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The Children of Húrin
The Children of Húrin
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.49

91 of 101 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A dark tale of evil and destruction - worth the wait!, 17 April 2007
This review is from: The Children of Húrin (Hardcover)
The Children of Hurin is the long-awaited addition to the Tolkien franchise. Started somewhere around 1916 - 1918 by J.R.R. Tolkien, then revised several times, it has taken his son Christopher Tolkien 30 years to finally complete it and form the tale of Turin Turambar and the other offspring of Hurin of Hador for publication as an independent work. It is the first, full-length, cohesive Tolkien novel to be published since The Silmarillion of 1977.

For Tolkien enthusiasts, the story will not be entirely unfamiliar because a short version of it appears in The Silmarillion, in the same way that a compressed version of The Lord of the Rings appears. You may also recognise snippets from other posthumous publications, specifically "Unfinished Tales" and "The Lays of Beleriand". However, if you are new to the franchise, it is still a wonderful tale, although expect it to be far darker than anything else you may have read.

The story takes the reader back to a time long before "The Lord of the Rings", in an area of Middle-earth that was to be drowned thousands of years before the story of the Ring. The great enemy was still the fallen Vala, Morgoth, and Souron only a lieutenant. Hurin, is captured by Morgoth in battle. When Hurin refuses to give Morgoth the information he demands, Morgoth sets a curse upon his bloodline. Thus, his family is destined for tragedy, despite the greatness of his warrior son Turin. In Turin's struggles through the lost world of Beleriand, everything he does fails or turns to bad.

Christopher Tolkien was granted the honour of becoming the J.R.R.'s literary executor by the author himself and insists that the majority of the text is the original word of his father. His only changes are grammatical and linguistic of "a stylistic nature". However, reading it, I can't help feel that there may have been a little more than that. Its style of writing feels more modern than The Silmarillion, for example, perhaps as a symptom of the 30 years that this work has been in progress. On the one hand, I think this is a good thing. For such a gloomy story, it has a readable quality that I believe some of the meandering parts of previous works lacked. Finally, for the real buffs among you - the new map and editorial notes are very interesting, plus wonderful Alan Lee illustrations that make this edition a joy to own.


Nineteen Minutes
Nineteen Minutes
by Jodi Picoult
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

58 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sticking to what she knows best, 17 April 2007
This review is from: Nineteen Minutes (Hardcover)
Nineteen Minutes sees the return of defense attorney Jordan McAfee (The Pact and Salem Falls) and Patrick DuCharme (detective from Perfect Match) and is another example of Picoult's skillful psychological and social insight.

The protagonist this time is Peter Houghten, a 17-year-old high school student who has endured years of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of his classmates. Even his best friend, Josie Cormier has succumbed to peer pressure and is now part of the gang that instigates the abuse. One final act of bullying sends him over the edge and he commits an act of violence that will forever change the lives of the town's residents.

As per the Picoult formula, the town is small where many lives intertwine and the superior court judge assigned to hear the Houghten case is the mother of Josie Cormier, who witnessed the act. Josie is emotionally fragile and the strain of the court case poses a realistic threat to her relationship with her mother, Alex. She claims she can't remember what happened in the last few minutes of Peter's rampage and Peter's parents compound the tension and pressure in the narrative by ceaselessly examining the past to see what they might have done as parents to compel their son to such extremes.

The overriding theme of the novel is the question that do we ever really know the people closest to us? However, it poses more questions than that - what does it mean to be different? Is it ever OK for a victim to strike back? And who really has the right to judge someone else? This is Picoult's most honest, straightforward and meaningful novel yet - if only she could stretch beyond her currently rather contrived plots, she would be a truly great commentator on modern times.


James Martin - Desserts
James Martin - Desserts
by James Martin
Edition: Hardcover

88 of 93 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Virtually idiotproof, 14 April 2007
I'm a pretty good cook by all accounts, but however much I try, mastering desserts seems to be beyond me. This has previously frustrated me no end, not least when a friend of mine who needs step-by-step instructions to produce a bowl of pasta whipped up a chocolate mousse to die for without batting an eyelid.

Anyway, I decided that a book dedicated to desserts would be the way forward and, having successfully tried a few James Martin recipes in the past that I found on the BBC website, his was my book of choice. I was not disappointed. His writing is very clear, without the patronising tone of Mary Berry and Delia Smith (apologies to the British institution) or the overly informal chatty tone of Jamie Oliver which irritates me no end. He is particularly clear about how to prepare the various utensils and dishes, and is very descriptive of what the various stages should look like. This meant that if anything went wrong, I knew straightaway, rather than previous experiences of blissfully plodding forward and being left with a soggy mess.

Hence, I can now produce a sticky toffee pudding that looks and tastes how it should as well as a few other staples that previous recipes have failed me on. My only gripe is that he sometimes is a little on the technical side with his terminology and the recipes never become as adventurous as they could be. Having said that, there is more than enough to keep anyone busy. Though it may not do the waistline much good!!


Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars (PC DVD)
Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars (PC DVD)

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but not great, 11 April 2007
= Fun:3.0 out of 5 stars 
Firstly, I have to agree with other reviewers in that the graphics are great. The cinematics were also superb. Also it was nice to see Joe Kucan again reprising his role as Kane. There was also a nice twist in the NOD campaign (which I won't spoil!!). I haven't started the SCRIN yet.

However, the game play was weak. It only took about 15 to 25 minutes to complete a round. The original game is still the best but the graphics are just OK. I still play it today but it's tough, even w/the patch on my E6600 & 7900gs. Tiberien Sun was just as good as the original but w/updated graphics. Tiberium Wars: if you are a fan of the series then get it because it is good fun but if you are new to the series then look elseware.


Suite Francaise
Suite Francaise
by Irène Némirovsky
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful read, 11 April 2007
This review is from: Suite Francaise (Paperback)
In 1941, Irene Nemirovsky sat down to write a book that would convey the magnitude of what she was living through, not in terms of battles and politicians, but by evoking the domestic lives and personal trials of the ordinary citizens of France. She did not live to see her ambition fulfilled, or to know that sixty-five years later, "Suite Francaise" would be published for the first time, and hailed as a masterpiece.

Set during a year that begins with France's fall to the Nazis in June 1940 and ends with Germany turning its attention to Russia, "Suite Francaise" falls into two parts. The first is a brilliant depiction of a group of Parisians as they flee the Nazi invasion and make their way through the chaos of France; the second follows the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation who find themselves thrown together in ways they never expected.

Nemirovsky's brilliance as a writer is in her portrayal of people, and this is a novel that pulsates with wonderful characters, each more vivid than the next. Haughty aristocrats, bourgeois bankers and snobbish aesthetes rub shoulders with uncouth workers and obstreporous farmers. Women variously resist or succumb to the charms of German soldiers.

However, amidst the mess of defeat, and all the hypocrisy and compromise, there is hope. True nobility and love exist, but often in surprising places. This is a book that, should you be able to put down, will pervade your waking and dreaming thoughts until you finish and for a while after.


We Need To Talk About Kevin (Five Star Paperback)
We Need To Talk About Kevin (Five Star Paperback)
by Lionel Shriver
Edition: Paperback

21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chilling, 10 April 2007
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The school shootings that ran rampant through the 1990s had everyone shocked and in fear of sending their kids to school. Throughout the shootings, culminating in Columbine, one thing probably went through everyone's minds: What were these kids' parents like? It's human nature to assume that children who go bad are helped along by cruel or indifferent parents. Why do we think this? Because if we let our minds consider the alternative, that some kids are just born bad, then we must be aware of the frightening fact that it could happen to us.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver explores this very idea through a source closer to the subject than any other--the mother of a boy who shot seven of his classmates during a rampage in the school gym. Although the book is fictional, the subject matter is all too real, and this makes it an exceptionally chilling read.

Eva Khatchadourian explores her feeling about her son Kevin's actions through a series of letters to her estranged husband, Franklin. Although this might seem like a limiting way to go about a book of this scope, it actually works quite well. Through Eva's eyes, we watch the excruciating formative years of an evil child who convinces his gullible father that he's a sweet boy, but whose mother knows better. Eva's dislike of her cold little boy just fuels his cruel streak, slowly escalating his violent nature as he grows older.

The heartbreaking part of the novel comes when Eva and Franklin have a second child, the incredibly naïve and trusting Celia, who thinks her brother is the greatest person on earth. The foreshadowing of what happens to Celia, and to the entire family, is almost unbearable to read because Shriver does such an excellent job of painting a picture of a family whose members are far from perfect but who certainly don't deserve what will happen to them. An air of bleak despair settles over the entire novel, reflecting Eva's mood as she writes to her beloved Franklin.

This is not light, it will not give you faith in humanity and it will probably scare you more than any horror novel you've ever read. It also took a while to get into. However, it was eventually worth it. Why? Because what happened to Eva's family could easily happen to any family in America. With her eye for detail and talent for creating a chilling, desperate atmosphere, Lionel Shriver has penned a novel that will stay with you long after you've read the last chapter.


The Double Bind
The Double Bind
by Chris Bohjalian
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a retelling - a superb repositioning, 10 April 2007
This review is from: The Double Bind (Hardcover)
I'm not generally a fan of adaptations, but Bohjalian hits the perfect note with his repositioning of Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby". Weaving the classic novel The Great Gatsby into his story, Chris Bohjalian's latest, The Double Bind, begins with a violent assault. Young Laurel Estabrook isn't prepared for tragedy when it strikes her randomly, altering her life forever. Brutally attacked by two men while biking in the picaresque Vermont Countryside, Laurel only just survives being raped. Physically and emotionally scarred by the experience, Laurel gropes blindly through her days, trying to return to some kind of normality. She goes on to complete college, which eventually leads her to working in BEDS, a homeless shelter in Burlington where she meets the fifty-six-year-old transient Bobbie Crocker.

Bobbie has a collection of dog-eared, badly preserved photographs with clearly recognizable faces. There are famous people as well as jazz musicians, sculptors, and people playing chess in Washington Square. Laurel also notices there are more recent photos from the area in Vermont where she was attacked, including some of a dirt road and even one with a girl on a bike. In one photo, Laurel recognizes instantly the home of Pamela Buchanan Marshfield and the country club from her childhood, including the Norman-style tower owned by a bootlegger named Gatsby. In another photo, there's a young boy with his sister, who Laurel presumes is Bobby Crocker himself.

The questions remains: if Pamela did have a brother, how could he have wound up homeless and mentally ill in Vermont? As Laurel tries to make sense of the box of dingy pictures and of Bobby's life, her boss wants to give Bobbie what he deserves: an exhibition highlighting his photos, reminding the city that the homeless are people, too, and have talents and dreams and accomplishments.

Laurel's curiosity is piqued when she discovers that Bobby was taking photos for Life magazine and that he had a close association with another famous photographer who also worked for Life. She becomes most fixated, however, on the photo of the girl on the bike, intrigued by the odd coincidence that Bobbie Crocker had owned pictures of the country club of her youth. Meanwhile, her best friend, Talia, and her older boyfriend, the emotionally indifferent David, begin to question Laurel's interest in Bobby Crocker. Laurel, however, just can't seem to help herself. She is gradually seduced by the secrets of the Buchanans and their ties to the Gatsby family, becoming increasingly paranoid when Pamela Buchanan expresses an interest in getting her hands on the photos.

Pamela is certain that Bobby's work is a deluded, malicious attempt to expose the Buchanan family secrets, and she has spent a not insubstantial part of her life trying to salvage her parents' reputation. She shudders when she imagines what sort of truth might be conjured from among her brother's old photos. Bohjalian masterfully unravels the mystery of how Bobby went from the mansion across from Laurel's childhood swim club to a dirt road to a homeless shelter in northern Vermont, while also perfectly capturing Laurel's obsession, vulnerability, and desperate need for reassurance as she tries to unlock the mystery of Bobby Crocker's photographic legacy.

This is a complex novel that not only exposes the inner workings of a defenseless young woman who finds herself in crisis. It also looks at the plight of the homeless and the terrible ramifications of schizophrenia on those whose lives, for whatever reason, have unravelled as they are tossed aside by society. The final revelations are indeed startling. Bobby Crocker certainly had his own devils, but nothing compares to what comes to haunt Laurel. She has been dogged for years by the repercussions of the attack ,and she finally understands that a forgiving memory is perhaps the only way to get by as her life becomes ever more deluded and distorted.


All Will Be Revealed
All Will Be Revealed
by Robert Anthony Siegel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £5.69

5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 10 April 2007
This review is from: All Will Be Revealed (Hardcover)
Restricted to his wheelchair, his shriveled legs hidden by a warm rug, Augustus Auerbach pursues a sheltered existence in his finely-appointed mansion, attending to an exhaustive mail-order pornography business, the source of his private fortune. The intricate details of the artist's poses consume him, as does the mass of correspondence from customers who demand his attention.

Having had no experience of real intimacy, Auerbach prefers his structured routine, content to remain secluded. But when Augustus attends the séance of popular New York City spiritualist Verena Swann at the behest of a model, he is thrust into a foreign and seductive world. Mrs. Swann conducts her lucrative business with the aid of her brother-in-law, Leopold, who harbors feelings for her and is deeply disturbed when she shows an interest in the pornographer.

The widow of an explorer, Mrs. Swann purports to have daily communication with her husband, Theodore. Making an easy living from the desperation of those who have lost their loved ones, Verena is aware that she is a charlatan and concerned that her powers seem to be receding with each passing day, but she has never fended for herself, relying on men for guidance - hence the long association with Leopold. Charmed by the handsome Auerbach, Verena entertains a promising affection for him, reciprocated by a surprised Augustus.

His future plans threatened, Leopold kidnaps Verena, delivering the resisting woman to the sanatorium of the enigmatic and cruel Dr. Mayhew, who is known to perform perverse operations on females who do not know their place. Sending a surreptitious letter to Augustus via her attendant, Mrs. Swann is precipitously delivered from her fate, Augustus triumphing over the petty Dr. Mayhew.

Skilfully contrasting the lives of his protagonists, Augustus, Verena and Leopold, the author paints a vivid portrait of a century besotted with the manifestation of all things spiritual, as well as an emerging psychiatric discipline with a plentiful supply of hysterical women to be used as subjects for experimentation, the city replete with Victorian excess, the bizarre tastes and curiosities of the era.

Thrust into unexpected intimacy with a loving woman, Augustus is amazed at the changes Verena has wrought in his life: "His first intimation that he had lived a life of loneliness was that he did not feel lonely anymore." For her part, Mrs. Swann is content, secure with such a generous man to protect her. Only poor Leopold fails to profit from recent events. With a novel premise, this charming story steps blithely into a past where spirits rap on tables and lonely men buy packets of obscene photographs to view in the privacy of their illusions.


On Chesil Beach
On Chesil Beach
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An exercise in Englishness, 10 April 2007
This review is from: On Chesil Beach (Hardcover)
July, 1962, and Edward and Florence have just got married after a loving but chaste engagement. Dorset's Chesil Beach provides the backdrop of their wedding night, but the prospect of sex unnerves Edward and utterly repulses Florence. After a painfully awkward meal, she resolves to see it through, but what happens next will change the course of everything.

Florence and Edward's clumsiness and innocence risks becoming the stuff of comedy, and their first fumbled moments on the bed are wonderfully excruciating. However, this pre-dates the sexual revolution of 1963 - and these are two lives that will be tragically determined by things left unsaid and misunderstandings left unclarified.

Everything about Edward and Florence's courtship rests on idealised promise; everything that truly matters is buried and ignored with stiff upper lip. McEwan takes us from the start of their relationship to a point in the distant future, McEwan conveys the near-numinous significance of a single moment on two entire lifetimes with quiet, pervasive grace.

I normally don't read short books, because in all honesty I read very fast so I feel that I won't get value for money. However, this novella may be 3 or 4 times shorter than most of the books I read, but several times more satisfying. The plot may not be entirely credible in places, but that is not really what this book is about. It is a study and exploration of what it is about being English that is so counter to pure and clear adoration between two people.


The Quest
The Quest
by Wilbur Smith
Edition: Hardcover

22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's not all bad!!, 10 April 2007
This review is from: The Quest (Hardcover)
I will agree with other reviewers that this is not as good as Wlbur Smith's previous novels in the series, which were awesome. However, he is still a very good writer and, on its own merits, the book is pretty good.

The Quest continues the story of Taita, the warlock from the previous work, who is steeped in wisdom of the ancient gods, magic and the supernatural. He is called in by the Pharoah as Egypt is hit by catastrophic plauges, culminating in the most crippling of all. The river Nile dries up. The source of the Nile is in the darkest depths of Africa and Taita is sent forth to find out what is the cause of the disaster.

The descriptive language Smith uses is exceptional as always, be it evoking landscapes or describing magical experiences and passionate battle scenes. Most of all, as a reader with a penchant for solid baddies, Eos, the beautiful witch who creates havoc and disaster is my favourite part of the novel.

Why not more than 3 stars? Well basically because it is a sequel and the Taita we have in this book bears little resemblence to the flawed anti-hero of the previous. It is inconsistent in plot as well - the previous novels were not magical fantasies in the same way.

If you have never read Wilbur Smith, you'll love it. If you're looking forward to the next in the series, you'll be confused!


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