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Mr. Kevin P. Futers "Who's afraid of the Billy Goats Gruff? Not this troll!" (Northumbria, Great Britain)
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The Hobbit
The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.39

5.0 out of 5 stars The key to the door of Middle Earth, 3 May 2010
This review is from: The Hobbit (Paperback)
It was something of a revelation to me that Tolkien did not think much of this book. Bearing in mind that he had spent two decades and more tinkering with languages and developing a wider mythology which frankly was never going to get into print, he suddenly had the inspiration to doodle "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit" on an examination paper that he was marking. So there proceeded from his pen a pastiche of English runes, Norse dwarf names, half baked reworkings of motifs from medieval, norse and old english literature and a few tantalising glimpses of what he really wanted people to read about - Gondolin, High ELves of the West, the "Mythology for the English people" that he was developing.
Whether he liked it or not it has been hugely influential and of course it laid the way for the one work that has spanned the gap between his aspiration and what the general book-reading (and film-going) public are likely to want to read.
Personally I love the Hobbit in some ways more than the Lord of the Rings. For one thing it is an unashamed children's book which can be read by adults. Its tone is companionable, rather than the condescending and preachy tone achieved by his friend CS Lewis in the Narnia books. And I almost always feel a tear coming on at Bilbo and Thorin's leavetaking towards the end.


Shadowplay: Shadowmarch Trilogy Book Two (Shadowmarch Quartet)
Shadowplay: Shadowmarch Trilogy Book Two (Shadowmarch Quartet)
by Tad Williams
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The shadows lengthen, 3 May 2010
The sequel to Shadowmarch (Shadowmarch Quartet) is by turns better and worse than the first book. Tad Williams writes a very broad canvas and the action jumps about which can leave you with favourites and bits that you just want to end. Here the annoying bits in Shadowmarch are actually beginning to get more interesting as they integrate better with the story as a whole. The parts with Prince Barrick were beginning to go downhill in this book, but the Tad Williams magic kicks in and his dark Faerie world begins to populate with interesting and deadly creatures of uncertain (and perhaps inconstant) loyalties. Princess Briony remains the most compelling character but she makes a lot of really stupid mistakes this time round. It all comes of having such a sheltered and privileged upbringing. The Funderling element really comes to the fore and there are lots of questions still to be answered on that thread of the tapestry alone.


Shadowmarch: Shadowmarch Trilogy Book One (Shadowmarch Quartet)
Shadowmarch: Shadowmarch Trilogy Book One (Shadowmarch Quartet)
by Tad Williams
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars New epic fantasy from a master, 3 May 2010
Shadowmarch is another Tad Williams foray onto epic fantasy. It stands in the daunting shadow of the Otherland Books but is a more solid and compelling milieu than the Dragonbone Chair books.
A war with the world's equivalent of Faerie has left a centuries long stalemate, with Faerie existing on the north side of a line called the Shadowmarch, beyond which all is dark and strange - very strange. With the King detained far from home, his children are left to deal with a hostile embassy from his captors, murder and intrigue. There are numerous characters who each have their own stories to tell and at times these can be better than the main storyline and at others are barely relevent - although you know that at some point they will be central to the tale. Against all this is the knowledge that the Shadomarch is moving south and that war with Faerie is inevitable.


Brighton Rock
Brighton Rock
by Graham Greene
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars School-days memories, 3 May 2010
This review is from: Brighton Rock (Paperback)
Read this at school, which is never the best place to read books because you usually resent the fact you have to read them, and if you do like the book you resent having to do lit-crit on them.
My best memories of this are of the character Pinkie. Graham Greene has you loathing him, starting to warm to him, then loathing him again.
Ida Arnold, the only other character with any real depth is another matter. She is the sort of person who you should admire, someone who smells a rat and has the tenacity to follow up the clues and pursue justice, but I just never really warmed to her. The only likable character is Rose, the girl that the frigid Pinkie marries to keep her from testifying against him. Even she only manages to illicit sympathy because she is so incurably and obstinately naive.
The book does carry you along with it and even if you are lukewarm to the characters you do care about the outcome.


Men Went to Cattraeth
Men Went to Cattraeth
by John James
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pleasing but flawed Dark Ages yarn, 3 May 2010
This review is from: Men Went to Cattraeth (Paperback)
John James deals with the fragments of poetry that have come down to us as Y Gododdin by creating a story around the characters who are remembered in the poem and weaving in the few narrative clues that the poem gives with skill.
He makes no pretense from the beginning that there is a happy ending to this story and effectively uses a repetitive device that would have pleased a Dark Ages bard, reminding us at the end of nearly every chapter that the characters are drawn by fate to Cattraeth (Catterick, in North Yorkshire).
I am a little uncertain still whether it is the author or the narrator and author of the poem, Aneirin, who has the xenophobic attitude towards "the Savages" which is the usual term given for the book's Anglo-Saxon foes. Towards the end we see the victorious Bladulf in what seems to a modern reader to be quite a attractive light, pitching in with his shattered people to repair their lives after the devastation of war, but the narrator says that such action is "unkingly" and that a king should be aloof.
Some of the concepts in the book belong to outmoded concepts of the English and Welsh, most notably that they inhabited different ecological niches. If this was the case the two races would never have come into conflict, as species that inhabit different niches have no need for conflict with each other.
Altogether an absorbing read and it by turns leaves you rooting for the named characters and questioning their whole outlook on life.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 1, 2014 3:20 PM GMT


Foundation's Edge
Foundation's Edge
by Isaac Asimov
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars The story continues, 3 May 2010
This review is from: Foundation's Edge (Paperback)
A good while ago I re-read all of the Foundation books and found them disappointing. The concept remained good but everything was so sparse and the characters so wooden. Worst of all was that Asimov is so beholden to nuclear power as the ultimate source of power.
However the later novels break the mould set by the original trilogy and the location of the home world of mankind becomes the focus of frenzied searching. Like many Sci-Fi writers of his generation (especially Heinlein) Asimov's later books seek to join up the disparate works of their youth into one milieu, even if it spans thousands of years, so the Robot books (especially those with Elijah Bailie and Daneel Olivaw) are there, as is the Currents of Space, Pebble in the Sky and probably some other books that I either haven't read or have forgotten.
Overall the results are good, as Asimov's interweaving of his earlier themes is much more subtle than Heinlein's post "Number of the Beast" novels.


Three Hearts & Three Lions (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
Three Hearts & Three Lions (FANTASY MASTERWORKS)
by Poul Anderson
Edition: Paperback

3.0 out of 5 stars A classic of fantasy that is showing its age, 29 April 2010
This is my second reading of this book, which I guess must be quite an early Poul Anderson. Holger Carlsen is the hero of the tale and his exploits are standard hero fare. He has a knack for getting himself into trouble and is troubled by his desire to return to the real world.
For fans of Dungeons and Dragons there is the rare treat of reading the description of one of his adversaries and recognising "He was perhaps eight feet tall, perhaps more. His forward stoop, with arms dangling past thick claw-footed legs to the ground, made it hard to tell. The hairless green skin moved upon his body. His head was a gash of a mouth, a yard-long nose, and two eyes which were black pools..." If that were not enough, as they chop bits off they keep re-attaching themselves until a hand gets accidentally burned in fire. Can you tell what it is yet?
The ending is a bit of a let-down on this story - it all wraps up too quickly and untidily, leaving you without real closure and not even offering the hope that there is a sequel.


Caliban's Hour
Caliban's Hour
by Tad Williams
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tempestuous stuff!, 29 April 2010
This review is from: Caliban's Hour (Hardcover)
(Spoiler Warning especially towards the bottom)

Caliban's Hour is one of my favourite Tad Williams books. It's premise is that at the end of the Tempest Caliban is left behind as Prospero and Miranda are taken back to civilization. Twenty years later Caliban catches up with Miranda ready to enact his revenge.
Caliban tells Miranda his full history - of how before the arrival of the spiteful Ariel he had been given some respect and been taught by Prospero, but that he had subsequently abused and treated as a monster because he fell in love with Miranda.
The book is short by TW's standards and perhaps the better for it. In taking Shakespeare's minor clown character and giving him his own tragic tale, TW has given what could be his most outstanding contribution to literature.

The only downfall perhaps is that after building up the idea of the malignant Caliban exacting his vengeance, TW opts for the Peter Pan ending, which although better than the Scooby Doo ending, is a little bit of a let-down. I will pardon him though, because by the end of the book you really do not want Caliban to sully himself by taking Miranda's life and bringing himself down to the same level as her father.


The History of the Franks (Classics)
The History of the Franks (Classics)
by Gregory of Tours
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A struggle to read but rewarding none-the-less, 29 April 2010
Gregory himself writes a fairly turgid account of the History of the Franks although I did have a few chuckles over various things that seemed timeless - such as the unfortunate transvestite accused of being kept as a lover by an abbess. The books is certainly not light reading but I'm glad I have finally read it.

Most of the stars lost here are not the fault of old Gregory. The editing is fine as far as it goes but is lacking in supporting commentary. For example I am still perplexed as to why there seemed to be a major Syrian population in early France - they are mentioned several times and on one occasion they seem to make up a large enough proportion of the population of a town that their language is listed with Latin and Hebrew as being one of three main languages spoken there. I thought for a while that there might have been some origin myth of the Franks suggesting that they came from Syria, but there is no evidence that this is the case.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 31, 2011 6:34 PM BST


Briar Rose (the Fairy Tale) (Experientia Supplementum)
Briar Rose (the Fairy Tale) (Experientia Supplementum)
by Jane Yolen
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Sleeping Beauty meets the Final Solution, 29 April 2010
I thought that this book was outstanding. Jane Yolen is one of the best storytellers that I know and is at her best when she is reworking tales from folklore and mythology. Briar Rose is part fairy tale, part detective story but mostly it is a fresh and engaging/horrifying Holocaust story. That it is not a true Holocaust story does not detract from its power nor does it trivialise the Holocaust.
The fairy-tale part is the narrator's grandmother's unique way of telling the tale of Briar Rose, or Sleeping Beauty as we know it better. It becomes clear that her version is in some way autobiographical, that she has composed her version of the tale around the horrors that she experienced. As elements of the story are unearthed through a trail through eastern Europe, the pieces slowly fall into place. The story even has a genuine charming Prince - although he does not marry the "princess" (far from it!)


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