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Adam "Say something about yourself!" (Dunton, United Kingdom)
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The Teeny-Weeny Walking Stick
The Teeny-Weeny Walking Stick
by Karen J. Hodgson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Warm, winning, wonderful, 25 Aug. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Edward keeps finding 'proof' of 'little people' living at the bottom of the garden. A small curved stick is a walking stick. An acorn cup is a hat. A sycamore seed are wings. And so on. He brings each proof to the attention of his older sister, much to her frustration, as she's trying to get on with her homework. She's a bit snappy with him and eventually, seeing his glum face, gives him a quick game of football. When they're safely asleep, the little people visit, astonished to find that big people exist after all.....

This is a simple story beautifully told. A small, contained, simple world is created and the book really gives you a child's perspective and view of the world. The 'map' at the start and end of the book is a of a small village but we see with Edward's eyes the wonder and scope of Tolkien's Middle Earth. The rapport and relationship between Harriet and Edward feels real and believeable, tender and exasperated. There's a gentle pace to it and a link between the magic of nature and imagination that's a good counterpoint to the freneitc inventiveness of a lot of children's books today. And the illustrations are also magically realised, the colours and outlines flowing and blurring gently, the detail full of surprises. Wait for your kid to gasp when he sees the trees' 'faces' or spots a little person for the first time.

My 5 year old lad is happy to keep re-visiting this, as am I.


The Last Werewolf
The Last Werewolf
by Glen Duncan
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The hungry curse, 1 Aug. 2011
This review is from: The Last Werewolf (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Glen Duncan's pose is as wild, feral and energised as the titular lycanthrope.
He can write ferocious and brilliantly cinematic action scenes, his characters have a good line in dry, sardonic wit, and it could be a hit that may merit a movie or US box set mini-series. But I don't feel better off for having read it.

It's just that, from the pen of a reasonably mature guy who has, the jacket tells us, studied philosophy, the musings of the protagonist, Jake Marlowe, have all the profundity of an angst seized sixth former. The existentialism and nihilism just get in the way of the story, really, without being convincing components of interior worlds. Another issue which made the book a bit of a labrorious page turner for me were the actions of our monster narrator. The "sympathy for the devil" tale told from the monster's point of view is hardly new, but the attempts here to convey Marlowe coming to terms with his atrocities were incedibly alienating. The sadisitc, sexualised killing the man-monster is prone to felt be-fouling, to be honest. And however witty and engagaing he can be socially, spending the novel in his shoes is a wearying experience.


Journey into Space: Operation Luna
Journey into Space: Operation Luna
by Charles Chilton
Edition: Audio CD

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journey into S-P-A-C-E........., 26 July 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is an engaging period piece, a science fiction epic complete with cliff-hangers that speaks of the wonder and imagination, now seeming fresh with innocence, which informed such dramas in the 1950's.
This is a 13 episode re-recording (1958) of the original drama now lost (1953). It has been beautifully restored and is as clear as a bell.
Charles Chilton drama pits his intrepid rocket crew, in their first manned flight to the moon, against paranoia, claustrophobia, time travelling aliens and homicidal cavemen in roughly that order. It's an absolute blast. Characterisation is clear and distinct, to the clipped ramrod straight Jet Morgan (he is well acted by Shakespearean actor of the time Andrew Faulds), the by standard comedy number 2 , plain talking and bumbling Lemmy (Alfie Bass), calm and reassuring Doc (GK Poynter) and hot headed Mitch (David Williams). There's also the `voice' (David Jacobs, who also does the bit parts), an alien entity who turns out to look like a cross between a baboon and an armadillo. Heady stuff, and reminiscent of days when sci-fi had an emphasis on fun and wonder.
This package also contains an informative pdf guide full of great background and an episode guide (fascinating when detailing the 4 `lost' episodes) and original artwork, plus a Charles Chilton and cast hosted documentary "Journey into Space...again" broadcast 1999. This also has some fascinating insights, such as the revelation that the BBC mailrooms used to be staffed by facially disfigured war veterans employed by Reith, himself a disfigured veteran. This in turn apparently inspired Chilton in his depiction of an alien that looks frightening but sounds and is benevolent.
This is recommended especially for sci-fi buffs with a love of the genres history, and those with a nostalgic fondness for radio drama serials of the time.


A Perfect Spy (BBC Audio)
A Perfect Spy (BBC Audio)
by John Le Carre
Edition: Audio CD

5.0 out of 5 stars Spying into the abyss, 22 Jun. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This audio adaption of 'A Perfect Spy' is a masterful, brooding and gripping adaption of Le Carre's classic novel.
The story begins with a seeming picture of high success in the diplomatic corps, a dinner party hosted by the protagonist, Magnus Pym (here played by James Fox) and his wife Mary (Harriet Walter). It's interrupted by a telephone call, in which Magnus learns of his father's death. Muttering some enigmatic words about being free, Pym is soon on the plane to conduct his father's funeral arrangements. But massive previously sealed secret chambers are swinging open in Magnus's soul, unlocked by his father's death. And Magnus masterminds his own disappearance, hiding out in a seaside cottage hosted by a mothering landlady (Mrs Dubber, given substance by Brenda Bruce), so he can write his own confession, and maybe in doing so retrieve his own self, lost through years of betrayal and counter betrayal.

But Magnus knows his time is limited, as Jack Brotherhood, given a barking authority by James Grout, and his British and American spymasters, are in a mad panic to find Magnus. They fear that their own home-grown spy is a double agent who may have done incalculable damage through the years, and whose deception may indeed run deep and be incredibly far reaching.

The drama lies on two fronts; the race to find Magnus, and the horrified discovery of how deep the rabbit -hole of his betrayal goes, and the unravelling of Magnus's tale, told through flash-back as he writes his story. It's a story that describes the human cost of espionage, and how its roots can lie in the practice of deceit, con and bluff that may echo through generations. Magus is the Perfect Spy, we learn, because he has learnt terrible skills of deceit and duplicity through his con-man father. His upbringing has warped his soul into a chamber of mirrors, each reflecting and distorting the other, getting further and further from the image of the truth.

The story and this admirable adaptation work because the human story deepens in parallel with the espionage, right up to the devastating conclusion. This is a haunting, satisfying and profound work that deserves the status of classic.


A King's Speech (BBC Radio 4)
A King's Speech (BBC Radio 4)
by Mark Burgess
Edition: Audio CD

4.0 out of 5 stars A King speaks, 11 Jun. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This Radio 4 play by Mark Burgess is an ideal companion piece to the hit film. The film told this story from history using the cinematic medium very well; inspired casting, a sweep over the events of years, different perspectives, and a cathartic release of emotion at the end. This radio drama adaptation equally utilises its own medium very well. There's a tighter focus that contains the story to a single day (Coronation Day 1937), a sparer, more ensemble cast, and a briefer running time (only 45 minutes). Although short, this is still a satisfying telling of the story behind the King's triumph over his speech impediment to address the nation in its darkest hour.
Alex Jennings conveys the vulnerability and frustration of the monarch admirably, and Trevor Littledale communicates the warmth and toughness of Lionel Logue every bit as capably as the ubiquitous Geoffery Rush. The meat of the drama is really the relationship between the 2 men, one of respect and friendship in the face of a daunting goal, avoiding the humiliation of the King and by default the nation.
The containing of the action to a day focuses and sustains the tension. As D-hour approaches, the King and his speech therapist reflect on the events that have brought them to this. The scene in which the King reflects on the boyhood relationship between himself and his father is powerful, horrifying and moving, as we receive a glimpse into an abusive and oppressive upbringing.

I was looking forward to a moving recitation of the fateful speech, as with the film, and was a little disappointed that that doesn't happen here. The play ends just as the King begins his address, and in its place is an abrupt postscript. This is anti-climatic, and would be I think even without having seen the film.

That aside, this is a great radio production, taken as either a companion to the film or on its own.


The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible
The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible
by Melvyn Bragg
Edition: Audio CD

4.0 out of 5 stars Magisterial, 8 Jun. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This hefty tome of cd's (10 in all) gives as weighty a physical presence as a large leather bound translation of the King James Version of the Bible, the history and impact of which writer and broadcaster Melvyn Bragg describes in this work, narrated warmly and authoritatively here by Stephen Thorne.

It's a fascinating and absorbing listen. We begin with a description of the struggle that led to this translation and its initial printing and publication, the work of the pioneer translators who were determined to make the scriptures accessible to the many out of the jealous grip of the few (the Catholic Church). We look at Tyndale's extraordinary journey that led to his murder and eventually the work of committees in refining and bringing his translation to light in the court of King James 1611. We trace its inspiration on those who viewed the King as God's representative on Earth and therefore beyond challenge to its inspiration on those who believed King's to be evil and looked for direct scriptural authority to depose them. From this we look at how this translation added to the ferment of the British civil War, and also how it was responsible for launching itself across the Atlantic to the new world. We discover how it shaped the new societies there, both democracies and religion, and how it was used as both as a justification both for slavery and its abolition, and again how it proved to be more than the spark that ignited the trauma of the American Civil War. It's shaping of the thought of philanthropists, educators, politicians, evangelists and preachers, Christian socialists and bringers of democracy is also brought home to us along the way, with occasional detailed case studies of individuals e.g. Mary Wollenscraft, William Wilberforce, Octavia Hill, Charles Wesley and many others. How the KJV fared in the Enlightenment and Renaissance is also described.
Running alongside the rich social history here is an evaluation of the KJV's impact on our language and literature, which is of course considerable. There's a welcome incluison of both English and American literature, from the obvious such as Shakespeare, to the less obvious e.g. Jane Austen, William Faulkner, and more.

If the above seems very far reaching and an almost a history of everything, there is a danger of that sometimes as Bragg's sweep seems to dwarf its subject at times, and more focus would have been welcome, as some of the narrative can seem a bit 'potted history' or 'rough-guide-ish.' However the ambition and authority of the writing carries this off. This is not a work of scholarly detachment either, and it's all the better for it. For example, Bragg is exasperated by what he sees as the unfairness and insulting generalities in the work of Richard Dawkins, who merits a chapter to himself.
At times I wondered if Bragg was confusing the impact of the faith itself with the impact of the KJV translation, and I could have done with his thoughts on the success of other translations, such as that of the NIV, rather than the swift demolition job of this and other translation he provides. However, he does success on keeping the focus tight on the impact of the particular translation of the KJV, how the power of its language fuelled by the underlying faith made it as huge as it has been.

Verily I say unto you, this is a work and a reading to immerse yourself in.


Theatre of War 2: Kursk (PC DVD)
Theatre of War 2: Kursk (PC DVD)
Offered by DVDGAMING DIRECT
Price: £18.30

2.0 out of 5 stars Tanks but no tanks, 26 May 2011
= Fun:2.0 out of 5 stars 
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is weirdly uninvolving but admittedly detailed war game based on the epic tank campaigns between the Germans and Soviets 1943.
It's plus points include an initial engrossing atmosphere, with plenty of historical information and evocative images getting you in the mood for some down and dirty WW2 action. And it's undoubtedly a labour of love on the part of the developers.

Then, on accessing the tutorial, you find yourself, God-like, hovering over the battlefield, ready to send your troops to victory or death. So you're ready to do or die. But the first thing you'll wrestle with is the intricate on screen control panel and then the 'life of it's own' camera angles. No! No! Swoop the other way!
Then you find out you can highlight individual or platoons or smaller groups of soldiers to engage them in action. Then you discover that each has a different role or speciality. The action unfolds and you receive some encouraging comments. You capture a few tanks, secure an area, receive a well done, then it's off to mission one. An introductory video cranks up the tension and atmosphere. Then it all seeme to unravel in a welter of uninvolving and frustrating gameplay, frustrating controls, and a lack of direct, kinetic, visceral enjoyment.


The Billy Fidget Letters
The Billy Fidget Letters
by Eric Delve
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Return to Sender, 25 April 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The letter writing tradition in Christian apologetics has been with us from the start, with the letters of Paul. Fast forward to an older age and we have C S Lewis's 'Screwtape Letters' as another excellent example. Fast forward again, and we have this. And I found it pretty hard to take, despite being a Christian myself. And as a Christian, I root for anything I hope will give a good account of the faith.

The problems are many. First, the central conceit has no narrative integrity. The Screwtape Letters, for example, were from a junior to a senior devil. It's a conceit that says, ok, this is a fictional device to get some truth across, but it does it with self contained consistency. You can imaginatively grasp the concept of 2 devils writing to each other. But here we are asked to accept that God is writing to people. How? This is never explained. Do the recipients write the letters themselves in a prayerful trance? Or receive them imaginatively? Or find them under their pillow? I'm not being too literal, it's just that it is wildly inconsistent as a narrative device, and unfortunately the whole work hinges on it.

Second, take the central character of Billy himself. For apologetics to work, especially ones framed in fiction, the characters work best when they are 'everyman/woman' types that we can relate to. Screwtape letters had this. The man converting to faith the devils were working on stumbled and went wrong but in a way we all do. Billy, in his past, has date raped a woman through drugging her. Is this representative of blokedom today? I hope not.

Third, there's the use of abuse survival to drive the story forward. It's just done in a cheaply emotional and simplistic way. I do feel this.

Fourth, the plot contrivances, especially as the denouement rushes upon us, would be thrown out by the writers of the worst day-time tv soaps. I've heard it said there's no co-incidence, only grace and answer to prayer, but give me strength.

Fifth the theology is all over the place. The God in this book says somewhere that he is no puppet master and does not interfere. "I don't have favourites" and "My justice is not selective" this God says. But, he sends an angel later on to physically move Billy out of burning building. And then generally carries on 'protecting' Billy and his family. He also, later, "does not see coming" a pivotal event. What?!

The work is all over the place and I can't recommend it at all, neither for the non Christian or Christian. Look up 'Screwtape Letters' instead. And the letters of Paul are pretty good...


Chimera [DVD]
Chimera [DVD]
Dvd ~ John Lynch
Offered by Retro Gamer Nerds
Price: £4.89

4.0 out of 5 stars Frankenstein Unbound (again), 9 April 2011
This review is from: Chimera [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This largely forgotten 'science gone wrong' chiller from 1991 is a riff on the Frankenstein themes of humankind playing God, creating life, only to have it turn around and bite them.
With today's cloning and genetic research debates raging, it remains extremely topical.
John Lynch (you may remember him from the Gwynyth Paltrow romcom sliding doors) plays journalist Peter Carson, whose girlfriend leaves him for a job in the 'Jenner' fertility clinic deep in the wilds of the Yorkshire countryside. We follow his girlfriend Tracy as she uncovers the shocking truth behind the quiet facade of the clinic's work. The fertility work is only a front for genetic hybrid experiments splicing the dna of a chimp and man, with the result of Chad, a creature that goes on the rampage at the end of episode one, killing all and razing the clinic to the ground. The shocking denouement to the first episode is smartly done, a true 'pull the rug from out of you' moment as people you thought would be major characters through the miniseries (4 episodes) are swiftly and horribly dispatched.
The following episodes show the grieving Peter doggedly uncovering the conspiracy behind the authorities cover up. He's joined by a Policeman with integrity and the grieving partner of one of the clinic's patients.

I had read some very poor reviews of this (including the genre magazine SFX) so went in with expectations set low. But I was pleasantly surprised and it kept me gripped, chilled and entertained through its running time. The problems first: there is some truly appalling acting, especially from some minor characters, including an eyeball rolling arm waving chief of Police. It is daytime soap standard. There are a few very dodgy effects (watch out for the stand in hands of the signing chimp). And the cover up itself is unconvincing, even in an age without mobile phone cameras and the internet. There is no way the opening horrors would be so easily hidden, in the face of multiple witnesses and bereaved families.

That said, the criticism I have read of the monster is unjust. It is a truly frightening and nightmarish creation that convincingly portrays the pathos and rage of an intelligent creature bred to be destroyed. The movements and appearance of this fusion of man and primate convey this well, from the shocking incongruity of the clothing, to the human eyes set in an animal face.
The above mentioned close to episode 1 as mentioned, is a masterstroke, and there is a switch to a steadier pace through the rest of the series which works. The true depth of the horror of Jenner's work is slowly revealed and there are some genuine shocks in the final instalment as we realised how far Jenner and his team were prepared to go. The score is effective and atmospheric, with a plaintive choral solo at the opening and closing credits.
Much has been written about the big hair and phones of the 80's fashions, but just enjoy it, and remember the days where we were much more reliant on public phones.


Paul Temple and the Geneva Mystery (BBC Audio)
Paul Temple and the Geneva Mystery (BBC Audio)
by Francis Durbridge
Edition: Audio CD

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mystery, murder, brandy, and a woman called Steve, 19 Mar. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The Paul Temple franchise clearly has a huge generation spanning following. This is my first encounter. If you are a fan of the murder/mystery genre, what's not to love here? Husband and wife team with sparky chemistry, titular character a thriller writer who can't avoid being involved in real life mystery, multiple homicides, mounting suspects who all appear in the same locations around the world in odds-defying style, big reveal over a brandy with "and just how did you do it?" question at the end, exotic locations, hero able to make deductions and avoid villains whilst topping up his alcohol levels with pit stops of brandy. All there.
The reading by Anthony Head is excellent, effortlessly switching register between characters. The pace of the story keeps you listening. It's not too long. Recommended, then, for newcomers to this franchise, or die hard purists.


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