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Cuban Heel "Neil Schiller" (Liverpool)
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Songs from the Other Side of the Wall
Songs from the Other Side of the Wall
Price: 1.85

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Relentlessly Good, 15 Feb 2011
Where do I start? I've just finished this book and it's left me a little bit dumbfounded. I know I really enjoyed it, but I'm kind of struggling to put my finger on exactly what made it such a good novel.

Ok, starting with a little bit of context, it's not really like anything I've read before. The closest author I can think of is maybe Murakami - there are elements in here that remind me a little bit of 'Sputnik Sweetheart' or 'After Dark'. Like Murakami, there is a sense of magic realism to the novel: there are dreamy conversations that go beyond realism and border a little bit on the arty, the pretentious even, and yet work really well by stopping just short of being unbelievable.

After starting the book I have to be honest and say I found myself wondering why I was enjoying it. Just from a purely 'personal taste' point of view, it seemed to be about being a sculptor, being a teenage girl, being a blogger - triggers in books that would usually have me putting them down as they're not amongst my primary interests in life. But for some reason it just drew me on and I became immersed in it. I was also a little bit confused about the chronology of the narrative at first, but checking back found that was my fault - I hadn't paid attention to the date stamps on the chapters. So that was quickly sorted out.

Essentially, this book is incredibly well written. That's the first thing. It's perfectly paced and has some great descriptive passages that are well balanced within the narrative and handled with a lightness of touch. And the tone is absolutely consistent throughout. It's wistful, and textured, and really well conceived as a view of the world from the eyes of a precocious teenager - ie. moments of intelligence, moments of naivete. The author has created a world in this book that stands up on its own and you just go with it.

If it was less well written, I'd be saying at this point that I found the ending a bit ambiguous and that I was left unsure of whether the co-incidences in the book were actually co-incidences or not. Which is still true, but because of that consistency of tone throughout, that dreamy quality which makes you feel like you're in a parallel world, those things were actually quite fitting. I think I would have been disappointed if it hadn't ended in the way that it did.

All I can ultimately say is that this was a great book and one which I've enjoyed reading immensely. I felt really engaged with it in a way that doesn't often happen, even with the best books I've read. Maybe it was the emotive nature of the writing itself. But it's definitely a book I'd recommend to anyone who wants to read something original and interesting and thoroughly absorbing.


The War of the Worlds
The War of the Worlds
by H.G. Wells
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars One of the better Sci-Fi books, 7 Feb 2011
This review is from: The War of the Worlds (Paperback)
I read this recently as I'd gotten hold of a copy for my Kindle and couldn't find anything else on there I felt like reading (it was too far to go back downstairs to pick up a physical book from my bookshelves). And I was pleasantly surprised. This is a really well written and engaging piece of sci-fi. As other reviewers have noted, it hasn't dated and feels quite contemporary. Obviously, it's set in Edwardian England and the details of the lives that are disrupted by the martian invasion reflect that, but in tone it is very modern.

For instance, the narrator is trapped in a half demolished house with another character who starts to lose his sanity and begins shouting and screaming, attracting the attentions of the aliens encamped outside. I haven't read many novels from this era that would explore the morality of the narrator killing this man to save his own skin.

I've seen countless film versions of War of the Worlds so it was nice to go back to the original source and experience it first hand. I have to say, it's a great book. Wells is a much better writer than I expected. If you have preconceptions about reading classics, because sometimes they can be labourious, put them aside for this one.


Evil Valley (The TV Detective Series)
Evil Valley (The TV Detective Series)
by Simon Hall
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Rather dull I'm afraid, 3 Feb 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm afraid this book really did nothing for me. When it comes to thrillers, I am quite hard to please I'll admit, but this one was very generic and too slowly paced for me. It isn't necessarily badly written, and the characters aren't the worst I've ever come across. If you're a crime/thriller fanatic you will probably quite enjoy it. But for me, there just wasn't quite enough to grab my attention and show me something new. Sorry...


Brighton Rock (Radio Collection)
Brighton Rock (Radio Collection)
by Graham Greene
Edition: Audio CD

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well read version of an average book, 3 Feb 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I sometimes listen to audio books when I'm doing long drives at night for my job. I've tried reading Brighton Rock a couple of times but have never really managed to get into it, so I thought this would be a good way to experience a book that I know a lot of people rate very highly.

On the positive side, this is a well read audiobook - the reader is engaging and the sound quality is crisp and clear. As far as the novel itself goes, the character of Pinkie I found fascinating. Really well rounded and brilliantly presented, perfectly encapsulating that tipping point between teenage angst and sociopathic violence. The problem I had, and I know this will be sacrilege to Greene fans, is the pace of the novel which was just so slow. In parts I found it incredibly dull. Some of the dialogue between characters, especially in the first chapter where Hale meets Ida, was really clunky and difficult to believe. There was just no authenticity to the conversations they had. Which was strange because, in contrast, the dialogue between Pinkie and his mob, Pinkie and Rose, Pinkie and the police etc. was really well done and extremely credible.

The frustrating thing, for me, was that a long dull spell would suddenly be broken by an extremely well written and interesting section, before lapsing back into mediocrity again. So I found the whole thing a bit patchy. I've given it 3 stars because the characterisation and the better sections rescue it from being a total disappointment, but it hasn't really inspired me to check out the rest of Greene's catalogue.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 15, 2013 8:59 PM BST


Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything
Titanic Thompson: The Man Who Bet on Everything
by Kevin Cook
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.58

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A proper ripping yarn, 31 Jan 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I've been reading this book frantically, desperate to get onto the next exploit of the great Titanic Thompson. I love books (and films) about con-men, just because their ploys are usually so crafty and intelligently put together - I find them fascinating despite the obviously dubious morality. And this is a great example of that, covering the wayward, rambling life of an unknown American legend and his quest for riches at the expense of gamblers and marks up and down the America of the '20s and '30s.

I can't tell you how accurate this is as a biography of Thompson - I'd never even heard of the man until I opened the cover of this book. But as a riveting read, it's up there with the best. The picture it paints of America between the wars - the carpet baggers, the hoodlums, prohibition, the gambling dens - is brilliantly evocative. And the simplicity of the ways Thompson cons his targets (moving a signpost before betting the number of miles on it is incorrect, placing the stakes of a horseshoe game a foot further apart than they should be etc.) is brilliantly portrayed. Kevin Cook carefully points out in places the legends about Thompson that he knows to be untrue, but whether what remains is completely factual or not is hard to say. But that's always going to be a problem with a book of this nature - the subject of it is essentially an urban legend, someone who shied away from publicity because he thought it would harm his career, leaving hearsay and myths in his wake. There are first hand accounts of his life used here and there, direct quotes from Thompson himself, but these are almost inevitably going to be tinged with elements of exaggeration and self promotion. So in my opinion, Cook has done a good job of setting down the most accurate account he could have.

I've seen some of the other reviews which suggest the style of writing is a little bit unemotive, and I guess I can see where those comments come from. There is a lot covered in the book, and at the end of the day it is a biography rather than a work of fiction. But I didn't find the writer's style off-putting. I loved it.


Ten Stories About Smoking (Boxed Edition)
Ten Stories About Smoking (Boxed Edition)
by Stuart Evers
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.10

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 29 Jan 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I received this book this morning from Vine and have just finished it, spending all day reading (something I haven't done in about 10 years). What a great collection this is. Evers obviously understands the short story form extremely well and the result is a set of stories that sit in the same bracket as the likes of Raymond Carver, Richard Yates, Denis Johnson, Sam Shepard etc.

I have to admit, as a divorced thirty something with a lingering smoking habit and an interest in quality contemporary literature, I am probably the personification of Evers' reading demographic. I've written some short stories that explore the same themes as some of those included here, and I was able to identify closely with a lot of the narrative voices - one of the stories is so uncannily close to a situation I found myself in I had a moment of paranoia. But I think that shows the quality of this work: there's a credibility and realism to it that I'm sure a lot of other readers will really identify and connect with, just as I did.

Like all collections, inevitably, some of the stories are stronger than others. But the benchmark is set so highly here that at worst they are solid and engaging, and at best just stunning. My favourites were the opener 'Some Great Project' which just drew me in completely, 'What's in Swindon' which I thought was succinctly brilliant, and 'Eclipse' which was so taut and understated, and so visceral, it just blew me away.

Of course, this book isn't going to sell as many copies as the next Stephenie Meyer novel or the next biography of a 22 year old B list celebrity, which is a real shame (criminal really), but hopefully the clever packaging promised will help it stand out on the shelves. Because this collection really deserves to be read, by as many people as possible. Best book I've read so far this year - thank you Vine for unearthing a gem for me...


Pan's Labyrinth [DVD] [2006]
Pan's Labyrinth [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Ivana Baquero
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: 3.89

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Stunning, 24 Jan 2011
This review is from: Pan's Labyrinth [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
I really wanted to see this movie for ages because I'd enjoyed del Torro's previous films The Devil's Backbone [DVD] [2001] and Cronos [DVD], and when I finally got hold of a copy I wasn't disappointed. This is a tremendous film. The cinematography and effects are superb, and the contrast between the stark realism of post civil war Spain and the fantasy elements works brilliantly.

It's an incredibly stylish piece of work, very gothic and surreal in the tradition of European fairytales. And with some fantastic acting and plenty of gripping moments, it really stands out as a classic.

Last year, we held onto it and watched it again at Christmas and it was perfect viewing for a Christmas night with a few beers. Honestly, this is one of the best films made in recent years, you owe it to yourself to watch it.


The 40-Year-Old Virgin (XXL Version) [DVD] [2005]
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (XXL Version) [DVD] [2005]
Dvd ~ Steve Carell
Offered by A ENTERTAINMENT
Price: 2.69

5.0 out of 5 stars For some reason, it's just great, 24 Jan 2011
I saw this movie on TV again the other night and laughed my way through it for the third time. I've seen some of the other reviews here and couldn't disagree more with the points made that it's childish and immature. If anything, I initially avoided watching it because I assumed it would be just another 'gross-out' comedy like the American Pie series or something by the Farelly brothers, but it really isn't, it's much better than that.

The main strengths are the script, which is actually very witty in parts, and the cast which are fantastic. I've probably never seen a film so well cast. The actors gel together so well. Every performance is brilliant and the way they riff off one another is totally believable.

I mean, yes, it's a relatively mainstream American comedy so it's not going to top my favourite films list, it was never going to be an oscar nominated classic. But for what it is, I think it's extremely well done. It tackles the subject matter in quite an adult and witty way (rather than plumping for the usual tired semen jokes) and manages to combine a bit of slapstick (the chest waxing scene) with funny banter (the 'you know how I know you're gay' conversations in it) and good situational comedy (the speed dating section). If this had been made 20 years ago it would probably have starred Gene Wilder and Richard Prior - it's closer in tone to their type of comedy than what you'd initially expect.


Jesus' Son.
Jesus' Son.
by Denis Johnson
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding Cult Classic, 21 Jan 2011
This review is from: Jesus' Son. (Paperback)
I'm a huge fan of American indie work - be that in music, film or literature. The problem is it's difficult to find, you kind of have to stumble across it. I think I indeed stumbled upon this book via Listmania here on Amazon and thought I'd give it a go because it looked like my kind of thing (and because of the Lou Reed reference in the book's title).

I have to say it was shorter than I was expecting, but was a great read - a bit like Sam Shepard meets Raymond Carver meets 'Drugstore Cowboy'. The stand out story for me has a female doctor stumbling across the scene of an accident and being unable to help because she's so stoned. That's the point really - there is realism in this collection that goes beyond the stereotype of the squat-dwelling, down and out junkie.

My only complaint - I wish it was a bigger book, I wanted more stories...
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 9, 2011 5:05 PM GMT


The Killer Inside Me
The Killer Inside Me
by Jim Thompson
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Decent Book, 21 Jan 2011
This review is from: The Killer Inside Me (Paperback)
Jim Thompson was recommended to me a while ago by someone who noticed I had tastes in 'hard boiled' fiction. I forgot about it and then saw his name around again when the film version of this book came out. Eventually, I've gotten around to giving him a try and I'm glad I have.

This is good, solid book. Very atmospheric, captures small town America well. The dual personality of the narrator is interesting, with his nice and slightly dumb demeanor and the Machiavellian but sociopathic mind behind. I stop short of saying it was brilliant as there were moments where the author lost me for a minute and I had to backtrack or read on until I worked out what he was on about. (Maybe that's just me). But it drew me on and drew me on. I found myself immersed in it and had a few late nights reluctant to put it down.

Not as good as Nelson Algren perhaps, though in a similar vein (no pun intended). But it has made me now want to go and check out some more of his work.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 12, 2013 11:52 AM GMT


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