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Checkpoint Charlie
Checkpoint Charlie
Price: £7.59

3.0 out of 5 stars You don’t need to have read Hopscotch to understand or get more fun out of these stories, 22 Mar. 2017
This was a solid and enjoyable collection of twelve short stories about cold war spies. It features characters from the author’s earlier 1975 spy novel Hopscotch (it was turned into a so-so 1980 Walter Matthau film). You don’t need to have read Hopscotch to understand or get more fun out of these stories. There are no significant insider references that only readers of Hopscotch will get.

It’s lightweight entertainment. The stories are more like clever little chess games as the writer paints his characters into a corner and then pulls a rabbit out his hat to solve their problems. It’s fun to read. I was “behind” the author most of the time with only a few being obvious from the start (the last story in particular had a very obvious solution).

I enjoyed it. It was better than Hopscotch.

FYI This collection was published in 1981.

My Hopscotch review:

A bored retired CIA agent writes a tell-all memoir to provoke the various intelligence agencies around the world to hunt him down before he can publish his book.

It was okay. It’s a lightweight comic thriller with an element of farce to it. The stakes are low so there’s little dramatic punch to it and the humour is very mild. Perhaps in 1975 this was considered funny, but now in 2017 it barely counts as amusing. It’s perfectly readable but I wouldn’t big it up beyond that. It’s more competent then good.

***SMALL SPOILER IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH***
The ending was anti-climactic with the various parties not meeting and hashing out the situation. There’s no climactic resolution involving the antagonists so it’s just the protagonist deciding to end things. He is on top of things for the majority of the book, and when he does have problems you know he’s going to come out smelling of roses anyway so there’s no dramatic tension in the story.

It was fairly well-written but I would say it’s slightly sloppier than Death Wish (1972). It felt a little rushed in places and his action scenes were weak. I suspect this slim novel was maybe written in a shorter than average length of time.

The 1980 film version is a half-arsed, dated, stiff, sluggish movie. The film is a loose adaptation. It’s like someone read the book and then wrote a two page plot breakdown, and from that they then wrote an original screenplay without further consulting the book. I didn’t recognise any dialogue or specific moments from the book in the movie version, but the film does follow the general story, has similar characters and some of the scenes are used in a heavily modified way. The Glenda Jackson character (the female lead) is not in the book. While reading it I easily pictured Walter Matthau as the lead character so he was perfect casting. The film improves upon the climax by at least getting the antagonists into the scene.

The book was merely average but it was a lot more competent and enjoyable than the plodding film version.

3 out of 5 stars


Hopscotch
Hopscotch
Price: £6.02

3.0 out of 5 stars Average, 9 Mar. 2017
This review is from: Hopscotch (Kindle Edition)
A bored retired CIA agent writes a tell-all memoir to provoke the various intelligence agencies around the world to hunt him down before he can publish his book.

It was okay. It’s a lightweight comic thriller with an element of farce to it. The stakes are low so there’s little dramatic punch to it and the humour is very mild. Perhaps in 1975 this was considered funny, but now in 2017 it barely counts as amusing. It’s perfectly readable but I wouldn’t big it up beyond that. It’s more competent then good.

***SMALL SPOILER IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH***
The ending was anti-climactic with the various parties not meeting and hashing out the situation. There’s no climactic resolution involving the antagonists so it’s just the protagonist deciding to end things. He is on top of things for the majority of the book, and when he does have problems you know he’s going to come out smelling of roses anyway so there’s no dramatic tension in the story.

It was fairly well-written but I would say it’s slightly sloppier than Death Wish (1972). It felt a little rushed in places and his action scenes were weak. I suspect this slim novel was maybe written in a shorter than average length of time.

The 1980 film version is a half-arsed, dated, stiff, sluggish movie. The film is a loose adaptation. It’s like someone read the book and then wrote a two page plot breakdown, and from that they then wrote an original screenplay without further consulting the book. I didn’t recognise any dialogue or specific moments from the book in the movie version, but the film does follow the general story, has similar characters and some of the scenes are used in a heavily modified way. The Glenda Jackson character (the female lead) is not in the book. While reading it I easily pictured Walter Matthau as the lead character so he was perfect casting. The film improves upon the climax by at least getting the antagonists into the scene.

The book was merely average but it was a lot more competent and enjoyable than the plodding film version.

The antagonist characters (but not the lead character) turn up again in a short story collection called Checkpoint Charlie by Brian Garfield.

NOTE 22/3/17: My review of Checkpoint Charlie (1981):

This was a solid and enjoyable collection of twelve short stories about cold war spies. It features characters from the author’s earlier 1975 spy novel Hopscotch (it was turned into a so-so 1980 Walter Matthau film). You don’t need to have read Hopscotch to understand or get more fun out of these stories. There are no significant insider references that only readers of Hopscotch will get.

It’s lightweight entertainment. The stories are more like clever little chess games as the writer paints his characters into a corner and then pulls a rabbit out his hat to solve their problems. It’s fun to read. I was “behind” the author most of the time with only a few being obvious from the start (the last story in particular had a very obvious solution).

I enjoyed it. It was better than Hopscotch.


Standard Deviation
Standard Deviation
by Katherine Heiny
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book by a writer I connect with in a substantial way, 24 Feb. 2017
This review is from: Standard Deviation (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
When I read her short story collection (Single, Carefree, Mellow) I wrote in my review that I connected to her. She was on my wavelength and wrote subject matter and prose that I liked, appreciated and understood. Her work just clicked with me completely in a very satisfying way. As soon as I was offered her debut novel I jumped at it without having to waste my time reading the blurb.

It’s a great book. Again I feel that direct connection to the author. I get what’s she’s doing. I will be very surprised if I read a better book this year. I feel very confident in saying this will probably be my book of the year.

There’s no story. It’s just a meander through the lives of an interesting, well-realised couple over the period of maybe a year or two. This was fine. Plot was not needed. Her characters, humour and prose were more than enough – and I say this as someone who doesn’t get excited about good prose as proper content trumps fancy metaphors every single time. This combines proper literary content with good writing. Her writing is quick paced without unnecessary descriptions. Her style is almost minimalist without becoming too spare.

I loved this book. I have no complaints to make about it. If someone was to ask me what my model definition of an ideal book is, I would point them to this. This contains the perfect example of what I consider to be good literature.


Death Sentence
Death Sentence
Price: £6.02

4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written and pacey, 20 Feb. 2017
This review is from: Death Sentence (Kindle Edition)
This is the direct 1975 sequel to the novel Death Wish from 1972. The original novel of Death Wish was surprisingly good and not trashy. It was much better than the film version from 1974, which is a very, very loose adaptation. Death Sentence itself was later made as a non-Death Wish related Kevin Bacon movie in 2007. The film version of Death Sentence has zero connection to this book. No scenes, characters, lines of dialogue or situations were taken from the novel and used in that movie. The film version of Death Sentence has an original unrelated screenplay. I guess they later bought the film rights to the novel for publicity reasons or to avoid plagiarism charges, or something like that.

It’s an enjoyable read. It’s well-written and pacey. There are moments that felt like the author preaching, or at least not being subtle in his working out via dialogue the moral implications and pros and cons of vigilante justice. It’s a bit more lurid than the original in that it has a large body count and almost reads like a slasher movie (a genre it pre-dates, as well as the four film sequels to Death Wish). There isn’t much plot beyond the vigilante going out and tracking down criminals to murder. It’s a bit repetitive but I had no issues with that. It was 3 out of 5 stuff. Solid, enjoyable but unremarkable. It was a small step down in quality to the more substantial first novel. I think it picked up towards the end and has a very satisfying conclusion. Some people might feel it’s too neat and pat and simple, which it is, but it also gives the feeling of satisfaction at having so many pieces neatly click into place. With this ending I think it’s as good as the first novel. If you read that one then you really need to read this to complete the story. They really should publish the two books as an omnibus collection. The both of them are shorter than average novels so they can be read as a single longer novel without feeling overstretched.

I recommend both books.

Note that this novel was ignored by the film sequels. Perhaps the only idea taken from it was Charles Bronson using a hotel room in Death Wish II (1982) to stash his gun. In the book he sets up a fake party supply office just to store his guns.

My earlier review of the film version of Death Sentence (2007):

Mild-mannered Kevin Bacon takes on a street gang after they murder his son.

It’s based on a novel by Death Wish author Brian Garfield and it’s by the director of Saw (2004).

I wasn’t expecting much more than a competent little B-thriller of no distinction. It was much worse than it should have been. The storytelling technique couldn’t have been more plodding and less exciting. It’s such a simple plot and yet it insists on playing boring, generic scenes out at great length. Consequently the film plodded with no sense of pace and little forward momentum. I was completely unconvinced by the dialogue scenes. Dramatically it was utterly inert and phoney feeling with cardboard non-characters. I was so uninterested in these piss-poor talking scenes that I took to skipping them in their entirety using the x6 fast forward button. Okay, so the dramatic linking scenes that told the plot were garbage, but in the end as long as it delivered some solid action or violence then it was not completely worthless. Unfortunately the action was badly handled. The director had a twitchy, nervous style with bumpy camerawork and fast editing which made the action annoying and confusing to watch. That was unless he was doing long unbroken takes that simply felt like indulgent technical exercises. Also of course logic was weak throughout.

The film was a complete failure on all levels. Everyone involved should be ashamed of this film. It was far, far worse than it should have been. I expected little and it couldn’t even get close to hitting that low target. The movie was contemptible in how shoddy it was.


Suspended Sentences
Suspended Sentences
Price: £6.64

4.0 out of 5 stars Eight short stories by a good writer and not a dud among them, 17 Feb. 2017
Suspended Sentences is a short book of eight short stories. Brian Garfield is a good writer and he can make things feel animated with life. He just has a natural knack for breathing life into even the smallest story or slightest idea.

They mostly date from the 70s. They aren’t dated in a way that makes them hard to read for a modern reader. His straightforward writing style makes them feel contemporary (with the exception of Scrimshaw which probably felt old fashioned even in the 70s).

This is probably about as good a collection of short stories as I’ve ever read (not that I’ve read many) and none of the stories are duds. The weakest one is the first story (The Gun Law) because the climax is so slight. The rest range from decent to very good. It’s well worth a read. The only complaint I have is that the climaxes can sometimes be a bit so-so on a few of them.

The Gun Law
Weak climax. 3 out of 5 stars

The Hunting Accident
3 out of 5 stars

Two-Way Street
I read this yesterday and I can’t recall it. Not a good sign but I know it was readable. 3 out of 5 stars?

Ends and Means
3 out of 5 stars

Scrimshaw
Silly climax and rather dated but it works well-enough. 3 out of 5 stars

The Chalk Outline
Semi-silly story and ambiguous with a so-so climax but an entertaining read. 3 out of 5 stars

The Shopping List
5 out of 5 stars

King’s X
5 out of 5 stars


Rapesco 865-P2 Hole Punch Heavy Duty, 63 Sheet Capacity
Rapesco 865-P2 Hole Punch Heavy Duty, 63 Sheet Capacity
Price: £21.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn’t do the job as well as it should, 17 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Black 865-P2

63 pages slot tightly into the machine. There isn’t any additional space to put extra pages in at the same time.

It works great with lower amounts of paper but it’s been hit and miss with larger quantities of pages. Roughly one in five punches get jammed when doing about 63 pages. It doesn’t want to go the extra final distance and so I ended up with “nearly” holes where the teeth have gone through around the sides but the centre remains in place. The other circa four out of five times the punches have treated the 63 pages as though they weren’t there as it punched through them. So a rather so-so result that veers from brilliant to highly disappointing.

The paper size guide can be placed in either the top or the bottom side. It stays firmly in place.

The confetti tray is emptied by opening a hatch at the back of the base. It does the job but it’s not my favoured style of confetti tray as you can’t get access if things pile up at the base of the punches. Also you can never be truly certain that you’ve emptied it of everything. For such a big product the hatch feels too flimsy and second-rate. A pull-out tray would have been much better.

It looks good and it’s easy to handle.

I’m giving it a harsh 3 out of 5 because it doesn’t quite do the job it’s supposed to do as well as it should. It's not consistent enough. If I was you I would look elsewhere for a better punch.


Rapesco Zero-30 punch Ref 0726 - Silver
Rapesco Zero-30 punch Ref 0726 - Silver
Price: £16.06

5.0 out of 5 stars Punches 30 pages as advertised, 17 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Silver Zero 30 (0726)

30 pages slotted tightly into the machine and it punched them without any problem. There isn’t any extra space to put more pages in at the one time.

The paper size guide can be placed in either the top or the bottom side. It stays firmly in place.

The confetti tray is made of clear plastic (so you can see how full it is) and slides out from the back. You have to turn the punch upside down to empty it. This is the best style of confetti tray, in my opinion.

The punch looks good.


Rapesco P-840 2-Hole Punch, 40 sheet Capacity - Black
Rapesco P-840 2-Hole Punch, 40 sheet Capacity - Black
Offered by HomeOutdoor
Price: £14.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Punches 40 pages as advertised, 17 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Black P-840

40 pages slotted tightly into the machine and it punched them without any problem. There isn’t any additional space to put more pages in at the same time.

The paper size guide can only be placed in the bottom side (to the right of the front) as there’s a piece of plastic blocking it at the top. It stays firmly in place.

The confetti tray is emptied by opening the back third of the base. It does the job but it’s not my favoured style of confetti tray as you can’t get access if things pile up at the base of the punches. Also you can never be truly certain that you’ve emptied it of everything.

It looks okay but it wouldn’t win any beauty pageants.


Rapesco Hole Punch - 835-P, 40-sheet capacity. Black
Rapesco Hole Punch - 835-P, 40-sheet capacity. Black
Price: £9.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Punches 40 pages as advertised, 17 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Black 835-P (PF835PB2)

40 pages slotted tightly into the machine and it punched them without any problem. There isn’t any additional space to put extra pages in at the same time.

The paper size guide can be placed in either the top or the bottom side. Sadly it wobbles a little bit at the A4 setting. In practice it stays in position but it doesn’t feel as secure as it should do.

The confetti tray is emptied by opening the back quarter of the base using a prominent ridge. It does the job but it’s not my favoured style of confetti tray as you can’t get access if things pile up at the base of the punches. Also you can never be truly certain that you’ve emptied it of everything.

It looks okay.


STABILO BOSS ORIGINAL Pastel Highlighter, Assorted Colours, Wallet of 4
STABILO BOSS ORIGINAL Pastel Highlighter, Assorted Colours, Wallet of 4
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Pale highlighters 70/4-2, 16 Feb. 2017
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The pack includes four highlighters of different colours.

The four colours are all a bit paler than usual. Their paleness is not something anyone is going to comment upon. So don’t expect a pat on the back for using paler than average colours in your documents.

The nibs are standard with no fancy design quirks, like a see-through space between the nib and body.

If the price is right then they are as good as any other pack of four highlighters so I’ll give it 5 out of 5 stars.


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