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Roman Clodia (London)
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The Life I Left Behind
The Life I Left Behind
by Colette Mcbeth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.70

3.0 out of 5 stars 'Oops, I never knew you were a psychopath', 22 Oct 2014
This review is from: The Life I Left Behind (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is one of those ‘oops, I never knew you were a psychopath’ books: easy reading but not one which bears much critical scrutiny. The story is told through the viewpoints of Eve who is dead and can read people’s minds but doesn’t seem to know who her murderer is; Melody who was attacked and left for dead five years ago but is still alive; and the police officer who now realises that the man imprisoned for Melody’s attack can’t have done it after all.

There’s quite a lot of confusion in the narrative and it’s not always clear whether we’re in the present or some point in the past, complicated by the fact that we don’t really know whether Melody has lost her memory or not, and what she knows and remembers and what has been lost. Add to that, friends’ secrets and lies, and the device of a file put together by dead Eve and now being read by both Melody and the police – oh, and at least one disguised psychopath in a small circle of friends, but possibly two, with some cod Freudian psychology thrown in for good measure and you’ll have a fair sense of this book.

McBeth’s writing is just ok, full of padding and non sequiturs (at a key moment of supposed tension as Melody hears footsteps on the stairs she goes off into a chick-lit riff on uncomfortable knickers: ‘cream silk with black lace trim. She stares at them, expensive ones she doesn’t care for. On the rare occasions she’s worn them, they’ve ridden up her bum, cut her in two. There’s a bra to match buried in the back of her drawer which is where she would return the knickers’) – by the end of that, all the supposed tension has dissipated.

This is just about fine as switch-off commuter reading or when you want mindless fluff but there’s better written, better plotted and better crafted entertainment out there.


Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale
Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale
by Marina Warner
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.69

4.0 out of 5 stars An enticing meditation on fairy tales, 20 Oct 2014
Warner returns to fairy tale territory and gives us an enticing, if sometimes confused, meditation on what fairy tales are, what they mean and what cultural work they perform. The sub-title calls this book a ‘history of fairy tale’, but this is at least as much a history, if a brief one, on the responses to, and scholarly work on, fairy tales.

Individual chapters ruminate on various themes such as oral versus literary stories, the relationship between fairy tales and visual media, fairy tales and psychoanalysis, and feminist responses to fairy tales.

Warner is, of course, hugely knowledgeable about the field but there are moments where I was unconvinced by her points: that seventeenth-century interest in fairy tales was fuelled by a rejection of Latinate classical myth; that myths are about gods and super-heroes while fairy tales are about ordinary folk (what about all those princes and princesses?); that myths have unhappy endings while fairy tales have happy ones. Even more controversial, possibly, is her slightly odd assertion that fairy tales warn us about child abuse, people trafficking, incest, rape and horror stories such as that of Josef Fritzl – if they do, they certainly don’t do it very effectively given her own catalogue of modern-day crimes that fit all those categories.

Despite some niggles, this is an enjoyable read – though it doesn’t, perhaps, say anything new to anyone who has worked on or studied myth and fables. This will be enjoyable to general readers and to undergraduates fairly new to the field. The chapters are shortish, and there’s an extensive further reading list which is helpful.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)


The Poetical Works (Oxford Paperbacks)
The Poetical Works (Oxford Paperbacks)
by Edmund Spenser
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A full edition of Spenser's poetry, 20 Oct 2014
This is a very good edition of Spenser's poetry taken from the Oxford Standard Authors series. It contains the Clarendon Faerie Queene, together with the so-called 'minor poems' (The Shepheardes Calender, Complaints, Daphnaida, Colin Clouts Come Home Again, Astrophell, the Amoretti and Epithalamion, Four Hymns, Prothalamion) and the Spenser-Harvey correspondence.

Spenser isn't much read now by general readers outside of academia but his Faerie Queene, especially, is a highlight of Renaissance literature as it plays with ideas of epic and chivalric romance, and shifts between the romantic and the macabre.

The full introduction to this edition is, of course, out of date now, though still reasonably helpful for the new reader of Spenser especially in terms of versification and allegory.

The typeface is inevitably small in order to fit so much into a 700 page book - for comparison, Penguin's Faerie Queene is over 1200 pages alone. If that's not a problem, then it's fabulous to have all of Spenser in a compact, portable edition.


The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems (Oxford World's Classics)
The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Sonnets and Poems (Oxford World's Classics)
by William Shakespeare
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars A comprehensive, robust and functional volume, 19 Oct 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Part of the Oxford Complete Shakespeare series, this contains all the poems, both the lyrics and the narrative poems. The poems are in modern spelling, the text has been collated from the most authoritative sources, and the editor, Colin Burrow, has written detailed introductions that are both scholarly and accessible.

The commentary and glossary is either on the page or facing so students don't need to keep flicking to the back, and the sonnets are given a page each so there is plenty of room for our own annotations.

Perhaps best of all, this is really well-produced on thick white paper and with a proper sewn binding that won't fall apart with too much use. So whether you're a student at any level, or a general reader, this is an beautiful and functional edition of all Shakespeare's poems.


The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare's Poetry (Cambridge Introductions to Literature)
The Cambridge Introduction to Shakespeare's Poetry (Cambridge Introductions to Literature)
by Michael Schoenfeldt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Lively, accessible and scholarly, 19 Oct 2014
This is another lively, accessible and yet scholarly volume in CUP's series that introduces the non-dramatic poetry fully. Schoenfeldt is learned yet amiable, and also eminently sensible as he cuts through the often simplistic readings of, especially, the sonnets as merely heightened autobiography. Instead, he gives back to the poetry the artistry and literary resonance that it deserves.

Alongside the much-discussed sonnets, this also gives space to Venus and Adonis, and Lucrece as well as the other poetry and here, too, Schoenfeldt does a good job of discussing literary context as well as some of the formal qualities which give the poetry its potency.

Slim and succinct but enlightening, this is particularly good for undergraduates and general interested readers wanting a more informed way of approaching these texts.


The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition
The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition
by Jacob Grimm
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A complete translation of the first editions of Grimms’ tales, 19 Oct 2014
In 1812, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm published the first volume of their folklore tales with a second volume in 1815. After that, they went on to edit, delete, re-write and revise the original stories so that the final 1857 edition, the basis for what we tend to know as Grimms’ ‘fairy tales’, bears little resemblance to the first editions. Jack Zipes, one of the foremost scholars of folklore and fairy tales, has here translated the original two volumes so that we can see from where popular stories such as Rapunzel, The Frog Prince, and Briar Rose originally came and what changes were made to them.

In an excellent introduction Zipes situates these stories not as tales for children but as deriving from oral folktales which dealt with human tensions and conflicts: the disputes between children and their parents, sibling rivalry, the oppression and persecution of the ‘ordinary’ person by those in positions of power, and the constant spectre of death.

Especially notable is the way the later editions ‘cleaned up’ some of the more subversive elements in these stories, especially in the cases of young women rebelling against patriarchal strictures, and those which centre on opposition to a ruling monarch. This volume returns us to a more transgressive set of tales.

So it is perfectly possible to read these as merely vibrant and popular stories that continue to have an after-life today: but narrative always does cultural work at the same time as it entertains, and this return to the original stories serves to highlight what they might have been doing not just via the stories themselves but also from what was later changed.

This is recommended for both general readers wanting an edition of the original stories, and students of myth, folktales and fairy tales.

(This review is from an ARC courtesy of the publisher)


How I Lost You
How I Lost You
by Jenny Blackhurst
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Requires a massive suspension of disbelief, 17 Oct 2014
This review is from: How I Lost You (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is one of those books which requires a truly heroic suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader to get through it. Susan has been in prison for the murder of her baby: now she is out and trying to rehabilitate herself, but she is pursued by shadowy threats, questions what really happened, and doesn't know who she can trust.

Interspersed with Susan's narrative is the back story (in italics) of a group of friends starting 25 years ago - what's the connection, we're supposed to ask, between the two?

This veers between the sentimental and the ridiculous: no-one is who they seem, and as yet one more person is uncovered to be operating, figuratively or literally, in disguise I started to giggle at how preposterous this whole edifice is. In fact, the plot only works if we accept people acting in wholly implausible fashion.

So, sorry, this may suit if you don't mind a mash-up of various other psychological thrillers involving memory loss, mothers and babies, dark pasts, no-one is who they seem, how well do we know those we're closest to and various other standard tropes - but I'm afraid I found the whole thing oscillating between the ridiculous and the tiresome.


The Tower
The Tower
by Alessandro Gallenzi
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.52

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A missing manuscript, an absent priest – and a confused story, 17 Oct 2014
This review is from: The Tower (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is one of those stories about missing manuscripts and historical conspiracies that the more you think about it, the less sense it makes. So an international Google-style company are spending billions on a business which is part real estate (the Tower) and part digital library containing all the books and knowledge in the world. Then a manuscript goes missing, along with the priest-scholar-librarian who was working on it – and our hero Peter is called in to investigate. But who is he? What kind of an investigator is he? He doesn’t know anything about books or manuscripts; he’s never heard of Giordano Bruno; and he’s even in Jordan without a charger for his mobile (p.198). His assistant who, thank heavens, does know something about both Bruno and manuscripts, is threatened by a sinister earthworm left on her pillow (yep, really) and the two bumble around the Middle East.

By p.170 the assistant finally announces that the missing manuscript was a treatise by Bruno – sadly, we already knew that from the book’s blurb so we’re not much further. There’s a terrorist scare when all the lights go out in the hugely expensive building they’re all in – but then that’s forgotten about as the next we hear of Peter is that he’s waking up in his hotel bedroom.

Interspersed with all this is the story of Bruno himself, and his battle with the Catholic Inquisition – anyone who knows even the slightest bit of history will be in no doubt how this story will end. But not before this Bruno manages to write a book overnight which the real Bruno could never have contemplated.

And the final flourish is when the author steps forward at the end to deliver a heavy-handed lecture through the mouth of his character telling us that it may be 2014 but books are still burnt, free thinking still suppressed, and that maybe capitalism tells lies to destroy people just like the Inquisition did. Oh, and we’re giving away our civil liberties. And religion is A Bad Thing. Even if we agree with all this, they’re hardly revelations, are they? Particularly when delivered in such a simplistic and reductive way. And there isn’t even enough of a rollicking adventurous romp to cover up the lack of substance. I guess if you’ve never heard of Bruno and know nothing about the intellectual predations of the Renaissance church this may keep you occupied but I’m afraid I found this a sad disappointment.


Henry V: The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford World's Classics)
Henry V: The Oxford Shakespeare (Oxford World's Classics)
by William Shakespeare
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

5.0 out of 5 stars "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers", 15 Oct 2014
After the rebellions (or are they?) of his youth, Prince Hal is now king though the shadow of usurpation still overlies his throne. In a quest to divert internal rebellion, Henry leads the English to France and the victory of Agincourt thus legitimising his rule through both military victory and the 'arm' of god - but does the play ultimately assert the orthodoxy of Tudor propaganda or critique it?

Like the other single Oxford play-texts in this series, the play is prefaced by a long and detailed introduction which explores sources, performance history and receptions. Written by Gary Taylor, one of the leading editors of Shakespeare, it's quite light on critical controversies, particularly the ways in which this might be read as either promoting, contesting or surpassing Tudor 'history'. The on-page glosses are useful and fairly comprehensive, and the text is cleanly laid out.

Regardless, though, of whether we read this as a rousing paean of national identity at a point at which Britain was being constructed (as opposed to England), a war epic, or a more sceptical response to military glory, this remains a more complicated play than is often the case in performance. With the question of who Henry is beneath the royal trappings, and the disconcerting epilogue which speaks forward to the troubled rule of Henry VI, this may be a play which poses more questions than it answers.


Interlude
Interlude
by Rupert Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars (3.5 stars) Illicit desire and family secrets, 13 Oct 2014
This review is from: Interlude (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a witty, ironic story of illicit desire and family secrets as Helen traces the convoluted history that has been buried in her family. The start is well done and Smith captures the voices of both modern Helen and 1930s Edward with effortless flair. The camp, comic world of bohemian theatre artistes is buoyant and lively, and there are some lovely, sharp, slightly malicious set pieces.

Given who Smith is the trajectory of the plot is fairly obvious and the long span of the book - from the 1930s to the present - means that it starts to feel a bit thin as the years pass. The format of using diaries and fiction to fill in the secret life of the protagonists has been done too often before, and at about midway through the book I started to feel that characters are not so much personalities as chess-pieces being moved around the narrative board.

So this isn't a book which will linger in my mind but it is an enjoyable light read - 3.5 stars.


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