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The Amazon J (Various, time dependent)

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A Very Long Engagement
A Very Long Engagement
by Sebastien Japrisot
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.52

4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, 19 April 2013
This review is from: A Very Long Engagement (Paperback)
This is a love story that a man can enjoy - because it's not just about love, it's about honour, friendship, war and its effects on men, and one, plucky, tremendous girl who just won't give up. When five men are sentenced to die on the front in a most unpleasant manner, what happens next becomes legendary. And like all legends, much of the story of that night is myth, but there is enough truth to be found to allow one very determined investigator to carry on searching, hoping, that at least one of the men made it back alive. This is a war story, a love story, and an investigation thriller all in one book - and it works on every level.


Anatomy of a Disappearance
Anatomy of a Disappearance
by Hisham Matar
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

3.0 out of 5 stars Anatomy of an Oedipus Complex, 19 April 2013
An adolescent Arab boy spots a sexy Englishwoman by the pool, not long after he has lost his mother. Unfortunately for him, it is his more urbane and suave father who gets the girl. When his father is then 'disappeared' by the regime, the boy and his now stepmother are forced to confront - well, his tumescent Oedipus complex, basically.
The book works for me up until the disappearance; the boy is a little voyeuristic, the girl a little too free with the knot on her towel, the father a little too unaware that his son is a pervert, but the characters are not unbelievable, merely slightly seedy. Once the father is gone, the whole thing becomes too fantastic for me, and the book dribbles out unsatisfactorily for anyone involved, most of all the protagonists. The twist is has something of the women's magazine short story about it, and the plot is too linear to stick around long.
People have mentioned in other reviews that the author's own father was taken in the same way. I suspect that the author may one day write a more powerful tribute; this novel left me feeling rather grubby.


The End Of Mr. Y
The End Of Mr. Y
by Scarlett Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The only mystery (or Mr Y) here is the good reviews, 18 April 2013
This review is from: The End Of Mr. Y (Paperback)
An unlikeable protagonist, an unbelievable love story and 100 yards of exposition to get us to a pseudo-religious end to all the pseudo-scientific wittering that preceded it. This is an awful book, which only has a second star because of the imagery and horror of the trip through the mind of the lab mice - a scene that suggests the author does have some ability. Now if she could extend that ability to characters having real conversations, instead of quoting their favourite piece of science to each other, then we might have gotten somewhere. The 'mind world' constructed of thought, or language, isn't particularly original, but the scenes there are entertaining enough, it is having to wade through the waist deep exposition of pet ideas (Derrida-da-da-da) to get there that hurts. And the main character is so dull and self-obsessed. This is a mish mash of ideas with no coherence, little plot, a dreadful ending and a bunch of quotes on the cover that are more readable than the book itself.


Wool
Wool
by Hugh Howey
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Woolly, 4 April 2013
This review is from: Wool (Paperback)
In a post apocalyptic future (what, another one?) all that is left of human life is one deep silo, with mechanics at the bottom and IT on top. And then the camera pulls back.

The plot focus is mainly on the sheriff, and his subsequent replacement, and it's impossible to talk too much about what happens to each of them without dropping in major plot spoilers. There are plenty of twists, and the first short story alone is probably worth the admission price, telling you one thing, then another, then another, quite beautifully.

Unfortunately the five stories don't really work as a novel. I think the author had a great premise, some very good character sketches, and a setting with lots of options. For the novel, I think he should have rewritten from the ground up, (silo pun not intended) so he could give the characters more room to breathe and reorder things somewhat. The characters are very simplistic, they are heroes and villains, who occasionally switch sides like WWF wrestlers. The first part, which works as a great short story, gives too much away too soon for a novel.

Overall, the book scrapes faint pass marks as it is a very enjoyable dystopia, if such a thing can exist. There is room for a sequel and it will be interesting to see what the author does when he knows he's writing a novel from the start.


First Blood: Rambo
First Blood: Rambo
by David Morrell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.09

2.0 out of 5 stars I prefer the film, 4 April 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: First Blood: Rambo (Paperback)
A Vietnam veteran, who now lives off the land as he walks across the US, is moved on out of one small town too many. Ignoring the warnings of the Sheriff - himself a veteran of the Korean War - Rambo returns to town in an act of defiance. Being taken into custody reminds him too much of torture at the hands of the Vietcong, and he erupts into bloody violence.

The biggest issue of this book is that there is a strange, close to telepathic, bond established between the Sheriff and Rambo, with the Sheriff eventually being presented as being able to almost read Rambo's thoughts. This mystical element really dates the book, mixing a large dose of 60s hippy drug culture into what should be a battle of fieldcraft and infantry tactics.

I've always thought that First Blood would rate on par with the Deer Hunter as one of the top war movies, if Stallone's final monologue was only delivered comprehensibly, and I'd hoped to find that touch of extra quality here in the novel - unfortunately I was disappointed by the unexpected mystical elements.


Alif the Unseen
Alif the Unseen
by G. Willow Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £8.19

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Unseen forces, 4 April 2013
This review is from: Alif the Unseen (Hardcover)
A great premise with some terrific elements grievously undermined by the author's unwillingness to grasp the thorny nettle of fantasy she has introduced.

Alif is our downtown man (boy), a hacker in love (lust) with an uptown girl. The setting is an unnamed Arab emirate, with a repressive regime of rich princes, consumerism and oil. When the uptown girl's father promises her to an older government official, who turns out to be the Hand, head of digital security, Alif comes in to possession of 1001 Days, the Djinn equivalent of 1001 Nights. This leads us into the spirit - and spiritual - realm for a time, before we are brought back to the Arab Spring, with torture, revolution and a hanging.

The book is strong when handling its real world elements and contains some really funny moments, including a Djinn quoting Star Wars. Our female author shows an uncanny ability to enter the mind of a sexually inexperienced manboy, and the book also contains a very positive religious figure, a scarcity in any type of fiction these days.

However the promised fantasy element is weak and unsatisfying, feeling like something the author has used to differentiate her book rather than something she is passionate about. There is no exploration of the Djinn - not their powers, their hierarchy, nor their motivations (it remains a mystery to me why they go above and beyond for Alif throughout the novel) and whilst Wilson mentions that these figures exist within the Koran, she does not expand on that. There are a couple of beautifully crafted 'tales' from the 1001 Days presented in the book and as a big fan of 1001 Nights, I would have liked to see far more of these. Plot elements are unsatisfying, with last minute rescues and Bond villain like pontificating appearing with disheartening regularity. How the Hand gained control of his mystical servants is not explained, nor why he uses these to track down computer hackers rather than displacing the emir and making a power grab himself - which he intimates he has decided to do near the end of the novel.

There is much in this book to suggest that Wilson will write something excellent; this story unfortunately falls short.


The Prince Of Mist
The Prince Of Mist
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars a children's book - and not a particularly good one, 10 Jun. 2012
This review is from: The Prince Of Mist (Hardcover)
Do not fall for the packaging of this book by its publishers - it is a children's book, and not even a particularly good one. Whilst the initial characters and set-up seem full of suspense, the author himself then seems to tire of writing about them, ties up the book rather unconvincingly, and then has a character deliver a long exposition of what it was all about. It's a book of two halves - and the second half utterly ruins all the quality set-up of the first. Avoid.


De Niro's Game
De Niro's Game
by Rawi Hage
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Existentialism with muscle, 10 Jun. 2012
This review is from: De Niro's Game (Paperback)
Whilst the existentialist novels that this book draws upon tend to have shiftless, passive narrators who wallow in their own self pity, our narrator here, Bassam, packs more action into his life than Camus' entire cast. Growing into manhood in a religious war torn Beirut, he dreams of escape, whilst concocting money making schemes with his ersatz best friend, George - also known as De Niro, hence the title. Unfortunately for Bassam, George is not an opportunist in the financial sense like himself, but a power opportunist, seeking ascent in the local militia. Eventually this divergence pulls the two apart and hurls Bassam into Paris, a stranger in a strange land, a place where he is as out of time as Huxley's savage.

This is as perfect a first novel as I have ever read; discovering that the author hadn't actually experienced this city at this time for himself, surprised me, so pitch perfect did his city riven descriptions seem. Bassam is a character as flotsam, torn along by life's tides, bringing little influence on the events of his life - but in an entirely dynamic milieu, which saves this novel from floundering on the passivity of his life, as many existentialist books do (such as Hage's later novel, Cockroach). Bassam will leave different impressions on his readers - a petty thief, a petty thinker, one step from being a petty rapist; but a product of environment, a boy who has been orphaned by war, an adolescent with sexual desires he cannot properly elucidate. Terrific book - read it!


Catching Fire (Hunger Games, Book 2)
Catching Fire (Hunger Games, Book 2)
by Suzanne Collins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.00

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Damp squib, 10 Sept. 2011
This novel suffers 'second part of the trilogy' syndrome - it exists to get the characters from a mid-point to a mid-point - and so compares poorly to the first book. Katniss and Peeta are now living the lives of winners back in District 12, but are barely speaking as Katniss is obviously in love with former hunting companion, Gale. Their show of rebellion in the games has started to fuel a revolution, bringing Katniss into the sights of President Snow (if Malcolm McDowell doesn't play him in the film, I'll be very surprised). He insists she make a great public show of her love for Peeta, to ensure that her grand gesture at the end of the Games is seen as individual love, not a stance against authority. However the worsening situation - which Katniss and Peeta get to witness when they see the inhabitants of District Nine violently put down - leads to Snow putting them both back in the arena for the 75th Hunger Games.
The book regains its pace here, but is already more then halfway through by the time they return to the arena. This arena is more imaginative - and some of the other contestants more well defined - than in the Hunger Games, but we have still seen it all before at the most basic level, and so it is with some relief that we escape the arena at the end with the prospect of a Capitol or District 13 setting for the final segment.
Again there is some very lazy plotting and characterisation, which shows up even more in this slower paced book - Katniss seems far too naive, the revolutionary background is hazy and the socio-economic / political basis of the District structure gets more difficult to believe in the more the author reveals. You do still want to know what happens in the final part though...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 8, 2012 10:40 AM BST


The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games
by Suzanne Collins
Edition: Hardcover

86 of 98 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Battle Royale for the Twilight generation, 10 Sept. 2011
This review is from: The Hunger Games (Hardcover)
I ignored this book for a long time on the basis that I felt it sounded too similar to Battle Royale. However I have finally got round to reading it, and am glad I did -whilst there are plenty of flaws, this is a fast paced, thrilling, adventure story, which provides surprises and visceral entertainment.

Katniss and Peeta are the teenage 'tributes' chosen from District 12, the poorest district of a post-apocalyptic North American society. Their district specialises in mining - others concentrate on farming, machinery, etc - but Katniss is actually a skilled 'outdoorswoman' - following her father's death, she has had to make a living off the land. Peeta is a baker's son - but one with a showman's gift for oratory. They and 22 other teenagers - 2 from each district - are required to fight to the last survivor in a televised arena battle. And yes, the arena is pretty much that of Battle Royale, with death zones, individual weapons, teenage love, regular announcements of the slain, etc. Basically if you just imagine Ms. Collins got permission to tell a story in Takami's setting, you'll be able to enjoy the story far more.

So other than the ...um, 'borrowed' premise, what else is wrong with it? Wafer thin characterisation - most of the other tributes are cardboard cut outs- iffy moralising ('Katniss stabbed him in the face. Later she reflected, 'Oh God, what have I done, how could I kill another human. I hate the government.' Then she fired an arrow into the heart of Boy Two from District Nine'). I paraphrase, but the moral struggle is filler, not truth. And some lazy story-telling - on entering the arena, Peeta is able to form an alliance with other tributes, whom we have never seen him talk to, who we are told do not rate his abilities and who would have been able to easily dispatch him.

But there is plenty right with the book too - the prose is strong, the action relentless and believable, and Katniss' romantic dilemma is much better defined than her issues with killing people. The Rue scene - you'll know it when you read it - is pitch perfect and remains with you long after the book is closed.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 11, 2012 3:30 AM BST


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