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Karura (London)
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Far North
Far North
by Marcel Theroux
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent novel, 22 Nov. 2010
This review is from: Far North (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
On the frozen edges of a failed state, Makepeace patrols the streets, holding onto the last memories of the city's downfall. But one day it seems to Makepeace that there might be other people alive and well beyond the city limits, inspiring a journey to find out what has become of the human race.

Since other reviewers compared Far North to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, I decided to give both a try, and I have to say this novel wins hands down. Written in a style reminiscent of an Iain Banks novel, Far North relates Makepeace's present whilst slowly unveiling snippets from the past, making for compelling reading. Here we are at the end of the world, but how did we get there? What secrets lie buried in the ice and snow of the Far North? Where The Road was an endless monologue showcasing the same scenes of desolation over and over, Far North contains journeys, human interactions, surprises and emotions. Days after I had finished reading it, scenes from Makepeace's life and travels would still pop into my mind, a testament to the power of this novel.

At the centre of the story is Makepeace, a character who one can engage with throughout the adventure- a far cry from the nameless and often irritating heroes of The Road. We travel with Makepeace throughout a world where scarce resources have only inflamed human greed and self-interest, where false friends are all too common but true allies equally hard to come by. This is a very human story, set at humanity's end, but filled with a fierce spark of life where The Road was all dull grey ashes. This is certainly a novel that surpassed all my expectations, and one that I would not hesitate to recommend.


The Maze Runner
The Maze Runner
by James Dashner
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good novel, but lacking that extra something, 1 Nov. 2010
This review is from: The Maze Runner (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
When Thomas emerges from The Box, he has no memory of who he is or where he came from- the only thing he knows is his name. Now, he finds himself in The Glade, a small settlement of teenage boys situated at the centre of a deadly and dangerous maze. For two years, the boys have been searching for a way out of the maze, but Thomas' arrival might just be the catalyst that sets everything in motion.

Thanks to the likes of The Hunger Games, dystopian futures seem to be all the rage in teen fiction these days, making it that much harder for new contenders in the field to make an impression. Fortunately, The Maze Runner starts well, hitting the ground running as both reader and main character are thrust into a strange new world full of mysteries and unanswered questions. Burning with the need to find out, I raced through the first few chapters, but after the first third or so of the novel, I began to realise I was feeling vaguely dissatisfied.

As events unfold, anyone who has read this kind of fiction before will find that the narrative is often predictable, and the quality of prose, whilst solid, is not quite good enough to tie it all together. By the closing chapters, everything feels a little messy and hastily thrown together; it's still enjoyable and intriguing enough for me to want to read the next book in the trilogy, but with authors like Suzanne Collins and Patrick Ness having set the bar so high for young adult novels, The Maze Runner can't quite capture that extra sparkle. A good novel, but not an outstanding must-read.


The Rehearsal
The Rehearsal
by Eleanor Catton
Edition: Hardcover

18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not as clever as it thinks it is, 23 Oct. 2010
This review is from: The Rehearsal (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
When a high school teacher is outed as having gotten a little too close to one of his sixth-form students, the scandal ripples throughout the school and beyond. Whilst the other girls at the school are awakened to the potency of their own sexuality, the students at a nearby drama college are inspired to incorporate the events into their annual school play. But what of what we read really happened, and what was just acted out on the stage?

According to some of the hype written about it, The Rehearsal is the future of the novel- and for the sake of my continued enjoyment of books, I can only hope that those critics are wrong. This is a novel without substance, where characters are merely mouthpieces for the author's trite musing rather than personalities in their own right, and so little happens that getting through the book is a chore rather than a pleasure.

In an attempt to disguise its essential lack of substance, the book is not only split into two separate story threads- one following the schoolgirls, the other following a first year student at the drama college- but it is also told in a non chronological order, with vignettes from throughout the year all mixed together. Other authors have managed to pull off this kind of timeline skipping with panache, but here it gives you even less incentive to care, since the effort of fitting everything together far outweighs the reward.

Ultimately, with its lacklustre characters and paper thin story, The Rehearsal is little more than a slog. Whatever profound thoughts the author was trying to convey are lost in a sea of monotony. With so many superior stories out there, I wouldn't recommend that anyone wasted their time on this one.


Ronnie Barker's Lines From My Grandfather's Forehead (Classic BBC Radio Comedy)
Ronnie Barker's Lines From My Grandfather's Forehead (Classic BBC Radio Comedy)
by Ronnie Barker
Edition: Audio CD

2.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as The Two Ronnies, 11 Oct. 2010
Having recently reacquainted myself with the best of 'The Two Ronnies', picking up this CD of sketches starring the great Ronnie Barker seemed like a logical choice. Unfortunately, unlike his later TV sketches, this radio show hasn't really stood the test of time. There are some mildly funny moments and evidence of the clever word tricks that would bring us the likes of 'Four Candles', but apart from that, the CD tends to fade into the background. Unless you're a Ronnie Barker completist or someone with a yen for extreme old school comedy, you'd be better off spending your money on a Two Ronnies DVD.


Perfecting Sound Forever: The Story of Recorded Music
Perfecting Sound Forever: The Story of Recorded Music
by Greg Milner
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but not particularly well written, 27 Sept. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In this hefty tome, Greg Milner carries us through the history of sound recording, from Edison's early forays into the world of the wax cylinder, right through to modern day storage formats such as AAC and MP3. Along the way, we are treated to anecdotes and insights into the lives of some of the people who shaped the industry, all the while addressing the question as to what the recording of music should achieve- should we set out to store and recreate authentic sounds as faithfully as possible, or turn to synthesisers and clever editing tricks to create something entirely new?

Although it is not a subject that will appeal to everyone, there is no doubt that this book is packed with interesting titbits and pieces of information, both about the people and technology who, at various points in history, helped to shape and define the world of music recording. Unfortunately, it just hasn't been put together that well, with its flawed writing style meaning that the book is as often a slog as it is a pleasure to read. The narrative frequently jumps around, starting a chapter with a particular event and then, without warning, going back in time and building up to the same event as if it hadn't already been discussed. The book is also far too littered with dry technical details to make it an easy ride, but at the same time it never really explains the physical principles clearly or satisfactorily enough.

Overall, if you have any sort of interest in learning about the history of recorded music, then this book is certainly worth looking into- just be warned that you will have to invest quite a bit of time and effort in extracting the really good stuff from its drier and less enthralling surroundings.


LEGO Games 3862: Harry Potter Hogwarts
LEGO Games 3862: Harry Potter Hogwarts

17 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An amusing diversion but ultimately a Labyrinth rip-off, 26 Aug. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Expanding ever outwards into new frontiers, Lego's latest venture is a series of simple board games that, unsurprisingly, you first build up and then play. The Harry Potter entry in the list is a small and simple game that echoes old classic Labyrinth, with players guiding their Lego wizards through an ever-shifting maze in an attempt to gather all their homework and make it back to the common room.

As with any Lego product, construction is intended to be half the fun, although anyone with any experience of the trickier Harry Potter sets will make short work of this one. Once assembled, the board forms a simple 4x4 maze with pieces that can be moved or rotated to help you or obstruct your opponents. The basic rules call for you to move from your common room to four different classrooms to pick up your homework, before returning to claim victory. In what seems a bit of a cop out, the game then encourages you to extend it by making up your own rules, although in if you're playing for laughs then it's easy enough to think of ridiculous new variations on gameplay.

All in all, although this is an enjoyable little game that will no doubt appeal to younger players, the big kids among us will be left feeling nostalgic for the original Labyrinth, which remains far superior to Lego's cash-in attempt.


Western Digital My Passport AV Portable Hard Drive (320GB USB 2.0)
Western Digital My Passport AV Portable Hard Drive (320GB USB 2.0)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Compact and efficient, 18 July 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Although I originally got this hard drive for the purpose of having a bit more storage space in the office, one look at its compact, streamlined form made me realise that it could be put to far more versatile use. Where my 1TB Verbatim drive is big and blocky, the My Passport drive is small enough to be easily slipped into a back, making it a perfect data transport device for when you have too much data to fit on a flash drive or memory card.

The drive runs smoothly and quietly, and is completely powered from the USB port with no need to plug it into the mains. It comes formatted in FAT32, and works straight away with no hassle under both Windows and Linux. I haven't tried connecting it to a TV or games console, but for using as a quick and easy backup device or an unobtrusive bit of an extra storage space, it fits the bill perfectly. Data transfer speeds are decent if not exceptional, and although it may not deliver the most memory for your money, if you want something smaller and more portable than the average bricklike hard drive, then by all means go ahead and invest in this one.


German Truck Simulator (PC CD)
German Truck Simulator (PC CD)
Offered by SC-WHOLESALE
Price: £3.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It's a good truck simulator- it's just that the whole premise is pretty dull, 18 July 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Ever had the burning desire to sit behind the wheel of a lorry and drive across Germany delivering all manner of goods to various depots in major cities? No, I haven't either, but nonetheless, curiosity drove me to find out what this title would offer.

The basic premise of the game is simple- you start off as a rookie driver working for one of three companies, and from then on, your life is ruled by deliveries and deadlines. Each mission is pretty much the same- you'll hitch up your latest container, drive it from City A to City B and then have a nightmarish time trying to reverse your articulated lorry into its designated delivery spot without it jack-knifing. Add in continual wear and tear on your truck, fatigue (go without sleep for too long and your character starts drifting off at the wheel) fines for crashes and driving violations and the need to remember to drive on the `wrong' side of the road, and it can all seem a bit overwhelming at first- in fact, I messed up so badly on my first mission that it was just easier to cut my losses and start afresh.

Once you get the hang of it and stop veering all over the road, however, the game settles into a routine that is as dull as it is briefly addictive. Despite the massive amount of processing power needed to render the asphalt of the autobahn and the endless passing forests, there is nothing much to see along your route- to the point where a glimpse of a field of sunflowers or the odd hot air balloon becomes quite exciting in comparison. Even the cities are dull (and trickier to drive in despite the lack of cyclists and pedestrians), with your freedom of movement restricted to industrial areas and garages only. The only real moment of accomplishment comes when you finally successfully deliver your cargo and gain a few experience points towards the next level, but in the end, the best way to spice up German Truck Simulator is to turn off the irritating in-game music (which thankfully only plays as you near your deadline) and put on some of your favourite albums in the background instead.

Should you stick with it long enough and amass enough money and reputation, then German Truck Simulator offers a more business orientated approach in which you can buy your own garages and hire your own drivers. As a freelancer, you can obviously walk away with far more profit than you ever could as a company employee, but it also means you have to start paying for fuel and repair costs out of your own pocket. No doubt this aspect of gameplay will appeal to those, who, like myself, prefer strategy games to simulators, but it takes so long to get to this stage that only true simulator fans will have the patience to get that far.

In terms of the actual ease of driving, German Truck Simulator is not particularly amenable to the keyboard user, particularly when you start driving faster trucks which require a `stop-start-hope for the best' technique for those confined to using arrow keys alone. A joystick or wheel would no doubt improve performance here, although even wing mirrors and a bird's-eye camera view don't make the process of reversing in any way easy. By default, the trucks are set to automatic transmission, but for those with more advanced truck simulator skills, there's an option to switch to manual transmission- one which a newbie like me wisely avoided.

On the back of the case, German Truck Simulator promises to offer a `breathtakingly realistic' experience- and in many ways, that's just what it does. Unfortunately, the reality of the matter is that chugging down the autobahn from one city to another is a rather tedious experience, and sitting at your computer staring at the same relentless scenery for 30-40 minutes as you try to get your cargo from Frankfurt to Dresden is hardly the most exciting use of anyone's time. That being said, German Truck Simulator does seem to achieve what it sets out to do- it may not be your cup of tea, but if you happen to be into this sort of simulation experience, then you'll appreciate that this one is at least well done.


Sixty-One Nails (Courts of the Feyre 1)
Sixty-One Nails (Courts of the Feyre 1)
by Mike Shevdon
Edition: Paperback

0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent start to what promises to be a captivating fantasy series, 31 May 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's Thursday morning, and Niall Petersen is caught up in the usual rush of London life- he's late to work, there are delays on the underground (again!), and when he's done with all that he's got to make sure he's available to have his daughter over for the weekend. When he suffers what should have been a fatal heart attack at Leicester Square station, however, he discovers that there is far more to London life than he ever imagined. For Niall has Fey blood in him, and as his supernatural abilities awaken, he is thrust into a world of magic and mystery, where powerful forces are after him, and allies are hard to find. Can Niall survive even one day in this terrifying new world?

After enjoying Neverwhere and Un Lun Dun, the chance to sink my teeth into another London-based urban fantasy seemed perfectly timed. And whilst it's being billed as the spiritual brother to these stories, fear not, for Sixty-One Nails is a strong individual in its own right, blending the familiar sights and sounds of our capital city with a strong dose of magic and mystery that should satisfy fantasy lovers across the board. Shevdon writes with confidence, drawing the reader into Niall's world, a multi-layered reality whose surface is the reality of London that readers familiar with the city will instantly recognise, but which quickly populates its back streets and abandoned tunnels with beings from the realm of the imagination.

Our guides on this journey are main character Niall, an everyman whose rude awakening to his powers and subsequent imperilment maintain the pace and tension of the story, and the mysterious Blackbird, a woman of indeterminate age whose Fey blood and knowledge of the supernatural world are indispensable to Niall, but who also harbours many secrets of her own. Both are believable, likable characters, and whilst the supporting cast are generally more one-dimensional, their sheer numbers and variety help to bring the story alive.

Overall, Sixty-One Nails is a strong piece of work that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to fans of any kind of fantasy or London-based fiction. And if the preview of the next book in the series is anything to go by, then Mike Shevdon had plenty more still to show us.


300 Unmissable Events and Festivals Around the World
300 Unmissable Events and Festivals Around the World
by Whatsonwhen.com
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and packed with good ideas, 20 May 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This compact and colourful little book rounds up and categorises no fewer than three hundred of the many weird and wonderful festivals to be found round the world- from food and family events to the more bizarre and eclectic.

As you might imagine, there isn't a great deal of space to devote to each festival, but aside from being somewhat ambiguous about the prices (usually given vague adjectives such `moderate' or `expensive'), the book manages to get the salient points across, whetting interest with brief outlines of each event. It's unlikely that there's anyone out there with the wherewithal or inclination to attend each and every one of these festivals, but by the same token there's something here to suit every taste and budget.

Overall, this is a great little book, packed with tidbits of useful information; it may not be large enough to be comprehensive and exhaustive, but it's a great starting point for looking up things you might want to see and do around the world.


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