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Reviews Written by
Russell Smith "egobreed" (Glasgow, Scotland)

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The Afterparty
The Afterparty
by Leo Benedictus
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Infuriatingly clever, 12 May 2011
This review is from: The Afterparty (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
To anyone who thinks they can write a clever satire for the Heat Magazine generation: don't bother, unless you can do better than this. 'The Afterparty' should be the benchmark for some time to come.

Briefly: a lowly journalist, Mike, blags his way in the celeb-packed birthday party of a famous actor, Hugo. They get talking, and he ends up back at the actor's house. After each chapter, we see the e-mail correspondence between the 'author' and his editor. He drip-feeds the chapters to her as they discuss plot ideas and ways to get the book published.

The writing is superb - there is something very British about the party scenes, a delightfully excruciating sense of embarrassment for Mike as he tries to mingle with the beautiful people. The supporting cast are also excellent, even if they do neatly follow the archetypes of Junkie Actress, Dim X-Factor Contestant, etc. The writing styles (and fonts) change to reflect whose head we are in, with some clever overlapping of dialogue to show snippets of the same scene from differing perspectives.

The 'e-mails' between chapters may sound like a gimmick, but they're not: it's hard to explain without ruining the effect. Rest assured, the story dovetails so perfectly with the post-modern cleverness that you'll be unable to resist a wry smile of grudging admiration.

The Ultimate Book of Baby Knits
The Ultimate Book of Baby Knits
by Debbie Bliss
Edition: Paperback
Price: £15.23

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully made; a great gift, 11 May 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Firstly, I should admit that I have never knitted anything in my life, and don't ever intend to!

I got this as a gift for my wife however, and she was very pleased - it's a really nicely produced book, full of great photography.

The patterns are a nice mix of classic and contemporary, and (I'm told) they are quite easy to follow.

You Are Next: (Karin Schaeffer 1)
You Are Next: (Karin Schaeffer 1)
by Katia Lief
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Straightforward crime fiction, 11 May 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book starts pretty badly, but is worth persevering with.

It's about as no-nonsense as it gets, with a first person, past tense style, and the entire back story neatly summed up within the first few pages. The central character is a female cop, whose husband and young daughter have been murdered by a serial killer.

There are some really clunky elements, not least having a former partner who is actually called 'Mac' - surely taken straight from the top of the list of Clichéd Cop Names. The killer, too is given the nickname 'JPP', which stands for 'Just Plain Psycho'. Your reaction to that will probably determine how you feel about the rest of the book.

The cover art makes reference to dominoes - this is another cheesy motif that the killer has; tenuous clues to his next victim are spelled out in rows of dominoes left at murder scenes. This feels lazy and underdeveloped throughout.

Where the book begins to redeem itself though, is in its handling of the central character's grief and guilt. The book is far from being a thorough meditation on the nature of loss, but it is actually well written, believable, and at times, genuinely moving.

The rest of the plot is fairly standard stuff, albeit with a couple of choices that stretch the credibility somewhat, but it's efficiently done and manages to inject some tension in to the closing chapters.

A decent read for fans of crime fiction

I Can Draw At The Shops
I Can Draw At The Shops
by Simon Abbott
Edition: Board book

3.0 out of 5 stars Fun, for about quarter of an hour, 29 April 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is fairly short, with only 6 items to draw, but my twins (now 3 and a half) are busily copying the teddy, flowers, sweets etc. There are four steps to drawing each image, and they're all quite clear.

I thought it was quite challenging for them at first, but they're improving quickly, which I guess is the whole point. The pictures also wipe off fairly well with a dry piece of kitchen roll.

The two important things that I've just learnt are:

1. Don't leave kids alone with a felt pen, and

2. A new drawing book is only interesting for 15 minutes at the most...

Breville VKJ469 Stainless Steel Brita Filter Kettle with Spectra Illumination
Breville VKJ469 Stainless Steel Brita Filter Kettle with Spectra Illumination

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Quick to boil, but frustrating to use - And POORLY BUILT, 24 April 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
* UPDATE 2 *

Now going from three stars to two! The mechanism for opening the lid has now broken - the button has collapsed inwards. It is still possible to open and close the lid, but it tends to open itself when you're pouring boiling water out - which is downright dangerous. You could spout-fill instead but this defeats the purpose of the filter. POOR. AVOID.


I've decided to update this review and go from four stars down to three. Having used the kettle for a month now, I'm still impressed by how quick it is to boil the water, and the gently glowing colours are actually growing on me.

What's frustrating though, is the overall lack of capacity - only 1 litre. This is OK if you're making a couple of cups of coffee, but if you want to make a large cafetiere or pot of tea, or if you want to boil water for a big pot of pasta, it's not enough.

The other thing is the filter itself - it only holds about half a litre at the most, so if the kettle's empty, you have to fill the filter, give it a minute to work its way through, and then fill it again (assuming you need a full kettle).

The supplied filter has only lasted a few weeks (according to the LCD display on the lid) so now I also have to decide whether I can be bothered ordering replacements, or whether I should just dig out the old kettle from the cupboard...


Functionally, this is a very good kettle - it boils really quickly and feels quite solidly put together. Living in Scotland, with our soft waters, the Brita Filter aspect is not quite so critical, but I think there's a noticeable smoothness and clarity to the water.

The only negative is quite a subjective one - the design is a wee bit naff and garish, especially compared to the terribly chic and stylish Dualit appliances that we already have.

The glowing colours work quite well, and are very appealing to our 3-year olds - but do you really want your kids to be fascinated by your kettle?!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 3, 2011 7:12 PM GMT

Operation: Endgame [DVD]
Operation: Endgame [DVD]
Dvd ~ Zach Galifianakis
Price: £2.80

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars From the mind of a 14 year old boy..., 23 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Operation: Endgame [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It says a lot when a film runs to barely 79 minutes and still struggles to hold your attention. This is essentially a one joke movie, with a plot that sounds like it was dreamt up by Beavis and Butthead one day on the sofa.

A government agent starts his first day at work in the underground offices of a top secret bureau. Within its cubicles, there are two teams of rival assassins, all named after tarot cards. They all work for the government, but are there to "keep each other in check". Despite being hot-tempered maniacs, they seem to spend a lot of time sitting side by side - um, NOT killing each other.

Their Boss ('The Devil') is killed, but before dying manages to initiate 'Operation Endgame'. For some reason, this locks down the office and incinerates everyone, but only after a couple of hours.

Suddenly - ho ho - all the assassins decide to fight and kill each other. They pair off against their opposite numbers on each side, and engage in some short fights which vary drastically in quality and believability. Each kill goes out of its way to be particularly gruesome, in order to make up for the lack of actual fighting skills. Meanwhile, Carl and Neil, the IT/admin geeks watch everything on CCTV and provide commentary.

I guess this is trying to be a black comedy, and the presence of Rob Corddry and Zach Galifianakis would tend to suggest that. Corddry gets the smattering of funny lines that occur towards the start of the film. Galifianakis, on the other hand, wanders around in the background but is plugged heavily on the DVD box given his current status as the go-to guy for 'fat and funny'.

Once the set up is out of the way, you're stuck with a martial arts movie where nobody is really any good at fighting. Perhaps that's the joke. There are some good names in the cast, but the short running time and the wannabe 'ensemble' nature means that none of them really get much to do.

Carl and Neil also become tiresome very quickly; they react to each kill by looking as if they're going to vomit. Over and over again.

There's a fairly predictable resolution to the 'plot', then the credits roll, and you wonder how this stunningly ill-conceived little movie actually got made. The one-location setting, the dreadful CG and the short running time all point to a minuscule budget, but there have been plenty of cheap films recently that prove what can be done with a little imagination and a decent script.

by Trevanian
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyably far-fetched nonsense, 18 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Satori (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I must confess that I had never heard of 'Shibumi' before I picked this up. Written in 1979 by the late Rodney William Whitaker (under the alias of 'Trevanian') it introduced readers to the character of Nicholai Hel, genius assassin and son of a Russian aristocrat and a Japanese general.

To quote Wikipedia, "...Shibumi is, broadly, a parody of the spy novel genre", and it helps to bear that in mind when reading this new prequel, written by Don Winslow. The tone of 'Satori' is entirely straight-faced, but it absolutely reeks of 1970s cheese - the obsession with martial arts and Eastern philosophy, the American intelligence goons, the beautiful French femme fatale - there's even a high stakes poker game.

The story is set in the 1950s, first in China, under Chairman Mao's Cultural Revolution, and then in to war-torn Vietnam. Hel is recruited to pose as a French arms dealer, and is ordered to kill a prominent Russian, with the intention of destabilising the relationship between the Chinese and the Russians.

The background and setting is where Satori is most successful; the locations and the 'Zeitgeist' all feel meticulously well researched and authentic. It all chugs along nicely, building up to a great set-piece in the middle of the book, centred around the intended assassination. The pace is heightened by occasional tiny, quarter-page chapters, cutting from scene to scene and building tension.

It would unfair to say that the story unravels after this point, but it certainly loses some momentum, and goes off on a rambling excursion through south-east Asia. Hel gets involved with all the wrong people; Vietnamese rulers, Corsican Mafia, a rival assassin know as The Cobra, more American spooks, and even a fat annoying Belgian.

It's certainly never boring, but it feels like a 20 minute guitar solo tacked on to a 3 minute slab of pop-punk; the tension of the first part of the book dissipates and it builds to a conclusion which is ultimately less satisfying than what has gone before.

It's no fault of Don Winslow; he talks in the notes of having to write to 'the corners' of the existing material, meaning that he is obviously compelled to flesh out characters and events referred to in the original book. He has certainly succeeded in creating an enjoyable spy novel that goes out of its way to tick all the right boxes, and fans of the genre should give it a go.

Philips 12972-BVD H7 T10 Blue Vision Bulb (4 Bulbs)
Philips 12972-BVD H7 T10 Blue Vision Bulb (4 Bulbs)

3.0 out of 5 stars Decent enough, but not fooling anyone, 2 Mar. 2011
These are perfectly good headlight bulbs, and reasonably priced at about £25. They're marginally whiter and brighter than the standard bulbs that came in my Scirocco, but it hardly felt worth the effort of ordering and fitting these.

They are not 'blue' in the slightest. No-one will think, even for a second, that you have xenon headlights.

If you actually *need* some new bulbs, then by all means, give them a go. If, however, you already have a pair of working headlights, and just 'fancy an upgrade' then I'd look elsewhere.

Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands (Lonely Planet Travel Literature)
Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands (Lonely Planet Travel Literature)
by Tony Wheeler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but rather more sedate than you might expect, 25 Feb. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
From the title and the cover of this book, I had the impression that this would be full of Danger and Jeopardy, but of course, it's not - it's written by the founder of Lonely Planet, a successful guy who's been doing this for nearly 40 years. It would be unkind to call this a Saga tour through the axis of evil, but the tone is generally quite comfortable and sedate.

The overriding theme is that regardless of the politics or the supposed harshness of a regime, the people in the towns and cities are just like you and me; generally friendly, welcoming and interested in the 'West' and the English-speaking world. And so what we get is a trip around each country to hidden landmarks and charming restaurants, interspersed with enough local history to understand how the country developed its status as a no-go area.

The book gets more interesting as it goes on, from a relatively brief trip around Albania, through the middle east, and finally to North Korea, the least accessible, and consequently most fascinating of all the countries. Each section is consistently well written, and there's a good balance of background and anecdotes, with some refreshingly forthright opinions about the current political situation, and particularly the parts that The West has played in exacerbating, or even creating, many of the crises of the last century.

Well worth a read, whether you would have any intention of visiting these places, or are just happy to let someone else do the travelling on your behalf.

The Nearest Exit
The Nearest Exit
by Olen Steinhauer
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant; intricate and unpredictable, 2 Feb. 2011
This review is from: The Nearest Exit (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In some ways, 'The Nearest Exit' is very comfortable and familiar spy fiction, based as it is within an über-secret branch of the US Intelligence service. There is plenty of gratuitous foreign travel, a little torture, smarmy two-faced directors and senators, and even some hot strippers.

What's refreshing though, is the sprawling, unpredictable nature of the plot. At all times, you know what is happening, but you can never be sure where it's going. There are several abrupt changes of focus, but the myriad plot strands are brilliantly interwoven, and none of the elements of the story feel superfluous.

Fortunately, the characters are also sufficiently well-rounded and believable, imbued with enough personality and background to maintain an air of authenticity. The problems and conflicts in the main character's personal life are perhaps laboured a little, but rarely enough to slow the pace of the narrative.

This is a well-written, interesting contemporary thriller; highly recommended.

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