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P. Whelerton "Darwin70" (York, England)
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Us
Us
Price: £3.66

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Must Try Harder - A boring love story about boring people, 22 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Us (Kindle Edition)
Like some many others I was hoping that “Us” would be a worthy follow-up to "One Day" which managed so well to build an emotional punch whilst still revealing genuine character flaws and everyday observations of love. Sadly, I was very disappointed and nearly cast the book aside around half way through because it was as boring as the characters within. I made it through to the end but the book fails comprehensively to engage in almost every respect.

I found it impossible to empathise or feel for any of the main characters. They were either toe-curlingly embarrassing, like the father, or downright unpleasant like his wife and son. One has to be rooting for someone or something in what is essentially a love story. It’s what Hitchcock would have called the MacGuffin and it is missing here.

The "chase" element that tries to bring some pace to the second half of the book has almost nothing at stake. Without spoiling things too much, the mature teenage son goes off in a bit of a temporary strop around Europe with a girl. That's it. He's not been kidnapped, isn't lost, isn't under the influence of a cult, he's just gone off on his own for a bit at an age where he's perfectly capable of doing so. Yet the story seems to want us to build up suspense like there's a Jason-Bourne-style hunt going on and it just doesn’t work.

Underlying it all, there seems little credibility as to why the wife ever got together with the husband in the first place. And because she is so unpleasant for the entire book, I found myself willing the attempt to save the marriage to fail. So again, there's nothing at stake to maintain the novel's pace. I didn't actually care about the lead character by this stage but if I had, I'd have been saying "get out while you can" and I'm pretty sure that’s not the emotion David Nicholls was aiming for in a romance, even a supposedly everyday one.

It feels almost like David Nicholls has taken the hapless, sappy, annoying character from his novel "The Understudy" and fast-forwarded 20 years.

Nicholls obviously wanted to write a story about more "everyday" folk, 20 years into a relationship and facing a tipping point with the question whether they are still in love. It's a great premise and if he’d been able to bring the insight, warmth, character, humour and superb observations that he did in One Day to this tale, then it would have been a wonderful read. Instead it seems as though he went to add a “pinch” of the everyday but instead ended up tipping in an entire bowlful, making the storyline and the characters simply boring. Even the trips to each European city read like a tourist guide with nothing insightful, clever or subtle to say about the settings. Some of those day trips feel like the Griswald's European Vacation but without the humour.

The conclusion to the story also feel clumsy and awkward, aiming perhaps for "unexpected" but after what had gone before I could manage only a shrug. A huge disappointment given the author’s clear talent for pulling the joy, warmth and thrill from the oddities of life.


Little Girl Lost (DS Lucy Black Book 1)
Little Girl Lost (DS Lucy Black Book 1)
Price: £3.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Hard to put down, 17 Nov. 2013
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For the last few nights I have found myself going to bed really early so I can read this thrilling book. The depth of characters and story captured were thought provoking . The character of DS Lucy Black is complex and likeable and all though hard-working, there is none of the cliché of a hard, cynical career woman. The parts with her father were touching and realistic and at times difficult to read as I to have watched the effects of Alzheimer's on a close relative.
I often use Amazon review to help me select books but have never written a review before but felt compiled to share my enthusiasm for the book. I have just purchased the next book, "Hurt" and again off to bed before 9pm!!


A Maiden's Grave
A Maiden's Grave
Price: £2.84

5.0 out of 5 stars 24 hours of tension, surprise and lots of character, 8 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: A Maiden's Grave (Kindle Edition)
So many crime novels layer contrivance upon contrivance and the characters have an unreal quality about them - almost as if murder and death are quaint parlour games. But this is a very different beast. Set over a 24 hour period, the plot follows the plight of a bus of deaf girls held hostage and an FBI negotiator's efforts to free them and apprehend the captors, in a superb ebb and flow of tension, sub-plot and surprise.

Deaver has a real talent for drawing character. His lead, Arthur Potter is an entirely different person to, say, Lincoln Rhyme from his other books, not just in how he is described but in his words, thoughts, attitude and persona. And he's no 100% Gallahad either. On more than one occassion Potter acknowledges that getting every girl out alive isn't necessarily his number one priority. But equally he's not a carbon-copy "maverick" either - just a normal guy who's pretty good at his job. There's an honest depth to almost every character to the point where you feel you'd recognise them if you met them.

The girls' disability isn't just there as a ploy to engender sympathy - it's woven into the plot almost matter-of-factly as part of their back-story so that they're no longer deaf girls held hostage. They are just girls held hostage - and they happen to be deaf. The lack of cloying sentiment around this gives the whole tale a ring of honesty that sets it apart from paint-by-numbers whodunnit style crime.

The tennis-match to-and-fro between negotiator and hostage taker is genuinely thrilling as they try to out-guess, out-lie and outwit each other; all the while with the protagonist trying to maintain a delicate balance and fight off the demands of the press, quell staff revolt and diffuse state vs federal interests.

And, of course, with this being a Deaver novel you're never quite sure when the story has played out. Once again he doesn't disappoint, offering you more just when you think your're done. The only weak element of the book was the slight nod at romance which comes across as somewhat twee, especially following the torrid, nervous high-wire walk through the motivations and desires of a cast of people in a pressure cooker situation.

By the end of the novel you'll know all 3 hostage takers, all the girls and teachers, the various deputies and FBI staff individually and it's credit to Deaver for conjuring all these characters so thoroughly yet still maintaining a constant pace and thumping level of suspense.

Even if you don't generally like crime novels, I would urge you to give this one a try.


Predictioneer: one who uses maths, science and the logic of brazen self-interest to see and shape the future
Predictioneer: one who uses maths, science and the logic of brazen self-interest to see and shape the future
by Bruce Bueno de Mesquita
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Am I missing something, 22 Mar. 2010
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This book feels a little like watching Jaws and never seeing the shark. There are references to the brilliance of the game theory model used but without any real detail. For me, it rendered the book an exercise in self-congratulation ("see how I got it right even when everyone else said something else").

Even the parts of the puzzle that are explained seem to require a huge amount of intricate subject knowledge and rely on some circular logic. Basically you need to know - or be able to predict - the desire and influence level of every single party involved in the decision making process (unlikely) and the outcome needs to be stated as a straight line with extremes of opinion at either end (very restrictive). But surely being able to know what people want is part of the problem and need for prediction? How can anyone but the very closest of observers be in certain posession of those facts for all involved? In which case, one is left having to *predict* those desires and influence levels. And so we return to square one.

A better subtitle would have been "You too can predict outcomes when you know absolutely everything there is to know about every single party in the process and you have a black box like mine which I'm not going to tell you about".
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 9, 2013 10:24 PM BST


Cars [DVD] (2006)
Cars [DVD] (2006)
Dvd ~ Owen Wilson
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Heartwarming, joyous and richly rewarding, 3 Mar. 2010
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This review is from: Cars [DVD] (2006) (DVD)
Cars may not have the whizz-bang of Toy Story but this subtle and multi-layered story is rich in detail, characterisation, humour and message. Its pacing is simply perfect with not a single scene wasted, each one contributing in its own way to the lead character's development. And despite the length, it flies by and withstands many repeat viewings. You'll notice something new every time you see it with in-jokes and references woven into the narrative and background action.

There's a heart-warming character arc showing the value of friendship and the emptiness of celebrity but there's much more than that. There's a nod to respecting and learning from elders, hints at the perils of consumerism, emphasis on being true to one's promises and even a very subtle anti-class (possibly anti-racist?) message as we see Lightning originally hating being around rusty cars only to befriend one and in the process ashamedly admitting that "oh, I didn't mean you".

Compared to the dull, linear and somewhat muddled (who exactly is the hero we're supposed to be following?) script of Finding Nemo, I found this to be a joy. Paul Newman is simply fantastic as the grumpy Doc whose cantankerous nature is only revealed by degrees as we work through the film. Owen Wilson is the perfect counterpoint as the cocky, yet charming, lead character of Lightning McQueen and there are great cameos from Michael Keaton and Larry The Cable Guy.

Thankfully, as we reach the climax of the film there's a mixture of high thrills and lump-in-the-throat redemptive moments for many of the cast.

Pixar films are generally pretty good but this one stands out from the rest. It somehow manages to tick all the boxes for a kids film whilst somehow revealing more about the human condition than you would ever think possible from a film containing not a single human.

Joyous and the best Pixar movie by several country miles.


The Understudy
The Understudy
by David Nicholls
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing. Lacking in sparkle or depth, 2 Sept. 2009
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This review is from: The Understudy (Paperback)
The main character of "The Understudy" constantly compares real life to movies. If I were to do the same then if "One Day" (also by the author) is an epic powerhouse of a film, "The Understudy" is a rather dull TV Movie.

We are treated to some of David Nicholl's sharp wit and observational skill running through this tale of a put-upon bit-part actor but the plotting is seriously deficient. The character arc barely moves away from a straight line. The protagonist is so inept and pathetic that it's almost impossible to root for him in any way. Imagine if Mr Bean became an actor and you're not far away. Even the fact that he suffers daily humiliation from his name (Stephen C McQueen) in an industry where pretty much everyone has a stage name seems a crude contrivance.

It's a real shame because the premise and set-up are interesting enough but... there's just so little there. The "supporting cast" is tiny and stereotypical revealing or developing very little in the main characer. Was this perhaps a short story sitting hidden away in Mr Nicholls PC, fattened out into a novel after the success of Starter For Ten? It certainly has that feel about it. The ending is also somewhat bizarre, feeling like an afterthought or rewrite because it simply doesn't seem to fit the rest of the story.

However, please don't let this put you off David Nicholl's other books. Starter For Ten is good. One Day is simply fantastic.


One Day
One Day
by David Nicholls
Edition: Hardcover

211 of 235 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beguiling and magical tale, 24 Aug. 2009
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This review is from: One Day (Hardcover)
I've never been moved to write a review of any book before but this was simply wonderful. David Nicholls has managed to conjure characters so full of depth that in finishing the book I felt almost bereft at their parting. Unlike a paint-by-numbers romcom brimming with contrivances to keep the characters apart, the tale moves with grace and humour through subtle and unexpected turns. The characters aren't always "made for each other", they're not always perfectly perky with adorable quirks; occasionally, like us all, they can be unpleasant, foolish, embarrassing and cowardly.

It is perhaps because of, rather than in spite of, the characters' genuine flaws that this books pulls so strongly at your heart, ringing so true as we explore the effects of our action and inaction in life. With effortlessly beautiful dialogue, and the ability to pick out the tiny subtleties of life, the story will carry you through on a wave of emotion, nostalgia, regret and hope so strong as to feel like a personal memory.

The "same day each year" idea sounds like high concept but its effect in the book is almost transparent to the reader. In fact, closer inspection shows that it actually works wonderfully to drive the story through a clever mix of drama and the everyday - just like life. On the years when the day itself is unremarkable the discovery of what has happened in between provides the reader with rich rewards whilst, all the while, Nicholls draws warmth and humour from the minutiae of life.

As the book draws to a conclusion, the story has an elegant and wondrous subtlety that prompts the involuntarily butterflies-in-stomach feelings of hope, excitement, fear and optimism that one only gets from falling in love.

I read this on a night flight and was thankful that the overhead light illuminated only the pages in front of me for I know that my eyes would have betrayed my feelings as the story closed. A profound tale woven from ordinary truths about love, life and feelings that will leave you genuinely moved and desperate to lend this to someone else.
Comment Comments (12) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 30, 2012 1:35 PM BST


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