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D. Gilman "Dave Gilman" (UK)
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Paris Noire
Paris Noire
by Francine Thomas Howard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Oh, what a lovely war..., 9 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Paris Noire (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
An interesting subject - the world of the black Americans and other immigrants in Paris during the last days of World War II - is given the spotlight in this book by Francine Thomas Howard. The back of the book indicates a great, sweeping narrative covering this long overlooked cultural group set in a period of history most of us think we know well. The main characters - a Martinique mother and her two mixed-race children - all embark on affairs during the last days of the Germans in Paris, and the subsequent year or so after their withdrawal.

I will try very hard not to add spoilers, but it is worth noting that this is actually a pretty small scale book - most of the drama (bar the occasional scene set at the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre or outside Paris) takes place within about 4 locations. In fact, you could almost imagine this as a play with the limited sets and small number of main characters. Epic, it is not. However, Howard does create some believable characters and some good backgrounds. Of particular note is the American chanteuse, Glovia Johnson, who seems to sum up the "artsy" crowd who flocked to Paris's liberal embrace before the war. Her soirees attract the type of people that I think Howard is keen to tell us about - the artists, the poets, the sculptors - showing why talented black Americans were keen to head to Paris and be respected as artists rather than denigrated as "people of colour" in their own country.

Apart from these scenes, though, there is very little in the book that "brings to vivid life" this group of people who were relegated to the fringes of history (according to the back of the book). The main story is melodrama of the highest order and covers the romantic lives of the three family members and the various scrapes they get into. Leaving aside the dubious morality of the main story (and I really do think the story is written in such a way as to skim over some of the hideously awkward questions that are raised), there is not a lot of substance when you analyse the total of the story. Characters change their moral compasses frequently to fit the narrative (one minute hugely disapproving, the next minute completely understanding and compliant) and the ending is written in such a way as to say "well that takes care of that" when actually it does anything but.

There is also some hideously clunking dialogue (particularly with the more, ahem, romantic scenes) and quite a lot of overused imagery - characters are frequently described as having their heads spinning, their breathing quickened and their hearing affected when a big piece of news comes in. Reading similar descriptions over and over again becomes rather grating. There are also a number of expositions - characters working something out, or trying to understand some event that has happened - that take pages and pages of unnecessary text and cause you to get frustrated with the flow of the story.

Overall, I would give this book three stars. Howard chose an interesting subject to write about, and it is a decent novel (despite the criticisms outlined above), but I can't say I learned much more about the world of the Paris Noire than I knew already - i.e. Paris was nicer to black people in the 1930s then most other places were, Germans weren't very nice, some French were racist and some were not, and people still fall in and out of love despite the war. If you are looking for a melodramatic story of a family's trials and tribulations, then give it a try. If you want a sweeping brick of a novel covering the story of black people during the Second World War, I think you need to look elsewhere.


The Elephant Keeper
The Elephant Keeper
by Christopher Nicholson
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Man and Beast, 24 Aug. 2011
This review is from: The Elephant Keeper (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a bit of an odd book. In some ways it is quite a simple story of a boy and his elephant, set in a very interesting time period (late 1700s) when attitudes to things like science, nature and medicine were changing dramatically. On the other hand, it is a novel about the human condition - desire, disappointment, broken families, despair, happiness - that uses the central relationship of man and beast as the canvas to illustrate the author's own feelings on the subject. Sometimes it is both, even on the same page.

It is probably not a book most people would pick out to read, but I think it is well worth a try. It is not a "normal" story, and the plotting of the book feels very uneven at times. There are some parts that read like a children's novel such as Black Beauty and other parts that touch on the darkness of the human condition in quite disturbing ways. I also found the structure to be a little frustrating - in some sections it is a first person narrative, in others a "diary" style of writing with dates and key points. The final section I will leave for you to make up your own mind.

Overall, it is a book certainly worth reading, although I can't say I felt entirely satisfied when I had finished. The author writes the characters well and there are some lovely sections of prose. It is very easy to imagine the scenes described - the London section felt particularly well written - and most of the main characters, although a little clichéd at times, provoked the right sort of emotions. However, the ending felt a little tacked on and this is one of those rare books that could actually benefit from a few MORE chapters to wrap things up a bit better. A good three stars.


Hood Rat
Hood Rat
by Gavin Knight
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Grand Theft Auto: Sociology Edition, 23 Aug. 2011
This review is from: Hood Rat (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had read a couple of interviews with the author prior to publication so I knew the rough outline of the book. I also read this during the recent spate of rioting in the UK, so gangs and the world of gang culture was a pretty topical subject for many people. I hope that that has not influenced my review too much.

I have read a few comments saying that this is like a UK version of The Wire or other gritty, realistic portrayals of gang life and there are certainly some similarities. The main characters in all the cities are hardly living the high life. There is talk of certain amounts of wealth, flash cars etc, but hardly to the extent of the "crime bosses" you would expect to see portrayed in films or computer games. The main characters essentially came across as troubled, disturbed young men; often having fallen into their circumstances, rather than consciously choosing to join the gang culture. Pilgrim's section, based in London, certainly made you feel his story was more one of bad breaks rather than a deliberate decision to become a gang leader. However, Knight also doesn't try hard to make you like these people. They are (mostly) still criminals when we leave them and there is little to suggest they are likely to change any time soon.

The book is divided up into three sections: Manchester, London and Glasgow. Living in the north-west of England I identified with the Manchester section the most, as I know the areas and can visualise the scenes better. However, the circumstances in the book (drugs, deprivation and overall hopelessness) can easily be applied to most other cities in the UK.

Compared to the other two sections, I found the London chapters quite unevenly paced. They seemed to jump around, follow different characters at random and didn't have the consistency of a either a large-scale investigation (Manchester) or an attempt to understand and change attitudes (Glasgow). However, all three sections were very readable and the action was easy to visualise.

My major criticism of the book is that it claims to be a completely true account of everything that happens. Whilst there are some parts where this could be claimed (investigations, shootings, raids etc), there is an awful lot of the book that covers incidents, crimes, mindsets etc which can be nothing other than speculation - either because they happened long ago (Pilgrim's childhood, the origins of some of the Glaswegian gang members) or because the author cannot read minds! Even if the people involved were interviewed after the fact (as I assume they were), stories grow and change in the telling and thus this book cannot possibly claim to be an objective account of incidents when they have been filtered through the eyes of both the victim/participant and the author. To illustrate, there is a section where a couple of drug addicts are trying to steal some car wheels from under the noses of a gang and are spotted and chased accordingly. This makes for exciting reading, but hardly "true" journalism (unless Gavin Knight can divide himself into two and be embedded in both the gang and the group of drug addicts at the same time).

There is also the usual accusation levelled at this kind of ethnographic study - i.e. that which you study, you also change. It could be argued that the mere act of Gavin Knight being there causes other participants to act differently, whether that is gang members with an elevated sense of bravado or police officers conducting their operations in a different manner.

Having said all that, the book doesn't claim to be a sociology textbook, and must be taken as a combination of entertainment and investigative journalism. However, for a book that tries hard not to glamorise the violence and perceived excitement of gang life (and the passages such as the description of the drug addict's sleeping quarters or the hopelessness of the Glaswegian gang battles certainly succeed in this), there is still the niggling feeling that Knight enjoys telling us about the thrill of the chase, the tension of a police raid or the terror of a drive-by shooting. It veers into Grand Theft Auto territory on more than one occasion!

In terms of the purpose of the book, I would say its primary aim is to document, not to offer solutions. It is obvious, from the different circumstances described, that there are no magic bullets that will solve the problems. Gang culture of this nature has grown and developed over many years and it will likely take many years to eradicate (if at all). There some rays of hope offered in the last section, but don't expect the book to provide any plans of action!

Overall, I would say this book is definitely worth reading, but take it with a large pinch of salt. It's entertainment with a dollop of sociology, rather than the other way around.


The Lazarus Project
The Lazarus Project
by Aleksandar Hemon
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Just couldn't get into it, 23 Aug. 2011
This review is from: The Lazarus Project (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I'm not generally someone who gives up on a book. I tend to struggle on with even the most arduous tome to do the author justice; after all they have given their time and effort to write the thing so it is only right that expend a bit of effort reading their results. But, this book... I am sad to say this joins the short list of novels I have given up reading. I just couldn't get into the style, the tone of the book, the down-beat nature of the writing and, worst of all, I just couldn't feel any connection to anything or anyone I read about. Reading the book felt like a trudging effort rather than the chance to enjoy some brain-expanding escapism. There seem to be mixed reviews of this book, so I am sure it works for some people, but not for me this time.


True History of the Kelly Gang
True History of the Kelly Gang
by Peter Carey
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tough read, but worthwhile, 12 Aug. 2011
As many people have said, the writing style of this book is tough to get past and probably means that many people will be put off reading what ends up being a cracking story. The author has obviously used the style and structure of the Jerilderie Letter as the jumping off point and imagined Ned's voice using that tone throughout the book.

If, like me, you have never heard of the Jerilderie Letter before considering this book, it was the famous letter that Ned wrote with Joe Byrne documenting some of his history and the injustices that were suffered by people of Victoria at the time.

The style of the letter (and, it was argued, the education level of the writers) meant that everything tends to run together. There no speech marks, hardly any commas and very long sentences. For example, "Mrs. McCormack gave good substantial evidence as she is well acquainted with that place called Tasmania, better known as the Dervon or Van Diemens Land, and McCormack being a Policeman over the convicts and women being scarce released from that land of bondage and tyranny". Phew!

Peter Carey has used that exact writing style to give voice to Ned's life, starting as a very young boy and running through to his last standoff with the police at Glenrowan. This is very impressive, technically, but not easy to read. There are many sentences and paragraphs I had to read more than once to get a proper idea what was going on, or who had been speaking. Carey also invents a lover and daughter that Ned is writing to in order to provide a structure and reason for this comprehensive history to be documented. I imagine purists and historians may take issue with this.

I came to the story knowing very little about Ned Kelly other than the fact that had a stand off with the police wearing a homemade suit of armour. I knew nothing of the struggles and trials of life that the poor people of Australia dealt with at the time, although this book has made me research that further since. It gives you a good sense of the time period and the people involved, although the view of injustice and police involvement is obviously written from the point of view of the victims so does not represent a truly objective view of the time period. Still, the book sets out to describe things through Kelly's eyes, so you couldn't expect it to be an unbiased history lesson. It certainly provides more colour and interest to read it in this style.

Overall, as others have said, try the first few pages and see how you get on. If you can get past the first chapter, I think you'll keep on reading. I am very glad I did.


Baby's Very First Bath Book: Animals (Black & White Bath Book)
Baby's Very First Bath Book: Animals (Black & White Bath Book)
by Jo Moon
Edition: Bath Book

3.0 out of 5 stars Nice but dull (at least for our baby), 22 April 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is a small book for babies to "read" in the bath. It works on the basis that bold black and white (with a little bit of green) is the best colour scheme for a baby's newly developing eyes to focus on. There are a couple of pictures of some animals (penguin, whale etc) and a sticky thing to stop the book floating away.

Maybe our baby is just a little young for this (she's only a few months old) but she isn't interested in it in the slightest. She loves splashing about in her bath, but has shown pretty much zero interest in the pictures. The book is well made, and obviously waterproof, but it's probably not worth spending a lot of money on it. Overall, 3 stars as the book itself is not bad but holds no interest for our own little "target audience"!


Stuff White People Like
Stuff White People Like
by Christian Lander
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Stuff White North American People Like, 27 Nov. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I had read about this book in a newspaper a little while ago and thought it sounded quite funny, so I was pleased to see it turn up in this month's Amazon Vine and gave it a try. I am not familiar with the website, so I was reading it with no pre-conceptions. I knew it was tongue-in-cheek and, being one the white people myself, I was prepared for a some interesting observations based on "our" stereotyping.

I have read most of the book out of sequence, as it really is just a collection of short articles on things 'typically' associated with white people such as drinking tea, having black friends etc. However, I was sadly very disappointed with the contents.

For one thing, the entire book is written from a primarily USA perspective and contains articles on subjects such as "reading the Sunday New York Times", "Wrigley Field" and "Manhattan". As I am not a frequent traveller to the USA, I have no idea whether these are bitingly accurate observations, or a load of old tosh.

Secondly. the author and his subjects are clearly very affluent and can afford designer furniture, trips abroad and expensive sports. Let's just say that there's not going to be many dustmen or classroom assistants sitting there reading this on their lunch break and saying "ha, that's just like me!"

Thirdly, it loses a lot in translation. Most of the entertainment and pop culture references may ring very true for North Americans, but I bet there's a much lower percentage of "white people" over here who are fans of Dave Chappelle, Noam Chomsky and David Sedaris (even Americans are struggling with that one apparently!)

Finally, and most important of all, it's just not very funny. There are a couple good observations including "public transport that is not a bus" and "standing still at concerts", but it didn't raise much more than a slight smile for me, certainly not laugh out loud funny.

Perhaps a UK edition could be created with more familiar references for our brand of "white people", but until then, I wouldn't bother with this.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 6, 2009 1:46 PM GMT


Max Factor Masterpiece Glide & Define Eyeliner - 1 Black
Max Factor Masterpiece Glide & Define Eyeliner - 1 Black
Price: £4.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Not quite a masterpiece, 19 Sept. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My wife is a big fan of all things make-up and really knows her products, so thought she would be perfect to review this eyeliner. She thought that it was "OK", certainly better than some of the high street stuff that you can buy for around the same price, but not up the job of a higher-end product. She felt that it "glooped" (technical term) a bit too frequently and didn't really glide or define as well as the name "masterpiece" would imply. Overall, if this is available at a decent price, it's worth a look, but it isn't worth paying over the odds for something that doesn't really stand out from the crowd.


The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Prickly at first (!) but worth sticking with..., 24 July 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
To start with, it is worth pointing out that this is not a typical romance/chick-lit/blockbuster/summer reading novel (although I did read it on holiday!) When your first few chapters talk about the main character's opinions of Marxism, Tolstoy and different avenues of philosophical thinking you know you are not in for a light read.

My initial opinion, as I read the first few chapters, was that this was not a book for me. It felt more like a series of essays on the author's own thoughts of philosophy, the French class structure, pseudo-intellectuals and the nature of beauty within everyday life. All of those subjects were written well and made for interesting reading, but it didn't feel like a novel. There was an attempt at a rudimentary plot moving away in the background - a woman is an intellectual but hides the fact due to her social standing and job as a lowly concierge - but this felt like the vehicle to hang these essays on, rather than a narrative in its own right.

However, persuaded by my wife who had read it before me, I persevered, and I have to say I am glad that I did. The plot began to expand and the contrast between the lowly Mdme Michel and the privileged young girl who lives in one of the apartments began to overtake the essays. Most interesting to me was that both were highly intelligent people who should have been able to achieve whatever they wanted in life, but both almost felt trapped by their intelligence and felt resentful of their social standing (at opposite ends of the scale).

I still think that the book suffers from very uneven pacing but I am glad that I read it. It is worth sticking out for the first few chapters as the story improves significantly towards the end. Not light reading, then, but definitely one to try.


Babyliss For Men 7850U I-Trim Stubble Trimmer
Babyliss For Men 7850U I-Trim Stubble Trimmer

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I - 'D rather not, thanks...., 24 Dec. 2008
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This product fails on pretty much every level.

* Cheap design and feel - check,
* Useless interface, including turning it on again when you want to turn it off - check,
* Poor quality of shave - check,
* Incredibly short battery life - check.

Seriously, this is a terrible piece of kit. I have a Philips QC5170 for my hair, which is a really good product. Easy to use, reliable, great battery life and sharp blades. I thought this would be of a similar ilk and would be handy for taking on holiday for a quick hair and face trim instead of taking the larger Philips. Not a chance. For instance, the battery life lasted for one and a half shaves, dying half way through the second and meaning I had to revert to a wet shave. With the Philips, not a problem, can just plug it in and continue, but not practical with the Babyliss and its pointless "docking station" - seriously, Babyliss, we get that you want us to think it's like an i-Pod for your face! Shame its nothing like the quality of an i-Pod!

The blades don't give an even shave at all, and the design doesn't lend itself to a neat cut as it has a flimsy barrier which moves up and down to "lengthen" the cut, but is not strong enough to hold a firm level all the way around.

I would avoid this like the plague - I wouldn't even give mine to someone else, it's that poor! Is there a zero stars option on this thing...?


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