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Bluecashmere. (Scotland)
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100 Writers and Artists: 100 Postcards in a Box
100 Writers and Artists: 100 Postcards in a Box
by National Portrait Gallery
Edition: Cards
Price: £13.49

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful collection., 29 Aug 2014
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This is a richly impressive collection of paintings, drawings and photographs, a pleasure to browse or display, and a delightful gift. No doubt we all have our personal favourites. Amongst mine are those of Beckett, Frances Bacon, Vita Sackville-West, Harold Pinter and Kingsley Amis. More important, perhaps, is the sheer diversity of styles in which these key representatives of the arts are produced. Some are posed, some idealised, several presented in highly distinctive modes that capture key facets of the subject. In short, they are a joy. But where is Philip Larkin?


Elegy for April: Quirke Mysteries Book 3
Elegy for April: Quirke Mysteries Book 3
by Benjamin Black
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

5.0 out of 5 stars From strength to strength., 29 Aug 2014
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This is the third in the series of Quirke crime novels, and like its predecessors is set in 1950s Dublin. Once more the aptly named Quirke, pathologist, in cahoots with the redoubtable Inspector Hackett unravels the complexities of an original and intriguing case, triggered by the disappearance of a young woman associated with Quirke’s daughter. Phoebe, the daughter, has her own story to be told. She is a most refreshing character, who adds a great deal to all the stories, never so much perhaps as here, where she is more directly involved with the events of the plot.

What most specially sets this series of books apart from so many crime novels is the texture of the writing. Black, as one would hope from someone whose more obviously literary work written under his true name of John Banville has won awards and plaudits, has impressive descriptive powers and deals with relationships in a far more subtle way than is often found in the genre. I have become increasingly addicted to the Quirke novels and each seems to me stronger and more gripping than the one it follows. Strongly recommended.


Luxury Cars Coloring Book (Dover History Coloring Book)
Luxury Cars Coloring Book (Dover History Coloring Book)
by Bruce LaFontaine
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Hours of simple pleasure., 27 Aug 2014
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This book demonstrates how often the simplest notions are the most satisfying. I bought this as a small gift for my nine-year old grandson, who shares with many an enthusiasm for cars, the more exotic models in particular. Not all children are artistically gifted. Colouring can give them a sense of achievement as well as breeding concentration and patient attention to detail. A minor but rewarding investment.


Old School
Old School
by Tobias Wolff
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

3.0 out of 5 stars Under the ivy., 27 Aug 2014
This review is from: Old School (Paperback)
This is a book about writing and I wonder how far its interest reaches beyond literary graduates, particularly specialists in modern American Literature. Its setting in an exclusive boys’ school, whose existence seems all but devoted to literary matters, is not new but runs the obvious risk of falling into the precocity and adolescent romanticism that it portrays. The unnamed scholarship boy, through whose words we witness events and through whom we register the intensely competitive hothouse atmosphere, is a less than compelling character and the jump from hero worshipping, teen and literary intellectual to established writer is perfunctory. It is left to us to take it on trust. There seem to me to be a number of non sequiturs in the plot and I’m not convinced that the writing is quite the model of lucidity for which it has been especially praised.

There is none of the emotional energy and conviction that we find in Donna Tartt’s “The Secret Life” or in Kleinbaum’s “Dead Poet’s Society”. Clearly Wolff is highly regarded as a short story writer and I must confess that as yet I am unacquainted with him in that role. For me, despite an established interest in its subject matter, I find the book less than riveting – all a little overblown.


AUDI R8
AUDI R8
Offered by The Global Trader
Price: £6.94

4.0 out of 5 stars For boys of all ages., 24 Aug 2014
This review is from: AUDI R8 (Toy)
As opposed to most, who seem to have bought this car for their husbands/boyfriends, mine was for a much younger person. He probably entertains fewer illusions of owning the real thing but finds it a pleasing addition to his collection of model cars. It is well made and finished and serves equally well as display feature or toy.


The Silver Swan (Quirke Mysteries)
The Silver Swan (Quirke Mysteries)
by Benjamin Black
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars From strength to strength., 24 Aug 2014
The second in the Quirke series of 1950s Dublin crime novels, this more than lives up to the promise of the first: “Christine Falls”. There is a strong sense of period if rather less of place. Black relies a great deal on a litany of street names and other references to establish Dublin.

The real quality lies in the characterisation, the texture of the writing and the skilfully woven plot. In many respects the books are as much about the central characters as the crimes with which they become engaged. Quirke is a fascinating conundrum of strengths and weaknesses, set off by his assistant Sinclair and the stolid but by no means stupid, Inspector Hackett. Even more fascinating and likeable is his daughter, Phoebe, who lacks the rancour that might justifiably colour her view of her father. Perhaps, of all the books to date, this is the one that focuses most closely on complex family relationships. It is none the worse for that but in tandem comes a cleverly worked out plot that holds our attention in itself.

Few crime writers can match Black’s literary style, even if it is at times over-elaborated. As John Banville, his novel “The Sea” won literary acclaim but a mixed public reaction. Here, without doubt it seems to me, Black/Banville has found his niche.


Dead Men's Bones: Inspector McLean 4 (The Inspector McLean Mysteries)
Dead Men's Bones: Inspector McLean 4 (The Inspector McLean Mysteries)
by James Oswald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Very much a curate's egg of a book., 24 Aug 2014
In many ways this is a cracking crime thriller. It has largely credible and engaging police figures, not least DI Tony McLean, a good sense of place and a carefully constructed plot. The tension and suspense are ratcheted up until the dramatic conclusion. It is here, largely, that I feel the book falls down.

I have no wish to reveal the ending, but it seems to me to be out of keeping with the earlier attention to detail. If all ends with a “big bang” the climax has to grow naturally from what has come before and has to be convincing in itself. I don’t feel that either is true here. Neither perhaps is what may be alluded to as the romantic element. It seems to me that Oswald is at his best in dealing with character and setting and much less effective when engaged in the more cinematic action scenarios. Here the writing is a deal more clichéd and at its worst seems to be a cover for lack of a carefully worked out ending. I have read none of the three earlier McLean novels and rather fear that the lack of control here is not a strong incentive to take up the challenge.
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 20, 2014 8:29 PM BST


Macbeth (2009 edition): Oxford School Shakespeare
Macbeth (2009 edition): Oxford School Shakespeare
by William Shakespeare
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid school teaching edition., 22 Aug 2014
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Well, this is not the Arden edition, to which I am devoted, but no doubt of more value to middle school children studying Shakespeare for GCSE and parallel examinations. The apparatus of notes in the Ardens is best held back for A Level and beyond. The notes on the opposing page are much more helpful than crushed up against the text as in some versions. The teaching element is sound, though rather unimaginative. It seems to me an open choice between this one and the Cambridge School edition. Neither strikes me as of the quality of the old Heinemann hardbacks, but alas they are no longer available.


Junior How to Draw - Cars, Trucks and Planes
Junior How to Draw - Cars, Trucks and Planes
by Kate Thompson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Cleverly produced and great value., 22 Aug 2014
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This simple, inexpensive little book is wonderfully clear and ideally suited to 9-11 year old children, who require no more than a pencil, eraser and ruler to produce convincing drawings. My grandson – the family search in vain for artistic genes – has found it a source of great pleasure and it has focused his concentration marvellously. I am astonished at what he has produced. It is most gratifying to see him overcome hesitancy to achieve drawings he takes great pride in. I think I shall have to borrow it.


The Vet's Daughter: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
The Vet's Daughter: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
by Barbara Comyns
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Muted but engaging., 22 Aug 2014
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This is my first acquaintance with Barbara Comyns. This novel seems to be generally regarded as one of her best. It is agreeable and possessed of a strong sense of time and place. In a way I think this is both the book’s strength and its weakness. By contemporary standards the writing and the events described seem rather muted.

If Barbara Comyns reminds me of anyone it is Barbara Pym, wonderful at her best but variable in standard. Here we find the same delight in particularities, but also a fresh dimension, which dominates the second half of Ms. Comyns’ novel. I find the treatment of levitation and its metaphorical or symbolic implications less successful than the observations on people, relationships and places which make up the earlier sections of the book.

When all is said and done, while I find the book not entirely satisfying, there is certainly sufficient of interest to prompt further incursions into the author’s writing.


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