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Nicholas Palmer "Nick Palmer" (London, UK)
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Thierry Mugler Briefcase
Thierry Mugler Briefcase
Offered by Panorama Stores
Price: £15.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent short-term value, 24 Oct 2013
This review is from: Thierry Mugler Briefcase (Shoes)
I've had this twice and agree with both positive and negative reviews. It's excellent while it lasts - the laptop fits neatly, the multiple coimpartments are spacious, it's professinoal looking without being flashy. And the handle breaks after a few months of intensive use with heavy contents. I just shrug and buy another one when that happens - am about to order my third. Still cheaper than buying a heavy-duty bag that may not quite fit daily needs in the same way.


Before the Poison
Before the Poison
by Peter Robinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

2.0 out of 5 stars Excellent characterisation, leaden pace, 6 July 2013
This review is from: Before the Poison (Paperback)
I've read all Robinson's books so I'm perhaps a typical fan - I like the humane, world-weary, intelligent style and the steady pace.

This book is quite good in its way too, but not for a typical fan. The narrative is divided between a reflective composer, the diaries of an idealistic nurse, later executed for murder, and a writer on true crimes stories at the time, each in distinctive styles: the composer rather fussy and preoccupied with himself, the nurse enthusiastic, caring and a bit naive, the commentator opinionated and pompous. They're allh well done, as are various similarly convincing characters encountered as the composer explores the story and tries to see if there was another explanation for the murder.

But the plot barely exists. Dozens of pages go by as the composer puts on some music, wonders what to have for dinner, possibly sees a ghost but then again perhaps not, and chews over things to himself at his extensive leisure. He eventually works out a plausible explanation for what happened and then the book ends. Far from being a book it's hard to put down, this is a book it's hard to reopen if you've taken a break. Typical sample of rolling descrptive material while the plot idles in neutral:

"After I had picked up the fresh food, I called at the local bakery and found some crusty baguetted, then I bought my stack of newspapers at Mills's, picked up a few staples, such as tea, cream, chocolate, wine, bread and coffee, at the Co-op, and headed home. I was able to spend some of the afternoon sitting out in my back garden siipping chilled Pinot Grigio, listening to the birds in the trees and reading through the various news and arts sections until it was time to prepare the meal."

If you fancy a real change of pace from Robinson (as I guess he did himself) and want to enjoy his characterisations you'll like the book. If you are looking for a DCI Banks style book, skip this one.


Red Gold
Red Gold
by Alan Furst
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.66

4.0 out of 5 stars One to read if you like your stories nuanced, 10 Mar 2013
This review is from: Red Gold (Paperback)
I agree with the positive comments and would add an additional one: the book does a really very good job of portraying the nuances of occupied France. The interaction between the Germans looking for a quiet billet, the timid Petainists trying to get by, the ruthless but effective Communists, the BBC-backed Gaullists and the old officer corps is beautifully done, without making simple goodies and baddies of any of them. People who like this should also check out Sansom's books, which are mostly about similar characters torn between rival ruthless factions.


Beyond The Shadows: Book 3 of the Night Angel
Beyond The Shadows: Book 3 of the Night Angel
by Brent Weeks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very rich high fantasy, quirky style, 19 Nov 2012
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Just to supplement what others have written: volume 3 will satisfy the most demanding lovers of complex rivalries - with seven different armies battling it out in the final stages, it's like Game of Thrones on speed.

Things to like: very good range of characters, some of them with interesting mixtures of strengths and flaws. Loads of action. Plot less predictable than usual, partly because of the ambiguous characters - mystic Dorian's fate in particular hangs in the balance throughout as he wrestles with his evil family legacy and bigamous marriage. Inventive plot devices - by no means just standard fantasy fare.

Things some may not like: The style and apparent targeted age range of the trilogy varies. In volume 1 especially, serious mages come out with high school phrases like "Are you mad at me?", and everyone's trying unsuccessfully to lose their virginity. In volume 2, a powerful killer mage is spanked by a priestess - not as some sort of erotic feature, but just mentioned as a weird throwaway line. By volume 3 there's quite a bit of sex and also some seriously sentimental passages which people will find either moving or gushy according to taste. The hero starts as a downtrodden waif but rapidly turns into something out of a Superman movie, really overpowered compared with his opponents.

Overall a bit uneven, but it's a great read and a fine start for a new writer.


Heartstone (The Shardlake Series)
Heartstone (The Shardlake Series)
by C. J. Sansom
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.80

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Return to early strengths, 31 Jan 2011
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The latest in the series featuring Shardlake, a liberal-minded, compassionate humpbacked lawyer trying to navigate through the shifting politics and conspiracies of the reformation. Shardlake began the series as a Protestant reformist, but over time becomes increasingly dimayed by the ruthlessness of all sides.
Here King Henry's wars in France have been going badly and the narrative is cast in the looming shadow of potential French invasion. Shardlake is called south to investigate a case of potential inheritance deception, and becomes caught up in both family and court intrigue.
After the frankly gory details in the last novel (when Shardlake was pursuing a serial killer with a bent for sadistic metaphors), the style here reverts to the gentle, reflective pace that won Sansom so many admirers in his early novels. We follow Shardlake's moral dilemmas and feel for him as he searches for the truth at the heart of the intertwined conspiracies.
The snag, for some, will be that the novel also returns to the leisurely pace of the early books. An important part of the plot is known if you're familiar with the story of the Mary Rose (if you're not, don't google it or you'll spoil part of the suspense), and the denouement of the family saga is eyebrow-raising rather than dramatic.
That's fine as far as I'm concerned: I like the thoughtful, intimate feel of Sansom's natural style more than when he tries to get into the Hannibal Lecter market. But expect an agreeable read rather than a thriller.


Tyrant: Funeral Games
Tyrant: Funeral Games
by Christian Cameron
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent renewal of a great series, 29 Nov 2010
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This review is from: Tyrant: Funeral Games (Paperback)
I was delighted by this book, and somewhat surprised to be delighted, since installment 3 of a series tends to feel a little repetitive. Cameron avoids this by starting the novel after the death of the hero in the first two and the imminent death of his warrior-queen wife. That leaves the barely adolescent twin children on the run (since their enemies want to kill off the hereditary line), and the first part of the book is quite different from the others: it's about the flight of the twins with a small party through dangerous territory. As the book proceeds, the emphasis shifts as the children grow up and start to build their revenge.

This "reset" really works very well - one of Christian's talents is the ability to slide effortlessly from the personal to the grand tactical. You can also buy this one without reading the earlier novels, since the characters are largely new. The book is further enriched by the best antagonist of the series - an intelligent, cunning agent of Athens, with perfectly understandable motives and all the doubts and uncertainty of the heroes, so you see the plot unfolding like a game of chess with an insight into the minds of both sides. Last but not least, the battle scenes are very well described, giving both a feelnig for the bewliderment and fear of the individual soldiers and a sense of the tactical manoevures.

A cautionary note for the historically sensitive: the characters talk (and swear) pretty much in modern English: this appears to be a feature rather than a bug, presumably for easier readability, and you have to accept that they don't say things like "Alas, my King, it seemeth that we may be lost". Personally I think that's fine - it's in effect been translated to current English. On the other hand, you get illuminating historical notes and discussion at the back. Overall one of the best books I've read this year.


Warrior of Rome III: Lion of the Sun (Warrior of Rome 3)
Warrior of Rome III: Lion of the Sun (Warrior of Rome 3)
by Harry Sidebottom
Edition: Hardcover

20 of 26 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Authentic detail but fails to grip, 3 Aug 2010
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There are plenty of good things to say about this, but ultimately I'd only really recommend it to readers who thirst for accurate historical detail about the Roman Empire in decline in the form of a novel. They have a treat here; for others, it doesn't in my opinion quite work.

The plot is promising enough. The hero Ballista, a former northern "barbarian", has risen through the ranks to become a senior Roman commander - senior enough to be enmeshed in hideous political rivalry between rival contenders for the Imperial thrones in East and Weest parts of the decaying empire. At the end of the last book, he was captured with the Emperor by the Persians: he's released to negotiate with Rome, but swears on the life of his children that he'll return.

However, his family is held effectively hostage by the new dual Emperors in Rome, and he's persuaded to break his oath - and is haunted for some time by the belief that he's doomed his family. He returns east to command forces under the citation of the mad eastern Emperor. I won't give the outcome away but there are plenty of twists and turns.

The characters are generally pure goodies or pure baddies but credibly filled out and different from each other. There is a liberal sprinkling of Latin terms to add flavour and an extensive appendix describing how the book fits with historical relaity.

So what's the problem? First, the book doesn't really have a narrative whole. Ballista has a series of political and military problems which he deals with, as a professional soldier having a number of difficult days at the office. The early chapters are all about the interaction with his Persian captors: you could skip all of them and the rest of the book wouldn't be much affected apart from Ballista worrying about the oath. Even the character in the title (The Lion of the Sun) only turns up in the latter part of the book in a powerful role but essentially a walk-on part. Second, Ballista is a pretty dour character - decent enough, but he ranges from being broodingly austere to less broodingly austere: he isn't all that interesting as a person. Third, the author's decision to make the book historically plausible constrains him from giving Ballista a decisive commanding role, and he makes up for it by having him put himself in the front line to an implausible extent - he personally leads a small scouting expedition while commanding a large army.

It's ultimately a book for history fans who want to relax with some fiction. If that's you, buy it. If not, there may be more enjoyable reads.
Comment Comments (10) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 28, 2013 12:13 AM GMT


Disciples II: Dark Prophecy
Disciples II: Dark Prophecy
Offered by Satsumo
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-finished but dated turn-based fantasy strategy, 30 July 2010
= Fun:3.0 out of 5 stars 
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I was a big fan of Heroes of Might and Magic, the turn-based fantasy strategy series, and when I saw that Disciples was similar and had a new edition just out (Disciples 3), I thought I'd picked up an inexpensive Disciples 2 and see if I liked it.

And yes, it's *extremely* like Heroes of Might and Magic 3. You start with a city and a leader and can use tax income and resources to build armies with different types of unit, conquer cities, and hire more leaders. There are six different kinds of leader, three races (more in expansions), magic to research and some decent plot lines. Moreover, the AI is pretty good - take risks at even the Average skill level and you'll be a dead monarch in no time. There is a multi-player option both by LAN and via the internet.

What's not to like? Well, first it's turn-based, which I like but you might not. Basically you get all the time you want to contemplate your order before pressing "end turn", so you can indulge your strategic expertise without the pressure of time, but also without any sense of urgency. Second, the graphics are definitely dated. The map view can't be rotated, so if you have a hero behind a bush it's quite hard to se, let alone click on him. There are comments from advisers, but they're not cut-scenes with actors as in most modern games, but cheesy pop-ups saying things like "Lord, we have lost the magic glyph, we must find it or we are doomed!"

There is plenty of play in it - three epics, masses of individual scenarios, and sequels which you can get very cheaply if you want more. Overall, if you like turn-based fantasy, it's a very good bargain at the currently available prices. But it's not exactly state of the art.


Vampire Academy (book 1)
Vampire Academy (book 1)
by Richelle Mead
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good young adult vampire story with thoughtful undertones, 30 July 2010
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I'm a fan of Richelle Mead's adult books, especially the Georgina McCaid series (for those unfamiliar with them - the heroine is a self-deprecating succubus with a guilty conscience who runs a Seattle bookshop and has a complex love life), but have steeered clear of the Vampire Academy series since it's aimed at the young adult market (specifically, I'd guess, girls in the 16-21 range). But I thought I'd give it a try as I liked the others and there is a whole series of books on the Vampire Academy.

And yes, it's pretty good with the reservation that the reader needs to accept who it's being written for. The background, briefly, is that there are good and bad vampires, and the good ones drink blood with the consent of the donors, who really enjoy the experience, while the bad ones (the Strigoi) go around killing people and especially other vampires. Vampires, including Strigoi, are more or less immortal. The heroine Rose isn't a vampire - she's a dhampir, someone with a mission to protect a vampire with whom she has a special psychic bond. She's at the Academy with her protegee vampire Lissa, and at one level it's the sort of college story that you'd expect - studies, love, petty rivalries, parties, etc.

But it's also a thriller (because they're being stalked by Strigoi) and a mystery (because some of the apparent good guys are actually Strigoi) and, just like Richelle's adult books, it explores the rights and wrongs of the situation: Should Rose put her mission before her love life? Should she break the Academy rules to protect Lissa? Should she let Lissa use her talent for healing, even though it may nudge her towards madness?

The sex side, which is explicit in the McCaid series, is heavily toned down here, so readers who mainly like that aspect wil be disappointed. It's also not quite as packed with wise-cracks as the McCaid books. More generally, you really need to be willing to empathise with female college students to enjoy the novel - otherwise it's like reading Huckleberry Finn if you don't like rivers or the outdoors. With those reservations, though, it's tense, clever, witty and humane, and I'm not surprised it's been so successful that there's a whole series of sequels.


Oath Of Gold (Deed of Paksenarrion)
Oath Of Gold (Deed of Paksenarrion)
by Elizabeth Moon
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £4.70

4.0 out of 5 stars Dramatic conclusion to the trilogy, 27 Jun 2010
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This bring the trilogy to a stirring finale. The plot has been well-described by other reviewers, so I'll just add some notes which may help decide if it's for you:

- If you liked the first two volumes, you should certainly get this one: it's the most eventful and balanced of the three (volume one was pretty plain sailing for heroine Paks, volume two was pretty tough) and has all the drama that you could want.

- Unlike the heroes in many fantasy series, Paks and the other 'good' characters have flaws and difficulties to overcome, giving them greater depth and believability. There is also a choice of villains, evil in different ways, and they get a good shot at victory so you don't feel you're just rolling towards an inevitable outcome.

- There is a decidedly unpleasant torture session describing a Calvary-like five days when Paks goes through terrible horrors testing her true status as a paladin for good. There are obvious analogies to the Biblical story, which you may or may not think a good thing, but as another reviewer has noted, Moon doesn't wallow enthusiastically in the torture.

- The general atmosphere is very high fantasy a la Tolkien, but mostly with a more matter-of-fact style with some limitations in range of vocabulary - for instance, nobody ever smiles, they always "grin". The upside is that the action is rapid - unlike Tolkien, who can be very leisurely at times, this keeps us moving from one crisis to the next.

Overall: flawed but recommended.


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