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Reviews Written by
Russell Smith "egobreed" (Glasgow, Scotland)

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Lego Creator 5893 Offroad Power
Lego Creator 5893 Offroad Power
Offered by Bold Trader
Price: £99.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Happiness for your inner 10 year old, 28 Jan. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had a lot of fun with this, because at 34, this took me right back to childhood, and all the Technic Lego sets that used to litter my playroom.

Some of the bits and pieces have become a little more sophisticated in the last 20 years or so, but the basic principles are the same, with the same crisp, clear instructions. As a Lego veteran, it all seemed fairly easy to follow, but I'm sure a 9 year old could manage too, with a bit of concentration.

My kids are still at the Duplo stage, so they weren't really interested in this - mainly because there are no people included. But that's never really been the point of these sets; it's all about the simple pleasure of building something mechanical and seeing the various cogs and levers interact.

Hard to fault Lego really; it's indestructible, timeless and educational. Some of the sets these days are certainly not cheap, but for countless hours of building and rebuilding, it's a pretty good investment.

The Trinity Six
The Trinity Six
by Charles Cumming
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and authentic, 30 Dec. 2010
This review is from: The Trinity Six (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Don't be put off by the subject matter of this book; at its heart is a gripping, well-paced story about a forty-something academic who quickly finds himself out of his depth while chasing a mystery.

Shades of a Dan Brown book, you might think? Well, it's a pretty fair comparison overall, but the writing is definitely a couple of notches above Mr. Brown's notoriously awkward prose. The plot also manages to retain the best elements of the breathless chase, without straying in to ludicrous twists and coincidences.

There is an air of believability to the proceedings, perhaps partly due to the writer's brief flirtation with the intelligence community. It's also fairly easy to follow, even if you only have a cursory knowledge of the likes of Kim Philby et al.

I'm now on the lookout for Charles Cumming's earlier books.

by D. O. Dodd
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.00

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Short, strange and ultimately unsatisfying, 21 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Jew (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I suspect that 'Jew' will completely polarise opinion, and it certainly won't appeal to everyone.

A man wakes up, naked in a pile of bodies.... The opening scene is gripping and well-imagined, but in a sense, this high-concept, money-shot of an opener is the only memorable part of the book. What follows is not a story as such; there is a plot of sorts, but it's entirely surreal and improbable, and I'm sure this is absolutely intentional.

Instead of a traditional novel, we get a series of episodes in which our unnamed central character encounters more unnamed characters and tries to make sense of his existence. The setting is a wartime one, but there are no specific references to the era or the location until towards the very end.

I'm sure the author's intent is to ask all sorts of questions about The Human Condition: who are we, what do we know about ourselves, is the way we act in certain situations something that's fundamental to our nature, the duality of man in wartime, etc. etc. Unfortunately, the book is utterly tedious, despite its short length, and none of these predictable questions get satisfying, or even interesting answers. I'm sure the bleak, matter-of-fact violence is supposed to be shocking, but the lack of actual characters makes it impossible to generate any sort of empathy.

The writing is not necessarily *bad*; the detached tone suits the material, and some of the short, child-like phrases can be starkly effective. I'm sure this book will have its admirers but it's hard to recommend.

Siberian Education
Siberian Education
by Nicolai Lilin
Edition: Paperback

0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant; I want more., 24 Nov. 2010
This review is from: Siberian Education (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
You read the opening chapters of Siberian Education with a profound sense of disbelief. There is a sense of astonishment that the world being described to you actually exists - or at least, did exist so recently. The location of Transnistria, between Moldova and Ukraine, seems to exist in a completely different space and time, and yet most of the story takes place in the 1990s, and in a country that now contests the Eurovision song contest.

The writer describes his extraordinary upbringing in a community of criminals, descendents of Siberians who were originally relocated by Stalin. There's no façade of legitimate existence here; these people are career criminals, outlaws who only know one way of life. Instead of a catalogue of petty crimes and scams though, this is a portrait of a complex society with a strictly defined moral code and a great respect for its history and traditions. The rules of the criminal family are at once fascinating and bizarre; from how to drink tea from a communal cup, to where weapons can be stored and displayed in the house.

Lilin relates episodes from his youth in an eloquently matter-of-fact way, whether it's ambushing the police, stabbing rival gang members or just the worrying number of children who seem to be missing an eye. It seems as though this was just accepted as a normal childhood in this world, and there is a refreshing lack of arrogance and self-righteousness.

Lilin manages to inject some real tension in to some of the longer stories, and there is the constant sense that the threat of violence, injury, disfigurement or death is very real. In hindsight, you do wonder if some of the stories have been `enhanced' a little, and more often than not, the writer is the one who ends up being the bravest or strongest member of the group. Certainly, there is a disclaimer somewhere stating that some of the events and individuals have been combined for narrative purposes. From a reader's point of view, that the end result is such as success is more important than the supposed historical accuracy.

Over the course of several chapters, notably the time spent in prison, Lilin discovers his talent as a tattoo artist, and learns the intricate codes and hidden meanings contained within the tattoos etched on his fellow criminals. Indeed, he now makes a living as a tattooist in Italy, which seems remarkable. Not only did he make it through his `Education' - and a stint in the army - intact, but he found a way to break out of that life and become a successful artist and writer. These later years are not detailed in the book, but as ever, the sign of a well told story is one that leaves you wanting to know more...

Norton Antivirus 2011, 3 Computers, 1 Year Subscription (PC)
Norton Antivirus 2011, 3 Computers, 1 Year Subscription (PC)

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Easy to use and doesn't hog resources, 20 Nov. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I used the 2010 version of this, which was a vast improvement on previous versions of Norton. The most noticeable improvement was that it seemed to use resources much more efficiently, and sat quietly in the background for the most part.

This 2011 version is a continuation of that theme; the bones of it are very similar but it adds a couple of nice graphical touches and a couple of extra scans.

Generally, I can't really fault it, the only niggle being the £30-something cost of the yearly 'subscription' which always feels like a kick in the teeth. They also usually try to sneakily sign you up to automatic renewals, and you then have to delve in to menus to turn it off.

I'm no PC expert by any means, and I haven't used another Antivirus program for about 10 years, but if you want something simple, secure and stress-free then I highly recommend this.

Fanboys [DVD]
Fanboys [DVD]
Dvd ~ Seth Rogen
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £5.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Worth renting for Star Wars fans?, 19 Nov. 2010
This review is from: Fanboys [DVD] (DVD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Let's be brutally honest; this is not a great film by any means, yet for some reason it's difficult to dislike. The cast is good, the premise is good, and there's a generally amiable tone that lets you disengage your brain for 85 minutes.

The problem is - it's just not that funny. The initial idea (a group of friends plan to steal a copy of The Phantom Menace before its release) is decent enough, but it quickly descends in to cliched road-movie fare, with an episodic structure that goes from one meaningless diversion to the next. And, despite the slim running time, there are only a couple of memorable lines and visual gags; the rest is all painful mugging. In that respect, it's probably most reminiscent of a Kevin Smith movie (indeed, he makes a short cameo), but manages to be more likeable by avoiding the worst of the smut and tortuous dialogue. Marvel as each of the characters follows an entirely predictable 'story arc' and 'learns something about themselves'.

In lieu of a decent script, the film limps along on a host of Star Wars references/homages, and some predictable cameo appearances. These are intermittently successful, but for a film about nerds obsessing over the minutiae of the Star Wars movies, all the references just seem far too obvious. The DVD is also stickered with the fact that Seth Rogen appears in 3 different roles, but again they manage to be fairly laugh-free.

This is just about worth watching for the few decent moments it offers. The main problem though is that the cast just aren't given enough to work with, and as such I doubt it would stand up to repeated viewings.

Before The Ruin
Before The Ruin
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £14.78

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pleasantly forgettable, 21 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Before The Ruin (Audio CD)
I'm afraid I was left underwhelmed by this, especially compared to Roddy's excellent solo album.

There's nothing wrong with it, but after several listens, I can't particularly remember any of the songs. It's the kind of thing I would stick on in the background if my parents were round.

Perhaps it will eventually work its way in to my subconscious, given enough plays, but unfortunately it comes across as much less than the sum of its parts.

No Title Available

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Convenient but fairly average, 21 Oct. 2010
The roof of my wife's car has a big hazy patch where a large splatter of bird dropping was allowed to sit for months - so you can see the logic behind this product. It's a handy little box of 10 wipes that you can stick in the glovebox and use straight away when you're out and about.

They're reasonably good value, well packaged, and easy to use, but I wasn't hugely impressed by their performance.

They will lift off the worst of the mess, if it's very 'fresh', but they don't really shift anything dried-in.

I also found that they leave a bit of a (temporary) hazy patch on the paintwork, even if you get all the bird mess, so in practice, you'll probably want to give the car a proper wash anyway.

So, not brilliant by any means, but definitely better than leaving a big smelly patch of droppings on your roof for a month.

by Simon Lelic
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended., 14 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Rupture (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is an interesting analysis of living and working within a culture of bullying, and asks where the responsibility ultimately lies when people are pushed too far.

In the aftermath of a school shooting, a female police officer interviews pupils and colleagues of a teacher who has killed several pupils and then himself. Whilst she tries to determine whether vicious bullying was the motivation for his mass murder, she herself has to deal with sexual harassment from oafish male colleagues.

The book alternates between chapters of standard third-person storytelling, and verbatim accounts of events told in the different voices of those concerned. The constant switching between storytellers is a little disconcerting at first, but they are usually so genuine and believable that it's not too jarring. In particular, the sheer maliciousness of the teenage voices is disturbingly accurate - and often, so cruelly funny that it's easy to find yourself complicit in the bullying.

Given the multitude of viewpoints, it's perhaps inevitable that some of the characters end up as rather two-dimensional stereotypes (the gym teacher springs to mind) but this doesn't really detract from what is otherwise a convincingly created world.

It's interesting subject matter, well written, and highly recommended, even if the denouement doesn't *quite* provide the pay-off that you'll be hoping for.

by Ben Myers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommended., 7 Oct. 2010
This review is from: Richard (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As I see it, there would have been several major reasons for Ben Myers to ditch the concept of this book before he'd even started. To write a kind of pseudo-autobiography of someone who is missing, presumed dead, could be seen as massively intrusive, opportunistic and insensitive to his subject's family, friends and band-mates. And, no matter how well researched the facts and events are, it's no substitute for actually having BEEN there in the early days of the Manics. And finally - crucially - how do you narrate an ending to someone's life, in a way that doesn't contradict accepted events, but also works as a piece of fiction? The surprise here, then, is that 'Richard' manages to be a sincere and affecting portrait that manages to be both brutally honest and affectionate.

There are two alternating threads to the book: the 'main story' is an imagined account of Richey's final days told from a first person perspective; an internal monologue constructed around the accepted real-life events. These chapters are interspersed with a more conventional biography, from early life to international tours, albeit told in a 'second person' voice.

Each aspect is successful in its own right. The 'final days' section, perhaps inevitably, is at times self-indulgent, self-pitying and aimless, but then you would expect nothing less of a narcissistic rock star contemplating suicide. For the most part, it manages to sound genuine and believable, even if some the arguments going on inside Richey's head come across as slightly forced and cheesy. The mood is thankfully lightened by a streak of refreshingly dark humour throughout.

The back story of the band is actually more entertaining, and interesting if you only have a passing awareness of their origins. I don't think Myers is totally successful in recreating the conversations between real people - they do tend to sound like cartoon versions of themselves. James, Nicky and Sean all seem a bit two dimensional, with only a couple of personality traits each with get a bit laboured by the end. Perhaps this only grates though, because he is so successful in producing a complex and rounded central character.

And so to the ending - it's obviously hard to describe without giving anything away, but this was always going to be the hardest part. Given limited options, I think Myers has probably chosen the route which makes most sense. Ultimately, it feels a little unsatisfying, but that's due to the events themselves, and is in no way a reflection on his undoubted skill as a writer.
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