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James C. Foreman (Hong Kong)
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Corkor Men's Slimfold Wallets Vegan Cork Wallet Men Eco Friendly Gift
Corkor Men's Slimfold Wallets Vegan Cork Wallet Men Eco Friendly Gift
Offered by Corkor
Price: £44.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars but the cork has a nice, faux-leather feel to it, 12 Dec. 2015
My wife got me this wallet as a birthday present, to replace my 3 year old Bellroy. It's a bit bigger than I've been used to (to me, "slim" connotes something smaller than this), but the cork has a nice, faux-leather feel to it, and the colour gives it a pleasing, pre-aged look.

I like the space it has - enough for 8 cards, and a divider to keep two sets of notes separate, although all the card compartments are a little tight. Maybe that will stretch over time - better too small to begin with, than too large later on.


Where the Deep Ones Are (Mini Mythos)
Where the Deep Ones Are (Mini Mythos)
by Kenneth Hite
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for a toddler, 3 May 2015
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This is my 20 month old daughter's favourite book. Is it the bright colourful illustrations? Is it the charming prose, as little Bobby is warned he may contract brain fever if his mouth gets any bigger? Or is it the certainty that we will all be eaten by the Deep Ones when they rise from the ocean and spread from Innsmouth to the rest of the world?

Just like the mysteries of Al-Azred, our weak human minds may never be able to correlate their contents successfully to understand the reasoning behind it. All I can tell you is that it's the first book she fetches from the book shelf for me to read to her, and the last one she has before she sleeps at night. Recommended even for children without a working knowledge of the Cthulhu Mythos


A Matter Of Blood: The Dog-Faced Gods Book One (The Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy 1)
A Matter Of Blood: The Dog-Faced Gods Book One (The Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy 1)
Price: £4.99

1.0 out of 5 stars Could have been good, wasn't., 9 Sept. 2014
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I’d had high hopes for this, following a recommendation, but I was quite disappointed.

The book was populated by a coachload direct from Central Casting. There’s an overweight criminal profiler who is Hamish Macbeth with the serial numbers filed off. There’s a care worn cop as the protagonist, with a dark past that’s only hinted at until half way through the book. There’s a cop from America, although that only seems to be so that the book is more saleable to Americans: he doesn’t talk or behave anyway different to the other characters, who all basically have the same voice. And despite constant injunctions that our hero “looks up” and sees the real truth, nothing is ever really revealed. (Apart from the CSI-style miraculous enhancement of video footage, where CCTV cameras are capable of focusing on individual cufflinks across a street.)

The plot; well, it doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it a grittily realistic police procedural? (There’s constant effing and blinding.) Is it a ghost story? Is it horror? Is it a piece of product placement for the Folkestone Tourism Board? Is it a piece of misogynist rage-wank? (I think there’s only one woman in the entire story who doesn’t end up dead, defiled or drugged up – mostly all three – so I had to keep reminding myself that Ms Pinborough wasn’t a man. Maybe she thought this was a good way to keep up with the Joneses.)

The author is an ex-Torchwood writer, so associated with Doctor Who, just like Ben Aaronovitch and Paul Corning, but whereas they delivered stories with a bit of humour (Aaronovitch more so, but even the horrors of London Falling have the inspired lunacy of a wicked witch who has cursed West Ham Football Club) this is just grim throughout.

That makes the gaps in the plot ever more annoying. If the cliched characters were played up more camply, things might be more forgivable, but there’s no credit here to spend. The eventual twists don’t make much sense (there’s a confession near the end that makes no sense at all, because supposedly it rescues a case when nobody is implicated at all) and at the end, after all the main characters are obliterated, the whole thing is left wide open for the second volume.

So it’s depressing, inconsistent in tone, lacking well-drawn or likeable characters, a proper plot or good dialogue. Not a great book, then.


Guy Martin: My Autobiography
Guy Martin: My Autobiography
Price: £4.99

62 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good, but has ruined Mars bars for me forever., 9 Sept. 2014
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It’s the first autobiography of a sportsman I can remember reading in years – the last was probably Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About The Bike (possibly subtitled "It’s About The Drugs, Actually" after the last few years’ revelations). Similar to Armstrong, Martin isn’t painted to appear like a very likeable person, but there’s a lot more to laugh about here.

Like the great Brewer’s Rogues, Villains & Eccentrics, the index is itself a joy to read, with "paper round, 43" following straight after "orgy, invitation to, 79-80". The ‘orgy’, such as it was, turns out not to be some Roman affair was mass nudity and orgiastic revels, but consists of ‘Dave’ and his girlfriend enjoying themselves while Guy Martin is "sat in the buff, except my socks, on the wheel arch in the back of a Transit van eating a Mars Bar", contentedly watching. The sheer prosaic absurdity (along with the overcapitalisation of Guy’s snack) means it’s not even tawdry, although between Guy Martin and the ever-repeated rumour about Marianne Faithfull, I can’t ever eat a Mars bar again within thinking it’s a bit too erotic, thank you very much.

Then there’s the description of the Ulster race, where Guy lists every corner in incredible detail, pausing at one point to explain that the place called The Hole In The Wall is named thusly because "there’s a wall with a hole in it." Well, I guffawed. I’m not sure if this was intentional, or if Guy was just worried some people wouldn’t be able to distinguish metaphor from reality.

The persona that is projected is of a bluff Northern type, opinionated and sure that he’s right about everything. If he wasn’t racing motorcycles and fixing trucks, he’d be sitting in a pub with a flat cap on, discussing whippets and calling people twats, I assume.

But although he’d be frustrating to have around, it would be interesting. At the three-quarter point of the book, he reveals a diagnosis of Aspergers’, which might go some way to explaining both the fractious relationships he’s had with racing team owners, and his incredible focus in memorising the corners of each race course. He makes a good point near the end that although he’s aware of what might happen, he doesn’t think of the consequences – crashing is a very matter-of-fact thing that you get on with, instead of stressing about. A lot like eating a Mars Bar in the back of a Transit van.

There’s also lots of injuries, whether that’s through crashing a motorcycle at such speed that it explodes, or hitting his mouth on the side of a barge and wrecking all his teeth. This might not be a good book for somebody with a weak stomach, or not while they’re enjoying their elevenses.

Certainly it’s an easy read aside from that, and as Guy isn’t a professional racer, constrained by the PR department of a motorcycle factory, he can be as rude as he likes about people without getting sacked. I galloped through it in a couple of days.

And he almost kills himself and another bloke by over-revving the engine from a Lancaster bomber. Really, what’s not to like?
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 3, 2016 4:55 PM GMT


Oz: The Complete Collection (Illustrated)
Oz: The Complete Collection (Illustrated)
Price: £0.99

2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars There were things happening that were unsuitable for children, 26 May 2014
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I really, really disliked this.

A few reasons why:

it's horribly written. There's lots of ugly usage of the passive voice: "The munchkins were seen standing around" - who by? There's monsters with names apparently made up by L Frank Baum headbutting the keyboard of a typewriter, and there's rather gruesome (but at the same time badly described) deaths: at one point the Tin Woodman cuts the heads off forty wolves and strangles forty crows. That does leave a (I assume unintentionally) hilarious scene where Dorothy wakes up amid mounds of decapitated or strangled creatures, but it hardly feels suitable for children, as Oz is often thought to be. Animals get decapitated or fall to their death all too often, and perhaps it's only the leaden prose that prevents these occurrences being more horrifying.

If you feel your kids should enjoy writing like

The Tin Woodman began to use his axe at once, and, just as the two Kalidahs were nearly across, the tree fell with a crash into the gulf, carrying the ugly, snarling brutes with it, and both were dashed to pieces on the sharp rocks at the bottom.

then go ahead. Personally, I'll be reading to mine from Shockheaded Peter and Duff McKagan's autobiography, depending on my mood.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 1, 2016 10:12 AM BST


Bad Machinery Volume 2: The Case of the Good Boy
Bad Machinery Volume 2: The Case of the Good Boy
by John Allison
Edition: Paperback
Price: £17.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Better than free, 26 May 2014
You could read Bad Machinery for free by just going to John Allison's website and going through all the archived strips. What you'd miss out on would be the tactile loveliness of a proper book (I still find it easier to go back and forth through a physical book if I'm trying to refer back to something that happened about 30 pages previously), and also the extras that have been added for the physical version - without giving away any spoilers, there's a lovely coda that explains some of the strange happenings from the story, that is only available in the book, rather than on the website.

It's the little details like that, along with little hidden extras in the book that aren't on the site, that justify the extra expenditure. The colour and reproduction of the strips is fantastic and make this a pleasure to read again.

The characters, the plot and the art are all very lovely - they make me feel nostalgic for a childhood that I didn't have, not growing up in Tackleford - if you don't know if you'd like this or not, a quick perusal of the online strips should make you more or less secure about committing to a physical purchase.


Declare
Declare
Price: £2.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great, great book, 30 Jan. 2014
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This review is from: Declare (Kindle Edition)
It’s my favourite book of 2014 so far (even though that’s less than 2 weeks in) and here are some reasons why:

It’s dense but honest. There’s a lot going on in Declare, and a lot that’s alluded to but never fully explained. But Powers set himself a rule when writing this alternate history, that none of the documented events that we know of could be moved or manipulated for his convenience: he had to operate in the restrictions of the world. There’s no point where a giant mecha-Hitler has to descend, deus ex machina style, to save a problem in the plot.

Although described as le Carre meets HP Lovecraft, it’s closer to a Bond film (a succession of well-realized, exotic locations) written by a paranoiac with mystical leanings. The magical elements are rarely the interesting parts of the book; it’s the locations and the characters and the details of spycraft that are so captivating. Also (spoiler alert) it’s not a total gloomfest from start to finish, whereas if you finish a le Carre and there haven’t been a dozen meaningless deaths of principal characters by the end, you feel cheated.

There’s a strong female character. Alas, only one, so there was no chance it could pass the Bechdel Test, but Elena is well-written, interestingly conflicted and a dab hand with a gun.

It’s set between the 1930s and 1962; the build up to the Second World War and then the Cold War. Those don’t seem to have been fun periods to live through, but I,really enjoy reading about them, whether fictional or non fictional accounts. I don’t think it’s just the quality of the writing; modern, techno-obsessed spy thrillers are less charming, but have less palpable menace, than the work of le Carre, Deighton et al, even though now we can look back and see that the ‘inevitable’ nuclear conclusion wasn’t going to happen after all. I could read Deighton all week; I read Clancy all week to laugh at the tin-eared dialogue. Similarly, I found Ian Tregillis’ Bitter Seeds triptych, another WWII/Cold War/paranormal epic to be captivating – perhaps for the same reasons.

Declare feels a more serious work than Stross’ Laundry sequence; more like a proper spy novel compared to a B-movie with cartoonish heroes and monsters. It helps that we don’t see the supernatural elements for quite some time, just ominous phrases like “O Fish, are you faithful to the covenant?” which made me suspect an assault by Lovecraftian Deep Ones, instead of what actually occurs. That’s not to say that the Laundry novels aren’t as enjoyable as Declare, but they definitely feel more pulpy.

Also, Declare’s cast is of (often) real people, such as Kim Philby – perhaps unfeared by thoughts of libel, Powers brings in plenty of people who are recently dead to make things feel more real. The fact that occasional Americanisms, like ‘sidewalk’ and the verb ‘to tromp’ make it in is not so terrible a distraction.

What’s strange to me is that Declare isn’t more famous a book, or indeed recognized as a great work of espionage fiction. Then again, Tim Powers is partially implicated in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, so nobody gets things 100% right.


Equoid: A Laundry novella: A Tor.Com Original (Laundry Files)
Equoid: A Laundry novella: A Tor.Com Original (Laundry Files)
Price: £1.49

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A shaggy horse story?, 4 Nov. 2013
I was bewildered to find Stross had managed to shoehorn in multiple references to my favourite band, Half Man Half Biscuit, to a tale of angler-fish-like unicorns set in the horrid countryside of the Home Counties. East Grinsted is bad enough without eldritch, squamous and rugose horrors. Maybe next he'll have a go at Croydon.

Equoid is set before the fourth Laundry novel (The Fuller Memorandum) and at first it's a funnier piece than the way the Laundry novels have been heading. They started off as lighthearted fun for office inmates surrounded by Lovecraftian beasts, and, as the cycle has gone on, have become progressively doomier. Equoid starts feeling like one of the earlier stories, but it has a dark heart to it, despite all the clever allusions to H.P.Lovecraft, Cold Comfort Farm, Half Man Half Biscuit and everything that I assume went over my head.

For the most part it's fun and entertaining, and then in its final pages it approaches 'proper' horror again, so it's not the lighthearted read one might have expected, but it's still worthwhile.

I did feel it was oversalted with in-jokes though. One Half Man reference is amusing, two feels a little gratuitous. Then again, perhaps for non-aficionados of obscure British indie pop, those references may have passed by unnoticed - I'm not sure what else I've missed. Perhaps a lexicon is going to be required for future reading.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 24, 2015 11:06 AM GMT


Good Behavior: A Dortmunder Novel (Book Six) (The Dortmunder Novels)
Good Behavior: A Dortmunder Novel (Book Six) (The Dortmunder Novels)

3.0 out of 5 stars Diminishing returns?, 24 Sept. 2013
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Good Behavior is the sixth novel in the Dortmunder series, and first appeared three years after its predecessor, Why Me? Westlake is no longer around to ask whether that was because he was struggling to find inspiration, or was just too busy with everything else he was writing. Still, I’m mindful of the fact that reading these novels back to back, rather than with the interval between them that a reader in the 1980s would have had, provides a different experience to what a contemporary reader would have had.

Why Me? departed from the formula of earlier Dortmunder books, by just being a sequence of escalating catastrophes for Dortmunder, whereas in the first four books each problem Dortmunder had was the consequence of his attempt to overcome an earlier problem. Good Behavior is a slight return to this, although not a complete one. Instead of the later problems being directly caused by Dortmunder’s actions, it’s more a sequence of revelations: Dortmunder tries this, then that happens, then Dortmunder has to overcome that, and so on. Rather more like a conveyor belt than an intricate mousetrap.

As a result, it’s not as engaging as some of the earlier novels. It starts well, it finishes well, but there’s a feeling of flabbiness to the middle that renders it less satisfactory.

There are still a lot of laugh-out-loud moments: Kelp’s eight cappuccinos, Tiny Bulcher’s romantic interlude, and the continued incompetence of contracted security staff, to name but a few. Unfortunately, there are some loose ends that are left trailing in ways uncharacteristic for Westlake. A few characters wander into the plot and back out again, without doing anything significant, and the ending is slightly kinder to Dortmunder than we’ve become used to; it feels as though we’ve been cheated when he doesn’t suffer one final, complete reversal of fortune at the end of the novel. There’s also Chepkoff, a bent grocery wholesaler who tries to sue Dortmunder for a failed robbery. While he’s an unpleasant and effectively drawn character, he doesn’t feel like a fully integrated part of the plot.

Perhaps if Westlake was making a point about social alienation then Chepkoff’s appearances would make sense, but since all the other Dortmunder novels suggest a tightly integrated world in which unfortunate consequences are tied in to almost every action, that doesn’t seem like a plausible reading. One can hope Chepkoff will make further appearances in the future, but he never really earns his place in the book, apart from to give May, Dortmunder’s girlfriend, a well-deserved opportunity to do something herself which doesn’t involve baking tuna casseroles or bringing Dortmunder a beer.

There is at least one uneasy moment; Dortmunder has been captured by some mercenaries, who discuss ways to torture him. Although that comes on the back of a terrific sequence where Dortmunder folds himself inside a dishwasher in an attempt to avoid detection, the threats of torture themselves seem too violent, too dark for a Dortmunder novel. In the Parker sequence, they wouldn’t depart from the general tone, but I felt more uncomfortable with them here.

Perhaps if I’d had three years between Dortmunder novels, I’d overlook some of these faults. I hope when I get to the next novel, it’s not a case of continually diminishing returns.


Why Me? (The Dortmunder Novels)
Why Me? (The Dortmunder Novels)

4.0 out of 5 stars Third best of the first five, 16 Sept. 2013
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Why Me? is the fifth Dortmunder novel, after The Hot Rock, Bank Shot, Jimmy The Kid and Nobody's Perfect. In any long series of books, you need to have more than one volume to bring in fresh readers. If you make every previous book absolutely necessary for the comprehension of the next, eventually attrition of readers will whittle away your audience.

By Nobody's Perfect, there was a lot of reference back to characters from previous stories, whether it was cameo appearances from Herman X or the consolidation of the idiotic debates of the locals at the O.J. Bar & Grill. That book ended with Dortmunder and Kelp placed in a confounded position with no clear escape; perhaps wisely, there's almost no reference in Why Me? to this, and none at all to how they extricated themselves. Although anyone familiar with the Dortmunder milieu will be happy to see its inhabitants again, it's also a perfect entry point for a new reader. (Given that Dortmunder is of average height, with "hair-colored hair", it's not as if a new reader is missing out on heavily layered physical descriptions, after all.)

Why Me? concentrates much more on the law enforcement community than previous books did. Bank Shot and Jimmy The Kid both had glances at lazy, incompetent or pigheaded cops, but it's only in Why Me? that we spend a significant time with police chiefs and FBI men.

As previous novels have made clear, not every criminal is a criminal mastermind, and it's ever more obvious that this is true of their counterparts. Police Chief Mologna is a hot-tempered ogre of a man, while Agent Zachary is so caught up in behaving "like an FBI man" in every action that he's far behind every other federal agent, state trooper and beat cop. The only truly competent cop is an example to the rest, of how overachievement ruins careers - perhaps it's no wonder none of them are good at their jobs.

The criminals, as ever, are no better. Whether they're amateurish or career offenders, they're as dumb (or as unlucky) as one another. Dortmunder has the biggest haul of his life, and that swiftly becomes a nightmare for him: again, it seems everyone, even God, must hate overachievers.

The difference between this and previous novels is that up till now they've followed a simple sequence: Dortmunder does something, which gets him in trouble, which he escapes from via a plan which unfortunately lands him in further trouble, requiring further effort to escape, as though he's perpetually falling from one frying pan to another, gradually descending to the fire. In Why Me?, everything goes wrong from the start and has no hope of improvement, until the final chapters when Dortmunder figures a way out.

It's hardly "and with one bound he was free" but the departure from the tried and tested formula means that although the book starts very well, by the halfway point it's beginning to run out of steam. Don't get me wrong: the solution Dortmunder comes up with is audacious and inventive, but the book doesn't grip as much as it approaches the final chapter as it does in the other novels.

In fact, you almost feel you've missed out: Westlake had assembled such a motley crew of cops, criminals, Bulgarian spies and Turkish terrorists that you feel cheated they aren't involved in the denouement in a more graphic way. That might have been the end for the series though, with Dortmunder painted into a corner where his demise was the only way out. And nobody would want that.

That said, it's only because the first half is so good, literally laugh-out-loud funny, that the second half struggles to match up. The FBI and New York City cops are both fine additions to the cast, grotesque incompetents almost every one of them. While I missed Stan Murch and his detailed descriptions of his navigation of the roads of the Five Boroughs, the addition of a warehouse of telephonic equipment to Andy Kelp's foolish schemes was a real positive. It's only because Bank Shot and Nobody's Perfect are so good that this is only the third best of the first five novels in the series.


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