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GM Jones (Reading, UK)

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In-Ear Earphones for iPod & MP3 Player in white
In-Ear Earphones for iPod & MP3 Player in white

1.0 out of 5 stars You gets what you pays for..., 28 July 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Inexpensive, reasonable sound quality, and they lasted almost a week before the earpieces snapped off. Lesson learned.

Does You Inspire You
Does You Inspire You
Offered by BestSellerRecordshop
Price: £11.31

3.0 out of 5 stars Bags of charm and a few great tunes, 17 May 2009
This review is from: Does You Inspire You (Audio CD)
The first album from Brooklyn trio Chairlift (Horrid name; only one up from Bedbath) is something of a mixed bag.

On the plus side, this record shows enormous promise. There are great songs here, from the irresistible pop nous of Evident Utensil to slower burners like Planet Health and Territory. Then there are songs that don't sound like much on first listening but really grow on you (Earwig Town and Somewhere Around Here spring to mind).

There's also a serious dose of pure charm, a combination of Caroline Polachek's cute, French-tinged vocals and the darkly childlike surrealism of many of their lyrics ("In the dark, it waits for you," she croons menacingly on low-key opener Garbage, and later in Earwig Town, the eponymous insects "Crawl in your left ear, lay their eggs, come out the right").

Add to this a song so adorable you just want to give it a hug (Bruises) and you have a great start to what should be a blinding first full-length release. Unfortunately, the second half lets it down.

Make Your Mind Up is a tedious drone of a song, which tries to make up for its lack of a tune with an annoying shouty chorus. Don't Give A Damn is a flat and unsuccessful attempt at Country, and the album closes with not one, but two songs that are barely more than instrumentals-with-murmuring, and are barely worth the bother of listening to at all.

This is annoying, as I would have loved to give this very likeable album four or five stars. One, possibly two more songs of the calibre of Planet Health, Territory or especially Bruises, and we could be listening to a great debut as opposed to what is merely a promising one.

Having said that, promising it remains, and I'll look forward with great interest to whatever they do next.

Something else any potential buyer should note: there are two extra songs (Dixie Gypsy and Le Flying Saucer Hat) that are not available on the standard release but which are downloadable from iTunes (Where they are counted as part of the album. Le Flying Saucer Hat slots neatly into place between My Territory and Make Your Mind Up, and Dixie Gypsy between the two instrumentals). Why they were left off the actual release - and why they're still available for download as part of the album - I've no idea, but they fill out the record nicely and would earn it an extra star from this reviewer.

Against All Gods: Six Polemics on Religion and an Essay on Kindness (Oberon Masters)
Against All Gods: Six Polemics on Religion and an Essay on Kindness (Oberon Masters)
by A. C. Grayling
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice little Rationalist primer, 27 Mar. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Not so much a book, as a long magazine article between hard covers, this is nevertheless a good, punchy primer for the putative non-believer.

I worry about those who say they read it "In a few hours" or "in an afternoon". You can finish it in just over an hour, and if you're a fast reader, even less. It really isn't very long at all.

A brief, pungent little tome, this is a useful book to keep handy, especially when arguing with Believers on the Internet. There's one thing I would take issue with, however.

Grayling states that non-believers shouldn't call themselves "Atheists" as the very term hints at "Theism" and is therefore arguing with believers on their own turf. Fair enough, but The alternative he comes up with is "Naturalists."

Now, I don't know about you, but when I think of a "naturalist" I think of David Attenborough. That gentleman's own beliefs notwithstanding, I think the term could cause more than a little confusion.

Also, having looked at the author photograph on the flyleaf, I'm of the opinion that Grayling really ought to rethink that haircut...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 7, 2009 9:18 AM BST

How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published
How NOT to Write a Novel: 200 Mistakes to avoid at All Costs if You Ever Want to Get Published
by Howard Mittelmark
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.48

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A good laugh about the mistakes we make, 14 Mar. 2009
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A little joy of a book which is very different from your standard writing guides. It really is a How-Not-To book, detailing the mistakes in plotting, character, style and worldbuilding that, if employed, will guarantee that an unpublished novel will never see the light of a bookstore shelf (or even the remainders bin). Even if you are positive that your fiction glows with perfection, it would be well worth reading this - you just might get a surprise.

That the book is not just instructional but also very entertaining is its chief joy. Each mistake is illustrated with examples to highlight it, and these are often very funny indeed:

"Hi Anne", He said, as she got into his Ford Fromage. "How was your day?"
"I don't know," She shrugged, grinning. That was so like her. It was also like her mother, Joe remembered. He had known Anne's mother before he ever met Anne. In 1963, when he was only eight...

- From "Oh, And Also? In which too much reminiscing spoils the story"

There are hundreds of others (well, 200 actually) some of them laugh-out-loud hilarious (Usually the rude ones). And sometimes it is a guilty laughter - there can't be many amateur writers who haven't made on or two (or a dozen, or all) of these mistakes. From pat endings to flat characters, inappropriate metaphors, gender stereotypes, repetition, obsessing over the food the characters eat, and the big no-nos like Holocaust-denying, awful sex scenes or including (for any reason at all) a dream sequence, it's a cynical delight. And, importantly, not too long.

If you have any desire to write a publishable novel, this book should be on your shelf.

After you've read it, of course.

Memoirs of a Master Forger
Memoirs of a Master Forger
by William Heaney
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute joy, 14 Mar. 2009
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The first book from the autobiographical author William Heaney - or rather, the latest novel from much-respected genre author Graham Joyce - is first and foremost a character study of a flawed, likeable man, making amends for events in his past that has left him feeling as though he has been cursed (And left with the ability to see demons, natch).

The story moves through Heaney's life in the present - his unrewarding job on a young person's governmental forum, his masterminding of the forgery of rare books (Which he seems to do purely out of a sense of mischief, and to fund the local homeless shelter), his relationships with his friends, and a growing romance with the mysterious Yasmin - with episodes from the story of his past, the tragic events that led him to be the person he is today. As usual with Joyce, the novel is structurally flawless, the prose style simple yet poetic (and often powerfully moving).

The idea of the demons is a fascinating one. These are not the evil, fiery hellspawn of popular imagination (or Buffy) but something else entirely, called Demons by Heaney out of convenience. Creepy, 3-D shadows that cluster around a person, or climb up upon them, these demons are more like visible dooms or character flaws than anything else, something which makes them strangely believable, and endlessly fascinating. This supernatural element is handled carefully, never becoming too forward in the narrative and more-or-less staying within the protagonist's perspective - leading to that "is he imagining it all, or isn't he?" frisson that inhabits many of Joyce's novels. Could he even, in fact, be lying about it?

Because forgeries and falsehoods are the major theme of the book, and are threaded throughout the story. From the obvious porkie of the Author's real name, to the life his protagonist has built up, to more general ideas like the casual lies we tell ourselves in relationships, the impossibility of truly knowing the person in bed next to you and many others, including a much-deserved dig at the infelicities of the current poetry scene.

All these various threads - complete with the traditional reveal of secrets and sudden reversals - come together at the end into one of the most moving, unforgettable climaxes I can remember reading in a long time.

Memoirs of a Master Forger is a triumph, surpassing even this author's best in The Limits of Enchantment , The Facts of Life and The Tooth Fairy. (Please, please check them out!)

That I feel it's an injustice Joyce isn't famous is something of an understatement - it's an absolute tragedy. His novels are complex, warm-hearted and moving. They deserve to be better known - much, much better known.

And hey! That's no lie! (See what I did there?)

Dragonfly Falling (Shadows of the Apt)
Dragonfly Falling (Shadows of the Apt)
by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dragonfly Triumphant, 14 Mar. 2009
And so to volume 2 of Tchaikovsky's insect-flavoured Shadows of the Apt, a sequence which continues to offer fresh and original delights to those who love their epic fantasy.

Beginning with the introduction of a major character only alluded to in the previous novel - his Imperial Majesty Alvdan the Second, ruler of the belligerent Wasp empire - the novel then continues pretty much straight from where Empire In Black and Gold left off, with a host of well-realised characters scattered throughout the landscape of the book, in various kinds of strife.

War has broken out, in no uncertain terms, and it is from this development the novel gains much of its narrative urgency. Sometimes it is almost unbearably tense, particularly when the Beetle-kinden city of Collegium is under siege, with the inhabitants running around frantically trying to hold off what seems an inevitable defeat.

War is the theme, and the way Tchaikovsky weaves it in and out of the story is one of the true pleasures of the novel. He doesn't stint on the realities of war, either; the terror, the massed heaps of dead bodies, the sense of hopelessness, as well as the limitless ambition and feelings of triumph to be gained from a martial victory.

All the characters continue to undergo the story-arcs begun in the first novel; that war changes people is not, perhaps, the most original of insights, but it is used here to sometimes disturbing effect, with one character in particular undergoing a pressurised volte-face that is only understandable in terms of the journey he has made so far, and his angry feelings of abandonment.

The introduction in this volume of the creepy, vampiric Mosquito-Kinden Uctebri and his no-doubt nefarious plans for the mysterious Shadow Box bring a welcome dose of mysticism into the often all-too practical, four-square world of the Beetles and their ilk. This, and the good/evil(?) spirits of the cursed Darakyon forest, continue to be the most quietly spine-tingling elements of the story, and look certain to gain a major place in the finale.

We also meet several new types of Kinden, including roaches, fire-ants, and the huge and frankly weird Mole-Cricket kinden (I'd never even heard of mole-crickets until I looked them up - see, educational too!) and there are tantalising references to various others. The worldbuilding continues apace, with enough new invention to prevent the onset in the reader of "Middle-Trilogy-Fatigue". And at a hefty 673 pages, maintaining that interest is all-important.

If I have a criticism, it's one I felt about the previous novel too - there's so much action and romance and seeing and doing and treachery and daring escapes and hideous consequences that there is rarely time to step back and appreciate the sheer strangeness of the world the story is set in. This is a world that, while having certain similarities to our own, is in other ways completely different. The plants, the landscapes, the calendar, and certainly the animals are unique in genre fiction and could do with a little more description and explanation, but too many times the author whizzes us past them to get on to the next bit of story. This is a world in which rich people dress in Bee-fur and Spider-silk and carts are pulled by giant beetles, a world full of ordinary wonders, and while this would be normal to a character in the novel, it sure isn't normal to the reader, and perhaps it would have helped if occasionally the author had stepped back a little and allowed us to wallow in those wonders for a while.

Anyway, a minor criticism, if that. This is a magisterial novel, controlled with the skill of a master. It improves on its excellent predecessor by being even more exciting, breathless, inventive, tragic and moving. Apparently the finale of the trilogy is published in August, and I for one can't wait.

Bravo, Mr Tchaikovsky.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 21, 2012 4:20 AM BST

Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt)
Empire in Black and Gold (Shadows of the Apt)
by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Edition: Paperback

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great first novel from an exciting new talent, 20 July 2008
Picked up this book last weekend and finished it in three days flat. It drags you through its pages by the eyeballs!

Set in a world of multifarious human races who each share a bond, or kinship, with a different kind of insect (Or, to be fussy, arachnid). So we have Beetle-kinden, stolid, industrious workers and inventors, the warlike Ant-Kinden, whom like nothing so much as lopping each other's heads off, manipulative spider-kinden, terrifying warrior Mantis-kinden and the like.

Oh, and then there's the wasps. The bullying, militaristic wasp-kinden who, unbeknownst to the wilfully ignorant people of the Lowlands, are gradually taking over the world.

This is an exciting, pacey book. Tchaikovsky develops a fascinating, original fantasy environment and drops into it a host of vividly realised characters who then run the gamut of a plot crammed with intrigue and jeopardy, double-crosses, desperate escapes, captures, daring rescues and the like. Oh, and fights. Lots of great big fights. It's tasty stuff, frankly.

The protagonists are supported by a host of well conceived secondary characters such as the beautiful Butterfly-Kinden Grief In Chains, and (my particular favourite) the irascible Scuto the Thorn Bug, a man from a race so ugly that they can't even bear the sight of each other.

Perhaps it can be a little vague on occasion - I would have enjoyed a bit more of the political intrigue, and more descriptive information on the world the characters inhabit (it's supposed to be a world without mammals like dogs and cows, so why are there horses? Or people, come to that? Did I miss something?)

But these are small complaints really, and I have faith that they'll be addressed, because at the end of the novel there's the promise of even more good stuff to come in later volumes. Roll on Dragonfly Falling, I can't wait!

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