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B. Armstrong "Berni" (Barcelona)

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Northeastern USA, Eastern Canada (Michelin Regional Maps)
Northeastern USA, Eastern Canada (Michelin Regional Maps)
Edition: Map

3.0 out of 5 stars Route planner - nothing more, 16 Nov. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This was useful to us as a general route planner, but it was not very good when you were actually in an area, because the scale is such that it largely covers only main routes and major cities. Still, combined with our GPS this was still a useful overall planner.

Wedgie Rubber Pick Refill 3.1mm/Hard 18 Pcs
Wedgie Rubber Pick Refill 3.1mm/Hard 18 Pcs
Offered by StringsOnly
Price: £7.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Good sound, but the rubber leaves a residue on the instrument., 16 Nov. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I play an Epiphone Les Paul Ukulele in a Blues/ Rock band, so I really give it some stick and this meant if I only used my fingers I'd end up with abrasions or broken nails.

These rubber picks have really come to the rescue of my hand. They respond well to the beating I give them and they produce a great sound on the instrument. However, the snag is that, over time, through heavy strumming, they also leave a residue on the instrument that is difficult to remove (though not impossible).

Buying in bulk was a good idea too, becasue locally these things are expensive. Just wish they didn't leave the residue!

Adventure Time Jake Face Cartoon Pilot Laplander Hat
Adventure Time Jake Face Cartoon Pilot Laplander Hat

4.0 out of 5 stars Delighted daughter, 16 Nov. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
My daughter asked for this for her birthday and has not stopped wearing it since it arrived! It is fun and will be useful as winter starts to bite.

My only criticism is that it shot up 25% in price from when I put it in the basket until when I actually made the purchase a few days later. It had been expensive in my opinion before the price rise. These TV show spin-offs really cream vulnerable audiences. But as it was the one thing she really wanted and she is immensely proud of it, who was I to deny her it?

Adventure Time is certainly a bizarre cartoon. I have seen a few episodes since the hat arrived and I am not sure whether I think it is a work of genius or a load of cr*p ;)

The Mine
The Mine
by Kenneth C Ryeland
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another fascinating insight into post-colonial Africa., 5 April 2013
This review is from: The Mine (Paperback)
The author has a real problem at the beginning of this book and that is getting the reader to appreciate the complicated historical, social and political background that is vital to the story he is about to tell. The early establishing scenes are perhaps the least convincing of the entire novel, with too many dialogues which are obviously there simply to provide context and relevant data. However, once this phase of the novel is over, the story grips the reader and Ryeland's real skills come to the fore.

The strengths of the book come from the author's effortless command of the complex series of plots and sub-plots underpinning and driving the story. It is admirable how Ryeland balances so many balls in the air at the same time, keeping the reader keen to find out how the trick will work out in the end as the juggler finishes his final act with a flourish.

At the same time as the author is entertaining us with a multi-faceted thriller, we are being shown insights into the world of post-colonial Africa. If some of the scenes of utter corruption seem far-fetched to readers who have never experienced it, I can assure them that from my own experience of living in West Africa at the time, the picture Ryeland draws up of betrayal, sleaze, bribery and the general cheapness of human life is an accurate portrait of the times and is probably still reliable today, if news reports from the area are anything to go by. Ryeland's Nibana may be imaginary, but the Nigeria on which it is based (and whose history it shadows so closely) really was the fraud-ridden, chaotic, divided nation of this book.

The book can be depressing at times, since with the exception of the three main heroes, everyone else in the novel is on the make or else pursuing their own political ambitions. Honest, decent men in Africa of the calibre of Bello do appear to be sadly thin on the ground. However, this trio of good men certainly arouse our approval and by this means the author ensures that the reader cares what happens to them as well as focusing our sympathies on their plight as the novel develops.

I would guess that some people might find some of the minor characters in the book to be rather two-dimensional. However, I would come to the author's defence by noting that the kind of pompous and insensitive "cartoon" attitudes shown by the High Commissioner (for example) are in fact accurate portrayals of the public personas that those characters exhibited to the world at the time. The bar at the Ikoyi Club, in Lagos, where expatriates met to socialise, was full of such apparent "caricatures" when I frequented it as a young man.

If I have a disagreement with the author over his otherwise excellent evocation of the tensions leading up to the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70) it is his arguable lack of sympathy with the aspirations of the Obi people in his book for their own statehood. While it is probably true that those who drove the secessionist cause in Biafra stood to gain financially and politically, I feel that reducing the motivation of the stillborn nation to mere "tribalism" is not giving the reader the full picture. The roots of so many problems in Africa are the colonial borders drawn up at the end of the 19th Century which created nearly all of the modern states in Africa. Those borders took no account of the reality on the ground and yoked together peoples who shared no common language, culture or religion. That was a recipe for disaster and has been at the core of the problems Africa has suffered since the colonial powers withdrew from direct rule of their former colonies. Unless the (largely discredited) idea of Pan-Africanism can ever rear up its moribund head again, the reality is that one day Africa is going to have to dismantle the current nations and divide itself up along lines that make sense for those living in each geographical area. Only then will it be possible for the new "organic" nations of the continent to resolve their differences in any kind of just way. Of course I am not holding my breath while waiting for this to happen, since those in power on the continent have too much invested in maintaining the status quo inherited from their former colonial powers.

Having said all that, "The Mine" is a real page turner. The reader will surely be anxious to find out how the various plot strands come together and who will survive the violent times in which the characters find themselves: times in which power seeking military bullies and corrupt officials covering their asses are only too willing to utilize people and then cast them aside.

Like Ryeland's other books set in West Africa, "The Mine" is also a valuable document that records (from a largely European perspective) the reality of Africa at a vital time in its development. Historical records of the time might give readers a dry account of the facts and figures of the conflict that resulted from the first serious attempt to redraw the map of post-colonial Africa, but Ryeland's novel gives us an insight into what it was actually like to be there among all the turmoil and chaos.

Options (Pan science fiction)
Options (Pan science fiction)
by Robert Sheckley
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Crazy psychedelic fun.... Or a bored writer's drug induced contractually obliged filler?, 9 Nov. 2012
With its cover showing a Hydra-like beast attacking a damaged piece of technological junk, "Options" attracted my attention in the bargain bin of a second hand English book store in Barcelona. It seemed to be a throwback to the SF of my youth and so I bought it for nostalgic reasons (and the fact that I had never actually got around to reading any Sheckley and was curious). Then I didn't get around to reading it until at least twelve months later. When I did eventually take it down off the shelf, this is what I thought of it:

Robert Sheckley's "Options" is a rag bag of a book. At its most positive, it has echoes of Douglas Adams' HHGTTG. The robot in this book is the nearest literary relative to Marvin the Paranoid Android that I have ever come across. Sheckley also shares with Adams the lack of "awe" that many SF writers have instilled into us about space travel. In Sheckley and Adams' worlds, sentient beings are as fallible and unfathomable as ever and space exploration is full of boring time wasting chores, bureaucratic nightmares and delays (like travel anywhere) rather than lots of daring-do, or hair-raising adventures.

The negative aspects of the book are connected with the increasingly bizarre asides that the author starts introducing into the book. Sheckley appears to simply run out of creative steam and/or interest in the main story and the protagonist's plight and introduces an increasingly spurious amount of hallucinatory episodes, or complete asides that have no surface relationship with the "story" at all.

The reader is left to decide whether this was deliberate. In which case Sheckley was exploring the very nature of the SF "Spaceman and Robot" story and deliberately subverting it..... Or else he just got so genuinely sick of the story he was contractually obliged to write (and could see no way to keep it interesting once the protagonist has met a couple of the sentient obstacles to his goal ) that he got mightily stoned and just wrote about what his trip was revealing to him in a stream of consciousness way.

The author increasingly enters the book to comment on it and to subvert it further by stating that the basic premise isn't all that interesting and his suggested ways to make it interesting are being thwarted by the characters refusing to play the game (a technique as old as "Six Characters in Search of an Author" by Pirandello).

Part Two takes the book off in a complete other direction. The writing style changes and we are introduced to an entirely new set of characters that inhabit a world closer to Graham Greene's novels than a standard SF novel. To my mind, in this section, Sheckley appears to be saying: "Look I can write like this; so, why do I need to produce this Pulp SF crap?" Just when you feel you are getting to know that story, the author abruptly ties it in, loosely, to the main story and brings that to an abrupt close. Finally, he uses an old "Twilight Zone" technique to tie it all together, but in a way that probably satisfied very few.

"Options" is very much a book of its time. It tells you a lot more about the themes obsessing 1970s intellectuals and the few remaining hippy seekers after truth than it does about space travel. Sheckley touches on so many themes that I remember discussing into the night among stoned students in the halls of residence: the strange juxtapositions of destiny, reincarnation, synchronicity, Eastern philosophy, drug induced enlightenment, etc, etc. If you wish to re-live this freaky period man, then light up and lay back and read this.

Adams was writing in the same period as Sheckley and they do share some things in common, but Adams remains hilariously funny, while Sheckley seems stuck in a time warp of the period. Authors such as Kurt Vonnegut or Phillip K Dick explored many of the themes Sheckley toys with in this book, but because they took their work more seriously, they still stand the test of time today. I cannot say the same for this minor Sheckley work.

If I am honest, I have to admit that the only reason why I finished this book at all is that I was reading it in the Doctor's waiting room and the Doctor was an hour behind schedule. Otherwise I might have slipped it back on the shelf and not bothered getting to the end.

V. A. Richardson - The House of WindJammer 3 Books Collection Set RRP £20.97 (The House of Windjammer, The Moneylender's Daughter: Windjammer II , The Street of Knives: Windjammer III)
V. A. Richardson - The House of WindJammer 3 Books Collection Set RRP £20.97 (The House of Windjammer, The Moneylender's Daughter: Windjammer II , The Street of Knives: Windjammer III)
by V. A. Richardson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fast action, turbulent characters and vivid history., 28 Sept. 2012
I have just read the Windjammer Trilogy by V. A. Richardson and was very impressed by the prose that the author commands as well as the fast action plots of all three books. Aimed, primarily, at late adolescents, the trilogy deals with a bitter feud that grows between a banking house and an old sea-faring, ship-owning family in 17th Century Amsterdam (and beyond). Thematically it deals with the rise of Banking Houses and their power over old money; the parallels with our own day being there for those who care to see them.

The trilogy is a kind of "Onedin Line" meets "The Secret Agent" via "Treasure Island". A rollicking good read for fans of the later Potter books and much better written.

Impostor [DVD] (2001)
Impostor [DVD] (2001)
Dvd ~ Gary Sinise
Offered by BLT-Deals
Price: £8.72

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not all that far from the book, 26 Dec. 2011
This review is from: Impostor [DVD] (2001) (DVD)
In the ever growing number of adaptations of the works of Phillip K. Dick into movies, this may not be my favourite, but it does have the advantage over some of the other movies that PDK would have recognised the story, though I'm not sure if he'd have seen the need for the double surprise at the end - which I confess, rather heretically, that I actually thought rather neat.

The film may not have the production values or star roles of "The Adjustment Bureau" - but it is definitely adapted from PDK's work, rather than merely inspired by it. (T.A.B. was a good Sci Fi film, but only vaguely connected to the original story).

Set in a dystopian future in which humans are at war with an unseen alien enemy, "Impostor"- like many of PDK's works - revolves around the theme of identity. How do we know who we are? How do we know when we have been replaced by something alien? How can we prove that we are still who we think we are?

Most of the details of the original story are here, along with some scriptwriters' inventions that give the film a more "action movie" feel in the mid section. Though without letting slow-mo fight scenes dominate - something that bores the pants off me personally - like the "Matrix" follow ups.

The overall feel of this pic is of a superior quality modern "B" movie and if you take it in that spirit and you're a fan of PDK's themes, you will probably enjoy it.

Usa Union
Usa Union
Price: £5.58

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ecological Warnings 40 years ago, 29 Nov. 2011
This review is from: Usa Union (Audio CD)
This album is noteworthy in JM's huge catalogue because of the brilliant fiddle playing by Don "Sugarcane" Harris, the solid bass of Larry Taylor and the inspired guitar work of Harvey Mandel (the latter two stalwarts of Canned Heat at its height). It is also notable for not having a drummer - a great relief given that recordings today tend to put the drums so far up in the mix that they become the dominant instrument.

Most of the songs on the album are love songs and range from the bass driven upbeat "You must be crazy" to the slow whining "Crying" - an outstanding blues track with Sugarcane squeezing every drop of emotion out of his electric fiddle. But, for me, the stand out track was (and still is) the opening number "Nature's Disappearing". When I heard that track it was the first time in my life I had heard of the dangers of pollution and the other environmental issues raised and it influenced my thinking on the issues ever after. Of course the ideas expressed in the song are no longer fresh, but what is so depressing is that 40 years on the appeal to do something about the state we are getting the planet into is more needed than ever. Amongst blues and rock fans, "Nature's Disappearing" may have recruited more people to Greenpeace than the voyages of Rainbow Warrior.

Without a single dud track, USA Union is one of the best albums in JM's long and celebrated career.

Radio Free Albemuth
Radio Free Albemuth
by Philip K. Dick
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PKD's Visionary Experience dissected, 29 Nov. 2011
This review is from: Radio Free Albemuth (Paperback)
Phillip K. Dick's "Radio Free Albemuth" is a brilliant summary of everything he went through during and after his visionary period.

It deals with his successive interpretations of it and his eventual conclusions as to its meaning. By varying the narration between himself (rational old PKD SF Writer) and creating another character (Nick Brady - who shadows what PKD did for a living before full time writing) to whom the experience in the book happens PKD manages to give us both a first person viewpoint insight into the nature of the experience and a third person "objective" comment on it.

Chronologically, RFA was his first attempt to deal, in writing, with the experience that influenced the rest of his life, but the book was shelved and never published in his lifetime. He went on to write the Valis trilogy, but although they are great pieces of work in themselves, I feel RFA distils the essence of his experience, while remaining a fine dystopian novel.

When we human beings live through an event that we cannot rationally explain, we cannot just accept it. We feel the need to explain it and to analyse what it means. Through the two viewpoints present in the novel, RFA shows this process in detail as PKD proposes answers and then dismisses them as the next plausible solution comes to mind. Indeed, this book shows how his empirical reasoning never left him, despite the sheer power of the seeming madness that took him over at that vital time.

The dystopian aspects of the book are even more relevant today than they were at the time it was written. Hearing the apparently more liberal Obama praise the protestors on Tahrir Square in Cairo, while not doing anything to stop the brutality against the "Occupy" Movement back home just illustrates how far down the line towards Dick's nightmare US we have come.

My only negative comment is on the qulaity of the paper and print used in the edition I bought (the one illustrated here). It was very poor indeed and I doubt if this is a book I'll be able to pass on to my daughter when I leave the planet.

The Lovely Bones [DVD] (2009)
The Lovely Bones [DVD] (2009)
Dvd ~ Mark Wahlberg
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £3.93

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not exactly heavenly..., 13 Nov. 2011
I won't bother recapping the story, because there are plenty of reviews that do that well here already. I also haven't read the book so cannot compare it; therefore I am left to judge the film entirely on its own merits.

As the father of a young girl who has just turned thirteen, I was totally drawn in to the domestic crisis that arises when the parents first discover their daughter is missing. I wasn't sure that the narrator from limbo idea really worked, but I was willing to accept the idea and see how the director used it. Sadly, the answer was unevenly. There were moments of visual splendour worthy of Salvador Dalí (my personal favourite being the contrasting images of the father smashing his beloved collection of ships in bottles in the real world and the daughter viewing the shipwreck of the (for her) life size versions in her limbo world) but for the most part the other world scenes were disjointed and, for me, did not fulfil their role of convincing us of the reality of Susie's life after death.

However, where I finally started shouting at the screen and foul mouthing the scriptwriter was the moment that the sister continues reading the killer's journal, despite knowing that he has returned to the house. The writer and / or director sacrifice the believability of the character here. She has the evidence she came for. She'd have grabbed the book and fled (looking at it, at her leisure, at home). Once she hears the key in the door, everything before she actually attempts to flee is just a pathetic attempt to drag out the suspense (a device Hollywood uses all too often). For example, what was the point of returning the floorboard into its hole, it is not as if the killer will not realise that someone has been in his house, once he has noted the broken glass.

Not satisfied with that, in the very next scene she runs into the house and because of a tender scene between her parents does not immediately inform them of what she now knows. If I'd been the actress I'd have wanted the director to give me a really believable reason why my character does not immediately burst in shouting about her discovery. Seeing Mum & Dad all lovey-dovey, even after months of separation, does not justify her silence at that moment. The scene only exists to drag out the suspense still further and get us wondering if indeed she is going to not mention anything so as not to upset the tender scene before her eyes. Since she has just discovered the evidence proving who the murderer of her beloved sister is... and has just escaped her sister's fate herself by the skin of her teeth, I just could not accept the delay as psychologically justifiable.

Then we come to the climax of the movie - we are expected to believe that Susie can virtually possess the sensitive girl to enjoy the first kiss that her killer had denied her. Yet, not be able to communicate from the other side that her "lovely bones" are about to go down into the sink hole. What was that all about? The film set up the idea of communication from beyond the grave, but apart from the withered rose scene and the first kiss, fails to deliver consistently on this promise.

Finally, although in life there must surely be cases of mass murders being known to the police but laying low for years (Nazis in Argentina come to mind), in this piece of fiction why were the audience not allowed the catharsis of seeing the killer brought to justice. Instead we have to endure the "tension" of seeing old creepy move in on another potential victim and then witness his eventual silly slip into infinity to provide us with an example of what is commonly known as "poetic justice". Oh please!

I was left with the feeling that there was a good movie somewhere amongst all this mish-mash of ideas and genres, but sadly I did not feel the director, or his writing crew, had managed to produce it for us.

Two stars because of the beauty of some images, and some valiant acting, otherwise I'd have only given it one.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 5, 2012 7:17 PM BST

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