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Londonist (London, United Kingdom)

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by Scarlett Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, quirky and likeable - an interesting and clever novel, 9 April 2010
This review is from: PopCo (Paperback)
This was the first novel by Scarlett Thomas I've read, and I loved it. Her writing style is idiosyncratic, her voice is passionate, and she positively fizzes with ideas. While reading PopCo I found myself entertained, impressed, and occasionally provoked into self reflection.

PopCo is constructed around two interwoven timelines. In one, the main character, Alice Butler, is raised by her grandparents (wartime code breakers and mathematicians, with personal links to Alan Turing, no less) to become an expert in codes, ciphers and related mathematical topics. In the other, the grown-up Alice, now a toy designer at a global corporation called PopCo, attends a company event in a remote mansion on Dartmoor, and then finds herself assigned to a resident team tasked with secretly developing a new product for teenage girls.

The narrative weaves back and forth between Alice's relationship with her beloved grandparents, her strategies to survive the ruthless social environment at school, her struggles with her conscience, and her curious, mostly detached but sometimes passionate interactions with colleagues. Throughout the book, there are detailed discursions upon cryptology, complete with tables and diagrams. At one point, there is a story within a story concerning a seventeenth century orphan-turned-sailor-turned-pirate, and the mystery of some lost treasure. Somehow, all these disparate threads are woven together to sparkling effect. The notion that PopCo is a toy and games company is really the jewel in the crown. This ingenious device allows Alice's childhood, so deeply concerned with codes, secrecy and personal allegiances, and with striving for personal integrity in the face of social pressures to conform, to dovetail neatly with her adult life - game design, game playing, the codewords and uniforms of corporate culture, the marketing of brands as identities, and the minefield of personal relationships.

The book is by no means flawless. The author attributes an enthusiasm for homeopathy to Alice which sits oddly with a passion for mathematics and logic. Several of the characters are strident evangelists for veganism, all speaking with a single voice, much to the detriment of the book. The end story is based on a highly unlikely scenario. But despite these niggles, there's something engaging, quirky and likeable about this novel. It's worth reading just for the cleverly observed portrayal of PopCo, the corporation, with all of its complexity, game playing and social engineering. PopCo is an original, thought provoking and enjoyable book, and I warmly encourage every open minded person to read it.

Sixty-One Nails (Courts of the Feyre 1)
Sixty-One Nails (Courts of the Feyre 1)
by Mike Shevdon
Edition: Paperback

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A promising start marred by disappointing plot developments, 10 Mar. 2010
WARNING: SPOILERS. I enjoyed Sixty-One Nails, but not to the degree I expected. The book starts off strongly, creating a believable character in Niall Petersen, describing his initial encounters with Blackbird, and introducing an interesting alternative London with hidden gateways to a magical realm. Until about halfway through the book, I was engrossed. But at that point, the storytelling seemed to fall apart. I had been surprised at the rapidity with which Blackbird had accepted Niall as her equal, but I was completely taken aback at the sudden onset of an intense relationship between them which wasn't founded in anything believable. It was impossible to accept that someone with Blackbird's life experience would fall hook, line and sinker for a naive and self-centred man who had barely ventured a toe into her world. The increasingly mawkish dialogue between Niall and Blackbird was implausible and jarring. These developments overshadowed the more imaginative threads in the plot, and in the supposed context of a threat to the entire fabric of human existence, limited the focus to a single, essentially conventional relationship. Long before the end of the book, I had lost interest in the characters of Niall and Blackbird. However despite the problems at the heart of the story, on balance, I still enjoyed Sixty-One Nails. I felt the author created an interesting premise for a magical universe, I liked the clever way that he wove the threads of the Feyre story into English history, and I thought his writing about specific places in London was vivid and atmospheric.

Registry Mechanic 2009
Registry Mechanic 2009

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Aggressive but respected registry cleaner. Approach with care., 23 Nov. 2008
This review is from: Registry Mechanic 2009 (CD-ROM)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Windows Registry can only too easily become clogged up with unwanted, invalid and orphaned entries which, over time, can severely impact your system's boot time and performance. My own preferred and recommended approach to avoiding these problems is to use a number of freeware programs : CCleaner, a safe, conservative disk and registry cleaner; Revo Uninstaller, which uninstalls unwanted software far more thoroughly and reliably than the Add/Remove Programs tool in Windows XP; and WinPatrol, which amongst other useful functions will monitor the registry for changes, and notify you when these take place. All three of these programs are popular, easy-to-use and regularly updated.

For those who want to take an even more vigorous approach to registry cleaning, there are numerous programs on the market. Of these, Registry Mechanic is one of the longest established and most respected, having won many press awards and favourable reviews. It is far more aggressive and thorough than CCleaner, but it does offer the option of automatically setting a system restore point inside Windows XP, before you begin. It will optionally monitor your registry for changes, and notify you about them, and it will flag any errors it finds with an estimated level of severity, to assist you in deciding what action to take.

I've been offered a free copy of Registry Mechanic so I've installed it and used it, and I do appreciate its merits, but on the grounds of time consumption and sheer riskiness, it's unlikely to replace my longstanding maintenance regime. It's only too easy to make very serious mistakes with an aggressive registry cleaner, which can far outweigh any small benefits from more rigorous cleansing.

If you feel happier about paying for your PC maintenance tools, and you want the cleanest possible registry, and you're willing to take the time to use this program safely, and to review all its recommendations carefully and selectively, then Registry Mechanic is one of the better choices you could make. If on the other hand you want to save money, you're far more concerned about visible system performance results than in knowing you have a spotless registry, you want a quick and easy maintenance routine, and/or you're too risk-averse to contemplate using such an aggressive program, then you'd be better off going down the alternative route I outlined earlier. The choice is yours.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 16, 2010 6:33 PM BST

Kaspersky Internet Security 2009 (3 PC, 1 Year subscriptions) (PC)
Kaspersky Internet Security 2009 (3 PC, 1 Year subscriptions) (PC)

23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Highly effective, but intrusive and hard to configure, 22 July 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've been using Kaspersky Internet Security for about nine months. I selected it after doing a lot of product research on integrated security suites when I finally realised that not only were my collection of freeware security programs taking up too much time in maintenance, they were also leaving me open to viruses. KIS 2008 received excellent reviews from sites I trusted, so I downloaded it and bought a license. Then a couple of weeks ago, I upgraded to KIS 2009. My verdict? KIS is relatively light on your resources and extremely effective if you know what you're doing, but it's not a product for the technically unsophisticated. You cannot simply install KIS and expect it to work quietly in the background. If you want that sort of behaviour, then you'll have to figure out how to configure it appropriately. I think it's overly complex, generally a bit of an attention-seeker, and somewhat prone to false positives. I trust it on the whole, but I can't say that I like it. Buy it though - there's nothing better on the market.

Knocker Jungle
Knocker Jungle
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £11.43

4.0 out of 5 stars A veritable time capsule, and a rag bag of songs, 2 April 2008
This review is from: Knocker Jungle (Audio CD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Well now, this is a real curiosity. As the label is only too keen to inform us, it's a rare album from 1970. And as a 1970s teenager, I can assure you that listening to this album will reliably simulate the experience of listening to obscure folk pop on a fairly crummy hi fi system of the era. I'm afraid this is one release which will hold no interest for audiophiles.

But what about the music? Well, it's unusual to say the least. The album consists of 18 acoustic tracks of highly variable quality, with a wide variety of musical styles and influences. There's unlistenably dreadful sub-Dylanesque and pseudo-psychedelic guff with truly horrible singing, and then there's magically breezy and charming little numbers with lovely tunes and great guitar.

The mystery to me is how (and why) Knocker Jungle chose to attempt such a bizarre variety of vocal stylings. There is at least one cover on the album - Gershwin's Ain't Necessarily So - and I wonder whether some of the other songs are cover versions of obscure and long forgotten songs. In any case, the second half (the second side of the original LP) is far better than the first, so the album really does reward the patient listener with some pleasant, and often amusing, surprises.

Buy this, and you can play Fantasy 1970s Record Producer by editing the album! Throw away all the rubbish, select 8 to 10 great tracks, and then choose the track order that might have made Knocker Jungle a household name! Youngsters, share the fun of ye olde hi fi experience with your 60s-era relatives, and marvel at the astonishing haircuts of yesteryear!

Hours of fun for all the family...

The Secret Boy's Club Ep
The Secret Boy's Club Ep
Offered by Japan-Select
Price: £15.64

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent debut from a stunning artist, 28 Oct. 2007
This is a superb EP. I bought it from the artist in the back room of a North London pub after seeing her perform. Months later, I'm still listening to it frequently. Fearsome Crowd and Blinking are my favourite tracks, but there really isn't a weak song here. Kat Flint is an outstanding talent. Her voice is scintillating and her tunes are addictive. Gorgeous stuff - buy it!

Con, The [CD + DVD Special Edition] [Us Import]
Con, The [CD + DVD Special Edition] [Us Import]
Price: £34.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally impressive - a sea change - surpasses even their sparkling previous albums, 28 July 2007
I love the music of Tegan and Sara. In the space of less than two years since I discovered them, they've become my favourite indie pop band by a wide margin. The emotions that their music produces are hard to pin down. There's the whole gamut: sheer leaping-around-the-room exhilaration at their songwriting genius, genuine affection for these incredibly endearing young women, hilarity at their wit, occasional twinges of heartache at their self-deprecation and wistfulness, and many half-glimpsed personal thoughts and insights which I cannot articulate. Often on earlier albums, it seemed that the subtlety and dryness of their lyrics were cleverly and deliberately set at odds with their upbeat and extroverted pop performance style, which produced an amused and amazed response in their many adoring listeners. This latest release however is yet more challenging and more complex. Their genius for quirky, melodic songwriting is still fully in evidence, so the familiar experience of T&S-exhilaration is still there to be enjoyed. But their performance style is decidedly different. At last, their lyrical depth and subtlety, searing honesty and absolute refusal to settle for simplistic cliché when discussing matters of the heart is fully expressed in multi-layered, sophisticated, inspired and beautifully produced music, and in subtle, fully committed and expressive vocal performances. This is an exciting and beautifully crafted album which defies any kind of easy description or facile summary. It fully deserves your time and attention. Listen to them, and if you don't already, you will learn to love them too.

Distant Shores, Silent Thunder
Distant Shores, Silent Thunder
by Radclyffe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Captivating third novel in the Provincetown series, 4 Jan. 2006
In this third and strongest instalment in the Provincetown series of erotic romantic lesbian fiction, Reese and Tory's ever more compelling relationship develops as they care for their new baby together and face the challenge of the arrival in Provincetown of Tory's injured ex-lover KT. The rakish yet lonely KT meets the lovely Pia, who helps her to heal in more ways than one. Tormented young Bri continues to struggle with life's challenges, as her lover Carre is absent while her colleague Ali is clearly attracted to her.
The three complex and interwoven subplots surrounding the engaging cast of characters are well developed and very satisfyingly resolved, while underlying it all is Radclyffe's now familiar affirmation of the power, beauty and essential rightness of love between women. Like its two predecessors, Distant Shores, Silent Thunder is an exciting and emotionally rewarding book which demands to be read more than once.
Altough this book can be read as a stand alone novel, I would highly recommend starting with the first two novels in the series, Safe Harbor and Beyond the Breakwater.

Safe Harbor
Safe Harbor
by Radclyffe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Escapist romance meets sizzling eroticism. Nice!, 4 Jan. 2006
This review is from: Safe Harbor (Paperback)
Radclyffe's 'Provincetown' series of novels are amongst the finest in lesbian romantic fiction, and firmly in the tradition established by Katherine V. Forrest with her 1983 classic Curious Wine. These books are well constructed, engagingly written, and notable for both their intense romanticism and their focus on the devastating power of physical attraction between women. In other words, love and chemistry! As opposed to the rather pointless substitutes found in many other works of lesbian erotic fiction, such as fetishism, cynicism and other odd bits of psychological and silicone paraphernalia.
Radclyffe has created a wonderfully escapist universe set in the small coastal community of Cape Cod's Provincetown. Her cast of irresistable characters are emotionally intense and monogamously inclined, and the sex scenes between them are right off the scale of hotness. These books are so far up my street that I can even forgive Radclyffe for giving all of her best characters names like Reese and Tory.
If you're looking for hot romantic fiction which affirms the power, beauty and essential rightness of love between women, then look no further than Safe Harbor and its two sequels, Beyond the Breakwater, and Distant Shores, Silent Thunder.

Offered by Todays Great Deal
Price: £2.58

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting and passionate - a folk soul dream, 30 Oct. 2005
This review is from: Honesty (Audio CD)
I love this album and yet I find it hard to articulate why. In some ways it's like trying to describe what's so wonderful about a Nick Drake album... your response to the music is deeply personal, and no two people will hear it the same way. Some people will 'get' this multifaceted jewel of an album and love it, some will find it dull.
It's in the folk/pop genre, with an acoustic ambient feel. Overall it's subtle, beautiful and evocative. A lot of the time it's very dreamy, sometimes it's passionate, exciting and almost raw, while the hidden track is camp and sophisticated.
Alex's beautiful voice always has an extraordinary power to move, and here we hear her range - emotional and vocal - has grown enormously since her debut album. The instrumentals are lovely, interesting and flowing. Several songs have guitar tracks that sound almost like running water. The album works its seductive way under your skin. In amongst the folk dreaminess, there are surprising passages of incredibly catchy pop. Meanwhile, the lyrics are astonishingly personal. How many women have written songs about their feelings for a woman lover?
Honesty is a brave, honest and unpretentious piece of work, written and sung from the heart, and feels like a piece of Alex's soul. If you have an open heart and eclectic musical tastes, then buy this album.
Best tracks: Lie, Out of Touch, So Emotional, Lost Without a Name, Adore, Sweeter and Sweeter, Truth or Dare, Moment, Tail and All (hidden track).
Masterpiece of the album: Truth or Dare.

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