'll sense her awkwardness. And when two old friends are torn apart by a love affair, you can't help wish they'd see sense. There isn't much narrative drive, but there's a tremendous sense of fulfilment as the lights come up.

For: utterly engaging. Against: not much happens.


Echo Park
Echo Park
by Michael Connelly
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Clever thriller a perfect page-turner, 21 Aug 2009
This review is from: Echo Park (Paperback)
I'm a big fan of Michael Connelly and his tormented detective Harry Bosch. "Echo Park" is a stand-out amongst Connelly's excellent thrillers (other favourites - The Poet, A Darkness More than Night). Its key feature is a driving, powerful central story as Bosch is unexpectedly offered what seems to be the solution to a cold case which has long obsessed him. In fact he is being drawn into a splendidly conceived web of deceit, betrayal and danger. I read it in 12 hours.

For: an engrossing page-turner. Against: not much, although one or two minor characters (notably FBI agent Rachel Walling, who features in earlier novels) are rather sketchily drawn.


Nokia E71 Black Silicone Skin Case with Screen Protector
Nokia E71 Black Silicone Skin Case with Screen Protector

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars OK SKIN, SCREEN GUARD DOESN'T FIT, 7 Jun 2009
I bought this for my new E71 and am disappointed. The black silicone cover is OK: the phone fits into it snugly, the various jacks (eg for the charger) have holes in the right places and the buttons and short-cuts are easy to use. The matt-black rubber looks a bit dowdy and the general impression is rather cheap, but what do you expect for £4? Unfortunately the screen protector, in a separate package called "LCD Screen Guard" with a cheap-looking sticker on it saying "NK E71" is far too small - it looks daft sitting in the middle of the screen. Nor is its texture satisfactory. So I've had to order a separate screen protector.

Summary: OK cover, inadequate screen guard.


Griffin GC16031 Imic High Quality Recording and Playback for PC/Laptop/Mac
Griffin GC16031 Imic High Quality Recording and Playback for PC/Laptop/Mac
Offered by eoutlet-uk
Price: £29.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DOES IT WORK? YES! BUT A BIT FIDDLY, 14 Jan 2009
I bought myself this device for Christmas to see if I could transfer some of my ancient C90 cassette tapes and vinyl, long-unplayed, to digital format. The good news is that it works a treat. You simply plug the lead from the back of your turntable or cassette player into the lead on the iMic; plug the USB into your computer; start up the "Final Vinyl" software which comes with the kit; and you're ready to record. I've successfully transferred several tapes; the quality is as good as, if not better than, the original. And you don't have to be any kind of techno-nerd to do it.

It is a bit fiddly, though. First, your recordings may be too loud or quiet. You can fix this by adjusting the recording level on Control Panel or, on a Mac, System Preferences. Then the Final Vinyl software produces a wave pattern on your computer corresponding to what you've transferred. If it's, say, a series of songs, you then have to "mark" the wave pattern to show where each song begins. Then you have to download the result to your computer, where the Final Vinyl identifies it as a series of tracks. Then you have to transfer these tracks to iTunes and, if you want it to look good, name them and group them in the order you want. None of this is difficult and the quality of the end product is good. But it takes ages.

Pro: cheap, easy to use, good results. Con: fiddly.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 3, 2010 1:16 PM GMT


Exit Ghost
Exit Ghost
by Philip Roth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars THIN GRUEL, 7 Jan 2009
This review is from: Exit Ghost (Paperback)
Philip Roth writes novels which are thought-provoking and readable. He can still produce the goods: some recent works, eg The Human Stain ("how are they going to make a film out of that?" asked Roth, hearing the rights had been sold) and The Plot against America, are terrific. But "Exit Ghost" has a slight, post-9/11 storyline. There are a couple of well-developed characters from previous novels (Nathan Zuckerman and Amy Bellette) but several new ones risk being stereotypical (thrusting young writer Kliman; beautiful and sensitive Jamie). There's some lovely writing, and Nathan's musings on old age seem to come from the heart. But it's difficult to care much about all this; and the sudden homage to the real-life journalist George Plimpton, a figure who is not referred to elsewhere in the novel, feels inappropriate. All in all an OK, short, literary read; but not a must unless you want to read all of Roth.

Pro: some tasty writing. Con: disappointingly thin.


Watchmen
Watchmen
by Alan Moore
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Iconic, influential, inimitable... and intermittently irritating, 31 Dec 2008
This review is from: Watchmen (Paperback)
First off, "Watchmen" is an awesome product. Chapter 1, especially the opening two pages (closing with "That's quite a drop") have definite wow factor. Throughout, the multitextured storyline by Alan Moore and the terrific artwork by Dave Gibbons surprise, intrigue and entertain. The ambitious concept of trying to give the comic heroes of the 1940s both a back story and a future comes off pretty well. The characterisation and the sombre mood are both exquisite.

So what's not to like? First, the resolution is, compared with the complexity of most of the storyline, daft. Villains (or heroes) who say: "If we do X, Y will happen" are always suspect. Veidt's big play, and the world's simplistic reaction, don't live up to the rest of the book. I also found some of the side stories illustrating the horrors of the world a bit too discursive. So only four stars.

Pros: drop-dead brilliant product. Cons: a bit dated and occasionally long-winded.


Wolf of the Plains (Conqueror, Book 1) (Conqueror 1)
Wolf of the Plains (Conqueror, Book 1) (Conqueror 1)
by Conn Iggulden
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars GENGHIS ROCKS! A ROLLICKING READ, 4 Dec 2008
"Wolf of the Plains" is a terrific, rollicking adventure story of the young Genghis Khan growing up in the dangerous, unstable world of the ancient Mongolian plains. The narrative is taut, with a series of deadly challenges to be overcome. The characterisation is excellent, with plenty of major and minor figures to grab the imagination. Best of all, the description of Genghis's world is convincing and detailed: by the end of the book it'll seem the most natural thing in the world to slit open a horse's vein for a refreshing snack. The only downside of the book is that it feels very much like the opening salvo in a multi-volume epic. About half-way through, you realise (if you didn't know this already) that it is the series, not this book, which will tell the story of Genghis Khan; and that to know what happens, you have many more volumes ahead of you. But if you're enjoying it, this will give you pleasure rather than frustration.

The treatment of the Chinese in the story is surprisingly sympathetic. Made me wonder if Iggulden has half an eye on the Chinese market.

Pro: great, sweeping, well-written adventure story. Cons: only the start of the story.


Olympus VN-2100PC Digital Voice Recorder with microphone
Olympus VN-2100PC Digital Voice Recorder with microphone

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars BRILLIANTLY SIMPLE GADGET EXCEPT FOR ONE THING..., 1 Dec 2008
The Olympus VN-2100PC digital voice recorder has a load of excellent features, and one pain. The good bits: it's simple to make and play back recordings, and to organise them in folders. The unit itself is light and small enough to fit in any pocket, so easy to take and use anywhere. It runs for ages on a pair of AAA batteries, and has plenty of recording capacity, depending on the quality of recording you choose. The bad bit? If you want to transfer the recordings somewhere else, it's a bit fiddly. First, you have to set up the "Digital Wave Player" software on your PC, then transfer the files. But they're not MP3 files, but something called WAV format. If you want MP3 files, eg to play on my iPod, which I synch to an Apple, you have to download a "Switch Sound File Converter" program. This is available free on the internet, but is another level of hassle. None of this detracts from the basic quality of the recorder - but easier transfer of files would be a bonus.

Pro: easy to use, solid build, works. Con: file transfer a hassle.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 21, 2009 8:43 PM GMT


Blood Memory
Blood Memory
by Greg Iles
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars INTENSE, ATYPICAL, REAL-TIME THRILLER, 1 Dec 2008
This review is from: Blood Memory (Paperback)
"Blood Memory" is unusual. The action takes place in the deepest south continuously over a period of several days as severely-damaged heroine "Cat" Ferry's investigation of a series of murders leads her to re-examine the story of her own life and family, in turn resolving the murders. It's intense stuff, revolving around child abuse, and the plotting is idiosyncratic - lots of improbable developments, chases and coincidences, numerous deaths, and a host of characters emerging throughout the narrative - my favourite is Big Leon on p.492 - to fulfil a niche role. There are few "aha" moments, and many of the characters are stereotypical. Despite all this, the plot moves forward at a good rate, and the rich mix of mysteries, and Cat's own struggle to overcome her well-drawn demons, are enough to maintain the tension and keep us reading.

Pro: unusual narrative style, readable. Con: daft in places.


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