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A Ryder (London UK)

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Forgotten London
Forgotten London
by Elizabeth Drury
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Not forgotten while these pictures exist, 25 Jun 2014
This review is from: Forgotten London (Hardcover)
The 4 and 5-star reviews garnered by this book are understandable. It's a fairly substantial volume full of evocative, detailed images, accompanied by informative captions. Of-course, you always want to know more than is known about the photographs that interest you and, as another review mentions, maximising clarity of image has resulted in a sort of standarized sepia tone to them all, but there are some very atmospheric, vivid pictures which make this a good 'album' to have. I also appreciate the way that the authors draw out the sense of history in the photos (such as those of soon-to-be-demolished buildings and elderly street traders still dressed in the fashions of 30 years previously) highlighting that any era, while having a sheen of the modern, is also a sum of the past. I aim to peruse with older relatives to prompt some memories!


Broadchurch [DVD]
Broadchurch [DVD]
Dvd ~ Olivia Colman
Price: 13.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Decent enough but..., 13 Jun 2014
This review is from: Broadchurch [DVD] (DVD)
... suffers from its own hype, sadly. It's a solid production with a very good cast, but it's too long and just not interesting enough to sustain the tension. In trying hard to be the UK's answer to 'The Killing', it felt overwritten, with Tennant's ticks and quirks sliding into tiresome by the end. I look forward to the day when writers are inspired by good drama to go and write something equally original, rather than just copying the trend. 'The Killing' wasn't even quite as good as the hype (a couple of plot holes at least, plus one in the famous jumper that gets miraculously mended), but overall it was far better than your average cop drama, and I wouldn't say that this was in that league. I will probably watch the next series, but not with expectations of an outstanding drama.


From There to Here [DVD]
From There to Here [DVD]
Dvd ~ Philip Glenister
Price: 12.25

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The good, the bad and the mid-life crisis, 13 Jun 2014
This review is from: From There to Here [DVD] (DVD)
This is basically a family drama in which the Manchester city centre bombing of 1996 proves a catalyst for big changes in everyone's lives. Well, mostly in Philip Glenister's as the main character Daniel Cotton. He starts leading a double life, having embarked on a relationship with the cleaner he rescued from the pub. It has a great cast, some smart lines and doesn't outstay its welcome at around 170 minutes (originally shown in 3 episodes on the BBC) but I'm not sure I believed in decent Daniel's moment of epiphany having had a close shave with death. He was supposedly happily married so wouldn't he rather have been more thankful for what he had? Still, that's a personal opinion, as is the distraction of casting Liz White as his girlfriend when she was put-upon 'Doris' Annie Cartwright to his D.I. Gene Hunt in the superb 'Life on Mars'.

No neat endings, thankfully, but still nothing outstanding. Steven Mackintosh as wayward brother Robbo is a tad hammy; the use of music to denote which year the events took place is annoying (does nobody play anything but this year's hits, in any given year?!) and the natural/adopted thing has been done in the 'Quirke' novels by John Banville, which unfortunately aired within a week of this. OK for a quiet evening in, particularly if you are a fan of Glenister's rugged features, but pretty inconsequential.


Imperial Germany 1867-1918: Politics, Culture, and Society in an Authoritarian State (Hodder Arnold Publication)
Imperial Germany 1867-1918: Politics, Culture, and Society in an Authoritarian State (Hodder Arnold Publication)
by Wolfgang J. Mommsen
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.45

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Extremely dry, 4 Jun 2014
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I bought this as a background to studying the Weimar and Nazi periods and for that purpose it was a big of a slog. It's a collection of academic essays that date from the 1970s to the 1990s and so is quite dated in terms of referencing 'now' (just post reunification) and 'current academic thinking'. The subtitle promises a more rounded study than it turned out to be, with most chapters about in-depth political matters, Bismarckian policy and so on, rather than social and cultural tides. It is informative, but if there were more generic, accessible titles on the subject I'd have welcomed them in preference to this book. I'd suggest this isn't one for lay readers, but one for serious scholars of 19th Century Germany only.


An Executive Summary of Thomas Piketty's 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century'
An Executive Summary of Thomas Piketty's 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century'
by A. D. Thibeault
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Piketty-endorsed?, 2 Jun 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I ask because as far as I can tell, it does what it says on the cover, which is to say, summarizes the controversial doorstop-tome of Thomas Piketty's 'Capital in the 21st Century' into an easy-to-read 40-page lite bite.

It goes without saying, however, that I haven't ploughed through the full text, so how neatly this captures Piketty's arguments, I'm unable to say. It also ought to go without saying that I'm no economist (or I'd read the whole thing with a glass of wine and gleeful abandon?) so I also can't comment on Piketty's arguments, beyond saying that to anyone who thinks and feels that wealth distribution should not increasingly favour the top decile at the expense of the bottom 50%, this makes sense. In fact, the author's findings and his suggestions for checking capitalism's ever-increasing concentration of wealth, are only what many of us have intuited from the everyday business of living in a capitalist world.

Since I've read reviews of the original work, I can at least say that this gives the gist of Piketty's ideas, so if you're interested in those without the minutiae of detail, labyrinthine economic discourse and a good many charts and graphs, this is a worthwhile read. There are one or two typos, but nothing to obscure the meaning, and the major graphs etc. are given as URLs for looking up online at leisure.


The Undertaking
The Undertaking
Price: 5.31

4.0 out of 5 stars A dystopian ‘Cold Mountain’, 30 May 2014
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This review is from: The Undertaking (Kindle Edition)
Peter Faber, a former schoolteacher, now a solder at the Russian Front in WWII, marries Katharina Spinell, a woman he has never met, in order to gain honeymoon leave. She has married him for the window's pension she will get if he dies. They both unexpectedly glimpse a chance of a life together after the war and vow to be reunited, but before that he must endure the battle for Stalingrad and she must survive the invasion of Berlin.

Magee’s writing is as visceral and unsentimental as the subject matter demands and she achieves the very difficult feat of making the reader both believe in and care about the central characters, whose mostly selfish, unempathetic actions aren’t endearing, to say the least. She is also ambitious in presenting two very different spheres of war, following different characters, and maintaining the reader's interest in both, hence the comparison to 'Cold Mountain'.

One thing grated slightly, which was the frequently missing word 'of'. It even caused me to look up the author to see if she was American. Things go "out the window" or "out the door" and not just in speech, which would probably be ok in a contemporary setting or Stateside, but jarred here. A small and possibly pedantic thing in an otherwise good read.


The Burnt-out Town of Miracles
The Burnt-out Town of Miracles
by Roy Jacobsen
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Grew on me, 30 May 2014
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I came to this straight from Mingharelli's 'A Meal in Winter' and before that Magee's 'The Undertaking', both of which are somewhat more visceral in their descriptions of war deprivations than this. Initially I found it slow and fairly dull by comparison, and it has to be said that it never picks up pace or livens up significantly.

Timo is a logger in a Finnish village who finds himself the only one remaining as the Russian forces approach in the winter of 1939. His fellow inhabitants set fire to their homes to prevent their use and/or desecration by Russians and consider his decision to remain just another oddity from someone they consider simple. Timo, who narrates the wartime narrative, is actually incredibly astute, wise, practical and, in his thoughts at least, articulate. He's sort of akin to the central character in Graves's, 'I, Claudius' in that he survives because his erstwhile enemies underestimate him. The tides of war bring Russians to the village and then Finns again, testing his allegiances, which are always to people rather than nations, and depriving him of peace far beyond the end of the war.

It's an unusual read. I'm not sure I was wholly convinced by the discrepancy between everyone's perception of Timo and the intelligence of his thoughts, given that his behaviour reflected intelligent decision-making (possibly minus the boat-house episode, but even there he manages to keep his loggers alive). Also, while I applauded his rather OCD obsession with cleanliness in such dirty and degraded surroundings, it isn't indicated anywhere that it was a lifelong trait and it just seemed to me to be the writer's way of making him sympathetic and distinguishing him from his sloppier housemates. He did want to preserve a semblance of 'home' but was in other ways objective about what was worth the effort to save.

On reaching the end, however, I'm glad I stuck with it (only 200 pages) because, like Timo, the book amounted to more than the sum of its parts. The spare, mostly plain language left enough gaps for the imagination, while leaving no doubts as to the horrible, arbitrary nature of wartime events. Ultimately, Timo recognises his own strengths, while his quiet saving of lives goes mostly unnoticed, prompting questions about the equally random, shifting nature of good and evil acts and our relationship to ourselves and others.


Hyde Park on Hudson [DVD]
Hyde Park on Hudson [DVD]
Dvd ~ Bill Murray
Price: 2.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Twee, 25 May 2014
This review is from: Hyde Park on Hudson [DVD] (DVD)
This was billed in the UK as a film about the royals visiting the US in summer 1939 to persuade Roosevelt to support them in the coming war. In fact, it's more of a film about Roosevelt's dirty-old-man shenanigans with various female aides, particularly Laura Linney as his distant cousin Daisy. Charming in a way, with a not unintelligent script, but quite uneven and very oddly cast. Olivia Williams is a great actor but her accent as Eleanor Roosevelt is wobbly to say the least, while Olivia Colman and Sam West as the late Queen Mum and George VI bear no physical resemblance to them at all. That said, the best scenes are those of the bickering, nervous WIndsors. Apparently the Roosevelt/Daisy affair only became public knowledge after her death, when her letters were discovered, but during the film her only journey is to accept that the President philandered and 'needed' his various women. They all learned to share. Ahh. Or yuk, depending on how you look at it. The post-script reads how Roosevelt kept his promise to the young king and joined the war at the beginning of 1942. Hmm. For most Europeans, the war began in 1939, but hey, what's a couple of years between those with a 'special relationship'? A harmless but mushy 85 minutes.


A Meal in Winter
A Meal in Winter
Price: 6.69

4.0 out of 5 stars I kept thinking the cornmeal would thicken...., 23 May 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: A Meal in Winter (Kindle Edition)
This novella describes a day in the life of 3 German soldiers during a Polish winter in WWII. I've just read 2 other shortish novels on WWII: 'Chasing the King of Hearts' - also in translation - and 'The Undertaking' and this is a good companion volume. The soldiers here are participants in an early incarnation of the holocaust, i.e. before the systemic genocide of Auschwitz and the other camps. Their daily task seems to be to shoot Jewish people whom they've captured, and these 3 'ordinary' men would rather sneak out without breakfast into sub-zero temperatures to hunt for potential prisoners than have to actually shoot them.

The writing is spare and vivid in its description of cold, hunger and fatigue, and the ironic anxiety of worrying about your family suffering without you in another country when you are inflicting needless suffering on others. Everything is loaded with significance, from the partially-melted frost in a copse to the chimney flue blocked by a dead animal. Like the makeshift soup cooked by the men, though, this failed to completely assuage my hunger. I can see why the narrative is so restricted and think it benefits from its focus on the personal, immediate experiences of these few men, cogs in a wheel of epic proportions, and their dilemma. In that sense, with the self-delusions and the mental sleights-of-hand they employ to keep themselves going, it almost reminded me of 'Waiting for Godot': their acts, while making perfect sense in the moment, are ultimately destructive. Where I wanted the story to open out was in finding out the long-term implications. Avoiding any spoilers, there are references to a later event, but it is somewhat sketchy and doesn't get expanded on, just reiterated.

I'm aware that this may say more about me than the book. Life, after all, is often hard to make sense of. As a snapshot of 5 people (again, no spoilers) involved in an atrocity, it is subtly powerful and a (rightly) sad and disturbing read.


Hinterland (Y Gwyll) [DVD]
Hinterland (Y Gwyll) [DVD]
Dvd ~ Richard Harrington
Price: 13.99

12 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars If dour and glowering is your thing..., 19 May 2014
This review is from: Hinterland (Y Gwyll) [DVD] (DVD)
... then look no further! I note all the 5-star reviews and admittedly it deserves them if what you want is to curl up with some undemanding, formulaic crime of a dark evening. That's to say, it's not bad: the acting is fine, and the cinematography makes Wales look wild and remote (road ribbons through hills and heath etc.) or a bit seedy (seaside towns), but beyond that all I saw was yet another crime drama with a small group of cops solving murders, using its location as an 'extra' to set the tone. 'Single-Handed' and 'Shetland' are similarly set in rugged backwaters where the only things between you and your neighbour are likely to be several miles and an electrified fence. The difference for me was that the Shetland Isles and Connemara really are quite remote, whereas Aberystwyth... isn't. Yes there's some decent countryside roundabout, but you're not really that far from civilisation. The stories so far, broadly speaking, concern abuse in a children's home, an old feud between farmers and an odd love-triangle, and while they're solid enough, they're fairly slow until overblown climaxes.

Richard Harrington and Mali Harries are both veterans of British TV and very watchable, but I don't think either have cracked a single smile after 3 episodes. Harrington in particular seems to spend most of his time running along aforementioned lonely roads, glaring at the walls of his caravan or being terse to his colleauges. We've so far found out little about him beyond the fact that his wife in London has barred him from seeing their children. It's okay, but I'm surprised at the rave reviews.

One practical point: the lilting Welsh is easy on the ear, but the subtitles on the televised version were tiny, so I hope this is fixed for the DVD release.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 1, 2014 7:14 AM BST


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