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City of Sin: London and Its Vices
City of Sin: London and Its Vices
by Catharine Arnold
Edition: Hardcover

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alternative London, 19 Jan 2011
First off, this is not a top shelf book; it is a serious and highly researched work of social history. The story of the social underbelly of London spans 2000 years, from the Romans to Cynthia Payne. What is remarkable is how some things never change - for as long as can be traced London has catered for every vice known to man, which appears to very long list indeed! What amazed me was the level of activity, for want of a better word, that goes on and has gone on, and the fact that social class has nothing to do with who partakes and not always as to who provides. The author does not shirk from describing the desparation, filth and degradation of the (usually) short- lived prostitutes at the bottom end of the market, including the brutality and violence they faced. She also looks at the reasons for earning such a living. On the other hand, there are remarkable stories of women who "made it". For anyone interested in social history this is a fascinating book to read - it deals with an area of life most know nothing about but which is nevertheless very real and likely to always remain.


War with the Newts (Penguin Translated Texts)
War with the Newts (Penguin Translated Texts)
by Karel Capek
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clever but hard going at times, 18 Jan 2011
The first part of the book is excellent. Merchant sea captain discovers huge newt in remote location where he goes to look for pearls; discovers the newt can understand him, learn to use tools, and eventually speak. All this is facinating stuff and highly original. What follows thereafter is that man starts to exploit the newt as cheap labour, the newt population explodes, people start to talk about newt rights etc etc. Eventually the newts become a powerful force with dangerous consequences for the human population. All this sounds exciting but the author makes it rather too dry and academic for my taste. The use of newspaper cuttings, giving side stories that illustrate the main text, I find somewhat distracting and there are too many of them. Other reviewers have described the book as humourous, but I see it as clever rather than amusing. I appreciate that the tale about the newts is an analogy for Czech society between the Wars, but at this distance it is much more difficult to really connect with this. So, we are left with a highly original story but one that I feel is slightly overcooked. However, on balance and despite being hard going at times, I'm glad I stuck with the book to the end.


A Christmas Carol (Puffin Classics)
A Christmas Carol (Puffin Classics)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.49

5.0 out of 5 stars A classic that defined the spirit of Christmas, 11 Jan 2011
Dickens is known for his long books, numerous sub-plots and extensive use of language. But here he keeps it tight and to the point. Written in a hurry, A Christmas Carol is short and entirely focused. By Dickens's standards the language is restrained too. This is a story of evil and redemption, but told without much that is overtly religious. Instead, Dickens links Christmas with being a time for practical goodwill toward men, a time to demonstrate the goodness of humanity and all that is morally right. In this sense he helped to define the spirit of modern Christmas (although increasingly more kept in our minds than our actions!). A Christmas Carol is a remarkably influential book and by the end it is difficult not to feel uplifted and filled with a little bit extra of the milk of human kindness.


Peter Pan (Penguin Popular Classics)
Peter Pan (Penguin Popular Classics)
by J. M. Barrie
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much darker than Disney, 11 Jan 2011
I remember first reading this book many years ago, but now I begin to wonder if it was an abridged Disney version, or perhaps it is just that the Disney film has become dominant in my mind. The reason for mentioning this is that the original book has much more depth than the film; it has a proper beginning and an end that goes beyond the storyline of the film. It is also a much darker piece of work - Peter and Tinkerbell actually have some quite unpleasant characteristics and Peter's situation is rather sad on reflection - but the more interesting for it. You will notice that the book is of its time, that is to say Edwardian England, and the language is not the simplest and does not make concessions to children, which I welcome because it will prompt the asking of questions. The book has the social attitudes of the time towards women and minorities, some of which sit a little uneasily in the 21st century. But, nothing should take away from the fact that Peter Pan is a classic children's book, with enough adventure, escapism and humour in it to fire the imagination of any child between three and ninety three.


Too Black, Too Strong
Too Black, Too Strong
by Benjamin Zephaniah
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.97

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pertinent writing, 10 Jan 2011
This review is from: Too Black, Too Strong (Paperback)
Strongly worded, well crafted and powerfully delivered, Zephaniah's is a vibrant and pertinent voice in modern British poetry. In this collection he examines and lays bare the injustices faced by minorities in Britain and elsewhere. Zephaniah is angry about injustice, he laments it and exposes it. His anger is sorrow too. He does not seek the destruction of society but rather justice for all; a chance for minorities and the underprvileged to be part of, and to have the chance to be part of, modern (British) society. Not all the poems are of the same quality but overall this is memorable writing.


The Battle of Hastings: The Fall of Anglo-Saxon England
The Battle of Hastings: The Fall of Anglo-Saxon England
by Harriet Harvey Wood
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shining light on a dark period of English history, 9 Jan 2011
Harriet Harvey Wood examines carefully the political, economic and cultural landscape of the time and sets the scene for the Battle with great clarity. She paints a picture of a sophisticated, wealthy and peaceful England under the Saxons compared to a much more rough and ready and economically inferior Normandy. She also portays Harold as a strong and experienced fighting king, while William, for all his later press, was actually much less experienced as a warrior and tactician. As with so many key events in history, William appears to have had luck on his side in the lead up to Hastings and in the battle itself - a battle Harold was not expected to lose. The author makes it clear that she is a Harold man but carefully supports her views of him by available evidence. And, whenever there is evidence that might undermine her position she presents it carefully, giving us a well balanced and scholarly, though eminently readable, book. A great book to start learning about what is arguably the most important battle ever fought on English soil.


The Adventures Of Elizabeth In Rugen: A Virago Modern Classic
The Adventures Of Elizabeth In Rugen: A Virago Modern Classic
by Elizabeth von Arnim
Edition: Paperback
Price: 15.00

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pleasant but patchy, 14 Dec 2010
According to the foreword, Elizabeth Von Arnim took a short holiday on the island of Rugen with the intention of writing a book about it. Unfortunately nothing noteworthy occurred but Von Arnim, not wanting to give up the idea, decided to weave a number of fictional characters into her travelogue (including a long lost cousin and her elderly Professor husband) to spice it up. The characters are quite fun and eccentric, but are introduced some way into the book and sit slightly awkwardly there. What we have is still a nicely described travelogue, intercut with aspects of a novel, but with the result that the book is neither fish nor fowl. The other thing is that Von Arnim herself is a very passive character in this book, giving ground to her fictional characters. Her real character, as seen in "Eliabeth and Her German Garden", and "A Solitary Summer", is outspoken and delightfully ascerbic, and I miss that. This is not a bad book; there are still many moments to enjoy, but I would recommend the two books mentioned above as a good starting point for "Elizabeth's Adventures" or, for a proper Von Arnim novel, the bewitching "Enchanted April".


It's Only a Movie: Reel Life Adventures of a Film Obsessive
It's Only a Movie: Reel Life Adventures of a Film Obsessive
by Mark Kermode
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating picture of obsession, 6 Dec 2010
If I had to use one word to describe this book it would be "fascinating". That is not to say the book is always tremendous, brilliantly written and excting; it is not, although it has its moments. It is however a strangely compelling read about a man who is so completely obsessed by film that he simply has to communicate his enthusiasm, even if he knows he is at times going to bore you to tears with way too much detail and that you may think him nuts! But, this almost childlike, self-centred, need to express himself about films is oddly appealing. Kermode seems to be a car crash of man, blundering his way through life at Mach 3, running on high octane emotion. He misses as much as he hits with this book and yet I had no difficulties in reading it all the way through. Most importantly, a tiny bit of Kermode's hyper-enthusiasm has rubbed off and I came out of the book with a renewed interest in cinema and film.


Ethan Frome (Wordsworth Classics)
Ethan Frome (Wordsworth Classics)
by Edith Wharton
Edition: Paperback
Price: 1.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Leaves a burning image, 23 Nov 2010
Ethan Frome; a ruined hulk of a man living on an isolated, run down, farm in New England at the turn of the 20th Century. To learn what made him that way we are taken back in time over 20 years. There we learn more about Ethan, his hypochondriac wife, and her pretty young cousin who came to stay and who Ethan fell in love with. The book is a very intense (only 100 pages long) study in poverty, desire, hope and crushing despair. Not a lot happens in terms of action but nevertheless Wharton creates a brooding drama of the finest sort, one that leaves the reader with a burning image of the bleak New England farm and its damaged inhabitants. Not a happy book, but a memorable one.


Gulliver's Travels (Penguin Classics)
Gulliver's Travels (Penguin Classics)
by Jonathan Swift
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.39

4.0 out of 5 stars A brutal exposure of society's flaws wrapped in a classic adventure tale, 23 Nov 2010
The book may be nearly 300 years old but the hard hitting nature of its content, with its brutal exposure of a society based on greed, cruelty, incompetence, corruption and nepotism, still resonates strongly in the 21st century. The author's triumph is that the book delivers its message through a series of fantastic and original adventure stories that stand up on their own - hence the bare bones version of the book becoming a children's classic. The book is not perfect, and where it stumbles and/or grates is those parts where the adventures of Gulliver are less entertaining and therefore the subtext rises above the storyline to become a bit preachy. In particular, after the brilliance of his travels to Lilliput and Brobdingnag, I found the third quarter of the book, principally Gulliver's time in Laputa, hard going. Fortunately, once we get to Glubbdubdrib and beyond to Luggnagg and the country of the Houyhnhnms, the pace quickens and the balance of adventure and message regain their equilibrium. A ground breaking book.


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