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Reviews Written by
Stewart M (Victoria, Australia)
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Collins Classics)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Collins Classics)
by Mark Twain
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.50

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful view into the mind of growing kids!, 18 Oct. 2013
This is a really wonderful read. The fact that I need to say that is based on my experiences of other classics, which I have often found disappointing! Nothing could be further from the case here.

Although the settings - and some of the behaviors - in this book are dated, it is the understanding of the minds of the young characters that makes the book so readable.

The `psychology' aspect of the book has not really dated at all - the need to impress and be wanted and the "you'll be sorry when I'm gone" thoughts leading up to a runaway are all wonderfully explored.

This is not a long book, but it is a good one.

Highly recommended.

Down The River :
Down The River :
by H.E. Bates
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Two Rivers and two sides to almost everything, 14 Oct. 2013
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This review is from: Down The River : (Hardcover)
I think this book could do with an extra "s" in the title - so that it became "Down the Rivers".

This is because so much about this book seems to deal with double view of things - and I think making the title plural would seem sensible.

Firstly, and most simply, the book is about two rivers - The Ouse and the Nene. These are the rivers that Bates explored as a child, and it is clear that these two rivers were as important to him as the woods he also described in Through the Woods.

He splits the rivers into upper and lower sections - with the lower sections being the industrial sections near the coast - and compares them with each other. He compares that whole length of each river, and he compares the people who live along the rivers.

In each comparison there always seems to be a winner - or a favorite. Now, when he is comparing the gentle upper reaches of a river with its industrial estuary, there is little scope for controversy. Equally, in comparing a largely commercial river with a rural one there is little scope for ambiguity on which is the most attractive.

But it's when Bates applies his pen to the people of the two rivers that the duality of this analysis breaks down. One river is people by the salt of the Earth, while the other is peopled by lackeys and pretenders. While he may simply be repeating things from his now long gone childhood, the venom which is poured on the inhabitants of one of the rivers is really rather remarkable.

This pattern of an apparently real dislike for a single group of people (or person) was present in another of the author's books about his childhood countryside - Through the Woods.

Otter hunters are also subjected to withering analysis in this book - although on this point I think what the author has to say is valid.

The book seems determined to be able to class all things as good or bad, heaven or hell, saint or sinner. This extends to the landscapes as well - which are described with an almost dewy eyed romanticism or dismissed as rat infested dumps. Of course, there are exceptions to this, but they do not dominate the book.

In the end this book read as a rather old fashioned, possibly class ridden, but at times wonderfully evocative, story of two rivers.

Recommended (just).

Shadow of the Thylacine: One Man's Epic Search for the Tasmanian Tiger
Shadow of the Thylacine: One Man's Epic Search for the Tasmanian Tiger
Price: £6.23

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good - but a little too long, 11 Oct. 2013
The Thylacine - or Tasmania Tiger - was (or is?) a remarkable animal in many ways.

From a biological viewpoint it's a great example of convergent evolution - where the "floor plan" of a kangaroo slowly changed into a wolf-like creature.

But possibly the most remarkable thing about this animal is just how many people remain passionately interested in an animal that is officially extinct. The problem with the Thylacine's status of being extinct is that people keep seeing them!

The author, Col Baily, has spent hundreds of hours searching for the Thylacine (and there will be no spoilers on the outcome) in Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. He considers himself an expert about the animal.

This book is more a diary of the author's searches rather than a book about the Thylacine itself. And this is both its weakness and its strength.

I would suggest that at least 20% of the book could have been removed at an editorial stage and the story remained intact. We read of every film the author has been invited to participate, of every trip he takes into the wilderness and of a large number of sighting made by other people. Although these help show how interested the world is in the Thylacine and how hard it is to see one in the flesh, the detail becomes its downfall.

Col clearly keeps wonderful notes of all his trips and adventures - but I think some should have been pruned from the final text.

I enjoyed this book - it read like a bit of an old time treasure hunt - but with no treasure map and a constantly moving "X marks the spot".

I think some of his views on the role of tourism in Tasmania may be flavored by a need no longer to earn a living (he is a retired landscape gardener) - and they jar a little with the rest of the book.

All in all this is a highly readable book - but one which is a little too long on detail in some places.

I'm not sure how it will impact on the "are they still out there?" debate - but I have say, I hope they are!


Quarterly Essay 51 The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell
Quarterly Essay 51 The Prince: Faith, Abuse and George Pell
Price: £9.47

4.0 out of 5 stars A concerning story, 11 Oct. 2013
Cardinal George Pell is the spiritual mentor of the recently elected Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. This book is the story of how Pell rose through the ranks of the Catholic hierarchy in Australia to become both prominent and powerful in the Vatican.

This may seem to be a story that is only of interest to those who live in Australia and are watching with real concern the actions of the government.

But this is a story that has a wider importance than to just Australian domestic politics; Pell has been central to the Catholic Church's response to its child abuse crisis.

He helped shape the policy and practice that (largely) protected the abusers and sworn the victims to silence afterwards. He was accused of abuse himself - and the wording of the enquiry into that claim hardly read as a ringing endorsement of his innocence.

If this book highlight one thing it is that long established organization - more concerned with their image than their flock - cannot be trusted to police themselves.

Interesting, but ultimately rather depressing, reading.

Recommended to those who see the need to keep religion out of politics.

PS: The four star rating is because I think the book is important, rather than that I "liked" it.

PPS: this review was based on the hard copy version of the essay

Regeneration (Regeneration Trilogy)
Regeneration (Regeneration Trilogy)
by Pat Barker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The horror of the minds eye, 26 Sept. 2013
This is a really excellent book. And what makes it so good in my opinion is its ability to throw a light on the destructive horror of WW1 without graphic descriptions of death in the front line, but by the simple and straightforward depiction of what happens to people who witness such things.

The madness does not lie in the ill and the damaged men that come to life in the pages; the madness lies it what they were expected to do.

The presence of Wilfred Owen in the book (along with two other real characters and one fictional one) does rather introduce the end at the beginning. His story is too well known for you not to understand his fate as soon as he arrives in the story. But even this does not take away from the power of the book.

The books straightforward style makes it easy to read in some ways- but when you start to think about what the book is saying it becomes more difficult.

How could we ask, and continue to ask, people to do such things in our name?

Highly recommended.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Wordsworth Classics)
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (Wordsworth Classics)
by Lewis Carroll
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Proceed with caution, 22 Sept. 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

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much of a boys own adventure...., 8 Sept. 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: £7.99

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: £13.48

15 of 16 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: £8.99

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
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
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.)

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