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Erin Britton

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Saga Volume 1 (Saga (Comic Series))
Saga Volume 1 (Saga (Comic Series))
by Brian K Vaughan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.25

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saga #1, 19 Feb. 2014
Marko (vegetarian, recent pacifist and practitioner of generally effective magic) and Alana (winged, gun lover, enjoys the taste of her own breast milk) used to be on opposite sides of an interstellar conflict but now they’re in love and on the run from their former factions. They’re also new parents trying to keep their baby alive on a hostile planet in the most adverse of circumstances. Saga is an excellent sci-fi comic written by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples and this volume collects the first six issues in the on-going series. The universe of Saga is dark, twisted and utterly compelling – this is one of the best comics that I’ve read in ages.


Tape
Tape
by Steven Camden
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tape, 19 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Tape (Hardcover)
Ryan and Ameliah are two teenagers separated by two decades but united by fate, the magic of the universe, and a cassette tape. In 2013 Ameliah finds a tape in her grandmother’s house and when she plays it she hears a boy’s voice, a voice that seems to be speaking directly to her. Back in 1993 Ryan records a diary to help deal with the loss of his mother and with his new-found love for a girl who doesn’t even know that he exists. Tape is an excellent debut novel from Steven Camden and is sure to be a big hit with teenage readers, particularly with those who loved Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist, The Perks of Being a Wallflower and the many books of John Green.


Knightley and Son
Knightley and Son
by Rohan Gavin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Knightley & Son, 11 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Knightley and Son (Paperback)
Alan Knightley was a top private detective specialising in those transmundane cases that baffle the regular police force until someone or something nefarious caught up with him and left him in a coma for four years. His son Darkus has spent those years becoming familiar with his Dad’s past cases and perfecting his own deductive reasoning (and dapper dress sense) which is just as well really since, no sooner does Alan awake and do a bunk from the hospital, than the pair find themselves pursued by secretive villainous organisations, meddling police, angry relatives and the adherents of a popular self help book. Knightley & Son is the first book in a proposed mystery series starring Darkus and Dad and it’s a very intriguing opener. It’s a book aimed at younger readers but there are still plenty of twists and turns as well as action and double-crossing and a fair bit of humour.


The Dig
The Dig
by Cynan Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.08

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Dig, 21 Jan. 2014
This review is from: The Dig (Hardcover)
The Dig is the highly emotional, often very troubling story of two very different men: Daniel is a struggling, recently bereaved farmer who carefully nurtures the lives of the lambs that he rears while Ag (not his real name but perhaps the most appropriate choice) is troubled man who captures and facilitates the torture of badgers for the amusement of others. The two men live close to each other in an unnamed rural area of Wales and their disparate lives have set them on a collision course with one another that can only end in tragedy. There is a timeless quality to The Dig for all its brutality as it is ultimately the story of the relationships, both positive and negative, that men have had with the land since the dawn of time. While there are nods to modernity and to the difficulties that people who choose to make their living from the land have nowadays, many of the struggles facing Daniel and Ag have been in existence seemingly forever. The Dig is an intense, impressive novel about the hardness, undeniable beauty and occasional cruelty of modern life in the countryside.


How to be a Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More and Love What You Do
How to be a Productivity Ninja: Worry Less, Achieve More and Love What You Do
by Graham Allcott
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How to be a Productivity Ninja, 21 Jan. 2014
Starting from the tragic yet true idea that it's impossible to actually get everything done, Graham Allcott sets out to retrain readers' business brains so that they better able to work effectively and efficiently in the age of information overload. Master the techniques of Ruthlessness, Mindfulness, Zen-like Calm, Stealth and Camouflage and you too will be able to defeat the demon inbox and tame your tiresome tasks!


Happy Depths of a Homophobe
Happy Depths of a Homophobe
Price: £3.48

4.0 out of 5 stars Happy Depths of a Homophobe, 10 Jan. 2014
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Happy Depths of a Homophobe chronicles the lives and loves of an initially disparate group of characters who ultimately find their fates to be intertwined. Mark sits at the edge of a men-only pond facing his loneliness as he reminisces about great works of art and observes the youth and attitudes of other bathers until he strikes up a friendship with Harold, an extremely outgoing older man with a taste for freedom that has eluded Mark. As Harold and the others enjoy life at the pond, unemployed actor Luke sits in the nearby park with his young son Daniel. Still trying to recover from the depressive episode that resulted in his being committed to a psychiatric ward Luke is in an unhappy, somewhat oppressive marriage with primary school teacher Meg. Luke is meant to be working on his novel (and simultaneously on his mental health and temper problems) but instead keeps being drawn to the park where he strikes up a friendship with the free-spirited Suzie.

Both Mark and Luke find themselves needing to break free from their newfound friendships and constrictive daily lives and by coincidence choose to holiday on the same Greek island. The two men meet and through their nascent friendship begin to understand better their own characters and pasts. Also living on the island is Miranda, an ex-pat herself who is writing her own book based on the lives of the foreign visitors to her island home and whose own narrative mingles with the main storyline.

There are so many interesting characters to be found in Happy Depths of a Homophobe that it can sometimes be difficult to keep up with them all. While Mark and Luke seem to be the main characters in the book, Mark really comes out of it as the `better' man. He may be depressed and almost resigned to living a celibate life but his trip to Greece reminds him of his youth and of the man that he truly loved. Mark might be introspective but he is seemingly much more caring than Luke and takes greater steps to help in the lives of others. Luke himself is clearly still suffering from depression but his illness has made him rather myopic and selfish. He's not particularly likeable although his storyline is interesting and there is a sense of hope that there might be something better on the horizon.

As well as Mark and Harold, Peter Tegel also introduces some of the other visitors to the bathing pond. While people like Bill and Fernando crop up only occasionally (promising characters like these could actually merit being more developed/used if the book could be longer), Russian exile Nijinsky features the most and is the most complex character. Nijinsky suffers from mental illness (of a more extreme kind than Luke) and his erratic behaviour leads to his becoming homeless. The mystery of Nijinsky's backstory hangs over the novel and adds a great element of intrigue to the story.

Happy Depths of a Homophobe is a great book and an excellent character story. Peter Tegel has a great ear for dialogue and their many conversations really bring the characters to life. The lives of the central characters are believable and, while some of them may occasionally be infuriating, all of the characters are relatable and engaging. If anything, the book could have been longer so that more characters could be featured more prominently and further potential storylines could be followed.


What W. H. Auden Can Do for You (Writers on Writers)
What W. H. Auden Can Do for You (Writers on Writers)
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars McCall Smith on Auden, 6 Jan. 2014
Upon finding herself in a moral quandary, philosopher/investigator Isabel Dalhousie (of Scotland Street fame) likes to consult the work of insightful yet cantankerous poet W. H. Auden. After reading What W. H. Auden Can Do for You, the reasoning behind her faith in the wisdom of Auden is suddenly a great deal clearer - Alexander McCall Smith also believes that guidance (however vague) to just about every problem can be found in the life/work of Auden. What W. H. Auden Can Do for You is therefore a deeply personal account by McCall Smith of the impact that Auden's work has had on his own life as well as a guide for those looking to find out more about Auden's life and poems.

McCall Smith begins by providing a very interesting if abbreviated biography of Auden that guides the reader through the poet's schooling to his experiences living in Berlin, Civil War-era Spain and New York, and to his later years spent back in the UK teaching at Oxford before going into self-imposed exile near Vienna. Auden's life and experiences of course influenced his poetry and so McCall Smith's biography is particularly useful when it comes to trying to recognise the fact behind the fiction (or at least fictionalised accounts) in his poems. What W. H. Auden Can Do for You is however a very slim volume and so there is (I expect) a lot more that could be said about Auden's life if a more complete biography was being sought.

McCall Smith writes in the clear, conversational tone that will be familiar to readers of his novels and has a real gift for critiquing and (if this is the right word) popularising Auden's poetry. While many of the poems that McCall Smith discusses are familiar, he does also include some of Auden's more obscure works and so there is a good chance that even long-time fans of the poet may well discover something new here. Saying that, McCall Smith's poetic analyses are often rather brief - this is after all more a tribute to Auden than a deep academic study of his work - and so can sometimes seem a bit superficial despite the author's obvious earnestness.

As well as providing insight into the meaning behind Auden's poetry, with What W. H. Auden Can Do for You McCall Smith also argues for the wisdom of readers using the poems as inspiration for living a philosophical, more introspective life. McCall Smith energetically discusses the impact that Auden has had on his own life and how different poems have impacted on him at different points in time. The book is clearly a deeply personal affair for McCall Smith and one that has been almost a lifetime in the making - while Auden may not have the same impact on the lives of all readers it is still heartening and illuminating to read about the effect that his work has had on McCall Smith.

What W. H. Auden Can Do for You is a short, heartfelt tribute to a great poet and a complex character. Alexander McCall Smith's book serves well as both an introduction to Auden's work for those just discovering the poet and a neat history of the life behind the words for those already familiar with Auden's many great poems as well as offering insight into McCall Smith's own life and philosophy.


The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Penguin Hardback Classics)
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (Penguin Hardback Classics)
by John le Carré
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Super Spies, 2 Jan. 2014
With the Cold War at its most frosty, Alec Leamas, former Station Head of the West Berlin office of the British Intelligence Service, is sent back to London in disgrace after his best asset is assassinated during a botched defection. Things look bleak for Leamas but Control, mercenary head of the Circus, believes that he could still be good for one last job. Leamas is to be dismissed from the Service and is to make his dissatisfaction with his former employers clear so that he might seem ripe for turning by foreign agents. Leamas should then be able to prove useful to his country once again by slipping falsified information to the East German Communists that Hans-Dieter Mundt, a high-ranking and vicious remember of their security service, is in fact a double agent working for the British.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is another excellent espionage thriller from John le Carre and offers a master class in how to pull off the double (triple? quadruple?) cross on both characters and readers. There is no pretence as to glamour or righteousness in the spying game as portrayed by le Carre, both sides in the Cold War being equally willing to deceive and sabotage the other - to say nothing of a willingness to sacrifice their own people - and Alex Leamas' last mission is a particularly murky one. The story is starkly written, the twisting, turning plot is completely without padding, leading to a sort of literary harshness that echoes the ethical ambiguity at the heart of the book.

Leamas himself is clearly a burned out, morally bankrupt character as his career in Berlin comes to an end but he is given a chance to reform himself, in some part at least, when Control sends him back out into the field. Although he is under no illusions as to the work he does and the kind of people he works with, Leamas does begin to see that he could have the chance of a normal-ish life out of the "cold" even if circumstances seem to be working against him. The Spy Who Came in from the Cold also introduces one of le Carre's best female characters in the shape of Liz Gold, idealistic Communist librarian and Leamas' love interest. While definitely an outsider in the spy world, Liz ends up playing a far greater role in the Mundt affair than anyone expected and she rises to the occasion even when clearly terrified and befuddled.

Several of le Carre's regular Circus operatives also have a role to play in Leamas' mission. George Smiley and Peter Guillam are both instrumental in setting up the operation against Mundt even if Smiley is more dubious than ever about the morality of the Circus's work. It is also their actions that result in Liz Gold becoming more embroiled in the plan than might have been anticipated and, for this reason, Smiley's own choices and morality remain questionable. Of course, it's not only his own side that Leamas has to worry about: Mundt is a cold, terrifying foe and there is a strong sense of danger about the mission from the very beginning.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold is one of the best, most calculatingly brutal spy stories by a master of the genre. The story speeds along as the intrigue and double-crosses mount up until Alec Leamas finally understands his place in the espionage game and John le Carre delivers a final damning indictment of the intelligence community.


The Adventure Time Encyclopaedia: Inhabitants, Lore, Spells, and Ancient Crypt Warnings of the Land of Ooo Circa 19.56 B.G.E. - 501 A.G.E
The Adventure Time Encyclopaedia: Inhabitants, Lore, Spells, and Ancient Crypt Warnings of the Land of Ooo Circa 19.56 B.G.E. - 501 A.G.E
by Martin Olson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.49

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mathematical!, 1 Jan. 2014
Hunson Abadeer (aka Lord of Evil, aka the Nameless One, whose unnameableness makes the junk mail of eternity undeliverable) has kindly compiled, written and painstakingly edited this priceless, brilliant and ineffable Encyclopaedia of the Land of Ooo. Drawing on all of his most evil and nefarious knowledge (as well as being aided by some totes radical handwritten marginalia by Finn, Jake and Marceline), Abadeer offers his startlingly illuminating and not at all biased insight into the inhabitants, lore, spells and ancient crypt warnings of the Land of Ooo circa 19.56 BGE to 501 AGE.

The first book of awesomeness in the Encyclopaedia critiques those worthless inhabitants of the Land of Ooo whose souls the most marvellously benevolent Lord of Evil refrains from sucking out in deference to his daughter. There are detailed entries (including myths, legends and press releases) for Finn the Human, Jake the Dog, Princess Bubblegum, Marceline the Vampire Queen, Ice King, Lady Rainicorn and Lumpy Space Princess. Ice King most clearly wins the award for most tragic bummer of an origin story.

There follows in book two some pages devoted to the lowerarchy of utterly insignificant inhabitants of the Land of Ooo, all of whom the Lord of Evil yearns to destroy. Although these despicable creatures are most certainly beneath the contempt of the most EVIL of Evil Lords, Abadeer has promised that this Encyclopaedia will offer a comprehensive survey of all things Ooovian and so has amassed the required information through a combination of evil psychic resonance, spy networks and other shadowy sources. The likenesses of the multifarious Ooovians are Technicolor triumphs and the biographical sketches are true masterpieces of minutia. The Brief Glossary of Most Hated Princesses of Ooo would prove particularly useful in instances of Ice King marriage emergencies.

The rest of the Encyclopaedia contains such needful items as: Ice King's incredibly pathetic little homemade fanzine and trading cards, BMO Instructional Pamphlet and User Guide, Princess Bubblegum's Official Travel Guide to the Candy Kingdom and Beyond (NB: everything is edible but you can't eat anything that talks), Marceline's Travel Blog for Demon Backpackers, and the Lost Texts of Ooo. It might not tell you anything you want to know about Adventure Time but the Encyclopaedia will certainly tell you more than you ever wanted to know about life and life forms in Ooo.

This is absolutely the most utterly awesomely useful guidebook to the Land of Ooo that I have ever encountered. Mathematical!


It's About Time: From Calendars and Clocks to Moon Cycles and Light Years - A History
It's About Time: From Calendars and Clocks to Moon Cycles and Light Years - A History
by Liz Evers
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars It's About Time, 30 Dec. 2013
It's About Time is a fascinating tribute to the creation, customs and conventions of timekeeping. Liz Evers provides an interesting and often amusing commentary on the origins and impact of timekeeping as well as analysing the most significant (and occasionally crazy) related inventions and plucky pioneers. There's plenty of time-related trivia and amusing anecdotes for factoid lovers too.


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