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Jim Ashton

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Black Hawk Down
Black Hawk Down
by Mark Bowden
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A fantastically detailed account, 16 May 2014
This review is from: Black Hawk Down (Paperback)
This is a fantastically details, forensically researched account of the loss of two US Black Hawk helicopters in the Battle of Mogadishu. Don't be swayed by the 'now a major motion picture' on the covers of later editions - this bears only a passing resemblance to the movie. It goes into every detail of the successes (such as they were) and failures, deaths and injuries, and eventual escape of the troops on the ground. As such it has a huge cast of characters, and is not a book to be read quickly or casually - it's easy to get lost! It does, however, reward careful reading with a gripping and cautionary tale of how a technologically superior force does not always have a smooth ride against a determined and ruthless enemy.
Well worth the time to read.

Conduit: A gripping serial killer psychological thriller (An Emily Monroe Novel, Book One)
Conduit: A gripping serial killer psychological thriller (An Emily Monroe Novel, Book One)
Price: £2.57

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A compelling and original crime novel, 26 Mar. 2014
Conduit opens with a tremendously atmospheric and compelling first chapter… and just keeps running. Martin gives an excellent sense of place and creates characters that come to life from their first appearances. There is enough convincing detail in the police-procedural aspect to make it authentic without ever becoming a technical manual on crime investigation. A difficult balance to achieve, but Martin brings it off well.

This is an old-school crime thriller (in a good way) - we know within the first four chapters exactly what the end-game is to be, but we are compelled to watch how the characters navigate through the labyrinth of obstacles that are thrown in their way. This makes it an easy, quick, and ultimately very satisfying read and there is more than enough originality in the plotting to keep the reader gripped.

That the main character, Emily, is a psychic could put some readers off - but it shouldn’t. It is cleverly done and entirely plausible, because she does not use her ‘power’ to cut straight to the solution of the crimes, but is actually drawn deeper into danger by it (say any more and I’ll give too much away).

Other characters are well-drawn and believable. As a result this is a creepy and effective book and well worth a read whether you sit at the ‘noir’ end of crime fiction or the ‘Manhunter’ end. Good stuff!

Brother HL-2035 Compact Mono Laser Printer
Brother HL-2035 Compact Mono Laser Printer

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Small but perfectly formed, 25 Feb. 2009
This is a fabulous little machine. For years I used a vast Xerox laser, but when the drum failed, it was cheaper to buy a stop-gap little laser than replace it.
The HL2035 was cheap and looked like it would do the job.
And boy, does it!
Simple to install (on an Imac, OS10.4), perfectly good text printing and adequate image quality, coupled with low-enough running costs and quick operation makes this a great purchase.
Stop-gap? Probably not. The Xerox is history, and I'll keep my little brother, thank you!

iMac 24" Desktop 2.8GHz/2GB/320GB/SD
iMac 24" Desktop 2.8GHz/2GB/320GB/SD

36 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome. And I don't even like computers., 20 Aug. 2008
Every great review you might have read of this machine is true. Bullet-proof reliability, lightning fast processing of even very large files (mine is used for Photoshop files which can easily hit 500 meg) and a large, clear, high contrast screen make this a machine to live and work with all day, every day. Its near-silent running is also a major bonus for those who prefer to work without a blizzard of fan noise as an accompaniment.

One good addition to the basic model 'as ships' is extra ram. It is well worth a few extra pounds for an upgrade to 4GB and while I have no test data to compare with the basic 2GB version, I have never yet made the machine pause for thought even while running Photoshop and Quark, listening to MP3s on iTunes and downloading hefty files on its fantastic wireless internet connection.

Being the new Intel architecture, those running apps on older G4 or G3 machines will have problems porting old software across - and this is worth considering. These machines do not have the facility to dual-boot into OS9 and buying all your favourite apps again can be add considerably to the cost. But as this is the architecture of the future, it is only a matter of time before it will be necessary to make the leap, and the positive aspects of this machine make now a perfect time to make that leap.

True, the cost is high (although most Macs do tend to hold their values very well), but there is nothing else at almost any price that will touch the Imac in terms of speed, reliability and astonishing aesthetics. (Only Mac desktops pack more punch - but they cost more, make more noise and don't look so nice!)

Minor gripe? The slim keyboard took a lot of getting used to - it has the short key-travel of a laptop and feels very odd for the first few weeks. And the mouse wheel, while useful, is not up to Apple's usual build quality. Mine gave up the ghost after only a few weeks, but since most mac users never had one before, it's not really a big deal.

All in all, this is what a computer should be. It's a tool, and one that is more than willing to work very very hard.

by G.P. Taylor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Monumentally bad - a testament to all that is wrong with modern publishing, 18 Aug. 2008
This review is from: Shadowmancer (Paperback)
I stumbled across this much-hyped book only recently in a charity shop. Having waded through it's contrived, irrelevant 'action', tried to engage with marionette characters and marvelled at the sheer incompetence of the prose, I can conclude that its only saving grace was that the money I parted with to get it went to a good cause.

Page after page of head-hopping point of view serves only to kill any possibility of tension or pace. Couple that with stilted dialogue that serves only the plot and not the internal world of the character (it could not do both as the characters change their opinions at will) and here we have, at best, a rough draft of a weak, derivative novel. Taylor does not understand character (we are told in single sentences of authorial interjection why we should care about them, but we are never shown); setting (we just run around randomly from place to place with weather that changes both rapidly and unrealistically according to the plot requirements); pace (ever, but the end is such a damp squib as to be laughable); or drama (if we are to suspend disbelief, please at least give us a believable premise from which to start. That Demurral is supposed to be the ultimate arch-villain is supported by no one in the book except the two main protagonists. What about everyone else in the village?).

Writing for children is often seen as easy as they may not have the critical faculty established by years of experience to know when they are being fed rubbish. But that is all the more reason to make sure what is put in their hands is of the best possible quality. It is disgusting that a book this badly written is marketed at children. Taylor might (perhaps understandably) be laughing all the way to the bank, but the publishers should be ashamed of themselves.

If reviews are to be believed, Taylor has improved with later books (it would actually be impossible to do otherwise), but it's too late. The shelves of a bookshop is not the place to develop a writing career. There are many, many writers who write vastly better books but have not had the hype that Taylor has inexplicably had. I would rather spend a little time seeking them out than read another sorry word of this 'writer's' nonsense. Indeed, if Faber actually thought this was worth publishing, the same goes for anything that carries their once-respectable logo.

Mind over Matter: The Epic Crossing of the Antarctic Continent
Mind over Matter: The Epic Crossing of the Antarctic Continent
by Ranulph, Sir Fiennes
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A painful, inspiring, gripping read, 18 Aug. 2008
If actual physical pain can ever be distilled into words, Fiennes manages it in this gripping account of his crossing of Antarctica on foot from the Filchner Ice shelf via the Pole to the Ross Shelf. He and his long-term travelling companion Mike Stroud suffer every possible hardship short of death on what was planned to be - and succeeded in being - one of the last great adventures of the twentieth century. Without compromising the initial premise of the expedition (ie, to do the entire walk unsupported), the two men spent ninety seven days battling impossible odds.

The account is at times painful to read (Fiennes does not gloss over the horrors of it!), but is ultimately an inspiring story. Very few of us would consider spending one day as they spent over three months, but their grit, determination and sheer will to live shows just what the human spirit can endure. Yet, unlike many such writers, Fiennes never casts himself as a hero. In his books as in life, he comes across as a real, flawed and complex man. He has no point to prove. By the last page you might be convinced that spending three months in the wilderness with this man would not be much fun - but you would at least still be alive.

Fiennes is a rare writer. His style is both detailed and at times scholarly, but always highly readable. However many books on Polar exploration you may have read, you will still learn much from this ripping yarn. Although published in 1993, it has never been surpassed, and never will be. What Fiennes and Stroud did was the last great polar adventure, and even if someone came up with variation on it, no one could tell the story in quite such an breath-taking way.

Captain Scott
Captain Scott
by Ranulph Fiennes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Perfect Storm of biographies, 18 Aug. 2008
This review is from: Captain Scott (Paperback)
Here we have the 'perfect storm' of biographies: a writer who has a passion to tell the truth, the ability to write gripping and vivd prose, and has actually done most of the things he is writing about. This is not an academic treatise (though it is constructed with the same rigor); it is a passionate recounting of one of the greatest stories of the twentieth century by a writer who has walked not one mile in his subject's shoes, but every gruelling one of them (and more! See Mind over Matter: The Epic Crossing of the Antarctic Continent). He makes the reader understand the technicalities of the expedition, and, where necessary, feel the agony of it too.

Many books have been written about Scott - some less than complimentary or accurate (see Scott and Amundsen: Last Place on Earth, for the opposite view of Scott). This book, however, is not written by a journalist or an academic. It is the definitive account of one of England's greatest explorers, by one of England's greatest adventurers. As such, it is unlikely ever to be bettered whether you agree with his view of Scott as a hero or side with those who think he was a bumbling fool.

Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living
Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living
by Carrie Tiffany
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Doing what Australian novels do best, 15 Aug. 2008
In this low-key, subtle novel Tiffany creates two memorable characters: Jean Finnegan, the narrator, and the Mallee scrub itself. Australian authors have a peculiar talent for making the landscape so real it takes on a life of its own and interracts with the human characters in a dynamic and unpredictable way. (Stow's Tourmaline is another particularly good example.) With surprisingly little actual description, Tiffany builds a world where the dust, the desolation and sheer hardship of life in the Mallee blows like a warm wind through every page of this short novel.

Jean Finnegan is also a work of duality. Her internal world is vibrant, optimistic and full of life. Her actual day-to-day life, however, is as flat and relentlessly dull as the landscape. She obeys the whims of nature and her husband; she watches disease, financial collapse and even death with little emotion, often reporting them with abrupt, minimalistic sentences. It is this tension between internal end external worlds that gives this book its compelling drive.

If there is one tiny point of contention it would be with the authorial voice. The first person, present tense narrative is highly effective for the most part. However, a first-person voice will always present an author with a problem: how can the narrative convey events at which the narrator was not present? Here, Tiffany simply ignores the problem, so occasionally we have scenes (such as Robert's childhood or later bar fight) still written in the first-person present tense, where they might have been more convincing 'told' as second hand reportage. A minor point, and one that is mercifully easy to ignore.

Overall another gem of Australian literature. If you like simply told, gritty human drama, this is a great book.

The Creative Writing Coursebook: Forty Authors Share Advice and Exercises for Fiction and Poetry
The Creative Writing Coursebook: Forty Authors Share Advice and Exercises for Fiction and Poetry
by Julia Bell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The true craft - and graft - of writing, 8 Aug. 2008
This book won't write your novel for you. It won't tell you how to get it published. But what it will do is guide new (and not so new) writers through the essentials.

If you have a great idea for a story and are basically literate, this book is a very good way to turn out an excellent book. It guides writers through the basics of plot and character, point of view and setting, and through to those final elements such as rewriting and editing many writers try to avoid. It is thorough and understandable, and, being written by a wide variety of accomplished professionals rather than just one know-it-all, it provides the best advice available from many sources.

It is often partnered with What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers, and for good reason. What If adds valuable exercises to this book, and is worth buying alongside it.

This is not a short-cut to getting published. It is a rigorous manual containing many exercises that while maybe not appealing on first glance, are well worth doing. It is a guide to the true craft - and graft - of the writing process. Ironically, it is increasingly apparent that publishers and their editors have little knowledge of these building blocks of good writing. This book can make sure what you present for publication is as good as it should be; whether editors actually recognise that fact is, unfortunately, beyond the scope of even this terrific book.

The Midnight Library VII - I Can See You
The Midnight Library VII - I Can See You
by Nick Shadow
Edition: Paperback

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Devilishly good, 8 Aug. 2008
Nick Shadow, the devil in disguise who condemned Tom Rakewell to a life of insanity in The Rake's Progress.

Here we have him resurfacing with three brilliant tales to make your flesh crawl. This volume, like the others, consists of short short stories with all the creepiness and half-hidden menace of that other world that just might exist right here and now should you take a wrong turn.

With a small cast of sharply drawn characters (interestingly both boys and girls) and tangibly realistic settings, Shadow weaves simple tales that will haunt well after the book has been closed and laid aside - the mark of a good spine-tingler. 'Picture Perfect' (the final of the three in this volume) is especially enduring as it draws on familiar archetypes for this kind of story but wraps them up in a novel and highly imaginative tale.

There is nothing here to shock or appall children over 8, and plenty that will entertain even their parents and grandparents. All round well worth reading - and actually rather better than some of the offering of more well-known writers in this genre.

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