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Adam "Say something about yourself!" (Dunton, United Kingdom)
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Euro Truck Simulator 2 - Special Edition (Digital Download Card)
Euro Truck Simulator 2 - Special Edition (Digital Download Card)
Offered by SC-WHOLESALE
Price: 14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Trucking good, 6 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A lot of simulator games induce a headache, using every key on the key-board with nightmare control navigation systems, and a really anal attention to accuracy at the expense of game-play. But Euro Truck Simulator 2 definitely isn’t that.
I am set on my way with a quick set up screen to design my profile (avatar image, truck colour and model, company logo and name), and a choice of control systems including the simple auto gear controls through to full bloodied authentic manual systems. It’s compatible with a range of accessories like pedals and wheels, but I have just keyboard and mouse, and I’m new to the game and not very good at driving simulators to boot, so I opt for simple auto controls. That’s mouse for left and right, and keyboard for up and down. I choose my tutorial mission, including a departure point from a map of Europe (London for me) and I’m off. I experiment with the many camera angles (cab interior, roof, top down, etc.). I choose the cab so I have a good view of my wing mirrors. And a huge grin starts creeping over my face. This feels arcade accessible, and yet there’s a boys own feeling of “Wow I’m driving a truck!” I’m out of the depot and navigating using my Sat Nav towards the M25! I’m speeding down the M25! Tricky junctions ahead and a bone chillingly authentic “crunch” as I hit metal barriers with the side of my truck incurring damage percentage points. I find a repairs garage and make good the damage (costs my employer money which I guess will be passed on to me). I reach some docks at Cambridge and I’m given the choice to end the mission or try reversing the trailer into the space for added accuracy points. Much hilarity ensues as my trailer swings everywhere apart from the drop off point. My employer will not be impressed. I give up and hit enter. “Satisfactory” I’m told.
Before my next mission I experiment with other features and discover I can choose an internet radio station to be piped to my cab! I look up the controls and learn to use the keys for features such as lights, indicator and horn. I can’t believe I drove all the way from London to Cambridge on the last job without using the indicators! So far I’ve had a blast with this game; it has fun game-play and an authentic feel. I look forward to choosing more jobs and earning enough to start my own business.
So on I go. Going to the job market, picking up work, going from Cambridge to Calais via the Ferry, from Paris to Southampton via the Tunnel, picking up different jobs, earning and saving to visit a dealer and buy my own truck and start my own business. This will unlock a whole new dimension to the game, but I’m a way to go yet. I end my next mission with a ‘Very Good’ rating so I feel nevertheless that progress is being made. I’ll continue playing, my dream being my own truck and thriving firm.
There’s a lot I’ haven’t got into with this game as I’m not there yet, that opens up possibilities of owning and decorating your own truck and watching your own business grow. There appears to be a thriving community of players that also compare screenshots of their trucks and scenes from their journeys, the sun setting over Paris, for example, or dawn in Amsterdam.
This is an immensely playable sim with graphics and detail that are staggering, a feeling of real time and real journeys as you look out at the road and surroundings through entire European trips. You can almost smell your cab. A brilliant achievement.


WaterPark -Tycoon (Digital Download Card)
WaterPark -Tycoon (Digital Download Card)
Offered by 6 Hungry Weasels
Price: 7.63

3.0 out of 5 stars Making a splash, 6 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a perfectly playable example of the management/sim/tycoon genre of video game that has you designing a water park from the loos and changing rooms up.
Sort the essential facilities, build your first swimming pool, equip it with fun extra features like massage jets, fountains etc., make sure people have somewhere to eat and drink and sit down. Add a playground, garden features, and bins. Employ staff to keep the place clean, garden and watch out for the safety of swimmers (lifeguards), all the while staying out of the red and having enough to build bigger and better pools and features. Take a loan to get you out of a tight corner or speed development but remember repayments will bite into your bottom line. Watch the mood of your guests with little mood icons and click to find out what’s ringing their bell or making them unhappy. They could be, for example, huffing about finding the bin, or moaning it’s too expensive. You can make the necessary adjustments to keep them happy, or e.g. keep prices fairly steep in the hope that it will pay for better features that will in the end justify the price.
There’s a tutorial to show you the ropes and then bronze, silver and gold quest based missions, or free play which gives you freer reins on development.
It’s graphically smooth and the zoom in detail is impressive, to the extent where you almost feel like you are walking through your park. Controls are fine, allowing smooth and fast control with your mouse.
It brings nothing new to this type of game, though, and lacks features that other titles have that could improve game-play. There is no speed- up option where you whizz through a slow day and build up your earnings faster, which is a disappointment. It can get a bit slow and fatally you find yourself waiting for things to happen.
This could be a perfectly fine introduction to the management/sim genre for someone, although those well versed in such titles may want to look elsewhere.


The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking
The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking
Price: 5.15

5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely gin, 5 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
“The Trip to Echo Springs” is part travelogue, part literary biography of 6 US writers with a central focus on their alcoholism.
Those writers are F.Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, John Berryman and Raymond Carver. Olivia Laing tackles them in that order, although there is a lot of inter-crossing of their narratives around different themes, e.g. the effects of childhood trauma, and the roller-coasters of their work, love, marriage, the euphoric highs and catastrophic lows, and of course, their disastrous relationship with alcohol.
Laing draws no pat conclusions in looking at the above themes. Her central exploration is that of the relationship between alcohol and writing. Common themes include how these alcoholics both scapegoat their writing for their drinking, i.e. it leads them to places where they have to drink to get through, those intense arenas of the imagination. Another thread in all their writing lives is how drinking damages their productivity. More than one of them seems only to be able to write until midday before giving the rest of their waking hours to the bottle.
There a slight digression into the science of alcoholism and this is a fascinating short precis. Its brevity is partly explained on how little science knows on the subject, and partly because this is literary biography not scientific study.
Without a doubt, Laing captures how seductively these writers describe drinking, e.g. Hemmingway’s “lovely gin,” and she also captures it in her own descriptive passages, how John Cheever consoles himself early in the morning with “scoops of gin” from the kitchen fridge. She also brings out the parallels in these writers work between the cool reliefs of swimming, the cleansing of total immersion in fresh cold water, with a long cold drink.
But she also draws out well the horrors of the alcoholic’s mind and habits, most terribly the destructive effects on others, on partners, spouses, friends, children, anyone who gets between the drinker and the glass. It’s indeed a shock to read of Carver’s casual domestic abuse of his wife, of Tennessee Williams contemptible treatment of his loyal partner Frank ‘the horse,’ the vast sexual carelessness, the worthlessness and contempt with which others are treated. And the pitiable exhibitions they make of themselves. Think of John Berryman soiling himself at work, of public engagements and television interviews delivered in an incoherent stupor, of horrified friends yet again rescuing the manic drinker from some public and frenzied breakdown (an experience of more than one of the writers), and the sheer waste of it all. Laing is not slow to underscore the waste of life when a life is sold to drink, the wasted hours when more could have been written, the wasted opportunities in work and love. There is a romantic myth of how alcohol fuels magical writing. And it may cause or inspire the occasional hit, but how much more does it destroy?
Laing’s passport to writing on this subject is not her own alcoholism, but alcoholism in her family, in an alcoholic partner of her mother. The scenes where she describes being barricaded in her room as a girl against the howling rages of her mother’s partner are very sad. Not being an alcoholic herself lends her some objectivity, and does not strip her of any authority to discuss the subject, as some may argue. This work is structured around a journey, as Laing travels across America to various sites and shrines of these writers, to the New Orleans of Tennessee Williams, to the rivers and seas beloved by Hemmingway, for example. She picks up minutiae of dialogue, of flashes of scenery from train windows, whilst the impressions of her journey and what she is studying tumble around in her head. These create bridges between her explorations of the writers. They are always relatively brief but I did find myself being mildly frustrated by them, wanting to return to the writers’ lives. That’s because Laing’s journey is not as fascinating as the writers she describes, although it does give the book its distinctive shape.
Finally, this is great ‘gateway’ reading. I felt urged to revisit play and novels I knew, and those mentioned and described that I didn't, including Berryman’s work and his semi-auto-biographical and poignantly and tragically unfinished “Recovery.”
This is a great, memorable read on the magic of writing and the seductive but toxic power of alcohol.


Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold
by C. S. Lewis
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Myth re-boot, 21 Jun 2014
Here is a work that will feed mind, heart, and soul.
It’s a reinterpretation of the old myth of Cupid and Psyche, told in one of the few surviving Latin novels, “the Metamorphoses.” More than a reinterpretation, it’s a retelling and reimagining, in contemporary terms a complete re-boot!
It’s a fantastic tale, wonderfully told. Lewis’s gifts as a storyteller were never more on display than they are here. The story gallops along in a compelling narrative that has the rhythms of the stories we used to love when we were young, and have always loved. It’s a tale of a tyrannous and half mad king of a land called Glome. He has two daughters, the beautiful Psyche and the ‘ugly’ Orual. The sisters are bound by love and guided by a wise mentor, the Greek slave known as the Fox. But shadows fall and Gnome falls under blight, and the Goddess of the land, ‘Ungit,’ will have expiation and sacrifice before the land can be restored. Psyche is chosen…
Lewis here spins a tale that draws on an intoxicating mix of themes told in vivid and compelling imagery. Loss, tragedy, human responsibility, expiation, redemption, vocation, faith versus rationality, all are here and more. Lewis the Christian apologist is at work here, although his meanings are so intrinsically bound up in the story that you never feel ‘preached to.’ Christianity is never explicitly mentioned. Rather, we have a story to chew over and enjoy, and we can let the deeper meanings work through us, or we can go into an internal dispute with them. That’s up to us. But the enjoyment the story gives, the enjoyment that comes from the love of ‘story,’ that’s not in doubt here.
There are strong and vivid characters and character development that is utterly believable, although told in a fantastic setting. There are moments of intense human drama, and fantastical wonder. It’s Lewis at his very best. And in our time (as in most times) when the arguments between ‘reason’ and ‘faith’ clash ever more hotly, this work is supremely relevant. Those unfamiliar with the myth that it is based on (myself included) can still appreciate how it has been re-told through an introductory note that gives a good, detailed summary of the original myth.


Ansible 15716 (The Ansible Stories Book 2)
Ansible 15716 (The Ansible Stories Book 2)
Price: 1.22

5.0 out of 5 stars Desert spirituality, 21 Jun 2014
This is the second short story in Mr Litore's intense 'Ansible' series.

The stories tell tell the story of Starmind, a future interstellar exploration organisation that travels across galaxies not by hulking or sleek star-ships, but through the mind. Starmind team members can project themselves, after rigorous selection and training, telepathically across the void until they 'possess' the mind of another alien being to make the much prized 'first contact.'

In the previous story, "Ansible 15715" (see previous post), the results were terrifying and horrific, an encounter with a hostile soul eating parasite that's on its way to destroy us. This time, there's also terror, but it's of the horror of isolation, of being lost and alone and cut off from your kind.

Ansible 15716's protagonist wakes up in the body of a creature that's a mash up between a spider and a camel and speaks through fluted apertures in its thighs (that's a sentence no-one will expect to write! And it's a measure of Mr Litore's skill as a writer that you accept this and go with the flow). His team members are gone, and it's not clear where. He sends desperate psi-casts (telepathic messages) to home, but he knows chances of reception are negligible. He can only live his life as one of these creatures, neither human, or truly one of them. He's surrounded by an endless desert of salt full of immense and towering structures. He tries to flee, but can find no boundary, and is forced to return to his point of departure.

Stant's world building, in the limited canvas of a short story, is laudable. There is a sense that God is deemed far from dead in this future world. Both of his protagonists so far in this series have prayed to Allah in their desperation and their are references to how religious principles underpin the characters motivations. Mankind's yearning for new territory and contact and the burgeoning power of Starmind is well evoked, as well as the ruthlessness of the vocation. The alien world and its indigenous species is a real feather in the writer's cap. He conjures a race that is truly alien, bewildering in its strangeness, and yet recognisable because it is drawn with such integrity.

The story describes the spiritual isolation of its protagonist, but it's also a hymn to desert spirituality. There is a terrible beauty in being lost in an immensity, and in utter silence being thrown back to reach out with mind and heart to a God who can also answer with silence. Certainly the protagonist is not given a hot-line to the Almighty.

This is an amazing short story and I'm looking forward to seeing the direction future installments take. Will the horrors of the first develop into a story arc amidst more episodic installments? Will we learn more of Starmind and its world? My guess is yes and yes.


Galt Giant Floor Puzzle Jungle
Galt Giant Floor Puzzle Jungle
Price: 10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Jungle jigsaw, 24 May 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have soon to be 4 year old daughter who shows a good intuitive grasp of jigsaws. They are currently her toy of choice at toy-shops, and it's great to be able to hunker down and guide her as she sees the patterns and links the pieces.
This is a 30 piece puzzle with large pieces and bold colours of a cartoonish jungle scene. Eight of the pieces are in the shape of animals, which adds to the fun.
I notice my daughter struggles to place the larger pieces more than smaller standard size, probably because she finds them harder to maneuver. Not really a sticking point however. It was great to name the animals with her as we and after we completed the puzzle.
A good acquisition for the puzzle minded child.


Holloway
Holloway
by Robert Macfarlane
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.49

5.0 out of 5 stars Greened grooves in time and place, 24 May 2014
This review is from: Holloway (Hardcover)
A Holloway (hollow way) is a path worn deep into the bedrock, an ‘old way’ as previously described by Robert Macfarlane.
This short book is a travel narrative, a work of naturalism infused by the spiritual, a prose- poem, and a memorial tribute to Roger Deakin, fellow traveller and writer with Macfarlane of the Holloways.
In 2005 Macfarlane and Deakin set out to explore holloways in South Dorset. There they found a hidden world that shades, patterns and throws back time as it does light. Sunken, over-grown paths that sheltered fugitive Catholics back in the days of the persecution. The writers take with them a 1939 novel called ‘Rogue Male’ about a fugitive hiding out in the Holloway.
In 2011, after Deakin’s untimely death, Macfarlane returns with artist Stanley Donwood and writer Dan Richards to remember their friend and to trace again the holloways.
This is exhilarating, sensual writing where you breathe deep the scents of earth, leaf and wood and feel the textures under feet and scratching hands and skin. As the travellers sleep and wake in a holloway you can hear with them an immediate and encompassing dawn chorus, wonder and fear at oceans of mist, feel a primal fear as they bolt from torch-lights after a night at the pub.
Donwood’s illustrations also convey well the deep enclosed mystery of these grooves of history, these greened and worn tunnels into the past.
This is a short book that leaves a long, evening shadow of an impression.


Philips Marvel Spiderman LED Projector Indoor Children's  Bedroom Light - Blue, 3 x AA Required (Not Included)
Philips Marvel Spiderman LED Projector Indoor Children's Bedroom Light - Blue, 3 x AA Required (Not Included)
Price: 19.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A nightlight fit for super-heroes, 19 May 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a splendid nightlight that gives it's central image of Spidey a gentle night-time glow. There's also a projector at the top. You insert any one of three 'View Master' type reels to view a slide show of eight Spidey images a piece.
There's a switch at the bottom to choose between the night-light and projector functions. Focus is through twisting the top section so you can have the images small and close up or large and projected onto the bedroom ceiling. The projector reels are solid and robust and slot easily into the side.
It's very easy to get started and operate. No assembly required, although the three required AA batteries are not included.
My 8 year old currently has the night-light Spidey standing guard against bad dreams.
A pretty good bet if your child appreciates night-lights and super-heroes. And even in this digital hyper technological age, seeing simple projected images on the wall or ceiling of a darkened room still manages to thrill.


Doctor Who and the Daleks
Doctor Who and the Daleks
by David Whitaker
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: 4.59

5.0 out of 5 stars A new beginning..., 18 May 2014
This novelisation by David Whitaker, of the second ever Doctor Who tv adventure, is something of a curiosity and a gem.
It was the first ever Doctor Who story to be published as a novel, and as such had to give a beginning for those who had never seen the original tv stories.
It wanted to go straight in to the Dalek adventure without first visiting the junkyard revealed in “The Unearthly Child” or the quick swing back to prehistory in the adventure that immediately led to. But it also had backstory to give to launch new readers into the world of Who.
And so it created an alternative beginning, where Ina Chesterton, on his way back from a job interview in Reigate, chances on a fatal road accident featuring a dead soldier, an injured woman (Barbara) and a lost girl (Susan), with the Doctor appearing looking for both of them. To those familiar with the Who’s origins this is disorientating and exciting. It’s like finding a new release of one of your favourite films with an alternative opening restored to the cut, and one that works.
This is darker than the original, with the presence of death, and the Doctor himself even more of an unknowable presence, a cranky old man with a malicious twinkle in his eye.
The group repair back to the Tardis and from then on the story begins to segue back into the outlines of the original, but there are continuing creative differences, including a burgeoning romance between Ian and Barbara, and a glass ‘Emperor’ Dalek at the end.
For those of you who don’t know the original, it’s a story that uses familiar 60’s SF tropes including an irradiated war torn planet, a pacifist race being hunted to extinction by an aggressive warlike race, robotic dehumanisation, allegories to fascism, and a debate on the limits of pacifism. Well, not a debate, pacifism is simply shown not to work, with the Doctor and his friends’ basic message to the peace loving Thals being, “sometimes you just gotta FIGHT!”
It’s the uniqueness of the Doctor and the famous Daleks that lift this above the level of cliché. Even in this simpler form (they can’t move off metal floors as they need magnetic propulsion) they remain a chilling representation of deliberate, implacable hate, with the shrivelled creatures inside seeming to represent their shrivelled souls.
The writing is clear and it barrels quickly along, as you would expect from a novel written for the younger end of the market, but it has been and will continue to be enjoyed by all ages. It’s fascinating to see the original illustrations, simple black and white drawings that nevertheless are supremely evocative of the original tv story. There’s an introduction by Neil Gaiman (who recently joined the ranks of Dr Who writers with a Cyberman story for Matt Smith) who tells what the book meant to him. He underscores that this was an age when everything was much more vulnerable and subject to loss in terms of film. If you missed a story you may have been forgiven in thinking that it would never be repeated and you would never see it again, which is the case for a lot of the ‘lost’ adventures. So, novelisations were a vital bridge back to the original.
At the end there are “between the lines” extras on the history of the story and background on the writers and scriptwriters, and a good analysis of the differences between the novelisation and the tv original.
A genuinely enjoyable read.


Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag
Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag
by Orlando Figes
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Last train to Pechora, 17 May 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In this astonishing, book, historian Orlando Figes reveals an unprecedented discovery of an intact correspondence from a Gulag inmate, Lev, and the woman he loves on the outside, Svetlana.
It’s unprecedented because letters didn’t usually survive the Gulag system, the chaos and censorship. Hell, human relationships and human life itself did well to survive the camps. But what has been pieced together is detailed and revealing, as well as being a inspirational narrative on physical and spiritual endurance. ‘Love conquers all’ may be a fatuous cliché, but here it actually breaks through into reality.
The other cliché it makes real is that truth outshines fiction. The early part of the narrative, where Lev, serving as a soldier in WW2, cheats death and escapes capture repeatedly, would test the patience of a reader in terms of contrivance if this was fiction. Given that this is what happened, though, it is shockingly amazing.
Lev is eventually captured and navigates life as a POW. Then there is another incredible escape. This time Lev makes it home to Moscow, but then has to run the deadly gauntlet of Stalin’s regime of terror and paranoia. His status as a survivor of Allied POW camps and the fact that he helped as a translator is enough to convict him to a ten year sentence in the Gulag.
Running parallel to this early part of the narrative is the story of Lev and Svet’s early relationship and courtship. This is rich in detail about Soviet life in the period, what it was like to work and study as a scientist and researcher, the rituals of courtship, (including long walks and references to Russian poetry), family, social and economic life and other mechanics of survival in the Soviet regime.
The correspondence between Lev and Svet during Lev’s time as a Gulag inmate gives a rich picture both of life in the Gulag system, and life in Moscow in the last decade of Stalin’s regime. In the Gulag, everyone was Sisyphus. Lev is appointed to the wood combine in the camp in Pechora, and must join his fellow prisoners in labouring hard in freezing and wet conditions with very poor provisions, facing repeated frustrations from camp administration incompetence and corruption.
For her part Svet works as a scientist and researcher with all the other duties required of a loyal Soviet citizen. She also needs to look after increasingly frail parents.
Svet and Lev’s relationships survives through their correspondence and also Svet manages to visit Lev a handful of times, actually smuggling herself onto camp, with the help of a sympathetic network of Lev’s Gulag peers. This event, where Svet sneaks into the Gulag system to spend a night with Lev, would again be a contrivance that would make you snap the book shut if fiction, or walk out of the cinema if a movie. That it happened is wonderful and incredible.
The narrative reflects the daily grind for both Lev and Svet, with the details and mechanics of daily survival laid out in fascinating historical detail. They use a code system so as not to offend the censor when talking of the camp or Soviet life. And their aching longing for each other burns beneath the most mundane detail. Every now and then emotion breaks through. And every now and then, through reduction and confinement, the miracle of daily existence is laid bare. There’s a transcendent and poetic quality to a letter where Lev is driven to wonder by looking up at the sky, and seeing the stars, or watching a sunset break through the clouds and illuminating the trees. Surrounded by the ruin and desolation of a camp system in decline, Lev can still lift his eyes and spirit.
Lev and Svet’s relationship also kindles into life a support network, as Svet sends Lev items necessary not only for his but also his Gulag fellow’s survival, including medicines. This is reciprocal as these inmates then help with the subterfuge of Svet’s more clandestine camp visits, and helping accommodate her in neutral zones near the camp. This support network survives the camp, as Svet helps not only Lev but his fellows resettle and re-accommodate near Mosow by giving them temporary lodging at her home.
In our present age here in the West of material and technological affluence, where we can satisfy immediate cravings by swiping our fingers across a screen, here is a world where oppressive and paranoid tyranny, corruption, depredation and incarceration do not necessarily bring despair but a fierce determination to do what is right in human relationships; to soul mates and to family, friends and those in need, to look after their physical and spiritual needs, and to value the daily miracles of existence when life is boiled down to the essentials of survival.
This is an important and accessible historical work and a beautiful and haunting story of how Good with a capital ‘G’ we can be in the direst of times. It’s a rebuke to the cynicism and confusion of principle our present and more affluent age can bring.


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