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Mike J. Wheeler (Kingswinford, England)

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I, Claudius
I, Claudius
by Robert Graves
Edition: Paperback

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth reading - even if you've seen the TV series, 15 Aug. 2006
This review is from: I, Claudius (Paperback)
This has to be the book the sets the standard for all historical novels. Its not a genre I have much time for, but this is a superb piece of literature. It tells the story of Imperial Rome from the early days of Augustus to the accession of Nero. If you think you know the whole story from the TV series (which is also excellent) then you don't. Reading 'I, Claudius' will give you a much greater appreciation of this whole sordid episode of history. There is far more detail and background in the book than could ever have been crammed into the series. However, having watched it in on TV first you have the disadvantage as always of seeing all the characters as the actors playing them which is a pity.

To summarise the story for those who don't know it, the book sees the development of the Roman Empire through the eyes of Claudius, a member of the imperial family and convinced republican. Born with a stammer, a twitch and lame, Claudius is treated as a fool by all of his powerful and power hungry relatives but manages to outlive them all, his murderous grandmother Livia, his perverted uncel Tiberius and his mad nephew Caligula. The characterisation is wonderful, especially that of Claudius, one of the most sympathetic literarey renderings of a historical person.

The real beauty of this book is that if you really want to delve deeper into Roman history this is the ideal place to start as the people become more human and recognisable.

Well worth reading - even if you've seen the TV series!

Dark Side of the Moon
Dark Side of the Moon
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £12.89

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best Pink Floyd album, 15 Aug. 2006
This review is from: Dark Side of the Moon (Audio CD)
This is definitely the best Pink Floyd album. Nothing they did before or since approached 'Dark Side Of The Moon' in my opinion ('Wish You Were here' came close). It was also the first Pink Floyd album I ever heard, nigh on 30 years ago and I still listen to it regularly. It's not dated one iota. In fact I think I'm on my 3rd or 4th copy (thank God for saving onto computer hard drives so I don't have to buy it again!). The scope of 'Dark Side Of The Moon' is truly immense with its exploration of the darker side of human nature encompassing time, death, money, war, and madness. It was released at a time when the "concept album" was all the rage but unlike most of its competitors this stands up on its own merit purely because the music is so good. Someone wrote below complaining there are no songs on this! Does everything have to be segregated into a bunch of 3.5 minute tracks? This is an epic! The opening "song" (Breathe) following the introduction "Speak to Me" is superb on its own - better than most "songs" any band could ever manage. "Time" keeps up the standard and after a brief reprise into "Breathe" the highlight of the album in my eyes follows. "Great Gig In The Sky" is simply one of the most inspired pieces of music ever written - just a shame it was used on a naff advert for ibuprofen. The second side is just as good. "Money" has been played to death but it still works as a good rock song though to be honest it's probably the weakest part of the album. "Us and Them" brings the album back to its best. The whole thing finishes on a masterstroke in "Brain Damage" and "Eclipse" which is one of the best closing tracks on any album I've ever heard. To be honest I can't believe there's anyone out there who hasn't heard 'Dark Side of the Moon' (why the hell am I writing this then?). However just in case there is someone out there who doesn't know it - buy the album, lie down, turn the lights off and close your eyes....

Horrid Henry's Big Bad Book: Ten Favourite Stories - and more!
Horrid Henry's Big Bad Book: Ten Favourite Stories - and more!
by Francesca Simon
Edition: Hardcover

30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I would heartily recommend this to any parent, 15 Aug. 2006
This was bought for my 7-year old son a few months ago with a view to encouraging him to start reading for himself. This definitely did the trick. He's now read all of the Horrid Henry books, all of Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants books and started reading 'Goosebumps' books. This has taken just a few months from him showing little interest in reading fiction to himself to now reading every night before he goes to sleep. He really enjoys this particular book and I think he's read it three times now. I would heartily recommend this to any parent trying to get their kids to read. It's great to hear my son laughing away to himself completely wrapped up in this book.

Captain Underpants: Three Pant-tastic Novels in One
Captain Underpants: Three Pant-tastic Novels in One
by Dav Pilkey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth every penny!, 13 Aug. 2006
Its's very hard writing a review about something that i haven't read myself but I feel compelled to here. Got this for my seven year old son a while back. His reading was fine but he showed little inclination to read much by himself. Captain Underpants has changed all that!! He regularly sits down reading now instead of wanting to watch TV all of the time. Not only that but he reads to himself in bed every night! It really has improved his reading and his appreciation of books no end. he now reads so much more. Hearing him in fits of giggles reading his Captain Underpants books is fantastic. Well worth every penny!

Price: £12.52

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb compilation of Neil Young's early work, 13 Aug. 2006
This review is from: Decade (Audio CD)
This was my introduction to neil Young. Previous to this all I had heard was "Like a Hurricane" which I always found fantastic. Not knowing any of his other work I plunged in and bought this. What a fantastic album! Generally I'm not much of a fan of compilations but for this I make an exception. It really is the perfect introduction to Neil Young's early work (1967-77). Standout tracks on the album include of course "Like a Hurricane". But there is so much more to Neil Young than this. His early efforts "Down to the Wire" and "Broken Arrow" performed with Buffalo Springfield are a revelation - true classics. The same goes for later songs like "Cinnamon Girl", "Sugar Mountain", "Needle and the Damage Done" and "Down by the River". This is a must buy for anyone. There's enough here for everybody whatever their musical taste such is the breadth of styles that Neil Young uses. After this I've since bought many more of Young's albums and not been disappointed. This is the perfect place to start. (9/10)

Rain Dogs
Rain Dogs
Price: £7.26

63 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I heard she has a wooden leg, 13 Aug. 2006
This review is from: Rain Dogs (Audio CD)
This is the Tom Waits album that I keep coming back to. It was also the first one I heard many years ago and its appeal has really lasted. For anyone who hasn't heard any of Waits' music before it is also the ideal point to come in. Some of his earlier and later works ('Small Change', 'Real Gone', 'Frank's Wild Years')are much more inaccessible and require a lot of patience whilst his early stuff like 'Heart of saturday Night' is pretty unrepresentative of the bulk of his work. 'Rain Dogs' has the advantage of perfectly capturing the spirit of Waits but also being an album of very good songs. But be prepared to work at it if you are coming to Tom Waits fresh then he requires a couple of listens after the initial reaction of "What the hell is this!?!" It is wonderously atmospheric in its representation of society's dark underbelly. Waits' gravelly, liquor-soaked voice fits perfectly with the weird, carnivalesque music of tracks like "Singapore", "Rain Dogs" and "Cemetary Polka" whilst the latino-inspired "Jockey Full of Boubon" is a wonder. The lyrics throughout are simply amazing - lyrics don't come much better than "Uncle Bill will never leave a will, and the tumor is as big as an egg. He has a mistress, she's Puerto Rican, and I heard she has a wooden leg". There are just too many standout tracks here to mention, true of 'Rain Dogs' more than any other of Waits' albums. However, "Time" is simply Waits at his best musically whilst "9th and Hennepin" is him at his most poetic and evocative. Musically this album has taken virtually the entire gamut of music from jazz, blues, latin dance, rock, Cajun and American folk as its inspiration. Its beyond measure in its reach. One of the best albums ever made. (10/10 - I've loved this for years, I still do)

The Wicker Man - The Director's Cut (DVD) [1973]
The Wicker Man - The Director's Cut (DVD) [1973]
Dvd ~ Edward Woodward
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £9.94

47 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A genuine classic of British cinema., 12 Aug. 2006
This is one of the best British films ever made - simply that! Considering its pretty low budget it is staggering how good this is. There is no other film that compares to this, it really belongs in a genre all of its own. Made in a time when horror films were completely formulaic (the same is still true I guess) this film really broke the mold. I must have seen this film 20 or 30 times over the years and I still love it.

Christopher Lee (Lord Summerisle) describes this as his greatest moment. Perhaps you think well so what, he didn't have that many, but here he is excellent. Edward Woodward also gives a tremendous performance as Sergeant Howie. The other main actors maybe aren't so good but what really makes this film is the contribution of the bit part actors and extras many of whom were local repertory players or just members of the public. They give the film a real authentic feel. The script and the storyline are truly excellent and the ending still shocks.

But the absolute best thing about this is the music. Composed by Paul Giovanni. This has to be some of the most fitting film score ever written. It just goes with the film so well. To be honest I pretty much hate "musicals" but in the case of the Wicker Man I don't feel worried that people start bursting into song - it just goes so well with the storyline and adds the quirky feel that makes this film a cult classic.

The good thing about this release on DVD is that it gives you a chance to compare the butchered cinema release version (which most people will have seen as this is the version generally shown on TV) to the extended directors cut version which is infinitely better. A few of the scenes on this version are a little dodgy in quality due to the difficulties restoring this film (see the book "Inside the Wicker Man" which is also excellent). However the presence of scenes such as "Gently Johnny" certainly add to the film.

A genuine classic of British cinema.

Five Leaves Left
Five Leaves Left
Offered by Side Two
Price: £7.85

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest albums ever made, 12 Aug. 2006
This review is from: Five Leaves Left (Audio CD)
For anyone who hasn't listened to Nick Drake's music before, this is probably the best place to start. Listen to this and I guarantee that you will buy 'Pink Moon' and 'Bryter Later' within weeks - if you do you won't be disappointed. Both in their own way are as good as this and that's saying something! 'Five Leaves Left' is simply a masterpiece. There isn't a bad or even a mediocre track on this album. Every single note is imbued with a beauty that few artists ever attain, yet this was Drake's debut! From the wonderful opener "Time Has Told Me" to the bluesy "Saturday Sun" the album maintains excellent quality. All Drake's guitar playing and singing is fantastic but what really makes this album one of the greatest albums ever made are the collection of melancholic string-laden songs that make up the meat of the album. "Way To Blue", "Day Is Done" and "Cello Song" are masterpieces, simply stunning. Listen to them and be beguiled. Once you've heard these tracks you will forever compare them to anything you listen to and mostly find everything else wanting. Yet THE standout track on the album rises above even this. "Fruit Tree" just has to be one of the saddest songs ever recorded especially in view of what eventually became of Nick Drake - utterly prescient. 'Five Leaves Left' is truly one of the best albums I've ever heard. If you haven't heard it yet, get it. It'll be the best thing you ever do! Couldn't be anything but 10/10

The Secret Migration
The Secret Migration
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £4.56

2 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I just can't listen to this with a straight face!, 3 Aug. 2006
This review is from: The Secret Migration (Audio CD)
I've tried. I've listened to it a few times but I just don't get it. Why is this album so highly rated?? I find it unimaginative and very middle of the road. Yes it got some "nice" bits of backing music in it, but they really are just bits. I was a complete stranger to Mercury Rev before I bought this on a whim - fact is, I still am. I just don't know what to make of them at all. This album was on my list of recommendations from Amazon. Many times I've bought on the strength of this and been delighted. This time I feel cheated. The very worst thing about this album (and there are many bad things) is the singing. The singing! I just can't listen to this with a straight face. It sounds like Keith Harris on acid!! All I can picture is a stupid green fluffy duck sitting on this guy's arm whilst he's warbling into the microphone. I just can't get this, why aren't they embarrased by the vocals here - this guy has one of the world's worst singing voices. Some of the songs are so middle of the road they seem to be a homage to the very worst of 80's soft rock (think Hall and Oates trying to sing psychedelic-ish prog rock). Lyrically it's almost entirely whimsical and naive. I can't think of anything really good to say about this. Definitely one to avoid.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 22, 2012 11:55 PM BST

Espers II
Espers II
Price: £8.45

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulously beautiful, 3 Aug. 2006
This review is from: Espers II (Audio CD)
This is absolutely stunning! It must be a candidate for best album of the year! Espers II is gloriously dark, fabulously beautiful slice of psychedelic folk rock. Reminiscent of the music of "The Wicker Man", it outdoes this and more evoking 50 minutes of shear dreamy paganesque magnificence. It opens with an acoustic guitar on "Dead Queen" that bears more than a passing resemblance to the opening bars of Stairway to Heaven. However this is no rip off of Zeppelin circa the folkier bits of III and IV. The vocals on this track and throughout the album are just sublime. At the same time the music is truly beautiful and perfectly complements the singing. The second track, "Widow's Weed", is darker. The acoustics are joined by powerful, menacing electric guitar and drums. There's almost a bit of Floyd's "Echoes" towards the end of this (you know the middle part with the crows etc). After this the album calms down to the melodic but melancholy "Cruel Storm". Again the vocals are superb. Then we move on to "Children of Stone", probably the best track on the album. Reminiscent of Fairport Convention at their best. After that "Mansfield and Cyclops" feels like a bit of an anticlimax but it still excellent. "Dead King" is next. This again captures the spirit of the album as a whole. Very dark and epic in its scope. Starting with a beautiful flute melody it buils throughout via lots of drums and some well-used electronics. The final track (a little like the Incredible String Band with electric guitars?) is not quite up to the standard of the rest but that's such a high standard its not surprising. This is a fabulously rich piece of work. You could get yourself very lost for 50 minutes listening to this. Definitely worth buying.

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