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1Q84: Books 1 and 2
1Q84: Books 1 and 2
by Haruki Murakami
Edition: Hardcover

30 of 41 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a real disappointment, 20 Oct. 2011
This review is from: 1Q84: Books 1 and 2 (Hardcover)
A real disappointment. It's a very long book but the story in no way justifies its 900+ pages, particularly the last 200 which are a tedious slog. All the trademark Murakami strokes and tropes are here in spades--the overall shimmering/fata morgana weirdness that leaves the reader a little dizzy and gravity-less time and again. Mundane descriptions of people, places, and situations that from one moment to the next morph into things eerie, half-funny/half- ominous, sometimes miraculous. And as usual at the center is a slightly befuddled, directionless protagonist expertly cooking his lonely guy meals while listening to classical music. Predictably he is unwillingly swept up by a series of events that, like a tornado, throws his life and future into chaos. Also there's a mysterious woman with beautiful ears, a number of enigmatic dream sequences that are sometimes resolved but usually aren't... All familiar, frequently delightful stuff for Murakami readers. In small doses. But the novel is simply too long for the tale it tells; it should have been cut by many pages. I started reading with enthusiasm and high expectations because it's this sui generis author and his purported magnum opus. But after turning the last page I felt relieved, exhausted and shrug'y. A friend and rabid Murakami fan who read 1Q84 at the same time I did said, `I'm going to need drugs to finish this damned book.'
Comment Comments (12) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 27, 2011 11:55 PM BST


Crooks Like Us
Crooks Like Us
by Peter Doyle
Edition: Paperback

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spectacular, 10 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Crooks Like Us (Paperback)
Art is often best when it is unintended. A masterfully simple Biedermeier desk, the futuristic Parker 51 fountain pen, Bauhaus woven cloth, Japanese wabi sabi objects, Dieter Rams' appliances for BRAUN, or the Gill Sans type font, things like these were expressly conceived to be used every day and not live out their years in a museum. But they were so exceptional or singular that over time they rode the elevator up to art's top floor and stayed there. So too with photography. Whether it be Weegee or Vivian Mayer's black and white pictures of 1940's NY, Lartigue and Doisneau's day to day in Paris, LIFE magazine's coverage of the Great Depression, or even the best accidental Lomography work, what most people first thought were merely snapshots grew wings over the years and now live among the angels of art. One of my favorite books of 2009 is called CROOKS LIKE US by Peter Doyle. Doyle is an Australian who went through the forensic photography archive of the Justice and Police Museum in Sydney. His book is essentially a collection of 1920's mugshots. Black and white look-the-camera-right-in-the-eye photos of criminals who were caught and booked. Pickpockets, whores, grifters, murderers, small time losers, dope fiends, counterfeiters... all were arrested and momentarily memorialized with one straight on and one profile picture before going to trial. The astonishing thing about the compilation is both the unintentional beauty and composition of many of these photos. A friend who saw the book said most of the subjects look like they're either Thom Browne models or people you'd see in a GQ or VOGUE fashion spread. The men wear fedora hats tipped at jaunty angles, formal white shirts and ties, sharp looking tweed. Although some are seriously scary looking hombres, they've almost all got style and flair like you can't believe. If you saw one of these guys walking down the street today you'd think "that is one cool dude." The women stare straight and fearlessly into the camera. You can almost hear them sneering "You gotta problem, pal? What are you gawking at?" They emanate strength, smartass, sexuality, street smarts, and in some, great mystery. Picture after dramatic picture of liars, cheats, steal from blind nuns, stab their mother, sell their children-- creeps, bottom feeders, perverts and monsters are transformed by simple police mugshots into gorgeous, haunting, timeless portraits. Their eyes tell a thousand stories. Hands in pockets, posture proud and erect, hair slicked carefully back, their expressions are defiant, amused. You can't beat them--in the end, they know they'll win. Almost a hundred years later you're certain these crooks knew things you wish you could learn. Characters whose lives you'd give a lot to know more about beyond that single, captivating glimpse. At some point the jarring realization hits you that every single person in the book is probably dead now. But that is one of the wonders of great art--it can resurrect anything and make it so alive again that for a while you can almost hear it breathe.


Cloud Atlas
Cloud Atlas
by David Mitchell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars don't believe the hype, 10 Aug. 2010
This review is from: Cloud Atlas (Paperback)
This is one of those novels people talk and write about reverently, so you go into the experience of reading it with either high expectations or a squinted eye, doubting that it can possibly live up to the lavish praise. CLOUD ATLAS doesn't. The structure of the book is clever-- break it up into multiple stories that slightly overlap each other but not really. Mix in a bunch of styles and genres (thriller, dystopian-end of the world, epistolary, Science Fiction...) and then fan them out like a deck of cards so the first story ends with the last chapter, the 2nd story with the 2nd to last, etc. The failure however is twofold-- none of the characters are particularly interesting or sympathetic, and some are even cliche. So after a while you don't really care what happens to any of them-- whether their fate is blessed or damned. The second problem is you've seen the stories before in slightly altered versions. For example, the Science Fiction portion seems like a lame clone of BLADERUNNER and a William Gibson short story. A great novel doesn't mimic-- it shows you the world through new eyes. When it's successful, CLOUD ATLAS is very good mimicry: the author knows his genres and styles. And as mentioned, the structure of the novel is sui generis. But clever structure and good mimicry is not enough to buoy up a 500 page story or to merit calling the writer a "genius" which I've seen in a number of reviews of the book.


Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-maker and Apprentice to a Butcher in Tuscany
Heat: An Amateur's Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-maker and Apprentice to a Butcher in Tuscany
by Bill Buford
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

6 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars editor, edit thyself, 10 Sept. 2007
This is a charming 200 page book. After that it becomes tedious and meandering and in the end a real slog to finish. Buford's obsession for the "jus just" is funny and entertaining for about 2/3 of the story. After that it becomes mired in uninteresting anecdotes and trivia (historically when did the egg get added to the recipe for pasta is intriguing for half a page, not ten)that overcooks by many hours the final product. He is the kind of writer who thinks everything that interests him will interest you, but he is wrong. Perhaps a better writer could have pulled that off, but Buford is an editor who is writing a book about his love for cooking and in the end that distinction shows. What begins as a love letter from an obsessive becomes in the end the ramblings of a self indulgent food flaneur.


The Headmaster Ritual
The Headmaster Ritual
by Taylor Antrim
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.41

0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars a failure, 14 Aug. 2007
This review is from: The Headmaster Ritual (Paperback)
The Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock once wrote about someone who didn't know what he was doing, "He got on his horse and rode off in all directions." The same could be said for Antrim's novel. What do we have here-- a bildungsroman a la CATCHER IN THE RYE where a naif stumbles his way towards some kind of illumination or redemption? Nope. Well sort of. No, not really... A satire of all the awful people and nasty little things that go on daily at those written-about-to-death New England prep schools; a kind of updated "Decline and Fall"? Nope. I could go on, but I'd just say nope to all of them. As one major newspaper review of this book so succinctly put it, "Nothing in 'The Headmaster's Ritual' is new." It is a very obvious first novel that strains to say a lot but ends up saying almost nothing, archly. Its flashes of humor or good writing are overshadowed constantly by flatness and characters/ situations you know could never exist the way they have been described.


Water for Elephants
Water for Elephants
by Sara Gruen
Edition: Paperback

23 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Big Mac at the Big Top, 24 July 2007
This review is from: Water for Elephants (Paperback)
The difficulty of writing a book that is a "good read" is that it must sweep you up and make you forget the world around you. You must become so invested in the daily life and fate of the characters that you become more interested in what is happening on the page than what is going on in your life. At its sporadic best, this novel is a good read. The author has chosen an interesting world and time to write about and obviously done her homework. But homework is not enough. The great overriding problems are she is neither a good nor original writer. Consequently the characters are wooden, and every third sentence out of their mouths is either predictable or a howling cliche. The characters themselves are comprised of one cliche after the other-- the good hearted innocent orphan-hero, the evil boss, the plucky sidekick (a dwarf, no less),the bewitching damsel in distress, one schizo villain who is cruel to animals, and another named "Blackie"... You've seen them all too many times before in books, movies, even cartoons. So when they meet their ultimate fates you shrug because you guessed what would happen to each of them fifty pages(or more) before. The book's success is similar to the success of a McDonald's hamburger-- you know what you're going to get as you walk into the place.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 24, 2012 11:45 AM BST


Missing Kissinger
Missing Kissinger
by Etgar Kerrett
Edition: Paperback

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven as usual, 24 July 2007
This review is from: Missing Kissinger (Paperback)
Some of these stories are brilliant, bow-down-to-them terrific. Others are shtick-yawns. The best are like the wondrous short-short stories of Spencer Holst. The worst are whines from the boring Slacker you'd never listen to for five minutes if you bumped into them at a bar. Buy the book for the wonderful, but expect a very mixed bag.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 11, 2010 6:41 AM BST


I Keep My Cool
I Keep My Cool
Price: £13.21

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How does she do it again and again?, 24 July 2007
This review is from: I Keep My Cool (Audio CD)
The astonishing thing about Rebekka Bakken's work is that she knows what goes on inside both your head and heart without ever having met you. Her songs are instantly recognizable because no matter what she sings about, you've been there, seen it, and felt these things. But how the hell can this talented singer/songwriter know all this? Her lyrics are touching, funny, sexy and true. Her music is haunting and memorable. She is an exciting artist and someone like Nora Jones, who she has often been compared to, is very pale stuff when you put them back to back.


Memorial
Memorial
by Bruce Wagner
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Publisher's Weekly" review, 16 Aug. 2006
This review is from: Memorial (Hardcover)
"Like Wagner's previous books, Memorial is set in a Los Angeles descended from Nathaniel West's and Joan Didion's but played for laughs as well as existential dread. It's an L.A. novel the way Short Cuts and Crash are L.A. movies: a set of loosely connected stories rather than a tight single narrative. Like Wagner's other books, too, it refers frequently--compulsively, even--to celebrities and includes passages of breathtaking viciousness about some of them.But because the heroine (and authorial stand-in), Joan Herlihy, is a high-end architect angling for a commission to design a billionaire's memorial to two American victims of the 2004 tsunami, the insidery trash talk is mainly about the stars of architecture and art. Richard Meier resembles "a well-heeled dentist, the type with something questionable on his hard drive," Daniel Libeskind is "a relentless pussywhipped kike in python boots and a Yohji trench," and Zaha Hadid has an "unkempt Fat Actress kohl-smeared gypsy-soprano" look that works for her.Despite the customary Wagnerian savagery and ultra-knowingness, however, Memorial is also earnest and even life-affirming, more like I'll Let You Go (2002) than his purely comic novels. The main characters are the members of an ordinary middle-class family--Joan, her feckless older brother, their sweet mother and sweet runaway father. Three of the four are spectacularly victimized, but every one is also the recipient of a financial windfall, and achieves redemption--which amounts either to slightly overdetermined coincidence, or karma. India is a major leitmotif in Memorial, and although Wagner satirizes InStyle Buddhism (like he did in 2003's Still Holding), he seems also to be taking Eastern religion seriously, as if to say: modern life is grotesque and funny as ever, but tenderness, honor and glimmers of wisdom are possible as well. Wagner is a very good writer, and Memorial is filled with beautifully observed turns of phrase ("a big-voltage desexed smile like a nun gone to rut"). His deconstruction of newscasters' special disingenuousness is virtuosic: "Wolf Blitzer talking about a plane that just went down... all necro'd out, breathy and methy and cockstiff for Death, a husky-voiced fratboy Peeper...." But the stylistic fanciness can also mask imprecision (an architectural design "grafting failed skinsketch onto gauzy somnambulist constructions"), and sometimes simply goes over the top--such as a 238-word-long sentence ("ambient absence, sounds and swellings, screams and shadows") about sex. His weakness for puns ("natal attractions," "Restoril in peace," "Hello, Dalai!") is... a weakness. But this is an ambitious, engaging, satisfying book. While his fans will find all the demonic intelligence and fun they expect, Memorial might also attract a new cohort of readers who want more than all-dark-comedy-all-the-time.


Heat
Heat
by Bill Buford
Edition: Hardcover

26 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Editor, edit thyself, 14 Aug. 2006
This review is from: Heat (Hardcover)
This is a charming 200 page book. After that it becomes tedious and meandering and in the end a real slog to finish. Buford's obsession for the "jus just" is funny and entertaining for about 2/3 of the story. After that it becomes mired in uninteresting anecdotes and trivia (historically when did the egg get added to the recipe for pasta is intriguing for half a page, not ten)that overcooks by many hours the final product. He is the kind of writer who thinks everything that interests him will interest you, but he is wrong. Perhaps a better writer could have pulled that off, but Buford is an editor who is writing a book about his love for cooking and in the end that distinction shows. What begins as a love letter from an obsessive becomes in the end the ramblings of a self indulgent food flaneur.


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