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The Woman Who Upped and Left
The Woman Who Upped and Left
by Fiona Gibson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Just lovely!, 20 Jun. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Gibson is wonderfully engaging - insightful (like all great writers should be, making us see life in a new way) -- and utterly reassuring. Because Fina Gibson's is a universe that's always there, gently humming along next to our own. In fact, drop into any of her novels and you'll identify immediately, and have little trouble navigating yourself around. Like Nick Hornby, her worldview and reflections are warming - and, as here, with The Woman Who Upped And Left (the clue is in the title), she always manages to find the humour in everyday challenges. Sees the surreality in us forever being our own worst enemie - and eventually, if we're lucky, recognising that we have to love ourselves first.

Just lovely.


Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries
Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries
by Angela McRobbie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Chases its own tail..., 20 Jun. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Ouroboros is the snake that eats its own tail - and that pretty much sums up McRobbie's Be Creative for me. Past and (present and) future get gobbled up in an at times cynical view on how labour has ceased to be about career jobs, reflecting more the idea that we're all now perpetual freelancers. Or, put another way: McRobbie identifies how we're all selling ourselves now, and what that means for our lives. And how it's all a conspiracy.

Looking aside for a moment, the Eighties often gets a bad rep for being the decade in which people cottoned on to reinvention - to the classless principle of meritocracy. Yet, the idea of reinvention had fueled glam in the Seventies - and in her memoir Julie Burchill made an early, brave attempt at collaring punk for marking the birth of the contemporary entrepreneur. Everybody moved - many shaked while most changed their names, and passion was fashionably attached to the idea of working (literally) to the limits of your ability in order to better yourself.

However, in McRobbie's opinion, the last thirty years of western society has cloaked a giant conspiracy to hypnotise us with the glamour of the artist as self-employed go-getter. All so that we can survive our pensions and benefits being taken away, as we evolve into obsessive, driven souls who, like artists, live, sleep and eat work, and for whom socialising is one big networking opportunity.

That's the gist, anyway.

Personally, I think she applies her concepts in retrospect, then argues them to fit - and I'm never entirely sure what her point is. I'm open to philosophy, but at times I felt like McRobbie was neurotic; that she was finding patterns and connections which only existed in theory not reality.

Beyond which, that she then seeks to apply her theories to a feminist trope (claiming that women basically come off the worst in such a world, because they have to dial in their responsibilities to raising families and can't, therefore, spare so much time) felt like just another layer of blur. Moreover, as a man, I found the gender argument superfluous - and tacked on.

Philosophy is what makes us human. But to overthink things to this extent, to me, comes across as little but intellectual self-gratification.


Fever Dream
Fever Dream
Price: £9.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Album Of The Year! Everybody else can go home..., 8 April 2016
This review is from: Fever Dream (Audio CD)
Imagine Gerry Raffety joined late period Talk Talk - or Cat Stevens fronting Doves -- because that's the feeling going on here. A kind of rough beauty. First impressions suggest this was a shot at back-to-basics recording, without fussy production or too much smoothing out. However, that Watt has managed to harness the raw in service of such a batch of creamy, sunshine-soaked loveliness is a triumph. There's zero filler on here. Every track is a gem; and if anything, Fever Dream is a fine argument for holding onto the album format as art-form, such is the journey - the ebb and flow - of its 10 track sequence.

If Fever Dream harks to any decade it's the Seventies, with its clear, heartfelt vocal melodies. Singer-songwriters are buy-one-get-three-free a plenty these days, but Watt brings a mature confidence, at times evoking Bill Withers as he tells tiny if big-hearted tales without lazy histrionics or corny sentiment. There are also hints of Lindsey Buckingham in there too, especially on closer New Year Of Grace, which is the best leftfield track Fleetwood Mac never recorded (and I mean that with the utmost respect to Buckingham).

Yet, to recall that Talk Talk/Doves suggestion, it's those rugged textures a plenty which work the real magic, providing fine counterpoint, artfully framing Watt's golden voice (in a mix from Bruno Ellingham that deserves note). Which is not to say that this is a noisy album - far from it. The spirit of Everything But The Girl is there; but only in the yearning - a bitter-sweet sensibility he shares with Tracey Thorn. Check out the fantastic production of opener Gradually, with its enveloping rawness (its unfussy electric guitar tones and proximity of the drums, which on headphones paint a curious, circular sound-plain) - or the informal fire of Women's Company -- and you realise Watt has pulled off a deceptively challenging balance of the rough cradling the smooth. If his old band emerges, it's on Running With The Front Runners, which blends a synth hook not a million miles from the vibe of Missing or Walking Wounded's softer moments, threading it through a shimmering John Martyn meets Curtis Mayfield summer jam that you'll be hearing at BBQs all over London once the sun gets it together.

Any album vying for LP of the year is going to have to take Fever Dream on. An absolute corker!


City on Fire
City on Fire
by Garth Risk Hallberg
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.05

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hallberg has a great eye for life's fine details - at times beautifully ..., 3 Mar. 2016
This review is from: City on Fire (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Promotion for this book drew comparison to TV's The Wire, principally for City On Fire's sprawling, multi-character New York spread. Set in the days of punk, a loosely connected but otherwise seemingly disparate array of characters - teachers, musicians, boys and girls navigating their own ways through puberty, and estranged members of a rich upper-class family -- are drawn closer together by the events of a New Year's Eve. Moving the timeline along, each chapter updates via the challenges of one pair (antagonist and protagonist), all the while filling in the gaps of their varying degrees of separation.

Hallberg has a great eye for life's fine details - at times beautifully so - and for that I've given this book 4 stars. However, if Amazon allowed it, I'd give just 3.5 - principally because it's debatable as to whether his stylistic flair justifies City On Fire's heavy page-count. As per that comparison with The Wire, the seemingly random connection between characters (the through line of the novel's thrust) requires investment - a deferring of satisfaction, in favour of some presumed more fulfilling pay-off. Yet, while City On Fire offers itself up as a paean to the latter Seventies, to be honest, beyond having punk as its marker, there's no real historical context. In fact, I'd go as far to say that Hallberg has written a soap opera which could so easily be set any time, any place, such is the lack of period detail. His use, and depiction of the punk society is, at times, cosmetic bordering on stereotypical; characters are gay - but, other than one half of a couple being closeted and the other flagrant and promiscuous, there's nothing really about why the years of this tale are relevant to their plight. And, yes, this being New York, City On Fire's characters meander through their own metropolitan woes. But otherwise, there's no sense of this being the great American city otherwise on the verge of bankruptcy; or observations of how or why the Eighties' financial rebirth might soon be upon them.

Feel like I'm being tough on City On Fire. There's much to like, and once engrossed, Hallberg is a fine host. But, for me, books of this length have to justify their length. To conclude on The Wire analogy: that show was innovative and insightful to documentary standards, and its cast, script and all-round devotion to craft rendered it unique, both at a micro and macro-cosmic level. City On Fire, on the other hand presents itself as epic, but, ultimately, well... isn't.


The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence
The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence
by Dacher Keltner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A highly accessible read for everyone!, 29 Feb. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Power Paradox is a must-read. Keltner's observations are so simply, yet so far reaching and telling of how we, human beings, have gathered ourselves into packs with such seemingly powerful but unstable hierarchies.

It's a simple idea, power. One we think we understand, principally as a top-down action of domination. Yet, in this brilliantly readable, straight to the point and (best of all), easily digestible study, Keltner reveals how all of us express, use and exploit power - even if we don't think we have any. And it's that latter suggestion ("we don't think we have any") that makes this book so intriguing; that, and the fact The Power Paradox really does prove the notion that 'the personal is the political'. After all, as the author deftly illustrates, the political rulers of this planet - or even just the successful, because this is far from a book about politics -- are simply people who have cottoned on to the idea that the way we treat other people can have a potent effect on our own achievements.

Yet, Keltner continues, the loss of power is generally down to the disconnect that power brings - arrogance, basically -- and once the successful stop playing the game (stop bestowing power on others; generally, the collective) their power dissolves.

In terms of editorial style, The Power Paradox is aimed at a mainstream audience; more in line with Martin Gladwell than some dusty, fusty academic paper. And while it is, at times, a tad repetitive (with the author restating caveats, so as not to lose anyone), the book is all the better for that focus on inclusion.


Ultrasport Endurance Mango iPhone Holder - Black/Pink, Large/X-Large
Ultrasport Endurance Mango iPhone Holder - Black/Pink, Large/X-Large

5.0 out of 5 stars Cosy!, 23 Feb. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Great - and for the price, perhaps even excellent. First things first, the somewhat lengthily named Ultrasport Endurance Mango iPhone Holder - Width Adjustable has a fair old strap. Heavy Velcro; plenty of length to facilitate even the bulkiest bicep - and, yes, it holds real well. I'm not the most muscular of chaps, so (I'm afraid to say) there was plenty of spare Velcro strap to go around (then around a bit more), and the strap held fantastically. Your iPod/iPhone slots in around the back, so it's entirely covered by the transparent plastic shield. Around it, the webbed main body of the holder is heavy-duty webbing, which is wipe-clean and extremely sturdy.

Oh, and no chafing. Sometimes these things rub over a distance, but, either I'm not running far enough (entirely likely), or the (deep breathe) Ultrasport Endurance Mango iPhone Holder-Width Adjustable is cosy.


The Bone Labyrinth: A Sigma Force Novel (Sigma Force Novels)
The Bone Labyrinth: A Sigma Force Novel (Sigma Force Novels)
by James Rollins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Zips - but contains animal cruelty, 10 Feb. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Disclaimer: I had to quit this book because it contains upsetting vivisection. Otherwise, as an airport thriller, this is pacy stuff. Zips along like a movie: cutting from establishing scene to scene, setting up a worldwide web of intrigue relating to the discovery of a tomb which might be connected to the evolutionary jump homo-sapiens benefited from. Imagine Dan Brown, but with some Michael Bay thrown in. It's well researched, if a bit basic sometimes. But then, this is about adventure and pace, not depth and musing.


Hidden City
Hidden City
Price: £7.99

17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Vital, furious stuff! Essential listening in 2016., 5 Feb. 2016
This review is from: Hidden City (Audio CD)
Superb. Hidden City is The Cult at full-tilt, and unarguably their best since the transcendent Sonic Temple. To this day, live, The Cult are unbeatable. Yet, while every album since Temple has boasted a clutch of great tracks, they've all felt like fan-only efforts. Anti-climactic; misfires - call them what you will. But on Hidden City, they're BACK.

If you've heard Dark Energy, Hinterland and Deeply Ordered Chaos (the cracking pre-release teasers), then the great news is tracks like In Blood, Avalanche Of Light and, especially, Heathens and GOAT are every bit their equal. In fact, I'd say, along with the initial trio, the latter two are The Cult at their very best. Musically, this is stripped back rock'n'roll: take some glam rock, Pistols, MC5, and, yes, AC/DC and The Doors, shake it up and crank it LOUD, and you've got Hidden City. In fact, I'd say, if there had to be a touchstone for this latest album, I'd say it was The Stooges.

Come to The Cult and you're confronted by two heat sources: Astbury and Duffy. And while the latter is, for my money, arguably the best rock guitarist out there (and a beguiling riff factory, to boot), Hidden City is rawer and more urgent than he's been on record for a very long time. For Duffy, every album since Sonic Temple has been an exercise in temperance, but on this latest material he's playing with real anger and fire.

As for the former - Astbury has sometimes struggled as a mouthpiece. Critics have sniggered, and I think it's fair to say that at times he's brought some of it on himself: been guilty of posturing, at least lyrically; of juggling tropes (street wisdom, spiritual purity, self-education and, above all, self-respect) without really saying anything new.

On Hidden City, however, he's stepped up. Maybe the world needs what he's got, now more than ever. But there's serious focus; a directness to Astbury in 2016 that's both mature and evident of someone who's done his homework - who's read the books, and desperately wants the world to check itself (before it properly wrecks itself, to paraphrase Chuck D). Vocally, as well, he's nailed the less-is-more style which he started playing with on Choice Of Weapon. Gone is the wailing hep-cat of the Eighties, replaced by a more considered style. (Case in point: Hinterland, with its deceptively clever play with tempo. Hanging so far behind the beat he sounds like he's singing an entirely different song to the band; really, what you're hearing is confidence of delivery.)

Sure, there are a couple of so-so tracks: Dance The Night and Birds Of Paradise are fine. But if, like me, you've kept the faith but found too many recent Cult albums lacking in cohesion, then Hidden City is your reward. Very, very good indeed!


Humble Brush Adults Tooth Brush - Soft Bristle White - Single
Humble Brush Adults Tooth Brush - Soft Bristle White - Single
Price: £3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Two billion discarded plastic toothbrushes a year!, 1 Feb. 2016
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Two billion toothbrushes PER YEAR end up as landfill, around our planet. That's a lot of discarded plastic. Obviously, putting something in our mouths - like a toothbrush -- we're bound to be picky. I know I wasn't sure about using what looked like a stick. However, the design of this biodegradable bamboo toothbrush is such that it feels no different to the whizz-bang-pop exciting plastic model I'd just sent off to sit in a landfill for the rest of eternity. The brush is, well, it's soft (just like it would be on a similarly branded plastic one) - and the weight is great.

Oh, and by the way, the bamboo is provided through a sustainable source - so it's not starving wildlife. They've really thought this one through.

Feels odd trying to convince you to consider changing your toothbrush - as a toothbrush is, ahem, a toothbrush. But the great thing is: this one won't pollute the planet and eventually find its way into the food-chain.


99 Homes [DVD]
99 Homes [DVD]
Dvd ~ Andrew Garfield
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Highly charged, compelling stuff!, 20 Jan. 2016
This review is from: 99 Homes [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The first 15 minutes of 99 Homes are as powerful as you'll see in any movie. Effectively an indie movie (the list of production house credits involved show this was no easy pitch, and took some pushing to get made), 99 Homes is the tale of Andrew Garfield's blue-collar builder waking up to the harsh realities of an American Dream "rigged," as Michael Shannon's fantastically conniving realtor points out, "to support winners, not losers."

Considering themselves winners-in-making, both men team up for what is never less than an engrossing fiction based on the dirty truth of how canny businessmen made billions going into the Recession, repossessing houses from everyday Americans behind on their mortgage payments.

Both actors put in cracking performances; Garfield showing why he was, sadly, always too good for the Spiderman reboots. And Shannon - well, Shannon is eminently watchable anytime, anywhere. Shot for the best part handheld, 99 Homes has a real urgency to it, and, far from some glam, vibrantly coloured fantasy, the movie presents an America Hollywood rarely bothers with.

Highly, highly recommended.


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