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Reviews Written by
Norman Housley (Leicester United Kingdom)

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This Party's Got To Stop
This Party's Got To Stop
Price: £6.02

5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding family memoir, 20 Aug. 2013
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This is one of the best memoirs about family relationships, with all their joys, tribulations, misunderstandings and festering grievances, that I've ever read. In the first place, Thomson writes wonderfully, his prose is engaging, lyrical and fluid, an absolute pleasure to read. The book is skilfully constructed, with the central narrative of the brothers assembling in the family home interwoven with earlier and later periods, and the densely local descriptions and reminiscences in Eastbourne contrasting effectively with sections set in Berlin, Italy, New York and Shanghai.
Thomson has passages that are by turns hilariously funny, intriguing and moving. It's astonishing how eccentric the family is.
The book is interesting too as a piece of social history, giving revealing insights into a middle class family over several generations. I see from googling Rupert's brother Robin that he uses the full name Farquhar-Thomson. People interested in the niceties of English class will debate whether they are upper or lower middle class - based on schools, universities, lifestyles and housing I would say upper.
Overall a terrific read, a book that thoroughly deserves the praise it has received. I shall remember some of the incidents for a long time, including the one that gave rise to the title. It's one of those books that I regret coming to an end.


Stone's Fall
Stone's Fall
Price: £4.35

2.0 out of 5 stars Very disappointing, 10 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Stone's Fall (Kindle Edition)
I'm a great fan of the author's earlier books of this type but have given up on this one half way through. In essence it's a bloated pastiche of a John Buchan novel.
The main problem is the length - there are endless pages of exposition that should have been cut. But the characters are also an issue - they're two dimensional. And it lacks the intellectual stimulus of the earlier books.
I'm astonished at the rave reviews it's getting. Because of them I persevered but am getting nothing out of it so have decided enough is enough.


Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend
Trautmann's Journey: From Hitler Youth to FA Cup Legend
Price: £4.68

4.0 out of 5 stars Readable account of an extraordinary lfe, 28 July 2013
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I read this after hearing about Trautmann's life story following his recent demise. His life was remarkable by any standards, but what impressed me most was the man's unbelievably good luck. He went through wartime experiences that brought him close to death time and again but came through unscathed, physically at least.
Clay does a reasonable job but she does rely heavily on her interview with Trautmann, and her style is uneven.
Three and a half stars.


Apple Tree Yard
Apple Tree Yard
by Louise Doughty
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you are a Barbara Vine fan you will enjoy this, 19 July 2013
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This review is from: Apple Tree Yard (Hardcover)
This is a virtuoso piece of writing, and it made me think of Barbara Vine at her very best. Louise Doughty creates a stifling world of suspense and anxiety which pulls you in - it's easy to see why some readers couldn't put it down. True, it hinges on two episodes of sexual action which both stretch credibility - but they are essential for the plot and are brought together in masterly fashion towards the end. It's fascinating to see how the first person narrator annoyed some readers and enthused others. And Doughty has really done the research well on the Old Bailey and trial process, which come across as wholly authentic. I wish there were more clever, absorbing thrillers like this one.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 23, 2015 5:41 PM GMT


The Wasp Factory
The Wasp Factory
by Iain Banks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Grand Guignol, 3 July 2013
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This review is from: The Wasp Factory (Paperback)
That's how the late author described his first novel, and it certainly is! If you are keen on intelligent, atmospheric but comic horror, then you'll love this book. I didn't like it at all but I admire the writing to the nth degree as well as the talent that created it. It has certainly inspired me to read some more of his work. It reminded me of Lord of the Flies.


World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War
by Max Brooks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very clever satire on the world we live in, 27 Jun. 2013
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Max Brooks's account of a zombie plague and the slow but successful fight back bristles with sharp commentary on international politics, the deficiencies of politicians and the media, and the different ways ordinary people respond to catastrophic events. While his grasp of the zombies and their impact is sure footed and convincing, what really comes across is the authenticity of the human reactions to the collapse - temporary as it turns out - of everything that we take for granted. His decision to tell the story through individual interviews was risky but for the most part it works out, few of the stories fall flat, many are gripping, some very moving. Only towards the end does the book flag somewhat. Basically, this is much more than a book about zombies - it deals with our world, its strengths and weaknesses. It's curiously uplifting and a very good read.


The Cutting Room
The Cutting Room
Price: £4.49

4.0 out of 5 stars Idiosyncratic noir thriller with loads of local colour, 5 Jun. 2013
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This review is from: The Cutting Room (Kindle Edition)
This novel has a lot going for it. In the first place, a decidedly quirky first person narrator, plus a cast of other unusual characters, not all of them that convincing, but well portrayed and fun to read about. Secondly, a lovingly detailed depiction of Glasgow, which really makes you feel like you are there. And thirdly, a grim and graphic storyline which keeps you hooked throughout, including a clever twist near the end.
It doesn't all work. At times the narrator's lifestyle is simply over the top, an unending saga of excess. And there are some rather strained poetic passages, especially towards the end when the author appears to decide to ditch realism in favour of flights of fancy. By contrast, some earlier scenes are predictable and banal.
Still, for the most part this is pleasurable and fine writing, and the experience is well worth it.


The Universe versus Alex Woods
The Universe versus Alex Woods
by Gavin Extence
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fine debut novel, 26 May 2013
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Unfortunately this novel was the subject of a bidding war which means that Hodder and Stoughton have had their publicity machine playing at full blast. On this occasion though the hype is not far from the truth because this is a very good novel and extraordinary as a first effort. I did find it heavily derivative, you can clearly hear not just Mark Haddon but also David Mitchell and Sue Townsend. Still, Extence has his own voice and he writes beautifully. I thought it odd that he gave away the ending at the very start and wonder why he made that decision, because the book was clearly very carefully structured. I am sure he will be explaining it at the numerous book signings that Hodder are making him take on. The result was that I found the last third wearisome, though most other readers didn't, given the rave reviews. Extence is certainly one to watch, a big talent.
Your enjoyment of this book will be enhanced if you're into Vonnegut, which I'm not.


The Untouchable
The Untouchable
by John Banville
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Deeply impressive roman a clef, 27 April 2013
This review is from: The Untouchable (Paperback)
What an astonishing writer John Banville is. There are passages in this book that are so beautifully crafted that they take your breath away. He creates a whole world, full of intricate and convincing detail, and above all he makes you believe in Victor Maskell. The are some longeurs, and some chapters that don't quite work, but the overall impression is of a master at work.


Life After Life
Life After Life
by Kate Atkinson
Edition: Hardcover

13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A daring but not wholly successful experiment, 25 Mar. 2013
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This review is from: Life After Life (Hardcover)
I have read everything that Kate Atkinson has written and rate her as one of the best novelists currently at work in the UK. Every so often she writes something that goes out on a limb, and those books I usually enjoy less than the others. Emotionally weird was one such and this latest novel is another. All the classic Atkinson qualities are here - dazzling cleverness, a terrific sense of humour, deep insight into how families work (and don't) and a prose style to die for. Some of the familiar mannerisms - like the constant authorial asides and whimsical notes - are getting a bit out of control but she remains a truly rewarding read. However, the life constantly relived framework that underpins this book had the effect of distancing me from Ursula and even the members of her family. I can see how brilliantly it's assembled, and the characterization is as rich and varied as ever, but the book left me cold emotionally.
Also, there is just too much historical box ticking in this book. August 1914 tick, Spanish flu tick, general strike tick, rise of the Nazis tick, September 1939 tick, London Blitz tick, VE Day tick. And I'm sorry, but planning to assassinate Hitler was deeply disappointing, not at all worthy of Atkinson.
Still, judging by the reviews I'm very much in the minority on this book and I shall still look forward eagerly to her next one. Fond as we all are of Jackson Brodie she can't just keep producing books about him. And she does bring home the full horror of aerial bombardment better than almost anybody has.
3.5/4
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 24, 2013 10:02 PM BST


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