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C. Green "happily low brow" (Quenington, Glos, UK)

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Price: £4.31

2.0 out of 5 stars A Virtual Adventure To Avoid, 12 Dec. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Bedlam (Kindle Edition)
After run of excellent comic crime novels early in his career (including the utterly brilliant Country Of The Blind) Christopher Brookmyre's output has slowly become more hit and miss, and with Bedlam is definitely a case of the latter rather than the former.

Effectively pure Sci-Fi (after the quasi Sci-Fi of Pandaemonium), Bedlam is a series of interesting idea and concepts in search of a compelling plot to hang them on. Unfortunately, what it has is a narrative structure that tries too hard to be tricksy and clever, and in doing so robs the story of real momentum or gives you characters you really care about. I have no problem with authors jumbling up timelines and sending their stories flying off in multiple directions as long as they make an effort to take the reader with them when they do. With Bedlam, Christopher Brookmyre seems intent on simply confusing the reader with his constant, seemingly inexplicable shifts in place, time and reality, and preventing us from really getting to grips with the various plot strands or characters we jump between.

Add in a plethora of technical jargon, and the fact that the key storyline is set in a computer generated universe where the hero apparently can't die so removing a genuine sense of jeopardy until the wider stakes become clear quite late on, and you have a book that is impenetrable for the tech/gaming-novice, lacking in genuine thrills and difficult to fully engage with.

I struggled on with it past the point (a long way in, I might add) where the plot and what is at stake finally begins to become clear, but only because I was on a twelve hour flight with limited alternative reading options. Once it eventually became apparent where the story was going I can't say my attitude towards the book improved much. Whilst the book does make some serious and quite interesting points regarding where our increasingly interconnected world is heading, the story remains resolutely un-engaging throughout. Not only is it hard to truly care about virtual characters in a virtual world, but it become doubly so when those characters are poorly drawn, remain literally and figuratively one dimensional and the real world stakes aren't actually that great. By the end I was skipping pages and then sections just to get to the end, which is not a good sign.

One to avoid

The Atlantis Gene: A Thriller (The Origin Mystery, Book 1)
The Atlantis Gene: A Thriller (The Origin Mystery, Book 1)
Price: £2.27

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Too Many Ideas In Search Of A Cohesive Plot, 26 Nov. 2014
The Atlantis Gene (and its follow-up that I don't have the energy to review separately) are both examples of decent ideas in search of some narrative discipline.

Essentially offering yet another twist on the Chariots of the Gods myth, The Atlantis Gene is chock full of ideas and concepts. So much so that they often overwhelm the narrative and leave it struggling to keep up. Aliens, genetics, hidden conspiracies, end-of-the-world cataclysms, lost civilisations, regeneration; the list of plot developments is simply too numerous for any book to cope with effectively.

A classic example of a self-published work, had The Atlantis Gene landed in the hands of decent editor at an earlier stage I am sure some AG Riddle's myriad ideas would have been relegated to later novels in the series, leaving a cleaner, more focused and grounded first entry that was easier to get to grips with. Instead we have book that bounces from wild plot development to even wilder plot development at such speed that I never really managed to engage with events on the page.

I came back for the second volume in the series really out of curiosity to see if it improved on Part 1, only to discover that if anything it was even worse, with even wilder flights of technological fancy unsupported by anything approaching a cohesive plot or plausible, realistic characters.

I definitely will not be coming back for part 3.

I Am Pilgrim
I Am Pilgrim
Price: £3.66

3.0 out of 5 stars Not As Good As It Thinks It Is, 26 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: I Am Pilgrim (Kindle Edition)
Everything about I Am Pilgrim is excessive. From its length to the complexity of its narrative structure, from the number of plot holes to the overblown writing style and from the sheer number of locales it features to the marketing hype that went with its publication. Even the title comes across as a shout.

Unfortunately nothing about the book really justifies all the excess. Beneath all the flashbacks, in-your-face 'factual' research and chapter ending cliff-hangers, the plot is both entirely derivative and, if you think about it for more than a second or two, entirely implausible, the characters are unmemorable despite interminably long back stories, the writing style is utterly self-indulgent and oddly smug and the whole endeavour has the slight whiff of a Ludlum-esque, doorstep sized airport-thriller from the 1970's gussied up with some contemporary trappings.

Its not a terrible novel, and if you can get past its obvious failings its will pass the time to a reasonably entertaining degree, but it definitely isn't the work of incomparable genius that much of the marketing blurb would have you believe it is. There are far better (and shorter) thrillers out there more deserving of your time and attention.

The Blooding
The Blooding
Price: £3.59

4.0 out of 5 stars A Partial Return to Form, 26 Nov. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Blooding (Kindle Edition)
After the disappointing 'Revolution' and an almost interminable wait for publication of this follow-up, 'The Blooding' marks a partial return to form for Matthew Hawkwood and his creator James McGee.

I say partial because The Blooding never hits the heights of Hawkwood's earlier adventures in London. In fact, ever since McGee pulled his hero away from his career as a Bow Street Runner the series has suffered in terms of both quality and a sense of identity. Whilst the former is partially restored by this latest installment, the series continues to struggle when it comes to the latter, with The Blooding lacking a distinctive edge to set it apart from the myriad of other historical adventure novels on the market.

At least this time McGee has ditched the attempts to link Hawkwood's adventures too closely to real historical events, which hamstrung Revolution so badly. There are still some attempts to make events in the book fit with the historical record, but generally this is far more of a free form adventure, and as a result a more exciting and dramatically more satisfying one.

Not that initially appears to be, with the story taking just a little to long to really get going and kick into gear. This is mostly as a consequence of McGee's decision to interweave two narrative threads, one featuring the adult Hawkwood and the other flashing back to his childhood.

Whilst the latter provides new insight into the character's origins, contains some exciting moments, and is important for establishing events later in the book, the need to constantly swap between threads slows both of them down unnecessarily and makes it harder to engage properly with either. Once the two narratives come together later in the book the pace picks up and so does the reader's ability to engage with events. In hindsight it may have worked better if McGee had told the tale of Hawkwood's origins as a length prologue prior to the latter story, instead of trying to mix the two together.

Whatever the earlier structural issues, the book's latter stages more than make up for them. With the story becoming essentially one extended chase sequence, whilst blending in elements that will be familiar to anyone who has read Last of the Mohicans or watched Dances with Wolves, the pace of the narrative and the excitement levels build quickly until The Blooding becomes almost un-put-downable.

Most satisfying of all the book ends on a development which suggests that next time we see Matthew Hawkwood he will be back in the milieu that serves him best; that of Bow Street and London in the early 19th Century. Even if The Blooding isn't a totally successful return to form for our hero, we can be thankful that it get's him one step closer to a return home.

Hornby Gloucester City Pullman Train Set
Hornby Gloucester City Pullman Train Set
Price: £139.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good For Beginners But Limited Long Term Appeal By Itself, 25 Nov. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I find that reviewing the Hornby Gloucester City Pullman Train Set is difficult because I really have nothing to compare it to. Somehow I managed to skip model trains as a child, so my experience of 'playing' with them is limited to some sketchy memories having goes with sets belonging to friends or, more commonly, their fathers.

Therefore all I can really say is what I thought of this one specific set, and not how it compares to any other Hornby sets out there now or the sets of yesteryear.

Overall I'd say that I was impressed but not blown away. In terms of what you get in the box there is everything you need to run a basic model railway except the board to mount it on. There's the train, a few carriages, enough track to build a decent sized oval but nothing more, and a controller. Buy this set by itself and you can have a fully functioning model railway up and running in next to no time, so its not a bad place for as starter to begin even if its potential is limited.

When it comes to build quality, train itself is the most impressive component, nicely detailed but feeling solid in the hand and with an impressive amount of oomph when running. The carriages share the detail but lack the same solidity and felt just slightly too plasticky. A couple of knocks, drops or bumps and I suspect the shine will wear off them quickly. The track is fine, but has to be handled carefully to avoid bending and the controller, whilst doing what it needs too, is very basic and frankly feels rather cheap and tacky.

Instructions are okay, but nothing more. They tell you everything you need to know to set things up, but they're printed on cheap paper and with too small a type-face. If you're an avid model train collector this is obviously not a problem, but its not terribly good for the absolute beginner.

When it comes to how much enjoyment you'll get out of the set I guess it will all depend on how badly you're bitten by the model train bug. if its love at first sight then you'll no doubt go off and acquire further sets and accessories to create an ever more impressive railway. In that case the potential for enjoyment is unlimited. However, if it doesn't immediately grab you then the potential is pretty limited. Driving a small train around the same oval of track again and again can quite quickly lose its appeal.

So if you're already an avid collector of Hornby model railways, or think you're on course to becoming one, this probably counts as a four or five star product by default. However, if like me you're never likely to add more trains, tracks, stations, houses and other models to your collection then the long term appeal of this one set is always going to limited.

Brothers in Blood (Roman Legion 13)
Brothers in Blood (Roman Legion 13)
by Simon Scarrow
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Better Entry In The Series, 25 Nov. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
After thirteen 'Roman Legion' novels, Simon Scarrow has gotten the formula for the series pretty much perfected and applying the old 'if it aint broke' principle he doesn't deviate from it with 'Brothers In Blood'. Macro and Cato are present and correct, and still serving with the Legions in Britannia after their adventure in Blood Crows. There's the usual mix of mass battles, political intrigue, daring, against the odds missions, historical factoids and slightly soapy character development (or lack thereof in Macro's case). If you've read more than a couple of the previous novels, you'll know pretty much what to expect. The location, supporting characters and specific plot details may differ, but essential ingredients are the same.

In terms of how Brothers In Blood compares to the previous books, I would say that its probably one of the better ones. Scarrow has gotten balance of military action, historical minutiae, political intrigue and character development just about right this time. Cato and Macro are always at their best when they're allowed to do what they do best, which is be soldiers, and here that's exactly what they're allowed to be, rather than being press-ganged into being Imperial Spies or similar.

Simon Scarrow even manages to throw up a few surprises along the way, which is rare for a series that sticks so rigidly to a formula. The final plot twists at the end for example, whilst not completely shocking, were pleasantly surprising.

The question remains as to how long the series can continue for. Whilst this is one of the better recent entries, the slight whiff of staleness creeps in now and again, and as I doubt the author will shake the formula up by doing anything as radical as killing off a lead character, will familiarity begin to breed contempt.

Certainly I don't feel that the series is a 'must read' any more. A decent way to pass the time yes, but the predictability and lack of genuine risk for the main protagonists robs Brothers In Blood of the vital spark that makes such books un-put-downable.

Waiting For Doggo
Waiting For Doggo
by Mark Mills
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Passable But Bland Rom-Com That Lacks Bite, 27 Oct. 2014
This review is from: Waiting For Doggo (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Waiting For Doggo has charm but is a slight and highly predictable novel that feels more like a television script converted into a novel than an intentional work of literary fiction. Fitfully amusing but never laugh-out loud funny, it lacks sufficient emotional depth to really grab the reader. Characters remain two dimensional 'types', even the ostensible lead, and you never begin to care greatly for any of them. The good characters are good, the bad characters are obviously untrustworthy and the 'crazy' characters sport the standard eccentric tics that all such individuals in Rom-Coms must have. Even the titular Doggo remains something of a non-entity, defined more by his unattractive appearance than any unique or original character traits.

The whole book also has a somewhat smug, metropolitan feel to is. Set within the vapid world of advertising, everyone in the book has a good job, is wonderfully tolerant and inclusive (unless they're the irredeemable cad or the office harridan), lives in nice areas and works in incredibly cool offices. No-one struggles for money or has unresolvable personal issues.

Even a brief sojourn to the countryside (well, Henley-upon-Thames, which just about counts) feels like a Londoner's idea of the perfect trip to the country, with ageing hippyish but well to-do parents living a bohemian life in a ramshackle but extensive house, a nice middle-class wedding to attend and no filthy wellies or inconvenient weather to spoil the bucolic fun.

Overall, Waiting for Doggo feels a little too much like recycled Richard Curtis to me, from the gentle humour interspersed with some swearing and a smattering of sex, through the uniformly white, well-to-do middle-class cast with their first world problems and on to the predictable and slight saccharine romantic plot-line. As with many of Curtis' efforts, it needed more bite, more unpredictability and less sugar.

However, if you fancy an unchallenging, passably entertaining read then Waiting for Doggo isn't going to offend your sensibilities. Though neither is it going to excite the senses nor stir the emotions.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 9, 2014 9:06 AM GMT

Philips GC4521/87 Azur Performer Steam Iron - 200g Steam Boost, Safety Auto Off, 2600 Watt, Black
Philips GC4521/87 Azur Performer Steam Iron - 200g Steam Boost, Safety Auto Off, 2600 Watt, Black
Price: £49.45

66 of 68 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Generally Solid But With One Significant Flaw, 30 Sept. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Reviewing something as functional and pedestrian as an iron can be a tricky proposition. After all, what can you really say about an iron. Does it smooth clothes well? Does it generate sufficient amounts of steam? An iron that didn't do both those things really wouldn't deserve to be on the market, so they sought of go without saying.

Therefore what you have to focus on are the added extras. In the case of the Philips Performer Steam Iron they are build quality and how user friendly it is. In the case of the former I really can't fault it. It feels solid and well built from decent materials. Nothing feels flimsy or cheap.

When it comes to how user friendly it is, some trouble seems to have been taken to make life easier for the user. For example, the water filler cap cover hinges sideways, so that you can fill the iron when its being held horizontally, making it easier hold under a tap. There is also a system that collects any pieces of scale that form in the water tank and allows for them to be removed easily. Its too soon to know how well this works, but living in an area with very hard water its a nice extra that will be appreciated if it does as advertised.

Overall I would probably award it a solid four stars for being user friendly were it not for one oversight. For some reason, having done everything else right, Philips have decided to fit the iron with a power cable that is far too short, making it awkward to iron unless you're standing right next to a power socket.

This is such a basic but fundamental flaw that I feel its only fair to knock a whole star off my overall rating for the iron, bringing it down from a solid 'I Like It' four to a 'Its Okay' three. Were it a cheap, disposable unit I could put such a design flaw down to understandable penny pinching by the manufacturer, but considering that the Performer Steam Iron is priced and marketed as a premium product it comes across a major oversight. This is a shame, because its otherwise a decent, well built iron.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 10, 2014 12:23 PM GMT

Hot Wheels Track Builder System Playset
Hot Wheels Track Builder System Playset
Price: £39.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There Are Better and Quieter Alternatives Out There, 10 Sept. 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Back in when I was a child in the 70's my brother and I used to love playing with our Darda Cars (which you can still buy), a toy car racing track system from Germany that used clockwork to fire matchbox sized vehicles through a series of loops and jumps. I was therefore curious to see what the modern equivalent from Hotwheels would be like and whether my son, aged four as I was back in the late 70's, would enjoy playing with it as much as I loved mucking around with the Darda system.

In terms of enjoyment, my son certainly loved playing with the Hotwheels when we first got it out, and was more than capable of setting up the course and also altering its configuration to suit his own imagination. However, after about three days the appeal quickly waned and since then he has hardly played with it at all. I'm not certain why this is, and like most 4 year-olds he's not capable of really explaining why himself, but I suspect its due to the set's limitations. Whilst you can make a few different configurations with what's in the box, the need to have the motorised 'accelerator' in a certain place and the fact that the cars (and only some will fit on the track) simply travel from point a to b and then stop limits both its flexibility and its long term entertainment value

From a parental perspective I can't say that this waning interest came as much of a disappointment to my wife and I. Whilst the Playset is reasonably well built, it does contain numerous fiddly rubber-bands that can easily come loose and require repeated reattachment by a parent. When out the set also takes up quite a lot of room. More irritating however, is the constant whirring made by the 'accelerator' unit (plus the fact that its yet another toy that requires a regular supply of batteries). This is not a toy for quiet and peaceful play.

Overall, when I compare it to my childhood Darda set it definitely comes up short. With no need for battery driven 'accelerators' or elastic band powered 'kickers' to propel the cars, the Darda sets allowed for far quieter yet faster and more energetic play. They were also far more flexible in terms of the tracks you could lay out, and once your track was built all you had to do was pull the car back and let go; there was no need to constantly reset the various obstacles.

So whilst the Hot Wheels Track Builder System Playset isn't a terrible toy, I know there is a similar and far superior alternative out there on the market, and for that reason alone I can only award this a weak three-stars at best.

Shattered Trident
Shattered Trident
by Larry Bond
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.23

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tries to be too big and ends up too dry, 10 Sept. 2014
I have enjoyed the previous three Jerry Mitchell novels from Larry Bond, but have to consider Shattered Trident a misfire. Whilst all of Bond's books have relied heavily on their technical accuracy and the level of attention given to establishing a wider geopolitical setting that both detailed and plausible, Shattered Trident spends too long on the 'big picture' stuff and not enough on the smaller scale human drama. It can hardly be considered a successful Jerry Mitchell novel when Mitchell himself feels almost shoehorned into the plot.

The result is a book that is too dry and lacks a solid emotional hook to keep the reader interested. As a portrayal of how and armed conflict in the South China Sea might play out its frighteningly plausible, but as an exciting, edge of your seat thriller it leaves a great deal to be desired.

Hopefully next time Bond and his co-author Chris Carlson will reduce the scale and tighten the focus more.

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