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The Increment
The Increment
by David Ignatius
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Never judge a book by it's cover...or you may be disappointed, 12 Oct. 2012
This review is from: The Increment (Paperback)
They do say that you should never judge a book by its cover, and The Increment is certainly one of those books where the cover is somewhat deceiving. My expectations were of an upper class version of an Andy McNab book; heavy on the action and adrenaline, but with some intelligence behind it. For good or ill, The Increment is nothing like this; rather, it has lashings of the latter but very little in the way of action.

This is an absolutely relevant book, but concerns itself mainly with political maneouvering and the inner workings of the CIA, rather than blood, tears and bullet casings. Is it compelling? Yes, but in an unexpected way. Once you've adjusted to the fact that this is not a guns-blazing action book, and you've got past some of the clumsy characterisation, it's a riveting piece of story telling which feels absolutely authentic. In a strange way, I almost found it refreshing that the tension here isn't created by violence but by the political games, and the people who want to pull the trigger and start a war vs the man who's instincts tell him the opposite.

The Increment isn't without its flaws and I can see why some people wouldn't appreciate it, but ignore the cover and come at it with an open mind and you'll be rewarded with an entertaining read. Recommended.

No Time For Goodbye
No Time For Goodbye
by Linwood Barclay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great thriller, 5 Oct. 2012
This review is from: No Time For Goodbye (Paperback)
I must admit after finishing this book and reading some of the reviews, I'm somewhat surprised by the number of negative comments. I think No Time for Goodbye is a solid, entertaining thriller that's up there with the likes of Harlen Coben etc. Certainly the writing isn't Booker prize winning material, but it's a competent piece of work that had me gripped until the last page.

What is true, however, is that the book is certainly one of two halves. The first has you completely in the dark and steadily ratchets the mystery and tension, and if the final half of the book had continued in the same vein this would be an out and out 5 star masterpiece. Alas a few contrived moments and a little too much "thriller convention" pulls this back from the edge (excuse the deliberate pun for people who have read the book!), but it's still a great read.

Some people have mentioned that they found this entirely predictable, but aside from the final "twist" which I saw coming a mile off, I didn't actually guess what was behind the main plot until close to the reveal. Perhaps I'm a bit stupid, but compared to some of the dross I've read before, I thought this was a clever little thriller that maintained the pace and enjoyment right to the final page.

Not too long, and perfect for holiday/commuting reading, this is recommended.

The Forever War (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
The Forever War (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Joe Haldeman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars If this is how sci-fi is...give me more!, 5 Oct. 2012
The above might sound a bit strange, but The Forever War has been one of my first forays into Sci-Fi. Fittingly #1 in the Sci-Fi Masterworks series, and with plenty of good reviews around, where better a place to start?

I won't go into the plot in detail as it's covered in so many other reviews, but suffice to say I've found this something of a revelation. I've always held the view that sci-fi isn't very accessible, at least in its written form. On the big screen it's a different matter entirely as everything is so visual, but books have never held the same appeal with this genre. The Forever War has completely changed this, not least because it's engaging, well thought out and....different.

The most revelatory aspect for me was the implementation of relativity. The idea that the main character goes off at the start of a war on a mission, but due to the distances involved and the theory of relativity, returns 100 years later, is a master stroke. It's very clever, extremely well done and you really get a sense of how confusing and alien life becomes when you skip generations. Lots has been written about the Vietnam parallels, and this is never clearer than when the main character returns home for the first time to find a world changed beyond recognition. That feeling of isolation and detachment to the now is powerful.

It's in this where the main strengths of the book lies, making it a real page turner - I couldn't wait to find out how it ended (and I wasn't disappointed even though the ending is somewhat obvious). So why only 4 stars?

For me it's close to a 5, but there's a couple of flaws which were disappointing. The battles/campaigns are fleeting in their treatment, the enemy confusing and the descriptions vague, and I feel that the book loses something because of this. It rattles along at a pace, but I couldn't help but wish for a little more meat on the bones - this could easily have been twice the size without unnecessary padding.

Overall though, a fantastic read which has aged well. Which just leaves me wondering: "what do I read next in this genre?" I've got hundreds to choose from, and that's a good thing :-)

by Richard Matheson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A timeless masterpiece, 20 Sept. 2012
I Am Legend is my first venture into the SF Masterworks series, and is amongst my first foray into sci-fi. I felt compelled to read this as I love the movie, but I'd heard that the book is very different to the (underrated) Will Smith vehicle. I admit I wasn't really expecting much, I mean come on...this was written in 1954 right?

Wow, how wrong was I! I found the strangest thing reading I am Legend. Aside from some clearly dated references and "old fashioned" internal dialogue, this really could have been written last week. The writing has a quality that seems to transcend time, and within a few pages I'd forgotten that this is over 60 years old. Matheson's narrative is ruthlessly efficient and taut, and it feels as if not a single word is wasted. And even after all these years I got a sense of the hopelessness, the struggle of the main character and the absolute solitude that he has to deal with day after day after day.

It's this element, and the internal thought processes which are so effectively conveyed, that makes I Am Legend so absolutely compelling. By turns desperate, depressing, clever and uplifting, it's the definition of a writing masterclass. Even more of a revelation for me, though, was the story. It's completely different to the movie (regardless of which cut you watch), and I'm sitting here baffled as to why they changed it so completely for the screen. Whilst both good in their own right, the book is, in my opinion, far superior. And that ending! Wow.

I Am Legend isn't really sci-fi in the traditional sense but more of a thriller/horror. And even in 2012, it remains a relevant and superb piece of literature. If you've not read it, I urge you to do so. Highly recommended.

Umbra Lettro Letter And Key Organizer Aluminum
Umbra Lettro Letter And Key Organizer Aluminum
Price: £12.24

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stylish de-clutterer!, 13 Sept. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This letter and key organiser looks good on the wall and was simple to put up. Importantly, the neverending mail pile is now managed properly (and refreshingly doesn't involve it piling up on the kitchen table!) and I can always find my keys.

Negatives? With big bunches of key rings, the keys will likely mark your walls after a time (it could really do with a back plate which sits behind the keys), and the screws/plugs are tiny. But that's splitting hairs because it does what it says on the tin.

Frogtape Delicate Surface Masking Tape 36mm x 41.1m
Frogtape Delicate Surface Masking Tape 36mm x 41.1m
Price: £4.97

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expensive but it works, 13 Sept. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A friend recently recommended Frog Tape and strangely I'd never heard of it before. There are two types, the green tape is the more common one, but the delicate tape is definitely the best option if your painting involves lots of cutting in. I know professional decorators shun the use of masking tape, but for DIYers who want a clean painting line with minimal fuss...this the stuff for you!

Basically, the sticky side of the tape is made of a special compound which acts as a solid barrier against emulsion. With normal masking tape it's easy to get paint bleed (which can look terrible if using bright or bold colours against whites/creams/ceilings), but frog tape eliminates it completely.

The really beauty of the delicate tape is that it doesn't peel off the paint underneath when you remove it. need to follow the instructions. Crucially, you shouldn't apply the tape over painted walls which have been painted in the last 24 hours, and for best results, as soon as you've finished painting you should remove the tape immediately. Stick to these rules and it does exactly what it says on the tin, and I won't be painting without it in the future (unless my cutting in skills and patience mysteriously improve overnight).

The only mistake I made was to use several strips to cut in along a long stretch of ceiling coving. It should always be one long piece to ensure the line is consistent. Live and learn anyway :-)

Ex-Pro® Neodymium Rare Earth Super Magnets 12x3mm Disc [PACK of 6]
Ex-Pro® Neodymium Rare Earth Super Magnets 12x3mm Disc [PACK of 6]
Offered by ExpressPro
Price: £8.97

4.0 out of 5 stars Small magnets, strong for the size, 13 Sept. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I bought a set of these to compliment a glass magnet notice board in our kitchen. Unfortunately for anything above a single piece of paper these do struggle, however in the context of their size they are pretty strong. The next lot of magnets I buy will definitely be bigger though!

The Wasp Factory
The Wasp Factory
by Iain Banks
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Gets under your skin....and sits there uncomfortably., 13 Sept. 2012
This review is from: The Wasp Factory (Paperback)
I think this is the first review I've ever written about a book where I really don't know what to write. I've recently finished The Wasp Factory having only ever read one of Iain Bank's books before (Consider Phlebas, under his sci-fi moniker), and his debut has left me somewhat stunned and perplexed. I don't know whether I loved it or hated it, but one thing's for sure. It's left an impression.

By turns both dark, disturbing, macabre and daring (especially in the context of when it was published), The Wasp Factory tells us the story of Frank, a boy who appears utterly normal but who lives in his own little world with a moral compass that's clearly not on the same magnetic plane as the rest of us. I was horrified by the book, by the matter-of-fact descriptions of murder and animal cruelty, yet compelled at the same time. And therein lies the strength of the novel. Though you'll be disturbed and perhaps even disgusted, you'll want to find out what exactly the Wasp Factory is, you'll want to see what is in Frank's father's study, and you'll want to see how it ends.

The twist caught me completely by surprise and though it added to my sense of confusion (is this just an awful book or a masterpiece, or something in between???), it's somehow fitting. Make no mistake this is a Marmite book, but in my opinion it's worthy of a read even if I'll never revisit it again.

Recommended (hesitantly).

Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking: Be a Happy Non-smoker for the Rest of Your Life
Allen Carr's Easy Way to Stop Smoking: Be a Happy Non-smoker for the Rest of Your Life
by Allen Carr
Edition: Paperback

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most important (and profound) book I've ever read, 28 July 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I came to this book as a complete skeptic. I'd read part of it before (10 years ago), tried to quit without finishing it, and failed miserably. After 24 years of smoking 20 a day, I'd tried everything: cold turkey, hypnosis, patches, gum, inhalator, more hypnosis, champix...and absolutely none of them worked and worse, I had terrible side effects with champix which made me even more miserable.

Miserable is the right word to describe my smoking life too. Can I ever give up? I wondered. Am I always going to smoke? Am I going to die of cancer?

It's funny, because I've spent most of my life thinking "nah" about the last point, or at least not really caring. But then I got married and had two beautiful girls, and I realised this year as the first one got closer to her third birthday and the youngest celebrates her first...damn I'm scared of dying. All of a sudden I'm scared about leaving my family on their own, and I spent many hours puffing away in the garden (come rain, sun or snow) wondering why I kept sucking poison into my lungs in the rain, when I should have been inside running around with my girls.

Which finally drove me to buy this book again. It sat on my bedside table for a few months but finally I opened the front cover again and began to read, thinking "I know what I'm going to read, and it's not going to make any difference because I already KNOW why I smoke, and why I'm so stupid, so what's going to change?"

So began a period of two weeks which has completely changed my life. Why? Because one night on the way home from work I had that typical smokers "panic" as I realised I only had 5 cigarettes left in the packet. I stopped and queued in a garage to buy a packet of 20 Marlboro Lights. As I stood there several thoughts ran through my mind:

1. Everyone in the queue behind me thinks I'm stupid.
2. I've just paid almost £8 to suck poison in my lungs. Hmm, ok I am stupid.
3. I'm angry as the smokers panic is just confirming that this habit is controlling my life. Am I really REALLY that stupid?
4. What's holding me back? Fear. I'm a strong person, why do I fear stopping something which is killing me and actually makes me more stressed, lethargic and restless all at the same time? It's time to stop being scared.

At this point I still had 40 pages of the book left to read, but the words and messages had been taking root and I said to myself "That's the last packet of smokes I'm ever going to buy". I drove home, finished the book that evening, and never opened that last packet of cigarettes.

I went from 20 a day to zero without ANY problems, no significant cravings and no real desire to smoke. 24 years. 20 a day. Countless failed attempts. And now I've done it, just from reading a book.

There's hundreds of reviews on here, and plenty of comment about how it works. All I will say is, if you're a smoker, don't worry about how it works, or if it will. JUST READ THE BOOK. Follow the instructions. And that's it. There is nothing to fear, and if you still want to smoke once you've finished it, no problem - reading the book didn't really cost you anything but a few hours of your time. I can say for me though, it cost me a few hours but saved me years. Literally. I followed Allan Carr's advice to "Make the decision, and never doubt yourself", and now I'm free from the nicotine and the fool that used to whisper: "Go on, spark up, you enjoy smoking".

Because I never did.

Final word: I've been a non-smoker for just over one month at the time of writing. Some will say "but it's only a month". You'd be right, except I'm smiling as I write this as I'm never going to have another cigarette. It'll cost me £120,000 after all....

Edit: Just looked at this review again. It's now almost exactly 18 months since I quit. Since that last packet I talked about in my review, I've neither bought cigarettes nor even come close to smoking another one. I'm free :)
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 4, 2014 7:26 PM GMT

Hanging Hill
Hanging Hill
by Mo Hayder
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable but contains too many flaws, 18 Jun. 2012
This review is from: Hanging Hill (Paperback)
One thing that irritates me with some books is when the cover blurb misleads the potential reader. Hanging Hill is no exception, and where I was expecting a novel based around one murder, this incident actually ends up being a side show to the main story. It's a little deceiving, and with a tagline including the word "chiller"...well let's just say there's nothing here that's particularly chilling.

After that rather long winded review opener, I'll say now that I did enjoy Hanging Hill. It's a fast paced, rapid read and the pages fly by, but when I got to the final page I was left feeling somewhat disappointed. The problem here is the characters and the implausible situations. Hayder's plot feels contrived to the point where I didn't believe it, and the characters weren't believable enough for me to truly care. Terrible things happen in the book, and the reader should feel appalled and desperate for the characters as we go on the journey with them. But sadly it all feels a little hollow, and even more disappointing was the fact that I saw the ending coming a good 150 pages before the end.

If that all sounds extremely critical, it's meant to be, because I can see lots of people finding this book lacking in several areas. However, I would chance another Mo Hayder book in the future as despite the flaws, I still rather enjoyed the ride.

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