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Gregori Fairchild "Camarguais" (London)

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The Lives of Tao
The Lives of Tao
Price: £4.79

1.0 out of 5 stars though they do exist and have some function beyond love interest. Admittedly the main character is somewhat awkward ..., 29 Nov. 2014
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This review is from: The Lives of Tao (Kindle Edition)
This is a book that I was unable to complete, though I did struggle through the majority.

I found the main character (or possibly, given the nature of the plot, I should say characters since they co-habit) to be unlovable. Even after his moment of revelation and patented Hard Training Sequence he was still whiny. I do not know how Zen refrains from plugging the guy and fleeing into the body of a tortoise. I suspect that he must view the whole episode as a healthy challenge to his pro-humanity sentiments.

The dialogue is very buddy-buddy, but not wholly awful and unbelievable. I do not think I can entirely extend that to the female characters, who tend to be poorly developed and somewhat marginal, though they do exist and have some function beyond love interest. Admittedly the main character is somewhat awkward around women, so potentially that may be a contributing factor.

The plot tends toward a classic three movement plot. Naive guy gets painful revelation. Naive guy trains hard. Naive guy overcomes obstacles. It's quite simple and character development minimal. We do get to see the main character change somewhat, but as previously mentioned, I would favour a more complete revision of his nature.

I find the 'Tao' aliens difficult to believe. They do not appear to have a lot of unique cultural elements. Zen comes across a little like Kit in Nightrider. The author does indicate that this is because the Tao have been guiding our culture for millennia. Personally I would have thought that likely to evolve its own unique cultural blend. These are entities who have existed through cultures as varied as the prehistoric Levant, the Mongol empire, and modern America. There should be more than some stories from a previous life. They should have flavour.

Overall, this is a simple tale that aims to be big and bold with a clever twist rather than clever. I would recommend it on that basis, but with the caveat that Ian Flemming probably wrote better than this and he hammered the Bond books out over a few days and a steady supply of whisky.


Nights of Villjamur: Legends of the Red Sun: Book One
Nights of Villjamur: Legends of the Red Sun: Book One
Price: £4.19

2.0 out of 5 stars or China Mieville's Perdido Street Station and I kept hoping that it would develop a similar level of genius and sickly sweet ma, 29 Nov. 2014
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I tried quite hard with this book. Unfortunately it was not to my taste and I could not finish it.

The ideas are interesting. There's a baroque atmosphere to Villjamur that is undeniably enjoyable. The underlying plot featuring the painter has a genuine frisson of darkness and intrigue. It reminded me subtly of The Etched City, by KJ Bishop, or China Mieville's Perdido Street Station and I kept hoping that it would develop a similar level of genius and sickly sweet madness. It did not.

Part of the reason for this is that the author feels the need to tell you EVERYTHING. The characters are not allowed to breathe and speak through their actions. They are constantly pursued by the narration and their motives offered up to the reader. I skipped large sections in which characters pondered their awful and terribly naughty actions undertaken when acquiring immortality technology, stealing from the rich, resenting their employer, and learning from courtesans how to retrieve their wife.

I am sad to say that I also found the dialogue to be unbelievable and stiff. Again, the characters feel the unusual need to explain things to each other. The roguish male character is rude to his employer in a way that is not believable in someone who is entirely dependent on their position to save their dying mother. There is frequently a lack of awareness among the characters as to their status within the power structure and that does not make sense in a tyrannical society.

There are some beautiful moments. The revelation of the pig fanciers plotting beneath the city was enjoyably kooky and terrifying. Some of the dead men walking scenes were well handled. The painter and her paintings are a gorgeous element. These aspects could come together to tell a truly remarkable story. For some people I think this will be a brilliant book. However, if heavy exegesis, unbelievable social interaction, or awkward dialogue drive you bananas, I would suggest buying a different book.


Sharps
Sharps
Price: £4.31

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ... books specialising in the dissection and subsequent dismissal of love as a virtue, 29 Nov. 2014
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This review is from: Sharps (Kindle Edition)
KJ Parker typically writes books specialising in the dissection and subsequent dismissal of love as a virtue. The Engineer Trilogy, The Folding Knife, The Hammer, The Fencer Trilogy, are all fine examples.

Sharps exists in a similar line, but it is subtly different. The story in Sharps is both lighter and, because of that, in its own way a lot more clever and enjoyable. As always, her characterisation and world building are exquisitely detailed. There's a now-familiar focus on complex intersecting power struggles. However the characters tend toward a manic good humour and there is less of the twisted oppression that hangs over some of Parker's other books. There is also no focus on a single lead character with a draconian grasp on morality. Instead we tend to settle on a man suffering from and ultimately rising beyond the effects of war in order to act in a way that is, arguably, morally superior. Even if he does this largely because it's the most awkward thing he could possibly do.

Of course, it wouldn't be a book by KJ Parker if she left it at that, but I will leave you to discover that for yourselves.

I am a great fan of KJ Parker. I think her one of the best contemporary authors. She never fails to develop rich characters while expanding my understanding of the world - whether through her treatment of numismatics in the Folding Knife or the principles of engineering in The Engineer Trilogy. However even I sometimes find her grim nihilism to be challenging. I suspect Sharps is the closest Parker will ever come to having a holiday. Enjoy it.


The Mirror Empire (The Worldbreaker Saga Book 1)
The Mirror Empire (The Worldbreaker Saga Book 1)
Price: £3.16

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great many new and minor authors are eaten by the ..., 29 Nov. 2014
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A great many new and minor authors are eaten by the disease to tell the reader everything. Kameron Hurley prefers to show the reader, a piece at a time, what and who her characters are. She takes a similar approach with her story. The story is not rushed. It unfolds as the characters unfold. Instead of receiving a squeezed in training sequence the naive characters scrabble for knowledge and understanding while under pressure of genuine threat. There's a satisfying sense that the heroes deserve the gains they win.

The cultures in Mirror Empire are, perhaps, a little cartoonish to begin with. However, they rapidly acquire greater depth and I can see that this process will continue over future novels in the series. The assignment of more than two genders is interesting and developed as more than a gimmick. Thought has gone into how the two major cultures that recognise multiple genders differ in doing so, as well as differences in how each culture operates economically, politically, and socially. None of these aspects are dwelled on. They simply become apparent as the characters interact with the world.

There are a lot of fresh and interesting ideas in this book, but it is not driven by those ideas, any more than it is driven by the world building. I would say that The Mirror Empire will appeal to readers who enjoy seeing strongly drawn characters evolve in a world that carries a truly alien savour. A willingness to engage with new cultural ideas may also be of benefit.


Nobody Knows
Nobody Knows
Price: £11.82

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars To gild refined gold, to paint the lily, 14 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: Nobody Knows (Audio CD)
Willis has an excellent voice with an unusual and powerful range. He moves easily from soulful croon to an evangelical roar. This album showcases the sad and discordant sections of that range, exactly as one would expect from an album called 'Nobody Knows'

Unlike some of the other reviewers I would have welcomed less production on this album. Willis doesn't need echo to lend his voice atmosphere or gimmicky sound effects to adorn his arrangements. His voice is good enough to stand alone and shines most on the tracks with least interference - like Too Dry to Cry. Other tracks, such as Aint Got No Love, have a potential to burn with a blinding light that's smothered in effect.


A Hand in the Bush: The Fine Art of Vaginal Fisting
A Hand in the Bush: The Fine Art of Vaginal Fisting
Price: £8.39

4.0 out of 5 stars A Good Primer, 1 Oct. 2013
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This is a warmly written book by an author who is passionate about the subject. It is not a long book, more of a handbook, but the topic is covered to good depth. Related issues are explored in a sensible degree of detail and the author offers sources of more detailed information.

The information presented is accessible and generally sound. The accompanying illustrations are appropriate and clear. There's a strong focus on calming fears, busting myths and ensuring safe sex, which seems sensible to me.

Some of the facts are outdated, but this book was published in 1997. In particular, the sentence "Some women are simply too narrow through the pelvis to take almost any fist" is only likely to be true of someone with damage to the boney part of their pelvis. I'm not suggesting that one should muscle through failure, however. The pelvic floor exercises are also somewhat outmoded - it's no longer advised to locate those muscles by stopping the flow of urine, for instance.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent primer and I recommend it.


The Wise Man's Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Book 2
The Wise Man's Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Book 2
by Patrick Rothfuss
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh, Stop Whining., 11 Sept. 2011
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I think that, for most of us, a good fantasy book is one that justifies its protracted length by engaging our imagination. The Wise Man's Fear meets that criteria. In addition, it lives up to the promise of its prequel, The Name of the Wind, in the quality of writing and depth of story.

I did not find the romantic elements of this story to be overdone or out of character. Kvothe is, fundamentally, a romantic figure. He is motivated most strongly by self-belief and his ability to wrap himself in mythology. It makes perfect sense that he would dedicate long pages to his first sexual experiences - particularly when they are useful to the plot and stimulating to the reader. I agree that the names given to the various sexual (and later martial) techniques are a bit ridiculous... but honestly, no more ridiculous than everyday society. If the author wants to amuse himself by thinking up suggestive titles like 'Thousand Hands' so I can hypothesise a suitable technique to fit them then that's fine by me.

I did have to think a little while when someone raised Kvothe's 'abandonment' of his great love to the abusive care of her patron. Was that in character? Hm. Well. Kvothe has consistently given his love the freedom of her own choices. In fact, it's made clear that the main reason she finds him interesting is his consistency in loving her by letting go. How exactly could Kvothe prevent her from making choices he knows are dangerous, but she is determined to make? Not in any reasonable way. Far better to be there and allow her to make mistakes - put trust in his ability to catch her and her ability to survive. That seems consistent within the character, to me. Actually, it's quite an admirable position.

In the mean time, Kvothe deals with his immediate responsibilities. He learns the how of things. He trains to deal with a new segment of society, to love, fight, walk and run the hell away. It's an interesting story with several layers of meaning and interpretation. The characters have motives we cannot even see yet, but know must be there as a consequence of their actions. Honestly, I liked this book more than the first one. Kvothe is never given to whining without reason, but in this book he has considerably less reason to whine. The strong theme of success in The Wise Man's Fear makes it a more appealing read - even with the sobering influence of the older, disillusioned Kvothe who has lost his armour of self-belief and is slowly withering away.

I think the greatest worry for me is how the author is going to move from that vigorous Kvothe the Bloodless to the dying Kvothe the Barkeep. It could all go horribly wrong. However, this book suggests he has the chops to pull it off.


How to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-Based Medicine (HOW - How To)
How to Read a Paper: The Basics of Evidence-Based Medicine (HOW - How To)
by Trisha Greenhalgh
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb., 9 Dec. 2010
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I have used this book when writing two essays - one a critique of a research paper, another an in depth examination of rigour in research using qualitative and quantitative exemplars.

I think it is important to establish what the book is and is not. It is an excellent overview of how to read research. It is not (and at 256 pages, you shouldn't expect it to be) an in-depth guide. This book is more of a field guide to those awful, dull in-depth tomes. It gives the beginner, or the un-familiar, an excellent launching pad. I cannot sing its praises highly enough.

Too many people start research methods with a defeatist attitude. It DOES NOT have to be boring. It DOES NOT have to be irrelevant. By taking this supposedly dry subject and presenting it drily, Trisha Greenhalgh makes research critique palatable - even interesting. How? I shall tell you.

As I suggest above, the subject is approached with good humour and well-placed anecdotes. The book takes on the air of a well-told story rather than acadaemia. Take her approach to evidence and marketing:

"This chapter is about evaluating evidence from clinical trials, and most of that evidence is about drugs. If you are a clinical doctor, nurse practitioner or pharmacist, the pharmaceutical industry is interested in you, and spends a proportion of its multi-million pound annual advertising budget trying to influence you. Even if you are a mere patient, the industry can now target you directly through direct-to-consumer-advertising."

Or on the problem of slow adoption of evidence-based practice by health professionals:

"Health professionals' failure to practice in accordance with the best available evidence cannot be attributed entirely to ignorance or stubborn-ness. Consultant paediatrician Dr Vivienne Van Someren has described an example that illustrates many of the additional barriers to getting research evidence into practice: the prevention of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome in premature babies."

Dry, perhaps. Easy to read, engaging and amusing - definitely.

Greenhalgh considers research critique as a living debate rather than a dead description. She addresses each point with the air of a connoisseur, examining its finer points and illuminating its less favourable features. Words are not wasted - nearly every sentence makes a point and every paragraph contains a neatly dissected argument. Throughout, she refers to current research and opinion, giving the reader a comprehensive reference list from which to move in whatever direction they wish. The most modern developments are handled in such a way that they may remain relevant for as long as possible. Although I am reviewing (and own and have used) her second edition, I used Greenhaigh's third edition in writing an essay during the early part of 2010 and I found none of the points she made to have been rendered irrelevant by time and distance. Some had altered, but minimally, and there were several solid sources suggested that my own lecturers have never mentioned. A good example exists in the form of her 'useful search field label' and 'useful subheading' tables for OVID Medline - no informatics lecturer has yet brought these to my attention.

In short, I have found this book invaluable. It simplifies the hideously complex and provides easy avenues for further exploration without boring you to the brink of an early and painful death.


Contract
Contract
by Simon Spurrier
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Ugly child - Well loved., 9 Dec. 2010
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This review is from: Contract (Paperback)
For me, the pleasure of this book lies in the ending. The author doesn't give you a nice tidy package. There are larger ambiguities as to what explanation for the main character's actions you choose to believe and you may like that aspect of the story (it's handled well), but it leaves me cold (I've never thought it clever to conclude with 'was it real or all just a dream'). What interested me are the apparent loose ends that are left: In order to really finish the book you have to do a bit of thinking. Not a lot (god forbid there be too much heavy lifting), but some. I like being treated like a thinking person and I do not require everything in the world to arrive gift wrapped.

The author comes from a comic book background and things that can work in comics don't work as well in prose. That is quite obvious. His use of repetition, the emphasis on the visual, to me they speak of where Simon Spurrier has come from rather than making the book and its author an automatic flop. Overall, it has the impression of the author's first novel. Some people are going to overlook the fumbling and focus on the story - which is good - and others are going to hate the immaturity of it. Are, in fact, going to wish the publisher had said to Spurrier, 'Ok, you've got talent, but here's where you can improve. Take this away and show me the next book.'

I read this book in an afternoon. It is not hard going. It's an enjoyable nugget of world building and storytelling. I don't regret reading it, but I'd probably be more annoyed if I'd paid full price for it. I bought it second hand, I'd recommend you do to. I will probably pick up another book by the same author. If I come across a comic book written by him then I may well look at that too.


Street Magic (Black London Novels)
Street Magic (Black London Novels)
by Caitlin Kittredge
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Street Magic, 13 Jan. 2010
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The guts of this book are beautiful. The characters are broadly human with faults and physical limitations. The world is well realised and carefully thought out. Unlike authors like Laurell K Hamilton, Caitlin Kittredge doesn't believe in giving you a character's entire history out of the tin and then hammering it; the people evolve and new revelations give insight into their tastes and choices. I am still waiting to learn why Pete drives a Mini - something Hamilton and a dozen other authors would have told me in the first descriptive paragraph.

The major fault in this series is that the author is obviously an American writing about Britain. She makes valiant, even loving, attempts to ground her characters in British culture, but without being British that is surprisingly difficult. There are flaws in syntax and in cultural references that niggled at me horrendously. Unfortunately, this also affects the characters because their 'voices' often slip.

Nevertheless, the story does overcome these niggles and the characters, although fairly simple, develop a certain depth. This is helped because, as pointed out above, the author is not afraid to leave things unsaid and let the shadows do the work.


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