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Martin Greenwood (San Diego, CA)

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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Snaps of the Highest Quality - Easy to Use, Great Camera, 30 Oct. 2006
What a great little camera! We bought this needing something with which to take baby pictures. It needed to be compact, easy to use, have good flash options, and work well in low light. It also needed good autofocus capabilities and generally a good "snapshot" capability, for those quick and fleeting moments that you want to capture on film.

The Fuji FinePix V10 is all of these things. What's more, it takes very good photographs when out and about, of landscapes, groups of people, and what have you. The colour reproduction is excellent under all lighting conditions and it compares very favourably with any top-end 35mm film compact. Things I like especially about it are: the controls you need most often are presented as simple buttons, e.g. flash control (flash, no flash, auto flash and red-eye); the viewing and editing facilities are simple and obvious; there is a passable video capability; and you can quickly switch between different quality levels. The rechargeable batteries last a good long time, and really this is the kind of thing that can go in the pocket or handbag and almost be forgotten about until the next time it is needed.

In a way we cheated, because we chose this camera on the basis that it was the one the shops had sold out of! It does not disappoint, and as an experienced photographer (owning several 35 mm bodies and compacts and a dozen or so 35 mm lenses) I can say that this little number does everything it is supposed to do, very well, and more. If you are looking for a compact camera for high quality snaps, look no further.

John Daly: The Biography
John Daly: The Biography
by Gavin Newsham
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Amazing study of flawed genius, 10 Oct. 2006
John Daly is one of the most colourful sporting figures the world has seen. This biography follows his life through to about 2002, and takes us through the astonishing ups and downs of this flawed genius, as well as providing a vivid description of the trials and tribulations of the pro circuit. Daly battles severe alcoholism, domestic violence and a huge gambling addiction, not to mention major problems with diet and weight...and yet wins his first Major, coming from 9th reserve, on a course he has never played, while drunk!

At times, we despair as we follow Daly into his next cycle of self-destruction. Even so, he rebounds and even having flirted with suicide, the man's resilience is astonishing. This is the book's greatest strength - the way that it depicts Daly's rollercoaster life with humour, honesty and compassion. Eventually, Daly matures and gains control, and the story is genuinely uplifting as we see how it is possible to come back from the lowest low.

The interest and pace are maintained throughout, and Newsham sidesteps the obvious pitfall of giving a shot-by-shot account of every game. It is well written and well structured and is fully deserving of its award-winning status.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 12, 2012 12:35 PM GMT

The Secret History (Read Red)
The Secret History (Read Red)
by Donna Tartt
Edition: Paperback

32 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Obsession and guilt, horror and pathos - told with dark humour, 13 Sept. 2006
Richard Papen is a scholarship student at a University in Vermont. There, he meets a group of students of Greek, by whom he is fascinated, and finds himself slowly drawn into their circle. Their leader, Henry, is a brilliant but brooding and distant character, and in their otherworldly existence where the romance and mystique of ancient Greece mingle with the rarified and privileged life at college, the group find themselves party to manslaughter, and then murder.

The book is a study in psychological horror, as the inevitable events flow like a Greek tragedy of their own. We are brought face-to-face with psychopathic behaviour, obesession, addiction, paranoia and deep dark fear, and are forced to ask ourselves the question: how would we respond? What would we do?

The book has an excellent pace, and is beautifully balanced and structured, with suspense and mystery at every turn. It's one that you want to keep reading, and is truly a pleasure. The writing is excellent and the classical references are thrown in with apparent authenticity and without condescension, in just the right measure. At the same time, there is an underlying, very dark humour, that perfectly offsets the pathos that would otherwise be almost unbearable.

This first rate work deserves the highest commendation. Read it.

The Sea
The Sea
by John Banville
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.83

48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Life and Death, In Poetry, by the Seaside, 18 July 2006
This review is from: The Sea (Paperback)
A middle-aged man, Max Morden, returns to a seaside village, a place from his childhood, in a journey of memories following the death of his wife. As the story develops, many secrets unfold, in a dramatic story of life and death and a disclosure that completely changes Max's perception of the events that took place.

The stunning feature of the book is Banville's writing. It is intensely poetic. It is filled with images and nuances. From every word is squeezed the last drop of meaning, suggestion and emotion. With few fragments of reported speech and little quotations, there is no dialogue. Instead we have a soliloquy that conveys the thoughts, feelings and memories of a man coming to terms with bereavement and death.

Don't expect a fast-paced action story. This is a beautiful book, a work of art in which the stories interweave and the scenes are described at a pace that lets them breathe as we are drawn deeply into Max's troubling and painful world. Even through this, there is a sense of optimism and rebirth: the novel is aptly named, for the sea was there at the beginning, will wash clean, and will be there at the end.

Northern Lights
Northern Lights
by Nora Roberts
Edition: Paperback

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Easy reading, lightweight fiction, 18 July 2006
This review is from: Northern Lights (Paperback)
Northern Lights is set in Lunacy, Alaska, where we follow the adventures of a policeman, Nate Burke, who has transferred from Baltimore. The story centres on a murder, committed many years ago, and body frozen in a cave. The sideshow is Burke's deepening relationship with a lady pilot, Meg Galloway.

The book ticks many of the boxes for a novel of this type. As an adventure story, it keeps moving, and is nicely-paced with the main story building out of a series of smaller, self-contained scenes. The setting, in the Alaskan winter, is unusual and interesting, and there are a good variety of characters who are set out in contrasting colours and styles. It is also well-written - certainly a lot better than a Dan Brown, for example.

The weaknesses are also classic for a work of this type. The principal characters are wooden and stereotyped, and there is little that they say and do with which we can empathise. The setting, although described in some detail, fails to convey the sense of life in the arctic (and here one may suspect that the author's research was limited to one or two short visits and lacked an extended stay). Finally - and this is probably the biggest failing - the denoument of the villain comes as no surprise and is somewhat anticlimactic, though rather lacking the intricate clues of a classic whodunnit.

You get what you pay for. This is a bestselling adventure novel, to read on a plane or on the beach. Don't expect to be challenged with a complex plot, emotional depth, psychological insights, or to be drawn into a close relationship with any of the characters.

Small Island: Winner of the 'best of the best' Orange Prize
Small Island: Winner of the 'best of the best' Orange Prize
by Andrea Levy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Human Story of Empire and Race, Nationality and Nationhood, 27 Mar. 2006
This excellent story tells of the arrival of a Jamaican couple in London soon after the end of the War, and how their lives converge with those of an English couple with whom they take lodgings. These four central characters take turns to tell us about their lives, and how they come to be who and where they are. The little tales that make up a life are told with humour and sensitivity, and make up the richness and fabric of the novel.
The book juxtaposes the secret war that Bernard fights against native insurgents in India, with the loyalty to the "Mother Country" shown by the Jamaicans. While the Jamaicans think of themselves as "Small Islanders" (coming from an outlying island), it is the English who live on a small island. In the end, though, the charcters find common ground in shared human values as their lives reach a dramatic confluence.
At times the story flows a little unevenly, and the structure could be better balanced. This is more than compensated for by the quality of the narrative and the convincing idiom and historical setting. With a lack of overt sentiment, the characters are restrained and reserved in a manner befitting the times. The understated way in which the drama is presented serves to heighten its emotional impact. This is a tale that is interesting to read, and poses important questions about the nature of empire and race, nationality and nationhood, without preaching. A very satisfying novel. Recommended.

Birds Without Wings
Birds Without Wings
by Louis de Bernieres
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

122 of 128 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, sad, absorbing, and a great piece of history, 23 Feb. 2006
This review is from: Birds Without Wings (Paperback)
This is a truly great novel. It is set in Western Turkey in the early 20th century and concerns the events surrounding the first world war, the break-up and eventual dissolution of the Ottoman empire, and the effect that this has on the everyday inhabitants of a small town.
The story opens in Eskibahce and we are drawn into daily life through a series of anecdotes and tales told through the eyes of its various inhabitants. As the book progresses, the scene is cut more frequently to the historical events that are taking place, and as the book reaches its climax, we find ourselves totally engrossed in the war: the geopolitical struggles, the nationalist politics, the struggle between Greeks and Turks, and life in the trenches at Gallipoli.
The book achieves a superb balance between its gripping description of the history and politics of the time, and its equally gripping personal dramas being played out in this context. It explains the great tragedy that results ultimately in the deportation of the Turkish Greeks, with its attendant destruction of whole communities, the terrible consequences to individuals, and even the break-up of individual families.
To call this an "historical novel" is to understate the quality of the story-telling. There is some wonderful narrative here: the book creates its own folklore, marvellous tales, funny stories, sad stories, shocking stories, all embedded in this steam-rollering march of historical inevitability. We also meet some marvelous characters, who become like old friends as they come back time and again to contribute their little piece of the story. And here is another beautifully-executed technique - the stories overlap, as told by different people and seen from different points of view. In the mind of the reader is built a much richer experience of events when seen from so many different angles.
It's one of those books that is satisfying and interesting right from the outset. You know you are not going to be disappointed. It's just as well because it is 625 pages long! However, it's original, it's intelligent, it's informative, and it's one of those books that you must not miss.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 25, 2013 12:04 AM BST

Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
by Jared M. Diamond
Edition: Audio Cassette

28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Defining Work: "This is where we come from", 1 Feb. 2006
Diamond explores the link between geography, and the way that societies develop, on a grand scale over thousands of years. It's the ultimate history book, in which world events shrink to localised inevitabilities in the grand scheme of things. It's a study that relates to history in the same way that "climate" relates to "weather".
Most illuminating and thoroughly researched are the relationships between the available species of plant and animal available to early farmers, and the development of farming and with it "civilization". One uses the word with caution given the extensive discourse that Diamond has upon the subject. Of similar interest is the way that linguistics are used to underpin and cross-reference archealogical data concerning the movement and development of peoples on a global geographical scale.
The thing that really brings the book to life is the personal passion of Diamond himself. He has worked at close quarters with "primitive" peoples - a word whose use he would object to - and he is at pains to debunk the notion of one society being in some way genetically superior to another. He mixes research data with personal anecdotes and experiences in a way that illuminates and illustrates what he is saying, without losing the scientific objectivity of his principal vantage point.
The book is well-written, has a clear structure and flows well. At certain points it can be a little laboured, some commonsense points being explained over several pages, but this usually happens when he is tackling some commonly held misperception. He uses the question of a New Guinea friend, basically "why do some societies do better than others" as opening background, though as an attention-grabber it seemed a little weak and as a "red thread" came over as slightly contrived. The book really gets into its stride in about the second or third chapter. However, this is a very minor criticism of a work of masterly proportions and execution.
I would thoroughly recommend this book. If nothing else, the reader will be able to watch television documentaries about far-flung places and spot the triteness and popular inexactitude of some of the commentary. However, in terms of driving a stake into the ground, and saying "this is where we come from" and why, this is the defining work, and well deserving it is of its Pulitzer Prize status.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 1, 2009 8:47 AM BST

Golf (The Skills of the Game)
Golf (The Skills of the Game)
by Paul Ashwell
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, Concise and Readable, 29 Jan. 2006
This excellent, concise and readable work tells you the basics that you would want. It divides the game logically into long game, short game, and on-course skills. The explanations are clear and easy to understand, and brings home the concept that one need not be superhuman to play a good game. I especially liked some of the background sections, about equipment, the history of the game and its rules. That's very helpful for a beginner like me and I found entertaining too, the little quotes from people like Seve Ballesteros and Jack Nicklaus. Paul Ashwell is a teacher of some renown and his book is written with the simple confidence of someone who knows exactly what he is talking about.

Mission Earth: "Invaders Plan", "Black Genesis", "Enemy within" v. 1-3
Mission Earth: "Invaders Plan", "Black Genesis", "Enemy within" v. 1-3
by L. Ron Hubbard
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Satirical Humour in the Stars, 19 Jan. 2006
This is the first volume of ten. You end up reading the lot! It's rather satirical and quite funny; L Ron Hubbard has an ironic take on the power of PR which occupies much of the first volume. The combination of light-hearted, easy humour with a gently romping sci-fi story creates an absorbing read. It's subtle, and quite long, but not taxing. Enjoy.

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