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Peter Lee (Manchester ,United Kingdom)
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Family Tree [DVD] [2013]
Family Tree [DVD] [2013]
Dvd ~ Chris O'Dowd
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Warm, gentle comedy, 16 July 2015
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This review is from: Family Tree [DVD] [2013] (DVD)
I'm a fan of Christopher Guest's films ("This Is Spinal Tap", "Best In Show", "A Mighty Wind", "Waiting For Guffman", "For Your Consideration") so the thought of a series written and directed by him was a delicious prospect.

"Family Tree" follows his usual template in that it is a mockumentary of sorts, following Tom (Chris O'Dowd) as he attempts to find out about his family tree after inheriting a box full of mementos from a relative. He is accompanied by his best friend Pete (Tom Bennett, seemingly trying to be Ricky Gervais throughout), and his sister (Nina Conti) who goes everywhere with a puppet monkey on her arm. Tom is helped on his way by various individuals who point him in the direction of genealogists, family members, and others who try to fill in the gaps in the tree.

It's a gentle comedy, made of eight 30-minute episodes, and although there are a few big laughs peppered throughout it's more of a warm, smiley feeling that the viewer is left with. There are moments of slapstick, but lots of subtle humour too. I've only watched it once so far, but I feel that repeated viewings will reveal more gems in the script.

A shame it was cancelled after a single series. I found it to be thoroughly enjoyable.


The Story of Northern Soul: A Definitive History of the Dance Scene that Refuses to Die
The Story of Northern Soul: A Definitive History of the Dance Scene that Refuses to Die
Price: £4.68

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too many reminiscences make this a long all-nighter, 13 July 2015
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For a long time I've enjoyed listening to Northern Soul but I'm far from being an expert, nor have I been to an all-nighter. I was keen to learn more about the scene and the music and hoped that this book would fill in the rather large gaps in my knowledge.

It's a slightly frustrating read. Initially I found it fascinating, as it told the story of how the music became popular in England, eventually leading to the Wigan Casino scene, but for me the book felt rather fragmented, the text peppered with "top 10s" of Northern Soul songs liked by certain individuals, and numerous reminiscences by people who attended events at the likes of the casino. For a while these are interesting, as you get a feel for what it was like, going to an all-nighter, being there, and then how it felt afterwards, but to me the book seemed to run out of steam, appearing to give up on the narrative and concentrating on the memories of those who were there. Personally this made the book rather dull and drawn out for me, but I imagine that if you were there at the time and had attended the venues in question it will be a great read.


Mightier than the Sword (Clifton Chronicles Book 5)
Mightier than the Sword (Clifton Chronicles Book 5)
Price: £7.60

3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but preposterous and over-familiar, 13 July 2015
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I've found the "Clifton Chronicles" books to be thoroughly entertaining so far, but whilst this volume is still an enjoyable page-turner it's all becoming a little too familiar now.

The book opens where the previous volume left off, with a bomb explosion on board an ocean liner on its maiden voyage. As with old television serials of the 1950s the action here begins just before the explosion, so the events that concluded volume four were not quite as they seemed. After that, normal service is resumed, and the book has a rather binary cast of characters who are either holier-than-thou or waxed-moustache-twiddlingly evil. Much of the story here concerns an imprisoned Russian author, jailed for a biography he wrote of Stalin, and Harry Clifton's efforts to have him released from his predicament. There are implausible plot developments aplenty - a character is revealed to have a photographic memory which is unbelievably accurate - and once again it all ends with a cliff-hanger as our heroes stare into the face of adversity, this time in a courtroom. Fast paced, entertaining hokum, but I'm beginning to tire of this saga which increasingly feels as though it is written by template. Of course I'll buy the next instalment though.


Our Zoo
Our Zoo
Price: £2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating - just don't expect the book of the TV series, 13 July 2015
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This review is from: Our Zoo (Kindle Edition)
For as long as I can remember I've been a regular visitor to Chester Zoo, but I didn't know that much about its history. I enjoyed the recent BBC series which shares the title of this book, and looked forward to reading June Mottershead's version of events.

Don't expect the book to mirror the TV series. Several events in the show were pure fiction, made up for dramatic purposes, and in fact the whole matter of the locals mounting a campaign to stop the zoo opening only takes up a tiny fraction of this book. Instead this is the story of the Mottershead family moving to Oakfield, the house at the centre of the zoo to this day, and the gradual opening of the zoo. I found it to be a fascinating read, packed with anecdotes about animals living in the house, and a wonderful "make do and mend" type attitude towards building enclosures, and some of the things June mentions can still be seen at the zoo today. Some may find the story to be a little repetitive, even dull, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Great pictures too.


The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train
Price: £5.70

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bonkers, 13 July 2015
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Every morning Rachel's train to work stops at a red signal, and as she looks out of the window she gazes at a row of houses, making up imaginary aliases and lives for the people who live there. One day she sees something that shocks her, and she decides to investigate.

It's an interesting opening to a story which rapidly descends into silliness. The narrative flits between two storylines, the reality of the plot slowly being revealed, but it's ultimately a load of fast-paced nonsense. Several times I found myself exclaiming "oh come on!", and once again it's another book where the police are painted as being incompetent. Okay, so the pages kept turning, but I was glad to finish it. Like SJ Watson's "Before I Go To Sleep" it's another book which has been lavished with, in my opinion, unwarranted praise. A shame, as it started so well.


Carmex Original Tube and Pot - (Pack of 2)
Carmex Original Tube and Pot - (Pack of 2)
Price: £5.00

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great stuff!, 22 Jun. 2015
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Over the years I've used various lip balms and although they all seem to work, none of them seem to have lasted. I've seen Carmex in shops before but this is the first time I've tried it.

The pack contains two items - a small pot of Carmex and a tube. The pot is a little deceptive, looking deeper than it is (look underneath it!) and the screw-top reveals a rather hard quantity of the stuff. It smells of vanilla and after rubbing my finger on the top for a second I smeared it across my lips. It goes on fairly easily and has a nice tingle, due to the menthol in the product. Best of all though is that this stuff really seems to last. As I said at the start, other lip balms seem to disappear quickly, requiring constant reapplication, but this tends to last almost a full day with a single coat. The second item in the pack is a small tube of Carmex which is slightly thinner in consistency and therefore easy to apply. I carry this one in my suit pocket each day.

Carmex is a great product and I'll definitely use it again. My girlfriend has tried it too and she's also become a fan since I got this.

(Ingredients, in case anyone wants to know for allergies etc. Petrolatum, lanolin, cetyl esters, paraffin, theobroma cacao seed butter, cera alba, camphor, menthol, salicylic acid, vanillin, parfum, hydroxycitronellal, limonene, linalool, geraniol, citronellol.)


FFS - Digipack
FFS - Digipack
Price: £11.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Despite the song title, collaborations *do* work, 18 Jun. 2015
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This review is from: FFS - Digipack (Audio CD)
I've loved Sparks for a long, long time, despite finding Ron Mael terrifying when I first saw him on TV in the early 1970s. On the other hand, I've never liked Franz Ferdinand at all, so when I heard about this collaboration I was more than a little hesitant.

Thankfully it's an absolute joy. From the start it sounds extremely Sparks-esque, but for fans of Franz Ferdinand their sound is still all over the record too, from Alex's vocals to the sound of the band themselves. It's a great mixture of their two sounds, and hugely enjoyable from the off. The opening "Johnny Delusional" is probably the most commercial track, and the superb "Collaborations Don't Work" towards the end is the most Sparks-esque. For a person who's never liked Franz Ferdinand I'm now tempted to explore their back catalogue too.

A great little record, and one of my favourites from 2015 so far. I hope they work together again in the future.


Let's Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain
Let's Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain
by Alan Light
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 18 Jun. 2015
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One of the best books on Prince that I've read, and I've read a lot of books about Prince. As the title makes clear, this is focused squarely on "Purple Rain", the album and the film, and it's a cracking read. Superbly written, full of entertaining snippets from interviews with the members of The Revolution and those formerly in prince's employment such as Susan Rogers, and only a few small mistakes. After finishing this I hope Alan Light may one day return to write an authoritative biography of Prince.


The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May
The Familiar, Volume 1: One Rainy Day in May
by Mark Z Danielewski
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.26

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A huge disappointment for this Danielewski fan, 18 Jun. 2015
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If you could see my bookshelves at home you'd notice several books by Mark Z Danielewski. There are four copies of "House of Leaves", each one slightly different, one also signed. There's a copy of "The Whalestoe Letters", which is an extended excerpt from "House of Leaves". There are two copies of "The Fifty Year Sword", one from the original Dutch release and the other from the more recent reissue. Finally, there is a copy of "Only Revolutions". I've read and loved them all, and "House of Leaves" is one of my favourite books ever. I'm quite a fan of Mark Z Danielewski.

When I heard that his next project was to be a 27-volume serial novel called "The Familiar" I couldn't wait to read it. I imagined each volume would be maybe a hundred or so pages in length, the books released perhaps one per month, and as soon as the opportunity to preorder the first volume arrived I immediately did just that. So how is it?

Volume 1 is an absolute brick of a thing - well over 800 pages in paperback, and it weighs a ton due in chief to the gorgeous paper used throughout. On first examination the book is utterly spectacular, Danielewski's trademark typographical trickery filling the pages, each of its several narrators getting their own typeface and page layout, and one even seems to get a different type of paper completely. Each "chapter" (the narrators alternate throughout the book from chapter to chapter) begins with an illustration of sorts, and images also appear elsewhere - two pages look like a graphic novel, another two show a mobile phone conversation - and it is clear that the book is a triumph of design. At the end of the book there is an extract from volume two, and if anything that looks even more spectacular.

But what of the book itself?

I'm afraid, not to mention bitterly disappointed, to say that I really didn't enjoy "The Familiar" at all. Okay, it's the first volume of what is clearly going to be a huge novel (it has been announced that two or three books will be released each year, so this means the whole thing will be complete in around thirteen years time!) and the purpose of this book is obviously one of scene setting and introduction, but I found it to be incredibly dull. Nothing really happens at all, there is no drama, and almost no characterisation. Yes, there are different narrators but none of them are really introduced, and by the end we know next to nothing about them.

As for the typography and styling of the book it introduces its own problems. Two characters have their sections punctuated by countless parentheses, used to show their thought process. Essentially a sentence like "I am feeling hungry and am going for some food" would end up here as "I am feeling hungry (not eaten since breakfast(how long ago was that?(five hours))) and am going (walking(it's not far(hope it isn't raining(it's not)))) for some food (fancy a sandwich(BLT?(Actually chicken)) and a cake (carrot? (just sponge)) and something to drink (coffee (black, two sugars) decaf))" which becomes incredibly tiresome very quickly. Others speak in slang or dialect throughout, including one character called "jingjing" whose sections are also entirely printed in lowercase text. It's all very clever, all very artistic, but it doesn't make for a particularly enjoyable read. Even as a huge fan of Danielewski's work I felt that in this book he'd pushed the "style over substance" thing too far, and to use a term from pop culture he seems to have "jumped the shark".

Will I be reading the other 26 volumes? I confess I preordered volume two several weeks ago when it first appeared on Amazon, but at the moment I can't say I'm looking forward to it. I really hope he can turn this around and that volume two will be as good as I'd hoped this would be, but at the moment I'm glad to see the back of volume one and I doubt I'll be reading it again, unlike Danielewski's other books.

Two stars awarded for the appearance of the book I'm afraid.


Shut The Box - Mini Travel Game
Shut The Box - Mini Travel Game

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bargain!, 12 Jun. 2015
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I discovered "Shut The Box" in my local pub which has a small collection of old board games. Keen to buy a set for my own use, I plumped for this one as it was cheap and also listed as being a "mini travel game" and I'd planned on taking it on trips away from home.

It's absolutely tiny! When I opened the parcel I found that the game is maybe the size of two decks of cards, but it's a cute little thing. It's made of wood and okay, it looks a little cheap with some rough edges, nothing at all on the hinged lid, and nothing to keep the lid closed (a rubber band will do the job perfectly well) but it just adds to the charm in some ways, and for the price it's a bargain. The numbered tiles are attached to a metal rod, and to start the game you can just tip the box back a little to flip the tiles, then off you go. The set comes with a pair of dice, and the playing surface is covered with a green felt-like material.

After a few seconds reading the included rule sheet I was off, and luck was clearly with me as I managed to "shut the box" on my second attempt. My girlfriend wasn't quite so lucky, but it's an addictive little thing, a real "just one more go" game, and after a while she managed it too.

For the price it's an absolute steal, and it will definitely be coming with us on trips away.


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