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Stewart M (Victoria, Australia)

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Alice in Wonderland (Wordsworth Classics)
Alice in Wonderland (Wordsworth Classics)
by Lewis Carroll
Edition: Paperback
Price: 1.89

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Proceed with caution, 22 Sep 2013
As I was reading this book two things surprised me. The first surprise was that there were so many phrases and small scenes that I recognized. While I knew the book is considered a "classic", it has obviously been mined by just about every other form of media - from The Goodies to Stage Plays.

The second thing that surprised me was why I kept on reading. To all intense and purposes this book is without a plot and is basically a random collection of bizarre conversations arranged as chapters. While I understand that the original draft of the book may have been written with some narcotic assistance, I don't see why so much of this book managed to get through the editorial stage. In this regard it felt like a blessing that the book was mercifully brief.

The chapter where Alice meets the Gryphon is the most amusing section of the book, but only if you like shocking puns.

It seems to be that this story has neither the charming simplicity of Beatrix Potter, nor the wistful Zen wisdom of Pooh. However, it is clearly a cultural touchstone and it may be worth reading just for that.

Proceed with extreme caution.

Rogue Justice
Rogue Justice
by Geoffrey Household
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much of a boys own adventure...., 8 Sep 2013
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This review is from: Rogue Justice (Paperback)
This is the much delayed and (apparently) much anticipated sequel to Rogue Male. The first book was published in 1939, while this book was released in 1982. Much had changed in the 43 years between these two books.

While the first book seemed plausible - a story of revenge and survival, mostly set in the closeted countryside of Dorset - the second seems to be a "boys own adventure", that releases the hero of both stories as an anonymous gentleman killing machine. Knives, rifles and deep muddy bogs are deployed to kill enemy soldiers with an ease that echoes some of the more ridiculous action feature films of the 1980s.

But, in brief passages in the early part of the book, and for about its final 1/3 the book it takes on a more subtle and believable tone. The relentless killing of the first part of the book does take a toll on our now named hero, and he begins to question what he is doing. The scenes where he is being questioned (again) at the end of the book are the best sections of this slim volume.

This is not a long book - less the 160 pages - and it does tie up all the loose ends from Rogue Male. But I think I would only recommend it if you are a real fan of thrillers or action / suspense novels.

As a rider to my review I think I need to say that I don't read very many novels of this type, and this of course may have affected my review.

Proceed with caution.

by Brian Kimberling
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Its not about birdwatching!, 26 Aug 2013
This review is from: Snapper (Paperback)
When I finished reading this book I was slightly confused. I was still trying to pin down that idea or theme that centers the book.

Now the one thing I can be sure of is that, despite the "bird watching" in the title, this is not a book about bird watching. Some bird watching does occur - but it is not a book about birds.

I think - and I'm going out on limb here - that this is a book about transitions, from one job to another, from one relationship to another and from one place to another.

Both a girl and a place are recurring themes in this book as its central character - Nathan - moves through life. They both seem to be "centers" around which he builds his life, but away from which he is slowly moving.

This is an comfortable, interesting read, but I would like to have it explained to me why somebody thought it was a good idea to sub-title the book "Birdwatching's no line of work for a man".

Gently recommended.

The Fall of Arthur
The Fall of Arthur
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.34

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It will all depend on what you want, 25 Aug 2013
This review is from: The Fall of Arthur (Hardcover)
This is, to steal a line from elsewhere, a book of two halves. There is the poem itself, running to no more than a few hundred lines, and comprising a very slim section of the book. Secondly there is an "Introduction" and (for want of a better phrase) and "After" section written by Christopher Tolkien.

The poem itself, is interesting enough, and in fact begs to be read aloud. It adds another string to the already tightly woven threat of things Arthurian, and is of course interesting because of the style in which it was written - Alliterative Verse.

The second section contains the microanalysis of JRRT's ideas, motifs and motivations in writing the poem. This reads like the similar sections in the posthumous publications - ie serious, meticulous and soporific for all but the most dedicated of fans.

So, I think the poem itself is worthwhile, but at this price it may be better to wait for the paperback version. If the second section - the analysis - appeals to you, then this is the version to purchase.

Rogue Male
Rogue Male
by Geoffrey Household
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.91

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great read with Dorset as a lead character., 4 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Rogue Male (Paperback)
I came to this book through two rather different directions - firstly through the writings of Robert Macfarlane and secondly (but prompted by the first) as a memory of a film I had seen as a kid, many, many years ago.

In some ways I am glad I had these introductions to this book, because without them I doubt I would have ever read this rather splendid book.

Set in an England that was sleep walking into war, the central character - The Rouge Male - is captured pointing a hunting rifle at the leader of a country who bears more than a passing resemblance to Hitler. He is tortured and a plan hatched to dispose of his body. This plan fails and he escapes to England.

Now, should you be worried I have given away too much of the plot, most of what I have described occurs in the first ten pages.

The book does not continue at this rapid pace, and in fact slows to a detailed meander. However, it never becomes dull. In fact the detail allows for the painting of the other central character in the book - the Dorset countryside.

This is a book of very many layers - some simple, like the game of cat and mouse between the hunter and the hunted, some less simple like the growing relationship between two hunters and how the death of one gives life to another. But between and inside all of these themes is the English countryside - a place where you can hide, a place where you can escape and (possibly most importantly) a place that can defeat an "alien" force.

It's a cracking read that I recommend rather highly.

(On a different note I liked the fact that Robert Macfarlane, who wrote a new introduction to the story had the decency to tell you to stop reading his words and read the novel instead.)

Through the Woods
Through the Woods
by H. E. Bates
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.20

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars More than just the woods through a year, 1 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Through the Woods (Paperback)
On the surface of it, this book looks like a conventional account of English woodlands throughout the course of a year. The book begins with a chapter called "The Wood in April" and end with one called "The Circle has Turned", even the subtitle of the book is "The English Woodland -April to April".

But to approach this book on the basis of this description would miss some key, maybe even central ideas, about this book.

While the book does adopt a familiar chronological structure, this seems only to be a convenient structure on which to hang a more astute examination on how woodlands impact on us - and to a lesser extent how we impact on them.

Much of the book is really about the "woodland of the mind" - the remembered and imagined woodland of childhood and a desire to return to them. Although the author admits that this is not possible, because both the woodland and the child have changed.

This book is by turns, gentle, detailed and occasionally passionate. The extremes of passion are directed at a Game Keeper (or Under Keeper) that Bates encounteres on a number of occasions. He does not hold back in telling us exactly what he thinks of this person.

All in all, this is a book I would recommend rather highly.

by Robert Macfarlane
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 10.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A small book about a small landscape., 21 July 2013
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This review is from: Holloway (Hardcover)
This is a very brief, but nonetheless enjoyable book. It runs to much less than its 40 pages because many are taken up with rather good illustrations, blank pages and a text layout that is not economical with space.

The book itself is an extension of some of Macfarlane's earlier work - where he travelled through the Holloways of southern England with the late Roger Deakin.

This means that although the book has some wonderful passages, it does not really cover any new ground.

The text itself is often self consciously clever (a bit of a marker for Macfarlane) and contains a number of annoying artifacts; sections of text that are sourced from elsewhere are simply inserted as italicized text, and rather than use "and" the text uses "&". This makes the text look strangely uneven and cluttered.

This is brief and detailed (if this is possible) journey through a small landscape, which at times feels just a little too much like a vanity project for an author who seems to take himself just a little too seriously.

I enjoyed the book, but I have a sneaky feeling it only saw the light of day because authors name and its links to the much admired Roger Deakin.

I would recommend this book, but I think it's important to understand the brief scale and scope of the material you are paying for.

Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales
Gossip from the Forest: The Tangled Roots of Our Forests and Fairytales
by Sara Maitland
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Splendid (but do a little fact checking as well), 4 July 2013
The central premise of this book is that the stories that people tell are heavily influenced by the environment in which they (the stories) are created. This makes sense.

Flowing from this is the idea that the majority of Fairy Tales - taken here to be those transcribed from the oral tradition by the Brothers Grimm - were created within and about forests. Again, given the geographic origin of these tales, this also makes sense.

By putting these ideas together the author suggests we can learn about both forests and ourselves by looking again at these Fairy Stories. But this is not just a reworking of the "psychological" arguments analysis of Fairy Tales - where every tale has a deeper meaning - but an attempt to make sense of the themes of the tales by reference to the places they were made. And by and large this works.

The book is presented as a series of paired chapters where the first one these is based within in a named real woodland - mainly, but not exclusively, ancient woodlands. The second of the pair is a reworking a fairy tale. This does not mean its just Snow White with computers - but often a major retelling. This builds a wonderful example of the author's contention that landscapes create stories. Each woodland is different and so is each story.

I think its clear that the author loves both woodlands and fairy stories and by blending both into a single book I thinks she hopes we will come to see greater value in both. The "woodland" chapters seek to explore the "real" woodlands - with an emphasis on ecology and landscape history, while the "fairy tale" chapters are more about the symbolic importance of woodlands to story telling. This feels like a bold effort to link science and art in a way that improves both.

But (there is always a "but") there are a few mistakes of science in the book - which pedants like me will spot and use to question some of the other things that are presented. This is a real shame, as the errors really are rather minor (trees don't spread by the movement of pollen, but by the movement of seeds for example) and don't really detract from the central thrust of the book. It's just that they jarred when I read them.

Overall, I would recommend this interesting book to anybody with an interest in either woodlands or story telling. I think it achieves something rather different and generally effective in its approach to exploring why we should value woodlands.


Freeze Frame: A Wildlife Cameraman's Adventures on Ice
Freeze Frame: A Wildlife Cameraman's Adventures on Ice
by Doug Allan
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 25.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Great - with one little problem, 26 May 2013
This is a splendid collection of images from the cold places of the world - the Artic, the Antarctic and high mountains.

As you move through book you follow the career development of Doug Allen, and he gives you enough information for you to understand that he has a great talent, but that he has also managed to be in the right place at the right time on more than one occasion.

The book manages to steer a course between giving enough technical detail for readers interested in the photographic elements of the photographs, enough biological information for wildlife lovers and enough material on climate change for people concerned about the fate of these cold environments. And the pictures make all this text come alive.

As with many photographic books, a number of the images are printed across two pages and this does reduce their impact. I have to say that I don't think this a very wise move here. Many of the double page images only have about 1/5 of the image on the second page - so the whole image is compromised to some extent without there being a significant increase in the size of the whole print. Most of these split page image could have been reproduced on a single page, with no annoying valley and at almost the same size. This is the only reason for giving this book four stars.

Great picture, great story, great book, great read - slight annoying presentation.

But still recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 21, 2013 10:58 AM GMT

by Kathleen Jamie
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Gentle, but observant., 24 May 2013
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This review is from: Findings (Paperback)
This is a gentle book, which explores aspects of both the natural and man-made environments. Scottish to the core, but with an eye for things that are more world-wide, Kathleen Jamie has a wonderful turn of phrase and a eye for detail.

If you like contemplative, slow moving, walks through interesting places then this may be the book for you. There are no major cliffs to be scales, no desperate snowy landscapes, just accessible places where most readers could walk, but most probably wont.

The contemplation of darkness, peregrines, the endless call of invisible corncrakes and a collection of preserved anatomical specimens all provide a landscape for exploration. (With this last topic being, surprisingly, one of the best sections in the book).

I don't think this book says anything particularly new, but it does use some rather wonderful prose to explore familiar ground.

Highly recommended.

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