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Dr. Rox

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CD 200 - Media Storage Cupboard - Beech
CD 200 - Media Storage Cupboard - Beech

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easily assembled and sturdy, but perhaps top-heavy., 29 Jun. 2012
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This unit went together easily, and is lasting well. You do need to attach it to the wall behind if you have thick pile carpet, however, since it leans forward quite a lot when opened if it's full.


Machine of Death: A collection of stories about people who know how they will die
Machine of Death: A collection of stories about people who know how they will die
Price: £2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating premise, 25 Feb. 2012
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The simple but fascinating premise of all these stories is that a machine exists which can sample your blood and then predict how you are going to die: not in great detail, but just in an all-caps short sentence or even single word such as CANCER or DROWNING or SHOT BY SNIPER or VEGETABLES or IMPROPERLY PREPARED BLOWFISH or even TORN APART AND DEVOURED BY LIONS. All of those are story titles from this collection which ranges in tone from deeply satirical to the sweet and touching, via some full-blown dystopias and works of brilliantly funny black comedy.

How would life be different if you knew how you were going to die (or thought you did)? These stories look at every aspect of society: teenage cliques based on how cool your predicted death is; unemployed astrologers who no longer have a trade to peddle; dinner party games matching the prediction to the guest; fearless pilots who fly dangerously knowing that a crash is not how they are fated to go. The style of writing varies tremendously and some stories feel more professional than others but there's a fascinating range of responses here and overall this is a thought-provoking and entertaining collection. Highly recommended.


Tom Crean - An Unsung Hero: Antarctic Survivor: Tom Crean - Antarctic Survivor
Tom Crean - An Unsung Hero: Antarctic Survivor: Tom Crean - Antarctic Survivor
Price: £8.07

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hardcore Hero, 25 Feb. 2012
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Tom Crean was probably the ultimate Antarctic hero: he went South with Scott on the Discovery and again on Terra Nova. During this second expedition he was one of the last men to see the polar party alive, and he was single handedly responsible for saving the life of a scurvy stricken comrade. Then he went back again with Shackleton on Endurance. When the party was shipwrecked, Crean was one of the men Shackleton picked to accompany him on the perilous open top boat journey for help. Basically, Crean was one hardcore hero who was present for many of the defining moments of the Heroic Age of Polar Exploration. And yet his name is still not as renowned as it should be. Hooray, then, for Smith and this excellent biography!

There is plenty of action to tell, and never a dull moment in Crean's epic story, but first-hand commentary is sparse since Crean was not a writer, did not keep an Antarctic diary and rarely even wrote more than notes to his friends and comrades. So this biography has to draw largely on other explorer's diaries and records as well as interviews with family and friends who knew Crean. But Smith does an excellent job in piecing together Crean's life, including his non-polar commissions and some fascinating glimpses of the Irishman at home.

If you don't know the expedition stories this is a great place to start, but even if, like me, you've read extensively on all three expeditions, Smith definitely makes them feel fresh and Tom Crean's exploits are well worth retelling.


The Italian (Optimized for Kindle)
The Italian (Optimized for Kindle)
Price: £0.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Deliciously Overwrought, 25 Feb. 2012
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Published in 1797 this was the final novel from one of the early initiators of Gothic Romance - and many would say the genre's queen. The story begins as a Romeo and Juliet type affair: Vivaldi has fallen for Ellena, an enigmatic orphan, but his family strongly oppose the match. The plot moves fast, with lots of gorgeous descriptions of travel in the Alps and across Italy, and it takes in along the way many of the deliciously overwrought staples of the genre: ghostly appearances, deathbed confessions, evil priests, sequestered monasteries and even the Inquisition. But the main attraction is surely the dark character of Father Schedoni, the confessor of Vivaldi's mother, who, once drawn in to oppose the match using any means possible, finds his own shady past and web of deceit begins to unravel.

This is well worth a read, particularly if you are interested in the early history of the Gothic novel. Sadly the Kindle edition is riddled with typos, which - even for 77p - was a real shame.


Water Lily
Water Lily
by Susanna Jones
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric but disappointing, 1 Feb. 2012
This review is from: Water Lily (Paperback)
Jones has an impressive ability to create an atmosphere of mystery and suspense. Her debut novel, "The Earthquake Bird" had me absolutely gripped. This, her follow-up, shares many of the traits of its predecessor: both are set in Japan and feature a bit of a bad girl protagonist, on the run from former relationships. This time around, the heroine is Runa, a young teacher who is on the run as her affair with a pupil threatens to become public. She boards the ferry to Shanghai, hoping to start a new life in China. During the voyage, Runa's life collides with that of Ralph, a creepy middle-aged Brit, who is travelling to find himself a wife, a submissive "Oriental Blossom" like those described in his mail-order catalogue. But Ralph, like Runa, isn't quite who he seems. It's a great premise but somehow or other "Water Lily" didn't quite deliver for me. It's one of those suspenseful novels that builds up and up, and then just rushes to end far too quickly and in a way that I at least felt to be a disappointment. I went from not being able to put it down to throwing it down in annoyance. I'm glad I read this, and Jones's exploration of the mentality and desperation of somebody who would turn to mail-order brides feels really convincing, but I hope her next book will be a bit more consistently satisfying!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 21, 2013 9:39 AM GMT


Man and Wife
Man and Wife

4.0 out of 5 stars Wonderfully overwrought, 1 Feb. 2012
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This review is from: Man and Wife (Kindle Edition)
Chekov once noted, "one must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." Similarly when Wilkie Collins introduces a series of deadly secrets and people who 'simply must not meet' in the opening chapters of one of his books, you can bet that those secrets will very soon be revealed, and those people unwittingly hurtling towards each other! All Collins' novels are overwrought, over-the-top and deliciously enjoyable for that.

'Man and Wife' isn't one of his best works but there are some great characters here: from the novel's villain who is an enjoyably dislikeable study in just how far a selfish man will go to achieve his own aims, to the elderly, jovial but utterly unpretentious Sir Patrick Lundie who provides a wonderfully shrewd commentary on the foibles on mid-Victorian society. Where the novel suffers a little is in the convoluted nature of the plot, and that's convoluted even by the standards of nineteenth-century sensation fiction. Despite enormous pressure from his society (and mistresses!) Collins was staunch in his distrust of marriage and refusal to marry himself. In this novel he explores some of the evils of marriage, which could at the time leave women saddled to drunken husbands, or - in Scotland where the rules of betrothal were much less clear cut - Collins speculates that couples could even become married unwittingly, with tragic results. You can imagine, a novel designed to highlight an ambiguous law can quickly become infuriatingly complicated and uncertain it,self, as 'Man and Wife' does in places. But overall I still found it an enjoyable page-turner, and worth sticking with since the last 50 pages or so were particularly riveting as the plot turns from one of legal/romantic entrapment to become more of a crime thriller.


A Rogue's Life
A Rogue's Life

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The irrepressible Frank Softly, 1 Feb. 2012
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This review is from: A Rogue's Life (Kindle Edition)
This short novel is a picaresque romp through the nineteenth-century criminal underworld: debtor's prison, the shady world of counterfeiting, Collins's irrepressible hero, Frank Softly, experiences both these things and more but never loses his gleefully optimistic outlook. Having dropped out of his medical training because he found the required dinner party attendance too tedious, Frank tries and fails in a variety of careers ranging from the purely disreputable to the downright illegal. But it is in pursuit of love that he gets himself into his most dangerous scrape at the hands of the sinister and secretive Dr Dulcifer. Yet even at his lowest, Frank is an engaging and memorable character, whose postitivity is infectious, and makes this book an enjoyable read. This is an early Collins novel and that does show, as the plot and minor characters are far less sophisticated than in later works, it's still well worth a look especially as this edition is free. The literary rogue is always an appealing character and here Collins manages to spin a fast-paced yarn that encourages his readers to share Frank's reckless journey through society, while at the same time gently needling us for enjoying his company so much.


The Birthday Boys
The Birthday Boys
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Even better second time around!, 30 Jan. 2012
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This review is from: The Birthday Boys (Kindle Edition)
I first read this fictionalised retelling of the Terra Nova polar expedition several years back and it was the first thing on the subject I read. Returning to it, having devoured everything I could find on the topic between then and now, was an interesting experience. I now feel so much closer to and more knowledgeable about the brave and foolhardy characters involved, so I can better appreciate just how persuasively Bainbridge captures the individual voices of the five doomed men on that final polar trek: from working-class Taff (Bainbridge, as always, shows razor-sharp insight on issues of class), who hopes his wages from the expedition will be enough to buy him a pub, to the deeply spiritual and caring Wilson; indefatigable and loveable "Birdie" Bowers; Scott himself, who Bainbridge portrays with insightful complexity (particularly in his relationship with his deeply unconventional wife) and lastly, to taciturn Oates. The last chapter, which belongs to Oates, moved me to tears even second time around and contains some of the most powerful prose I've read anywhere. Short, but intense rather like the lives of some of the men depicted.


The Prestige (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
The Prestige (GOLLANCZ S.F.)
by Christopher Priest
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More expansive than the film, 30 Jan. 2012
Christopher Nolan's film of The Prestige - a gas-lit tale of the increasingly sinister feud between two rival magicians - is one of my very favourite movies, so I thought it was about time I read the book that inspired it. I'm glad I did because the book is much more expansive: it actually begins in the present day and shows how the war between Borden and Angier has filtered through the subsequent generations and tainted the lives of their families to come. This frame gives the main story a completely different feel, and leads to a very different - and perhaps more sinister - finale than the one in the film. The novel has different strengths from the film too: some of the stage magic tricks are perhaps less compelling when described than when seen, and Borden's secret is inevitably harder to mask in text form than visually. But I think Angier gains a lot of depth in the book and aside from the magic and the increasingly fantastical trickery, the real strength in this novel lies in Priest's capturing of the fin de siecle blend of optimism and fear. The third major character in the book, after the two showmen, is electricity itself - embodied by Nikola Tesla - and Priest compellingly explores how this new power holds the capacity both to empower and to enslave, perhaps at the same time. All in all this is a gripping work of historical science-fiction, and even if you've seen the film there are few things that may surprise you here.


Alone: The Classic Polar Adventure
Alone: The Classic Polar Adventure
Price: £12.34

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Physical and psychological extremity, 30 Jan. 2012
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In 1934 Admiral Byrd led his second expedition to Antarctica, but this, his account of it, isn't really a chronicle of action and derring-do on the ice. Rather, it's an intense, psychological memoir of human solitude. Byrd chose to spend the perpetual darkness of an Antarctic winter staffing a small hut on the barrier taking meteorological readings. During this time he was completely isolated except for unreliable radio contact with the main base. It's a fascinating account of how the human mind copes (or fails to) in complete isolation. Byrd's inevitable descent into depression is eloquently expressed and will, I'm sure, strike a chord with anyone who has struggled with mental health issues: "the dark side of a man's mind seems to be a sort of antenna tuned to catch gloomy thoughts from all directions. I found it so with mine." I don't think you'd need to be a polar fanatic (although I am one) to find meaning and interest in this fascinating account.

Of course, as with all autobiographical memoirs, you have to take the story presented with a degree of scepticism. Byrd is an attention-seeker and clearly dresses up his narrative in parts, underplaying his own failings. But reading the text against itself and revealing the chinks in the public face that Byrd presents is part of the pleasure and interest in a book like this. "Alone" also offers a fascinating study in the dynamics of leadership and unspoken exchange which still feels highly relevant today. We humans are complex creatures and Antarctica is the perfect blank but deadly canvas on which to paint large the workings of the mind, both socially and individually.


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