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The Rosie Project
The Rosie Project
by Graeme C. Simsion
Edition: Hardcover
16 used & new from $7.68

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars One-Trick Pony, August 26, 2014
This review is from: The Rosie Project (Hardcover)
I simply don't know what all the fuss is about with this novel, still less why it took the author five years to write. There is just one idea here, pursued with relentless and mind-numbing monotony. It might be funny for the first eight pages but then you have to suffer nearly three hundred more of the same.

'Spoiler alert' is hardly doing the book a disservice but here it is anyway: Aspergers guy gets the girl, in spite of all the odds. That's it. Oh, and he tries to find out who her real father is through DNA testing. I don't know why we should be interested in this because his girlfriend is so weakly-drawn in the first place that we don't care about her, let alone her parents. Actually, the author himself doesn't care by the end, either.

Still, I slogged through to the finish, feeling completely cheated. I've really had it with these 'comedies'. There is more subtle humour in even the most tragic page of any Ann Tyler novel than there is in mountains of books like these.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 27, 2015 8:15 PM PDT

Hollywood Crows: A Novel
Hollywood Crows: A Novel
by Joseph Wambaugh
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
254 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars When He Gets Focussed . . ., January 27, 2014
Joseph Wambaugh's novel is extraordinary. It's like he spends the first half of the book not fully concentrating, as if he's watching TV on the sofa at the same time as writing. The culprit turns out to be both his blessing and his curse.

Crucially, Wambaugh used to be a sergeant in the LAPD. But what this means is that he feels he has to 'owe' his old mates by stuffing the first part of the book with endless police anecdotes, on the lines of "what's the strangest thing that ever happened to you on duty?" "Oh, fantastic, I'll work it into my book." So we have vignette after vignette, each mini-story ending in a 'punch line' that never ever made me laugh.

But wait. Wambaugh's now turned the TV off and ushered out all his old police friends. He begins to write. Properly. I was shocked at how good he is: at plot, characterisation and especially dialogue. Not only that, but the end comes across as both heartfelt and sad - all the more welcome for its unexpectedness. Now the writer's previous police employment really counts for something and away from all the clowning about one can properly and deeply appreciate it.

When I read the last, effortlessly-crafted lines of dialogue that conclude the book, I felt one of those delicious tingles go down my spine (last experienced at the end of The Graduate). Job done. All is forgiven, Mr Wambaugh. But next time chuck away that TV remote-control, tell all your old mates you're busy and get down and serious from the start. I'll definitely be there for you.

The Americans: Season 1
The Americans: Season 1
DVD ~ Keri Russell
Price: $14.99
24 used & new from $10.76

99 of 108 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everyone Involved in This, Take a Bow, September 1, 2013
This review is from: The Americans: Season 1 (DVD)
Were it not for the fact that this astonishingly good series was unaccountably first broadcast on the UK's most rubbish television channel, and with each episode shredded to smithereens by commercial breaks, many people would now be talking about The Americans in the same paragraph, if not in the same sentence as, The Sopranos. Never has there been a stronger case, then, for putting one's name down for a box set many months before it's finally released.

Astutely written, immaculately cast from top to bottom and always directed with the utmost flair it's impossible not to marvel at the sheer cleverness of the whole enterprise. A cynic might proclaim how unbelievable is its premise but to them I would simply say, go look at the credentials of its executive producer (a former CIA officer) or do some rudimentary research into real-life spy Anna Chapman. If you still feel you can't suspend your disbelief, d'you know what? It simply doesn't matter (because you soon will.) The ingenuity of the plotting, the confidence of its execution, and not least the mesmerising performance of Keri Russell makes it impossible to look away. Drama this good improves the quality of your life.

Oh, and the wedding in the penultimate episode is worth the admission price alone.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 2, 2014 12:42 PM PST

Q: A Novel
Q: A Novel
by Evan J. Mandery
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.68
74 used & new from $0.01

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What Could Have Been . . ., May 24, 2012
This review is from: Q: A Novel (Paperback)
There was a fantastic, clever story struggling to get out of this book, and as such it could have been a worthy successor to The Time Traveler's Wife or the even-better About Grace. Instead of which, the writer chooses to jettison the trumpeted 'love story' for an excrutiating two thirds of the novel, replacing it with post-modern pyrotechnics, much of it boring and repetitive and all of it curiously flatly-written.

There's a real sense that Mandery's doing all this stuff "because he can" so it's only in the last section that he remembers what the story's really about and concentrates on finishing it. When he does this it rises to something approaching maginificence. This ending is the difference between two stars and three stars here, and also the difference between my throwing the book away and keeping it, because really these last fifty pages or so will be treasured and re-read.

As in life generally the moral of this flawed work is this: know your strengths, don't show off, and do fewer things better. How I wish this published novel was just the first draft; I want Evan Mandery to write it again. That's not going to happen but all's not lost because this book would make the most outstanding movie, and I really hope it does.

The Terror of Living: A Novel
The Terror of Living: A Novel
by Urban Waite
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.77
83 used & new from $0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Sensational (No Less), January 21, 2012
'Wow', is the first thing I have to say. This is the best novel I've read since Anthony Swofford's Exit A and looking back I see that I reviewed that book on here in July 2009.

So good is this novel it might be easy to write a review as long as the work itself but instead I'm going to do the opposite and keep it as short as I can.

A taut, believable plot. Plenty of bloodshed though it all fits. Troubled, flawed characters to make your heart ache and a psychopath to make you feel chilly in a warm room. But, above all, the most sublime writing without an ounce of spare fat, lambent description, and a subtle rhythm to each paragraph that makes you wonder and marvel about just how good this writer is. And that's without the most accomplished dialogue I've come across since John O'Hara's Sermons and Soda-Water (and he goes back way, way beyond Antony Swafford.)

Yes, 'The Terror of Living' is a thriller - but before some of you turn your noses up let me assure you that this one utterly transcends all the connotations of its genre. As far as I'm concerned, Urban Waite is now top of the pile.

A bit of me's sinking already because I sense this is going to be the best book I'm going to read all year. And it's still only January.

Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World
Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World
by Michael Lewis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $17.32
460 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hope They've All Read This By Now . . ., January 7, 2012
You've just got to hand it to Michael Lewis - he doesn't pull any punches on this whistle-stop tour of some of the world's financial basket-cases. His incredulity at what he finds is matched only by his fine wit which, like some of the best humour, masks his seething rage at the scale of such sovereign mismanagement.

What makes Lewis special, though, in a field - no, an orchard - of low-hanging fruit, is his keen eye for the telling national detail. No more so does this come alive in his excoriating first chapter on Iceland. Even while he's still on the plane he gets rudely bumped and shoved by Icelandic businessmen, oblivious of their own poor manners. Or, closer to home, the bankrupt Californian town council with a staff of . . . . two - the mayor and his secretary. On the other hand, in spite of all our best intentions to want it otherwise, Lewis unabashedly fingers the Germans for their own unfortunate idiosyncrasies.

Unlike most of the nations he portrays, Lewis is clearly a master of his trade. From an obviously deep knowledge of finance that he wears so lightly, he manages to give the impression that even a bright toddler could have handled these countries' affairs better than those ultimately in charge. However, if there's a caveat, it's that there's a slightly rushed feel to this book with one often never quite knowing the date about which he's writing, especially critical given the subject-matter. More often than not I had the feeling that I was simply reading an accomplished journalist - say, from the New Yorker - rather than the compelling, thoughtful and witty writer that Lewis clearly is. For this reason, I doubt if this otherwise fine book will stand the test of time.

The book I really want to read - in fact, can't wait for - is the enduring perspective that Lewis might bring to these events from five years' hence. I was going to say 'calm perspective' but stopped myself just in time because with Lewis it undoubtedly won't be. And by the way, if he has time to write it properly the 800 pages it would surely deserve still wouldn't be too short for me.

A Week in December (Vintage International)
A Week in December (Vintage International)
by Sebastian Faulks
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.02
85 used & new from $0.01

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't Blame the Writer, December 28, 2011
There's a trend that I've just started to detect amongst all the one-star reviews that I've so far written on Amazon. Yes of course all the novels are truly awful, like this one, but I've got to the point now where I'm not even blaming the authors; they've toiled and struggled - probably every day for a year, doubtless more - and really tried their best. No, I blame all the fawning literary agents and editors who let drivel like this get through as if it's the most natural thing in the world for it to proceed to publication. It can be an "unknown" writer like Alex Preston, a "one-hit-wonder" like Tom Rob Smith, a TV scriptwriter like David Nobbs - and now we have the supposed "literary fiction" giant of Sebastian Faulks. So I guess my one-star set is finally complete.

In this case, though, it's probably a bit more complicated. You know that Faulks can probably write well but one wonders why he hasn't been able to here. This puzzle was on my mind as I turned every page. Paragraph upon paragraph of turgid and often unintelligible technical descriptions of either financial instruments or Islamic Fundamentalism, book-reviewing or TV reality shows - the fact that the writer spends a page acknowledging "experts" at the end of the book says it all. (Though I wonder which expert was responsible for the flourish of making the cartoon "evil banker" of John Veals Jewish as well; as with all the other characters in this novel, if in doubt just trowel on another cliché).

So many experts, then, to help Faulks get it right, to enable him to write what's been billed as the ultimate "state-of-the-nation" novel. But where are the only experts that matter when you really need them? The ones whose job it is to face up to a famous writer at the end of his years of toil and simply say to him: "Sorry, Seb, simply not good enough this time, old boy." For me, these people are the publishing equivalent of John Veals. Their negligence, dereliction of duty, cynical calculation - call it what you will - have been responsible for letting loose upon doubtless thousands of readers like myself a novel for which they had every expectation of being far, far better than this one and for which they've given up untold hours of their precious time.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 7, 2012 3:00 AM PST

Apocalypse for Beginners
Apocalypse for Beginners
by Nicolas Dickner
Edition: Paperback
27 used & new from $0.02

5.0 out of 5 stars The Novel at its Best, November 13, 2011
This is the most invigorating novel I've read for some time. Its conception is so supremely accomplished that I relished turning every page. Some writers can do this: instil so much confidence in their ability that the reader is theirs for the taking.

And so it is with Nicolas Dickner's imaginative story. Underpinning a delicate - though always supremely understated - love story is Hope Randall's family 'affliction' of being obsessed with the imminent end of the world. Cleverly, Dickner immediately wrests our disbelief at this idea by explaining how the notion had taken on almost a form of madness down the Randall generations. We pick up the 17 year-old Hope, fighting family disfunction against all odds, as she embarks on a friendship with the other main protagonist of the tale, the more grounded and would-be boyfriend, Michel.

But a summary 'plot' description is to do this novel a disservice. The writing is sublime (as is the superb translation), the characters always believable, and with a sleight of hand I'm still trying to work out, Dickner manages to achieve the unthinkable in a novel by successfully alternating between both protagonists' point of view. And the peripheral family characters are as well-drawn and convincing as one could hope for, the Canadian and Japanese settings refreshingly portrayed.

I concur with all the other positive things that have been said of this beautiful book. It's funny, tender, clever, romantic and inventive. And if that wasn't enough the book itself is beautifully designed and typeset so one really does receive pleasure on all levels (Julian Barnes would approve.)

But finally I remain mystified why this book seems not to have had the exposure it deserves because this is a novel that is as surely life-enhancing as any modern novel can be. I would urge you to read it and then tell me I'm wrong.

Lightroom 3: Streamlining Your Digital Photography Process
Lightroom 3: Streamlining Your Digital Photography Process
by Nat Coalson
Edition: Paperback
Price: $39.99
85 used & new from $0.01

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Out There, September 6, 2011
I've long been disillusioned with the huge books on both Lightroom and Photoshop written by the current guru (who I believe also trials the products for Adobe). I kept falling asleep when tackling them, never getting beyond page 32. The reason? At best, they're dry textbooks; at worst they can simply considered to be glorified manuals. Most unforgivably (in my case) they probably prevented me from making the long-needed switch from Photoshop to Lightroom.

With Nat Coalson's book, that mindset of dread changed in a heartbeat. This is really a fabulous example of how the best writers can make the daunting prospect of learning new software from scratch so straightforward - and in this case so readable too. As an example, I often find myself picking up this book simply to re-read a chapter here and there; I certainly wouldn't be doing this if the interface wasn't so inviting and friendly. The ultimate test for any 'textbook', in my opinion, is whether you actually want to read it in bed. Coalson's book passes on all counts (and yes, I know I should get out more.)

For a start, then, this book is elegant. A huge amount of care and thought has gone into its structuring, with clever colour-coding throughout its contents. In addition, Nat Coalson is an accomplished photographer in his own right and its refreshing to see his splendid work appear in examples throughout the book, but never intrusively.

Then there's the way that Coalson describes the software. If, like me, you consider Lightroom in its current incarnation to be the most revolutionary photo-editing software for nigh on twenty years then this writer does this notion full justice. There's an easy clarity in his writing style so that you never glaze over when reading about a (relatively) complex topic. I turned each page with satisfaction, knowing that when I did I'd "got" what the writer had just explained. Crucially, unlike the 'standard work' I allude to above, you always feel like Coalson's talking to you, explaining the reasons he does what he does. It's nice to read books like this and get personal opinions as well as facts.

Okay, so some of you might think that I've got a bit carried away in my praise for this book. But the reason for this is as simple as it is important. For just as having a bad teacher at school can put you off an entire subject for life, so the opposite is equally true. What many of us don't realise is that the opportunities for experiencing this kind of thing in adult life are few and far between, As a competent photographer, brought up on Photoshop, I'm only now painfully aware of how many hundreds of hours I've wasted in post-production because I didn't go over to Lightroom sooner (though that's another story.) Yes, I'd picked up Lightroom books in the past but, like I say, always felt daunted by them. How I wish I'd found this one sooner.

So if you're thinking of jumping into the truly amazing and liberating program that is Lightroom, make this book your essential purchase - it's worth the cost of the software itself.

The Radleys: A Novel
The Radleys: A Novel
by Matt Haig
Edition: Hardcover
128 used & new from $0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Beguiling, June 12, 2011
This review is from: The Radleys: A Novel (Hardcover)
I ordered this book with only the vaguest notion of what it was about. Family life with a bit of quirkiness, I thought: that's plenty good for me. Matt Haig writes elegantly and fluently so I settled into this novel easily. In its portrayal of a moderately dysfunctional English family I was happily reminded of David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, as that too contained interesting teenage characters and their struggling hapless parents. What I wasn't remotely prepared for was the twist that is introduced a little way in.

I'm not going to announce the spoiler here (though I'm sure plenty of other reviewers have) but suffice to say that in my opinion Haig's real story still remains what I thought it was going to be at the outset: the troubled interconnectedness within families and between neighbours and friends. A broad brush, you might think, but one that's very difficult to pull off consistently. Here it's done with deftness and aplomb: every character is as real as can be and every one of their always painful yearnings and dilemmas is perfectly, and often heartbreakingly, understandable. There is a sense that things are only just being held together and this is what gives the book its peculiar tension as well as its big strength.

Having been scathing about some modern English writing in the past Matt Haig is for me a beautifully refreshing reminder of what it can be at its best. His is a literary career that I really want to follow.

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