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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
by David Mitchell
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Richly Embroidered tale of the far East, 2 Aug. 2010
David Mitchell is a great storyteller and this book is in keeping with that tradition. Mitchell transports us to late 16th Century Japan and the Dutch trading post of Dejima off Nagasaki. The cast of characters is large, varied and convincing. Key characters are well drawn and we get to know them, warts and all. Some peripheral characters provide occasional annectodal diversions and I guess its a testament to Mitchell that these often leave us wanting more.

Jacob de Zoet is a slightly pious clerk who falls for a Japanese midwife - we get to know Jacob well and understand his weaknesses, limnitations and strengths. Mitchell evokes place, time and people really well - there is plenty of humour - particularly amomgst the traders. Jacob stands out as a devout person with every intention of doing the right thing, whilst swimming amongst a wily group of collegues all on the make, superiors and inferiors alike. His boss Chief Vorstenbosch is a enjoyable as a no holds barred capitalist riding roughshod over Japanese custom and protocol. Arie Grote the cook is a good hearted card shark always looking out for the next scam. The wise yet world-weary Dr Marinus is in many ways the heartbeat of the book - advocating education above all things as the rational way forward for mankind. He is unimpressed by all forms of religion yet comes to change as events and his friendhip with De Zoet unfolds. Against this backdrop we get real villainy in the shape of Lord Abbot Enomoto who runs a shrine for fallen women that isn't all it seems. Jacob's path crosses with both Enomoto and the British Navy in the form of Capt Penhaligon to gripping effect.

The themes of the story are typically (for Mitchell anyway) all embracing - we get the struggle for power and recognition set against the desires and loves of individuals. Thrown into the mix are the virtues of honour and duty versus evil doers and wanton back stabbing to further a career; all too easily recognisable today. The clash of cultures is of course paramount but Mitchell addresses this by the way in which individuals interact; where respect, friendship, love and sacrifice flourish across the cultural divide we see the commonality of the human condition. Sounds simple enough, even trite here, but Mitchell beautifully renders his tale and in his hands its seemless.

There's at least a nod to the way capitalism corrupts where previously only honour mattered. Mitchell's style is always interesting and I was struck by the way he interrupted and layered the dialogue with prose and the thoughts of characters. This was very effective, though at times I found it a little jarring and it had the effect of making me want to re-read sections to make sure I understood, so you need to concentrate and invest time - as you'd expect with any good book, it makes you think. Without giving anything away the story flows very well and several character threads are expertly interwoven to leave you on the precipice time and again. I didn't want it to end and leave this fascinating world behind me. Having read it, I doubt you will either.


Sherlock: Series 1 [DVD]
Sherlock: Series 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Benedict Cumberbatch
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £3.93

31 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sparky Re-boot of 'SH', 26 July 2010
This review is from: Sherlock: Series 1 [DVD] (DVD)
If the first episode (Study in Pink) of this is anything to go by this is well worth a buy. Sherlock has been given a stunning 21C re-boot to include gadgets, gizmos, sat navs and the interweb whilst retaining the age old art of deduction (working out a dead woman was from Cardiff by observing the state of her coat then looking up the weather on a mobile - you get the picture).

We can probably thank Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat (script) for the way this turned out, but the director has done a great job too. Its shot through with style and a knowing humour but it has a sense of mystery and menace when the story demands. The police press conference with journalists getting texts from SH that show up on screen for the viewer was genius and helped to build up the SH character before we met him. Benedict Cumberbatch's SH is fresh and convincing - the fact that he's viewed as a weirdo or worse (and is unperturbed by this) was believable and endearing. Martin Freeman's Dr Watson is also as good as you'd expect. They pinched an idea or two from Dr Who by investing a smidgen of emotional depth with Dr Watson which draws you in. There's been a lot written about SH and how the Dr Watson/SH relationship was/was not a gay one. I loved how they tackled this head on in the script with several awkward conversations not only between the characters but with Mrs Hudson explaining it was nothing new, 'she knew of a married pair living upstairs' - Dr Watson seems to like the ladies for the record on this showing, though who wouldnt have liked the text mad honey that kidknapped him.

The supporting cast looks excellent - Lestrade is suitably nonplussed, but stressed as the modern age dicates. The policewoman that sees SH as a potential killer is as cynical and suspicious as you'd like and I thought the addition of the hateful forensic scientist with a fairly obvious wig added a hint of League of Gentlemen - (more to come from this chap?). Add to this Gatiss' sinister and oily appearance and the promise of further skulduggery from Moriarty and I think its obvious we are in for a real treat with SH.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 5, 2010 8:13 PM BST


Intriguer
Intriguer
Offered by westworld-
Price: £6.23

4.0 out of 5 stars See the Archers arrows fly...., 24 July 2010
This review is from: Intriguer (Audio CD)
They're back and that has to be a good thing. The follow up to Time on Earth doesn't disappoint, though it takes close listening at times. As ever the melt in the mouth melodies and harmonies are present and there are some irresistable hooks; Twice if You're Lucky is particularly sticky. There are some typically understated songs that reward repeated listening by revealing layers and a multitude of imagery - as ever with Neil Finn, I'm not quite sure what the songs are about - not that it matters- its the snippet or glimpse of an image that, forgive me, intrigues.

The melancholy choruses and innovative chord changes are theirs alone (albeit not without a nod to the Beatles). Falling Dove sounds like Blackbird era McCartney for example; there is even a middle 8 lifted from the white album. There are no weak tracks, and plenty to recommend not least Archers Arrows and the two closing songs which unfurl like delicate flowers. Neil Finn and the boys are evolving and growing and its wrong and daft to expect or want a return to Woodface or Temple of the Low Men. The Intriguer chappie is all over these songs, he's out there somewhere and hopfellly he's still about when Neil and the boys bring us the next one.


The Prince Of Mist
The Prince Of Mist
by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Writing by numbers?, 23 July 2010
This review is from: The Prince Of Mist (Hardcover)
Maybe its me but I was a little disappointed by this book. I know its written for teenagers but the writing never really convinces and I'd hope even your average kid would look for more depth. You get the feeling that this is Zafon learning to write, given the backstory of how it came to be re-issued recently. Not sure how many copies this sold in the early 90s but I can't see too many discerning teenagers buying into this now. The villain is a cardboard cut out and the characters in the book seem to be shallow, stale and predictable. The story itself is decent enough but it lacks depth and the capacity to surprise, despite a promising beginning. Some scenes are effective (statue garden is creepy), but ultimately it's the characters that disappoint- they are simply too nice, whilst the Prince of Mist (not sure at all about that name by the way) is almost comically old school (whites gloves etc). I like the adult Zafon books, so maybe I'm being a bit harsh in comparing them to this - I've tried it on my 12 yr old daughter and so far she's enjoying it....
Update: in fact she loves it and was particularly scared by the clown in the graveyard which even I can understand.


Jacksonville City Nights
Jacksonville City Nights
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £8.78

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Takes its Time..., 21 July 2010
You have to be prepared to hang in there a bit with this one. At first listen the songs appear standard offerings, but after a while you start to notice the subtleties and nuances at work and the depth of the writing. The Cardinals are brilliant musicians and the perfect foil for Ryan's voice. Silver Bullets is a fave of mine - a self destructive relationship terminates, and is brought home with the resignation of the opening line "Go and get the gun 'cause its only getting worse". The Dear John duet with Norah Jones is intricate and beautiful - other highlights for me are Hard Way to Fall (heartfelt and sensitive), Peaceful Valley and Kiss Before I Go. Get the extra tracks CD with Always on My Mind- its a stunning version - Ryan packs real emotion into a well worn song, and the strings reallly work well. Could have been shorn of a track here and there, then again a few gems showcase the man at his best.


To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition
To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition
by Harper Lee
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.89

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life, writ heartwarming, terrifying and true, 20 July 2010
This remains the greatest book I've ever read. It contains all anyone needs to know about life. Seen through the eyes of a child (Scout) everything is magnified with the essence of purity and truth, black and white. Atticus is a guiding light to many I suspect; the need to "walk a mile in a man's shoes" before judging him, the hope that tolerance and love can overcome ignorance and hatred, that justice can be done. As if thats not enough, the book serves as an elegiac and mournful lament on the passing of the American South. A touching, poignant and violent tale; when she wrote this, Harper Lee was blessed with a soulfulness and grace that feels as though it were heaven sent.


Boogie Nights
Boogie Nights
Offered by westworld-
Price: £9.03

5.0 out of 5 stars Love the film, love the soundtrack, 20 Jun. 2010
This review is from: Boogie Nights (Audio CD)
A great soundtrack should bring the film rushing back to you. Or is that a great film comes rushing back to you when you hear the soundtrack? Either way, thats exactly what this does for me. Boogie Nights is an excellent film; warm, funny and sad. When I hear God Only Knows its guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye as I see the 'family' going through some tough times. There are some wonderfully sleazy 70s tunes that somehow make you feel you are a part of the loveable San Fernando valley crowd we get to meet in the film like Spill the Wine and I cant hear Brand New Key without seeing Roller Girl. To top it all off we get to hear Feel the Heat from the launch of Dirk Diggler's distinguished recording career. Buy it if you liked the film and if you havent seen the film, do so.


North Star
North Star

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Songsmithery at its best, 22 May 2010
This review is from: North Star (Audio CD)
Ever since I heard Killermont Street as a kid I had a soft spot for Aztec Camera and Roddy Frame. Some of their stuff was overproduced for me but anyone could see he could write a tune. This album is proof of that. I first saw Roddy preview one of the songs on here 'Bigger, Brighter, Better' on some BBC TV show (Songwriters circle?) in the early noughties when he appeared with Neil Finn. The more acoustic, natural feel to this song runs through most of the CD and he wears it well.

Back to the One is a cracking uplifting opening and Here comes the Ocean has a middle 8 to die for. River of Brightness and Reason For Living touch greatness at times. They are deep, powerful and poignant songs about what it means to build a life upon love and how vital it is to not lose sight of the purity of the good things around and within us. Autumn Flower is as delicate and fragile as it sounds, musically intricate but never short of beautiful.

It's Bigger Brighter Better I keep coming back to though. It's a sad, reflective and knowing tale that acknowledges the all too real prospect of how things fall apart, despite the high ideals and the promise. Roddy takes us from the sparky early skirmishes of a relationship to the self-loathing, humiliation and ultimate failure; then finally to the graceful acceptance of defeat. And with that acceptance he finds a kind of redemption "lover, leave me and bring the world back to me...Bigger, brighter, better for your own sweet self".

Roddy deserves to be heard. The good soul that told the tale, at the end of the 80s, of youngsters having to leave their families to travel south for work from Killernmomt Street is alive and well.


The Humbling
The Humbling
by Philip Roth
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Art imitating life imitating art, 31 Mar. 2010
This review is from: The Humbling (Hardcover)
I'm an avid Roth fan and thought his last book, Indignation, was a real return to form. I'm not quite sure what to make of The Humbling. It's a novella, easily read in one sitting and it is a page turner. You can't help feeling Roth is in second gear here- this is familiar terrain, an ageing actor protagonist (Axler) with a libido that refuses to die gets lucky with the lesbian(!) daughter (Pegeen) of a friend, who is nearly half his age. The first part of the book deals with the fact that the Axler has lost all confidence and can't find (or lose) himself on stage. He is convincing about the art of the actor and it's enlightening stuff. The second part of the book felt bolted on to me- the affair; its fallout and ultimate demise seemed predictable enough and a little depressing, which is probably what Roth was aimimg for, but it rang a little hollow for a novel.

There's a school of thought that will have us believe that ageing male writers have a tendency to be self-indulgent and to almost fantasize about young girls. But for me, the sexual side of the relationship is handled with admirable directness and honesty. Roth may be old, but he's not willing to fade away quietly and should be applauded for that. But by making Pegeen a lesbian he is surely playing up to his Great American Male Author image; I'm not so sure he wants us to take this book seriously. Whether we do or don't, the writing is as effective as ever. There is a riveting sub plot involving a fellow patient (the wonderfully named Sybil Van Buren) at a mental health clinic. Her story is both banal and horrifying, but expertly told.

At the end of the book Axler has been on a journey much like the protagonist in Everyman. In that book, the protagonist falls apart physically in an inexorable downward spiral towards his death. In The Humbling, Axler takes a parallel spiritual path, where he loses his career, partner, friends, and lovers, instead. The ending is inevitable, but feels somehow contrived and leaves one with a feeling of unfulfillment. Like life? Maybe, but Roth is capable of imbuing greater meaning and depth than this.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 25, 2010 12:28 AM BST


Return of the Grievous Angel:
Return of the Grievous Angel:
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £13.57

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Labour of Love, 20 Mar. 2010
There is no doubt Emmylou Harris has put her all into this project. The tracks she sings on are as heartfelt as you'd expect them to be, but her main achievement has been in bringing together a set of artists who believe in the music of Gram almost as much as she does. There is a good selection of songs and the versions we get are always good, more often than not, outstanding. Lucinda Williams and David Crosby do a great job on Return of the Grievous Angel; I couldnt imagine this being sung by anyone other than Gram and then never by a woman, but amazingly, they pull it off. Evan Dando's version of $1000 Dollar Wedding is a little pacey for me, but his voice is as soulful as ever. Whiskeytown and Ryan Adams give us a wonderful verson of Song For You - you cant help thinking Ryan is completely on Gram's wavelength when you hear this one- it takes its time and the nuances and emotional depth of the lyrics shine through.

Other highlights are Elvis Costello's version of Sleepless Nights, he makes every line count, and Juanita is simply beautiful. The Mavericks and Steve Earle provide some uptempo fun with Wilco pitching in with a very rocky version of 100 Years From Now. Gillian Welch delivers a truly haunting version of Hickory Wind in total contrast to Gram's own 'live' version - full of longing and regret it's a stark and eerily quiet rendition. Gram's version by contrast sits against the backdrop of a rowdy bar complete with smashing glasses and catcalls; its a bit faster, but the fact is the song loses nothing, and is perhaps even more poignant for all that. Gillian's cover is what Gram might sing if the bar ever emptied and everyone was allowed to go home. Or maybe its what you sing if you dont go to bars anymore. Both versions are great.

When you hear these songs through the different voices collected here, one thing hits you again and again; just how beautiful they are and what a sad loss Gram was to us all. I'd fully recommend this, and the music of Gram. It makes the world seem a better place just knowing that these songs exist.


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