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Bob Namataki

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Explorers of the New Century
Explorers of the New Century
by Magnus Mills
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars I wanted to love it but ..., 8 Sept. 2012
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I'd come to this book having delighted in The Restraint of Beasts and All Quiet on the Orient Express. Mills' prose style, at its best, is a strange and wonderful thing unlike anything else I've read. It's been compared to Kafka, but that won't do - it has its own peculiar charm.

So Explorers was a let-down, in that it felt like Mills had moved away from that style and was attempting some kind of parody/pastiche of the many books on polar exploration - and of a certain type of British stiff upper lip-ism.

It worked well enough but my interest waned as the book went on and that was a new thing for me in terms of Mills' writing. But he is one of the more interesting writers on the British scene and I'll stick with him.


One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night
One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night
by Christopher Brookmyre
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

3.0 out of 5 stars My first Brookmyre, and I went on to read one more, but ..., 8 Sept. 2012
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I was attracted to the book's ridiculous plot - 'school reunion on an oil rig? Okay, I'll go with that' - and the novelty sustained me enough to get to the finish. But it was touch and go. The prose style puts me in mind of a book of Woody Allen short stories I bought many years ago. Like Allen, Brookmyre is torn between being a writer and being a humorist - and too often the latter wins out. It's good to read funny, but he isn't always as funny as thinks he is - or else he strains at it, as if afraid he'll get caught being one of those soft southern 'literary writer' types. So too often he displays a this'll-get-a-laugh attitude to the material, where a simple telling of the tale would work just as well.

Maybe I was looking for more than the book could give. It's an easy read and makes portrays ordinary working class Scots without resorting to drunken violent stereotypes. His style isn't pretentious but it's definitely smart-alecky. The persistent mining of modern/popular culture might appeal to fans of Tarantino. And the mix of high-concept blockbuster movie tropes and cheeky wee Scottish types is at least an oddity in terms of conventional crime thrillers.


Oxford Collocations Dictionary for Students of English
Oxford Collocations Dictionary for Students of English
by Diana Lea
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If clarity is important then put this on your shelf, 8 Sept. 2012
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You take a quick shower, not a fast one. But you catch a fast train, not a quick one. The rules of English usage can be confusing, and the way certain words combine - or collocate - only adds to the confusion.

Other reviewers have said this book might be useful for people for whom English is a second language, and that's true, but it's useful for anyone who stumbles over such things as whether it's standard English to 'fulfil' your destiny or 'meet' it - or whether you 'hold' the reins or 'take up' the reins.

English is constantly evolving and no one textbook can be expected to keep up, but so many core words are habitually combined and this book offers comprehensive guidance on their usage. It takes a conservative approach, embracing the well worn and familiar, so you won't find much to quarrel with. Some more recent coinages are more problematic: I was a bookdealer for a while, and one client asked if I could 'source' a book for him. This particular collocation doesn't make it into this book and I'm pleased about that. (What's wrong with 'find a book'?)

A great buy - easily five-stars.


The McCollection
The McCollection
Price: £0.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Worth the money, but ...., 6 Sept. 2012
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This review is from: The McCollection (Kindle Edition)
I'm late to the party reviewing this - I bought it last year but only lately got round to reading it. At the time of writing, it costs a measly 70p to buy, so reviewing it in order to help potential readers decide if they'd be wasting their money seems beside the point. But here goes ...

The formatting/layout could have been improved, making for an easier reading experience. But for 70p ...

Being a collection of stories by different authors, it's a safe bet that only so many are going to work for the average reader. I'm no exception. Some of the pieces felt more like extended anecdote rather than fully formed stories. Others were revisiting well-toiled fields (father-son conflict, folk tales, drug use, working class violence) but lacked the skill to make something really new of them. Others signalled their intent too early, the story's twist was too obvious, or the story relied on it to its detriment - in that once revealed, you wouldn't feel the need to re-read. The urge to revisit is crucial to a great short story.

Most stories could have used an effective editor.

Saying that, there are good things here. 'Dread' is meaty stuff - grim, hard to read but worth reading just the same, 'Piety, And
Other Lies' was spare and bitter, and 'The Alchemist's Apprentice' is a delicate account of a friendship revisited.

Some almost worked. 'Forever, A Curse On Arran's Children' is let down by a trite, 'humorous' ending. 'The Trick Of The Tale' is well done but all too familiar, as is 'The Last Train'. I really wanted 'Musical Death Knell' to go somewhere but it petered out.

So it's flawed, but the collection's editor is right to suggest that it's an interesting insight into the 'Scottish writing psyche'.


The Next American Essay
The Next American Essay
by John D'Agata
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.62

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting mish-mash, 6 Sept. 2012
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This was bought as a set text for a course, not for the pleasure of the thing. Being a collection of writings by different authors working in creative nonfiction, it stands or falls on how successfully the compilation hangs together - assuming that such a thing is even possible.

Each piece is prefaced by the editor's thoughts on the essay as a medium for expression, and the particular way in which a given essay achieves this. I worry about books that feel the need to justify their existence, but the prefaces can be taken or left alone with no detrimental effect on the essays themselves.

The best pieces in the collection, like most great writing, escape the confines of classification, but given that there's a diversity of approaches, it's a matter of taste which ones work for which readers.

One issue might be how useful it was to confine the collection to American essays; if, for example, a non-American writer has created an exemplar of a particular approach to the essay, it seems a pity to exclude it. A companion piece to this book - The Lost Origins of the Essay - takes a global and historical approach and is the more interesting for it.

The Next American Essay is big, but with lots of white space and clear, readable text. The proofreading process was not all it could be, which is disappointing in an otherwise well presented book.

There's a degree of pretentiousness, experiment for the sake of experiment, and the artificiality of collecting essays in this way has the feel of strangers who've been brought together but don't necessarily mix well, but that aside it's a worthwhile read.


At Large and at Small: Confessions of a Literary Hedonist
At Large and at Small: Confessions of a Literary Hedonist
by Anne Fadiman
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars A mixed bag; mixed feelings, 6 Sept. 2012
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Best to declare upfront that this book was thrust upon me rather than being sought out. That said, reading it wasn't a chore - for the most part. The essay topics range widely enough to hold the reader's interest and the prose isn't trying to push against stylistic boundaries. The approach isn't objective; the author is very much present in the text, so that the book stands and falls on how much you identify with the author - her history, her concerns, her attitudes.

The introduction is essentially a defence of the familiar essay, which seems sensible, but it gives the book an academic gloss that it could well have done without. The essays are up to date (at least one is post-9/11), but Fadiman's attempts to place them within the historical context of the familiar essay makes the book feel oddly dated.

The book feels glib at times, with some essays reading like commissioned exercises in prose written for some magazine or other rather than something heartfelt. There's a lack of anxiety, a self-satisfaction, a cosy quality that many readers might find off-putting rather than welcoming (it's ironic that the 9/11 essay 'A Piece of Cotton' exemplifies this quality).

The book is at its best when it avoids the contentious and focuses on the truly familiar - coffee, ice cream, the mail. But while I learned a lot of new things, it didn't feel like there was much in the way of new insights gained. The essays that stayed with me were the ones that troubled me most in their approach to the subject ('A Piece of Cotton', 'Under Water'), but I'm not sure that was the author's intent.


Swot Book of English (The Wolfe swot library)
Swot Book of English (The Wolfe swot library)
by Percy William Robert Foot
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A product of its time, 6 Sept. 2012
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I bought this as research for a book - in a seventies-set chapter, one of my characters gets it as a present. It's long out of print but you can find it if you try. The book is small with lots of white space and not much text. Being a product of the seventies, the approach to English is dated - more prescriptive than descriptive - and the tone is po-faced. If you're nostalgic about these things, reading this book will take you back to the days when trousers were flared, corporal punishment was commonplace and split infinitives were a no-no.


Origami for Children: 35 step-by-step projects with origami paper included
Origami for Children: 35 step-by-step projects with origami paper included
by Mari Ono
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifullly presented but not always clear, 6 Sept. 2012
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I bought this for my daughter's birthday. When she saw the many sheets of pretty paper that come with the book, she immediately waded in. The book gives a level of difficulty for each project (1-3) but she paid that no mind, picking the origami that interested her and trying to reproduce it. She's helped me with flat-pack furniture and is good at following instructions, so when things went awry with the origami I tried to help her out and noticed that the book's instructions aren't as clear as they could be. On at least one project, she couldn't produce the end result until we went online and compared it with other people's instructions for the same project, leading us to conclude that the book was just plain wrong - or was so impenetrable as to be off-putting.

Saying that, the book is a high quality product, lovely to look at, and has variety of projects ranging from very easy to 'what the ...' The folding paper is eye-catching and comes in many colours and patterns.

After a frenzy of origami, my daughter has set the book aside, so I don't know if it's a use-once-and-put-away deal. But it didn't break the bank and I think she was glad to get it.


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