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Book 1981 "Book1981" (London)

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Fifty shades of boring, 2 July 2012
Anastasia Steele is in her final year at college. Her best friend Kate Kavanagh is head of the student newspaper, and has lined up an interview with high-powered business mogul Christian Grey. However, on the day of the scheduled interview, Kate is sick and Anastasia has to step in to interview him in her place. And so the story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey begins...

...and lasts for three. whole. books.

Let me get something straight from the start. I am no book snob. I enjoy an easy, fun read as much as the next person, and I believe that a book doesn't have to be a towering example of intellectual prowess to be deserving of mass appreciation. Case in point, the True Blood, Hunger Games & Twilight series - all books I think have genuine literary value because of the addictive fun they provide.

But the Fifty Shades series makes a pitiful comparison to these. The main thing this series plays on is the kinky erotica, but the novelty of that soon wears off. It does not take long before it becomes very clear that there is very little substance to fill in the (small) gaps in when they are not having sex. It is unbelievably repetitive; sentences and scenes are used over and over again to the point where it left me wondering why on earth James has not fired her editor.

It is also painfully unoriginal. I know that the series first started out as Twilight fan fiction, but that is just a fancy way of explaining why the Ana/Christian combo is an uncomfortably close replica of the Bella/Edward combo; The powerful, over protective tortured-but-handsome much older man, undone by the young awkward brunette who doesn't know how pretty she is. Even Christian's family bears a striking resemblance to the Cullens, and the same applies to Anastasia's family and the Swans. Oh and I'm not sure if it was an actual rip-off or if it was meant as a homage, but there is an exact copy of the grand piano scene in Pretty Woman, satin night gown and all. It left me feeling James was trying to punch a little above her weight. Fact of the matter is, fan fiction or not it's just a rip-off of other people's great ideas.

All that being said, I did persevere, and I did finish all three books. And I'm glad I did because the second and third improve from the first. There is more of a story, and the characters get a little more intricate and complex. It is also, at some points, very romantic and sweet indeed, and though it doesn't rescue the eye-rolling banality of the series, it does make it worth the struggle to finish.


Peaches for Monsieur le Curé (Chocolat 3)
Peaches for Monsieur le Curé (Chocolat 3)
by Joanne Harris
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Delicious return to old haunts..., 16 Jun. 2012
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For the third time, we meet Vianne Rocher, now living on a house boat on the Seine with Roux and her two children. Life has acquired a stability since Lollipop Shoes, but the wind is about to change. A letter from beyond the grave arrives, and Vianne finds she has to return to Lansquenet.

The 21st century has finally reached this small village and Harris addresses a very current issue; The conflicts that arise when a small rural Catholic community has to live side-by-side with a growing Muslim community. The opposite cultures are soon at war, but with the clarity of Vianne's perception it slowly becomes clear that the war is being fought in an entirely different place than what is initially assumed.

I found this book darker than the last two; The violence is nastier and the characters more deeply damaged. Even Vianne seems more insecure and introspective than before; there seems to be more more room for her to doubt herself and the loyalty if the people around her, and her sadness for losing Anouk to adulthood is palpable.

Harris's books are always very feminine in nature, and perhaps because of this the Muslim view of women is the key topic here. We are left in no doubt about her views on the niquab and the female ideal Islam promotes, yet she manages to deal with this thorny issue with sensitivity and tolerance. She shows the negative sides of both Muslim and Catholic communities and eventually reaches a comfortable middle-ground.

The return to the old characters of Chocolat is delightful, and the story of Monsieur's le Cure's personal battle is both sweet and satisfying. Harris always allows for the possibility that even the most damaged soul can redeem itself, and it is done in such a sensitive way that it will warm even the chilliest of hearts. And, as before, the whole story is laced with Vianne's magic, so subtle and nameless that you might believe it actually exists.


One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Penguin Modern Classics)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Ken Kesey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars I would give six stars if I could, 11 Jun. 2012
I don't know if there is much point in providing a synopsis of the story here. For those of you who know McMurphy and Chief Bromden, you will already know what a cannonball this novel is. For those of you who don't know the story or the characters, just start from the beginning and let the words speak for themselves. Undiluted and without expectation, this book will be a very rare experience indeed.

What I will say though, is that this book will safely stay in the top five best books I have ever read, and I say this with confidence despite having only read one tenth of the books I plan to read before I kick the bucket. McMurphy will stay with me as one of the most original, funny, complex, thorough, vibrant, heartbreaking characters to ever have popped off the page at me, and I feel it is a privileged to have known him.

I am struck as good as illiterate with awe at Kesey's talent. There is no way I will ever be able to write the review this book deserves so just take my word for it and read it.


The Lower River
The Lower River
by Paul Theroux
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Lower River, 6 Jun. 2012
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This review is from: The Lower River (Hardcover)
Ellis Hock is at a crossroads in his life. His marriage has broken down, his daughter is not speaking to him, his business has been sold and many empty years of retirement is looming on the horizon. So he decides to go back to the only place he remembers being truly happy - A small village called Malabo on the Lower River in Malawi, where he taught English while he was in the Peace Corps. Where he fell in love, spent many happy hours in blissful occupation, and lived entirely at peace with his surroundings. Over 40 years ago.

But the homecoming Hock has been anticipating (with some apprehension) is not as glorious as he hoped it might be. The Africa he left behind, a country of community, friendliness, naivety, gratitude and culture has been through a violent change. Capitalism, drought, poverty and disease has changed Malabo into a darker place - And Hock finds the tables have turned in the relationship between the villagers and the rich mzungu; White Man.

Theroux has produced an African setting which is pulsating with white heat, dust and dying vegetation. It is vivid and perfectly pitched, you can almost feel the 'corrosive sun' which beats down on Malabo. The narration is hypnotic, slow, as if sedated by the African heat, always intensely atmospheric. There is a tension in the story which feels like an unnamed menace or dark shadow hidden just beyond view, and it compels the reader to turn the pages. You can't help but get drawn in.

It's not all good though - I found Hock's gloomy defeatism frustrating after a while, his pensive self-pity getting in the way of him helping himself too many times. I also didn't like the blanket negativity Theroux has applied to the local Africans, painting them all as mercenary, angry, evil and callous, devoid of any independent thought or moral compass. I appreciate that he might be trying to make a point - That the explosive development in the Western world has come at a high cost for the vulnerable parts of the planet, but I found his exaggeration lacks the subtlety to give his message real power.


Espedair Street
Espedair Street
by Iain Banks
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Espedair Street, 31 May 2012
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This review is from: Espedair Street (Paperback)
Espedair Street is narrated by retired songwriter Daniel Weir, as he looks back on his wild days as a member of the world famous rock band Liquid Gold. When we meet him he is living as an eccentric recluse in Glasgow, doing what he can to stay unrecognised and only keeping a few friends who do not know of his past. He tells us of the life of excess, folly and unbridled indulgence, the loneliness and the wild parties. Weir is the odd one out, carrying his ugliness sometimes like a burden, other times like a trump card of comedy. The swirling mess of the incestuous relationships within the band, the drugs, the stadium-sized pyrotechnics contrast sharply with Weir's present-time quiet life, whilst all the time his retrospective wisdom makes the messy end seem inevitable.

And then, in the midst of what you might think is a story of a tired man at the end of his life regretting what has passed, it becomes clear that Weir is only thirty, and that he might get a chance of a new beginning.

This is an uplifting book with a good mix of melancholy and hope. The time of Liquid Gold's heyday sounds electric and destructive, whilst the Weir's current life is dull and grey in comparison, but no less destructive. And all the way through Weir's narration is funny, touching and entertaining. There is a certain something lacking that stops this book delivering a punch that is remembered after you put it down, but a good read none the less.


The Face of a Stranger (William Monk)
The Face of a Stranger (William Monk)
by Anne Perry
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Face of a Stranger, 16 May 2012
William Monk wakes up in hospital with no idea how he got there or who he is. He has no memory of his life before the accident and the face looking back at him in the mirror is that of a stranger. Soon enough it becomes clear that he is a detective in the London police force, and an exceptional one at that. Fearing he might lose his job, he hides his memory loss as he tries to solve the brutal murder of socialite Joscelyn Grey.

Trite and clunky right from the beginning, this book was a serious struggle to finish. I was hoping the ending would be clever enough to redeem its appalling quality, but sadly that was not the case - Just an advance warning in case you make it half-way through and wonder if it's worth carrying on. It's not.

The main issue is the language. I've already mentioned its triteness, which was almost unbearable. I found myself rolling my eyes at descriptions such as people's eyes blazing with anger or voices being tight with grief. Emotions such as 'an extra awareness', 'startling softness', 'a chill, nameless fear', 'a desperate, painful relief' and 'a flutter of hope' all flash across their features, and their voices often 'grate with the intensity of their emotions' or are 'thick with anger'. At one point one of them even 'raises a sarcastic eyebrow', and another one is so overcome that all she can do it sit still and 'nurse the pain within her'. A bit later someone's pride is 'seared beyond bearing' and someone else's eyes were 'devastatingly clear'. All so banal and dramatic that they turn the characters into gross caricatures.

This one-dimensional view applies to the whole book: upper-class men are all described as masculine brutes, their wives and female relatives are either trembling, delicate beauties or head-strong spinsters. All the villains are rat-like or fat with grossly exaggerated cockney dialects, and even Monk himself feels like a cartoon: very tall and strong with 'hypnotic grey eyes'.

And the murder-mystery itself is pretty thin, which I suppose is why countless pages are filled with random ramblings rather than actual content. I don't know how may times we had to read about people entering or leaving 'the withdrawing room', or how many pages are spent detailing their ruminations on how awful the Crimean war was, or Monk's quarrels with his boss. If all that stuff was cut out we'd have a 30-page novella, which would probably be a great deal better than this 400-page headache.


Pilgrims
Pilgrims
by Elizabeth Gilbert
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Pilgrims, 15 April 2012
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This review is from: Pilgrims (Paperback)
The thing I absolutely love about Gilbert as a writer is her warm, sensitive voice and her simple, yet sophisticated way of telling very human tales. Pilgrims is a collection of her short stories, and, as ever, Gilbert is true to style. And for everyone who loves the gritty America of seedy bars, cowboy boots and wide open spaces, this book focuses on that theme beautifully.

Having said that, not all of the stories spoke to me. Some I found made no impression on me at all (Elk Talk, Alice to the East, Come and Fetch These Stupid Kids). Others I found too bizarre to enjoy (The Names of Flowers and Girls, The Famous Torn and Restored Lit Cigarette Trick, The Finest Wife, Bird Shot). And then there were a few I absolutely loved (Landing, Pilgrims, The Many Things Denny Brown Did Not Know (Age Fifteen), At The Bronx Terminal Vegetable Market).

But I think this is inevitable in a book of short stories, and I wonder whether that is the beauty of such a collection - There will be something in there for everyone, and different stories will mean different things to you at different times in your life. As such, it is a little box of treasures.


Cold Comfort Farm (Penguin Classics)
Cold Comfort Farm (Penguin Classics)
by Stella Gibbons
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous, funny and refreshing!, 11 April 2012
Flora Post is orphaned at the age of 19, and having completed her education she needs to find somewhere to live and a way of life. She also happens to be a young woman who values good sense and practicality, who hates a mess and loves a project. She writes to her distant relatives to see who will take her in, and amongst the eccentric replies is a letter from her cousin, Judith Starkadder of Cold Comfort Farm. The dark secrets hinted at in Judith's letter and a threatening wire from an anonymous sender proves too much of a temptation. Flora sets off to Howling in the depths of Sussex to live with the Starkadders, and see if there is a mess there she might help to tidy up.

Flora is absolutely irresistible, with her common sense and practicality, her refusal to put up with silliness and her abhorrence of anything that is dirty or messy. She is sharp and dry, fearless and impossible to dislike.

And, of course, putting someone like Flora in the middle of the almost Gothic mess that is Cold Comfort Farm creates scope for the most delicious adventures. The characters are brilliant - for example the suffocated, frustrated Reuben, and his brother the broodingly sexual Seth, their hell-fire preaching father Amos and their depressive mother Judith, all presided over by the matriarch Aunt Ada Doom who was driven to insanity as a child when she saw something nasty in the woodshed.

This book is sharp, original, sweet, light-hearted and always, always funny - I'd defy anyone to read it and not love it for the simple, refreshing fun it provides.


Nights At The Circus
Nights At The Circus
by Angela Carter
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

4.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous!, 9 April 2012
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This review is from: Nights At The Circus (Paperback)
Sophie Fevvers is the star of Colonel Kearney's circus. She is the winged giantess, the 8th wonder of the world, the orphaned flying creature which is half bird, half woman. Jack Walser is an American journalist sent to do a piece on what he believes to be a simple conjuring trick combined with a clever piece of mechanical engineering. But as the interview gets under way, Jack starts to realise that his assumptions might have been hasty, and, strangest of all, time seems to stand still.

So starts the magnificent tale that is Nights at the Circus. We follow Jack and Fevvers as they travel through Siberia with the troupe of circus acts, all of which are miserable, mad, unpredictable, chaotic and passionate.

Fevvers is irresistible - Larger than life and bursting with feminine energy, it is impossible not to be drawn into her story and become a believer. Raised by prostitutes, desired by Dukes and venerated by the public, she is the perfect centerpiece to this three-ring circus of a tale. It is bursting with colour and originality, sexy, dangerous, feminine and endlessly entertaining.


Brighton Rock
Brighton Rock
by Graham Greene
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Cruel, intense classic, 18 Mar. 2012
This review is from: Brighton Rock (Paperback)
In the 1930's Brighton, Kite is leader of the mob which dominates the gambling scene in the underbelly of the city. But when he is killed by a member of Colleoni rival mob, his young protegé Pinkie Brown takes over, only 17 years old. The revenge killing of Kite's murderer Fred Hale pulls Ida Arnold into the murky world of Pinkie and his mob. Ida decides to avenge the death of Fred, and thus sets Pinkie on a desperate path to avoid the noose. Accidental witness Rose is swept along with him.

This whole book revolves around the axis of its three principal and entirely opposite, characters. Pinkie is a product of growing up in the Brighton slum. He is a tortured Catholic believing in Hell but not Heaven. Dark, vicious and insecure, he carries his virginity like a wounded paw, revolted by his sexual instincts. His ruthlessness is such that even his mob constantly have to try to moderate his behaviour.

In a bright, sunny contrast to Pinkie, Ida is is an ageing temptress with Guinness breath and fabulous breasts who has a grounded belief in right and wrong. She is surrounded by friends, cemented in confidence and smacks her lips with satisfaction at how good life is.

In the middle we have Rose. She shares Pinkie's unfortunate background in the seedy part of Brighton set away from the beautiful seafront, but at an underdeveloped 16 she is a child still. Caught between the polar opposites of Ida and Pinkie, she could go either way, but her blind, reckless devotion to Pinkie sets Ida a near impossible task of saving her.

Right from the beginning this cinematic novel is intensely atmospheric, dark and haunting. Brighton, with its air, sea, and light is a perfect backdrop. Though this is a crime thriller above all else, it is also very much about the battle between Rose and Pinke - Her dogged love for him and his determination to keep her out of his heart. Cleverly, Greene has created an anti-hero that the reader always wishes will redeem himself and be saved. Occasionally we see glimmers of humanity as Rose's affection seeps through the cracks of his damaged soul, but we have no hint until the very end whether Ida will be able to save either of them.

In the end this book is brilliant, but unquestionably cruel.


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