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Neil Kealey "Neil Kealey" (Littlehampton, Sussex)

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The Dark Volume
The Dark Volume
by Gordon Dahlquist
Edition: Hardcover

30 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darker and more desperate, but. . .??, 26 May 2008
This review is from: The Dark Volume (Hardcover)
This is the sequel to The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters - a book destined to divide literary loyalties - and I am sure it was as 'eagerly anticipated' around the world as it was by me. I should say that I was just as apprehensive about this book as I was excited. I enjoyed volume one enormously, despite some pretty serious flaws, but how often does the follow-up disappoint? Far too frequently, in my experience, and as such I approached this title with excitement, tinged with some concern.

The cover isn't as pretty. It's pretty and enticing but not as startlingly beautiful as the original hardback edition was. For some reason, despite the old adage of not judging a book by its cover, this did disappoint me; it spoke of economising and corner-cutting which worried me a little.

It's considerably shorter than the original - not a spurious point at all - the apparent brevity is probably due to an editing process Glass Books could have benefited from. Indeed this book benefits from a much tighter plot with just enough extraneous detail to delight and develop character rather than distract as too often happened in Glass Books. Aside from a few (utterly necessary) sections designed to remind the reader of crucial events from book one the story is even faster-paced, darker and more desperate than the original - if that is possible!

The book manages to be even more epic in feel than Glass Books, too, partly because the heroes (as they often are in book two of trilogies) have gone their separate ways and are converging on their desperate denouement (I'll say no more).

The book takes place in an expanded world which adds to the sense of the epic. Unfortunately, it means that the city, which was one of the major 'characters' in book one, is virtually missing from the plot entirely. This means a lot of what made Glass Books feel a bit Dickensian is also missing. It's a shame but not a disaster. The environs still play a significant part in the plot and Dahlquist uses the environment in a way a little reminiscent of Hardy - although I felt a map would have helped keep track of where the characters were in relation to each other.

The episodical nature of Glass Books is not so apparent here - further distancing this book from that Dickensian feel - but that again is not a problem as each chapter leaves you wanting more - just as Glass Books did. Because The Dark Volume is tighter than Glass Books in terms of plot there isn't that sense of story unravelling in front of you. While it isn't AS gripping and there is a sense that the characters are moving towards something just a little contrived, it does seem a much more considered package.

Once again, there is plenty of Conan Doyle here, mixed with more than a little Neil Gaiman, as well as any one of the mock-period adventure stories that are so popular at the moment. But Dahlquist's secret is that, while he focuses on the fantastic, he makes excellent use of sporadic references to reality (various places around Europe are named for example). Somehow this makes the darkness even more disturbing.

There is a large cast in this book and I struggled a little to keep track of who was who and what they were working towards. It was difficult enough to keep track of the characters from book one (only the darker characters for some reason), and in particular their complex relationships, but the addition of a plethora of additional 'bad guys' with particularly complex loyalties threatened to detract from my enjoyment but ultimately didn't. Phew.

I am relieved to say that this book managed not to disappoint - despite my high expectations. Dahlquist and his publishers seem to have worked on a lot of the issues Glass Books 'suffered' from, mainly at the planning and editing stage. This makes the book appear safer; it takes fewer risks something which both adds and detracts from the book. It has resulted in a book which, while a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read, just lacked that bit of magic Glass Books had in abundance; the magic that made Glass Books special. Oh well, it's still brilliant. Can't wait for book three.

Beta Male Fairytales
Beta Male Fairytales
Offered by mrtopseller
Price: 3.00

3 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Move along, there's nothing to see here. . ., 26 Mar 2008
This review is from: Beta Male Fairytales (Audio CD)
There is nothing wrong with this music. Unfortunately, there is nothing that right with it either. Great song-writing this isn't. Great melodies? Nope. Great lyrics? I'm afraid not. It is okay in all these areas. Nothing offensive; nothing that startles. It plods along and all the songs sort of melt into each other like slices of cheese on a piece of toast under the grill. And that's actually not a bad simile. Cheese. If this album were a pound of cheese it would be Cheddar: mild, unoffensive, instantly forgettable but you will probably not hate it.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 26, 2008 7:08 PM BST

This Thing Of Darkness
This Thing Of Darkness
by Harry Thompson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An astonishing piece of writing, 18 Mar 2008
This review is from: This Thing Of Darkness (Paperback)
Having read this book, I feel I ought to go back and re-score all the other books that I have previously reviewed, knocking them down at least one star each. Either that or I should apply for the right to give this a 6 star rating! 5-stars just doesn't do it justice.

It is epic but has a delicate touch, particularly in terms of characterisation. The minutae of detail (historic, geographic and scientific) for example, is extra-ordinary but never 'bogs you down.'

I have never come across a book like this and doubt I will again. It has it all (including - off the top of my head):-

A wonderful, sympathetic - but never sentimental - study of two contrasting, but extraordinary, Victorian characters, namely Charles Darwin and Captain Fitzroy;

A brilliant depiciton of the Victorian period (including the Crimean War, the growth of London, the height of Empire and the peak of British Colonialisation). So brilliant in fact that it has the effect of of bringing the period closer to you - so close you feel you are there;

Humourous episodes-a-plenty;

Adventures and tragedy on treacherous storm-ridden seas;

Daring naval battles and other such feats of daring-do;

Stories of individual courage;

Stories of individual weakness;

The birth of nations such as New Zealand and Argentina (and the ensuing fight over the Falklands);

The beginning of the end of ancient cultures and indigenous populations (such as the Maoris of New Zealand);

Political intrigue;

An excellent, thought-provoking, but again never sentimental, study of manic-depression;

An insight into Victorian geology;


Victorian anthropology;

Subtle, believable, suitably-stifled, perfectly-portrayed romances;

A study of the changing understanding of botany;

The birth of modern day metreology;

A brilliant depiction of Victorian physical geography (not to mention brilliantly evoked locations);

The struggle between religion, faith and science;


and lastly, Oceanography.

Yet, despite this (by no means exhasutive) list, it manages to be a true page-turner. It never gets dull. It never loses you. It informs (and by jove how!) but doesn't patronise. It is a work of staggering genius. I cannot recommend it enough.

Reading this book has been a true pleasure and an education (in terms of the period and on how to write). It IS an astonishing piece of writing and should have won the Booker Prize; that it didn't speaks volumes of the judging panel.

Mister Pip
Mister Pip
by Lloyd Jones
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Do not give up on this book, 29 Oct 2007
This review is from: Mister Pip (Hardcover)
Most of this book is forgettable and contrived. I almost gave up on it. However, sandwiched between the dross are five pages that left me LITERALLY breathless. I did not breathe for five pages, just turned the ppages and sucked up some of the most intense prose I have ever read. I shook for hours afterward and sleep deserted me. Rather than being instantly forgettable, this book will live with me forever - and all because of five pages of prose.

The Last Days of Newgate (Pyke Mysteries)
The Last Days of Newgate (Pyke Mysteries)
by Andrew Pepper
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evocative and enjoyable, 29 Sep 2007
Not a great book, but a jolly good one.

It is gripping, tense, engaging, evocative and many other things, too. It isn't perfect: some of the dialogue is a little moralisitic, and therefore sounds a touch stilted in places, the ending is frustratingly sans twist and it could have been longer, with parts of the plot stretched out to create a fuller picture of events.

That said, it is an interesting insight into 19th Century London and the politics of the time, the characters are well developed (the protagonist is especially rounded and believeable), and the plot is engaging (that word again!) enough to keep you turning the pages (even if you can sort of guess where it is going quite early on).

It certainly isn't a first class detective novel, but then if it was, I wouldn't have purchased it. It is a good story about interesting people and isn't that what a good book should be? I will be buying part two.

The End of Mr Y
The End of Mr Y
by Scarlett Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.57

48 of 66 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pretentious twaddle (with mouse porn), 15 Sep 2007
This review is from: The End of Mr Y (Paperback)
The basic concept is great (hence the 2 stars) but the end product is contrived, forced, try-hard, boring, pretentious nonsense. This is all art and no story; a chance for the author to say, "Look how clever I am, look how much research I have done."

Good books are based on good ideas, yes, and the premise here is/was potentially brilliant, but good books also have great characters that one can relate to. This one does not.

The dialogue is atrocious too. It is split into two chunks: the clichéd and the pretentious. For large parts of the book, it seems that the author has simply put speech marks around great chunks that could have been (I'm sure they were not) lifted from a variety of high brow text books. The end result is a head ache and the destruction of any sense of story.

And then for the clichés: When she strays away from the science and offer high brow pretentious drivel, she gives us two incredibly clichéd bad guys with awful dialogue (no wonder they are angry). I mean, come on, others speak of her imagination, but the "bad guys with guns" (for that is how they are referred to in this book) are frantically unimaginative. The lines that spill out of their mouths are bed-wettingly naff.

Some of the scenes are just so contrived. For example, the scene where the protagonist and her virginal, ex-priest side kick are debating the "Notion of Being" whilst restraining from 'doing the deed' AND hiding from the above-mentioned "bad guys" is just an excuse for her to paste in some more chunks of science claptrap. I mean, who debates the (makes bunny rabbit ear signs) "Nature of Being" when you know that out there somewhere are "bad guys with guns" who want to kill you and your life is restricted to minutes. Perhaps it's me but a believable character would come across as a little worried about their impending doom not argue a point of science.

I actually laughed out loud when the ex-priest attempted to seduce the protagonist by explaining the nature of quarks and electrons and how, considering the habit of electrons to actually repel each other, having sex would be fine because they wouldn't actually touch on a molecular level - BRILLIANT! If I was single I would try that line on a Friday night and see where it got me!

And that brings me to the try-hard...

I really dislike books that try really hard to shock. This book tries really, really hard to shock you with some 'dirty sex'. It doesn't shock, it doesn't do anything (well, apart from make me a little concerned about the much-praised imagination of the author). The sex in this book is awful. It doesn't even need to be there. It is only there to keep readers turning the (beautifully presented) pages. I guess the main reason it is there is to break up the pages and pages (again, beautifully presented) of contrived, high-brow "dialogue". This is noting more than a science textbook with sex (and mouse sex to boot) and "Bad Guys With Guns".

To be fair to the author, some of her ideas are quite good; they are just very, very badly delivered. The idea that the Mona Lisa and Marcel Duchamp's urinal are basically the same - if looked at through an incredibly powerful microscope, for example, did get me thinking. The good points are there, but they are buried by perverted mice, clichéd "Bad Guys With Guns" and lashings of pretentious dialogue that could have been lifted from a PhD student's Thesis. Avoid!
Comment Comments (7) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 27, 2012 11:31 AM BST

Memoirs Of A Geisha
Memoirs Of A Geisha
by Arthur Golden
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Evocative, 2 Jun 2007
This review is from: Memoirs Of A Geisha (Paperback)
Reading this book is like going back in time; it is a passport into another time and culture. I admit that some of the characterisation is a little cliched, and their relationshsips equally so, but it is the way that Golden depicts the intricacies of the many ceremonies, the fashion and the architecture of this ancient culture buried in the mechanical monster of twentieth century, while unraveling the many myths concerning Geishas that makes this a more than worthy read. The strength of this book is the juxtaposition of the beautiful ceremonies, the perfect make up, dresses and hair styles with the destruction and poverty of World War 2.

The Testament of Gideon Mack
The Testament of Gideon Mack
by James Robertson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great character - (almost) reminiscent of Dickens, 2 Jun 2007
This is not a great book, but is good, very good.

The reason it is not great is the fact that the denouement is laid before the reader in the prologue. The plot is therefore laced with a futile sense of inevitability; you know exactly what is going to happen before it happens.

The reason for this is clear - it is the curse of modern literature: get the metaphorical explosion in quickly. We are not trusted, as readers, to allow a book to develop around us. There is no time, in this age of immediacy, for a story to unravel itself. So, with this book, the conclusion is given to you as a taster. It is a big risk. Normally, this would kill a book.


I am more than willing to forgive Robertson for bowing to the pressure to grab an audience in the first few pages because he has created a fantastic protagonist as memorable as (almost) any character of Dickens. Gideon Mack is utterly believeable; he is very much part of his time. He is beset with weaknesses and doubts on every level. These make him human and make him easy to identify with. This empathy is especially evident after his moment of greatest sorrow. Robertson's greatest achievement, however, is that he manages to maintain this empathy for his protagonist even after he displays the depth of his moral frailty.

Unfortunately, few of the supporting cast are equally believeable. Only his father and the Devil come close. This doesn't matter. The strength of this book is the protagonist. It is rare to find a character so believable, so easy to empathise with in modern literature. Gideon Mack is not the only strength of this book though. The towns, cities and villages of Scotland, and their respective environs are also beautifully portrayed and sympathetically manipulated.

This book comes so close to being great; it's a shame that this obsession with having a 'hook' early in the book has (almost) spoilt it. Come on publishers, let us have more characters like Gideon Mack and trust us to stick with a story even if it doesn't have fancy literary devices or narrative structures; it is the Gideon Mack's of this literary world that bring us back to books.

The Solitude of Thomas Cave
The Solitude of Thomas Cave
by Georgina Harding
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Here be beauty, 1 Jun 2007
There is beauty here, and not just in the exquisite cover and interesting page edges. The writing, like the scenery Harding portrays, is stark but evocative; beautiful and engaging and the concept is reminiscent of Cruesoe.

The writing is incredibly vivid in places. It is a book that touches all the senses. The cold, the isolation, the fear, the sense of timelessness all haunted me as I read. The whaling itself was so well described that it left me quite perturbed. I could almost feel the blubber under foot; I could almost feel the knife slicing through the lice-ridden skin and smell it festering in the 24 hour sun.

On the simplest level this is a book about man's capacity to survive, to adapt, to leave his footprint on the world he inhabits; it is about the ability in the most ordinary of men to do the extraordinary. I love this about it. It is inspiring.

Most of all, though, this novel is about change. It is a allegory of man's impact on the environment and the environment's impact on men. The two are linked and this book outlines that link beautifully.

If I can be fussy for a moment, I would have liked to have seen more of Cave's time back in civilisation and, but this is a small quibble. This is a great read.

Fear Is On Our Side
Fear Is On Our Side
Offered by Get it in a Jiffy
Price: 6.61

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect with a bottle of Merlot, 28 May 2007
This review is from: Fear Is On Our Side (Audio CD)
Buy this album, turn out the lights, lay back, listen and let this music drift around you; enjoy the shapes and colours it creates behind your eyes. By the time the opening bars of track three have played out you will be thoroughly absorbed and transported to a place of fluid notes, chords and melodies that drift into each other.

There is originality here; it is an album of pleasant surprises; but there are enough respectful nods to keep things familiar. Some of the hooks will remind you of...well...something from your past. But it is never dull; it doesn't lack dynamism.

This is the perfect album to listen to of an evening with a good bottle of wine. It is my find of the decade so far.

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