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Reviews Written by
Jan Woodhouse "jan woodhouse" (Norfolk, UK)
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The Replacement
The Replacement
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complex, multi-stranded, and addictive!, 24 May 2014
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This review is from: The Replacement (Kindle Edition)
As a reader (and recently writer) addicted to books of a similar genre - from older writers such as Patrick McGrath to younger ones like Samantha Hayes - I found this one had me hooked from the first page to the last. With a strong cast of characters, and the ever-changing dynamics between them, as different facets of personality and fragments of personal history come to light, the narrative is compelling. You know that bad things are going to happen, but finally there is enough light at the end of the tunnel to make it all bearable. Congratulations to the author for sustaining such a complex and multi-stranded plot.


Matisse: The Life
Matisse: The Life
by Hilary Spurling
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.48

7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too much information?, 2 Nov. 2010
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This review is from: Matisse: The Life (Paperback)
I rather wish I hadn't read this. Not that I haven't the utmost respect for Hilary Spurling's meticulous research, her dedication to her subject, and her obvious appreciation and understanding of Matisse's art. I just feel there is too much detail about what we'd normally refer to as the 'private life'. Matisse wanted to be remembered, but maybe not like this. Would he, for example, have welcomed such detailed disclosure of his medical conditions? As a reader, I felt uncomfortable, as if I'd strayed into territory where I wasn't invited. And does all this knowledge of the life distract from the art itself? For me it does, at least for the moment.

Perhaps this is a problem for biography in general, and particularly biography written when the subject is no longer around to advise, nor personally known to the writer. In the process of research, in the thrill of the chase, 'facts' have a tendency to become disproportionately important.

And so now I need to forget the 'life' and find my way back to the art.


Who Was Sophie?: The Two Lives of My Grandmother: Poet and Stranger
Who Was Sophie?: The Two Lives of My Grandmother: Poet and Stranger
by Celia Robertson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The question leads the story, 25 Jun. 2010
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This is one of those stories that linger and haunt long after you've turned the last page and put the book on the shelf. The story is 'true' in so far as the writer, Celia Robertson, has gathered all the fragments she can trace of her grandmother's broken and chaotic life and somehow retrieved a narrative. But she acknowledges that the narrative remains incomplete - that we are left with the question 'Who was Sophie?' - and it is to the writer's credit that she lets the question lead the story.
On one level, this is a tale of someone who appeared to have so much going for her and ended with so little, but I think the strength of the book is that it allows us - the readers - to take what we want from it. For me, it's about that borderline we spend so much time trying to ignore - 'there but for fortune', as the song goes. And it's a challenge to the self-help brigade who persist in chirping on about choices . . because sometimes life just happens, or other people's choices override our own. Sophie didn't choose to leave her children. But despite all the hardships of her later life she retains a sort of crazy dignity - and we are not left feeling sorry for Sophie.
The author's own involvement in the story makes it all so real, and yet her presence doesn't detract from the star of the book who was Sophie. Definitely one of my must-read-agains.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 1, 2010 11:27 PM BST


An Equal Stillness
An Equal Stillness
by Francesca Kay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent writing but no surprises, 1 May 2010
This review is from: An Equal Stillness (Paperback)
I'm afraid I agree with the last reviewer. I so wanted to love this book, the theme being close to my heart, but somehow it lacked conviction. Maybe this was to do with the choice of narrator. I couldn't pick up any dynamics between the person writing and the woman being written about - no secrets, no surprises. (Compare Port Mungo by Patrick McGrath, also a story of artists.) Hence, no page-turner. But the writing, as everyone says, is excellent, and an example of word-painting at its finest.


The Hide [DVD]
The Hide [DVD]
Dvd ~ Alex Macqueen
Offered by NextDayEntertainment
Price: £6.07

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Real men in an unreal situation, 13 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Hide [DVD] (DVD)
A near-perfect film: superb acting - the dynamics between the two men are riveting - and just the right length to keep it taut. It reminded me a little of a Tennessee Williams drama ('Suddenly Last Summer' comes to mind) in that it all takes place in one intensely focused setting while incorporating a story from another place, another time, until,in the denouement, both stories collide. To those who like their films action-packed from the starting-line, I would say 'wait and see'. This film is all the more effective by beginning as though it's about nothing more thrilling than the developing relationship between two diverse characters - though if you watch it a second time (as I intend to) you will spot the clues. By turn, disquieting, funny, sensitive, disgusting, macabre. These are real men in an unreal situation.


Wendy & Lucy [DVD]
Wendy & Lucy [DVD]
Dvd ~ Michelle Williams
Price: £7.35

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A poignant slice of life, 12 Jan. 2010
This review is from: Wendy & Lucy [DVD] (DVD)
A brilliant example of less is more. While some films play havoc with your mind, but leave little worth remembering, this one stays and haunts. As in Lynch's 'The Straight Story' - which is much longer - a single character, played with truth and honesty, can make a film. Wendy, superbly acted by Michelle Williams, lets you under her skin and holds you there. The people she encounters embody the mix of hardness, indifference and kindness that can be found in any community, anywhere, any time. A slice of life, that is neither sentimental nor contrived.


The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Alex Awards (Awards))
The Glass Castle: A Memoir (Alex Awards (Awards))
by Jeannette Walls
Edition: Hardcover

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A story to open hearts and minds, 12 July 2009
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I read a fascinating review of the book when it had just appeared in hardback; cut out the review and filed it away, and came across it a couple of weeks ago. I searched for the book in Amazon and ordered it immediately from the marketplace. It gripped me from start to finish, and was the first autobiography I've ever read that I wanted to begin again from the beginning. The paternal grandmother seemed a little hazy, but otherwise every character had a real life of their own (not just the subjective interpretation of the author)and I left the book wanting to know more about them - her mother's paintings, her sister Lori's illustrations, and whatever happened to Maureen. I felt completely drawn into the roller-coaster lives of this family, and - rather than seeing them as impoverished - I believe that the extraordinariness of their lives had its own richness, something that more than compensated for not having the right food on the right table at the right time. In these over-controlled and image-obsessed times, the 'glass castle' represents something worth opening our hearts and minds to.


Atheism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
Atheism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Julian Baggini
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

70 of 73 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Atheism - a very short introduction, 30 Jun. 2003
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Julian Baggini's 'very short introduction' is timely. In a world which - commendably - is increasingly multicultural and respectful of diversity (including religious diversity), atheism finds itself out on a limb and needing to defend itself.
Perhaps (and I am one of the already converted) this shouldn't be necessary. J Baggini invokes an analogy whereby 'Nessies'- those who believe in a Loch Ness Monster - become the norm, so that unbelievers need to be labelled 'Annessies'. Similarly, in a world where so many people believe in a god or gods, 'atheism has come to be defined in contrast to theism'.
J Baggini sets out to do several important things. Firstly, he promotes a positive case for atheism, making clear that it is not to be equated with negativity and denial. Secondly, he separates morality and ethics from both theism and atheism, shifting responsibility on to individual choice. Thirdly, he dispels the notion that without religion life becomes meaningless and purposeless, and suggests that sufficient purpose can be gained from living in the world we know rather than in some nebulous hereafter. Fourthly, he shows that atheism is part of a historic progression from superstition to rational explanation. Finally - and importantly - he advocates the 'quiet voice of reason', rather than dogmatic and table-thumping atheism. Militancy from any point of view, he recognises, begets increased defensiveness and entrenchment.
I hope that this little book, with its quiet voice of reason, gives food for thought, and even reasurrance, to those who may be hovering on the brink of atheism and, for whatever reason, feel hesitation in coming out.


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