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S Jones (Liverpool, UK)

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No Name
No Name
Price: £0.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Victorian "Hustle", 4 Dec. 2013
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This review is from: No Name (Kindle Edition)
Warning: This book contains excessive melodrama, improbable coincidence and unrealistic situations.

Despite that, it's great fun to read, once you've got through the first part where Collins is so over the top with the sentiment that it falls into parody (which may have been its intention - there is a lot of humour in all his novels). The death of Mrs Vanstone and her newly born son reminded me of Oscar Wilde's comment on the death of Dicken's Little Nell "One would have to have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without dissolving into tears...of laughter."

Once that's over though, it moves into a fast paced story as Magdalen and her confidence trickster ally Captain Wragge do battle with the equally scheming Mrs Lecount for the fortune. Collins is a great writer of suspense and each chapter puts one or other character at an advantage - a true "page turner".

Collins isn't a great one for developing character - we don't really know much more about Magdalen at the end of the story than we do at the beginning. But despite these criticisms it's still far better than many modern thrillers, and as other reviewers have said would make an excellent TV series.


A Few Green Leaves (Bello)
A Few Green Leaves (Bello)
Price: £2.29

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Odd ending, but enjoyable, 9 Sept. 2013
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Of Barbara Pym's later novels, this strikes me as most like her earlier ones. It still has the elegiac elements of "Quartet in Autumn" but manages to include characters as absurd as some of those in the early books. Overall, it's an enjoyable read; but it seems to finish very abruptly, almost as if it were an unfinished novel.

One major gripe with the Kindle edition is the appalling proof-reading/spell checking. Given this is a paid-for edition from a major publisher, it really is unacceptable. Perhaps Amazon ought to introduce more stringent quality standards?


The Arrow of Gold
The Arrow of Gold

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Conrad's lost masterpiece?, 23 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: The Arrow of Gold (Kindle Edition)
It's fair to say that this novel, produced towards the end of Conrad's career, has fallen into a certain obscurity. It hasn't helped that FR Leavis, the famous English critic who championed Conrad's literary reputation, thought it was a bit rubbish and so it has languished since then. I'll be honest and say - despite having read a lot of Conrad's work - I'd never heard of it until I stumbled on it while browsing on Amazon. And reading around, it was apparently written at the request of Conrad's publisher for a "pot-boiler" adventure novel

So, I started it with very low expectations. Maybe that was a good thing because I was pleasantly surprised at how good it is.

Firstly, it's a love story. And within the confines of its late Victorian setting and Conrad's heavily descriptive style, it is extremely intense and passionate. In Victorian (and earlier) novels, it's common for characters to disagree and argue in very polite terms, indicating displeasure with a particular phrase. (think of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy for example). So when one of these polite drawing room scenes ends in an intense row between the narrator and Rita I found it genuinely shocking.

It's also a very claustrophobic novel. Almost all the action takes place in drawing rooms, salons or living rooms. Despite the fact that there is a civil war taking place, and the narrator is running guns for the rebels, this is almost incidental. And as a result the dramatic finale is extremely tense.

I can see why some don't like the book. It is very dialogue heavy, and in Conrad's usual way very descriptive. Rita herself appears to form one of the "idealised" women that Conrad has been accused of creating - although to me she comes across as a powerful woman who is frustrated at living in a male dominated society and having to exercise her power through manipulation and influence, rather than directly.

Conrad has been accused of racism in the past (though there are plenty of counter arguments) and it's interesting therefore that he makes the thoroughly unpleasant Captain Blunt (the narrator's love rival) a confederate (and by implication a former slave plantation owner) who has left the US because of their defeat in the Civil War.

The similarity of plot between this novel and Casablanca has been noted by a few, and certainly this is one of Conrad's more "film-friendly" novels - though it never has been to my knowledge.

Maybe "a lost masterpiece" is a slight exaggeration. But worthy of a reappraisal? Definitely

One final point - as a free Kindle book, transcribed by volunteers, there are several proofing/typing errors - more than you'd expect in a professionally produced version. Not a major annoyance but worth being aware of.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 13, 2013 1:57 AM BST


Felicity and Barbara Pym
Felicity and Barbara Pym
by Harrison Solow
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Be aware of what you're buying!, 24 Jun. 2013
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I can understand why this book provokes some extreme reactions. Many will have become aware of it through reading Barbara Pym's novels and come expecting something, I suspect, similar in style.
In fact, it represents the correspondence from "Mallory Cooper" (who appears to be a thinly disguised version of the author*) to "Felicity", an American student about to embark on an English Literature degree and who has been given a paper to write on Barbara Pym. The format is very similar to CS Lewis's "The Screwtape Letters", and like Wormwood in that book, we never meet Felicity but form a picture of her through Mallory's letters to her (I imagine her as an modern version of Flora Cleveland from "Jane and Prudence"). As with CS Lewis, Mallory Cooper could be considered quite reactionary - or traditional, depending on your own view - given her stated views on the various 'modern' theories of teaching of English, current academic standards and the mass expansion of student numbers.
Felicity, it appears, doesn't like or understand Pym's work, and through the book Mallory's letters explain to her the social, economic and cultural context of the books - via chapters entitled "Silly Men", "Mousy Women" and "Tea". For many modern readers, especially not from the UK, understanding this is vital to appreciate some of the nuances and humour in Pym's novels.
However, it's worth stressing that this isn't in any way a "heavy" or theoretical tome. It's fairly short, and the tone is light and chatty throughout - I read it completely in the course of a couple of train journeys. There are some amusing digressions into aspects of Mallory's life in the film industry, with a couple of one-liners that would be worthy of Barbara Pym herself.
Overall, I'd recommend it as a companion piece to Barbara Pym's novels, or as a light introduction for anyone thinking of studying English Literature at degree level. Just be aware that you're not buying a Barbara Pym-type novel.

*I say "appears to be" since it's one of the great debates in literature - does a fictional character who seems to possess many of the same attributes as the author actually represent the author herself
Edit - since publishing this review, Harrison Solow has forwarded me this link which seems to answer that final question: http://redroom.com/member/harrison-solow/blog/felicitous-encounters-an-interview-with-harrison-solow-a-red-room-exclusi


The Daylight Gate (Hammer)
The Daylight Gate (Hammer)
by Jeanette Winterson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.58

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Winterson-Lite, but still good, 24 May 2013
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Graham Greene used to separate his work into his "serious" novels and what he called "entertainments". Being Graham Greene of course, his "entertainments" were still better written and with more depth than many a literary novel. Jeanette Winterson doesn't do the same but if she did this would definitely fall into the "entertainment" category.

This is a short, easy to read novella, with an interesting lead character, elements of magical realism and some wonderful atmospheric writing that manages to convey some of the religious and political paranoia of early Stuart England. It's not Ms Winterson's best work but it is still head and shoulders over the Steig Larssens and Dan Browns of this world.

Much of the criticism seems to be that it's
a) Historically inaccurate - it's a novel and she states at the start that it's fiction. Nor is it the first ever novel to present a fictionalised account of real-life historic events. I suspect that some of the outrage is because there is a little bit of lesbianism in it.
b) very gory and violent - well there are some torture scenes in it but they aren't overdone (if you've ever read Murukami's description of skinning someone alive in "The Wind Up Bird Chronicle" then you'll find the few paragraphs on the same subject here very mild). And suspected witches were tortured so the author is damned for being historically inaccurate and accurate at the same time.

It's probably worth remembering that, as part of the Hammer series, it's meant to be no more deep and sophisticated than a Hammer Horror film. In fact, it owes a great debt to the classic "Witchfinder General" film of the 1970s.

So read it as a light piece, and maybe use it as a starting point to enjoy Jeanette Winterson's other work. Don't however read it if you're looking for a historical account of the Pendle Witches


Stretch/We Had It All
Stretch/We Had It All
Offered by jim-exselecky
Price: £7.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars For completists and obsessives only, 12 Feb. 2013
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This review is from: Stretch/We Had It All (Audio CD)
It's not the uninspired choice of songs - though that's bad enough - that makes these albums poor; it's the fact that Scott sounds completely bored when he sings them. There's no passion, no excitement, nothing. Yes, his voice is superb, but even that can't save these dreadful efforts. I do count myself in the completist/obsessive camp but I can't imagine playing them very often - I'd struggle to make a decent EP from the 20 odd songs on these two albums. I know that not everyone likes Scott's current "avant-garde" style but when you compare this to "Bish Bosch" there really is no contest.


Prince Fatty Versus the Drunken Gambler
Prince Fatty Versus the Drunken Gambler

4.0 out of 5 stars Retro but fun, 12 Feb. 2013
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If you like "old school" reggae/dub then this is an album you're sure to enjoy. A great blend of beats, humour, and danceability. My personal favourite track is the cover of John Holt's "Ali Baba", but there a lots of good songs on here, and it's always a delight to hear Hollie Cook. Music should be fun, and this album definitely is!


Love & Death: The Songs Of Jacques Brel
Love & Death: The Songs Of Jacques Brel
Price: £13.68

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Laugh and lust, till the accordion bursts..., 9 July 2012
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Obviously, you can't beat the originals of these songs, but if you are looking for entertaining and inventive interpretations then this is an album to enjoy. It helps that having a female singer automatically gives a different perspective, particularly in songs like Au Suivant and Jacky, but this is enhanced by the arrangements that refresh (and in certain cases completely reinvigorate) familiar songs. So Le Moribond (best known in the UK as the maudlin "Seasons in the Sun") is given an energetic and speedy - almost rock - feel that's far closer to Brel's original meaning, while "Jacky" - probably most familiar from Scott Walker's dramatic version - starts off stripped down and almost wistful, before gathering pace. It's great to see some of Brel's less well-known songs(to English listeners) like Les Bourgeois and Jaures given an airing, and the band also demonstrate that accordions in pop music don't have to result in the faux-folk of Mumford and Sons. Buy the album - but also catch them live if you can.


It's All True
It's All True
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Like a fine wine, takes time to be appreciated, 4 July 2012
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This review is from: It's All True (MP3 Download)
I feel like I am danger of repeating my review of Sylvie Lewis's previous album, but it's worth reiterating that these are songs that are meant to be listened to, not simply put on as background music. This latest album sees Sylvie - whose voice is as beautiful as ever - move around a variety of styles. Opener "Dylan's Arms" is straight Nanci Griffith/Laura Cantrell country, while "The Song I Sang Before I Met You" has a bossanova beat, and "The Ballad of Honeymouth" a New Orleans trad-jazz feel. Lyrically, it's a much more poignant and wistful set of songs - many inspired by poets or poetry - with my particular favourite being the vignette of "The Doorman". I also like to hear her sing in Italian, on both "Gocce" and "Streets of Rome". My only criticism is that it lacks the dry humour of her previous albums, the sad and reflective tone sometimes seems to overwhelm. Nevertheless it is a fine album, well worth getting your hands on if you appreciate fine songwriting and a great voice.


Citizen Helene
Citizen Helene
Price: £3.16

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pure Pop for Now People, 10 Aug. 2011
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This review is from: Citizen Helene (MP3 Download)
This debut EP from London based singer/songwriter Citizen Helene combines the deep melancholic vocal style of Karen Carpenter with the harmonies and pop sensibilities of Brian Wilson. A beautiful mixture of almost psychedelic acoustic tunes with bitter sweet lyrics, documenting the first flush of love (Til Tomorrow), the pang of separation (Sunday Morning Light), a wry take on a failing relationship (Stephen Fry) and the inevitable break up (PS I Don't Love You). 11 minutes of pop perfection which deserves a place in anyone's collection.


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