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Reviews Written by
Nicola "feevishpickle" (Bristol, UK)

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3 x A4 Clear Plastic Boxes
3 x A4 Clear Plastic Boxes

5.0 out of 5 stars Nicer than the picture suggests, 10 Feb 2012
The picture makes these boxes look a bit seedy and yellow, but I'm pleased to report that, in fact, they're that fresh, white-tinged clear colour you expect from storage boxes. They're sturdy, with smooth edges, and absolutely perfect for filing away A4 paper. (I use one for printer paper, one for scrap paper, and one for REALLY scrap paper. Woo.)

Fellowes Solid Colour Mouse Pad - Red
Fellowes Solid Colour Mouse Pad - Red
Price: £3.74

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth paying a bit extra, 10 Feb 2012
You can find a cheaper version of this mouse mat on Amazon and I did in fact buy that cheaper version first. Literally five minutes of (horrible) use later and I went online to order this slightly more expensive one.

It's thin and smooth, but not shiny or hard. It just *works*. Lovely.

Dartington Crystal Exmoor Long Drinks Glass (Pair)
Dartington Crystal Exmoor Long Drinks Glass (Pair)

3.0 out of 5 stars Not for perfectionists, 10 Feb 2012
I'm fairly sure these must be 'seconds'. The ones I received have a slightly less than perfect 'bubble' in the base (and one bubble is much bigger than the other). They also arrived covered in a layer of dust, suggesting they'd been sitting around a warehouse for a few months.

However, it's the *weight* that I love about Dartington -- their smooth sturdiness. So I'm willing to overlook a bit of imperfection for that weightiness. That said, if you're a dinner party type who wants all their glassware to be completely identical, approach this product/seller with caution.

Basically, you need to decide whether the price (a bit cheaper than you'd get in the shops) is worth a slight imperfection. For me, it was. These glasses are nice and big -- good for if you're a thirsty type who doesn't want to get up and refill your water glass halfway through a meal.

by Paul Auster
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Beret sold separately, 18 Nov 2010
This review is from: Invisible (Paperback)
Invisible, the story of a college student transgressing the boundaries of morality in 1960s Paris and New York, is built upon shifting foundations of postmodernism that give the promise of an interesting read.

Unfortunately, there's a humourlessness to Paul Auster's prose. I felt like I should be wearing a frown (and perhaps a beret) as I was reading, because everything was so terribly, terribly serious. If I'm going to be narratively screwed over by a novel, I'd really prefer it if the author did so with a smile.

The result is an engaging novel that feels too cold to be satisfying.

Pretty Little Liars: Number 1 in series
Pretty Little Liars: Number 1 in series
by Sara Shepard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.95

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Paint-by-numbers teen melodrama, 18 Nov 2010
Pitched as "teen Desperate Housewives", the Liars premise actually has more in common with the underrated first season of Veronica Mars. Beautiful, rebellious Alison goes missing and, three years later, her estranged friends - overachiever Spencer, pretentious Aria, downtrodden Emily, and ugly-duckling-turned-swan Hanna - begin receiving mysterious messages from "A", who knows all their secrets.

The result is a blandly-provocative saga set in a predominantly-white, upper-middle-class world of private schools and country clubs. Amid this claustrophobic setting, Sara Shepard deftly evokes the emotional pressure cooker of modern teendom. In Liars, the girls are overscheduled with extracurriculars that will look good on college apps; old-before-their-time as a result of expensive overseas travel and lax parenting; and, of course, like all teenage girls, they are expected to be sexy without ever having sex. Unfortunately, Shepard doesn't find a lot to do with her thoroughly-modern milieu.

Over the course of the novel, Liars travels the well-trodden roads of girls lusting after older boys (who are sometimes their teachers), denied lesbian attraction, OCD and eating disorders. Not that these aren't issues teenagers face, but when one character, late in the novel, reveals that she self-harms, I felt like I should whip out a check-list and congratulate Shepard on hitting yet another cliché. The author never digs deep into her ripped-from-the-headlines-(of-Seventeen) plot points and the result is unconvincing melodrama.

Liars ultimately lacks the warmth of its wholesome forefather (foremother?), The Babysitters' Club, but it's also missing the outrageousness of its slicker sibling, Gossip Girl.

Tabloid Girl
Tabloid Girl
by Sharon Marshall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bridget Jones in the newsroom, 18 Nov 2010
This review is from: Tabloid Girl (Paperback)
I tore through Tabloid Girl at speed, and reading it certainly made a nice break from a glum, academic book I'd been plodding through at the same time. Sharon Marshall's memoir of life as a tabloid journalist is undoubtedly amusing, giving great insight into the bonkers world of working for a red-top newspaper, but it also leaves a rather unpleasant aftertaste.

There are no two ways about it: tabloids are grimy, and even an irreverent look at the tabloid newsroom still makes the reader feel... grimy. It doesn't help that Marshall splices in stories about her crap love life alongside her journalistic adventures. I think she fancies herself as a real-life Bridget Jones, but I found the stories more depressing than funny. I just kept thinking: why do you hate yourself so much just because you don't have a boyfriend?

I love reading books about other people's jobs, and the parts of this book that concerned life on Fleet Street fitted the bill nicely. The drunken cavorting, however... eh, I could have done without it.

Little Brother
Little Brother
by Cory Doctorow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Reinvention of the teen spy genre, 18 Nov 2010
This review is from: Little Brother (Paperback)
Ever read a novel where a hacker character (usually a teenage boy) mysteriously and miraculously breaks into a computer system, allowing the thriller to continue apace and the good guys to triumph? Of course. Everyone has. Rarely is the hacking described in detail and frequently it feels like a deus ex machina.

In Little Brother, Cory Doctorow places the hacker character front and centre and rips off his shroud of mystery. In a near-future version of San Francisco, Doctorow seamlessly blends currently-available technology with convincing fictional gadgets. The hero, Marcus, knows how to use it all - not because he ever set out to be a quoteunquote hacker (or even a hero), but because the technology is there. Doctorow takes the reality of a generation weaned on computers and pits them against an increasingly bullish and out-of-touch government.

The novel's premise is less than uplifting - there's a terrorist attack on San Francisco and Marcus and his friends are wrongfully imprisoned for being on the scene at the time - which, quite honestly, is the reason this book languished on my to-read list for quite a while. However, Brother is not nearly so depressing as it seems at the outset.

In some ways, it's a quintessential teen novel - albeit a teen novel about nerds. Here, intimacy is defined as handing over your computer console to a lover. Video games, blogging and LARPing all help to form a gloriously zeitgeisty backdrop to the novel. I've never built a computer from scratch and I've never dressed up as a vampire in a role-playing game, but I recognized something essentially true to my own (nerdy) experiences in this novel.

That said, the novel does contain a large amount of computer-related exposition. It's undeniably well-researched, but sometimes the novel strains under the weight of infodump. And though Doctorow is a skilled writer, his weaknesses are characterization and dialogue. Marcus, in particular, is a literal cipher and Doctorow never makes him feel fully human.

However, nitpicking aside, Brother is a breath of fresh air in the Teen Spy genre populated by less convincing thrillers like Alex Rider and CHERUB. Well worth reading.

Gypsy Boy: One Boy's Struggle to Escape from a Secret World
Gypsy Boy: One Boy's Struggle to Escape from a Secret World
by Mikey Walsh
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

17 of 38 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Generic misery memoir, 18 Nov 2010
When I picked up Gypsy Boy, with its no-nonsense title in block lettering and cheery cover image of a grinning boy, I did not know what I was in for. Gypsy Boy is, in fact, the ultimate misery memoir. Ostensibly a colourful memoir about growing up as a Romany Gypsy, it rapidly devolves into All Abuse, All the Time. There's emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse. SO MUCH ABUSE.

I was expecting to be offered a thought-provoking glimpse into an oft-misunderstood way of life. However, I couldn't shake the feeling that Mikey Walsh was pandering to the average Daily Mail reader's prejudices. Literally every Gypsy mentioned in the book is ignorant, violent and unpleasant. At the very end, Walsh tries to shift the blame by saying that it's Irish Travellers who are the thugs (nice one; not at all racist) and Romany Gypsies are peaceful folk... all except the violent, thieving psychos he's spent 200 pages describing, I guess.

So, yes, if you're looking to confirm your own baseless prejudices about Gypsies and you looooove to read about child abuse, this is the book for you!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 22, 2010 11:54 AM GMT

Paper Towns
Paper Towns
by John Green
Edition: Paperback

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good characters, messy plotting, 18 Nov 2010
This review is from: Paper Towns (Paperback)
Paper Towns is a pithy, clever read about a teenage boy, Quentin/Q, who should be preparing for prom and graduation, but is instead sucked into investigating the disappearance of his neighbour and longtime crush, Margo.

With funny dialogue and likeable characters, Paper is at its quirky best when it's just about friends hanging out, having fun. Ironically, I found the `mystery' to be the weakest part of the novel. It starts with a zing, but a seriously saggy middle finds the protagonist seemingly endlessly reading Walt Whitman and wandering around an abandoned minimall, in search of clues. And, because there has been no murder in this mystery, the denouement is inevitably set up to be an underwhelming disappointment.

(In the Acknowledgements, Green notes that he used Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild as inspiration for this novel. Now THAT is a creepy, sad, exhilarating mystery-without-the-murder.)

To pretentiously paraphrase Anaïs Nin, the novel ultimately becomes about the fact that we don't see people as they are, we see them as we are. Q, though he's lusted after Margo for years, doesn't really know her and must face up to this fact. On the one hand, I found it refreshing to see the cliché of the Popular Girl who suddenly notices the Unpopular Boy smashed apart and its pieces examined.

However, I also couldn't shake the feeling that John Green makes way. too. much. of a big deal about Q's faulty perceptions. If Q had ONCE briefly reflected, "gee, I've loved Margo all these years, but I never really knew her", that would have been fine. But Green hammers his point into the ground ad nauseum. The addition of this overarching theme also made it difficult for me to connect with the central (sort-of-)love story between Q and Margo. Philosophy comes at the expense of heartfelt emotion in this case.

I suppose I wanted to like Paper more than I actually did. John Green, like his contemporaries Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, is writing zeitgeisty, funny-yet-serious books about teens, which don't come with After School Special morality tales attached - and he is rightly being lauded for it. But, with its lumpy plotting and clumsy philosophical message, I ultimately found Paper Towns a bit of a mess.

The Gum Thief
The Gum Thief
by Douglas Coupland
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, 7 May 2010
This review is from: The Gum Thief (Paperback)
I've always admired the fact that Douglas Coupland can exploit metafiction and postmodern absurdity while still remaining within the limits of 'commercial fiction'. His novels are real stories, which go somewhere, and have characters that learn things. They can be read as a literary exercise OR just a good yarn.

But, with The Gum Thief, Coupland seems to have gotten tired of playing by the rules of commercial fiction. The novel is unashamedly full of tricksy postmodernism and characters that are obstinate and unlikeable. There are no dramatic set pieces or surges of emotion. The Gum Thief is a story within a story within a story - and none of those stories provide the easy satisfaction that comes when a good plot is tied up in a neat bow.

The novel is, ostensibly, about an aging, alcoholic, would-be author, who works at Staples and begins exchanging letters with a goth co-worker. In fact, this is merely a frame that allows Coupland to skewer the pretensions of the writing profession. Writers are ripe for satire, but even I - who has observed or experienced many of the things that Coupland satirizes, such as ridiculous creative writing exercises and lauded authors who haven't written a word in years - found the subject an insubstantial basis for a novel.

The Gum Thief is well-written, well-observed and frequently amusing. But, ultimately, there's no *there* there. The characters are hard to engage with; the storyline is nonexistent. It's as pointless a read as all the writing exercises that come out of creative writing classes.

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