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Mark Norman

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Wars of the Roses: Stormbird: Book 1
Wars of the Roses: Stormbird: Book 1
Price: £3.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In my top 5 books of all time, 22 April 2016
Quite simply, one of the best thrillers I've ever read. Supremely plotted, tremendously evocative of a period in which kings ruled with absolute power and characterisation that inspires profound admiration, grudging respect and cold hatred by turns. I have read thousands of books in my time and I'm hard-pressed to find many that equal this for their ability to simply immerse you in an altogether different world.

This is not Dickens or Dumas or Hugo. It isn't a classic in that sense. It's a period thriller where the author's deep understanding of political and social intrigue of the era has been fashioned into a perfectly credible proposition of how France was lost and the Plantagenets came to seize the throne. That it's rooted in chronicled history - albeit a history in which the author has manipulated timelines - but not events - to serve his narrative (read Conn Iggulden's notes at the end - absolutely fascinating) gives the story huge power.

Derry Brewer, one of the few fictitious characters to populate the story (and, again, read Iggulden's rationale for his invention) is the James Bond - or perhaps, rather, the George Smiley - of his day, stalking the palaces of London and manipulating events at home and abroad in a desperate attempt to save the throne and keep the feeble, but rightful, king in power.

Up there with Stephen King's 'It', Robert Ludlum's 'The Bourne Identity' and 'I Am Pilgrim' by Terry Hayes.

Oh - and it also has the added bonus of a short 'fictionalised' account of Henry V's remarkable victory at Agincourt, featuring one character who appears in Stormbird.

Can't recommend it highly enough.

Dead Simple (Roy Grace series Book 1)
Dead Simple (Roy Grace series Book 1)
Price: £0.49

2.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoyed Peter James' early works ( Possession, 31 Mar. 2016
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Dear Lord, what a dreadfully-written book. I really enjoyed Peter James' early works ( Possession, Twilight, Sweet Heart etc.) but this is truly turgid stuff. I can only imagine that the 1,000+ people who gave it five stars have a spectacularly low threshold for quality.

But let's try to be constructive. On the basis other reviews here chronicle the basic premise, I'll do the same - but otherwise there will be no spoilers.

The positives:

1. At the centre of this book is a clever idea. A stag night prank goes badly wrong when a group of friends bury the groom-to-be alive in a remote and secret location but are then killed in a road crash

2. The plot takes two very well-conceived twists which you don't see coming

And that, I'm sorry to say, is where the plusses end. The problem, you see, is not in the idea but in its execution. There are agonising levels of detail - particularly in the description of police procedure - which blunt the pace of the story. There are entire plot-lines - at least three in number - that not only remain unresolved right to the end, but also have no bearing on the story at hand. The dialogue is hideously clunky to the extent that I actually physically cringed several times. There are holes in the plot that you could drive a JCB through. Two of the central relationships are so implausible that you find yourself wondering how Peter James himself could have written them and not seen their shortcomings. It's riddled with cliches (maverick copper tortured by his past, maverick copper falls foul of his superiors). There's a sex scene that just didn't need to be there - not because I'm any sort of prude but because when you read the passage in question it's so self-consciously constructed that you rather get the impression James himself was writing it with squinting self-disapproval.

Worst of all, I couldn't care less about DS Roy Grace. He's not a brilliant mind who you grudgingly admire and he doesn't warm the cockles of my heart. Jack Reacher he is not.

I give it two stars rather than one because the premise of the plot is intriguing and thought-provoking. But it could have been so much better.

The Remains
The Remains
Price: £3.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Put enough monkeys and typewriters in a room & it's a near certainty that what they produced wouldn't be anywhere near this bad, 26 Aug. 2015
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This review is from: The Remains (Kindle Edition)
Okay, so before I get started on the book itself, I did a little research on Vincent Zandri and, it turns out, he's a man who seems to think quite highly of himself. I kind of wish I'd done the personal research before I read the damn book, because if I had I think I might have given a miss to these 283 sorry pages of nonsense that he passes off as a novel. It didn't augur well that on the home page of his website - which, fellow one-star reviewers here may be interested to know, is as poorly constructed as the plot of The Remains - Mr Zandri is pictured sitting in front of a large bottle of scotch. It's my pet theory that he consumed all of this and then wrote the entire book in an hour before passing out.

In his official (and equally badly written) biography, he is described as having a 'lean' writing style. Which only serves to make me wonder, open-mouthed, how much worse the whole shooting match might have turned out if his style was flabby.

There are some brilliant one-star reviews of this book on Amazon, all of them without exception far more entertaining, engaging and rewarding than The Remains. I won't re-hash them - I can't better them and to try would be to deprive you of more fun than you'll have had reading Zandri's pitiful rendering of a thriller.

Similarly, I'm not going to try to list all the flaws because that would make the review longer than the book and I don't even have luxury of a bottle of scotch to anaesthetise me.

So, briefly, here's the problem:

It's a good idea, hideously executed. Labouring under the misapprehension that he can actually tell a story coherently, Zandri - and apparently, astonishingly, his editor - failed to notice that The Remains is to coherence what Genghis Khan was to human rights.

It's repetitive. It is unremittingly lacking in any sense of realism. It is ham-fisted in its exposition. It is ignorant of medical fact and basic police procedure. It is repetitive. It is contrived. It is convenient. It is repetitive. It is crashingly toe-curling in its dialogue. It is littered with stereotypes. It is repetitive.

I'm not sure what irks me more - the fact I wasted my time reading it, the fact that Zandri appears able to earn enough money from tipping words into a randomiser and publishing the result to buy scotch or the fact that I wasn't clever enough to stop reading it when it became obvious - roughly at the start of chapter two - that it had started badly and would only get worse.

Personal: (Jack Reacher 19)
Personal: (Jack Reacher 19)
by Lee Child
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Much better than some reviews here give it credit for, 23 Aug. 2015
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It's much better than some reviews give it credit for ...

What's wrong with people? Reading some of the reviews on here, you'd be forgiven for thinking that this was a dreadful book whereas, in fact, the opposite is true.

There was a time - somewhere around book 12 or 13 and lasting until around book 16 - when I thought Reacher looked to have run his course. But actually, I feel like Lee Child has revitalised the franchise a bit in the last two or three outings. In Personal, the hard-boiled style is still there and Reacher retains many of the personal traits that came to define him from the first book (the loner who travels with a folding toothbrush, a roll of notes, a precise internal alarm clock and the ability to flatten any opponent in his path).

But with Personal, I think we get a sense of Lee Child concentrating a bit more on plot and substance and rather less on the ability of Jack Reacher to bulldoze his way through any and all opponents. There's a bit more to this than in previous books, I felt. For some fans of the series, that may be the problem, of course: Reacher is a hard-case and it's certainly true to say that the character's brutality (albeit for the right reasons) was what made me a fan of the series once I read The Killing Floor. But head-butting and knee-snapping your way through every encounter with the bad guys only gets you so far and I was quite pleased to have a bit of depth added to our hero and his environment in this book.

Is it classic Reacher? No, and there are one or two moments which prompt an arched eyebrow. But by and large, I thought this was a jolly good read - done in the space of 24 hours on a Spanish beach and balcony.

Thoroughly enjoyable if not quite the full five stars.

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.00

15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What am I missing?, 25 May 2015
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This review is from: The Girl on the Train (Hardcover)
What on earth is all the fuss about? This is a pedestrian novel, thinly plotted and constructed around five characters who are, without exception, irredeemably unlikeable. Enough reviews here summarise the plot, so I won't bother, beyond simply observing that it stretches the limits of plausibility, both in terms of how the inter-connecting relationships are drawn and as a narration of police procedural..

The book comes in at around 340 pages. By about a third of the way through, and despite Hawkins' attempts to introduce red herrings along the way, the solution is pretty obvious.

It was an okay read: you'll read plenty worse and many better - but if, after all the hype that's driven the vast sales of this book, you're expecting to be blown away by some clever-clever plotting or edge-of-your-seat writing, you'll be sorely disappointed.

Vital Signs
Vital Signs
by Robin Cook
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Far from vintage Cook, 7 Jun. 2014
This review is from: Vital Signs (Paperback)
I'm usually a big fan of medical thrillers, and of Robin Cook in particular. But this particular novel was truly dreadful - and that's a shame because Cook is normally much, much better than this.

The plot is essentially this: we join the book as pediatrician Marissa Blumenthal and her husband are going through an in-vitro programme but without any success. The process is also taking its toll on their marriage, but when Marissa runs into an old medical college pal going through the same process at the same clinic, the pair's suspicions are aroused. Their amateur sleuthing leads them halfway around the world, to Australia, Hong Kong and China, where a diabolical scheme worth billions of dollars is uncovered.

The storyline is actually rather good - but the characterisation and plotting is so leaden and artifical that it's hard to see beyond the jarring dialogue, convenient cicumstances and paper-thin premises.

I've no doubt, for example, that contacting Triad members in Hong Kong or China would prove slightly more difficult than simply asking your hotel concierge where to find them. It's hardly the same as finding a bank.

The tedious American preoccupation with Communism is also prevalent: Cook insists on referring to China never simply as China but as 'communist China' or 'the People's Republic of China' or just the plain old 'PRC'. Okay, this was published in 1991 and so presumably written in 1990 or early '91 - but the Berlin Wall was either about to come down or had come down as he was writing it and, thanks to Gorbachev, glasnost and perestroika had been around for quite a while. Paranoia, as Cook presumably well knows, does not disappear overnight, but the way this is written you'd think he was penning it in 1956.

Worse, though, is the blunt trauma Cook causes with his ham-fisted stereotyping. An Australian character, supposedly a pretty bright doctor in his own right, is painted as some sort of culturally-defective Crocodile Dundee figure who seems to have at his disposal huge amounts of unexplained cash (which, by the way, has no link to the plot at the heart of the story). This character also speaks in a way that I've never heard any of the scores of Aussies I know speak. This perhaps isn't surprising for a writer who lives among people who seems utterly unable to tell British, Australian and South African people apart, but you do, perhaps naively, expect more from someone who's been to medical school.

There's no logical structure or progression to the book. The characters make decisions that make no plausible sense in the real world; the authorities behave and react in totally untypical ways to the trail of devastation Marissa and her friend Wendy leave in their wake; the goons are totally incompetent.

Put simply - nothing in the plot really works properly.

Another reviewer here wrote: No great character development, but that's not the job of the thriller writer.

I'd beg to differ. The absolute number one priority of any writer of any genre is to create characters you care about - and by that, I mean characters who prompt a response. You need to root for the hero or heroine and despise the villains. A great writer will put the reader in the shoes of his characters and make the reader feel what the character feels.

The problem with Vital Signs is, I think, that Robin Cook is a great thriller writer who, in this particular case, didn't do his job properly.

Ideal Textiles 16x16 Cushion Inner Pad
Ideal Textiles 16x16 Cushion Inner Pad
Price: £3.21

5.0 out of 5 stars Cheap as chips, does a job, 3 May 2014
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This cushion is as cheap as chips - we bought it as cheap filling for an old cushion cover we had and which my children wanted to use as one of a number of scatter cushions on their beds.

It's hollow fibre and insubstantial, but in the end it does the job that we bought it for. I wouldn't want to spend a lot of time using it for comfort - it's too thin and unforgiving for that - but, again, that wasn't the purpose of it, so not a reason to give it a lower rating.

If all you want is a decorative cushion, then this will do a perfectly good job at a really good price.

Grey Stamps Square Cushion Cover Queen Design Decorative Throw Pillow Case
Grey Stamps Square Cushion Cover Queen Design Decorative Throw Pillow Case
Offered by Arcobaleno London
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Nicely elegant, good price and great quality, 3 May 2014
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This is a good quality cushion cover at a decent price. The seams are durable, the zip appears to be made to a good standard and it has quite a plush feel.

Good value at the price.

Yellow, Grey & Pewter Faux Suede 18" Cushion Cover
Yellow, Grey & Pewter Faux Suede 18" Cushion Cover
Offered by Red Rainbow Textiles Ltd
Price: £2.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Nice quality, decent price, 3 May 2014
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This is a good quality cushion cover at a decent price. The yellow in the picture is a bit brighter than the actual tone on the cushion itself, but that's a small quibble.

The seams are durable, the zip appears to be made to a good standard and it has quite a plush feel.

Good value at the price.

The Chimes (Christmas Books series Book 2)
The Chimes (Christmas Books series Book 2)
Price: £0.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lovely festive offering from the master, 3 May 2014
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There are a number of reviews on Amazon and elsewhere for which talk about The Chimes (and The Cricket on the Hearth, Dickens' other Christmas story) 'letting Dickens down'. To me, it sounds rather as though those reviewers were expecting to read two stories which were equal in stature to A Christmas Carol - the story by which all Christmas-themed literature is judged, of course. On that basis, those people were almost certain to be disappointed - but letting Dickens down? Oh, please ...

It is an unequivocal certainty that no author, living, dead or yet to be, can possibly write a collection as vast as that for which Dickens was responsible and also maintain an absolutely consistent standard.

But ... this is Charles Dickens. For those who are foolish enough to believe The Chimes represents in some way a disservice to his standing, let me point out that we're talking about one of Britain's greatest novelists. A man who, deservedly, stands alongside the Austens, Brontes, Swifts et al when we talk of enduring literature.

Do I like all of Dickens' work? No, not at all. Some of it I find heavy going and overly moralistic. Do I recognise his astonishing ability to write a perfect turn of phrase, his uncanny knack of finding exactly the right word at the right time. his instinct for creating characters who are thought-provoking or situations which cause moral discomfort? Yes, absolutely.

Does The Chimes prompt the same immediate sense of affection as A Christmas Carol (a book I have read 35 times, by the way). For my part, no. But is it enjoyable, heartwarming and rich in festive cheer? Without question.

Do yourself a favour and ignore those reviewers who seem unable to look beyond the commercial popularity and Disney-ised interpretation of Dickens' greatest Christmas book and instead judge this on its own merits. I promise you won't be disappointed.

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