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Norman Housley (Leicester United Kingdom)

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Freedom
Freedom
by Jonathan Franzen
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointing, 4 Nov 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Freedom (Hardcover)
There's a long review by zashibis on amazon.com which says exactly what I thought about Freedom so I won't bother adding more: the characters and the plot just don't convince. The whole thing is wooden, it never comes alive. I am really disappointed because The Corrections is one of my favourite novels.
It looks like this is one of those books that divides opinion given some of the ecstatic reviews it's had.


When Will There Be Good News?
When Will There Be Good News?
by Kate Atkinson
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars as good as it gets, 3 Dec 2008
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A wonderful book by my favourite novelist. It has everything you could ask for. The only downside is the feeling of sadness that hits you when you reach the last page.


The Road Home
The Road Home
by Rose Tremain
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written but predictable tale, 2 Sep 2008
This review is from: The Road Home (Paperback)
Fascinating to read so many rave reviews. I read this on a very long train journey and if I hadn't been stuck there would probably have abandoned it. Rose Tremain has a wonderful prose style and she organizes her plots really well with lots of development, but the novel didn't grip me at all. Characters were boring, situations obvious (mobile phone going off during concert, stereotypical rich/poor London, even more stereotypical run-down anonymous ex-eastern bloc country etc), the ending warm & cosy. Did nobody else find Lev deeply tedious? She is very good at doing her homework, so the top-class restaurant, police treatment of migrants, retirement home, and lots of other stuff were thoroughly credible. But I felt disappointed; maybe I'm just expecting too much.
Norman Housley
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 21, 2011 9:28 PM BST


Shakespeare: The Biography
Shakespeare: The Biography
by Peter Ackroyd
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars definitive but so very long, 12 Aug 2008
I'm a great fan of Peter Ackroyd, whose technique is outstanding, but I nearly gave up on this book, somewhere around ch 57 which is entitled 'No more words, we beseech you'. A book of about 300 pp. as opposed to 500 would have been much more enjoyable.
The historical evidence about WS consists of two types of source: (1) a group of primarily legal texts about his investments, property purchases, his will and a few encounters with the law; and (2) comments by contemporaries, both favourable and hostile. There are more of (1) than I thought and many more of (2), so many in fact that I'm amazed that the 'Who really wrote Shakespeare?' theorists persist. The picture that emerges is of an exceptionally professional, hard-working, pragmatic, well thought-of, reasonably convivial man, respected and admired by most of his contemporaries. Of Shakespeare's opinions, beliefs and convictions we know, as Ackroyd says time and time again, absolutely nothing. Stretching that picture to 500 pp. requires a vast amount of conjecture (Shakespeare would have done this, Shakespeare would have known that ... ) coupled with a huge amount of admiring comment about the plays, some of it pretty banal.
I agree with reviewers that this is as close to WS as we can hope to get, given that he left no clues at all about himself. It's definitive, certainly the last book I want to read about the man as opposed to the works. But it's too long.


On Chesil Beach
On Chesil Beach
by Ian McEwan
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars masterpiece eh?, 8 May 2008
This review is from: On Chesil Beach (Hardcover)
Very far from being the masterpiece that the hype merchants have depicted. The style is brilliant but there's hardly anything at the centre. A clash of wills compounded by ignorance and innocence, blown up into a needless tragedy.
A good short story extended into a novel.


The Charterhouse of Parma (Penguin Classics)
The Charterhouse of Parma (Penguin Classics)
by Henri Stendhal
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.79

10 of 24 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars unreadable translation, 18 April 2008
I had a go at this classic because it's Alfred Brendel's favourite novel. All I can say is he can't have read this new translation by John Sturrock. It's atrocious -- unbelievably clunky. I got to p. 67 before giving up.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 7, 2009 6:45 PM BST


Ten Days in the Hills
Ten Days in the Hills
by Jane Smiley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.79

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Smiley's people, 7 April 2008
This review is from: Ten Days in the Hills (Paperback)
I thought this was one of the oddest books I've ever read. Jane Smiley plays the astonishing gamble of writing over 600 pages about wealthy/rich, pampered, oversexed Californians to whom nothing much happens. One relationship breaks up, another is crystallised, and a third recovers from the damage inflicted by the outbreak of the 2nd Iraq war. Oh, and a proposed film is discussed at lot. That's not much plot development for such a long book. There are many, many pages of esoteric discussion and long, rambling anecdotes that become incredibly tedious. Really disturbing is the introduction of two young Russian women who seem to serve no purpose other than to service the sexual desires of two of the male characters, a device that I found misogynistic, amazing from such an author.

Jane Smiley is so ironic and funny, and so good about people, that she kept me reading, and at times there are breathtaking insights into how self-deceiving individuals can be. In particular, Day Six section 1 is masterly, utterly brilliant writing. But she can't make this book work, and I found myself skipping the last fifty pages or so. You start to lose the will to live when Elena begins moaning for the nth time about Iraq. And by that time Paul, the most interesting character by far, had been edged off stage.

I recommend the amazon.com reviews for some very polarised reactions. Even diehard US fans seem to find this hard going.


Kingdom Come
Kingdom Come
by J. G. Ballard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

10 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A seriously bad book!, 6 Dec 2007
This review is from: Kingdom Come (Paperback)
To say that this is disappointing would be a massive understatement!
You realize that something's wrong early on, when the first-person narrator, an advertising executive, has to voice the critique of consumerism that lies at the novel's core. THAT clearly isn't going to work.
After that it's all downhill. The plot, setting and characters are laughably banal. The whole thing creaks. I can't believe that it would've been published if it wasn't by Ballard. I can only suppose that Fourth Estate hoped that it would get by on the name. Well it doesn't.
It raises big questions about broadsheet reviewing. I bought it on impulse because the quoted reviews, while not ecstatic, were still appreciative. It's even a Book of the Year for the Spectator reviewer! Something's not right there.
'Buyer Beware' I guess -- but I wish I could get my money back.


Fantasy Island
Fantasy Island
by Dan Atkinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.48

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable and stimulating critique, 22 Sep 2007
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Fantasy Island (Paperback)
I've nothing to add to the excellent review by PhilosopherKing except to say that the economics can be quite tough going at times -- nothing worse than what you need for the business pages of a broadsheet, but challenging for those like me who don't have any economics training.

And nothing yet has happened under Brown to belie their gloomy assessment.


Beyond Black
Beyond Black
by Hilary Mantel
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

10 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars what an awful disappointment, 20 Sep 2007
This review is from: Beyond Black (Paperback)
I bought this book on the basis of the jacket quotes, which I certainly shan't again. In fact I wonder if the reviewers quoted read the same book.
Basically Mantel takes Pullman's imaginative insight about the dead not being so dissimilar to the living and wraps around it a wafer-thin plot, padded out to quite extraordinary length with repetitive and yawn-inducing detail about the mediocre quality of life in suburban Britain. I'm amazed the editors at HarperCollins let her get away with 450 pages of it -- or maybe it was cut down from 600 pages? There were whole stretches of text that could have been dumped with no loss to plot or character development. The only good thing about the novel was that when I finally finished it, it was such a fantastic relief to escape the company of Morris, MacArthur, Pikey Pete and the rest of the bores. Yes, Colette and Al too!


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