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Adam "Say something about yourself!" (Dunton, United Kingdom)
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The Good Father
The Good Father
by Noah Hawley
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.39

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The soul of the lone gunman, 7 Jun 2012
This review is from: The Good Father (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Good Father has one of those opening chapters that nails you from the start, with the outside world shockingly and suddenly intruding on the cosy family domestic routine of the Allen family.
Dr Paul Allen, a successful rheumatologist, and his family have their world changed in an instant when they learn on a breaking news flash (brilliant described as being in `crisis colours') that Dr Allen's son from his first marriage, Danny, has apparently assassinated a very popular presidential front runner at a rally.
The novel then unravels with Dr Allen's investigation into both the life and recent travels of his son, and his research into other `lone gunmen' who have suddenly departed from the rails to take life. To use the thinking of his professional life, he is trying to piece together a diagnosis. Is his son innocent? The beleaguered father passionately believes so. Or if guilty, what made him do what he did?
The novel uses different perspectives, first person for the father and third person for Danny and also for the different assassins and random killers that the father refers to when researching triggers to killing, and there's also a journal entry.
This serves the novel well, brining a layered depth to it and reinforcing the feeling that the father is distant from his son and pursuing him. Tension is ratcheted up brilliantly. The book is a page turner and works as a thriller. At one point I worried that the novel was going to become simply a chase/conspiracy story and pitch for a movie with, I pictured, Michael Douglas in the father role. But I need not have worried. The novel is consistent and satisfying.
Recommended as an intelligent, accessible thriller.


The Great Gatsby (BBC Audiobooks)
The Great Gatsby (BBC Audiobooks)
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 11.10

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Boats against the tide, 30 May 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Welcome to Jazz Age America, where the wealthy classes exhibit a `vast carelessness' that can wreck the lives of those caught in their wake, where a lack of `moral intelligence' is matched by a capacity to hide beyond riches, and where those self same riches are built on a shoe-shine and a smile, on the capacity and appetite for opulent illusion.
These are the themes of `The Great Gatsby' and of today's news, including a rich celebrity culture of sports people and film stars, glittering parties, the fear of scandal, and the consciousness of who is seen with who.
The Great Gatsby was written with a moral intelligence, and it works as a treatise on the failure of the American Dream, and a deeply human tragedy of doomed love and the failure of romantic idealism. Gatsby, a soldier then entrepreneur, is driven by a cult of self-improvement (as typified by the heartbreaking resolution list his father finds in the back of Gatsby's boyhood copy of Huckleberry Finn), by a faith in the American Dream and the capacity of riches to secure that which he most desires, the memory of a love that has become hopelessly idealised and which the other party, Daisy Buchanan, cannot live up to.
Daisy is glittering but callow, and her husband Tom, faithless, brutal and successful by the standards of corporate finance, is the anti-thesis of Gatsby's dream. These worlds collide and the consequence is murder and tragedy, lives destroyed in the wake of what the narrator, Nick Carraway, calls a `rotten crowd.' Nick was also a soldier who has fallen almost accidentally into the world of bond trading and becomes Gatsby's neighbour. His growing disillusionment and disgust with the world of the Buchanan's and Jazz Age opulence, and his defence of Gatsby, of ideals versus lack of principle, gives the novel its moral backbone.
This BBBC radio full cast dramatisation is superb, capturing all the `big themes' of the novel, keeping the novel's lyricism and some of its key passages, whilst breathing an urgency and relevance into its 2 hour drama. The character acting is spot on. Andrew Scott's self-effacing drawl as Gatsby, occasionally undercut by a pleading urgency, is a highlight, as is Bryan Dick's honest Everyman Nick, whose weariness and anger with those around becomes ever more apparent. Andrew Buchan's thuggish, alcohol slurred Tom is also outstanding.
This production is economical and superbly judged, in the way of the best Radio 4 drama.


Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour
Boomerang: The Meltdown Tour
by Michael Lewis
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chickens coming home to roost, 29 May 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
After the turn of the Millennium to the present day, it would seem that we have invented new, more ruinous variants of `bubble thinking,' efficient only in the speed and devastating power in bankrupting entire economies and countries, let alone individuals and firms.
Michael Lewis, whose previous work includes his narration on the US sub-prime bubble (`The Big Short') and the power of money and statistics in sport (`Moneyball'), here journeys across Europe to show how the contagion of hopeless debt and living beyond our means spread from US markets, and how different countries symptomised this contagion. And so:
Iceland: where the financers and young business Turks of Iceland convinced themselves that selling on debt and gambling on and owning assets in other countries could transform their national culture overnight from one whose dominant industry is fishing, to finance. That they could quickly acquire global financial mastery, they convinced themselves and others, as the crippling debt passed on to our own civic and municipal institutions shows.
Greece: where the hatred of taxes, greed in all sectors including the public, and a general individualist culture went hand in glove with the easy and fast money of the debt bubble markets.
Ireland: where the nation's financiers put tremendous faith in commercial property developers and speculation, and sold land and property parcels to each other.
Germany: where the national character trait of clean on the outside, dirty on the inside, is shown by the avoidance of their own bubble, and a tendency to finance the sub-prime borrowing of other countries, whilst retaining a certain national characteristic faith in the word of others in believing without question the ratings agencies Triple A status.
And finally back to America, where one of the most financially parlous states, California, is shown to exhibit some of the worst excesses of all of the above, including a greedy public sector, and a lack of faith and goodwill between Governors and governed.
A key thesis in Lewis's book is that it is national, civic and social character and culture as lived out by communities and individuals that is a key determinant when dealing with bubble thinking and surges and famines of wealth. Which way do people jump when they are in the money, and out of it? Why does short term fulfilment for individuals so often trump longer term well being of communities? Lewis does not give us moustache twirling corporate villains for us to let us off the hook. Part of the responsibility is ours.
That this sobering and sometimes frightening tale is told with zest and humour is a gift of this particular writer. There is no small measure of optimism to. We are shown individuals who do speak up to sound the alarm and try and turn the tide, including academics and city leaders. Lewis clearly believes that right thinking can bring lasting cultural change. We can change before externals and environment force us to.


All The Devils Are Here: Unmasking the Men Who Bankrupted the World
All The Devils Are Here: Unmasking the Men Who Bankrupted the World
by Bethany McLean
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mammon's reckoning, 24 May 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Following golden threads of venality, stupidity, corruption, cowardice and a kind of corporate greed that would have made Gordon Gecko blush, McLean and Nocera here trace the roots of the our current financial dystopia, naming and shaming the devils as they go.
Starting at one of the `hit the fan' moments in 2007, when the CEO of Merrill Lynch is informed of the scale of his company's losses as one of the first dominoes to fall, we then rewind 30 years to the genesis of the financial products that were to mutate to the WMD that triggered financial apocalypse. So, we have the birth of Mortgage backed securities, using mortgage debt to sell on as financial product. Then, we have the beginnings of the Mortgage sub-prime market, i.e. less safe loans with trimmed down scrutiny and high interest rates that ostensibly were about increasing home ownership to those who previously could not afford it. As this Witches Cauldron bubbles, along come Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Government Sponsored Enterprises (GSE's), to give it a stir. These examples of corporate confusion and dysfunction are charged with fostering and promoting home ownership with government money, and giving a seal of approval to mortgage products that is taken as gospel.
We also have the paper tigers of the housing regulators. Stripped of political clout by the powerful advocates of the GSE's they were meant to be watching.
Over 30 years the cauldron stewed and bubbled. Mortgage backed securities and subprime were a recipe for something truly diabolical, developing together and becoming increasingly unsafe, as subprime lending became riskier and more venal. Where the debt originated from and went to became increasingly confused as the financial products became bigger, more complex and more `synthetic' culminating in products like `synthetic CDO's squared' (Collateralised Debt Obligations). These eventually led to trillions of debt that was impossible to unravel.
The inefficiency of ratings agencies, stamping ridiculous debt with `triple A' ratings led to a false sense of security (a terrible under-statement). This rating meant everything to Wall Street and to corporate finance, but it was a mistake based on a huge lie that was collectively bought into and believed, in large part because it led to riches, incredible pay-offs. The stakes kept rising. The government, because of the politics of huge fortunes and corporate America, looked the other way and colluded.
The melt-down happened, the chickens came home to roost, as they must, as they always do, incredulous yet uncomplaining about our crass stupidity and unwillingness to learn the lessons of history. The terrible injustice of government bail-outs for corporate America begun, setting a template for the rest of the Western world. The wreckers were rewarded. Not so the homeowners. Leave aside that many of these did not exercise their right not to jettison common sense in pursuing silly loans. Many were conned, in every sense of the word. Many we told about triple A. Many were told, `safe as houses.' The rage against the machine has just begun. We are only just coming to terms with this terrible legacy. This book set sit before us, and it is a sobering and upsetting read. The style of this work is one of diligent research and documentation, facts that speak for themselves, and a restrained anger that I would have liked to see actually break out into the prose, but which does not. It would have been good to have a bit more passion to tell this epic tragedy, a bit more of the rage against the machine in the writing. But the anger is ours, and what we do with it is down to us.


The Tree of Life [DVD]
The Tree of Life [DVD]
Dvd ~ Brad Pitt
Price: 3.00

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Going back to our roots, 12 May 2012
This review is from: The Tree of Life [DVD] (DVD)
I took a chance on this film after hearing various bewildered critical responses from cinema goers and critics. At issue seemed to be the sprawling cosmic imagery, intercutting scenes of family drama, with sequences involving dinosaurs being singled out for especial derision.
Still, intrigued, I rented this, and I am incredibly glad that I did.
The film is long and sprawling, and you are put in the mind frame for the human wrestling the transcendent straightaway, with a quote from the Book of Job, the voice of God, no less;
"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the world..."
The film unfolds at a searching, meditative pace, but we go straight to intense human drama, with the O'Brien family receiving news of the death of a son. The action then rewinds, through the mind's eye of Sean Penn's middle aged architect reflecting on his boyhood with this family, and the character of the mother (Jessica Christian) reflecting on the twin paths of 'Grace' and 'Nature.'
The interplay between the sons and the parents in the America of their day (50's Texas) is the human drama of the film. The mother is all gentleness and grace, but with steel too. The father (an impressive Brad Pitt), authoritarian and wounded, is scarred into an oppressive attitude to his boys by what he sees as the merciless, Darwinian struggle of life.
The Sean Penn character, as a boy, grows and rebels, increasingly testing his father. There are also landmark events that further underscore the frightening side of life. The drowning of a boyhood friend is a particularly chilling and effective example of this, with the grotesque suddenness and splintering horror of it breaking in when least expected to a carefree community event.
All this is juxtaposed by the wider cosmic 'birth pangs' of the universe and the world, with fantastic images of galaxies and worlds, our world, being born. We see the growing pains of creation, cosmic collisions and explosions, experimental life, dinosaurs.
So, the human struggle is given context, but not trivialised. In fact, it is given its meaning.
The Christian imagery, spoken and implied in the film will give meaning to some. Others will find the meaning in the cycles and struggles of nature. Some both. But for me, no film has so successfully linked the human struggle with the transcendent since perhaps 2001 a Space Odyssey. This earlier film, with its explosion of cosmic imagery and the sense of an incredible 'other' gave me a lasting sense of wonder similar to this. It's fitting that both films are linked through the effects work of Doug Trumbull. If anything, this film has a greater human heart set in the realities of human life, without the distractions of homicidal supercomputers.
And the climactic vision, seen through the eyes of Sean Penn's character, is a powerful emotional and spiritual drama of reconciliation and redemption.
This is an enthralling, wonderful film. Go see.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 5, 2014 2:16 PM GMT


Extra Play - Emergency Ambulance Simulator (PC CD)
Extra Play - Emergency Ambulance Simulator (PC CD)
Price: 7.94

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Drunk in charge of an ambulance, 5 May 2012
= Fun:1.0 out of 5 stars 
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I have installed and reinstalled this to check that the blindingly terrible experience of trying to play this was not an installation error.
It doesn't appear to be. After installation it took an age to load. Then, I'm presented with a menu screen, and I attempt to click my first mission. This is the first challenge. The mouse cursor develops a jerky life of its own and I keep clicking the wrong box. But I plunge into my first scenario and attempt to walk out of the door. It's like being very drunk, everything jerking and swaying about, and a challenge to attempt the most basic co-ordination. I stagger out of the door. My pager tells me that someone has had a heart attack in a Church and I must saddle up and respond. Having been moved to teeth grinding frustration by my experience so far, I quit in fright.
I did not think minimum system requirements would be an issue as I have run recent simulation titles like Excalibur's Demolition Company Gold without any problems. Comparing the two I see that this does have more advanced processor, video card and memory requirements, so be warned. Annoying, as I can run MMRPG's no problem on my pc, but not this modest simulation game release.
This review reflects my experience on the pc I have which has faithfully run every game I've thrown at it to date, but falls over with this. I resent it for that! I'll be interested to read a review from a gamer with a more advanced pc. For me, I'll file under "stretcher -case."


Police Simulator 2 (PC CD)
Police Simulator 2 (PC CD)
Price: 19.00

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reclaim the Streets, 5 May 2012
= Fun:3.0 out of 5 stars 
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This simulation and strategy game from Excalibur has a retro feel; from the 70's cop show sounding music, to the Playstation era top down strategy game graphic style.
Admittedly a bit on the steep side at 17, it's certainly not a disaster to play, and has kept me coming back most nights this week to build on my progress.
It has a gentle and helpful learning curve that allows you to explore and get to know menu and command structure. Yes it's complex but not frustratingly so. You start out setting simple duties after recruiting your teams, and then as the game progresses you can promote your officers and equip them with increasingly expensive and effective vehicles and equipment.

The missions vary in style, but increasingly test your abilities as Chief to manage your resources. Get another station too quickly after equipping yourself with full teams and a fleet of vehicles, and you'll find your cash flow slipping into the minus, and until you build credit you can't develop your units. Ignore the repair status of your vehicles and they will be only able to crawl to a crime scene.
All this is engrossing enough and the world of the game does draw you in as you wait to find out what your next missions and rewards will be.
On the downside it has crashed my computer and frozen a few times, and my pc can run 3D world games / more complex titles competently and speedily enough. It is a game that rewards patience, but the stately pace can frustrate at times. And it is does feel over-priced.
That said, it manages to reward your patience with some engrossing game-play that uses your grey cells as well as your trigger finger.
As they used to say in Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there."


Outpost
Outpost
by Adam Baker
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alone at the end of the world, 29 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Outpost (Paperback)
For the caretaker crew of the Kasker Rampart, their home is at the end of the world, and to their horror they find that this does not only apply to the extreme isolation of their location.
For the news from the TV satellites shows scene of violent breakdown and disorder in population centres caused by a seeming virulent pandemic. And there are hints of something even more terrible about the plague symptoms.
As the crew struggle to understand and plan their evacuation the situation seems to worsen, and the TV channels start winking off, one by one...
The protagonists include a female vicar but is so bizarrely because a near death experience convinced her there is no God, and who starts the book suicidal and obese, a muscular Sikh engineer with a fondness for cannabis, a thuggish ex marine skinhead with a gang following, an embittered female medic, a laconic Captain keeping them all in a holding pattern, and various other cannon fodder and shades of light and dark.
The environment is a character in itself, with a raging sea and pitiless freezing arctic wastelands, and the metal 'Nostromo' like grunginess of the rig.
The monsters (apart from the living human ones) are essentially walking dead, perhaps a tad more energetic than Romero's shuffling horde, but not as fast as the 28 day later infected. But it's the sci-fi elements that give them an unusual spin. They are infused with a metallic alien organism that spreads tendrils through muscles and flesh and provides new wiring for brains and nervous systems, but slows their heart rate and vital signs to essential death, making them able to survive extreme conditions and very hard to stop. There is a horrifying pathos as well to some infected who retain their humanity even though their physical body undergoes this change. But the loss of their personality is in the end inevitable.
This 'from the skies' element means that Baker is able to weave genres and references ingeniously. So we have Alien and Aliens, the Romero living dead films and other zombie/infected apocalypse films and books, the Thing, the body horror of David Cronenberg, and more.
That it all works is principally down to some fine and fast plotting and pacing, a visceral and energetic writing style (pared down short sentences James Ellroy readers will be familiar with) and some superbly orchestrated set pieces.
The characterisation is also winningly done, and the toll of this apocalypse on the crew is cleverly done. Some are driven to despairing evil by it, some to a cold sociopathy, others to acts of greater humanity and redemption.
In 'Juggernaut', the prequel to this, Baker further fleshes out the origins of his space plague, and builds on all the above strengths to provide an even better novel. I can recommend both, and am looking forward to a mooted third outing for the zombie metal heads.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 2, 2012 11:21 PM BST


The Return Man
The Return Man
by V. M. Zito
Edition: Paperback

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Resurrection Fever, 15 April 2012
This review is from: The Return Man (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Return Man is a cracking read in the newly saturated zombie apocalypse sub-genre, which is faithful to its Romero roots with some new angles to play.
What's tired, tested and true are the creatures themselves, shuffling hordes clothed in vestiges of their old selves in various stages of imaginative decomposition, overwhelming in their numbers and unredeemable in their hostile intent to have you for lunch; the deaths by zombie are very true to the extreme gore of the Romero originals, and then some; also present are complex characters, driven to moral ambivalence by their situation, and some out and out psychopaths.
What's new is that more often than not in this sub-genre civilization has completely disintegrated. Here a new political and social structure has asserted itself, what is in effect more than half the country turned into a huge gated community (the Safe States) in quarantine, and ruled over by the New Republican Party. Outside of this are the Evacuated States. This is an effective setting for the action.
There is also a new conceit of the un-dead being driven by vestiges of strong emotion and memory to return to old favourite haunts (although Romero did sketch on this especially with his mall fixated zombies in 'Dawn of the Dead') and the central conceit of bereaved humans in the Safe States paying the protagonist Henry Marco to 'return' i.e. execute their un-dead loved ones to a final rest is a good and fresh one to hinge the action around.
Characterisation and character development are both very well done here. Marco is an effective action hero but with a heart and brain, and his wrestling with loss to some kind of resolution at the end is well done.
The story develops into a kind of road trip from Hell as Marco is employed by shadow Government figures to 'return' and retrieve the DNA of a presumed dead prominent neuro-scientist and old colleague of Marco's (Roger Ballard), who may or may not have found the seeds of a vaccine. He's to be given a military escort but this is sabotaged and eliminated (in one of the goriest passages in the book) by Chinese agent Keng Wu who assumes a US military identity. Wu is a well drawn and developed character who behaves with a sociopathic detachment until the end but is haunted by the ghost of his humanity.
In the bleakest examples of this sub-genre it boils down to 'survival horror' where the protagonists are driven to do anything to survive. This novel is about the fight to hold onto personal integrity, humanity and values in the face of ultimate atrocity and horror, and it's ultimate message is not without hope.
This is a recommended page turner with action and horror by the bucket but told with head and heart.


Lent for Everyone: Mark Year B
Lent for Everyone: Mark Year B

5.0 out of 5 stars The Kingdom of Easter, 11 April 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is a Lent lectionary resource using Tom Wright's 'For Everyone' Bible translation. It's the third in a three-volume series to cover the three years of the Revised Common Lectionary. The Gospel designated for Year B was Mark, and so for each day of Lent, here we have a reading from this Gospel for weekdays, interspersed with thematically relevant readings from certain Psalms, Epistles and other Gospels for the weekend readings. These are all followed with a reflection by Tom Wright, in his own inimitable style of lived personal experience, or a vignette or mini parable drawn from contemporary life, used to illustrate and draw out the Gospel message.
The book has grown out of a project to encourage Lent reading in the diocese of Durham, and the Inroduction breathes excitement about the idea and possibilities springing from a large number of people all reading, studying and praying the same texts, 'Big Read' style.

As with other 'For Everyone' books, Tom Wright is excellent in hammering home just how profoundly revolutionary and world changing the Gospel events and message are, in a way that will lift them out of stale Sunday sermon doldrums, or the kind of familiarity that has bred contempt. The 'For Everyone' scripture translation is also fresh and clear without being patronising or robbing the words of their power and grandeur.

This is a Lent book that I can recommend placing at the heart of your Easter journey.


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