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Their Satanic Majesties Request
Their Satanic Majesties Request
Price: 6.27

4.0 out of 5 stars Hard to believe it's the same band who produced 'Sticky Fingers' but worth several listens, 21 Jun 2014
I think every album produced in 1967 was weird and experimental in some way- compare this with 'Strange Days', 'Safe As Milk', 'Piper at the Gates of Dawn' or 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' and it's in perfect company. In context of the Stones overall body of work, it's unique and has a strange appeal all of its own-it could be said to be their concept album.
Brian Jones was at his experimental best here, particularly on the standout track, 'She's a Rainbow' where his mellotron and the choral work turn bubblegum-pop lyrics into a superb baroque prog-piece, and on the haunting '2000 Light Years From Home' and bringing the sitar and numerous other exotic instruments to produce the trippy, far-Eastern sound of 'Gomper'. The other tracks, particularly 'Citadel', 'The Lantern' and '2000 Man' are solid rockers, with just a little 60's-style psych influence, and Bill Wyman's only lead vocal on 'In Another Land' is pleasantly eerie. 'Sing This All Together' is decent for the choral arrangements and tribal sound, while 'On With The Show' is ...odd, really, almost to the point of being out of place on this album, but lifted out of mediocrity by Nicky Hopkins on piano and Jagger's playing the part of a strip-club MC. Maybe it was next to the studio when they recorded 'Majesties'?
For combined talent and raw creativity, this album, for me, is the high point of the Stones with Jones; still exploring their sound and developing it into what later became 'Let It Bleed' and 'Exile On Main Street', and it's every splendid, brain-melting bit a part of the 60s as 'Sgt. Pepper'.

The Mirror Man Sessions
The Mirror Man Sessions
Price: 6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The complete opposite of Trout Mask Replica, 20 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Mirror Man Sessions (Audio CD)
Trout Mask Replica, the Captain's epic 1969 release, is original and brilliant in its own surreal way, but this album, with faux-improvised pieces and live cuts of earlier songs from Strictly Personal, is a lot more engaging, blues-y and enjoyable.
Despite having 9 tracks to Trout Mask's 28, it's almost as long and shows the Magic Band at a time when experimentation and talent were in perfect sync.
'Tarotplane' is an awesome 20-minute jam, bringing the Captain's voice and harp to the fore in a piece that reminds me of free jazz or long, rambling pieces by Canned Heat and other blues leaders.
The longer 'live' versions of Gimme Dat Harp Boy, Mirror Man, Kandy Korn, Beatle Bones 'n Smoking Stones are even better than the studio originals of Strictly Personal, and the whole band seems to comes together much better to deliver lengthier jams of those, with John French's stuttering drums giving the new tracks a whole new atmosphere and rougher, 'realer' feel.
Beefheart's growl (and blues harp, and reed trumpet he borrowed from Ornette Coleman) is perfectly supported by the Band's
instrumental work, and the lyrics have a much more ad-libbed feel to them that adds rather than detracts.
Tarotplane and Mirror Man are the most substantial-play them through decent speakers and you'll feel every hair stand on end.
It's the most accessible work, yet still pretty far out- it draws onthe Captain's favourites of Robert Johnson, Howling Wolf and the other greats and looks forward to the craziness of Bat Chain Puller and Shiny Beast in the strange syncopation and messing about with the microphone.
Beefheart never came back to the blues, but this album is the best goodbye he could have produced.

Cowboys & Indians (Texas Trilogy Book 2)
Cowboys & Indians (Texas Trilogy Book 2)
Price: 1.83

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars for Six Flags!, 3 Jun 2014
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A thriller with plenty of light-hearted humour thrown in, "Cowboys and Indians" is a story of the conflict of cultures and factions that arise from one man's vision to build a US-style theme park in Mumbai.
This is the second part of Asif Sardar's "Texas Trilogy", but is a standalone novel and can be picked up, read and appreciated if you haven't read the first novel yet.

Moti Lal, an Indian tycoon with an overbearing mother, a neglected wife, several enemies and a crazy dream to create "Six Flags Over Mumbai", doesn't quite realise what he's got himself into when he hires a Texan construction company to oversee building. Nonetheless, against time, against the odds, and against expectations, work begins.

Indian and American values soon butt heads, and Dallas Jones, the blunt Texan appointed as project manager, has to field misunderstandings, police corruption, attempts on the life of his client, and a foundation stone ceremony that sees an amorous bull elephant run amok, while keeping his mind on the job and his team together amidst fraud, kidnapping, sabotage, feminine distractions, and other shady dealings.

As the park slowly takes shape, it becomes clear to Jones that this is no ordinary job, and that it is fast becoming a focal point for scheming by terrorists, employees desperate to be mentioned in a will, and deceitful relatives who can't stop interfering in pursuit of a fortune. Jones and his team will have to try, for the first time ever, to make cowboys and Indians work together for the greater good.
As the grand opening finally arrives, tensions rise, guests of honour put everyone on edge, a great many people are revealed for what they really are, and the multiple plots all come to a catastrophic climax.

"Cowboys and Indians" does a great job of moving typical Texans and Western-style action to a Mumbai setting, and was very well written and enjoyable. Dallas Jones and Moti Lal are realistic central characters with recognizable traits to make them funny; Mumbai and the theme park, are vividly portrayed with nepotism, street children and prejudices abounding; the unique situations and conflicts of living and doing business in India are explained to an uninformed audience, and without massacring the dialogue or plot.
The stereotypes of Indian and Texan behaviour, and how both groups are completely out of their depth when dealing with the other, provides welcome comic relief. Likewise, the workplace tensions that arise are believable and terrifically well-observed, the dry humour is very abundant, and the multiple plot threads are skilfully woven together to create a novel that's a new and pretty remarkable concept-who else would have thought to write about cowboys meeting REAL Indians?
Overall, a great read.

The Prague Cemetery
The Prague Cemetery
by Umberto Eco
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Flawed gem, 1 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Prague Cemetery (Paperback)
Eco explores a new setting for his historical fiction as he addresses the social and political upheavals of the nineteenth century-and how so many problems of those and later years were the fault of one misanthropic fellow, Simonini.
Based on historical truths, "The Prague Cemetery" sees Simonini, an lawyer, forger and conspiracy theorist, rubbing devious elbows with such distinguished figures as Alexandre Dumas, Giuseppe Garibaldi, a young and diffident doctor named "Froide" (or something like that), and various less-well known but significant figures like the literary fraudster Leo Taxil, the agitator Maurice Joly, and the famous victim of defamation, Captain Dreyfus.

Convinced that various figures have had a dangerous involvement in the world Simonini begins using his talents to expose-and where necessary, invent-secret doings of figures like the Freemasons, the European Jews, French Satanists, and employers he suspects of wronging him.
And what are his talents? Forgery, lying and double-dealing. Simonini is single-handedly responsible for the Dreyfus affair, the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion", numerous bombings, agitations and arrests, and the fall of the Paris Commune.
Simonini is an engagingly nasty fellow, rather like the baneful figures he writes libels about. He is at his happiest when enjoying the (lavishly described) good eating of France and Italy, and when finding ways to make money as an agent provocateur in the service of the French, Italian or Russian secret service

Eco is fond of writing about unseen influences on historical events-as witnessed by "Baudolino" -and that enthusiasm is given free reign here. Simonini falls victim to Hermann Goedsche, another forger and anti-semite who contributed to the "Protocols", conspires with Leo Taxil, the author of a hoax about Satanism, Freemasonry and Catholicism, writes a letter implicating Captain Dreyfus as a traitor, blames the invasion of Sicily on the Jews and Freemasons, and conspires to kill Ippolito Nievo to destroy incriminating evidence of Garibaldi's presence in Sicily.
It's amusing to have this kind of everyman character, who is present at every significant event of the time. It's also a bit dazzling, as quite a lot of the novel is the historical background and asides about characters completely unfamiliar to me. Also, Simonini isn't quite as engaging as Eco's previous characters, and he might have done better as a villain.
Nonetheless, it's a worthwhile read:
-it's edifying, because it brings to mind all these historical conflicts, and the influence they had on the modern world;
-it's comic, because the intelligence services of every nation are shown to be hack novelists, reduced to cribbing old serials to write reports and prove their usefulness
-it's thoughtful, because it shows how all these novels, pamphlets and news stories, which made a big splash at the time could just as easily have been composed by the same writer, as they were that interchangeable
-it's funny in a dark way, and the authors who inspired this book are shown to inspire Simonini's hateful diatribes: Dumas, Huysmans, Eugene Sue, (and others I haven't picked up on yet)

Overall, it's a worthwhile and really eye-opening read about the formation of the twentieth century, which really captures the alarmism and phony scares so abundant at the time.

Dollars & Diamonds
Dollars & Diamonds
Price: 8.04

5.0 out of 5 stars Light and laugh-out-loud funny, 1 Jun 2014
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As a Brighton native, I had this book recommended to me -why I'm not sure, as I'm a guy and chick-lit isn't one of my usual reading pleasures, regardless of where it comes from.
Nonetheless, "Dollars and Diamonds" made me laugh consistently throughout, and while it's fairly typical of the genre, I have to admit, the characters and backdrop definitely ring true to me as Brighton-born.
It's a light comedy and a straightforward enough story of three female friends (well, two female and one crossdesser): Jean, Tammy and Bobette, living a fabulous life of Prada shoes, partying and (ground-floor) penthouse apartments, shopping and enjoying the Brighton nightlife, all while never doing very much work to fund their lifestyles.

It has plenty to make me (and you) laugh throughout, with one of the trio of friends telling a drug dealer he should appear on Dragon's Den; another getting her dog christened, with Bobette, the transvestite, as godmother/father; spending an intoxicated weekend in a haunted house, taking a cab round the corner to avoid walking in heels, and internet shopping for a Chihuahua as a present for the victim of an online scammer are some comic highlights.

Of course, being chick-lit, it's mainly about the friends' relationships and entertaining mishaps in the pursuit of them, including a cat that becomes enamoured of the christened dog, a date night spoiled by a medium, Jean passing takeaway Thai food off as her own cookery; arguments about shopping, an anniversary at McDonald's, endless catty remarks, and a plethora of typical rom-com style entanglements.
Besides the Brighton-based misadventures, the novel is driven forward by Jean's relationship with a new man and their various attempts to spend quality time together and enjoy each others company away from the other chaotic happenings.
All of this is quite reminiscent of how unusual Brighton life really is, and Paris has a keen eye for the foibles and friendships of the people who live there (not that I know anyone who's had identical experiences, but still).
The various comic strands build gradually to a surprising and sudden denouement, unexpected and a bit unrealistic, though perfectly in keeping with the characters and the environment.
I probably won't become a dedicated reader of the genre, but I found it more than entertaining when on a long and gloomy train journey to Edinburgh.
Overall, this is a great read to relax with, to take on holiday, and to divert and make you laugh at any other time.

The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Enlarged Devil's Dictionary (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Ambrose Bierce
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.69

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cynical as hell and unfailingly funny, 22 May 2014
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These satirical definitions show Bierce's wit and disenchantment with other people's enthusiasms at his very best.
From mocking editors, politicians, critics, to giving his own sardonic meaning to everyday words, Bierce provides a whole new vocabulary to anyone seeking to compose invective or just be wittier.
HARANGUE: A speech by an opponent, who is known as an harangue-otang
PURITAN: A pious gentleman, who believed in letting all people do as -he- liked
CONSERVATIVE: A statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace
them with others.
Nobody escapes his eye for the ridiculous or his acerbic pen, which makes splendid fun of philosophical ideas (Nihilist: A Russian who denies the existence of anything but Tolstoi. The Leader of the school is Tolstoi.), medicine (Gout: a physician's name for the rheumatism of a rich patient), religion (Orthodox: An ox wearing the popular religious yoke), prohibition (Rum: Temperance word for all drinks except tea and water), and drops numerous verses and anecdotes to amuse his readers and win them to his cynical thinking.
I'd suggest this as a great resource for journalists (Reporter: A writer who guesses his way to the truth and dispels it with a tempest of words) and comedians, and a great read for anyone who likes a good laugh.

Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas)
Books v. Cigarettes (Penguin Great Ideas)
by George Orwell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very enjoyable, funny and somewhat dark in places, 22 May 2014
This handful of essays cover literature in various aspects, the public school system (a recurring topic of Orwell's) and how the NHS compares to his stay in a Paris hospital for the poor.
The first four (of seven) are the lightest and probably the best, beginning with his admonition to people who don't read on the grounds books are costly-he calculates the cost of his other vices and finds books to be the cheapest and probably the best indulgence in "Books v. Cigarettes".
The literature trade is explored as well, from reminiscing on the characters and produce to be found in a second-hand bookseller and library in "Bookshop Memories", the shortcomings of writing reviews in "Confessions of a Book Reviewer". Reading these two, most people will marvel at how little changes; people still go into bookshops asking for works whose author and title they can't remember, even in the age of Google, and book reviewers and critics will, I think, never change that much.
"The Prevention of Literature" laments how writers are unable and often unwilling to openly discuss political topics, and that freedom of speech has to overcome the tyranny of opinion, comparing this to totalitarian destruction of literature in Russia.
"My Country Right or Left" is a dissection of patriotism and jingoism in wartime, and "How the Poor Die" is a memoir of a dirty, crowded French ward where the dignity and safety of the patients is not an urgent priority.
"Such, Such Were the Joys" takes us through Orwell's time as a scholarship boy at prep school, and the class-consciousness of the boys and teachers, measuring one another in terms of how much money their family has, the ensuing snobbery and arrogance, and the all-important, constantly looming spectre that was the exam for public school.
It's not the cheeriest of memories, but Orwell never fails to engage and draw comparisons to interest you.
You can find most of this collection in "Shooting an Elephant", but somehow, the selected works go together really well in this collection.

Decline of the English Murder (Penguin Great Ideas)
Decline of the English Murder (Penguin Great Ideas)
Price: 1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An unexpected gem, 22 May 2014
I never paid Orwell's nonfiction any attention, as Animal Farm, 1984, Keep the Aspidistra Flying, etc, tend to overshadow his essays.
This assortment shows Orwell's enthusiasm for a variety of subjects, and he writes about them with the same detached fascination.
In "Clink" he records how he overnighted in a police station for being drunk and incapable, and while disappointed at not being sentenced, he records and comments on the social and criminal traits of everyone else awaiting the judge.
In this essay, and in "Hop-picking Diaries" he shows the same careful observation and recording as he shows in "Down and out in Paris and London", and the same enthusiasm for the seamier side of life as a farm labourer in Kent.

He moves on from this to extolling the treasures to be found in a good junk shop (Just Junk-But Who Could Resist It?), debating what makes "Good Bad Books"-the kind which aren't literary marvels but are still pleasant reads, if a bit melodramatic. He holds up "Uncle Tom's Cabin" as a good example of these.

He also takes on the world of newspapers, critically dissecting crime reporting in the title essay, and commenting on what the reader's enthusiasm for, and the declining quality of, reports of murders says about society at large; analysing the cheap jingoistic patriotism and politics that are fed to readers of "Boy's Weeklies"; picking apart "Women's Twopenny Papers" and their stories imparting the moral superiority of the poor, and talks at length about low humour and rude postcards in "The Art of Donald McGill", and how this obscenity is a somehow essential element of literature because it's to be found in all of us.

As always, his writing is very well observed, and his unusual choice of subjects engaged me right away.
Plus, getting some pocket sized Orwell, just big enough to last me a train journey or a coffee-break, is the benefit of the Great Ideas series.

The Artificial Mirage
The Artificial Mirage
Price: 1.81

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compelling debut novel on relationships, reality, and the loss of both., 22 May 2014
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The hero of this work is Charlie, a currency trader living in the Vietnam of a world where Augmented Reality glasses give people a whole new outlook on life, letting the wearer multitask currency trading, checking out holographic ads, ordering meals, and viewing the social media profiles of people around you.
When first introduced, he's pretty happy, making good money and spending time with Lauren, his assistant and lover.
After an investigation shuts down his firm, he's forced to readjust to being broke, unable to work, and apart from the woman who made his former luxury enjoyable.
Leaving Vietnam to find Lauren, he drifts into the Middle East accompanied only by an Augmented Reality simulation of Lauren (the "artificial mirage" of the title) to make him feel connected to her, who made life worth living before.
With a hologram of his former lover close to his heart, he follows her to Saudi Arabia, where questionable friendships and crime are a fact of life, and where he becomes a smuggler, still searching for Lauren and hoping to rebuild his life.

The Artificial Mirage is a pleasantly naturalistic piece of sci-fi, of a world where Augmented Reality provides you with a connection to everything that happens, and distracts you from it at the same time. The AR technology drives the narrative without overshadowing the more conventional action, and through AR, Charlie's alienation from reality and his dependence on simulations of Lauren are readily obvious.
It's slow but engaging in pace, driven by dialogue and description supplemented by jolts of action, with an ending that surprises, and reminds us that a mirage, even an artificial one, is always a mirage.
A very decent piece of fiction overall, and a good cautionary tale.

The Windup Girl
The Windup Girl
Price: 5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars; interesting and imaginative, but with a bit of the Kilgore Trout Effect, 21 May 2014
This review is from: The Windup Girl (Kindle Edition)
This was an interesting and for the most part, engrossing speculative read: a genre classice of "biopunk" and "genepunk", apparently.
From the opening page, it paints a vivid picture of a far future where oil has been exhausted, engineered diseases and insects make life difficult for animals and plants, and miserable for humans, and the giant agribusiness conglomerates are trying to stay one step ahead of the problems that decimate harvests, populations, and the valuable calories needed to power what industry remains.
Into the Thailand of this world, Anderson Lake is introduced; an industrial spy and secret agent for the US-based AgriGen, a firm desperate for new genetic material to research and produce new, disease-resistant GMO crops.
Posing as a factory manager producing motor-springs, the batteries of a world where human and animal muscles provide most of the power; he is seeking evidence that the Thai government has a seed bank of heirloom plants, and he'll do anything to get it, be that bribery, murder, espionage or backing a civil war in exchange for the untainted genetic material.
He's not a welcome visitor to the new Bangkok, which is very isolationist to keep out the corrupting influence of AgriGen, and their single-generation cropswhich have contributed to tdisease even as they stave off starvation. As hostile as the Thais are to foreigners, they are plentiful, from Anderson's deputy, a Chinese refugee from a pogrom in Malaysia and former shipping magnate, who is desperate to restore his fortunes, to curios like the title character, Emiko, the windup girl.
A genetically-enhanced Japanese creation, she lives a precarious existence in a country where she is illegal, and is the inadvertent key to the action which unfolds as the isolationist government wars with a free-trade faction, hoping to expose the country to the outside influences it has resisted for so long.

The book is a fantasy rather than a "scientific" sci-fi, but it wasn't half-bad as a novel. The opening chapter which sees Anderson hunting for unfamiliar fruit in the street market and overseeing the dangers of life in a power-spring factory read like a really twisted version of "The Quiet American", and the Bangkok backdrop is well-drawn enough to be credible (at least to me). Given the criticisms leveled against companies like Monsanto in real life, it wasn't hard to imagine that kind of crazy blockade either, given people's paranoia.
The odd vision of life in a post-oil world were amusing and detailed enough to see the imagination that went into the novel-for example, in a crimelord's broken down skyscraper, the lifts are kept working not by electricity, but counterweight teams of underlings who go down as you go up, which was a nice touch.

What was less arresting was the multiplicity of points of view-there are five principal characters, each leading alternating chapters. One of these dies early on, yet returns in a way which didn't really contribute to the storyline. Another was a plot point which seems major at the beginning, but has become a MacGuffin by the start of the final section.
Nonetheless, it's a very engaging read, thought-provoking at points and entertaining the rest of the way. I look forward to reading more of Paolo Bacigalupi's efforts-he's left more than enough room for a sequel, definitely.

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