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John Fitzpatrick (São Paulo, Brazil)
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Being An Actor
Being An Actor
by Simon Callow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars For Professionals Only, 24 Nov 2014
This review is from: Being An Actor (Paperback)
This is refreshingly free of the name-dropping celebrity lists and "funny" stories that are so common in the "autobiographies" (usually ghost written) by actors and other members of showbiz.

On the other hand, it certainly remains faithful to its title - "Being an Actor" - and I imagine will appeal more to theater and film professionals than the general reader.

Callow is aware of this and expresses his hope in a preface that non-actors will be interested in how acting is done.

Ten out of ten for honesty but I found the book heavy going and left the show halfway through.

There are some interesting parts of and he writes well but the detailed descriptions of acting styles, rehearsals etc. were too much for this non-actor to endure.

For those interested in more "serious" accounts of an actor's life, I recommend some of Dirk Bogarde's autobiographical series, such as "An Orderly Man" and "Snakes and Ladders".


Oxygen
Oxygen
by Andrew Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but the writer could have been more ambitious, 20 Nov 2014
This review is from: Oxygen (Paperback)
This is a novel with two strands - one set in the south west of England where two brothers and their family gather round their mother's death bed and the other set in Paris where a 59-year-old Hungarian writer decides to take part in a dangerous adventure to make up for what he regards as his failure to act during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956.

The two stories go their separate ways despite a link - one of the dying woman's sons is a translator who is trying to come up with an English version of one of the Hungarian's plays.

I kept expecting these two strands to meld but they never do. The final pages of each story have a similar ending and it is left to the reader to decide what will happen next.

I feel the writer should have been a little more ambitious and brought these two stories together. For example, the writer and translator, a rather weak character, exchange e-mails but a meeting between them, particularly if it had involved his more forceful brother, could have had potential.

I found the story of the Hungarian and his return to Budapest more interesting than the one set in England where we have a classic situation in which members of the same family have difficulty getting on with each other.

Despite these reservations, I found it a good read.


The Templars: Knights of God
The Templars: Knights of God
by Edward Burman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.89

3.0 out of 5 stars Dull book but interesting in the light of today's conflict, 17 Nov 2014
The story of the Knight Templars who fought to maintain Christian power in the Holy Land against the Moslems is a fascinating one but needs a better narrator than Edward Burman.

You would think the sheer wealth of material available - the crusades, characters like Richard the Lionheart and Saladin, the struggles between Popes and monarchs, battles and sieges that changed history, trials and allegations of heresy, the Inquisition etc - would ensure an exciting tale but, unfortunately, not in Burman's hands.

His description of the rise of the Templars in the early 12th century to their demise two centuries later, when the order was suppressed on trumped up charges and its leaders burned to death by a French king eager to get his hands on its wealth, is so tedious that I was tempted to give up several times.

He just plods on like a snail through the decades, alliances, countries and so on and the poor reader does not even have any maps to help him on his way.

The book was published in 1986, therefore before the rise of modern Islamic terrorism. However, there are many interesting parallels between this long conflict involving Christianity and Islam.

The Templars, for example, preached a "holy war" against the "unbelievers" that was expressed in almost the same terms as the call for a "jihad" against the "infidels" by today's Islamic fundamentalists.

This can be seen in an extract on the concept of the "warrior monk" which justifies the killing of non-Christians: "The soldier of Christ kills safely and dies the more safely. Not without cause does he bear the sword. He is the instrument of God for the punishment of evildoers and for the defense of the just. In fact, when he kills evildoers it is not homicide but malicide and he is considered Christ's legal executioner.."


By Charles Frazier Thirteen Moons
By Charles Frazier Thirteen Moons
by Charles Frazier
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars "Wuthering Heights" meets "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee", 22 Oct 2014
For good or bad, I found it impossible to read this without comparing it with "Cold Mountain", a book by the same author that has deservedly become a classic of modern American literature.

If I had not read "Cold Mountain", I doubt I would have had the patience to wade through 500 pages narrating the life of an orphaned 12-year-old white boy adopted by Cherokees in the early 19th century.

Throughout the 40 or 50 years covered by this story, set in the Appalachians, an area settled by the Scots and "Scotch Irish", as the Americans call the Ulster Scots, the "hero" manages to be a politically correct friend of the Indians cum tree hugger at the same time as a land speculator and senator. Sure, it could only happen in America!

The main character also has a lifelong love affair with a girl called Claire that involves swimming in crystal clear mountain streams, bathing on the sun-drenched rocks after passionate lovemaking, and being ditched by her on two occasions over the decades.

At times, the writing may be considered a bit overwrought by modern standards but I've never seen anything wrong in an author trying to use the potential of the English language and impress readers. I wish more of them would try.


Creatures of Circumstance
Creatures of Circumstance
by Somerset W. Maugham
Edition: Hardcover

1.0 out of 5 stars Even Maugham apologized for this pitifully poor collection, 7 Oct 2014
Somerset Maugham recognized later in life that some of his work was so bad that he refused to allow it to be reissued.

He should have done the same with this abysmal collection of short stories, first published in 1947 when he was a long-established successful author, and hoped they would never see the light of day again.

He makes an insincere meu culpa in a short preface - "I owe my readers an apology for the publication of this volume" - but then tries to justify this kind of short story written for magazines that were popular in the early 20th century.

The titles alone are enough to warn the reader off - "The Romantic Young Lady", "Appearance and Reality", "Episode", "A Woman of Fifty" etc.

There are occasional bits of humor and the kind of acerbic approach we associate with Maugham e.g. the young German sailor who is ordered to make love to a frustrated middle aged Englishwoman or the French Senator who sets up his young mistress in an apartment and then allows her to marry her true love so he can then enjoy the thrill of having an "affair" with a married woman.

However, most of them are preposterous and trite with limp "so what" endings.


Quarantine
Quarantine
by Jim Crace
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

3.0 out of 5 stars Intense and Heavy Going, 27 Sep 2014
This review is from: Quarantine (Paperback)
Jim Crace is certainly a powerful writer but some readers might find his intensity a bit hard going.

The very titles of his novels, such as "Being Dead", "Continent", "The Gift of Stones" and this one, "Quarantine", let you know almost immediately not to expect light fiction.

I found "Being Dead" - which described a murder and the immediate aftermath - interesting although a bit methodical and the same goes for "Quarantine".

It portrays a group of characters trapped in the desert in Israel 2,000 years ago.

One of them goes by the name of Jesus from Galilee and is searching for God in the wilderness.

He and the others - a grasping merchant and his pregnant wife, various would-be hermits, including a woman who may be barren and is desperate for a child - face their problems against a harsh landscape of rocks and stone under a merciless sun, fearful of poisonous snakes, scorpions and that most dangerous of all beasts, their fellow man.

Crace fans might like it but I'm not so sure about others.


The Maze
The Maze
by Panos Karnezis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.62

4.0 out of 5 stars Greek Tragi-Comedy, 21 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Maze (Paperback)
This is a lively novel about a brigade of Greek soldiers trying to return to their homeland following the defeat by the Turks of an expeditionary force sent to Anatolia in 1922.

Their journey is seen through the eyes of half a dozen main characters, including the brigadier in charge, a senior staff officer, a priest and a prostitute.

All of them are trying to escape physically and mentally from the misfortunes that have marked their lives.

The book takes the ragged remains of the brigade across the wilds of Anatolia towards a town and from there to the sea.

It deliberately echoes Greek mythology and history, with reminders of the Odyssey and the Anabasis by Xenophon.

However, the style is more William Boyd (The Ice Cream War) or Evelyn Waugh (Scoop and the Sword of Honour Trilogy) and it is both funny and sad at the same time.

It is also a timely reminder of how the spread of Islam changed forever a part of the world that had been Christian for almost 2,000 years.


The Falls
The Falls
by Ian Rankin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

2.0 out of 5 stars McMorse in Auld Reekie, 19 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Falls (Paperback)
This is the second Ian Rankin book I've read featuring his detective Rebus and I confess I can't understand why these works are so popular.

Rebus seems to be a tougher Scottish version of the English detective Morse, with Edinburgh as the background rather than Oxford, and a taste for hard rock and whisky rather than opera and real ale.

The plot about the search for a missing student, which even has the police chasing up crossword clues and puzzles in Morse fashion, is merely a peg on which to hang historical and anecdotal information about Edinburgh.

I have the feeling Rankin writes these books with the tourist audience in mind. At times this one is like a city tour taking us up and down the Royal Mile, across the Meadows to Marchmont, with a detour to North Berwick and Portobello.

The characters include a smoothie banker from Charlotte Square, to remind us of Edinburgh's importance as a financial center, and a couple of suspicious pathologists which allows Rankin to bring in references to body snatchers and Burke and Hare.

I dropped out half way through.


The Partnership
The Partnership
by Barry Unsworth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Withnail and I set in Cornwsall, 4 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Partnership (Paperback)
This must be one of the first books Barry Unsworth ever wrote as it was published in 1966.

The setting is not as adventurous in terms of geography or history as many of his later works but it is worth reading and shows he had talent as a comic writer.

It takes place in a Cornish village where two misfits - an egotistical former male model called Foley and his commercial partner Moss - run a small business making plaster pixies for tourists.

The Adonis-like Foley is the "artist" who creates the figures and the Igor-like Moss is the grafter who makes them.

They are an odd couple in a village that is populated by other equally or even odder people, none of whom is actually from Cornwall.

The story builds up to a climax that leaves Foley baffled and Moss triumphant although the reader can see it coming right from the outset.

It reminded me of the cult film Withnail and I and also had some similarities to Julian Barnes' novels Talking it Over and Love etc. with their oddball characters, Stuart and Oliver.


New Short History of the Catholic Church 1st (first) Edition by Tanner, Norman published by Burns & Oates (2011)
New Short History of the Catholic Church 1st (first) Edition by Tanner, Norman published by Burns & Oates (2011)
by Norman Tanner
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Mission Impossible, 18 Aug 2014
Summing up the history of an institution like the Catholic Church that has existed for over 2,000 years in in a book of less than 250 pages is a Mission Impossible.

I am reluctant to criticize a priest but the fact that the author is a Jesuit means the reader who is not a Catholic (or, perhaps, one who worships at a Jesuit church) cannot expect an unbiased account, particularly of the Reformation.

The Reformation is skimmed over despite being the most important development in the last 500 years although the author devotes pages and pages to the various Councils held plus the lives of various popes and saints.

Nor does he tell us much about the reasons why the Jesuit Order was expelled from various countries and banned, at one time, by the Catholic Church itself.

Father Tannerr does not ignore the abuses committed by the Church as an institution or individual popes but he then tries to soften this criticism by claiming things were not really as bad as they are painted.

At times he exaggerates and does his case no good. One example is this implausible comment on the "conversion" of indigenous South American peoples: "Enforced conversions are regarded today as particularly repugnant, but we must be careful that present concerns do not overwhelm our judgement of the past. The conversions were encouraged and often imposed by the `conquistadores', yet most of the indigenous tribes had earlier been conquerors themselves who may have imposed their beliefs upon others - so they probably had some understanding, even sympathy, for the new situation."

"Sympathy" for a bunch of mercenary invaders only interested in gold who destroyed whole cultures - few of which, apart from the Aztecs and Incas - were conquerors themselves.

If a Catholic finds arguments like this hard to swallow, then members of other Christian denominations or faiths will scorn them.


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