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Adam "Say something about yourself!" (Dunton, United Kingdom)
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Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!: A World without World War I
Archduke Franz Ferdinand Lives!: A World without World War I
by Richard Ned Lebow
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A kick in the counter-factuals, 13 April 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In this fascinating and imaginative alternative history, Richard Ned Lebow, Professor of International Political Theory at King’s College London, posits worlds as they would have evolved without World War One. He describes two main worlds, a better and worse one.
He begins with a recreation of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, pointing out as he does so, some of the detailed occurrences which if they had changed, may have resulted in the survival of the Archduke and his wife. Such pivotal differences may have just been a change in the tempo of the traffic, anything that would have slightly altered the course of the car.
Working out from this is his main thesis; that history (including the course of WW1) is highly contingent, that is, dependent on an unimaginable number of small details, social and political trends and events, any combination of which could change the path of history. Twice he uses the analogy of a mattress. Press down on a point, and other springs adjust accordingly. History, then, is highly nuanced, to say the least. It isn’t the well orchestrated and structured symphony some would imagine, that can be analysed and its patterned movements used to predict with a measure of certainty.
In both Lebow’s better and worse worlds, WW1 is prevented and WW2 henceforth does not happen (no Versailles Treaty, no angry Corporal Hitler).
In the better world Germany undergoes a democratic coup against its military authorities. This succeeds and leads to a benign spread of democracy across the European continent. Russia is an authoritarian regime using the guise of democracy (no Bolshevik revolution, no Lenin or Stalinist rule), much as Lebow repeatedly stresses, like today’s Russia.
In the better world, peace, democracy, arts and sciences flourish, but there are drawbacks. Civil rights, social reforms and some technological and medical breakthroughs, in the USA and Europe, are slowed without the two World Wars giving the necessary impetus on medicine, technology and migration.
In the worse world, the coup in Germany does not succeed, and military authoritarianism entrenches and grows. This spreads and causes the rest of Europe to split into antagonistic power blocs. GB and France stand as isolated defensive outposts of democracy. This leads to a nightmare escalation of distrust between Germany and its allies, and Britain and France, and develops into a nuclear arms race. The unimaginable happens in 1976, a European nuclear war. These events are frighteningly well realised and grippingly written. Again, with this highly contingent understanding of history, it’s down to single technological error, a training tape is accidentally loaded into the early warning system, the grain of sand that brings the whole sand-pile down. Lebow gives a detail that some may find chilling and surprising; the estimated casualties of his European thermo-nuclear war are less than the total casualties of the two World Wars put together.
In both worlds the USA is an economic world powerhouse. It’s interested, but often not involved with the affairs of its democratic European allies. It is much more conservative and puritanical in the arts, society and politics.
Lebow goes into detail in his ‘what if’ worlds on the lives of leading figures. This can be entertaining. I loved the story of prosperity gospel mega -Church evangelist Richard M Nixon brought down by dirty tricks against a rival. Lebow also gives detail on imagined alternative trajectories of scientists, artists, composers, musicians and Hollywood stars, running parallel with their real lives and careers. This was my main frustration with the book, in these sections there is sometimes too much detail accrued, and the switching back and forth between real life and imagined life become confusing, especially when he tackles the lives of four physicists at once.
This book is a serious, accessible and compelling addition to the ‘what if’ genre of history. Lebow makes a passionate case for this ‘what if’ genre as serious history, for in exploring imagined alternatives, we need to delve deeply into the very stuff of history itself.


Snowblind
Snowblind
by Christopher Golden
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.65

3.0 out of 5 stars One Hell of a storm, 23 Mar 2014
This review is from: Snowblind (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Twelve years ago in Coventry Massachusetts and there’s one mother of a blizzard. The town is left reeling with a number of people left missing or dead, found frozen in the snow.
As the bereft try to come to terms with the trauma, twelve years later they suddenly people they know behaving in different, puzzling ways. And what is behind stories such as people suddenly forgetting how to drive? Why does a 12 year old girl suddenly seem wise beyond her years? Why does a Police Officer suddenly turn bitter and hostile to his superior, seemingly blaming him for a tragedy that fateful night? And why does a missing boy turn up at the doorstep of someone grieving the loss of a brother, claiming to be someone very different….
And then another storm hits, and an ancient, malignant evil begins to fall with the snow…..
This is a novel of three parts. The first tells the story of the first storm, and it is a page turning mystery, as we first glimpse the demonic protagonists and the havoc they cause.
The second, longest section tells the story of the individuals dealing with their trauma twelve years later, and the deepening of a mystery as people start behaving out of character, and some claiming that the dead are coming back to them.
The final section is in the faster tempo of the first as the storm and its ancient secret hits again, and there is suspense, horror and resolution.
It’s a book that starts well but suffers from a very baggy middle and a finale that does not convince. Somehow the mythos does not gel as it should to make us enter this world sufficiently so we are convinced by the threat. Scenes where a ghost follows a threatened family around are particularly unconvincing and almost farcical.
But that middle section. It made the book seem ploddingly generic and much longer than it is. There’s not enough threat in this section and what drama there is, is just people behaving out of character. There are some neat plot reveals in the final sections, and a sense of the threads coming together, but as I said the payoff is not really enough, or convincing enough.
The creatures themselves are chilling, pardon the pun, and eerie in their gliding, darting movements and Jack Frost characteristics. But I didn't warm enough to the protagonists; again pardon the pun, to be moved by the threat.
Not a disaster but hardly the white-knuckle ride the cover blurb wants us to believe.


No Lasting Burial (The Zombie Bible)
No Lasting Burial (The Zombie Bible)
Price: 3.49

5.0 out of 5 stars If the light in you is darkness...., 18 Mar 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Stant Litore’s ‘Zombie Bible’ novels are powerful works of horror and transcendence.
He uses the horror genre to crack open Biblical stories and bring us back to their power and imagination, their understanding of being human, and their awe of the transcendent.
In “Death has come up to our windows” he takes the story of the prophet Jeremiah being thrown in a well by irked royalty. In “Strangers in the Land” we meet Deborah in the book of Judges. “What our eyes have witnessed” is a tale set in the early church around the actions of Polycarp the Martyr.
The underlying mythos is that our fallen natures and fallen, irresponsible actions have produced a vast spiritual hunger that reanimates the dead at certain flashpoints in human history. These flashpoints are triggered by concentrations of wickedness and injustice. In “Death has come up..” Jeremiah discovers a national royalty and priesthood so corrupt it is prepared to sacrifice children to the undead in a bid to appease foreign Gods. In “Strangers..” the inability to welcome the stranger, the lost and vulnerable, in the nomadic communities of the Exodus causes the ‘hunger’ to arise and in “What our eyes...” a brutal social hierarchy leads to slums and ghettos where early Christian communities take root, but also the undead...
So to this latest foray into the world of the Biblical undead, and it’s the big one. Not in length but in ambition. For here we come to the arrival of a battered stranger (Yeshua, that’s right, Jesus) in the town on Kfar Nahun (Capernaum). Its Biblical focus is the stories in Luke 4-5 (with reference to the legend of the harrowing of Hell). Jesus calls the first disciple as they fish, and their nets are miraculously filled. But in Sunday school I bet you missed about the undead being called up with the fish? Yep, thought so.
This is a story about a collective trauma, and entire town suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, and who can blame them? Brutalised by Roman mercenaries, they are then attacked by zombies, who decimate the town. In their grief and fury some of the inhabitants cast their dead and infected into the sea, violating some of their most key Rabbinic traditions on honouring the dead and what is clean/unclean.
This story rings with humanity. Both the horror and zombie elements, and the divine and the miraculous, simply force what it is to be human, to suffer and love as a human person, to heal and die, into dazzling light. So you could supplant the undead with any disease or war where individuals’ and communities suffer the worst. But the metaphor for spiritual hunger that Stant Litore brings with his shuffling horde is not to be underestimated. It’s a very powerful one. At the most extreme end this hunger, borne of poor choices and a dislocation with what is ‘good’ or ‘God,’ produces the living death. But then before this it produces human oppression, violence and injustice, be it domestic, personal, tribal or national. Some of the most powerful and moving scenes in the novel have the undead or Jesus off stage. Particularly chilling is the arrival of Barrabas, a murderous giant of a man on horseback, his mind poisoned by hate and extremism, who considers it a duty to his kind to knife a disabled child in the back. Particularly moving is the scene where the arrival of Yeshua has caused emotional and spiritual dams to break in some of the characters, who find themselves confronted with agonising emotions on their failed responsibilities to the most vulnerable in their community.
This is not to downplay the power of the encounters with the book’s zombies. They are as pitiless and implacable as Romero’s creatures (to whom they most closely resemble, no superfast creatures these), overwhelming by their numbers and the sheer horror of their appearance. If you are outnumbered and surrounded, you’ve had it. And some of the gore is as visceral as anything else I have read in this genre.
The depiction of God and Yeshua is striking. God is here a primal, scary force, a light and heat that can burn minds and souls away, or heal and restore, utterly beyond human, yet its creator and restorer. Yeshua has had mind and soul scorched in the wilderness by this ultimate power and is in the story coming to terms with what he has been shown. He’s understandably disorientated and some readers have taken against this ‘crazy’ depiction, but it comes across to me as a good grasp of what may happen to someone whose mind truly touches God. He is fired by the same social justice whose flouting has caused the plagues of the undead. I loved the scene where he upbraids Shimon for denigrating his disabled brother, “He is your Kin!...”
The story never flags or sags and the writing has, as with the other books, a poetic intensity that is never florid or overwritten. The use of linguistic roots, Hebrew and Aramaic, for place and people names refreshes the stories, serving to distance them from our preconceptions whilst also giving them new life.
The book ends with the Gospel story of the near capsizing boat filled with terrified disciples and their ‘Navi,’ combining this with the legend of the harrowing of Hell. It’s an amazing conclusion that is satisfying and memorable.
The concept of the “Zombie Bible” will be too problematic for some and draw others out of sheer curiosity. I would urge all readers, whether sceptic or believer to get to grips with these genre redefining novels. They do not proselytise or evangelise but they do fire thought and imagination. We can forget, this is exactly what stories have always been for.


Bird Box
Bird Box
by Josh Malerman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.34

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars They walk among us.., 4 Jan 2014
This review is from: Bird Box (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This novel is an apocalyptic horror thriller with real ice in its heart. It conveys fear and dread, putting its finger on the key reason we have horror as a genre. That is, the fear of the unknown.
Creatures have invaded our world, gradually at first then with seeming exponential frequency. What do these creatures do? They simply walk among us. But the very sight of them will drive a living creature mad, mad to the point of insane, homicidal, suicidal violence. The only way to cope in this world is to blind or blindfold yourself, to cover the windows, to not look outside.
It's a concept that has echoes of the terrifying blindness of "Day of the Triffids" but does completely its own thing with it. The creatures are never explained or fully revealed. We sense them as completely alien and other, formed of elements incomprehensible to the human mind, filling it with concepts of infinity it can't handle. Perhaps the closest to the feelings of otherness they are the creatures in the stories of HP Lovecraft. Monsters so terrible and alien they will drive you from your wits.
The novel is constructed as 2 parallel narratives, one in a present post apocalypse as a woman, Malorie, takes her children on a journey to a sanctuary she has heard of, blindfolded, in the terrible outside world. The second narrative intercutting this tells the story of this terror right from the first outbreaks in Russia and bemused media reactions, to a full scale pandemic. We follow Malorie as she find a house of survivors presided over by a fiercely intelligent and good man called Tom. We know from an early point that this little community is doomed, and finding out what happens forms a large part of the dramatic tension.
Everything, the narrative, sentence structure and characterisation is stretched as tight as a drum. It is one of the most effective, gripping and disturbing novels of its kind I can remember. Strongly recommended, but you might find the need to use a night-light again as this writing seeps into your psyche. Brilliant.


11.22.63 (Unabridged)
11.22.63 (Unabridged)
Offered by Audible Ltd
Price: 17.50

5.0 out of 5 stars The obdurate past, 1 Jan 2014
King's time travel tale is a triumph on many levels; as science fiction horror, as an intriguing 'what if' tale and as a plunge into American history and the American psyche.
King has stated that he started this in the 70's and stopped it because of the huge amounts of research involved. He came back to it later in his career with the help of a researcher, and we can be glad he did.
Jake Epping is an English college tutor in a rut. His marriage to an alcoholic has derailed. He is frustrated and uninspired by his job as a teacher. Then, one day, grading an assignment whereby a college janitor recalls a terrible atrocity, he's launched on a chain of events that culminates in Jake Epping attempting to change the course of American history. He receives a call from a local diner owner who has discovered a time portal in his pantry (stay with this) leading back to the US of the early 60's. Treating it first as a holiday, the diner manager realises the potential it has to avert the Kennedy assassination. He is stopped by lung cancer, but he passes his notes and mission to Epping, who decides to use the janitor's family atrocity as a trial run. If he can change that without a dreadful effect to the present, he reasons, he can proceed to try and stop one Lee Harvey Oswald...

The novel proceeds in a series of acts. The introduction to the present and the time travel mechanism and the US of the 60's; The early attempts to change history culminating in a Hellish scene at the janitor's family home; A large pastoral section where Epping (calling himself George Amberson) falls in love with early 60's America and with a young librarian called Sadie. Then there are investigations into Oswald and an attempt to eliminate the possibilities that he did not act alone; Then the dramatic day itself, 11/22/63 in Dallas.
Then there is a fascinating and horrifying `What If' scenario when Amberson/Epping goes back down the 'rabbit hole' to see how his actions have affected the present (2011). Then he attempts to reverse the damage caused...
This is one epic novel, and whether you persist with it will depend on your patience with the sizeable 'pastoral' section of an ideal America and an ideal romance. Amberson realises that there is a much myth as romance, and the novel does not downplay the ugliness of this era of America (segregation, racism legitimised by Christianity, pollution etc.), but still he falls in love with the past and the woman, and his work as a teacher, forging relationships with colleagues and students, putting on plays etc. does weigh the main drama down. But it does not ruin the narrative, as King is always ready to point out the shadows at play and the storm gathering in Oswald's personal history and the national history of America.

There are some fascinating ideas; the obdurate past, fighting at attempts to change it through seeming accidents and frustrations, the mystery of the 'green card men' guarding the port-holes and attempting to prevent damage being done, different timelines colliding and tangling, a Hellish 'what if ' present that is a fascinating exercise in history by itself. The horror, not being constant but played in a series of blinding set pieces trough the novel, is utterly chilling. As usual King's most effective monsters are the human variety; Alcoholic husbands' destroying their family with a sledgehammer; Horrifying matriarchs manipulating and damaging their children (as with Oswald's Mum), and Oswald himself, a scared and damaged kid who is also a prissy and pompous agitator and wife beating and President killing monster.
Thankfully the novel does not respect ridiculous conspiracy history, although acknowledges its impact on our collective imagination. King states in an afterword that the killing of Oswald means that the truth will never definitively be known, and so conspiracy springs up in the gaps.
Kudos also to Craig Wasson's fantastic narration. He nails King's sardonic wit, and he shows brilliant and smooth character acting in the inflections he gives to different roles.
This is an immersive, fascinating tale, one of King's best. Seek it out.


The Bluffer's Guide to Your Own Business (Bluffer's Guides)
The Bluffer's Guide to Your Own Business (Bluffer's Guides)
by John Winterson Richards
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.04

4.0 out of 5 stars Witty guide to the entrepreneur's world, 22 Dec 2013
A number of reviewers are asking who this is book is for. I would answer that the Bluffer's guides are either a jumping off point to lead you to explore something more fully, or motivate you to get started. And to allow you to 'bluff' on a subject in a more informed way. The problem is that with starting your own business the stakes are so potentially high e.g. your home and mortgage, and the subject so vast, that it can't function in quite the same way as other titles in the series e.g. beer, cycling opera or football.

But if someone is seriously looking to start their own business, will they really rely on this short book to get them started? I think not. Rather, this a witty and enjoyable read that does manage to give a clear overview of the small business world to a surprising extent. It'll be most enjoyed by people who already have some exisitng knowledge of management and business and so will be best placed to enjoy its humour. For example, this from the very funny Glossary at the end:

Redeployment: someone gets fired
Restructuring: everyone gets fired

You could argue that the book cuts through a lot of bs to get at some core experiential wisdom.

An enjoyable gift and introduction to the subject.


Tales of MI7: The Kramski Case
Tales of MI7: The Kramski Case
by J J Ward
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lair of the Red Maiden..., 22 Dec 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Someone is killing Paparazzi, in more than one country. MI7 sense a pattern and a conspiratorial framework behind the killings, and they are right. Before long, a UK and US cop are co-opted into the ultra covert MI7 along with a Russian agent to unravel the intrigue.
This is a clear and intelligent read. It has complex and reasonably intricate plotting with threads tangling in a way that satisfies and does not frustrate the reader. Pacing is good, it's not over reliant on action or violence although there are some well written and orchestrated action set pieces, including an aerial dogfight in Russia, various hand to hand combat, the single handed storming of an enemy base and an enthralling car chase amongst others. Characterisation is good, with a refreshing lack of cynicism in the judgements and actions of its lead characters. They are decent people driven by keen moral imperatives and a sense of justice. There is a refreshing lack of personal demons and corruptions, a trait reasonably rare in modern thriller writing. The effect of all this is to have well defined, extremely likeable characters. It feels very reassuring. So when a lead character meets an untimely end, it is genuinely shocking and disturbing, a real rug-pull moment.
The novel's main imaginative conceit is the tiered nature of its espionage departments, with each layer kept in the dark about the work of the others save what each department chooses to divulge. And each department is headed by a colour coded 'Maiden' and is at liberty to sabotage the work of the others, if it feels it necessary in the national interest and to protect its own work! In a way this is just a fictional exaggeration of what happens today but in an unacknowledged and implicit way e.g. the legendary rivalry and antagonism between the CIA and the FBI. It's a nice conceit and serves the story well. There's a neat dramatic punch that utilises this conceit at the end.
Overall there is clarity about the writing and the world view that feels like a breath of fresh air. The book is recommended for those who like reasonably substantial and pacy thriller adventures.


The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket
The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket
by John Boyne
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 7.69

4.0 out of 5 stars Whose 'normal' is it anyway?, 14 Dec 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Barnaby Brocket is born with a peculiar talent. He defies gravity, and can't stop himself floating upwards. His parents despair. All they want is to fit in and enjoy with gritted teeth, a `normal' life. But fat chance of that when their incredible floating son attracts the attention of the world's media.
Barnaby's mother is driven to do a terrible thing, and soon Barnaby is floating fast and free to a world full of adventure...
Set in Sydney, although this could really be any Western city, this is a heavy handed parable about `difference' and what it means to be `normal.' It is written with a Roald Dahl readership in mind. The grown-ups are grotesque (with some exceptions, where the adults retain their child-like sense of wonder), there is a very Dahl-ish humour throughout, and the adventures have that Dahl sense of the fantastic. Boyne is upfront about his debt to the writer, acknowledging him by name at one point. It is a very readable and zips along at a cracking pace. The humour is laugh out loud funny and will appeal to children and adults alike. But the key theme of the book is laid on with a sledgehammer. Dahl, and other good writers with a message, often let it speak subtly through the telling of the stories. You may not know you are being preached to, but nevertheless something important is being said. Here the point is made explicitly time and again and it can be jarring, reminding you that you are reading a story when you should be immersed in it.
But this is nevertheless a good, pacy and funny read.


Dinosaur Doo
Dinosaur Doo
by Andrew Weale
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Dino-soils, 30 Nov 2013
This review is from: Dinosaur Doo (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Carrying on the surprising and engaging genre of loo themed children's books (e.g. 'Who's in the loo?' and 'The Mole who knew it was none of his business' being other examples, this item was enthusiastically received by my 3 year old daughter and 8 year old son. I found it fun to read aloud as well. It's also similar in style and tone to the 'Dinosaurs love underpants' series.

It has entertaining rhymes and fun illustrations and scatological humour writ large. It tells the story of the invention of the first loo by Spark, a cave-boy inventor driven to this innovation by frantically crapping dino's.

So colourful fun your children will love. And they are already taken with the hilarious potential of the word 'poo' aren't they?


John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme: Series 2 (Audiogo)
John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme: Series 2 (Audiogo)
by John Finnemore
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 11.45

4.0 out of 5 stars More of Finnemore, 27 Nov 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Any sketch show format stretched to over 6 30 minute shows is going to struggle to maintain quality, and this is no exception. There are some great gags here. I loved the wisdom of Solomon put to the test, a meeting of moths with a vexed agenda, an irate, sarcastic man berating a bar woman on her use of the word 'awesome' and a telephone cashier on her request for a security code, amongst others. But there are also laboured gags where the conceit is very clever, it's just not funny. This is where the writers are trying hard to make a point on e.g. the illogicality of religion but forget to be amusing.

On the whole though this is above average, intelligent comedy that scores enough goals to make it well worth your while.


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