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Sid Nuncius (London)

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[We are All Completely Beside Ourselves] (By: Karen Joy Fowler) [published: June, 2014]
[We are All Completely Beside Ourselves] (By: Karen Joy Fowler) [published: June, 2014]
by Karen Joy Fowler
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Funny, thoughtful and engrossing, 11 Feb. 2016
I thought this was an excellent book. It has a brilliant narrative voice telling an engrossing story, it is very funny in places and covers some very important themes with insight and compassion.

Do avoid spoilers if you can because the narrative is very well structured so that revelations come in a way which makes you think all the more carefully about what is being said. This makes it difficult to say too much about the content of the book, but it deals superbly well with themes of how families interact (or fail to), of kindness and cruelty, of the nature of memories and of our childhoods and of our relationship with and responsibilities toward animals. There is also a reminder of the monstrous inhumanity (and deep unreliability) of some psychological and other experimentation. This makes it sound grim and worthy, but it isn't - it deals properly with serious matters, but never becomes turgid or preachy.

This is largely due to the great narrative voice. The story is addressed directly to the reader in the first person by Rose, whose life and family are the subjects here. She has a wonderfully dry, witty and slightly ironic voice which is never overdone but makes the book extremely readable. To give you a flavour, early on she recounts how no-one ever spoke to her about sex or menstruation. "One day a packet of junior-sized tampons was left on my bed along with a pamphlet that looked technical and boring, so I didn't read it. Nothing was ever said to me about the tampons. It was just blind luck I didn't smoke them." Or, describing her grandma who loved gossip, "...she was a great reader of historical biographies and had a particular soft spot for the Tudors, where marital discord was an extreme sport."

I really enjoyed this book. I found it readable, gripping, funny, thoughtful and moving - not a bad list of attributes in a novel. Very warmly recommended.

Josquin - Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae / Motets By Paul Hillier ,,Hilliard Ensemble (Ensemble) (2004-02-16)
Josquin - Missa Hercules Dux Ferrariae / Motets By Paul Hillier ,,Hilliard Ensemble (Ensemble) (2004-02-16)
Offered by Classical Connoisseur
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Magnificent music, beautifully sung, 11 Feb. 2016
I often buy CDs, play them and think - "Oh, this is lovely." Occasionally I find a recording which is just breathtaking on first hearing, and this double CD is one of those. It is simply mesmerising. Josquin's music is among the most beautiful ever composed, and here there is a selection of some of his finest work. There are deeply moving motets like "De profundis clamavi", the lament on the death of Ockeghem, some lighter and delightful chansons, a great mass setting and Josquin's overwhelmingly lovely setting of the 51st psalm "Miserere mei Deus" - one of the glories of the Renaissance, in my view. The set also includes one of my favourite pieces ever, the setting of "Lugebat David Absalon", now thought to be by Nicholas Gombert.

The Hilliard Ensemble do this great music proud. That haunting Hilliard sound is there, beautifully capturing the spirit of the music, and the standard of musicianship is superb. There are several outstanding Josquin recordings available - by the Tallis Scholars, for example - and these discs stand with the best of them. They are simply magnificent.

Recommended in the highest possible terms.

Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night (The Grantchester Mysteries)
Sidney Chambers and The Perils of the Night (The Grantchester Mysteries)
by James Runcie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Still very good, 10 Feb. 2016
This second volume of Sidney Chambers stories continues in much the same vein as the first – and thank goodness for that! I like them very much, and I am pleased to see the quality being maintained.

The book opens in 1955 as Sidney is required to investigate an Night Climbing death in Cambridge, along with his friend the excellent Inspector Keating…and you probably don't want to know much more than that before reading it. The stories all have the combination of detective work and moral debate which lifted the first volume well above the huge crowd of current crime fiction. Runcie continues to write very well in his unfussy style, and I think he captures the period very well – perhaps better than in the first book, which suffered a little from 1950s characters using 21st-Century language. We also get Sidney's problems of the heart which I think are very well done and very convincing.

What it comes down to is this: if you liked the first book, you'll like this because it's just as good. Recommended.

Bach: Concertos For Two Harpsichords [Masaaki Suzuki] [BIS: BIS2051]
Bach: Concertos For Two Harpsichords [Masaaki Suzuki] [BIS: BIS2051]
Price: £13.02

3.0 out of 5 stars Not really for me, 10 Feb. 2016
I'm afraid this disc didn't really work for me. I'm sorry to say it because I greatly admire many of Suzuki's Bach recordings, but I don't think these arrangements really work that well.

Suzuki has included three well-known concertos for two harpsichords, and has arranged the First Orchestral Suite for two harpsichords alone. The outer two works are Bach's transcriptions of the Double Violin Concerto and the Concerto for Violin and Oboe and although it is almost sacrilegious to say this of Bach, I'm afraid I think they lose a lot in translation. That sublime slow movement from the Double Violin Concerto loses much of its sensuous grace as the violins twine around each other, and the vigorous, toe-tapping finale of the Violin and Oboe Concerto doesn't quite have the right pace and zing when played on harpsichords. With both concertos I find I'm straining to pick the sense of the piece out of the rather generalised sound of the harpsichords and I also find that the Orchestral Suite, although perfectly listenable, loses a lot of its interest and character when its orchestral colour is removed.

This is just a personal response and you may, of course, disagree entirely. The musicianship is excellent (of course), the recorded sound is good and, to be fair, this version of the concerto BWV1061 is very good. For me, though, this is of interest rather than a disc to be enjoyed and listened to repeatedly, and I can only give it a very qualified recommendation.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 11, 2016 8:23 AM GMT

Home Sweet Hotel
Home Sweet Hotel
Price: £10.18

4.0 out of 5 stars A good album, 10 Feb. 2016
This review is from: Home Sweet Hotel (Audio CD)
I like this album. It's quite gritty and punchy in places and has a genuineness about it which gives it something extra.

Amelia White is a new artist to me, but I'm glad to have found her work. She writes very decent songs on varied themes, but they generally have a rather world-weary air about them – which is fine by me. She has been compared to Lucinda Williams, but in her sound she seems to me to be much closer to Eliza Gylkison – which I think is a very good thing. She sings well and the band and production set the songs off well.

This doesn't stand out massively from the large crowd of very good Americana around at the moment (especially from women), but it's a very decent album of good songs, well sung. If you have any interest in this genre, I can recommend this – it's good.

(Just in case anyone's interested, these are just some of the albums from female singer songwriters in the last two or three years which I think have been really outstanding. They are, in no particular order:

Mary Gauthier - Trouble & Love
Thea Gilmore - Regardless
Amy Speace - How To Sleep In A Stormy Boat and That Kind Of Girl
Emily Barker - Dear River and The Toerag Sessions
Natalie Merchant - Natalie Merchant and Paradise Is There
Olivia Chaney - The Longest River
Amy LaVere - Runaway's Diary
Sharon van Etten - Are We There
Eliza Gilkyson - Nocturne Diaries
Sarah Jarosz - Build Me Up From Bones
Amanda Shires - Down Fell The Doves
Laura Marling - Short Movie
Alela Diane - About Farewell
Buffy Sainte-Marie – Power In the Blood
Kris Delmhorst - Blood Test
Ana Egge – Bright Shadow
Suzanne Vega – Close-Up Series and Tales From The Realm…
Patty Griffin - American Kid and Servant of Love
Anais Mitchell - Young Man In America
Lori McKenna - Massachusetts
Kacey Musgraves - Same Trailer, Different Park and Pageant Material
Ruth Moody – These Wilder Things)

By Zia Haider Rahman In the Light of What We Know
By Zia Haider Rahman In the Light of What We Know
by Zia Haider Rahman
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars Not for me, 9 Feb. 2016
I'm afraid I didn't get on nearly as well with this book as many others seem to have done. In fact, I didn't get on with it at all. It has the Distinctive Style and Grand Sweep Of Important Contemporary Issues And Ideas of a book which expects to be considered for literary prizes. Possibly it will be, but personally I found the style convoluted and overblown, and the analysis and ideas far less deep and penetrating than they think they are.

There is an awful lot of verbiage and reference to historical, mathematical and other sources to draw attention to the author's breadth of knowledge, but I struggled to find much in the way of real new insight. For example, Rahman falls back on the good old Gödel Incompleteness Theorem as an analogy for the frailty of our ability to predict the future, which is hardly original or especially helpful. (Although in fairness, Rahman does know about mathematics so at least he's not just another novelist including hopelessly misunderstood ideas from maths and physics to try to lend their book extra intellectual credibility.)

Some flavour of what I mean can be found in this fairly early paragraph:
"Still. Let's be clear. Zafar is not the natural figure of biography and, in the end, my current enterprise has no footing in proper biographical enquiry. Rather, its basis is in the private and intimate connection between two people so that the field upon which his life has had significance and impact is, egocentrically, the field of my own self. The conclusion seems unavoidable, all the more so when confronted by this question: How far into the consequences of an act does one hold oneself responsible?"

It's fair enough to say that this isn't a biography but a portrait of a friendship, and that it also tries to examine how much responsibility and guilt we bear for the more distant effects of what we do - but what a needlessly convoluted and orotund way to say it! And "the conclusion seems unavoidable"? This is nonsense. It is the narrator's (and author's) free decision to write about Zafar's effect on him personally; it is not an "unavoidable conclusion."

This is just one example, which on its own I could probably excuse. But there's page after page after page of this stuff and I confess that it all got far too much for me. Plenty of others have found this book very good, so please don't be put off on my say-so, but I'm afraid I really, really didn't.

Acts of Omission by Stiastny, Terry (2014) Hardcover
Acts of Omission by Stiastny, Terry (2014) Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and engrossing, 9 Feb. 2016
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I thought it was very well written with well-drawn and believable characters and a thorough and fascinating insight into the world of politics and the media when a "scandal" arises.

The first thing to say is that this isn't really a thriller, so don't expect a fast-paced espionage nail-biter. It is a study of the effects of a security leak (the now familiar "lost disc") and subsequent scandal on those involved. This includes the civil servant who was responsible for the loss, the newly appointed junior minister whose "responsibility" it is, how the press and Government (and some individuals within them) work in such times, and so on. There are a couple of unexpected developments but no Shocking Twists, Conspiracies Which Go Right To The Top or the like. It is just a very believable and - to me, anyway - gripping close-up account of the unfolding of the sort of thing we might read and hear about on the news from time to time.

Terry Stiastny is very well placed to know about all this, having been a distinguished political reporter for the BBC for many years. Ex-journalists don't always make good novelists by any means, but I think Stiasny has produced a very good novel here. She writes readable, unsensational prose and creates very plausible characters whom she views realistically but generally with a refreshingly unjaundiced eye. As a result, I found this as involving as a good many thrillers I have read.

A number of other reviewers have lamented the lack of plot, but for me that's not the point, and I recommend this warmly as an intelligent and engrossing read.

Eyrie by Winton, Tim (2014) Hardcover
Eyrie by Winton, Tim (2014) Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, haunting novel, 9 Feb. 2016
I thought this was an extraordinary and rather brilliant book. It's pretty unremittingly bleak and after 400-odd pages has an odd, inconclusive ending but I found it gripping, very insightful and exceptionally well written.

It's hard to give much idea of plot because things emerge slowly and to give much away would spoil the book, I think. It is set in Fremantle, Western Australia and the protagonist is Tom Keely who is in bad shape - addicted to drink and pills with his life as an ex-environmental campaigner in ruins. A rather tense, threatening plot develops in the second half of the book, but it seems to me that the book's real theme is the question of how much good we can really do, even when our intentions are noble and our hearts are really in it, and whether following our consciences to possible self-destruction is the right thing to do. There's a very telling conversation about half way through in which his mother says, "You save yourself first, Tom. ... To save a drowner you need to be a swimmer. Remain a swimmer." It's a knotty issue which Winton treats with intelligence and humanity and to which he offers no easy answers.

The prose is excellent; lucid, easy to read and full of intelligence. This brings the whole thing to life, and I found that I really wanted to know about this bleak tower-block, the scorching and hostile city and Tom's hung-over blunderings and cynical take on the world. It doesn't sound like an alluring prospect, I know, but there is a wit and a humanity throughout which I found very engaging. Winton manages some wonderfully penetrating observations on modern life without ever being preachy or bombastic. As a tiny example, in a rather self-regarding restaurant, "As if resisting the catalogue of fetishes on the menu, she ordered briskly, almost offhandedly, and he found himself following suit. The waitperson stalked off as if aggrieved by their want of reverence..." I thought that a brilliant and witty summing-up of a place and attitude (including the deadpan use of "waitperson") and the book is sprinkled with similar little gems.

I think this is an excellent, haunting novel with important things to say and which is also very gripping and very readable. Warmly recommended.

WANGSCANIS® RJ-5000 8000LM 3x CREE XM-L T6 LED 18650 Power Headlamp Headlight Camping Lamp with AC Adapter USB Car Charger
WANGSCANIS® RJ-5000 8000LM 3x CREE XM-L T6 LED 18650 Power Headlamp Headlight Camping Lamp with AC Adapter USB Car Charger
Offered by MAIGG
Price: £13.98

5.0 out of 5 stars An excelent headlamp, 9 Feb. 2016
This is an extremely good, very bright headlamp. The manufacturers sent me one to review and I am impressed. There are no instructions supplied, but I didn't find this a problem - it is all so intuitive that I didn't need any.

The lamp itself is small and light (about 130g) and is phenomenally bright. Its has three CREE LED lamps which give excellent illumination over quite a wide area and for at least 50m in front of you. It is superb for cycling on dark roads at night - it's like having a car headlight on your bike. It has three brightness modes and I find the less intense modes excellent for use as a head-light when working in dark places (I find the brightest mode is too bright for close work). You can swivel the lamp up and down to get the angle right for what you're doing. The on/off switch toggles simply through the modes. I reckon I get about 3 hours on full power and more on lower intensity.

The supplied head/helmet harness is very good, easily adjustable and holds the lamp firmly and fairly comfortably, although fitting it directly to my head I find it does need a bit of fiddling to get the lamp in a comfortable place. (You may even want to fit a folded cloth or something between it and your forehead if you're going to wear it for a long period.) The lamps seem well made and robust, and it's fine in the rain. The battery pack sits at the back of your head and is very comfortable there. There is also a red light in the battery pack which activates when the lamp is on, so you have a built-in rear light for cycling.

This lamp takes two 18650 batteries which are supplied with the unit. There are three chargers supplied, all of which plug directly into the battery pack: a mains charger with standard UK plug, a USB lead so you can charge it from a computer port or desktop charger and a car charger so you can even charge it on the move. It is an excellent, practical bundle. (Note that the batteries are fitted in the lamp when it arrives, but they are wrapped in their protective plastic so you have to remove this before using the lamp.)

I think this is an excellent quality headlamp. The illumination is remarkably good and it has the feel of a very durable product. If you need one for working in dark places, cycling, hiking or anything else, I can warmly recommend this.

Ravel, Debussy & Fauré String Quartets by Quatuor Ebene (2008-10-14)
Ravel, Debussy & Fauré String Quartets by Quatuor Ebene (2008-10-14)
Offered by FHL Store
Price: £25.61

5.0 out of 5 stars Quatuor Ébène are a fantastic quartet, and their debut disc of Haydn () ..., 9 Feb. 2016
This disc is available at normal price here: Debussy, Fauré & Ravel: String Quartets

Quatuor Ébène are a fantastic quartet, and their debut disc of Haydn (String Quartets Op. 64 No. 5 'the Lark' (Quatuor Ebene)) remains a firm favourite of mine. This disc is just as good, showing that they have as much empathy with Ravel, Debussy and Fauré as Haydn and their superb technique, faultless intonation and brilliant mutual understanding are well in evidence here.

Radio 3's Building A Library reviewer chose this recording of the Fauré quartet as the best available, in the face of phenomenal competition form the world's best quartets of the last 80 years, and it won "Recording of the Year" at the 2009 Gramophone Awards which probably says a lot more than I can about the quality of this disc. It's fabulous and very warmly recommended.

(Do try their Haydn disc, too. If you already like Haydn's string quartets it will be a terrific addition to your collection, and if you're looking for a place to start on them you couldn't do better - it's absolutely terrific.)

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