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Mr. S. Miller "Page Turner" (Glasgow, UK)
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You Cannot Live As I Have Lived and Not End Up Like This: The thoroughly disgraceful life and times of Willie Donaldson
You Cannot Live As I Have Lived and Not End Up Like This: The thoroughly disgraceful life and times of Willie Donaldson
by Terence Blacker
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If you don't know of Willie Donaldson already then steer clear, 5 July 2008
This proved a lesson for me: don't judge a book by its title. I'd never heard of Willie Donaldson, but was lured and intrigued by the wonderful title.

Terence Blacker, friend, collaborator and rare admirer moves the life story along briskly with plenty candid insights to ward off any allegation of favouritism. Ultimately, though, my not knowing the subject at all meant it was a biography of only limited enjoyment.


Maus: My Father Bleeds History v. 1: A Survivor's Tale
Maus: My Father Bleeds History v. 1: A Survivor's Tale
by Art Spiegelman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.39

5.0 out of 5 stars Easily as good as the crits, 1 April 2008
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Over the years I have read many books centred or reflecting upon holocaust atrocities and I had thought the power to shock would have dimmed. Maus took me by surprise with the depth of sickening revulsion I felt at the horrors which beset Spiegelman's family of Polish Jews. I attribute that to the medium, with the graphic portrayal of events leading to a much quicker and more immediate sense of the unimaginably awful conditions.

As with other such memoirs, there is, however, a strain of hope and plenty triumphs for the embattled human spirits encountered between the pages; and the author's depiction of his own Father (heroic in his resistance to the Nazi onslaught but very difficult to live with in later life) could hardly be termed sentimental. These elements combine to emphasise the realism and attractiveness of the account.

I regard this book as equivalent in status and importance to Anne Frank's Diary, hence a must-read.


Ladder Of Years
Ladder Of Years
by Anne Tyler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not one of her very best I'm afraid, 27 Jan 2008
This review is from: Ladder Of Years (Paperback)
Despite being a committed fan of Anne Tyler I must confess to momentary hesitation when purchasing this early (1982) novel, unattracted by the title and unconvinced by the uncharacteristically-insipid book jacket. Looking back it does cross my mind that I should have heeded my instinct.

In this story Tyler shows yet again how adept she is at assembling life-like characters with concise descriptions and only fragments of dialogue, and how imaginative she is in plotting the events they encounter.

Here, though, many of the fringe characters are clichés rendering their contributions artificial (for example, Donald and Melinda Hawser who run into the lead character at a Thanksgiving dinner). Whether that is down to the vintage (and I don't mean the publisher) of the novel or not, it ultimately results in the experience being worth less than the five stars which I usually, and unhesitatingly, award her books.


Patrimony: A True Story
Patrimony: A True Story
by Philip Roth
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It doesn't get much better than this, 27 Jan 2008
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Herman Roth was a remarkable man as well as being fortunate to have had, in his son Philip, a biographer in the family. In these memoirs Roth Junior gets the chance to demonstrate that the success of his books does not depend on his fecund imagination alone: he is simply a wonderful writer.

Never can his literary craftsmanship have been put to better use than in the chronicle of his father's life and in particular his last years.

There is no better example of how well this father and son function together than in their reaction to Walter Herrmann, an acquaintance of the father whose tales of his holocaust survival take even the worldly Roths by surprise. But such set-piece delights are found throughout.

Towards the end, and despite the bleakness of it all (death basically), Roth never allows emotion to dominate the narrative: instead, he stays true to the story throughout and so spares none of the technical aspects of his father's dwindling health making for some blackly comic scenes at times.

This is unquestionably a masterpiece.


Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives)
Shakespeare: The World as a Stage (Eminent Lives)
by Bill Bryson
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Even Bryson can't succeed without material, 17 Jan 2008
As early as page 7 in this short biography Bryson acknowledges the almost total dearth of evidence which exists about his subject. Unsurprisingly, then, that is a point which he repeats to the stage when it becomes irritating: even Bryson cannot make a virtue about a (life) story without a story-line.

For those willing to forsake this important detail, it has to be said that the book contains a well-presented résumé of Shakespeare's unrivalled literary contribution and a brisk summary of the insights of his biographers and devotees over the years; and Bryson is at his best in the closing chapter as he simultaneously reviews and ridicules those who have sought to deny Shakespeare authorship of his plays.

Ultimately, the thinness of the material at his disposal shows through.


Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return
by Marjane Satrapi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A worthy sequel, 14 Jan 2008
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Without seeing her photograph I can't be sure, but I guess that Marjane Satrapi's self-portraits - which feature throughout this book - are not flattering.

If so, that would be completely in keeping with the text which consistently reveals Satrapi candidly even when in her most immature and vain moments. She can be pretty blunt about some of her friends and relatives too.

All this brutal honesty is a fitting accompaniment to the startling tales she reveals from within the Iranian fundamentalist regime. There can be no more accessible insight into this extraordinary country.

My review of "Persepolis" described it as a "must read. "2" is more of the same so if you loved the first don't stop now!


Persepolis: The Story of an Iranian Childhood
Persepolis: The Story of an Iranian Childhood
by Marjane Satrapi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic read, 16 Oct 2007
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It does not make sense but Marjane Satrapi's decision to recount her memoir about growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution using a comic strip actually renders the tale more rather than less poignant. Her artwork propels the reader so quickly through the horrors which have accompanied each recent regime change in Iran that the impact is maximised. It also proves to be the right medium to represent the quickened loss of innocence which Satrapi experiences as a result.

Satrapi herself is revealed as a spirited teenage rebel not averse to confrontation with her own parents and to her credit these encounters are candidly, and often comically, repeated no matter how self-absorbed they reveal her to have been.

This is a must read.


Exit Ghost
Exit Ghost
by Philip Roth
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sheer craftmanship yet again as we bid farewell to Zuckerman, 16 Oct 2007
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This review is from: Exit Ghost (Hardcover)
Between and including "Sabbath's Theatre" and "Everyman" Philip Roth provided six outstanding novels brimming with his unique brilliance, with each successive work managing the impossible by sustaining this most purple of patches.

Reviewing "Everyman" on this site I revealed the trepidation with which I approach Roth's new novels, fearing a fall from the standards that have marked out his high watermark period. "Everyman" did not disappoint, but unfortunately "Exit Ghost" does, and while it justifies the soubriquet great novel it is nonetheless only a good Roth book.

Not for the first time serious illness and death shape the events of the story, the last Roth entrusts to his faithful alter ego Nathan Zuckerman. Zuckerman is given both the time and the reason to ruminate on the ravages which the removal of his cancerous prostate have wrought on his penis. That he has resigned himself to his condition is obvious from his response to medical disappointment when he describes himself as a "man at the point where he fails whether he resists or acquiesces".

Yet, on what must surely prove to be his last trip to New York he encounters three characters who, between them, provide the stimuli for a final demonstration of the powers with which Roth endowed this great fictional hero.

Zuckerman may have left us for good now but, as the title promises, his spirit lives on.


World War One: A Short History
World War One: A Short History
by Norman Stone
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Stone on good form, 27 Sep 2007
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When a history of World War One can be crammed into little more than 150 pages it is only right that it should be billed as "A Short History".

I was attracted to the opportunity provided to get into correct order all my patchy information about the conflict gathered over the years, and to gain a clearer understanding of the causes and course of the war all for a couple of nights' reading. This book fitted the bill perfectly.

Although the history is plainly the result of years of research the narrative discloses the speed with which it has been written. The occasional sentence makes no sense, place names are - when contrasted with the maps - mis-spelt, and sometimes the conclusions are so terse as to be impenetrable. But, those minor criticisms aside, this short work tells the story well and is full of fascinating insights. Stone is particularly strong in his critique of the strategic qualities of the generals on both sides: some being singled out for their brilliance, but the majority for their bungling.

If he does the same for World War Two I will definitely buy it.


Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader
by Anne Fadiman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fadiman may not have the poet's gift, but she really can write., 13 Sep 2007
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No book-lover worthy of that description can afford not to purchase this delightful volume of essays. There is not one aspect of books which Fadiman has missed whether that be the content or the cover, the author or the spine. In fact, the impression is that this author would glory in being cast as an obsessive. She is certainly a pedant with large parts of this collection serving as an high-brow yet equally accessible successor to Lynne Truss' "Eats Shoots and Leaves".

The essays are topped off with a sharp sense of humour and a self-effacing touch: for instance, praising the literary merit of sonnets, she seems to relish in exposing her own failed attempts in that medium.

The collection is short (125 pp) but there is a treasure on every page.


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