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Alexa (United Kingdom)
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A Journey to the End of the Russian Empire (Penguin Great Journeys)
A Journey to the End of the Russian Empire (Penguin Great Journeys)
by Anton Chekhov
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Only a taster, 25 Jan 2010
This slim tome contains only excerpts from Chekhov's writings. It is a somewhat odd mix of letters home from a slightly querulous traveller on his way to Siberia, followed by serious reportage on the conditions in the katorga [penal labour camp, tsarist-style] on Sakhalin Island. Chekhov was writing a report, so he was allowed considerable access to the prisoners - with the exception of those convicted of 'political' offences - which makes the latter is both horrifying and compelling reading. The earlier extracts sit a little awkwardly with it, as Chekhov grouses about the petty inconveniences of his journey [a nineteenth century Stephen Fry, perhaps?]; however perhaps they help to establish the personality of the author.

I read the entire book in one sitting, engrossed. I have only given it 4 stars, however, because this is, as a previous reviewer states, simply comprised of excerpts from larger works. Having read it, I wished I had gone straight to the original books - Chekhov's lucid style leaves one ready to read more, and this small sample seems rather overpriced.

However, if you never thought you would read Chekhov, or know nothing of nineteenth century Russia, perhaps this is a good place to start!


Robin Hood (Bancroft classics 37!)
Robin Hood (Bancroft classics 37!)

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anonymous, 7 Jan 2010
This review is from: Robin Hood (Bancroft classics 37!)
This comprises a compendium of some of the most traditional stories about Robin Hood and his outlaw band, worked together into a coherent narrative.

Since the tales are traditional, the author's name is not given. I have always been disappointed by this, because this is a beautifully written story, mixing appropriate amounts of light and dark, humour and tragedy, to make a truly excellent children's book; I would have to have been able to seek out more of his work.

Some of the stories worked into this narrative are:
The Fight at the Ford
The Silver Arrrow
The Sorrowful Bridegroom
Blondel the Minstrel
Kirklees Priory

Warning: it is not afraid to end on a note of unrelieved tragedy.


Renfield: Slave of Dracula
Renfield: Slave of Dracula
by Barbara Hambly
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars How well do you know your Dracula?, 7 Jan 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
By this I mean the Bram Stoker novel, not any subsequent "re-imaginings"!

Barbara Hambly has taken the narrator from Bram Stoker's classic novel, and told his story further. Where the Victorian author lost interest in his protagonist, Ms Hambly does not, and continues the story of Jonathan Renfield.

As usual with Ms Hambly, it is a very well-crafted novel. The tone and language perfectly match that of the original.

This,however, is both the book's merit, and it's problem. Because it works so well as a continuation of "Dracula", enjoyment is greatly diminished by unfamiliarity with the former.

So, for real Dracula afficionados, - 5 stars.
For those lesser mortals, like me, who are not so thoroughly immersed in the mythos - 3.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 5, 2014 11:37 PM GMT


Rainbow Abyss (Sun-Cross, Book 1)
Rainbow Abyss (Sun-Cross, Book 1)
by Barbara Hambly
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars neglected masterpiece?, 7 Jan 2010
In talking with other Barbara Hambly fans, the Sun-Cross novels rarely come up. Why? I am not really sure.

Certainly they are much darker in tone, compared to her other fantasy novels, which are not, themselves, particularly frothy or cheerful. Her characteristic ascerbic comments and throwaway, casual references to horrors are even more to the fore here.

The world-setting is a characteristically Hambly one: wizards are a presecuted minority, the Church is corrupt and bigoted; the settings may be fantasy, but the portrayal of human nature, often at its worst, is thoughtful and realistic. This background description could equally fit the Darkover novels or the Windrose Chronicles, but whereas in those novels, the background serves as the setting for heroic actions against an alien foe, and a love story, in "The Rainbow Abyss" the social setting comes to the fore and becomes the driving point of the plot.

Probably this review will drive some people away, but for those who like their fantasy thoughtful, unflinching and memorable, this is heartily recommended. It is the sort of story that you do not just read avidly, you then find yourself discussing it long afterwards.

I am reluctant to give the plot away, over than to say that it primarily about a student's devotion to his master, the wizard Jaldis, who has been tortured and crippled by hostile politicians. Working together, they hope to escape to another world, where magicians are welcomed and appreciated.

Why only 4 stars? Some elements of the setting are rather clicheed, and she reiterates familar themes of hostility to organised religion.

The sequel, "The Magician's of Night" suffers from none of the above flaws. It is original, brilliant, and justifies the harshness of the imagery used in this book. But it works best as a sequel, with the back story of the main protagonist clearly examined in "The Rainbow Abyss" - so, do give a chance to the quiet hero here!


A Matter Of Death And Life
A Matter Of Death And Life
by Andrey Kurkov
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.39

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Book slight, plot familiar, 11 Dec 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Maybe I've just become a little jaded; this is the fourth novel by Andrey Kurkov that I've read. I loved both of his 'penguin' novels [Death and the Penguin and Penguin Lost], and The Case of the General's Thumb proved an enjoyable change of pace, but "A Matter of Death and Life" feels simply derivative.

Kurkov writes terse, deadpan prose, welcomely free of unnecessary padding. However, this book takes it to the extreme. Even with a fairly large font and well-spaced text, it only runs to 112 pages.

That might be forgivable if the story was brilliantly original. However, I found Tolya, here, remarkably similar to Misha's master. We have another aimless, job-hungry, dissociated male in his middle years, who through completely amoral behaviour improves his material position; he then finds a purpose in life by taking over the family of someone whose death he has caused, having previously been unable and/or unwilling to form family relationships of his own.

Also, I'm beginning to find the latent misogeny in these novels grating. All women appear to be solely motivated by sex and/or money; therefore they are ultimately disposable, and invite no sympathy when the hero discards them for a better offer. When I first met this attitude, I assumed it to be a quirk of the alienated protagonist, but the theme seems common to all the stories. Definitely irritating, but not, of itself, a good reason to give up on the book.

So, an acceptable addition to the Kurkov canon; but I would not start reading Kurkov here - unless you have a very short attention span!


Pompeii (Windsor Selection)
Pompeii (Windsor Selection)
by Robert Harris
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Unusual, well-researched - so why don't I like this more?, 30 Nov 2009
I always enjoy a novel which is well-researched, yet wears its learning lightly. The plot is highly original, unlike so many novels set in ancient Rome, which start to resemble each other.

The hero is an intensely likeable young man, and the fact that he is, by profession an engineer, is both unusual and gives an intersting flavour to the novel, as the hero's mind is taken up with the technical and scientific genius of Roman civilisation, rather than concentrating on the cultural aspects.

There is both a mystery, and an major external cataclysm.

With all these positive aspects, I expected to really enjoy this book. Yet, although it was a pleasant enough read, I wouldn't say that it's one I expect to reread. I suppose structure and content alone are not enough, and it is the writing style itself that let it down. That, of course, is a matter, of taste -it just did not suit mine.


The Lost Art Of Gratitude (Isabel Dalhousie 6)
The Lost Art Of Gratitude (Isabel Dalhousie 6)
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars beautiful nothingness, 9 Nov 2009
I enjoyed the way this book was written; I admire Mr. McCall Smith's detailed observation of human behaviour. I found Isabel Dalhousie a sympathetic and believable character; I appreciated the descriptive passages, which beautifully evoke Edinburgh - a city with which I am familiar.

However, when I finished the book, I felt cheated. Nothing had really happened. Nothing new, or insightful about human nature, had been revealed. Reading this book was not an arduous experience, but I felt it was a waste of time. I kept admring how well it was written and waited patiently for the point to be revealed but there was none.

I see that I have been reading a book from the middle of a series. Maybe I would feel differently if these were well-loved, familiar figures to me; but they were not, and ultimately I could not really care about them. I would certainly recommend that no one reads this as their first introduction to Isabal Dalhousie.


The Devil's Own Luck
The Devil's Own Luck
by David Donachie
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A neglected gem, 9 Nov 2009
This review is from: The Devil's Own Luck (Hardcover)
I heartily agree with the previous reviewer - it is a terrible shame that this writer is not better known!

Although, in my opinion, Patrick O'Brien is unmatched in his masterly evocation of the Napoleonic era, there is nothing anachronistic, that I can detect, in David Donachie's writing. It is also certainly true that Mr. Donachie shows a greater grasp of pace and narrative than is displayed in the early Aubrey/Maturin novels.

Considered as naval fiction, this was thoroughly enjoyable; however, I found the detective mystery component something of a disappointment. Half of the answer was blatently signposted, but went unnoticed by the main protagonist -though, to be fair, he was under great stress at the time! - whilst the other part was unpredictable due to the underdrawn nature of the minor characters. I would have liked to have seen here more characterisation of the other officers, and the only 'lower rank' with any noticeable personality is the servant, 'Pious' Pendle. It is obvious from the start which 'middie' is going to matter, forexample. This may seem a minor quibble, but is particularly a flaw in a murder mystery. Making the comparison with O'Brien again, this compares unfavourably with the verbal vignettes the latter draws of every character he introduces; no one there is evidently 'more important' than another.

Despite my slight criticisms, I am definitely going to seek out the further adventures of Harry Ludlow!


Memento [2000] [DVD]
Memento [2000] [DVD]
Dvd ~ Guy Pearce
Offered by Jasuli
Price: 3.95

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an interesting idea, 13 Oct 2009
This review is from: Memento [2000] [DVD] (DVD)
I have very mixed feelings about this film. Whilst watching it for the first time, I thought it brilliant; then the holes in MY memory filled and I noticed all the holes in the plot!

I won't spoil anyone else's enjoyment of the film by pointing them out, nor will I waste time detailing the plot, since that has already been ably summarised by other reviewers.

My comment is simply that, although full credit should be given for making an action film that also engages the brain, it does not handle the central conceit as well as it could have done and, therefore, ultimately must be seen as another triumph of style over substance.

So, an enjoyable film, and one well worth watching, but not a great one.


Pavel and I
Pavel and I
by Dan Vyleta
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliantly realised setting, but a little thin in narrative content, 12 Oct 2009
This review is from: Pavel and I (Hardcover)
To say Dan Vyleta is "a German" is a bit misleading: his parents were Czechoslovakian Volksdeutsch, who emigrated to Germany after the time period described in the book, whilst Mr. Vyleta himself was educated in the UK and now lives in Canada. But then again, the questions of nationality and loyalty are very much the theme of the novel.

"Pavel & I" is set in the bleakest environment of place and time: the bitter winter of 1946 in war-ravaged Berlin; a cut-throat environment where almost everyone needs to compromise their conscience in order to survive, whilst those who have no conscience to trouble them prosper.

Eschewing the fashion for a single POV narrative, Pavel's story is seen through a variety of eyes; the "I" of the title only ientifies himself half-way through. Of course, the convention cannot be denied, so there is a rather clumsy section tacked on at the end, explaining how the narrator came to possess the narratives of the other protagonists, which defuses the dramatic tension and weakens the ending.

Also, the need for these stories to be told to our rather unsympathetic narrator forces major implausibilities in the plot. It is unbelievable that an officer, who has shown himself absolutely ruthless in eliminating children who know a little of his illegal actions, should a short time later, let major witnesses go free because his country "has no use for them"!

Add to this the fact that the main "plot twist" has been relatively obvious from very early on in the novel, and you can see that my feeling on finishing the novel was one of disappointment. It seems a great pity that this brilliant evocation of time and place has been hung on a not terribly well-thought-out little Cold War thriller.

It seems waste of the author's talent. As a thriller noir, the book is perfectly pleasant, but it was nearly a lot more!


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