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Reviews Written by
Sid Nuncius (London)

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Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A good, thought-provoking read, 28 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Concentr8 (Kindle Edition)
Set in near-future London, the story concerns a group of teenagers who, during riots very like those of 2011, randomly kidnap and hold hostage a member of the mayor's staff. It emerges that policies have been in place for years to induce large numbers of "difficult" children, including these, to be placed on Ritalin. This was superseded by the cheaper drug Concentr8 but which has now been withdrawn in one of the "difficult decisions" made as part of the austerity programme. The result is rioting and unrest with the inevitable political manoeuvring, dissembling and blame-shifting.

Told in multiple first-person narratives, we get the story of how the kidnap develops from the point of view of the teenagers involved, the hostage, the mayor, a journalist and a police negotiator. There isn't all that much fast action, but the story is full of tension and menace and I found much of it pretty gripping. It is really a well-told polemic about the insidious medicalising of social problems, driven by political and commercial advantages rather than benefit to "patients". It's an important topic which Sutcliffe addresses pretty well, but I did have some reservations, too.

The multiple-voice approach is reasonably successful, but there are too many different voices, some of which add little to the narrative and not all of which work very well. The main voice is Troy, who I found very convincing and compelling as a young man with intelligence but a troubled background which has denied him much education or opportunity. Other voices were less convincing: although I am all in favour of merciless parodies of Boris Johnson (who is so thinly disguised here as to be in plain sight), this is so crude that it rather loses its impact, I think, and I could have done entirely without most of the other teenagers and the police negotiatior.

Nonetheless, this is a good, involving read. It is also a book with genuine insight and substance which I can recommend.

(I received a free ARC via Netgalley).

Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (DG Collectors Edition)
Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (DG Collectors Edition)
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £14.10

5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful set, 28 Aug. 2015
There is already an excellent review here by Yi-Peng which says much of what I was going to put into my review, but with a good deal more detail and comparison than I could manage. My advice is to read it and make your judgement on that basis.

I will just add that I love JEG's approach to these symphonies and wholeheartedly agree with Yi-Peng when he speaks of being "jaded by the slower Karajan, Furtwängler and Klemperer-type approach to these works." This and the Norrington set both really speak to me in a way in which the interpretations I grew up with didn't manage. There is a wit and a verve in Beethoven as well as intellectual depth and emotional intensity, and all aspects of Beethoven shine through these recordings and brings the symphonies alive for me.

I think the long and short of it is this: if you like Gardiner's work you'll love this set, and if you don't like him you'll hate it. Personally, I love it and recommend it very warmly.

Polyphony American[Polyphony, Stephen Layton] [HYPERION: CDA67929]
Polyphony American[Polyphony, Stephen Layton] [HYPERION: CDA67929]
Price: £12.35

5.0 out of 5 stars A very fine disc, 28 Aug. 2015
This is a lovely and very interesting disc from the excellent Polyphony. It's not really my usual repertoire but I like Steven Layton's work very much so I gave it a try. I'm delighted that I did.

The music is a mixture of the very familiar in Barber's Agnus Dei (the choral version of the Adagio for Strings) and the unfamiliar (to me, anyway) in much if the rest of the programme. It's all very good: rich, spiritual choral writing from some of the finest of later 20th Century composers. I found it very rewarding and it remains a great pleasure every time I hear it.

Polyphony are, as always, excellent. They are technically impeccable and create a genuinely spiritual atmosphere; for example, there is a wonderful serenity in Barber's setting of Hopkins's exquisite poem A Nun Takes The Veil. It's a varied disc, too - Bernstein's Missa Brevis is anything but serene in places, for example - and it makes a really good programme.

Hyperion's recording is, as always, excellent, with a fine overall sound and lovely clarity in the individual lines. It's a very fine disc all round and even if, like m, you're not usually that keen on 20th Century music, I can recommend this very warmly.

By Helen Giltrow The Distance (Charlotte Alton 1) [Hardcover]
By Helen Giltrow The Distance (Charlotte Alton 1) [Hardcover]
by Helen Giltrow
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A good, exciting thriller, 27 Aug. 2015
I thought this was a good, involving and at times very exciting thriller. It is certainly a very promising debut.

The plot summary sounds pretty dreadful to be honest - a shady "operative" asked to place a hit man inside an implausible-sounding prison facility to kill someone who isn't registered there, with all sorts of personal complications. I wouldn't have bothered but it was recommended to me by a friend whose judgement I trust and I'm glad it was. Some suspension of disbelief is required, but it is well written and structured, and the complex, multi-layered plot develops very nicely. I also found the characters thoroughly believable, which is by no means always the case with this sort of book.

The book is rather too long for its own good and a little tightening would have helped, but certainly not enough to spoil anything badly. Also, do be warned that there is a good deal of pretty graphic violence in it. It is certainly not gratuitous and is unflinchingly horrifying in places so it's anything but titillating, but if you're not keen on graphic violence this may not be for you.

I found this book a good, exciting read overall and I am looking forward to reading the next one in the series - always a good sign. Recommended.

Chaos Walking (3 Book Series)
Chaos Walking (3 Book Series)

5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant trilogy, 27 Aug. 2015
This is a remarkable and brilliant trilogy. It has an imaginative and interesting setting and premise, a gripping style and a story which kept me reading keenly right to the last page of each book as it came out and hungry for the next. They are billed as books for young adults and I think they would enjoy them greatly, but other not-very-young-at-all adults like me should read them, too. They are page-turningly exciting and form a really rich narrative which makes remarkably profound observations on very important themes without once making you feel as though you are being lectured.

The central, extremely ingenious, idea is that thoughts, including those of animals, are audible to everyone else. This is called their Noise and remains a fascinating idea throughout. The central character is twelve-year-old Todd Hewitt and a flavour of his narrative voice is given by this:
"Men's minds are messy places and Noise is like the active, breathing face of that mess. It's what's true and what's believed and what's imagined and what's fantasized and it says one thing and a completely opposite thing at the same time and even tho the truth is definitely in there, how can you tell what's true and what's not when yer getting *everything*? The Noise is a man unfiltered, and without a filter, a man is just chaos walking."

Todd was brought up in a small, closely controlled community. Exactly where this community is and the nature of it emerges slowly in the narrative, and again this is very well-controlled and skilfully done. Early on in the story Todd discovers something which puts him in extreme danger and he has to run from the place in which he has spent every day of his life so far. The story to begin with is of an outsider searching, hunted and running in an unknown land. Later, as Todd takes on other roles, the story becomes morally complex and very involving in many ways.

The first book is narrated by Todd alone. For me, the second and third books are even better as other narrators also appear as their stories unfold - a very difficult trick to pull off convincingly, but Ness does it brilliantly. The voices are clearly identifiable, and the structure allows Ness to explore how misinformation and misunderstanding can be exploited by the ruthless and bring grief to the innocent. Ness also explores how a dictator can manipulate even the well-meaning, the nature of oppression and suppression and how the good can become dehumanised by inhuman situations and treatment. There is also a constant sense of the complexities of the ethics of resistance and terrorism, and how seemingly legitimate anti-terrorism measures can be exploited by those wishing to limit freedom. No easy answers are presented, very few people are portrayed as wholly good or wholly bad, and the entire book is imbued with a sense of the difficulty of knowing the right thing to do and how hard it can be to do the right thing even when you know what it is. And, though it all, an uplifting sense of the strength and power of friendship and love.

Be warned, there is some real, unflinching horror here, too. It is anything but gratuitous - it is central to the story and to the ideas being considered - but I found it truly disturbing because, like the whole of the trilogy, it is so brilliantly written.

These books have more intellectual, ethical and moral content than most books written for adults, conveyed in a superbly-told, imaginative and thrilling story. I cannot think of much more to ask of a book than that, and I recommend all three in the strongest possible terms to adults of all ages.

House of Mud
House of Mud
Price: £4.84

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 27 Aug. 2015
This review is from: House of Mud (Audio CD)
Sometimes – rarely – I stumble across an album or artist which makes me wonder why on earth I hadn't heard of them before. This is one such album from 2002 – a completely random recent find for me, and it turns out to be quite brilliant.

Kelly Pardekooper, as well as from possessing an absolutely outstanding name, is a terrific singer and songwriter. It's sort of blues/country Americana, but very varied. In various places I hear echoes of JJ Cale, Tony Joe White, Tom Petty, Jason Isbell…even people like The Beatles and Lou Reed seem to lurk faintly in some places. Pardekooper is his own man, though, and this is an album of individual class. He writes songs on familiar themes of lust, love, home, the country working life: it's not groundbreaking stuff, but it's really, really good.

The songs vary in atmosphere from the magnificently restrained, atmospheric Can't Go There, through the haunting, singable Drown In Alcohol to the more rocky, incredibly infectious Hayseed Girl (which gets me moving every single time). From just Pardekooper and his guitar to full band, everything here is just a bit of class, I think. It's hard to put my finger on exactly why because nothing is fantastically original, but a little like JJ Cale, they are unfussy, well crafted songs which carry real sincerity and are played and sung with a straightforward directness which is based in really good but unflashy musicianship. Pardekooper's singing is just great, with a slightly husky creaky voice that he varies in tone so that it always expresses his mood and meaning beautifully, and the arrangements and production are pitch-perfect, I think.

If, like me, this is the first you've heard of Kelly Pardekooper my advice is to listen to a few samples or find a few songs on YouTube and then snap this up. It's a terrific album and I'm really looking forward to hearing more of his work.

5 x R80 Reflector Bulbs (Spot Light) 60 Watt Edison Screw E27 Cap Diffused 220 - 240 Volt
5 x R80 Reflector Bulbs (Spot Light) 60 Watt Edison Screw E27 Cap Diffused 220 - 240 Volt
Offered by LightingandMobileAccessoriesUK
Price: £2.74

5.0 out of 5 stars Good bulbs, 26 Aug. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
These seem to be decent quality bulbs. They all worked on arrival (which hasn't always been my experience with light bulbs) and are working as they should. I will update this review if I experience any problems with unreliabilty or short life, but so far I can recommend these bulbs.

Eleven Days
Eleven Days
by Lea Carpenter
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Not really for me, 26 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Eleven Days (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
From the descriptions and the endorsements I was expecting something quite special from this book, but I'm afraid I didn't really get on with it.

The story has been well summarized by others: set in the USA in 2012 with intercut episodes of what led to the present situation, it is the story of single mother Sara whose son Jason decides not to pursue the brilliant academic career open to him, but to train for Special Forces. As we join Sara, Jason has been missing in action for nine days and the book tells of her responses and those of others to unfolding events, with lengthy passages about Jason's training and military career.

In many ways it is very good: it is well written and extremely knowledgeable. It is concerned principally with the internal lives of the two main characters and Lea Carpenter has put a great deal of thought into them - but it never really engaged me, somehow. I found it rather plodding and frankly a bit of a struggle for a lot of its length. The episodic nature of the narrative is partly responsible, but I think it's principally that for me Carpenter doesn't quite create real, recognisable characters. Something about them seemed a little like CGI in films - close, but not quite real.

Whatever the reason, the book didn't gel with me. This is just my personal response, of course, and I wouldn't want to put anyone off. My copy of the book carries endorsements from both Ben Fountain, author of Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk, and Kevin Powers, author of The Yellow Birds which in their very different ways are both brilliant, and two of the best books about war I have ever read. They both think Eleven Days is terrific, plenty of other people plainly think it's excellent and you may do, too, but I can only give it a very lukewarm recommendation.

(I would very warmly recommend both Billy Lynn's Long Half Time Walk and The Yellow Birds, by the way:
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
The Yellow Birds)

Live At Carter Barron Amphitheater, Washington DC, July 17th 1976
Live At Carter Barron Amphitheater, Washington DC, July 17th 1976
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A fine live album, 26 Aug. 2015
This live album by The Band is a long overdue release of a fine concert. They were, of course, a magnificent bunch of musicians who were simply brilliant live and this is a worthy addition to their discography.

Recorded only a few months before The Last Waltz, this is still well worth having even for those of us who own and love that classic - arguably one of the greatest live albums ever issued. This is The Band alone without the starry guest list, performing a very good cross section of their greatest songs. Most are simply superb - The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down and The Weight , for example, have never sounded better or more sincere to my ears - and they sing and play like the geniuses they were almost throughout the album.

There are one or two weaker tracks, I think. King Harvest Will Surely Come plods and clunks a bit and This Wheel's On Fire lacks the real bite and vein of venom it really needs to work perfectly, for example, but overall it's a very fine live album indeed. The sound quality is excellent and the sense of a great band playing brilliantly together is strong. There is almost no talk between songs and the audience noise is mixed well back which I like on an album I will listen to repeatedly, but if you prefer more chat and atmosphere it may possibly be a slight weakness. For me, though, this is a fine record of a very good performance by one of the greatest bands of the 60s and 70s.

It is sobering to remember that Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Levon Helm are all dead now, but this stands as a fine tribute to them and to Robbie Robertson and Garth Hudson. Very warmly recommended.

Palladium Circles
Palladium Circles
Price: £8.92

3.0 out of 5 stars Poor sound, 26 Aug. 2015
This review is from: Palladium Circles (Audio CD)
Just to add my support to the advice here from both DD Montee and Feastoffools: the sound quality on this album isn't good and even for a diehard Band lover like me, this one isn't really recommendable. You'd be much better off buying the excellent Carter Barron disc instead - much better sound and excellent performances Carter Barron Amphitheater, Washington DC, July 17th 1976.

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