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S. Datta "I wonder if..." (London, UK)

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One Day
One Day
by David Nicholls
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.00

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sublimely written but somehow...., 17 May 2010
This review is from: One Day (Paperback)
So many positives...

As all the accolades make clear, this is a painstakingly crafted, beautiful and in parts absolutely sublimely written novel. The story arc is wonderful, the structure is fantastic, the pacing just perfect. It sweeps you along the lives of the two main characters, Emma and Dexter, immersing you in their lives, never knowing what will come next and making you desperate to find out.

And the ending several chapters? So good, so well put together, contextualising everything and putting everything into a perspective that makes you want to go back and re-read it all over again immediately. (Which actually is exactly what I did!)

I can only imagine other writers' jaw-dropping envy. It is in many ways the novel I'd love to write and, probably, one which any writers would love to write, certainly technically but also from the satisfaction that people would just love reading it as well.

So how can there be any negatives after so many plaudits?

Well, for me, somehow the characterisation and backdrop fall down a little here and there. Certain thumbnail sketches of fleeting characters are drawn with amazingly vividly in just a few sentences that leaves you awe-struck.

Some of the secondary characters (for example, Ian) are also beautifully drawn and multi-dimension but yet, certain secondary characters just aren't. Sylvie and Callum for example, despite having relatively important roles (and a fair amount of text to them) are used more as plot-devices rather than people. They feel single dimensional, having a single very definite slant to their character and fulfilling a purpose rather than being characters in their own right. And in itself is fine, but alongside much more carefully drawn people this makes them feel thin and less believable.

And so, the main two characters, Em and Dex. A couple of characters who will live on in many people's lives a long time after they turn the final pages which in a way, tells you all you need to know about how well they've been written. How the writer has let them develop over time, filling them in, breathing life into them. And yet, for me, somehow they just didn't connect with me until the final few chapters suddenly made them do so. Partly that's great, because the final chapters achieve so much, but partly that's negative because it makes you wonder what's gone on before.

Part of the problem is that, for a large portion of the book they walk a very dangerous line between being perfectly drawn people of their time and background and being cliches of the same time and background. The literary, understatedly attractive and carefully considered girl and the superficial, handsome and impulsive boy. Living through times in their lives and decades characterised by hyperbole, be it grotty student flats, fast cars and excess in London, desperate first jobs etc (can't say too much without giving away too much story!).

Suffice to say, that sometimes I felt like the line strayed into cliche or over-emphasis so they become a little too much line cartoon characters rather than real people. And so, somehow the course of the novel just didn't make me empathise consistently. Laugh, yes. Empathise in part, yes, Stay absolutely riveted, yes. But not always care, which is quite a downside in a story built around two main characters.

But, as the novel concludes though, it does absolutely save itself at the end and still, to my mind, is probably one of the best novels in recent times - hmmm, guess it should have been 5 stars rather than 4 on that basis but that the characterisation thing does matter...

My Name
My Name
Price: £23.63

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Une chanteuse fantastique..., 25 Nov. 2009
This review is from: My Name (Audio CD)
Always the best of Nouvelle Vague, this first album from Melanie Pain has certainly been worth waiting for. Whilst Camille (ex. Nouvelle Vague) took herself off in a very different direction on leaving the collective, Ms. Pain has stayed much closer to the band's original vibe but given her music her own distinctive slant. The songs are simple but well arranged and a fantastic mixture of the reflective and upbeat, but all work exceptionally well with her breathy and subtle vocals. Makes you feel like the perfect lazy, smoky Sunday mornings in Paris.

All Night Cinema
All Night Cinema
Offered by SweetBuzzards
Price: £6.00

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Just... Jack, 25 Nov. 2009
This review is from: All Night Cinema (Audio CD)
Enjoyed The Outer Marker, loved Overtones, and really wanted to love this. And yet, and yet, whilst there's nothing really wrong with it, somehow it's just a little too understated.

His subject matter remains the everyday and it's a subject he wears well and easily. The lyrics are still smart, relevant and snappy without being too self-conscious with just about each song well crafted around them, telling a short (often bitter-sweet) story.

But somehow this time round, the musical soul and variety which was there in Overtones is missing. The harmonies still work and the drum beats, violins and handclaps form a neat and clever backdrop to the lyrics but each song sounds just a little too similar and a little too underplayed. There's nothing which matches the lo-fi funkiness of "Disco Friends", the hip-hop-esque punch of "Life Stories" or soaring vocals of "No Time". Instead the tracks just roll into a steady and pleasant backdrop which just slides past you without you noticing.

Clearly there's a couple of stand-out tracks - Embers matches the best of Overtones - but equally there are disappointments, especially Goth at the Disco which, absolutely blinding live, is stripped of its passion and turned into an overly engineered series of electronic blips.

It's still worth getting, and better than a lot of similar music, but sadly just not what I'd been hoping for.

Night Before Christmas (Picturebacks)
Night Before Christmas (Picturebacks)
by Clement Clarke Moore
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.99

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully drawn classic, 25 Nov. 2009
Ah, the night before Christmas. There are so many versions of this classic but this is one of the most beautiful. Let's face it, everyone knows the story so what makes a book are the illustrations - and these are rich, detailed and capture the "jolly old elf" perfectly.

Heaven on Earth Kids (PB): The World's Best Family Holidays
Heaven on Earth Kids (PB): The World's Best Family Holidays
by Sarah Siese
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.80

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Very expensive for a travel agent brochure, 25 Nov. 2009
Had quite high hopes for this when I ordered it but was deeply disappointed. It splits luxury holidays into different sections (e.g. snow, beach etc) and profiles a few hotels in each section. Unfortunately the description of each contains absolutely no useful information - nothing, zero, nada. Like prices, room types, distance to towns, beaches, services, details on kids facilities. Instead it's very much like the hotel itself just wrote a generic publicity piece on itself which the author just cut and pasted into the book - you'd be as well off looking at their websites - at least those would have some useful information on it. The very best I can say is that it's got some pretty pictures in it.

African Animal Tales: Greedy Zebra
African Animal Tales: Greedy Zebra
by Mwenge Hadithi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful book for children, 24 Nov. 2009
This is a gorgeous book for children - imaginative, stylish pictures with beautifully written 'fable-like' text and a sweeping storyline. My 3 year old loves hearing it again and again and I'm more than happy to read it again and again!

Haunted London Underground
Haunted London Underground
by David Brandon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unusual enough to be almost worth buying, 24 Nov. 2009
Having not seen any other books on hauntings on the Underground, I thought this may be an interesting read, after all the tube is a pretty spookily atmospheric place with boarded up stations, dead branch lines and abandoned platforms. And indeed the text, even though it's not very well written, does not convey this. Unfortunately, it just doesn't have much paranormal evidence to back it up - the fact that one person saw something once at a station, or that a ghost lurks even just in the same area as the station is sufficient to make a paranormal episode worthy of this book. Even then, there's something of a paucity and the book ends up falling back on generic history a little too often. Sadly, it may just be that there's not enough spooky happenings on the Underground to make a book worthwhile...

Monkey Business Swinging Through the Wall Street Jungle by Troob, Peter ( Author ) ON Apr-30-2001, Paperback
Monkey Business Swinging Through the Wall Street Jungle by Troob, Peter ( Author ) ON Apr-30-2001, Paperback
by Peter Troob
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Still relevant today, 24 Nov. 2009
Firstly, as others have noted, this is a slightly dated, sexist and extremist view of life as an analyst and associate on Wall Street. If bad language or sloppy writing offends you then it's also probably not worth picking up either. But, at it's a large but, it does manage to capture the heart of junior life in investment banking. Yes, a decade on, things have improved and financial (and other) excesses are less tolerated by the banks than they were but fundamentally the life of a junior banker hasn't changed. And this book picks these up well - the insane work hours, the absence of any social life, the inanity of senior bankers, the ridiculous work processes, the demeaning nature of a good part of the work (e.g. copying, binding, printing) and the general pointlessness of many of the tasks (e.g. 100 page pitch books to clients who have no interest in doing a deal) - all of which still very much go on today. So still very relevant to graduates considering a career in investment banking today. Equally importantly, for investment bank clients it's an interesting insight into the work behind the scenes which generates the advice they receive, and often pay for.

M&A Titans: The Pioneers Who Shaped Wall Street's Mergers and Acquisitions Industry
M&A Titans: The Pioneers Who Shaped Wall Street's Mergers and Acquisitions Industry
by Brett Cole
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.48

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An interesting insight, 24 Nov. 2009
There are very few books detailing the origins and the rise of the M&A practice - somewhat surprising given the size and importance of the market to the corporate and financial world. Whilst today, M&A practices are found in effectively every investment bank and major company whilst advisory boutiques abound, back in the 1970s, the formal M&A business was in its infancy. This work charts the rise of the key practitioners to a business which can now generate one-off fees of over $100 million.

Of course, the difficulty with this approach is that the work becomes very much a series of intermingled biographies - no bad thing since these people were quite remarkable in a number of ways and the deals they worked on fascinating. But, ultimately, with limited sources of information, it seems like most of the information comes from people themselves and those close to them (the very positive cover quotes actually come from people mentioned in the book!) As a result it becomes something of a hagiography on the whole with limited criticism of the people, their methods or their dealings - which some would certainly merit. In short, read and enjoy a very interesting piece of work but take it with a slight pinch of salt...

The Golden Compass [DVD] [2007]
The Golden Compass [DVD] [2007]
Dvd ~ Nicole Kidman
Price: £3.00

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing and fragmented adaptation, 20 Nov. 2009
You have to applaud any director for being willing to take on this trilogy. Combining a set of novels which are at once intricately woven and simultaneously panoramic in terms of themes, ideas and even characters into a set of films is hugely ambitious. So how does the first adaption fare?

Well, on the plus side it looks, on the whole, beautiful. Some of the CGI is a little wobbly, particularly around the armoured bears, but the renditions of the icy landscapes and steepled Oxford are beautiful. Equally the casting of the main characters is spot on, with Nicole Kidman perfect as the cold and arch Mrs. Coulter and Sam Elliot as the astronaut (who I forget the name of!). Others clearly disagree but I liked Dakota Blue Richards - she is clearly, particularly in the first book, a cocky and annoying street kid as well as the complex character she develops into and the actress captures both of these.

On the downsides, well, very simply, it is hopelessly fragmented in every sense. The overarching themes and ideas which make the book so beautiful and much more than the sum of its parts are very much lost in the adaptation and renders the film just a set of rather beautiful set pieces. There are so many examples of this, but to pick a few: the sense of the daemons being an integral part of the person is lost despite forced scripting to - it rather feels like their little pet buddy rather than anything else; key religious aspects are largely lost entirely which form the foundation of later stories and which shape the characters themselves; the witches pop up out nowhere, with no history and none of their beautiful back story - they were reduced to simply an airforce attack unit ("Quick, we're being attacked from the sky, call the witches!") - and then disappear equally quickly. I can't tell you how frustrating it is watching a composite story being reduced to nothing more than an incoherent set of random episodes.

I'd also add that whilst the casting, and acting of the main characters is great, the acting of much of the supporting cash is terrible - wooden, cliché ridden and more in line with what you'd expect in a school drama. Such a shame, but to be fair, it would probably have been difficult to achieve, unless you're Peter Jackson of course

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