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Steve Benner "Stonegnome" (Lancaster, UK)
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The Crow Road [DVD]
The Crow Road [DVD]
Dvd ~ Peter Capaldi
Price: 6.40

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant adaptation, 31 July 2012
This review is from: The Crow Road [DVD] (DVD)
This BBC TV adaptation of Iain Banks' novel, "The Crow Road" dates from 1996. It is perfectly attuned to the spirit of the book and I doubt that the many changes to the original story that have been necessary in order to present it cinematographically would upset even the most ardent of fans. The pace does start out a little slow, perhaps, but by and large, it is well handled over its four episode span, with each more gripping than the last. Performances by and large are good, with the strength of the dialogue making up for any hamminess in their delivery. Needless to say, Peter Capaldi shines in his role of the missing Uncle Rory -- a character who never actually appears in the book but masterfully added to the dramatisation by screenwriter, Bryan Elsley. The musical soundtrack by Colin Towns is, characteristically, both highly evocative and annoyingly memorable.

There are a couple of extras on the disc, in the form of a general interview with Iain Banks, and a director commentary track on the first episode, which is well worth a listen and gives an interesting insight into the values of the production team without giving away any surprises for the later episodes.

Despite its age, still strongly recommended.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 15, 2012 8:56 AM BST


Street
Street
by Tyler Stevens
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.36

5.0 out of 5 stars A "Fisher King" for our times, 26 July 2012
This review is from: Street (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Tyler is a young man with dark thoughts, troubling thoughts, that he can't get out of his head. These dark, troubling thoughts are making Tyler despondent, not that 'despondent' is actually a word Tyler would ever use himself, of course. No, it's not at all the sort of word he'd want to get caught using. Well, it's just not street enough for a start, is it, a poncy word like that? And Tyler needs to stay street, any man in his position would, wouldn't he? No, all Tyler needs to do is get himself sorted out a bit; take a little time out to get things back on track, like. Take stock. Although Christmas coming up doesn't help, does it? All those crowds of people coming and going, steaming bodies in crowded places doing for him. Filling his head with dark and troubling thoughts. Making him want to...

"Street" by Tyler Stevens (a pseudonym, the publisher tells us) is a tense and poignant first-person novella which is as uplifting as it is upsetting. It offers a brutal and down-to-earth glimpse into a number of difficult issues -- drug dealing, homelessness, mental illness and instability -- as well as the wider causes of alienation from society and societal norms. Tyler's worlds -- both the real one and the one within his head -- are masterfully sketched in poignant and perceptive prose, in a tale overflowing with metaphor and potent imagery, which, while terrifying in places, nevertheless manages to make light of much that comes to pass. Tyler never really seems to take himself too seriously; making his story even more deadly serious as a consequence. Gripping from start to finish, this is a book that everyone should read, even though only a few may be able to say they enjoyed it.

The seriousness of the underlying message of this book is underscored by the publishers' undertaking to donate 1 of its cover price to Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity. How street is that, then? So, are you just going to walk on by, now?


Hancock's Half Hour: Sid's Mystery Tour / The Poetry Society (Vintage Beeb)
Hancock's Half Hour: Sid's Mystery Tour / The Poetry Society (Vintage Beeb)
by Ray Galton
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 6.10

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rehash of black vinyl, 25 July 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"Hancock's Half Hour: Sid's Mystery Tours / The Poetry Society" is a CD re-issue of a BBC Records black vinyl LP release from 1980, featuring two remastered episodes of the classic comedy radio show, Hancock's Half Hour. Both episodes were recorded in June 1959 and first aired on 24th Nov 1959 ("Sid's Mystery Tours") and 8th December 1958 ("The Poetry Society") as the ninth and eleventh episodes of the sixth and final BBC Radio series.

As representative samples of milestone comedy writing by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, impeccably delivered by Tony Hancock, Sid James and a supporting cast which includes Bill Kerr, Warren Mitchell and Fenella Fielding, the two episodes are good enough choices. They provide near-perfect examples of the effortless interplay between "the lad himself" and his supposedly less sophisticated associates which invariably ended up with his being had the better of.

The real pity is that this new CD edition does nothing more than reproduce the black vinyl version -- stripped not only of the show's iconic signature theme tune but also of all its incidental music -- and with no additional supplementary material at all. There is nothing, for instance, to separate the two episodes and prevent them running into each other, unless you either pre-programme the CD player or else are nifty with its Stop button. At least the original LP required a disc turn between the two. While the lack of length (50 mins) is balanced somewhat by the CD's budget price tag, it is a shame that the opportunity has not been taken to restore the shows to their original full 30-minute radio versions, or to prepare any of the other episodes from the series for release, either in companion volumes, or as an updated reissue of the now largely unobtainable and long out of print "Hancock's Half Hour: Series 6" Collectors' Edition box set. This is an omission that seems doubly ironic, given that this is one of the very few BBC Radio series from that era for which the tapes have not been wiped and a full set of episodes exists.

Come on, Auntie Beeb, please try harder! This really shouldn't be difficult.


The 12th Victim (Karin Schaeffer 3)
The 12th Victim (Karin Schaeffer 3)
by Katia Lief
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More human drama than murder mystery, 24 July 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"The 12th Victim" is Katia Lief's third Karin Schaeffer novel; by and large, I have to say I think it is her best so far, as long as you don't set too much store by the publishers' hype on the cover about the book being a nail-biting 'race against the clock thriller'. Rather, the book is much more in keeping with the author's earlier style of murder-mystery-cum-soap-opera novels, published under the name of Kate Pepper, such as "Seven Minutes to Noon". While the story follows on from the earlier Karin Schaeffer books, it lacks the oppressive out-of-control gloom of either "You Are Next" or "Hide and Seek", despite its sordid subject matter as Karin and husband Mac find themselves drawn into the world of paedophilia and international child sex trafficking. Additionally, despite her close connections with the victims of the latest round of killings, and at least one of the detectives trying to track down the perpetrators, the focus of Karin Schaeffer's involvement in the case is much more tangential than in the earlier books and is in some ways more about dealing with the consequences for the victims' families than it is about solving the crimes. For many, this -- together with the protagonist's total inability to keep her nose out of matters best left to others -- will probably irritate, with at least half of the book feeling like over schmaltzy tangential padding. The beauty of the book for me though lies in the carefully depicted human dramas on the small scale which imbue the tale with a depth of reality and of humanity, albeit at the expense of any real sense of suspense and preventing the book from really making it into the category of "thriller".


AmazonBasics 2-Port USB Car Charger with 2.1 Amp Output in Black
AmazonBasics 2-Port USB Car Charger with 2.1 Amp Output in Black
Price: 5.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Robust but far from elegant, 20 July 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The "AmazonBasics 2-port USB Car Charger (2.1A)" is a dual USB charger that lets you charge up to two devices from your car cigarette lighter socket at the same time, with a total overall maximum loading of 2.1A, which should be more than adequate for most modern digital devices. [Tip: if you want to get the maximum charging rate from this charger, use a USB power cable, not a USB data cable to connect it to your device.] I have found that while it works fine in practice but it does have a couple of drawbacks which lessen its attractiveness in comparison with similar products. Firstly, it is much bulkier than many such devices and can be quite cumbersome in some set-ups. Both the LUPO and Trixes series of chargers are much better from this point of view. The AmazonBasics charger's blue LED is also very bright and can be distracting if it is at all in the line of sight while driving and especially at night. In addition, its spring contact seem very strong and whilst I had no problems in my RAV4, I suspect that in some cars' sockets it will probably spring out, aided by the not inconsiderable weight of the device itself.

So far though, I have to say that this device has performed flawlessly for me, which is more than can be said for many a more expensive brand. Overall, I'd say that this is pretty robust product and that while it lacks elegance, by and large it does what it is designed to do. If you want more than that, you might need to shop around a little for something fancier.


Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Ransom Riggs' Home for Peculiar Photographs, 16 July 2012
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The inspiration for "Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children" was a collection of bizarre vintage photographs, which Ransom Riggs intended to publish as an anthology of strange images for children. He was persuaded that rather than just present the images with brief notes, he should construct a story that connected them all in some way and use the photographs to illustrate it. The result is this début novel which is both beguiling and disturbing -- a haunting story that puts me very much in mind of Robert Holdstock's "Mythago Wood" in its brooding penetration of the everyday world with mythical and fairy-tale elements, and the interlinking of the world of mythology with that of obsession, madness and insanity.

The story is, in the most part, expertly constructed and well written, and progresses at a pace that never slackens but which equally never feels rushed. Mysteries are invoked and revealed in a way that neither frustrates nor annoys, and while there are several pointers to allow faster readers to work much out for themselves, there remain plenty of surprises along the way, making the story suitable for readers of almost any age, from teens upward. If I do have a criticism of the book it is that the author's research into Britain would appear to have been extremely minimal and his setting of Cairnholm as a remote island off the cost of Wales is far from convincing --- seeming much a cross between Cornwall and either Scotland or Ireland than Wales to my mind -- there being nothing remotely Welsh about the villagers who populate it, or indeed about the eponymous children gathered there, whose modes of speech and vocabulary are both more transatlantic and more modern than one would expect of children in Wales in the 1930s. Such slips can easily be overlooked, however, and no doubt will hardly impinge on the consciousness of most readers.

While the story is lively and engaging it is undoubtedly the photographs which make this book unique. Almost any of them on their own would probably provide enough material for a complete story; with over 40 of them interspersed throughout the whole book, the effect is at once overwhelming and astounding. Each is itself faintly disturbing; the collection is powerful enough to suck you into Ransom Riggs' world of peculiar happenings and never allow you to leave. Inclusion of some of the images into the narrative flow feels a little contrived at times, but overall the effect is a positive tour-de-force. Do be warned, though, that the story of Miss Peregrine's wards does not end here - a sequel is in preparation and is due in Spring 2013; let us hope that the photographs used for that are equally weird. Not surprisingly, the film rights have also been snapped up.


A Dangerous Method [DVD]
A Dangerous Method [DVD]
Dvd ~ Keira Knightley
Price: 7.47

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Discomforting and voyeuristic biopic, 15 July 2012
This review is from: A Dangerous Method [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"A Dangerous Method", directed by David Cronenberg, is a screen adaptation by Christopher Hampton of his own stage play, "The Talking Cure". The idea for this biographical drama derives from John Kerr's scholastic study of 1994, "A Most Dangerous Method", which chronicles the rise of psychoanalysis as a clinical treatment of hysteria and other mental conditions and explores the relationship between Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung and the catalytic role played in both the establishment and demise of that relationship by Sabine Spielrein. The book is long and detailed in its subject matter, documenting not only clinical methods but also placing events into the social context of their time. It presents an interweaving not just of the personal desires, obsessions and paranoias of its central characters but also of wider events to spin a complex tale of politics, hysteria, anti-Semitism, sexual duplicity, repression and intellectual brilliance wielded as blackmail.

Christopher Hampton has done a masterly job of extracting the human interest story from the wider academic treatment, making Sabine Spielrein the true protagonist of the drama. In the screenplay we see her gradual transformation from highly dysfunctional hysteric to eminent and respected psychoanalyst in her own right. Along the way, she becomes Jung's mistress and is shown as herself being pivotal in a number of the turning points in his life. Alongside, the film details the development of the friendship of the two principal proponents of the emerging field of psychoanalysis, following by the gradual divergence of their ideas, fueled by the inherent differences in the characters and the circumstances in their lives. And always, it seems, with Sabine Spielrein in the mix somewhere.

While the exact details of the relationship between Jung and Spielrein remain speculative and conjectural, much of the screen adaptation is given greater authority by an almost obsessional attention to historical detail, with many of the scenes and much of the dialogue drawn from the copious notebooks, diaries and letters that all parties routinely kept and exchanged. There are nevertheless many aspects to the production that are distinctly Cronenberg in style and feel. Overall, he imbues an already uncomfortable tale with an air of voyeurism which shifts the original screenplay into a darker and more unsettling place altogether.

The acting is by and large superb. Viggo Mortensen's portrayal of a brooding and somewhat paranoid Sigmund Freud is played to perfection -- and invariably with a cigar to his lips -- while Michael Fassbender does an admirable job of conveying Carl Jung's cautious and self-conscious approach to his own ideas which seems to have left him so susceptible and malleable in his relationships with others. Fassbender does a good job too of portraying Jung's own gradual mental disintegration at the approach of the Great War. Keira Knightly pulls off the role of unstable but brilliant Sabine Speilrein quite well, once one manages to ignore her fluctuating accent. Credit should also go to Vincent Cassel in his almost bit-part role of the wayward Otto Gross -- the serpent who mesmerises his prey -- as well as to newcomer, Sarah Gadon, whose quietly understated performance as Jung's wife, Emma, makes one wish that the writers had been able to find a way to include more of her story in the mix. Cinematographically, the production is sumptuous (although let down by some over ambitious CGI work in places) whilst Howard Shore's Wagner-derived score is a perfect accompaniment to the scenes that call for it (and nicely absent when not).

The DVD production also includes a brief "Making of..." feature, as well as informative commentary soundtrack by director, David Cronenberg, plus descriptive soundtrack for the unsighted.


Earthfall (Earthfall 1)
Earthfall (Earthfall 1)
by Mark Walden
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Accomplished sci-fi synthesis, 12 July 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"Earthfall" is the first part of a new series of sci-fi 'invading alien menace' books by Mark Walden (author of the popular "H.I.V.E. (Higher Institute of Villainous Education)" series) aimed primarily at teenagers and young adults. For those who like their action thick and fast, this book will not disappoint; equally, however, there are plenty of other things to like here -- Mark Walden's writing style is accomplished and yet easy on the brain, allowing the pages to turn at a fine old rate, while the story line and the characterisations are both entertaining and engaging enough to keep a reader up long beyond their sensible bed-time, regardless of their age! The author does a good job of keeping a tight rein on episodes that could all too easily become hackneyed and manages to keep the excitement tempered with humour, with the violence never becoming overly graphical or gratuitous. By and large, I have to say that I found everything in the book pitched just right.

While the book is far from original, either in its central ideas, its storyline or even much of the detail, it represents a synthesis of ideas drawn from a sufficiently wide range of originals -- John Christopher's "Tripods Trilogy"; the BBC's "Dr Who"; "DOOM" and "Resident Evil" shoot-em-up computer games; "Star Wars", "Alien", "The Matrix" movies, to name but a few of the more obvious -- and in such a convincingly internally consistent manner (and within a well conceived and carefully planned out story arc) to stand fully in its own right as a new landmark of teen fiction. It would also look very spectacular in a 3D big screen adaptation...


Dick Barton and the Li-Chang Adventure (Radio Collection)
Dick Barton and the Li-Chang Adventure (Radio Collection)
by Edward J. Mason
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 14.68

3.0 out of 5 stars Crikey!! More perilous goings on for Special Agent Barton and chums, 11 July 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This "Dick Barton, Special Agent" radio recording, of a BBC "colonies" production, "Dick Barton and the Li-Chang Adventure", thoughtfully preserved by the Australian National Film and Sound Archive (scoring bonus marks over the BBC for that), provides a glimpse of how radio drama was handled in 1949. The original was served up in 20 12-minute daily doses, each leaving the listener in terrible suspense; these are presented here in continuous form across 4 CDs of an hour each, with each episode divided into three tracks, which allows for the player to be programmed for whole or part episodes but does not provide for the bracketing synopses or theme tunes to be skipped.

In their day, these programmes held listeners, both young and old, captivated daily with the deeds of derring-do undertaken by special agent Dick Barton (Britain's answer to Batman) and his chums. Nowadays, the artefacts of the time are more likely to irritate than to captivate, especially the limited sound effect library (screeching tyres, generic engine sounds, Tommy gun bursts, single pistol shots and other assorted clatters, bangs, grunts, groans and growls) and the dreadful accents that everyone adopts when not playing characters educated in the correct delivery of the King's English. Add to this the conveyance of action through dialogue ("I say, chaps, look out; that plane's heading straight for us!"), the ludicrous plot and the necessity to deliver a cliff-hanger every 12 minutes, and I think that most modern listeners will probably find this all too much like hard work. At least Snowey White "cockney" is moderately more intelligible than in "Dick Barton and the Vulture" on this recording.

The plot is, as ever with Dick Barton, standard "Boys' Own" fare, with villainous (foreign) villains aplenty, always contriving to be outwit Barton and his pals (which seems to be all too easily achieved) whilst never quite managing to do for them, once and for all. This episode sits between "Dick Barton and the Vulture" and "Dick Barton and the Case of Conrad Ruda" chronologically and being from the pen of Edward Mason, is one of the better stories, never short of exciting action and challenging escapes!

Dick Barton aficionados will no doubt be delighted to add this disc-set to their collection, although the sound quality is very poor in places, suffering quite badly from recording media artefacts that can make listening quite difficult through the earlier discs of the set. Certainly those unfamiliar with this series and who are merely curious, would do well to sample before they buy.


Voices of the Dead
Voices of the Dead
by Peter Leonard
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.94

3.0 out of 5 stars Overcooked double revenge thriller, 10 July 2012
This review is from: Voices of the Dead (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Peter Leonard is an author living in the shadow of his more famous father, Elmore Leonard -- a prolific and highly acclaimed author of westerns and American crime dramas. "Voices of the Dead" is Peter's fourth novel and with it he claims to have broken away from his father's territory -- Detroit crime -- by transferring much of his novel's action to far away places, such as Washington DC, Palm Beach, Florida and Munich, Germany. The story also takes place in 1971, with some flash-backs to 1942. It features Holocaust survivor, turned Detroit scrap dealer, Harry Levin, and his quest to find and bring to justice the man who killed his daughter in a drunken hit-and-run accident; a German with diplomatic immunity who, it transpires, just happens to be the SS officer who murdered Harry's parents before his eyes at Dachau and who continues in a personal one-man crusade to rid the world of Jews. If you are already thinking that this sounds a bit forced and convoluted, you'd be right; it is.

For all that the author has tried to move his novel away from modern day Detroit, to my mind at least he fails to convince his reader of this. He doesn't seem able either to evoke the Bavarian setting for the overseas action or to capture the unique feeling of 1970s. He makes some passing reference to car models and to TV shows of the time (and slips in the odd reference to the upcoming -- and rather ironically ill-fated 1972 Olympic games) but not in any way that would convince anyone that he had experienced them. He makes no reference to any real cultural memes of the time to effectively transport the reader to the novel's times or places; all in all it reads like a something from the pen of one who has merely read about these things rather than lived or visited them (which is odd, as the author is old enough to have lived through and have a clear recollection of the 70s, at least). To be blunt, the book reads, in fact, as highly insular American, modelling "abroad" on an image of the world being America but speaking a different language -- overlain with a holiday brochure veneer of cultural difference, as if it were a branding identity. Perhaps Peter Leonard's background as an ad man works against him here?

The author's writing style is hardcore laid-back American too, with a slangy street dialogue bleeding into the fairly lazy narrational prose. At times, this makes the prose terse and punchy but most of the time it comes across as affected and, with its complete disregard for prepositions and its habitual abuse of adjectives as adverbs, is frequently more irritating than it is entertaining. The author appears to have an obsession with the time too, constantly advising the reader of the precise moment at which something happens -- a kind of literary equivalent of the screen trick used to keep tension high in TV shows such as "24" but completely overdone to the point of pointlessness my mind.

The action is fairly high octane, although some characters would appear to be entirely superfluous, with no real role to play, and the whole premise depends upon such a ridiculous set of coincidences that the story has more or less shot itself in the foot even before it gets going. The book's only saving grace is that by and large, it is highly readable if you are prepared to put all of the logic of the piece aside and just go with the flow -- a literary action movie, if you will (which is no doubt what the author is hoping it will become) -- with characters and even scenes added more for their colour than for an literary purpose. As such, the book will no doubt be a winner.

"Voices of the Dead" is planned as the first of two novels ("Back from the Dead" is set for publication in Spring 2013) so if you want more of what will undoubtedly be pretty much the same, you shouldn't have too long to wait.


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