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Cambridge Writer "CK" (Northampton, UK)

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Four Thousand Lives: The Rescue of German Jewish Men to Britain in 1939
Four Thousand Lives: The Rescue of German Jewish Men to Britain in 1939
by Clare Ungerson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 15.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very important book, 5 Jun 2014
This fascinating and inspiring story has a cast of thousands, from Stanley Baldwin and the Archbishop of Canterbury to the Jewish refugees themselves, the population of Sandwich, the British Union of Fascists, and even Adolf Eichmann. From it you really feel what Britain was like just before the Second World War, and especially what the moral standards of its politics were. It was an excellent idea of Clare Ungerson's to begin with actual refugees' accounts of Kristallnacht and internment afterwards in German camps like Dachau, because this sets the right chillingly realistic focus and it was these events that actually woke up British political figures to what was happening in Germany. Even so it comes as a shock to discover that the British Government never contributed a penny to the establishment and running of the Kitchener Camp (it only produced the visas), all the funds were raised by Jewish organisations, and no-one thought there was anything unusual about that. Moreover, it is terrible to read that the government never took the initiative to enable the wives and children of the refugees to join them before the Holocaust engulfed them. Almost every page of this book raises ethical issues or describes impossible decisions that had to be taken immediately, and you just want to turn the page to discover what happened next. It is hardly surprising that there was suicide, mental illness, and deep unhappiness some of the time in the Kitchener refugee camp at Sandwich, but these are offset by the book's extraordinary heroes: the May brothers who ran the camp, the supremely life-affirming and energetic Norman Bentwich, Sir Robert Waley Cohen, and others, who set it up, and indeed the people of Sandwich who took the Jewish refugees to their hearts rather than listening to the posh local Black Shirts who had other ideas. Although impeccably researched, this is not an 'academic' study, it is a gripping, fast-moving, deeply human narrative; so absorbing, in fact, that I have read it twice. It prompts you constantly to engage your own moral sense, and it leaves you wondering whether something as remarkable as this rescue could be achieved in Britain today. But it also leaves you hoping the answer is 'yes'.

Ender's Game (Ender Saga)
Ender's Game (Ender Saga)
by Orson Scott Card
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.35

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking, exciting, and emotional novel, 10 Feb 2008
Ender's Game is a book that will speak directly to whoever reads it, for it is about loneliness and specialist expertise - two things that everyone is familiar with in their own lives, in one way or another.

Ender is a young prodigy space battle commander whose adventures through training school make up most of the book. Ender makes friends and enemies, and must deal with life in a world where no-one understands him, except his sister who he never sees because she is on Earth while he is training in space.

The book covers a lot of different topics, but principle among Card's many theses is that to beat an enemy one must understand them completely: one must - in a manner of speaking - love them. This is a powerful notion and one that is explored in detail, with a very emotionally resonant ending and surprise epilogue.

I particularly enjoyed the videogame which Ender returns to throughout the book, where he is exploring an alien planet and battling various nightmarish foes, solving puzzles, and put under extreme emotional strain. It reminded me of the kind of videogames we are beginning to see nowadays (such as Shadow of the Colossus) and I was amazed an author had come up with it so many years ago.

An emotional and intelligent book, for adults and children alike.

The Office: The Scripts
The Office: The Scripts
by Steve Merchant
Edition: Paperback

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reads like a transcript, but the extras are fun, 1 Aug 2007
My only problem with The Office script books is that they don't read like actual scripts so much as word for word, action for action, perfect transcriptions of the events in the show. Reading these really is like reading a description of each episode for people not allowed to own televisions. Personally I would have preferred the genuine original scripts (or outlines - I understand much of The Office is improvised), which would surely differ slightly from the TV show and could give insights into how actors had improvised or interpreted stage directions.

I do understand though that this isn't what the fans of The Office would have wanted or expected from a scripts book, and that the book was only profitable as a reference for obsessives at the time The Office took the UK by storm. Still, it felt like a missed opportunity.

However, there is some fantastic extra material in here that you wouldn't get with a standard script, such as original emails between Brent and the TV company making the documentary, as well as a lot of colour pictures and music for some of Brent's songs in the show.

It was a tough call between three and four stars, because I can see at whom these books have been aimed and I appreciate that whoever has put them together has done a great job. I just don't really see the point of releasing the "scripts" if they're 100% identical to the show to the extent of such detailed directions that they simply must have been retroactively constructed from the programme as aired.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 7, 2009 10:57 AM BST

Guitar Hero: Rocks the 80s (PS2)
Guitar Hero: Rocks the 80s (PS2)
Offered by findprice
Price: 4.62

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing, but worthwhile for Guitar Hero nuts, and fans of the playlist, 31 July 2007
= Fun:4.0 out of 5 stars 
Guitar Hero: Rock the 80's is essentially a song pack, rather than the kind of step up that Guitar Hero 2 was from the original. How much you enjoy the game will depend directly on how highly you rate the tracklist, so make sure you have a good look through it and try to play some songs first before leaping to buy it on the strength of the other titles.

This version is 80s-centric (obviously) and lacks the "something for everyone" range of the first two games. Also, it does not feature a collection of bonus tracks like in GH1 and GH2, which removes a large amount of longevity and replay factor from the title.

Personally, I found that there was a good handful of tracks that I liked, but too many which were uninteresting (both to listen to and and to play) for it to have been worth the purchase.

Definitely worth a try though, and if you like the music on it then a solid addition to a Guitar Hero collection.

Scott Pilgrim (Volume 1): Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life v. 1
Scott Pilgrim (Volume 1): Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life: Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life v. 1
by Bryan Lee O'Malley
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny, tender, original, and hip, 30 July 2007
Scott Pilgrim is in a band, is dating a girl in high school, and is, we find out, highly skilled in over-the-top, videogame-style combat.

In Precious Little Life, Bryan Lee O'Malley takes us into Scott's world, and the lives of his friends, such as his gay room mate, Wallace Wells (cynical and intelligent, but not bitchy enough to be a stereotype).

What makes Scott Pilgrim a fun series to read is the sharp dialogue, full of non sequiturs and shallowisms, combined with an unreality where videogame and pop culture references take physical forms, escaping their throwaway nature to be genuine plot points and personality traits.

This first book benefits from working on character introductions and leaving plot progression on the side. O'Malley is strongest when his inhabitants are sitting around talking, rather than when anything of actual importance is happening.

The Story of the Dancing Frog (Red Fox picture books)
The Story of the Dancing Frog (Red Fox picture books)
by Quentin Blake
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best children's books I have read, 30 July 2007
The Story of the Dancing Frog is a short and simple tale about a woman who suffers a tragedy in her life but manages to overcome it by discovering a frog with extraordinary dancing abilities. The writing style is clear and understated, and Quentin Blake's inimitable illustrations add a layer of humour and vividness to SHOW the frog's personality rather than merely tell it in the text.

There are two things I really like about The Story of the Dancing Frog: the first is the appearance of the frog - there is something inherently entertaining about a frog mimicking a person, and Quentin Blake really humanises the character; the second is the profound message about grief and happiness that the story carefully and subtly delivers.

This book belongs on every child's bookshelf. Actually, it belongs on every adult's bookshelf too!

by W. G. Sebald
Edition: Paperback

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A smart, winding read with lots of detail, 20 July 2007
This review is from: Austerlitz (Paperback)
Austerlitz is a sophisticated book which is frequently difficult to follow, and even boring in some places, but is ultimately a very satisfying read.

The Austerlitz of the title is an architecture expert, obsessed with buildings and their accompanying history. We are told his story through a friend's recollections of conversations - an interesting decision by Sebald as it gives the narrative a strange, often misdirecting, flavour, similar to the sections of second-order narrative in Wuthering Heights.

What makes Austerlitz an interesting book is how it first shows who Austerlitz is now (the professional, highly-educated expert), and then, in the latter half of the book, delves into his childhood, right up to his life as a younger, and then older, adult. The whole book is one giant character study, rich in detail and intellectual diversions about architecture and political history. It is deliberately provocatively written (in one place a single sentence stretches several pages), but the journey is worthwhile and the content dense enough to warrant rereading of random passages long after the journey is over.

Top 10 TP Book 01
Top 10 TP Book 01
by Zander Cannon
Edition: Paperback

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best of the (America's) best (comics)., 18 July 2007
This review is from: Top 10 TP Book 01 (Paperback)
Let's get straight to the point about what is good about Top 10. Ready?

Everyone is a superhero.

The Top 10 are the police in a futuristic city called Neopolis, but not only do they have special powers, so does everyone in the city. The reason this concept is so brilliant is that, traditionally, comic book superhero stories play on the superhero having special powers, in a normal world, where all the main characters are unrealistically buff gentlemen and similarly unrealistically large-breasted ladies, with normal people depicted as ugly, pathetic weaklings. Come on, most people don't want to read something like that! In fact, such comics are almost solely responsible for the graphic novel medium often being viewed as immature.

Therein lies the beauty of Top 10: you feel you could be part of the world it depicts. Indeed, you feel you are part of the world in Top Ten, that it is really just our own world, through an everyone-has-super-powers filter.

Top Ten tackles themes that are important and relevant in our society today: sexuality, racism, drug abuse, mortality, and many others. However, the way to which these familiar themes are alluded is so clever that you do not notice parallels immediately and are happily drawn into the mysteries and adventures by which the cops find their lives made so hectic. Relationships between the members of Top Ten are an integral point of interest, with almost everyone having a crush on another member, and several close partnerships evolving through the series. This is perhaps best seen in the development of Toy Box: a punk girl with an army of vicious robot toys; and Jeff Smax: and a tall, dark, blue brick wall of a man.

The art is drawn in a gritty, realistic way that adds greatly to the fleshing out of characters. Toy Box and Jeff Smax are beautiful, to name but two, though I couldn't mention beauty without dropping Jackie Phantom's name. It is not that the art itself is drawn in an erotic or sexy fashion (has that ever done anything but lowered the tone of a comic?) but that the characters look realistic so you become attached to them emotionally.

A joyous series.

Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan
Dogs and Demons: The Fall of Modern Japan
by Alex Kerr
Edition: Paperback
Price: 14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well researched and startling, but a little one-sided, 18 July 2007
This book is a fascinating and horrifying look under the surface of modern Japan. The author analyses many (government and business) policies and explains their hugely negative environmental, social and cultural consequences. According to the book, much Japanese countryside is being replaced by roads leading nowhere and unnecessary structures protecting uninhabited land. Kerr also explains how unwarranted construction projects are effectively just a form of welfare, and bureaucratic corruption creates unneeded projects for the sake of personal gain. And that's just in the first chapter (!) - Kerr keeps that pace the whole way through, ripping into policies left right and centre.

The criticism of one-sidedness is carefully defended against in the foreword, though it's still frustrating that the author keeps passing judgement without weighing positives and negatives. Of course, this only makes it more readable - the book is difficult to put down once Kerr gets onto the particularly controversial material.

Having a knowledge of Japan primarily influenced by animé, films and Basho, it was interesting to see how Dogs and Demons contrasted with what I thought I knew. Natural descriptions in The Narrow Road To The Deep North suddenly seem more fantastical than the science-fiction futurism of Akira's Neo-Tokyo.

A highly informative book, well worth the time of anyone interested in Japan.

by Roald Dahl
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourite childrens' books, 18 July 2007
This review is from: Matilda (Paperback)
I read Matilda many times in primary school because I found it exciting, funny, and empowering. It teaches children that they can be clever without being a goody goody, or forsaking modesty. It also teaches children that if they are clever enough then they will develop special abilities, though perhaps not quite the same ones that Matilda has!

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