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Cuban Heel "Neil Schiller" (Liverpool)
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The Girl with the Bomb Inside (a punk song)
The Girl with the Bomb Inside (a punk song)
Price: £1.97

4.0 out of 5 stars Unashamedly Indie, 1 April 2011
I liked this book, I really did. The synopsis claims it's like a three minute punk song, and I kind of have to agree - it does bring to mind that time when bands put records out that were a bit rough round the edges and made their sleeve art from scraps of paper and handwritten text.

Likewise, this book is a bit rough around the edges. It has some great ideas in it, for example I loved the three false start chapters while the fifteen year old narrator tries to work out how to frame his story. But not all the ideas work as well as they were probably conceived - there is a chapter towards the end which points out the differences between the fictionalised version of events and the actual events as the narrator experienced them and I didn't think that really added much. What it has got going for it though, more than anything else, is its representation of a fifteen year old consciousness and the realities of being at school in the eighties. I don't think I've ever read anything before that captured that experience so well. Everything Andy Conway talks about I recognised, it was almost like he went to my school or tapped into my memories of the experience.

Some readers might be put off by the fact the book is a bit raw, but for me that added to its charm. Just because something isn't polished to within an inch of its life doesn't mean it can't be good. There should be more books like this. For some reason we accept music that retains its rawness, but we expect books to be a bit more sanitised, and on reflection I have no idea why. I mean, just look at the cover, for me that's a great example of the punk design ethic I mentioned above and it's a good indication of what to expect inside. The references to Joy Divison and Throbbing Gristle will take you right back, and they add to the period atmosphere as well as the whole indie ethic of the book. A good, solid read in my opinion, very stylish in its own way, and one which would make me watch out for Andy Conway's work in future.


Dogs Chase Cars
Dogs Chase Cars
Price: £0.77

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very funny, and deceptively intelligent, 29 Mar 2011
This review is from: Dogs Chase Cars (Kindle Edition)
I have to preface my review by saying I don't often read thrillers or private eye novels as I usually find them not terribly well written and a bit cliched. I also don't often read books that promise to make me laugh out loud as that's a big claim, and one that almost always lets me down. I tried this book as it's a debut novel by an author from the same city that I live in, and thank god for that geographical coincidence because it led me to one hell of an enjoyable read.

First and foremost, this IS a funny book. It did indeed make me laugh out loud on several occasions. The fact that Mark Porter used to be a stand-up comedian probably helps as the humour comes from the sort of observational material that some comics base their careers on. A lot of it revolves around the narrator's dog, but not in a sentimental dog-loving kind of way, more in an exasperated stepping-in-things, inappropriate-contact-with-parts-of-the-dog's-anatomy kind of way. But don't think for a second that the book is all about gags because there's a real intelligence to the way Mark Porter deals with relationships, especially the one between Horatio and his wife. There are sections in it that are incredibly well observed and insightful, and yet handled in a way that doesn't disrupt the overall comic tone. That did impress me a lot.

Ultimately, this book is something a bit different from the usual British crime novel. There are no hard drinking, divorced detectives, and neither are there any fast talking, womanising private eyes. The main character is an Englishman living in Washington with his American wife, crippled by a lack of drive and ambition and resorting to private investigation as a way to somehow, finally, make some money and contribute to the household finances. He takes on a string of seedy infidelity jobs and struggles to get his clients to pay, getting beaten up by men in slippers and derided by random strangers for photographing pensioners along the way. When his best friend gets shot the detective work starts to take a back seat, but then kind of re-emerges while he's dealing with those more personal issues.

I'd stop short of saying the book was flawless, but hey, what book is? As a debut novel this has to be up there with some of the best. And the characters were so engaging that I hope, in the tradition of the genre, they're resurrected for a sequel or two or a full blown series. Great book.


The Road
The Road
Price: £2.68

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If you only read one post apocalyptic novel..., 24 Mar 2011
This review is from: The Road (Kindle Edition)
...then don't read this one. No, that's probably a bit unfair. This wasn't a bad book, it just wasn't a great one either. At the start I really struggled to get into it and I found McCarthy's style a bit off-putting. Around the twenty or thirty page mark, however, I either adjusted to it or it started to flow a little bit better and I was suddenly a bit more engaged.

It's very descriptive and it has interesting sections to it. The problem I had was it didn't really seem to go anywhere. Which I know was kind of the point - the characters are wandering around a ravaged landscape with no real hope of finding a reprieve from their daily, futile struggle for existence. But I found it a bit repetitive: they run out of food, they find some food, they run out again (or it gets stolen), they find some more etc. The other people they bump into on their endless journey didn't provide for me the narrative drama I'd hoped they would. And these chance meetings were repetitive as well: they meet someone on the road, they eye each other warily, the boy says they should give them some food, the man grudgingly obliges, they go their separate ways. Not to give too much of the scant plot away, but at one point they stumble across a predatory group holed up in an old house and I thought, yes, here we go, this is a promising departure point. But it kind of came to nothing.

Overall I thought it was a pretty average read. Which is a bit frustrating because there were little ideas and indications popping up here and there that, if followed up, could have made the narrative soar. But they weren't followed up. For instance, in two separate sections the boy is described as possibly being "the last god", and later "the one". Picking up on these references, I was expecting some development of the idea - maybe he symbolises all that remains of morality, maybe he promises a new beginning for the humanity that is left, maybe he is destined to do something great in this dead world they're in. The theme wasn't developed and that left me disappointed. So yes, if you like McCarthy give it a go. But it didn't really set my world alight I have to be honest.


Charcoal
Charcoal

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The kind of novel David Lynch might write, 23 Mar 2011
This review is from: Charcoal (Kindle Edition)
There's no doubt about it, this novel will divide opinion. Personally, I loved it. There were shades of Milan Kundera, Jeff Noon and David Lynch. The first half deals with the narrator's struggle against depression as he moves mechanically through his life as a teacher in Hong Kong. A newspaper article about the suicide of a Korean model is the trigger for the second half of the text which is more of a surreal fantasy about the narrator trying to save himself by saving the model in question before she committed the act. Think of Murakami's 'Hard Boiled Wonderland...' but set in the contemporary world rather than in that strange, dreamlike citadel of unicorn skulls.

The style used by Oli Johns has to be mentioned because it helps give the novel its uniqueness. Like Jeff Noon, he has turned his back on conventional paragraphs. But unlike Noon (where this can sometimes feel like a gimmick and detracts from the work) his use of short, declarative sentences that stand alone really puts across a strong sense of the narrator's stream of consciousness. And it is surprisingly easy to read, giving the novel some serious pace also. Not having a lot of knowledge about philosophy (about which the narrator is also obsessed), I do know there was one philosophical work that was written in the same way, but for the life of me can't remember which one. But to translate that idea into a work of fiction is, to me, a stroke of genius on the author's part.

Overall, I thought this was a great book and staggeringly original. It did remind me in some ways of the Murakami work mentioned above, but unlike that one Johns doesn't seem to feel the need to resolve the fantasy element in the narrative. No exposition about the narrator sinking into his unconscious here. In fact, at one point he is at pains to point out that this ISN'T a dream, it's all too real. I liked that about it, it felt like an evolution of magic realism, pushing literature towards the places that cinema has already been for several years. Johns isn't likely to be on the latest list of twelve up and coming authors, but on the evidence of this, I'd say he deserves to be. It's edgy and it's a bit out there, but I'm willing to bet it's more innovative and unique than a lot of other things being talked about right now.


Frost/Nixon [DVD]
Frost/Nixon [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michael Sheen
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £4.56

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but could have been better, 6 Mar 2011
This review is from: Frost/Nixon [DVD] (DVD)
I finally watched this over the weekend, looking forward to a good, gritty film about Frost's famous interview. And I wasn't disappointed exactly, but it wasn't quite as good as I was expecting based on the hype.

Michael Sheen is good in it (as I expected him to be) and Frank Langella plays Nixon very very well, rounding the character off a bit, making him a bit more human - to the point where you actually have moments of sympathy for him. Sam Rockwell is great (as always) and so is Oliver Platt as the political journalists helping Frost get the questions together. But there lacked the tension I was expecting as they struggled to get from Nixon what the whole enterprise hinged on.

I'm a bit ambivalent towards Ron Howard as his early films I found incredibly sentimental and disliked them because of it. In recent years he seems to have matured a little bit, but I was expecting this to be a big breakthrough for him as a director and it wasn't really, it fell a bit short. Overall it was ok, I didn't dislike it and I didn't switch it off. But ok is all it was. It could have been more engaging and a lot more tense.


Up In The Air [DVD]
Up In The Air [DVD]
Dvd ~ George Clooney
Price: £3.63

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a surprise, 6 Mar 2011
This review is from: Up In The Air [DVD] (DVD)
I finally got around to watching this, slightly put off by the impression it was a romantic comedy. If I'd known it was by the same director as Juno, I would have gotten to it much sooner.

First and foremost, this isn't a romantic comedy. Not at all. To me it felt like watching an American indie film, something along the lines of Juno or Lost in Translation (which it actually reminded me of quite significantly), but made with a bigger budget. Clooney is great in it. Self assured and blase, then brought crashing back to earth by a discovery about the woman he's met.

The supporting actors are great too and there was a brilliant sense of the emptiness of a life spent in transit. It wasn't the best film I've ever seen, but it was interesting and well acted and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Definitely one to watch if you like the movies I've mentioned above. But not a romantic comedy (so maybe not for those of you who loved Kate and Leopold etc.)


Charcoal
Charcoal

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The kind of novel David Lynch might write, 6 Mar 2011
This review is from: Charcoal (Kindle Edition)
There's no doubt about it, this novel will divide opinion. Personally, I loved it. There were shades of Milan Kundera, Jeff Noon and David Lynch. The first half deals with the narrator's struggle against depression as he moves mechanically through his life as a teacher in Hong Kong. A newspaper article about the suicide of a Korean model is the trigger for the second half of the text which is more of a surreal fantasy about the narrator trying to save himself by saving the model in question before she committed the act. Think of Murakami's 'Hard Boiled Wonderland...' but set in the contemporary world rather than in that strange, dreamlike citadel of unicorn skulls.

The style used by Oli Johns has to be mentioned because it helps give the novel its uniqueness. Like Jeff Noon, he has turned his back on conventional paragraphs. But unlike Noon (where this can sometimes feel like a gimmick and detracts from the work) his use of short, declarative sentences that stand alone really puts across a strong sense of the narrator's stream of consciousness. And it is surprisingly easy to read, giving the novel some serious pace also. Not having a lot of knowledge about philosophy (about which the narrator is also obsessed), I do know there was one philosophical work that was written in the same way, but for the life of me can't remember which one. But to translate that idea into a work of fiction is, to me, a stroke of genius on the author's part.

Overall, I thought this was a great book and staggeringly original. It did remind me in some ways of the Murakami work mentioned above, but unlike that one Johns doesn't seem to feel the need to resolve the fantasy element in the narrative. No exposition about the narrator sinking into his unconscious here. In fact, at one point he is at pains to point out that this ISN'T a dream, it's all too real. I liked that about it, it felt like an evolution of magic realism, pushing literature towards the places that cinema has already been for several years. Johns isn't likely to be on the latest list of twelve up and coming authors, but on the evidence of this, I'd say he deserves to be. It's edgy and it's a bit out there, but I'm willing to bet it's more innovative and unique than a lot of other things being talked about right now.


Welcome to Oakland
Welcome to Oakland
by Eric Miles Williamson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.63

4.0 out of 5 stars Good alternative book, 3 Mar 2011
This review is from: Welcome to Oakland (Paperback)
I read the precursor to this novel, 'East Bay Grease', several years ago and thought it was one of the best contemporary American books I'd ever read. It was the trigger for a several year obsession with alternative American writers for me that resulted in some great discoveries, (and a few disappointments). So when I saw (belatedly) that there was a sequel, I jumped at the chance to read it.

Overall this is a very solid piece of writing. It won't be to everyone's taste - it's coarse and raw and vitriolic. In parts it's just about the most angry book I've ever read. But at the same time it's funny, and it's lyrical and it celebrates the down and outs of Oakland in the same way that Bukowski's work celebrates the down and outs of LA.

There is no real narrative thrust to the book, so beware if you're after a taut thriller or steadily building melodrama. Williamson instead focuses on his narrator and strikes out on tangents from this central point, slowly constructing an authentic picture of his life in a more episodic manner. It's a bit like one of those songs that you like, and you listen to it over and over and then suddenly realise it doesn't have a chorus, but it hardly matters because it's so good.

When I was halfway through the book I was convinced this was going to end up being a five star review, but unfortunately I struggled a little bit through some of the final sections which were incredibly densely written. I wouldn't say I didn't like them, but they were reminiscent of Beat prose poetry and really compacted, and from a purely personal point of view, I found myself enjoying these passages less than the rest of the book. And anyway, I'd rate 'East Bay Grease' as a five star book any day of the week. Because this is close to that standard, but perhaps not quite as good as that first novel, then a four star rating seems to fit. I'd definitely recommend it. And I'll look forward to the next installment if the author decides to make it a T-Bird trilogy...


Babylon A.D. (1-Disc Edition) [DVD] [2008]
Babylon A.D. (1-Disc Edition) [DVD] [2008]
Dvd ~ Vin Diesel
Offered by gowingsstoreltd
Price: £2.75

2.0 out of 5 stars Oh Dear, 23 Feb 2011
I watched this film a few nights ago when I wanted to kick back with a few beers and just relax in front of a sci-fi movie on the TV. It appealed to me because I'd really enjoyed Pitch Black [DVD] [2000] and, although it was a bit over the top in the old space opera style, The Chronicles of Riddick [DVD] [2004]. I was even talking to the other half about Vin Diesel being the thinking man's Jean-Claude Van Damme in an effort to convince her to watch it with me.

And don't get me wrong, it started off ok. A few cliches in there, but Diesel was pretty good and the plot seemed interesting enough. Then it started to go downhill, and then its descent into nonsense reached avalanche velocity. Dear me, the last twenty minutes or so were ridiculous. The plot resolution made little sense, contradicted itself, had holes in it bigger than the Java Trench. And those few little cliches up front became massive, absurd ones by the end.

I've given it 2 stars because the first half of the movie wasn't actually that bad. It's just a shame the second half was so miserable. My suggestion is to avoid it, go and watch something else instead.


Ghost Stories: v. 2 (BBC Audio)
Ghost Stories: v. 2 (BBC Audio)
by M. R. James
Edition: Audio CD

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, not brilliant, 23 Feb 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I too got hold of this CD to listen to on car journeys. And I too deliberately put it on for a nighttime drive. Unfortunately, I found it a little bit dull and not as atmospheric as I was hoping it would be.

Jacobi is obviously a good reader (he's a great actor) but his reading and the text didn't really gel for me. I do like ghost stories, but the production just didn't have that spooky feel I was look for. The music at the beginning that other reviewers mentioned, I actually found a bit irritating, and I found myself losing interest in the tales not very far in.

Don't get me wrong, it's not bad. If you're a big M.R. James fan you'll probably love it. And as I said, Jacobi delivers the book dramatically enough. I guess I was just a little bit disappointed as I felt it could have been better. Looking at the other reviews it seems I'm in the minority, but there you go. All I could say is try it if you like James, don't try it if like me you were after something a bit more insidious and creepy.


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