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Mr. Paul J. Bradshaw (Midlands, UK)
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Firesong (The Wind on Fire Trilogy)
Firesong (The Wind on Fire Trilogy)
by William Nicholson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sense of getting it over with, 9 July 2003
Nicholson has a great grasp of plot and manages to fit in a great variety of incident in a surprisingly small book. But with this, the final installment of his trilogy, you get the sense that he couldn't wait to get it over with.
While the story is unquestionably compelling, with more twists and turns than ever - not a few events are done with far more quickly than is comfortable. Too many questions are left unanswered, or situations wrapped up without credibility. The end sequence in particular seems hugely rushed, and could have been expanded upon significantly. This may be because, as a scriptwriter, he's leaving the director to fill in the gaps.
This is still worth reading and wonderfully written, but a slight disappointment after the previous two excellent books.


The Catcher in the Rye
The Catcher in the Rye
by J. D. Salinger
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Overrated but still good, 30 Jun 2003
This review is from: The Catcher in the Rye (Paperback)
Given its status as one of the best books of all time, I have to say I was disappointed with this book. Essentially it's about one character at one time in his life - and it does that brilliantly. Holden is painted perfectly, from his style of writing to his vocabulary and expressions, down to how he acts and how people respond to him. He's a very sarcastic character - and it's a very witty book, which will have you laughing throughout - but yes, very little happens.
If existential angst is what you want, this doesn't really do enough. Hermann Hesse covers that ground far better. And the stream-of-consciousness style is far more effectively used in Sartre's Roads to Freedom trilogy.
In the end this is a little book which tells us a lot about one character, but fails to take in enough for me to warrant its cult status.


Counting Sheep: The Science and Pleasures of Sleep and Dreams
Counting Sheep: The Science and Pleasures of Sleep and Dreams
by Paul Martin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.99

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful and hugely informative read, 30 Jun 2003
This is probably the best popular science book I have ever read. Martin does a hugely comprehensive job on one of the areas of life so vastly overlooked. Not only does he cover sleep itself, but dreams, sleeping illnesses, sleeping in animals, insomnia, and even why we yawn.
He illustrates this information with some great anecdotes and a dry wit which had me laughing out loud on more than one occasion - all of it in an extremely readable, relaxed style.
This is a book which could quite easily change your life - or at least how you live it. The importance that we should give to sleep is consistenty emphasised: our body needs it more than food; it is essential to memory; missing even one hour can affect our driving as much as a couple of pints of beer, while chronic sleep deprivation can shorten our life.
At the very least you can read this book knowing that you'll never feel lazy again!


The Day of the Owl
The Day of the Owl
by Leonardo Sciascia
Edition: Paperback

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A writer in charge of his material, 16 Jun 2003
This review is from: The Day of the Owl (Paperback)
In a note at the end of this book, Sciascia explains that he had to constantly trim this book so as not to make anyone identifiable. Although this is ostensibly a complaint against a lack of freedom, it may well be the book's greatest strength.
This is wonderfully economic prose - stark, simple, and incredibly effective. The prose is as clear as the case appears to be, but you still have to see it through to the end. A man is murdered, and the investigation could bring down people in very high places. Sciascia could write a shopping list and you'd enjoy every bit.


Theo's Odyssey
Theo's Odyssey
by Catherine Clement
Edition: Paperback

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blows your mind, 16 Jun 2003
This review is from: Theo's Odyssey (Paperback)
A dying boy is taken on a trip around the world and introduced to a vast diversity of religions. This is a tough challenge for any writer, but Clement pulls it off with great style. There is a great balance to how religions are treated - although inevitably the Western religions are given more attention than the others - while the story of Theo does enough to keep the reader's interest.
At times you are picking up so much that you feel overwhelmed. The book is sizable but even then so much more could have been covered. Theo is a little pretentious but this is unavoidable if he is not to be patronised, and play a vital part in the journey.
This far surpasses Sophie's World, mainly because so much of religion is about great stories and myths. What emerges is a foundation of knowledge about the world's beliefs which would stand anyone - adult or child - in good stead, and sheds some light on why some people, and nations, do what they do. Essential reading.


The Man in the High Castle (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Man in the High Castle (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Philip K. Dick
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extremely well imagined, compelling tale, 27 May 2003
So, Germany and Japan won the war. The US is divided between the two, with a Rocky Mountains State acting as a buffer, independent zone. Dick stays away from the Nazi states and instead concentrates on that neutral zone, and the Japanese-controlled San Franscisco.
His master stroke is how he concentrates on 'normal' people and how their lives are affected. Most fascinating is the 'white man as minority' aspect, which is one of the most thought-provoking analyses of imperialism that I've ever read - this really gets you to think about notions of 'civilisation' and 'superiority'. The way that language is affected is also masterfully portrayed, while the 'book within a book' (what would have happened if the allies had won?) keeps your thoughts shooting in all sorts of directions.
The plot is well shaped, keeping you hooked and guessing throughout, while the situation as a whole manages to balance horror at the Nazis with a hope in the future. Read it.


Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life
Living Dolls: A Magical History of the Quest for Mechanical Life
by Gaby Wood
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some good stories - but a bit of a cheat, 22 May 2003
Ostensibly about automata, Living Dolls tells a number of fascinating stories about mechanical ducks, chess-playing Turks and flute-playing statues. But as the book goes on, the focus shifts to more tenuously linked stories.
The stuff about Vaucanson is excellent, making some excellent points about how the search for machine-men turned men into machines. The second chapter is a little less interesting, as the chess-playing Turk turns out to be something of a fraud. And from then onwards it's downhill. Edison's dolls (chap3), for instance, were never intended to 'imitate life' in the same way as automata; and people on film (chap4) are not 'robots repeating the same action'; finally, the Doll Family (chap5) were human - the link to robots is non-existent.
That said, these are great stories. Just don't approach this book expecting more than one chapter on its stated subject, or you'll end up disappointed.


The House Of The Spirits
The House Of The Spirits
by Isabel Allende
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Magic turns sour, 19 May 2003
This is a pretty incredible book from Allende - the only thing that stops me giving it five stars is a somewhat unnecessary occasional swap in narrative from third to first person.
This Peruvian author is very much in the Marquez tradition - a cast of bizarre characters telling a story that covers generations and includes psychic abilities, ghosts and bizarre accidents.
What makes this book special is how it takes your affection for this family from the unusual to the deeply serious, as revolution ravages the country. The final 150 pages or so are harrowing stuff, and deeply affect you.
The plot is compelling, the characters brilliantly drawn, and an amazing achievement for a first novel.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 8, 2010 9:10 PM BST


Nicholas Nickleby (Penguin Classics)
Nicholas Nickleby (Penguin Classics)
by Charles Dickens
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.19

10 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The weakest work of a genius, 1 May 2003
I'm a massive fan of Dickens, but of the dozen or so books of his that I've read, this has to be the weakest. There are far too many coincidences to maintain credibility (yes, too many even for a Dickens novel), and too many characters who pop up at the precise moment you've forgotten who they were.
There are also at least two occasions where a character is speaking words that are quite clearly not their own, but those of the author (most noticeably, a rant by the protagonist against a man who adapts/butchers books for the stage).
But this is Dickens, and so it's all forgiveable. There are hilarious passages (the Muffin company bit at the beginning is wonderful) and some of his most memorable characters (Mrs Nickleby is wonderfully observed). And while the story itself may not be his best, the telling of it is, as always, a joy.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 14, 2012 8:55 AM BST


Slaves of the Mastery (Wind on Fire)
Slaves of the Mastery (Wind on Fire)
by William Nicholson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.26

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Different in the best possible way, 22 April 2003
The second part of Nicholson's trilogy shares the same excellent storytelling, and a tight plot, but there's almost a more political edge going on here. A story of enslavement - and yet more dystopias - this is a compelling picture of slave society and control. Less (but still a lot) happens, but there is more here to make you think. The characters are maturing, too, and the end of the book sets up a fine finish for the final installment...


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