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Broken Harbour
Broken Harbour
Price: 5.49

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, 3 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Broken Harbour (Kindle Edition)
What I really like about this, my first Tana French novel, is the fact that it has serious treatment of serious themes - depression and obsession, the impact of economic boom and bust on ordinary lives, the ever-present presence of the past - within the structure of a crime story. This probably means that the murder mystery has fewer twists and turns than might otherwise be the case. I realised about three quarters of the way through that there wasn't going to be a final, decisive change of direction, but the quality of the writing meant that for me this didn't matter. I found the understated final scene very touching.

There is a lot of sadness in this book - the wonderfully drawn character of Dina, the detective's little sister, is a study in sadness. There is also the shadow of suicide and the torment of daily life within the victims' household. The tone of the writing is sombre and measured, but always completely enthralling.

If I was looking to find fault it would be difficult, but there are a couple of things which stretch credibility - the observation of the victims by the figure from their past, the fact that the detectives seem to forget about interviewing the person who survives the attack with which the book opens. But if these are faults, they are easily forgiven. I was consciously looking for a book which combined serious writing with a genre thriller and I certainly found it with Broken Harbour.


Lincoln [DVD]
Lincoln [DVD]
Dvd ~ Daniel Day-Lewis
Price: 4.29

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is about acting not action, 27 Jan 2013
This review is from: Lincoln [DVD] (DVD)
After a lot of thought I've given this 5 stars, because for me it is a marvelous piece of cinema. Thoughtful and thought-provoking; beautifully filmed and, above all else, supremely well acted. But it won't necessarily be for everyone.

The title of the film is misleading. This isn't a cradle-to-grave life story of Abraham Lincoln, but rather a closely observed examination of the passage through Congress of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, which made slavery illegal. Although it's set against the backdrop of the closing stages of the American Civil War - which at the time was the bloodiest conflict ever fought - there are only a few minutes of set-piece battlefield action. This is no Saving Private Ryan for the Nineteenth Century. The bulk of the narrative takes place in dimly lit rooms, and on the floor of the House of Representatives, as Abraham Lincoln seeks the 20 Democrat votes he needs for success, whilst also holding his own Republican party together. Although we know from the outset what the result will be, the film still manages to create tension in the way it depicts both the debates on Capitol Hill and the methods (which would be highly dubious in any other context, and which may be even in this one) employed to persuade the waverers.

As well as providing an insight into the workings of politics which suggests that little has changed in 150 years, Lincoln raises some important questions. Was it permissible, as the film strongly suggests, for the President to avoid an earlier peace, knowing that an end to hostilities would take attention away from the reform he was seeking to achieve? Was it right for Radical Republican Thaddeus Stevens to compromise his desire for racial equality to help present Lincoln's proposals in a less controversial light?

This is all good stuff, but throughout this is a film about acting not action. Daniel Day-Lewis is outstanding as Lincoln. Given the lack of a back story he has to give us a complete picture of a towering historical figure, and what he creates is a compelling portrait of a wise, largely gentle, highly driven and unhappy man, who possesses both the common touch and an awareness of his own formidable power and place in history, but who struggles in his relations with his wife and son. Equally impressive are Sally Field as the grief-stricken Mary Todd Lincoln (who in real life was later committed to an asylum by her son) and Tommy Lee Jones as the conflicted, truculent Stevens.

Some may find Lincoln too slow - like many films today it is a little too long at two and a half hours and it takes a while to establish its momentum. Others may find it over complicated, and again there would be some justification for this. There is an explanation of the legal need for the Amendment which wouldn't be out of place in a law exam, and a sometimes bewildering cast of characters and range of sub-plots. And perhaps inevitably for a film dealing with something which would universally and rightly be regarded as a "good thing" there are occasional hints of sentimentality.

But if you are happy to be challenged as well as entertained, and if you want to see how history is made just as much in the back-office as on the battlefield, leave these quibbles aside and immerse yourself in an absorbing and brilliantly performed piece of film-making.


TP-Link TL-PA211KIT AV200 Nano 200Mbps Powerline Adapter - Twin Pack
TP-Link TL-PA211KIT AV200 Nano 200Mbps Powerline Adapter - Twin Pack
Offered by E W Link Co Ltd.
Price: 19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars What a Fantastic Product, 29 Dec 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I've wanted to be able to view internet content through our main family TV for some time, but have struggled. The TV is located about as far away from our router as it could be, and transmitting content wirelessly into the TV via a tablet and an HDMI cable has not been very satisfactory. And then a friend mentioned this way of doing things, and you wonder why the whole world is so obsessed with wireless. I bought these adapters together with a Western Digital TV Live Streaming Media Player and now we have crystal clear content from Netflix, iPlayer and YouTube constantly available in the comfort of our lounge via a wired connection running through our electricity supply. I was expecting to spend a long and frustrating evening installing everything, but I had the whole lot set up with no problems in about 20 minutes.

You rarely come across a product as impressive as this. The only word of warning I would give is to be aware that each adapter needs to go directly into its own wall socket, which means that socket isn't available for games consoles, DVD players, satellite boxes etc etc. You may also need a good four or six way adaptor.


The Presentation Coach: Bare Knuckle Brilliance For Every Presenter
The Presentation Coach: Bare Knuckle Brilliance For Every Presenter
by Graham Davies
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.09

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Banish the Bullet Point, 9 Dec 2012
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I came to this because having done a number of successful presentations, I wanted to challenge my own style. I had a nagging suspicion that I could move up a level further by concentrating on just speaking (in some situations) rather than trying to be a master of Powerpoint or Prezi.

It is well worth reading, and it confirmed a lot of my half-developed thoughts. It also contains a lot of good tips. It is very precise in sticking to one formula, and some may find that a bit over-prescriptive, particularly for presentations other than the big set-piece. It's sometimes a little bit smug, and I wonder also if it's not a book for the novice - you probably have to have a reasonable amount of experience of presenting to get the most from it, and the confidence to adopt a style quite different from that employed by the vast majority of corporate presenters. But the core messages of an emphasis on preparation, the creation of a Micro-Statement and Spikes, are well worth understanding and absorbing, and can be deployed in creating written documents as well as presentations.

The second half of the book moves away from the presentation structure which is the core theory, and deals with a more random selection of presentation-related topics. Don't overlook these sections - the chapters on humour and after-dinner speaking are vital reading, even if you have no intention of trying to make people laugh or getting onto the after-dinner circuit.

I've also found that there's been an on-going benefit from reading this book. Since finishing it, I've been watching other people's presentations with a much more educated eye, which has been as useful in developing my thinking as reading the book itself.

A final word on format. I read this on my Kindle, and this sort of book is perhaps not ideally suited to the Kindle format. It's a book you might want to lend to somebody, or thumb through for ideas when getting ready for a big presentation. Kindle doesn't lend itself to that.

However, that's not a detraction from the book itself, which I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone who presents regularly and wants to up their game.


The Salesman
The Salesman
by Joseph O'Connor
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.09

4.0 out of 5 stars Sad and Engaging, 17 Nov 2012
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This review is from: The Salesman (Paperback)
Written in the form of a journal addressed by middle-aged failure Billy Sweeney to his comatose daughter Maeve, The Salesman weaves together a number of narratives. There is a page-turning account of the legal process following the brutal attack which is the cause of Maeve's misfortune; a tender love-story made tragic not by any external event but by the human failings of the lovers involved; and a recounting of the extraordinary events caused by Sweeney deciding to take the law into his own hands.

Through this, O'Connor deals with a number of themes - alcoholism, fatherhood, Ireland's religious issues - but the one which emerges most strongly is to do with forgiveness and revenge: how do we react to those who cause us harm?

I came to this book having been blown away by The Star of the Sea. The Salesman doesn't have the heady intensity of that book, nor it's broad historical sweep. But it's nevertheless a very touching and compelling read from a fine Irish novelist.


History of a Pleasure Seeker
History of a Pleasure Seeker
by Richard Mason
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.72

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High Quality Erotic Writing, 11 Nov 2012
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There's no doubt that it's the heady and compelling eroticism of this gem of a book which leaves the most lasting impression. Extended passages of rich, sensuous, almost tactile, prose - recounting tales of sexual pursuit and conquest - play upon the senses like a complex perfume. Through Richard Mason's artistry, the reader finds him or herself (and in this world gender counts for very little) placed centre-stage as the Pleasure Seeker of the title.

The story recounts the progress of Piet Barol, a well-educated but lowly born young man setting out to pursue a fortune in Amsterdam in 1907. Barol - who the first sentence of the book tells us was "extremely attractive to most women and many men" - manages to secure a job as tutor to a young child of the very wealthy Vermeulen Sickerts family. This brings him into contact with Maarten, the head of the family who sees him as a surrogate son, Jacobina, his frustrated wife who sees him as anything but, the couple's daughters, and a variety of characters amongst the serving staff. Barol's interaction with most of these is charged with some level of sexual tension, which plays out in a variety of ways.

But don't imagine this to be some kind of literary "Confessions of..." Yes, it is very sexy in places. But our hero doesn't avail himself of every erotic offering which comes his way. His fear of venereal disease, his awareness that unchecked passion may undermine the ambition which is the one thing more powerful than his libido, and his deep sense of his place, all combine to restrain him at times. Restraint in fact features prominently in the story, and many of the erotic passages concern the contemplation, as much as the having, of sex. In this sense, it is deeply grounded in reality.

And there is much more as well. A detailed picture of the rising Dutch middle class at the beginning of the twentieth century. An all-too-familiar tale of greed and banking crisis. Art and music. Religious doubt and conviction. Coping with extreme OCD. Some early stirrings of feminism.

This diverse mix of threads is woven into a compelling story with great skill. The writing oozes voluptuousness and quality, but things still move along at a good pace. Mason has no problem with switching point-of-view at will. He manages to align our sympathies with a hero who could very easily have turned out to be odious and repulsive. And he knows precisely the moment to season his literary prose with the strongest of Anglo-Saxon words.

Some people have said that they find the ending too sudden and a little unconvincing. Maybe, but we are promised that there is more to come, and I for one, like many of the characters in this very pleasing book, am gagging for it.


The Sapphires [DVD]
The Sapphires [DVD]
Dvd ~ Chris O'Dowd
Price: 3.60

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Loads of Heart and Soul, 11 Nov 2012
This review is from: The Sapphires [DVD] (DVD)
There were two or three times during this wonderfully enjoyable film when I had to stop myself jumping to my feet in the cinema and applauding at the end of a song. The music - and in particular the stunning singing of Jessica Mauboy as Julie - really is that good.

The Sapphires tells the story (based on true events) of four Aboriginal girls in late 1960's Australia who form a singing group under the guidance of Chris O'Dowd's reprobate management, and win the right to tour Vietnam entertaining the troops.

There is a lot going on here in a relatively short period of screen time. Music of course, social commentary, comedy, the rapid transformation of otherwise very ordinary lives, love, war and sex (and the four girls are very sexy in the way that real people are). It's a good-looking film, apart from a few clips of documentary footage of Vietnam which feel a little levered in, mixing glamour and realism in just the right quantities. And amongst the feel-good elements, the film sets out to make some serious points about race. On the whole, it succeeds. Some of the white characters - O'Dowd himself, and the manager of the pub where the girls' journey begins - may be rather one-dimensional on this point, but the film is generally very far from trite in dealing with themes of identity and prejudice. The scenes where Kay, a fair-skinned Aboriginal child, is forcibly removed from her family by government officials to be brought up as "white" is unexpected and powerful.

The amount of ground which The Sapphires attempts to cover leads, perhaps inevitably, to some weaknesses of plot and dialogue, and this means that it's not quite a five star effort. But it's highly enjoyable and thought-provoking, leaving you with plenty to savour and reflect upon. You can't ask much more than that of a film.

And I just loved the comment from O'Dowd's character which goes something like this:

"Country and western music is about loss. But all they do is give up, go home and whine about it. Soul music is also about loss, but the difference is that soul singers want to get back the things they've lost."

Thoroughly recommended.


ENTERTAINMENT ONE Angels Share [DVD]
ENTERTAINMENT ONE Angels Share [DVD]

71 of 74 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mature with a Pleasing After-Taste, 5 Jun 2012
This highly enjoyable film attempts something quite difficult in combining gritty drama about mindless urban violence with feel-good, rural comedy. It succeeds in this, with the comedy coming to the fore in the second half of the film.

The Angel's Share tells the story of Robbie, a vicious Glaswegian thug, given one last chance by the system in the hope that his fathering of a child by a very sensible girlfriend will enable him to turn his life around. The hand of mercy is extended further by Harry (John Henshaw), who supervises Robbie's Community Pay-Back, offers him shelter, and introduces him to the rarefied world of single-malt whisky. Despite this, Robbie appears to be heading back into his world of hopelessness and violence, until a unique and extremely valuable barrel of single-malt, and his own sharp mind, present the opportunity for final escape.

At this point the film faces a conundrum. We are asked to sympathise with the well-intentioned attempts of a wayward but intelligent youth to escape from a life of crime, but he tries to do this through a heist. That the film succeeds in winning our sympathies was made very clear by the collective and audible gasp of anguish from all the people in the cinema at the point when Robbie and his friends suffer a massive set-back in their plans.

There is a lot to love about this film. Great characters and acting; some very poignant scenes (brace yourself for a harrowing episode in which Robbie meets one of his previous victims as part of a reconciliation scheme); some laugh-out-loud moments; a well-paced and clever plot; and some beautiful shots of Scotland's fabulous countryside. It doesn't quite make five star perfection - there are times when credibility is stretched, and the combination of the two styles undermines its coherence - but doesn't miss by much, and is well worth seeing, especially if you enjoy off-beat British comedies or just fancy a break from Hollywood blockbusters.

Finally, special mention for two of the secondary female characters. The guide at the whisky distillery is a delight - with swinging hips and the straining buttons on her blouse she creates a sexual presence which many other films would have to display yards of flesh to achieve. And Siobahn Reilly, as Robbie's girlfriend Leonie, has expressions and a manner of speech strongly redolent of the delectable Clare Grogan in that most wonderful of Scottish comedies - indeed that most wonderful of films - Gregory's Girl. I would have no problem putting this new Ken Loach film in that company.


Gregory's Girl [DVD] [1981]
Gregory's Girl [DVD] [1981]
Dvd ~ John Gordon Sinclair
Offered by rightpricediscs
Price: 18.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Very Special Film, 6 May 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Gregory's Girl [DVD] [1981] (DVD)
I saw Gregory's Girl when it was first released in the early 1980's as part of a double-bill with Chariots of Fire. I quite liked it, but it wasn't really what I was expecting. I watched it again recently on the television, and now my view has changed: for me this may well be the best film ever made. Like Local Hero, which has long been on my all time top 5 list, it touches things within me that only a very small number of films, books or pieces of music do.

On the face of it, it's nothing special. A low-budget film about teenagers, by a previously unknown director, set in an unremarkable town in Scotland. A simple story - barely a story at all - which has been done many times before and since. Little in the way of character development or jokes. A soundtrack which ignores the New Wave of British music, then at its height, in favour of free-form jazz-funk.

But somehow, from this unpromising mix, emerges the most wonderful piece of film-making. Much has been written about its subtle, observational humour, and the closer you look, the more achingly funny it becomes. But at the same time I have no problem in admitting that it makes me cry. Not tears of self-pity or sadness, just a reaction to the swell of emotion brought on by the profoundly touching last 20 minutes, as Gregory is steered away from his hopeless obsession with the unattainable Dorothy. In a film packed with glorious scenes and moments, the first time we see Susan in her beret waiting by the phone-box is the one that crowns them all.

It's also a film packed with wonderful lines. Here are just a few of my favourites:

"Ten years old, and with the body of a woman of thirteen."

"The nicest part is just before you taste it. Your mouth goes all tingly. But that can't go on for ever."

"Under-age walks. Dates. You'll run out of vices before you're twelve if you don't slow down."

"What we'll do is, we'll just walk and talk. And we don't even need to talk that much either. We'll just see how it goes."

Why do I love Gregory's Girl so much? For many reasons - as the Radio Times Guides to Films says, it is a "near-faultless piece of film-making." But if I had to pick one thing, it would be the way it speaks so eloquently, and with such warm understanding, of feelings that dominated my every waking moment during my own teenage years - specifically the aching desire for a girlfriend combined with a total lack of any idea about how to get one. I think this was all too close to home when I first saw the film - memories of ridiculous and painful obsessions with girls I never spoke to were too fresh in my mind. Perhaps you have to be nearly fifty and a little more battered by life to really understand it.

If you've ever found love confusing and compelling, or if you've ever been smitten with somebody way out of reach, I think you will love this very special film.


Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking
Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking
by Susan Cain
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Power of the Message is Everything, 15 April 2012
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The thought that kept recurring as I devoured this book was simple - why has nobody done this before? Susan Cain's main point - that introverts need to be understood, valued and even celebrated by others, but also (and just as importantly) by themselves - seems so obvious, so crucial. If we ignore it, we risk failing to get the best out of perhaps as many as half of our workers and school-children. The introverts among us risk being intimidated into questioning ourselves, or even regarding ourselves as lacking, by the extrovert ideal.

As with much good thinking, the most telling points in "Quiet" are not eye-widening revelations. They are articulate expressions of things we probably half-knew already. That introverts can excel at "extrovert" activities like negotiation and public speaking; that brainstorming and working in teams are no guarantees of results; that if introverts were extroverts, we would lose much of the considered thought, creativity, strategic insight and other important things that introverts bring; that introverts are good at managing extroverts because they don't ask extroverts to change; and critically, that there is "zero correlation" between being the best at speaking, and having the best things to say.

The idea of giving yourself "permission" is over-used in psychology and development circles. But it is a concept that came to me often as I read this book. By the end of it I wanted not only to emphasize my introversion, I wanted to shout it (quietly, of course) from the rooftops. I feel that I've become radicalised as an introvert.

I can't think of anybody who wouldn't benefit from listening to what Susan Cain has to say. It's nothing short of essential for anyone involved in education or managing people. I'm sure that many introverts will read "Quiet", and will find comfort and inspiration in its pages. But it's even more important that it reaches extroverts as well.

So why only four stars? Partly because I agree with those who have said that you can take in most of Cain's message by watching her presentation on TED. And partly because the writing is sometimes a little prosaic given the importance of the subject matter, sometimes a little repetitive when dealing with psychological research into the nature and origins of introversion.

But these are minor points. This is a very important book with a very important message. I truly hope that it's time has come.


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