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Mark West (Kettering, Northants United Kingdom)

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The Grownup
The Grownup
by Gillian Flynn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good read, 9 Feb. 2016
This review is from: The Grownup (Paperback)
With a startling opening line, this follows the unnamed narrator as she progresses from softcore sex worker at Spiritual Palms to a cut-price psychic (faking it), hired by the wealthy Susan Burke who’s concerned that malevolent spirits are haunting her house and taking possession of her stepson Miles. When the narrator, who doesn’t believe in the supernatural and is only looking for the chance to make some easy money, is taken to the large Victorian house - Carterhook Manor, built in 1893 - she becomes convinced she can feel something untoward. This is the first work of Flynn’s I’ve read and I liked it - told at a good pace (this is a long short story, not a novella) and with a strong voice, though there’s no real depth to any of the characters apart from the narrator and she might just be unreliable but it works in spite of that. The house is a good main location, the suspense builds steadily and the horror/supernatural tropes are used well before we get the twisty (there might be more than one) endings that settle everything, though the last line is a corker. Good fun, I would recommend this.


Snow
Snow
by Paul Kane
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Twist on a fairy tale, 4 Feb. 2016
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This review is from: Snow (Paperback)
A modern retelling of the Snow White legend (which Paul touches on in his smart introduction), this sees Angela being taken to woods on the edge of town by her evil step-mother Ruth’s brother, Uncle Robert, who plans to kill her. Managing to escape, though wounded, she tumbles into a hole caused by old mine workings and realises she’s not alone in the dark. Paul has a good sense of atmosphere and location, both of which are used well and he sketches in Angela’s family background to give us an idea as to why she happens to be where we first find her. Characterisation is deft, if a little broad and the whole thing has a nice sense of darkness about it especially with the ‘dwarves’, who reminded me of the Crawlers from “The Descent” - I wanted to see more of them. It’s written at a brisk pace and, if anything, that would be my only complaint - I wanted him to slow down a little and explore a bit more at times. Well written and engaging, I enjoyed this and would recommend it.


Official James Bond 007 Movie Book, The
Official James Bond 007 Movie Book, The
by Sally Hibbin
Edition: Board book

4.0 out of 5 stars Hibbin does a sterling job, 1 Feb. 2016
Published in 1987 to coincide with the series’ 25th anniversary, this catalogues all of the films up to “The Living Daylights” and is well compiled by Sally Hibbin, who did such a great job with the “Making Of Licence To Kill” that I read last year. Featuring a foreword by Cubby Broccoli, this also has a decent introduction that covers the origins of Bond, from Ian Fleming to the novels as well as the film-making partnership of Broccoli and Harry Saltzman (which ended with “The Man With The Golden Gun”). There are also mini-biographies of the four actors to play Bond, the screenwriters, directors, production designers, special effects technicians as well as the music and titles for the series, all of which are well researched and presented. The bulk of the book is a trawl through the 15 films, with each chapter broken into categories - an opening essay, ‘The Assignment’, ‘Equipment Issued’, ‘Enemy Personnel’, ‘The Bond Girl’, ‘The Victim’, ‘The Background Story’ and a production dossier. The book is copiously illustrated, all of the images well reproduced and clearly labelled, a nice mixture of film stills, production stills and behind-the-scenes shots. Although this is clearly an EON sanctioned project, Hibbin gives her opinion in several places, deconstructing some of the formula (especially when it’s not used) and whilst she’s clearly a fan of Connery she gives all of the films a fair crack of the whip. Informative, entertaining and well written, as a Bond fan I would highly recommend this.


Wilderness
Wilderness
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Not in the Spenser league but good, 1 Feb. 2016
This review is from: Wilderness (Kindle Edition)
Aaron Newman is a successful novelist who, on an early morning jog, happens to witness a murder. When he identifies the suspect, Adolph Karl, to police, he goes home feeling like he’s done his duty. Except Karl’s thugs have already got there first, stripping his wife Janet naked and tying her to the bed, with instructions that he must recant his evidence or worse will happen. Humiliated and cowed, Newman does as he’s told but then he, Janet and their neighbour Chris Hood decide the only way to really be free of Karl is to kill him.
I like Robert B. Parker a lot but this is the first non-Spenser novel of his I’ve read and if I’d started here I’m not sure what I’d have done. Newman isn’t a likeable character, for the most part and his marriage with Janet is perhaps best described as dysfunctional - she likes to control her environment, he loves her more than she loves him and they clearly wind each other up. Worse, since their love life is in tatters, when he sees her tied up, rape crosses his mind - which is very unpleasant and even if it was a product of its time (this was published in 1979) it’s very jarring. The rest of the characters are as well sketched as all Parker’s tend to be, from the thwarted man of action Hood to the distinctive and quite scary Karl whilst the best ones, ironically enough, are a very much in love assassin called Steiger and his wife of twenty years Angie. The locations are well used - Newman lives in Boston and eventually trails Karl to his weekend cabin in the backwoods of Maine - and Parker is at home as much as in sleazy city sidestreets as he is in the middle of a forest.
Perhaps because he couldn’t get away with it in his Spenser novels, Parker seems to revel in his opportunities for swearing and explicit sex here and also ups the ante with the violence, though he uses it superbly - when people get killed, that’s it, there’s no extended death scene, the plug just gets pulled, which is as refreshing as it is unpleasant.
If I didn’t know Parker from the Spenser novels, I’d probably have enjoyed this more but Newman remains unlikeable for a long time and his transition from a gym-loving writer to a cold-blooded killer is quick (though not as brisk as Janet’s transformation). There’s also a lot made about him being 46 and not over the hill, which is around about the age Parker was when he wrote this.
Well written and briskly paced, this isn’t a bad novel at all (taking all of the above into account) and I’d recommend it.


Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by Alan Dean Foster
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A new beginning!, 1 Feb. 2016
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Set 30 years after the events of “Return Of The Jedi”, Luke Skywalker has vanished after a pupil of his turned to the Dark Side. In his absence, the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire and is intent on finding him. General Leia Organa, leader of the Resistance, has learned from an old ally that there might be a clue to Luke’s whereabouts and she sends her best pilot, Poe Dameron, to retrieve it.
To set my stall from the off, I am a huge “Star Wars” fan and my first introduction to the work of Alan Dean Foster was his novelisation for the original film in 1977 though I haven’t read that for a while (but I’m tempted to go back now). Sticking fairly close to the script (with some nice additions), Foster does a good job of dealing with all of the various locales, easing older characters back into the action (and it’s nice to see Han & Leia interact again) but also doing well with the new characters and his work with Rey on Jakku is particularly good, capturing her sense of loneliness well. Kylo Ren also comes across more clearly here, his inner struggle well realised - and the professional jealousy he & Hux share - and Leader Snoke casts a more chilling presence too.
The novel makes good use of location, especially Starkiller Base and Foster’s a sure hand at dealing with technology, giving the reader just enough to picture the item and then treating it as though it’s been around forever. He also does a good job with the dialogue - one of my highlights from the film was the verbal interplay between the characters and it’s captured well here, reading as funny as it did on screen. It also has that wonderful sense, of time having passed and adventures moving into history - “Luke Skywalker?” asks Rey, “I thought he was just a myth.” On the Falcon, Finn knows Solo as a Rebellion General but Rey knows him as a smuggler and when she mistakes the time the ship made the Kessel Run (she says fourteen), he sharply corrects her to twelve.
Foster also includes a few sequences that, although they were probably deleted from the film for timing reasons, work well. Beyond the opening sequence with Leia, the first new part is Poe’s escape from Jakku, an adventure with Naka Iit which is good fun. There’s a sequence with Korr Sella (an aide of Leia) who’s sent on a mission to the Hosnian system just before it’s wiped out by Starkiller (she’s in the film but we don’t find out her name) and, wonderfully, Chewie finally gets to rip someone’s arm off at Maz Katana’s place. The last key sequence is on Starkiller, which features a speeder chase between Rey & Finn and a load of troopers which is exciting and explains why they’re so far above Han and Chewie for the final showdown with Kylo Ren.
Well written (though I got the curious sense that Foster was under-writing and certainly not creating something as lush and deep as the original novelisation), well realised and full of pace, this does the film proud and I would highly recommend it.


The Night Lingers and other stories
The Night Lingers and other stories
Price: £0.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A writer at the top of her form!, 1 Feb. 2016
Nicola Monaghan is a terrific writer, whose startling fiction is honest and uncompromising and never shies away from the dark side of life. I read her novel “Starfishing” last year and loved it so when I got the chance to read a small collection (of three stories) from her - I got it as a member of her mailing list, though it’s also available on Amazon - I jumped at it. “The Night Lingers” features Sylvia, a damaged pub singer who is waiting to go on stage with her band (including her abusive manager/partner Harry) for a televised talent show and says as much from between the lines as it does on them. “Babysitting” is a short, sharp tale about an unnamed girl, looking after her younger sister Issie, who begins to choke. The final - and longest - story is “All calls are recorded for training and monitoring purposes” which is about Danielle, who wants to be a teacher but has ended up in a soul-less call centre. Rich, heartfelt and beautifully written, these stories show a writer at the top of her form and I highly recommend the collection.


Future Shock! The Story Of 2000 AD [DVD]
Future Shock! The Story Of 2000 AD [DVD]
Dvd ~ Paul Goodwin
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Great documentary, 12 Jan. 2016
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A great watch, well put together and informative too. I was a fan of 2000AD from the start, though I drifted away as the 80s progressed, but it was good to hear from the creators, to see "old friend" comic strips and understand the creative process. Recommended.


The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens
The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens
by LucasFilm Ltd
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A perfect visual companion, 12 Jan. 2016
Lucasfilm have long known how to produce good art books and, thankfully, this is absolutely no different. Taking the story from the very start of the process in 2012, Szostak follows the team of Visualists working under Rick Carter - and, later, Darren Gilford, though it’s not made clear why it was necessary to bring him in - as they come up with concepts for sequences, even before the scriptwriter and director are on board. Seeing the story - and images - evolve organically is fascinating and the artwork is exemplary. Helping the book, for me, is a production diary that starts around the time of pre-production, a few paragraphs for every month, following the process up to post and giving out little details that help build a bigger picture.
But the art is the real star here and the beautifully reproduced images - from a varied team including Doug Chiang, Ryan Church and Eric Tiemens (who all worked on the prequels), Christian Alzmann, Chris Bonura, Andree Wallin and more - are gorgeous. Of the hundreds of pieces on display, my favourites include “The Sunset”, Chiang’s wonderful riff on “Apocalypse Now”, Andree Wallin’s “AT-AT Idea”, Kevin Jenkins’ “Rally Site Troops View”, “Spotlight” by Kevin Jenkins (which presents the reasoning why concept art is so important as this immediately shows you the moment when Han and Ren confront one another which might not work so well with words) and “Rey Emerges” by Yanick Dusseault, which shows the scale superbly.
I read a little while back that George Lucas was disappointed at how retro some of the film looked and whilst I enjoyed seeing little things in the film - the heads-up display in the Falcon, the Brutalist aspects of the Empire - I do understand what he means and the book confirms it. Ralph McQuarrie’s work, both used and unused, was re-examined by the Visualists and pieces were cherry-picked for the new film. Admittedly, when I read this, all I could think was “the lucky devils!” for gaining access to the fabled Lucasfilm archives.
My one gripe would be the way that Szostak and (especially) Carter see themselves - the writer mentions Kathleen Kennedy (the producer) “reaching out” to him, rather than calling him and asking for a meeting. Carter goes further in the pretension stakes (I’d like to believe he’s being ironic about his own abilities but I really don’t think he is) and contrasts badly with the way Ralph McQuarrie and Joe Johnston have talked about themselves over the years plus you wouldn’t need to argue very hard that their contribution to the Star Wars universe - and, by extension, pop culture - is far greater than Carter will ever manage.
That niggle aside (easily done, just skip the Foreword), this is an excellent companion to a superb film and one I would highly recommend.


Born in the 70s
Born in the 70s
by Tim Glynne-Jones
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A blast from the past!, 4 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Born in the 70s (Hardcover)
Not only a nostalgic look back at growing up through the 70s - toys, games, TV shows, activities - this also gives a potted socio-political history of the UK through the decade. Lavishly illustrated and sharply written, I thoroughly enjoyed this (even if it didn’t particularly tell me anything new, the photographs are worth the price alone) and it ends with a wonderfully poignant image and caption. Very much recommended.


The Days Are Just Packed: Calvin & Hobbes Series: Book Twelve (Calvin and Hobbes)
The Days Are Just Packed: Calvin & Hobbes Series: Book Twelve (Calvin and Hobbes)
by Bill Watterson
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another fantastic collection!, 25 Dec. 2015
This collects cartoons originally published between April 1991 and November 1992 and is made all the better by reproducing the Sunday strips in full colour. With his usual mix of humour and poignancy, Watterson has Calvin try to take on the world, thwarted by his parents, his age and his occasional bouts of extreme laziness. My highlights include the title panel (waiting to waterbomb Susie), “I’m home….”, Calvin twisted around (“oh wait, there’s my belly button…”), the flying car, Hobbes dreaming, Dad cycling, Astrology (and being a girl-magnet), Chewing magazine, a mention of The Noodle Incident, creativity (last minute panic!), Hobbes writing the class story, sitting out and looking at the stars, smooching the ladies, the big slide, Halcyon days, monsters under the bed, survival kits, pictures for a “fictitious childhood” and re-reading (again) ‘Hamster Huey’. Funny, smart, touching at times and occasionally melancholic, this is a superb collection and well worth a read. Very much recommended.


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