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Reviews Written by
Mr. J. M. Haines (Merseyside)

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The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection [Falcon Collections]
The Complete Sherlock Holmes Collection [Falcon Collections]
Price: £0.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Come Watson! The Kindle!, 27 Jun. 2016
Although this generous collection is worth every one of the 5 star rating, I think there are some things which anyone new to the whole Doyle / Sherlock shebang should take on board, although of course as ever, it's only my opinion.

If it were not for the 4 novels, I think this would only weigh in at 4 stars, now 4 would still be an indicator of excellence of course, but it's the review version of the difference between A and A Star in British school exams. The fact is, as enjoyable as each and every one is, the short stories, which, in number far outweigh the novels, are very light in nature - very enjoyable of course, but belie the taxing of the brain we associate with all things Holmesey.

A minor quibble really, still a crackin' collection, and with the combined novels and shorts, well worth it's 5 stars.

Mr Holmes
Mr Holmes
by Mitch Cullin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1.0 out of 5 stars This would have made Mark Twain book a swift 18 at Saint Andrews, 27 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Mr Holmes (Paperback)
I thought it was a Shakespeare play - Much Ado About Nothing. There is nothing to this, it's like being offered tasters, which then don't develop.

1. The lad's snooping; I wanted Sherlock to realise someone had been at his private stuff; it needn't have been a sound thrashing or even a strong verbal rebuke, just for us to know that he knows, he always knows type of thing. 2. The English story is a big big nothing, a total waste of time in all aspects. 3. The Japan setting promised hopefully much but at least something, it delivered nothing either.

I suspect the film managed to pump this up a hundredfold as can sometimes happen with poor source material, but I haven't seen it and nor am I inspired to do so on this basis.

Sorry, Mitch, Babe, the nice film rights aside, this is not your shining literary hour.

Some Luck (Last Hundred Years Trilogy)
Some Luck (Last Hundred Years Trilogy)
by Jane Smiley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1.0 out of 5 stars Same old, same old, same old. Sorry., 23 Jun. 2016
This book is so so formulaic; I was able to guess some scenes / events with spooky accuracy, and many more in the ballpark.

Think of your typical Farmer John, US style. Think of the hard-going 20s and 30s, add in an Ingles or Waltons style family to complement said farmer John in his bib and brace / dungarees; factor in gradually growing family with offspring with differing characteristics; throw in the optimism of the post depression years, marred of course, for some, by WW2, let's not forget one or two untimely deaths and others less tragic after a long hard and fruitful life, and bingo, you have it.

I am sorry the above is so harsh, but, accepting it is of course just my opinion,, well my opinion is, this story or those very similar, have been done do death - in print, and on the small and big screens. No, parts 2 and 3 will not darken my future reading list.

Wuthering Heights (Centaur Classics) [The 100 greatest novels of all time - #7]
Wuthering Heights (Centaur Classics) [The 100 greatest novels of all time - #7]
Price: £0.00

5.0 out of 5 stars Oddly constructed - but brilliant nonetheless, 22 Jun. 2016
For what it's worth of a book almost 200 years old, some of the following comments and points are I suppose spoilers to some degree, so if only about to read this for the first time, it may be best to skip this review.

The first comment I would like to make is somewhat of a digression from strict review format, but I am sure you don't mind indulging me for a para' or two.

It strikes me that British singer Kate Bush has an awful lot to answer for. This is courtesy of the video to her 1978 song 'Wuthering Heights'. The thing is, this book does NOT solely concern itself with a moor-bound bewailing moaning female apparition, urging her earthy lover on to join her in eternity (or, if that's inconvenient, to let her in the window!) However, seemingly contradicting myself but not really, Ms Bush did, I think, manage to capture the spirit (or should that be the spirit of the spirit? Your choice), of the eponymous Heathcliffe.

OK, the book itself. Wuthering Heights is about an already recklessly amoral foundling, Taken from a gypsy family by a kindly father. Heathcliffe is the lad's name - either first or last name is of no consequence, he's just Heathcliffe. He grows up far too high spirited, without scruples, but the trouble is, he drags young Catherine Earnshaw (the first Cathy) along with him, who is just as uncontrollable as he is. But one unjolly jape too far sees Cathy slightly hurt while climbing and spying on the family in the next big house over the moor, these just happen to be relations and they immediately recognise the young voyeuristic tomboy as one of their own, and duly tend to her wounds. Fatal. She falls for her cousin and is soon wed, marginalising the emotionally bereft Heathcliffe. The still young man cannot take much of this, and departs without a bye or leave, although with every intent to return one day and bring to ruin both sides of the family that has taken away his true soul mate.

Here the story morphs in stages from the original relationships, non-existent or at least highly strained as they may be, between Heathliffe, Cathy and her husband and both families. Heathcliffe duly returns a hardened evil man without care or pity for anyone, bar Cathy of course. After he inveigles his way back into Wuthering Heights, over thew way, Cathy is denied the friendship of her childhood playmate, and basically she begins to pine. Heathcliffe then elopes with another of Catherine's cousins. They return a while later, to find that Cathy is pregnant, but dies not long after giving birth, leaving behind a daughter, another Cath.

Isobella, Heathcliffe's wife, eventually realises she is in a marriage from hell, and leaves Heathcliffe, taking their young son Linton with them. But then Isobella dies too and he comes to live with Cathy and her husband.

From this point on, Heathcliffe, while pining for Cathy and obsessing over her (he is where we get the iconic images I think, of moor-bound wailing and tragic fruitless searching by Heathcliffe for his lost soul-mate) steps up his vendetta on both sides of a family that he considers has badly wronged him.

Alongside these very central characters, there are others who colour the book in some way; Mrs Ellen 'Nelly' Dean, a sort of one-up with brains version of the gin soaked tittle tattles, which gave the likes of Kathleen Harrison their bread on stage and screen, Mr Lockwood, basically an interested bystander, a mad unchristian parson of sorts, and a lumbering ox type young boy. Of all these, the first two were handy vehicles to bring us the tale in the first place.

The construction of this book / the way the tale is brought to the reader is very odd indeed, but, effective. Basically, a temporary tenant of Heathcliffe's, (years after the main events of the book but shown to us early on in it), has a short, sharp encounter with Heathcliffe and his household, Mr Lockwood, picks the brain of one Nelly Dean, who knows the full history of the goings on at the two big houses and has no problem telling Mr Lockwood every single blessed detail. For the bulk of the story, Nelly is the narrator. Also, going back to Ms Bush and her bemoaning moor-bound banshee, although Heathcliffe does experience something mildly akin to this, Mr Lockwood either dreams or actually experiences the 'let me in the window' scene. So maybe this image we all have is really a spock-like melding of the two men's experiences.

I am not too sure if this Wordsworth edition has the range of notes from various contributors that I obtained, but if so, do give them a read, they are interesting. Apparently there's something more (a little more) to at first, to Lockwood, than meets the eye. Apparently he, to use the modern parlance 'got off'on hearing all about the first Catherine. But also, some of these literary folks providing the notes reckon there was more to the story than what it seems at first, and some even reckon that alhtough Nelly is very definitely the main narrator, she cannot be relied on. Yep, the unreliable narrator was going even in the 1800s, apparently. I must admit to not feeling this myself though, but you may agree with this, and that's fine.

All in all, a great but not happy story at all, and one that does end suddenly.

Just William: 4 books pack collection (Still William / William Again / William At War / William The Fourth £23.96)
Just William: 4 books pack collection (Still William / William Again / William At War / William The Fourth £23.96)
by Richmal Crompton
Edition: Paperback

1.0 out of 5 stars Puzzled, 22 Jun. 2016
I don't really hate it of course, but what does the inclusion of other modern authors mean? Are these reprints of Richmal Crompton's works or not? I hope someone who knows replies; it seems a good bargain - if they are 4 proper Just William books.

by Henry Fielding
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars Great tale - when you get to the tale, 19 Jun. 2016
If I were to review the core tale, I would have given this 4 stars, but seeing as the book is interspersed with much author-voice moralising and musing making a very long book far longer still, then I can only give it 3 stars. But this annoyance aside:

Although not all scenes are bawdy, there is enough straight talking references to sex (to a degree, with the era in mind of course) that makes it stand out from most other classic novels. However, I suspect most readers are expecting the eponymous Tom to be in a great number of landlord's daughters' and other wenches beds, every five minutes, he isn't, but nor is he particularly slow in doing so at certain points in the book.

Basically, Tom Jones is presumed to be a foundling. He is left in the care of a wealthy and kindly man, only to find his kin and his household take exception to Tom's being brought up as a son / on equal terms with his actual son. Fortunately for his enemies, including said real son, Tom finds himself led through life far too often by his nether regions rather than his head; this then supplies much of the ammunition which he is then beaten with and eventually cast out, although - his enemies have magnified his faults to a far greater degree than is the reality, but this was enough to finally test the patience of his benefactor resulting in his forced removal from home and polite society.

The story rolls on, and we see a gradual change in Tom, not that he was ever a baddun at all, but his head - and heart- begin to win the battle with his trousers, and, with the aid of friends and sheer good fortune, things begin to swing more in Tom's favour.

The true tale is a really good read; but I would advise spending time looking for a seriously abridged version, one that chops all the useless guff from Fielding which mars each chapter.

Pride and Prejudice (Collins Classics)
Pride and Prejudice (Collins Classics)
Price: £0.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Great Tale from a limited Setting, 19 Jun. 2016
Although the story we get is very limited in settings / theatre / arena etc etc, in fact whatever you want to call it, what there is, is, in my opinion, brilliantly done.

Most people who have never actually read the book and have glanced up to see trailers of TV and film adaptations, will think, I think, that the book is really about Darcy and nothing else / no one else, but of course, this is not the case.

The Bennetts are the central characters, with Miss Elizabeth Bennett the main one from these. The book is formulaic but not in a tiring way; all 5 Bennett children have their own personalities - spirited / shy / respectful / bookish, wild (to a degree), and no one quality is exclusive to the other across most of the family.

Basically, although there are many strands to the tale, a young Elizabeth and a young Darcy meet at a ball, and at this stage of the story, the latter does not distinguish himself very well at all. But time is the thing here, as time goes by some negative characteristics are tempered, others turn out to be unfortunate misperceptions. For the sake of those, like me, who have only recently read a book first published 203 years go, then I won't spoil the development of this part of the tale, nor any other hopefully.

Running alongside Elizabeth's tale are the usual suspects of Victorian big house dramas: a put-upon kindly father; a husband-finding mother of her girls; class considerations, he's / she's not of our sort; living obsessed parsons; cads, perceived cads; gentlemen or perceived to be; putting on dinners to outdo the neighbours, the works.

My mention of a limited arena is made due to the fact that there are no lengthy scenes recorded away from the big houses, mainly the drawing rooms of course; and travel, for the most part, is simply the journey from one big house to the next, but for all that, it is an entertaining and highly engaging read. One of the very best of the era.

Liverpool Miss
Liverpool Miss
Price: £5.99

2.0 out of 5 stars A Skewed Perspective, 16 May 2016
This review is from: Liverpool Miss (Kindle Edition)
Finally after many years, I have read one of Helen Forrester's books, and ended up being not so disappointed as annoyed, at least at times.

I'll sum up first, by saying, it would seem a case of once a snob always a snob.

The young Helen, dragged out of a life of privilege, finds herself in impoverished inner city Liverpool. However, her parents are indeed so snobbish and elitist in attitude, that they simply cannot admit that they are - now - no different at all to those around them, and here we have the first rub - their pathetic attempts to maintain standards are purely their own standards and are applied thus - to the exclusion of their children. This results in the illogical and ridiculous situation of the parents looking down on the working class families around them, when in reality the Forresters are just the same as them, and at times probably worse due to the pathetic attempts to show they are 'better'. One way they did this was by filling the lounge with a ton of expensive furniture and fittings, all on HP which they cannot afford and of course, fall badly behind with the repayments This is despite them already being bankrupt and with the father remaining unemployed and with the mother working in various stores as a demonstrator of various household goods; a job which does not pay enough to ease the terrible situation at home. The repayments or the repercussions of non-payment then cripple the family leaving them without proper food, clothing, personal and household necessities; the father still drinks and both mother and father smoke.

The worst affected is young Helen, who not only has to go without, despite a rapidly maturing young girl, but as was often the case, as the eldest she was considered the unpaid help, and using entirely inadequate resources, has to shop, feed the family and clean the house as best she can, and this remains the case for her even after she starts work. The trouble here is, Helen, despite a mostly strained relationship with her mother, shows some of the same elitist characteristics and is as dismissive of many around her as her parents are. Not as bad, admittedly, but just like her mother in particular, she cannot see, as she goes through her daily life hungry, badly shod, often unclean and several times seriously ill, that she and her family are no better, and at times most probably worse off, then most of the working class families in her area.

But from the middle of the tale onwards, things do get a little easier for Helen and the rest of the Forresters. Things are still far from what they should be; but at least there's one less wolf at the door than there was.

Will I read the rest of Helen's own tale of her life in Liverpool? I don't know, maybe. But - there are many, many worthy tales of families in 1930s Liverpool, who did indeed pull together and did indeed make the best out of a bad situation, and these put Helen Forrester's tales into perspective. By that I mean Helen Forrester generalised with a sweeping dismissive swish of her hands, making out that 1930s Liverpool was something akin to the Victorian East End with a Jack the Ripper waiting around every corner - there wasn't.

Ghost Milk: Calling Time on the Grand Project
Ghost Milk: Calling Time on the Grand Project
Price: £5.49

2.0 out of 5 stars Uneven. Frustrating., 2 April 2016
I am sorry really that I can only give this two stars. Overall, and 'overall' is to be very much taken as the operative word here, I mildly enjoyed it for want of a better phrase, but the book is riddled with uneven parallels, plus, it (the book) doesn't quite know what it is all about. Is it a memoir? Not entirely. Is it opinion on failed big projects? Here and there, yes, but not as much as the blurb suggests. There are also travel tales, anecdotes on other literary and arty worthies, whether in modern times involving the author, or historical.

All in all, it is quite simply, all over the place, literally and figuratively.

There is also the problem of delivery style, it is not constant. Some of the tale is about actual people, events, times, places etc, told in a simple straightforward manner. These are, just about, for me, the book's saving graces; I have to say I enjoyed these micro yarns. But, quite often the author drifts into a stuttery beat-poety style, waxing lyrical as if to save his life. Now, I ain't no Philistine, that is for sure, but for much of the arty-farty sections, I did not have a damned clue what the author was prattling on about, what he was trying to say. This was the spoiler. If he'd have kept it straight (at what point in Athens did the actual dogs become dog-like locals? for example), then it would have been much much better.

Shame. The bloke's obviously a great writer, you can glean that much, but his writing skills here were obviously on a fortnight's holiday in Rhyl, in early February.

Now if Bill Bryson had tackled the same subject matter . . .

Sir Humphrey of Batch Hall - plus The Famous Cricket Match (The Batch Magna Novels Book 2)
Sir Humphrey of Batch Hall - plus The Famous Cricket Match (The Batch Magna Novels Book 2)
Price: £4.79

3.0 out of 5 stars An engaging read, but lacks something here and there, 25 Mar. 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Sir Humphrey of Batch Hall is the second in Peter Maughan's Batch Magna series. For the benefit of those who have not read the first, (although you should really, but hey-ho), Batch Magna is a community of river dwellers, cottagers, horsey types and farmy types all living as, whether in reality - reliant on their leases and livelihoods, or historically / traditionally (this erstwhile state coming about because of the usual culprits - inheritance tax, super tax, death-duties etc) satellites of the big house - Batch Castle. The area is in a valley, well off the beaten track, and more novelly, some of it is in Wales, some in England (and you can go a ramble or a drive along the lanes and find yourself crossing the border several times). Although not an expert in such things, I believe that in the Marches region, which is of course the setting for this series, it is indeed possible to experience this for real. But, on we go . . .

Basically, the story this time round is a little disparate in comparison with the first, there is no classic beginning middle and end, and is more 'sketches of a rural idyll' sort of thing.

We first see Sir Humphrey almost buying a famous landmark while in London. Then back home the lifeblood of the community - the flora and fauna of land and river, are being killed off. How? And by whom?

Then we see large chunks of the tale relating to robberies and kidnappings, interspersed with several 'jollies' (booze ups on one or more of the house boats, carrying on after the pub has shut sort of thing), and the story comes to its finale, where else but on the cricket field when the annual cricket match between Batch Magna and a neighbouring village takes place. Oh, and there's the usual almost de rigueur threat to the big house itself - selling to a developer is on the agenda.

All in all, this is an engaging tale, funny and charming throughout, but in comparison with the first offering, it lacks a little something, some extra wit and a little more pace and a little more cohesion would have been better, but, still, a nice book and a nice read; enough for me anyway to declare onward and upward and buy the next in the series.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 27, 2016 3:21 PM BST

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