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Starswirl the Bearded (England)

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Sterling Silver .925 Genuine Garnet Stone Bead Link Bracelet
Sterling Silver .925 Genuine Garnet Stone Bead Link Bracelet
Offered by Royal Design
Price: £47.25

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars, 30 Oct. 2015
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Absolutely tiny! Very, very thin and small - including something to show scale would have helped!

Joker HC (The Joker)
Joker HC (The Joker)
by Brian Azzarello
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Ambitious, fresh - and ultimately unsatisfying., 18 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: Joker HC (The Joker) (Hardcover)
*Disclaimer*: As a long-time Harley fan, this review may be a tad biased.

Originally I gave this book one star, for the following reasons:

1) Like many writers, Azzarello just doesn't seem to get Harley - at all.

2) Jonny Frost, the main protagonist, was neither interesting nor likeable.

3) The rape plot. Oh dear.

On second reading though, I realised that I wasn't being fair.

This isn't meant to be canon, and at no point did Azzarello indicate that this would be anything like Dini's work - in fact, given Azzarello's gritty deconstructionist style, we shouldn't have been expecting the loveable Harley of B:TAS (who somehow manages to combine naive vulnerably with violent sociopathy - something that alas, may only work in a cartoon-like context).

No, I wasn't altogether happy with Azzarello's take on classic characters. No, I didn't think the visual references to TKJ added anything to the story. But ultimately, Azzarello is doing what every generation of Batman writers have the right to do: interpret Gotham in their own way. And - considering that Joker was written BEFORE The Dark Knight - there are some impressive moments of originality here.

This is largely a well-written book (excluding the rape plot). One can even understand the decision to use Mr Frost as the protagonist, and the inertia of Batman for most of the book:

If Jonny Frost hadn't been an ambitious, morally bankrupt criminal then he wouldn't have believably been sucked into the Joker's world. Yet I got the impression that Azzarello was trying to humanise him - that he wanted us to put ourselves in Jonny's shoes: so that we would experience the Joker's insanity through the eyes of an outsider.

Because we grew up with these characters, it's easy not to question the Joker's motivations - we just accept that he's driven to do evil things. But by telling the story through the eyes of a newcomer, Azzarello forced us to really look at who Batman's enemies are. Sadly, I felt that Azzarello either shied away from giving us cold insight into Joker's motivations - or didn't understand them fully himself: but that doesn't mean that he failed to show us the Batman myth in a different light.

In fact, the structure of the book was the exact opposite of the classic Batman tale: when B finally showed up at the end, it was Bruce Wayne who felt like the unknown and the fearful. Which is no easy feat for a writer to pull off.

In summary, I think I was impressed by Azzarello's work (though I do wonder if I'm over-thinking things, and giving more credit than is due) and certainly plan to check more of it out - suggestions are welcome!

Just as long as it doesn't feature Dr Quinzel.

PS: For an interesting take on Harley, see Tease - it's in the back of one of the Death of the Family arc issues of the main Batman comic. Although I'm not a big fan of the Suicide Squad depiction of Harley, I get the impression that Scott Synder really does get her. Would be interested to hear what others think!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 22, 2013 8:23 PM BST

Panasonic RP-HJE100E-A Ear Canal Headphones- Blue
Panasonic RP-HJE100E-A Ear Canal Headphones- Blue
Price: £6.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Very comfortable, good value, sound quality not great though, 17 Jan. 2013
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These are the most comfortable bud earphones that I've ever owned - unlike most buds, these can comfortably be left in for very long sessions in the library (where they also double as ear plugs!). Good value, and they look good.

The only issue is that the sound quality isn't great. This doesn't really bother me, as I rarely use them for serious music listening, but it may be an issue for others.

Celebrity, Inc.: How Famous People Make Money
Celebrity, Inc.: How Famous People Make Money
Price: £5.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting... and incredibly over-priced for kindle edition., 17 Jan. 2013
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This was an engaging read; full of funny commentary and interesting insights.

Though not particularly interested in celebrity culture, I stumbled across a reference to Piazza while off-handedly researching the following question: "What does Kim Kardashian actually do? And is it worth X million dollars?"

This book not only answered that question, but gave a fascinating insight into the celebrity/entertainment/advertising complex - including an revealing chapter on how celebrities use twitter to leverage their fame into cash.

I would not recommend the kindle version though - unless it drops in price to under £7.50. It simply isn't worth it, unless you are a newcomer wishing to work in this industry/have a piece of coursework due relating to the topic... and even then, I would beware of using it as a reference guide - despite having only a vague grasp on celebrity culture I spotted the odd factual error; and the statistical analysis was sometimes weak and open to debate. These things don't necessarily detract from the books value (an engagingly written peek behind the curtain of celebrity inc.), but they do contribute to the vague feeling of being a ripped off.

Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life
Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life
Price: £19.79

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relevant, engaging and brave., 11 Jan. 2013
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This book should be required reading for all politicians, educators, parents and voters.

I stumbled across 'Unequal Childhoods', while reading 'Outliers', by Malcolm Gladwell: he uses examples from Lareau to support the central argument of his book (that unusually successful people have almost always benefited from unusually fortunate opportunities - quite often including an unusually high level of parental investment. While it may sound obvious, it goes against everything I was taught to believe as a child: that succeeding is largely due to one's own effort).

Lareau's book is actually very different than Gladwell's. It introduces us to children from different economic backgrounds and their families, following them for over a decade while bringing every individual to life. We're given an engaging insight into the daily routine of our protagonists; though Lareau makes sharp comparisons of parenting styles between socioeconomic classes, these are incorporated naturally into the narrative.

On one level this is a very high quality piece of research - but it never feels dry or lifeless. To the contrary, it's a compelling read; avoiding an academic writing style in favour of a direct, simple, first person narrative.

For me the most relevant part of the book came towards the end when Lareau interviewed the now university-aged participants: perhaps unsurprisingly, the children from the highest socioeconomic bracket (the "concerted cultivation" group) were on track to graduate from university with a wide range of opportunities. Two of the children from the highest income brackets will also be graduating with very little debt: the frankly astonishing investment of parental time/money into extracurricular sports paid off in athletic scholarships.

What fascinated me is that these privileged young adults were blind to just how large a role their parent's investment played in their adult achievements: they viewed themselves as hardworking and responsible for their own success. This blindness is something I have often observed in my fellow university students, many of whom receive financial support from their parents (it also isn't uncommon for said parents to do their laundry, book them onto revision courses, buy them cars, assist them in buying apartments etc.). Yet these students widely condemned the looters in the 2011 London riots as being "scum" and "lazy": from what I could gather, this was because the looters felt entitled to things they hadn't earned.

Another thing I found fascinating is that many of the behaviours teachers interpret as signs of intelligence (asking insightful questions, making eye contact, speaking clearly, backing up one's statements with evidence etc.) were in fact taught and encouraged by the wealthier parents.

While some might argue that the nature/nurture debate wasn't addressed here (and indeed, data from adoption studies would have been welcome), I would still recommend this book to everyone - especially those who think children living in unequal societies have true equality of opportunity: Lareu provides compelling evidence that they do not.

Count and Countess
Count and Countess

4.0 out of 5 stars A unique take on a legendary character., 10 Jan. 2013
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I stumbled upon this book while browsing the brilliant tvtropes, and would recommend it to those who enjoy: very dark humour, well observed character studies of psychotic/damaged individuals, and deconstruction of common tropes in fiction - especially the 'girls love bad boys'/'sexy, bloodthirsty vampire' trope.

It is to the author's credit that I cannot think of a similar work to compare it to. Possibly 'We Have Always Lived in the Castle'? Twilight it certainly ain't.

While I have given this book four stars, I must stress that this is in the context of it being a (presumably) self-published work that costs less than a latte: definitely worth downloading if the above description intrigues you, and the author is clearly a talented lady. The prose is polished and flows well. Yet it suffers (in my uneducated opinion), from a lack of relatable/sympathetic characters - something that might have been addressed by a professional editor.

(Having said that, this lack of sympathetic characters could be completely intentional: a la 'American Psycho').

Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art
by Scott McCloud
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, thought-provoking, compelling, 10 Jan. 2013
This is a great book, and one that I would recommend to everyone, no matter where they lie on the spectrum of comic-fan to comic-hater (in fact the comic-neutral or comic-hater would probably get the most out of it... and might finish with a newly-ignited interest in the medium).

I actually found the chapter on art and the drive to create it to be the most fascinating - though it describes the journey taken by comic creators, it's both relevant and thought-provoking for anyone who has tried to create something of their very own.

Personally, I would have liked a chapter on the economics of the comics industry: especially an updated one, that discusses creator owned comics, webcomics, self-publishing, comiXology and e-comics etc. Additionally, an updated chapter with the author's take on the darker-and-edgier post-TDKR/Watchmen period in comics would have been interesting - but that may just be me!

Overall this was funny, compelling and original.

Burning Chrome
Burning Chrome

4.0 out of 5 stars Well-written and compelling., 10 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Burning Chrome (Kindle Edition)
This is a well-written, compelling collection.

If like me you grew up with 'defictionalised' versions of many of the technologies described by Gibson, it's possible to overlook the breath-taking level of innovation in his writing: the interesting thing is that despite this, there is a rawness and a freshness that grabs the reader here: even though it's almost thirty years old, and even though elements of Gibson's cyberpunk vision have now been endlessly recycled in popular culture.

Although elements of this imagined future are horribly outdated, this doesn't necessarily detract from the stories... possibly because they're really about the characters anyway, rather than the technology, and the characters are mainly sharply observed, nuanced and sympathetic.

So when, for instance, we read about a young woman who is desperate for the cybernetic implants she feels will help her become a 'simstim' star, we know the story isn't really about cybernetics - it's about her hopes and dreams, and an industry that sells fantasies to vulnerable young people.

Just good writing.

by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Hardcover

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Gary Stu in Dickens fanfic... we still love you TP., 10 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: Dodger (Hardcover)
First, a disclaimer: As virtually a life-long Pratchett fan, I would probably buy anything he publishes. If he were to release a book titled World of Poo, I would probably...oh. Nevermind.

The point I'm making is that I can't be objective when it comes to this author - the Discworld books are too much a part of my life; I cried while watching TP's deeply personal euthanasia documentary; I know certain Discworld characters better than I know members of my extended family.

But this is a review of Dodger - not an essay on why I love DW - so here it is:

Though colourful and engagingly written, this isn't a very good book.

It isn't awful, and there is plenty of fun historical trivia, but I wouldn't recommend it. Instead I would steer newbie readers to the City Watch, William dW or Moist vL episodes of Discworld.

The most glaring problem here is the Godmode-Gary Stu-like protagonist. In the space of approximately a week, the teenage 'tosher' (sewage scavenger) with questionable personal hygiene:

1) receives not one, but two, fairy-godfather like make-overs and is accepted by the cream of London society at a fancy soiree

2) wins the heart of a beautiful, multilingual Princess (despite barely exchanging three sentences). Middle aged women are also apparently magnetically drawn to the young urchin - throwing themselves at the teen, demanding kisses in exchange for their assistance

3) displays the fighting skills of Greebo: the skinny teenager easily outmanoeuvres the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and professional assassins

4) is recognised as a national hero and showered with money by grateful citizens, who provide free coach rides in exchange for his autograph

5) meets Queen Victoria (probably the most powerful person in the world at that time) - and is accepted as virtually her equal. Although, to be fair, this occurred several months after his ascension to national hero

The other problem that I have is the use of real historical figures, such as Dickens, Mayhew, Disreali, Robert Peel etc. I got the impression that Sir Terry included people he respects and admires, and perhaps this is part of the problem: overlooking the implausibility of these gentleman all happening to take an interest in Dodger during a single week, the characters never really came to life for me. I got the impression that I was reading about cardboard placeholders for the real men, rather than the living, breathing and flawed characters that inhabit TP's other novels.

And this brings me to my next issue, which is possibly controversial: the historical figures were all middle-class or wealthy do-gooders, concerning themselves with charity towards the deserving poor. There was no mention of working class figures of the industrial era organised labour movement - the movement that would culminate in arguably the biggest ever shift in British society: the post-war Labour victory that led to the NHS, radical redistribution of wealth, the grammar schools and free University education - all of which would have fundamentally shaped TP's childhood and adult opportunities.

Perhaps it isn't surprising that these working class heroes - who were fighting for a fairer society for everyone - were not included. Because Dodger is fundamentally a rags-to-riches tale, where the audience is asked to empathise with and applaud Dodger's rise to join the upper classes, while throwing out the occasional sixpence whenever he feels a twinge of guilt. Appropriately, the book ends with the new Sir Dodger engaged in the robbery of a priceless historical treasure: a tiara once belonging to Marie Antoinette. No, he is not intending to sell it, and distribute the money to the many starving orphans/girls driven to prostitution who populate the book: in an Animal Farm like ending, Dodger is stealing Marie Antoinette's tiara for his new wife, a former Princess. Great lesson for the kids, Terry.

Despite the above issues, this could have been an engaging read if the antagonists had been more fleshed out: something that Pratchett is normally incredibly good at. If we had been introduced to the Outlander and her (possibly conflicted?) henchman earlier, and been led to feel truly terrified and slightly awed by the assassin's ruthlessness and cunning, as well as sympathy for her henchman, it might have broken up the Gary Stu-ness of the tale (it might also have given us a true sense of fear for Dodger and Simplicity). Additionally, it would have been a chance to show us early Victorian Britain a through the eyes of an outsider.

Lastly, wtf was up with Dodger's mentor, Solomon? When we first meet him, he is apparently so down-at-heel that he lives in a slum, and eagerly awaits Dodger's scavenged scraps of meat: a few chapters later and it turns out that he is known and well spoken-of by the most influential and wealthy people in the country - he exchanges a secret handshake with Prince Albert, and shares a laugh with him regarding their mutual acquaintance...the King of Sweden. Willing suspension of disbelief can only be stretched so far.

Ultimately, this can be viewed as either a competently written, watered-down Dickens fanfic (Dodger's real name is 'Pip Stick'... he grew up in a workhouse... etc. etc.) or a not very successful attempt to deconstruct the Dickensian novel.

It can also be viewed as an inspirational tale for children, which teaches them to, um, steal from the innocent for personal gain, vandalise the property of people who happen to be from the same country as one bad apple, and elope with a girl you hardly know - who happens to have lovely hair. And not to bother with school, or even basic literacy - because crime is so much more rewarding...

And yet, despite all of the above (and my disappointment in 'Snuff', for fairly similar reasons) I'll continue to buy any new Pratchett novel in the hope that it contains some of the old Discworld magic - moments of which, though few, were still present here. Which is probably what his publishers are banking on.

At least there was less scatology in this one
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 5, 2013 8:01 PM BST

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