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P. G. Harris

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Ring RCT5 Compact First Aid Kit
Ring RCT5 Compact First Aid Kit
Price: £12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good basic first aid kit, 1 Sep 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a good basic first aid kit containing most of what you need to deal with minor accidents, cuts and grazes. Of course you could do the same, possibly more cheaply with a clip top box and a visit to Boots (other high st chemists are available), but if you just want something you can pick up quickly for the boot of the car, a kitchen drawer or a rucksack, its perfectly fine. The semi rigid green box is probably the most useful part, as if you don't like these particular contents, you can always refill it differently.

All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Yarn spinning in primary colours, 1 Sep 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
August 1944, the allies drop leaflets over St Malo warning the residents to leave in advance of bombing raids intended to end the siege of the city. Amongst those unable to heed the warning are Marie-Laure, a blind French teenager, trapped in her great uncle's house, and Werner Pfennig, a young Wehrmacht radio-operator.

From this point, the story jumps backwards and forwards in time to tell the tale of what brought these two young people from different backgrounds and countries to be in this single place at this particular time.

Marie-Laure's childhood is, despite her blindness, an idyllic one, cared for by her father who is a locksmith at the National Museum of Natural History. He builds intricate models of Paris (and later St Malo) so that she can find her way around, every year her birthday brings an intricate puzzle hiding a treat, and a new Braille book, most notably, over two years, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Werner is an orphan, brought up by a nun in a children's home, whose destiny is to be sent down the mines of his home town, until his genius for repairing, and eventually making, radios is recognised and he is sent away to a school educating the elite of the Third Reich in an atmosphere of barely controlled brutality.

As their stories develop Marie-Laure lives through the deprivations of occupied France, while Werner witnesses at second hand the horrors of Nazi Germany, while also experiencing the less than glorious life of the ordinary soldier, particularly as the Red Army, and then the Allies roll back Hitler's empire.

Entwined with these two teenage narratives is the melodrama of the hunt for a diamond, a mythical stone rumoured to bestow eternal life on its owner but to bring tragedy to those around them. Before the war, this was kept in the Paris museum, before three copies were made ahead of the German invasion and scattered across France. One was carried by Marie-Laure's father. In pursuit of the stones is the sinister Von Rumpel, a refined sociopath.

Within these narratives, the author, Anthony Doerr, plays with a number of repeating themes. With Marie Laure, deprived of sight, he writes in a strongly sensory manner, with her heightened awareness of sound, smell , touch and taste, from the delights of her childhood to the horrors and tensions of St Malo. Werner's story is about the magic of radio, both the practical, electronics, and the emotional impact as Werner and his sister, Jutta, listen to mysterious, inspiring broadcasts from the coast of France. The title of the book ties Marie-Laure's blindness to the invisible wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum explored by Werner, but in the end perhaps the light we cannot see is compassion and goodness in ordinary people in even the most difficult circumstances.

It is also a book of imprisonment, of small spaces, and of claustrophobia, Marie-Laure in her blindness, in a tiny flat in Paris, in an attic in St Malo hiding from the invaders. Werner has his presumed fate in the mine closing his future, virtual entrapment in the elite school, actual confinement in an army radio truck and in a cellar in St Malo. For both of them, escape is offered by radio broadcasts and by the sea, the real sea at St Malo and Jules Verne's fictional sea.

Fundamentally, the main strength of the book is that it is a damn good yarn, peopled by some entertaining and engaging characters. Doerr takes the threads of Marie, Werner and Von Rumpel, and weaves them across Europe before binding them tightly together in St Malo. On the way we meet Werner's doting sister, his delicate friend Frederick and his gigantic protector Volkheimer; Marie-Laure is surrounded by her father, her great uncle Etienne, emotionally scarred by the great war and resourceful housekeeper Madame Manec.

Though the supporting cast is entertaining, the core characterisation is weaker. Early on Werner and Marie-Laure feel broadly painted in primary colours, the perfect little blind girl and the boy genius. As they develop, there is no feeling of them developing as real teenagers. They simply react to the world around them, without developing any believable inner life. Also poor Werner is sacrificed to the needs of the plot, on two occasions a complete non sequiteur pops up which simply seems to be driven by the author's need to move him on for plot purposes. Maybe both these criticisms are realistic portrayals of how war stunts inner growth and generates random, uncontrollable events, but for me they just didn't ring true.

One final note of warning, not a criticism, but the book is definitely written in American English. That is fine, the author is perfectly entitled to translate from French and German into American, but it does grate a little to the English ear.

In summary, this is worth reading, but it is a yarn-spinners book, being plot rather than character driven.

by Ken MacLeod
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Just great fun, 19 Aug 2014
This review is from: Descent (Hardcover)
I find Ken Macleod to be something of an inconsistent writer. When I first read the Fall Revolution novels they blew me away, with their mixture of hard science fiction and a very Scottish combination of politics and wry cynical humour. The Engines of Light series, on the other hand, did nothing for me, I just found it a bit dull. The Night Sessions I found to be a curate's egg in the true meaning of the phrase, basically bad, but with some good bits.

The good news is that descent is definitely at the Fall Revolution end of the range. It is set in Scotland (where else) in the very near future, and tells the story of a young man, Ryan, between his late teenage, and becoming a father in his late twenties.

Bunking off from exam revision, Ryan, and friend Callum walk up a nearby hill where they have a close encounter with a mysterious flying object which leaves them unconscious for several hours. This is the cue for Macleod and the reader to have tremendous fun as conspiracy theories, apparent alien abductions , and X-files plot lines twist around each other in what is basically a political and economic thriller. Add in neanderthal bloodlines, the ongoing evolution if the human race, and mysterious bibles which seem to describe extraterrestrial life and you get some idea of the intricacy of the plot.

Of course his sadly departed fellow scot is a clear reference point, but while this is a science fiction novel, it is probably closer to the works of Iain Banks, without the "M", being as it is a very male coming of age story. Indeed, Macleod could be accused of lifting the Prentice/Ash love story from the Crow Road. That isn't a problem as Banks himself stole it from David Copperfield.

Overall, this is just great fun. It is one of those novels where it is easy to believe one can sense the novelist enjoying himself, and that sense of enjoyment was certainly passed on to this reader.

Price: £5.03

4.0 out of 5 stars Plus ca change...., 16 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Everland (Kindle Edition)
Everland is a book about Antarctic exploration. It takes the story of two expeditions to the fictional titular island, each comprising three people. The first expedition takes place in 1913, the second is set in 2012, to celebrate the centenary of the first disastrous landing. Author Rebecca Hunt appears to draw on her experiences with the Arctic Circle residency to present a highly convincing picture of both a frozen landscape and of its effect on the vulnerable human body. This makes Everland a somewhat pungent book. I had recently read Hannah Kent's Burial Rites which, with an Icelandic setting, gives a similar feel of the odour generated by people huddled together in a freezing environment.

Secondly it is a book about the passage of time. There are frequent references to the lichen on the island, which lives for thousands of years, barely changing over the 100 year timescale of the book. At the other end of the spectrum is technology. The 20th century explorers are isolated for months at a time with rudimentary, barely adequate equipment. Their 21st century successors on the other hand have constant contact via radio, and the extent of their isolation is limited to being two hours away by sea plane. What doesn't change is their vulnerability in the face of the sheer unforgiving hostility of the environment. Hunt's main theme, however, is the constancy of human nature. She seemingly creates a basket of character traits which she shares between the earlier Dinners, Millet-Bass and Napps, and then redistributes them between the later Blix, Jess and Decker. Each party has a weak link who joined the party as a result of outside influence. Each has a no-nonense expert. Each has a leader struggling with the responsibility. Everland thus becomes a sort of dark and twisted Never-neverland in which human nature never grows up.

Thirdly it is a book about relationships under pressure. As the story of the two expeditions move along similar arcs, with clear parallels between the difficulties each faces, so the development of the relationships between the three main characters follow corresponding paths at either end of the century. In both there is an initial hostile divide between naivety and competence, with a seemingly more mature character keeping the peace. As time passes hostility turns to acceptance and diplomacy deteriorates into vindictiveness. A critical exploration of the effects of stress comes near the end of the 21st century thread when one of the characters takes an uncharacteristically selfish decision. Is this a piece of poor, unrealistic writing or is it a totally credible account of something having to give in a man squeezed by competing demands in an unbearably stressful situation?

Fourthly it is a book about how history is written by the victors. Early on the 2012 expedition watch a film based on the story of their predecessors, during which the supposed villain of the piece is roundly booed. Through the book we learn of the very different reality of the situation, and of why, to protect vested interests, the name of a noble if uncompromising man was blackened. This is repeated in both eras as characters reach sordid little compromises to obscure the truth of their own misdeeds.

The strengths of Everland are the apparent authenticity of the environment (I don't have the personal experience to judge this definitively) and in the complex characterisations of and relationships between the historical protagonists. The more modern characters are less successful. While they show some development, they start off as very crudely drawn stereotypes. I wasn't always convinced by the number of parallels between the two stories. The author at times seemed to be trying too hard, for example there is an incident involving the burying of meat in both timelines which seems almost peripheral to the plot, and only in there to create a temporal echo. It is also only vaguely explained (although one can guess at what happened).

Overall, Everland is a well researched, engrossing book with a narrative which both moves at a reasonable pace and keeps some of its secrets right up to the final denouement.


Burial Rites
Burial Rites
Price: £3.14

5.0 out of 5 stars Pungent excellence, 3 Aug 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Burial Rites (Kindle Edition)
Burial rites is based on the true story of Agnes Magnusdottir (or Jonsdottir) who was sentenced to beheading for her part, with two others, in the murder of shaman Natan Ketilsson and another man.

Awaiting execution she is sent to live in the home of minor official Jon Jonsson and his wife Margret. Initially they are horrified by their charge, but as time passes, a relationship grows between Agnes, her hosts, and their daughters, Lauga and Steina.

One of the joys of Burial Rites is that has a number of intermingled facets to it. It could be viewed as a whodunnit. As the relationship between Margret, Agnes and her callow spiritual adviser, Toti, grows, we gradually learn about what really happened on the night of the murder and subsequent fire.

It is a extremely well researched picture of peasant life in 19th century Iceland. A modern view of Iceland may be of the wide open landscapes, but this book is painted on a small, claustrophobic canvas as the people huddle together in their austere homes. The outdoors is limited to the small fields which must be rapidly cultivated in the brief weeks of summer, before winter returns and the landscape returns to being something which must be crossed between the tiny, barely flickering islands of warmth.

It is a delightful character study. The two daughters, one soft hearted and ready to be drawn to Agnes, the other frightened and suspicious. The District Commissioner who could be a pantomime villain, but is in fact a highly convincing portrait of arrogant moral certainty. A particular favourite was the neighbour, Roslin a highly amusing village busy-body.

It is a story of relationships, of relationships between women and between men and women. There is the exploitative relationship between Agnes and her lover, the unsatisfying relationship between Agnes and the ineffectual Toti, and above all the ultimately crucial relationship between Agnes and Margret.

There are also interesting elements to the structure of the book. All through there are changing viewpoints, but crucially all except Agnes are told in the third person. Agnes alone speaks with her own voice, and this is really effective in emphasising her loneliness, in setting her apart, in making her unique and different.

Secondly the pace is beuatifully judged. It starts slowly, but gradually builds and builds to its twin climaxes of learning what happened on the night of the murder, and of determining Agnes's eventual fate.

A final thing to say is that it is a supremely smelly book. In the cramped Icelandic croft, the badstofa, in the animal sheds, in Agnes's prison, it is a book of sweat, urine, excrement and every conceivable bodily fluid.

So, in summary this is a really good, engaging read, and despite the fact that it is at times quite harrowing, it never wallows in misery, it handles the painful experiences of its characters in a way which is realistic, affecting, but never exploitative.

Colgate A1500 ProClinical Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush
Colgate A1500 ProClinical Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush
Price: £65.87

4.0 out of 5 stars Does an excellent job noisily, 27 July 2014
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I am a long term old fashioned manual toothbrush user and so this is a bit of a departure for me. This is a top of the range electronic toothbrush with probably more features than I can sensibly use. One can set the speed of brushing manually, it can set them itself in optimal mode, or there is what feels like a pretty brutal "deep clean" mode. It has a shut off function to stop brushing when the dentist recommended 2 minutes are up and also apparently cleans sonically.

It has to be said that it leaves my teeth feeling very clean, but it is a very noisy process, sounds like putting a dentists drill into ones mouth.

On a practical side, it is very long, which is very good for reaching everywhere, but also makes it very unstable on the bathroom shelf.

So, it does its job really well, but very noisily.

Ancillary Justice: 1 (Imperial Radch)
Ancillary Justice: 1 (Imperial Radch)
Price: £3.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Culture crossed with the Roman Empire, 20 July 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Ancilliary Justice starts with its central character, who goes by the alias of Breq, on a wintery planet in search of a weapon with which she hopes to revenge events from 20 years previously. The story of those events is told in alternate chapters where we learn about a universe which is home to the imperial Radch, whose artificially intelligent starships control networks of telepathic soldiers, created from the bodies of those unfortunate enough to have been conquered and killed by these interstellar Romans.

Breq, it turns out, is one such avatar, One Esk Nineteen, last survivor of the troop carrier Justice of Toren. That sentence is indicative of two of the key features of author Ann Leckie's book. Firstly, that the ships control multiple avatars, all of whom are aware of what each other is/are thinking and seeing. Leckie handles the description of multiple viewpoints and rapidly changing perspective really skilfully. Secondly, this is very much a story of confused identity, as One Esk struggles to understand who and what she is. Crucially for the plot she and her like are not the only multiple entities in the book...... While the confusion created is intentional, it does occasionally step a little too far as, early on, Leckie rapidly introduces races, nations, factions characters, and interchangeable avatars at a pace which left this reader at least, somewhat disorientated.

As well as effectively describing the experiences of the multiple entities, Leckie gives the isolated One Esk a convincing, dispassionate voice, viewing the worlds around her in an unemotional, detached manner. While reading the book, one term which didn't enter my head was 'zombie', but in retrospect, that would be one way of looking at it. If all zombie stories are really about something else, Ancilliary Justice is a zombie story about identity and about what it really means to be human. Here it is One Esk, who, despite her origins, turns out to be the most human character.

In using SF to consider issues of humanity, Leckie joins a long tradition in which, of course, Philip K Dick is the dominant figure. He is not her only speculative literary antecedent. Early on, with its dominant society and intelligent spaceships, it felt a bit like reading about the Culture's dark, imperialist cousin, but by the end, with a seemingly impregnable empire, weakened by internal corruption, and faced with mysterious and faintly sinister aliens, it is closer to Stephen Donaldson's Gap series.

One interesting feature, which echoes both Iain M Banks and Ursula K Le Guin, is the ambiguous and shifting sexuality of the characters. This is society where language is subtly nuanced to express gender but where actual sexual identity seems difficult to determine. The default pronoun is female, but individuals are referred to as both him and her depending on circumstances. This usage gives the impression of a universe dominated by women, which asks questions of the extent to which language echoes, and/or reinforces the balance of power in society. If Leckie is saying anything about the effect of the dominant gender on society, it seems to be that it is of little impact. This is a society every bit as violent and competitive as a male-dominated one.

Finally, I loved the end. I didn't enter into this book in the knowledge that it is intended to be the first in a series, but it is, and that results in a culmination which is like a door being slammed in one's face, and a feeling of "Wow, what next".

In terms of sub genre this is closest to military SF, but it is definitely towards the intelligent end of the spectrum, a long way from ultra-violent, video game inspired, shoot-em-ups, and run of the mill Napoleonic-navy-in-space stories which seem to predominate these days.

This is not a piece of planet-shatteringly original writing, its influences are too obvious for that, but it is a step above the average, and as such, well worth reading.

My Salinger Year
My Salinger Year
by Joanna Smith Rakoff
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bridget Jones escapes from Pseud's Corner, 6 July 2014
This review is from: My Salinger Year (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The blurb on the front flap of the dust jacket suggests that the primary theme of this autobiographical (?) story of a year working at J D Salinger's agent, is the young secretary/aspiring writer entering into correspondence with those who write to the literary great, who has refused to read their letters. In fact, like so many synopses, this is misleading, certainly that is a strand, but it is just one of many, and not the most dominant thread.

The book is primarily about two things, the end of the pre-digital publishing world, but more importantly about a young woman growing into a more self confident adult, with the catalyst for that transformation being, unsurprisingly, the titular author.

As the book opens, Rakoff, having failed to finish a doctorate at London University, has returned to New York and found a job at a literary agency. This is a world of typewriters, poorly illuminated wood panelled offices where work takes place in pools of light from desk lamps, of literary lunches and of a literati, out of touch with reality, handing down missives about what makes good literature from a self conscious pastiche of bohemia. That Rakoff eventually rejects this world, despite having put a first toe on the ladder of success is to her credit.

Outside work, Rakoff's life is that of a middle class girl (as she describes herself), trying to survive in a big city on an inadequate salary whilst her love life is torn between the shining, sensitive knight and the cad. Her Mark D'Arcy is on the other side of America, and Daniel Cleaver's role has been seemingly taken by Malcolm Bradbury's sexually incontinent socialist, Howard Kirk, but I found it difficult not to see parallels with Helen Fielding's comic heroine. Again, it is part of Rakoff's developmental journey that she grows out of this situation.

This is an interesting portrayal of a vanished world of publishing, one in which computers play no part, and where there is the pretence that patrician relationships are more important than commercial reality, even if it does feel strange to be talking about the distant days of 1995! Also I have to say that it is a world, as pictured here, which deserved to die. A bit like Brideshead Revisited, sure it's picturesque and could be seen to have a certain romantic glamour, but when the key players are so dysfunctionally unpleasant, would you really want to live there?

Rakoff has a very easy writing style, one which encouraged me to rattle through the book in a single day. She tells such a good story that I found myself becoming suspicious that it was just too well structured to be real. It was then that I read the disclaimer at the start that she had fiddled with the chronology of events!

The other part of the disclaimer is the changing of names. While, as the Guardian points out in its review, it is easy enough via Google to find the identity of the literary agency and of its head, Rakoff is as protective as it is possible for an autobiographical writer to be of her privacy and that of those closest to her. This is no heart on the sleeve emotionally raw memoir. One gets the impression, as is her right, that Rakoff is a very private person who has decided precisely what she will reveal and what she will not. This makes for more of an intellectually rather than emotionally engaging work. By the end of the book, While I think I know which of three men was her eventual partner, the reader learns virtually nothing about him, nor whether they are still together.

One slightly strange trend in the writing is to introduce what seem to be huge significant events, her father unexpectedly burdening her with debt, tangible proof of her partner's infidelity, and then just to drop them, either entirely or with only tangential later references.

At its end the book is a love letter to Salinger the man, whom Rakoff eventually meets in person, but mainly to his work which she reads for the first time in a cathartic weekend after Daniel Cleaver has abandoned her to "hang with the boys" at a friend's wedding. She has continued to do so ever since and her espousal of his writing certainly encourages the reader to revisit it.

In short, this is definitely a worthwhile read and one I'd recommend to anyone with an interest in literature and its power to affect lives.

by Richard Ford
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Slooooow burner, 5 July 2014
This review is from: Canada (Hardcover)
In the end I concluded that Canada is a good novel which explores some really profound themes, but boy did I find it hard work at times. It is probably a mark of the quality of the book that despite finding it difficult, and indeed verging on the turgid at times, I never wanted to give up on it, I always wanted to get to the end.

The central character is Dell Parsons, a school teacher on the verge of retirement, but the majority of the book is given over to an account of his fifteen year old self and the momentous events which knocked his life off course. The first part of the book is given over to Dell's life with his family, twin sister Berner, and parents uptight academic Neva, and feckless Bev in the run up to husband and wife becoming the most unlikely, and indeed naive, bank robbers. Revealing this is not giving away the plot as the author announces the crime right at the start of the book, which is therefore less a tale of events and more a story of the consequences of those events.

The second part takes place in the titular nation, when, after the arrest of his parents, Dell is whisked away by a family friend to live in a hotel come shooting resort with the mysterious Arthur Remlinger. This section also culminates in a crime revealed in advance, although not as clearly as that in the first section.

The novel ends with a reunion between Dell and Berner, who were separated immediately after their parents' crime.

What all three sections, share is a tightly constructed sense of impending doom. In the first section, even though the culminating event is well known, Ford still manages to create a sense of tension, seen through the eyes of his innocent narrator. In the second part, even though the reveal comes later, there is still a constant sense of wrongness, of things moving inexorably towards tragedy.

Essentially I found Canada to be a book about the consequences on our lives of taking poor decisions. While the crimes here seem to be extreme examples of poor decision making, there are described in a very low key, every day fashion, almost like deciding what furniture to buy. As well as the crimes of Bev, Neva and a youthful Arthur, the ill considered marriage of Bev and Neva is of fundamental importance to Dell's fate.

While being a novel of consequences it is not a novel of fate and inevitability, Ford is at pains to point out the essentially random nature of events surrounding his characters. This is echoed in young Dell's obsession with chess which seems to be a metaphor for trying to find and impose order in and on the world. In the end the older narrator admits "I was never much good at it" . Ford not seeing our fate as being written in the stars or being the inevitable consequence of events is typified by the very different lives eventually lead by the separated twins

It is also book heavy with symbolism, at times heartbreakingly so. Young Dell has three great aspirations in his life, the order of chess, the society of bees and the bright lights of the fun fair. The first he fails at, the second he gives up on in his Canadian isolation, and the third he is prevented from reaching by his father's failings. When the scene shifts to Canada the slaughter of geese by American hunters is a constant undertone which forms an overture to the culmination of the second section.

So, in summary, I didn't find this an easy read, but in the end it rewarded the effort put in.

The People's Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records
The People's Songs: The Story of Modern Britain in 50 Records
Price: £3.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Makes me wish I'd heard the radio series, 7 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
If I could give half stars this would be a three and a half star review. This book isn't bad, and if you are looking for a nostalgic, undemanding read, it's probably worth buying. It's just that it isn't as good as I hoped it would be.

This is a tie in to a BBC radio series and that is probably key to the weakness of the book which, without being a massive coffee-table endangering tome, is going to struggle to have the depth and richness of a 50 part radio series. I didn't hear the radio series, but the blurb about it on the BBC website suggests that it was centred around listeners's views. Crucially that is an element missing here.

On the plus side, Maconie is an interesting and engaging writer, although perhaps not quite at his waspish best. There is nothing here quite as funny or scurrilous as his comparison of Chris de Burgh writing Lady in Red and the leader of the Third Reich, a comparison in which the former fares badly. Furthermore any book of lists always generates the pleasure of disagreeing with inclusions and exclusions. One undoubted strength of this collection is the extent of Maconie's net which spreads from the Bay City Rollers to Black Sabbath, from My Boy Lollipop to Ebeneezer Goode. A fascinating exclusion is a song which, when I got to the end of the book, I thought, "How can he call this the people's songs and omit that?" However the book which claims to be the 50 people's songs only includes 49. For the radio series, listeners were invited to propose the final entry. Given the timing of the final show, the identity of the chosen song was utterly inevitable.

Being that eclectic is also one of the weaknesses of the book. The vox pops of the radio series probably gave it a coherence which this doesn't have. The stated aim in the introduction is that this will be the people's choices, the pop music which meant something to the people of Britain. That is certainly the case with some of the the choices which wouldn't appear in a classic rock history (We'll meet again, Don't cry for me Argentina), but that doesn't tell the whole story. The book is veers between that and
A straight history of British musical genres (heavy metal, punk, goth, rave etc etc)
A history of pale and interesting young men's music, Bowie's Starman, Bronski Beat, and of course the mandatory inclusion, under the Representation of Self-important Misanthropes Act 1986 which states that no British musical book can omit Manchester Miserablist Morrisey, of the Smiths
A social history of post war Britain, Silver Jubilee, miners strike, Labour's 1997 election victory
Songs included simply because the author likes them and/or the artist. The most glaring example of this is Solsbury Hill, excellent song though it is, justified on the wafer thin basis that people like to go on country walks to think things through.

Another disappointment after the descent from breadth into lack of coherence is the fact that one would guess that the target demographic, particularly as this was a Radio 2/6 project, is people in their 40s to 60s, but the book contains very little that has not been repeated many times before and is not already well known to a large proportion of the readership. Again, I suspect the problem here is that the missing new material was in the popular interviews in the radio series. That said, it is always entertaining to be reminded that the guitarist on 60s hit Telstar was George Bellamy, father of Muse's Matt.

One of the pleasures of listening to Maconie is his iconoclastic view the world. Here he seems to adopt some boringly currently trendy views. Prog was actually quite good (thoroughly sound position). Live Aid is rubbished to an extent as ineffective, mainly serving to promote the careers of washed up rock stars, and amazingly being responsible for the birth of celebrity culture and middle class music festivals. Gosh, and I thought it was a bloke trying to do some good after being shocked by a catastrophe. Oasis, rather than being musical magpies who produced two stonkingly good albums and little else of note, were in fact single handedly responsible for the downfall of decent society and the growth of lad culture.

While giving views with which one can disagree could actually be one of the pleasures of the book, lazy inaccuracies are less ambiguous. In the second chapter, there is the stunningly crassly inaccurate description of the Queen of Tonga as being from the Caribbean. He also quotes Jon Savage linking Nick Hornby with laddishness. Anyone who has actually read Fever Pitch knows that while it could be accused of contributing to football becoming more middle class, it is very definitely anti-lad.

In summary, while this book has its faults, it is very readable, and reading it really made me wish I'd heard the radio series. So a request to the BBC, if issues with rights allow it, can we have a download or a CD box set please.

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