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Man Raised By Penguins

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My Dearest Jonah
My Dearest Jonah
by Matthew Crow
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dear, oh Dear!, 7 May 2013
This review is from: My Dearest Jonah (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
I did something with this book which I very, very rarely do. That is, I got half way through it, put it down and didn't go back to it. It's not the worst book I've ever read, far from it. But I was really looking forward to reading this on the basis of previous reviews for this author: "There is an assured precision to Crow s observations"; "authentic and poetic, lyrical and believable"; "one of the most exciting writers of his generation".

I actually found the narrative of this novel - a written correspondence between two people who've never met - quite unauthentic. Not because of the premise, that's fine, but because of the tone of the letters. They lack any intimacy or the dynamic of an ongoing correspondence; there is a dearth of conversational tone; no questions are asked. But for the occasional references to the other's story, it therefore ends up feeling like two parallel narratives stitched clumsily together to look like an ongoing correspondence. If Crow is going to line up to the tag of "one of the most exciting writers of his generation" he's going to need to work on this sort of thing, to be able to view the voices form a third party perspective, rather than put all his focus into getting his own thoughts down onto paper - the result at the moment is that it sounds like he is sending himself letters and responding to them.


Cocofina 100 Percent Coconut Water 500ml (Pack of 6)
Cocofina 100 Percent Coconut Water 500ml (Pack of 6)
Price: £15.54

1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A surprising treat, 28 Mar. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
After my initial reaction - "this is a bit strange!" - I grew to like this drink. A lot. I think the initial reaction was borne from the fact that I might have expected the drink to be like coconut milk, creamy and sweet, which it's not. There is a smoothness and a light coconut flavour, but this is balanced by an underlying saltiness. It's not what you're expecting in a fruit drink, but I like it and find it very refreshing. Having said that, my wife really didn't like it and I've struggled to find anyone else who did. I say: give it a try with an open mind.


Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk
by Ben Fountain
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars USA Today!, 22 Mar. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
What an enjoyable and unexpectedly brilliant book. When the cover blurb proclaimed "The Catch-22 for the Iraq War" my levels of skepticism soared: how could this upstart possibly be mentioned in the same breath as Heller's seminal novel, let alone occupy the same space in our literary consciousness? But, although in many ways very different to Catch-22, Billy Lynne is every bit the absurdist tale that Heller's story is, with its own paradoxical nuances that reflect the new century as much as Catch-22 reflected the middle of the last century.

By now you probably know the back story: Billy Lynne and his platoon have been caught on film by a Fox News crew heroically defending themselves whilst vastly outnumbered by insurgents. The military and political top brass see this as a propaganda opportunity too good to be missed and, so ensues, the account of Bravo Squad's nationwide tour, culminating in a their appearance on stage with Destiny's Child at a Dallas Cowboys home game.

This backdrop provides a well-crafted commentary on the U.S.A today, Fountain's story giving equal airing to every caricature of American life: rich businessman; salt-of-the-earth patriots; Hollywood film-makers; military brass; dysfunctional family. From this emerge the contradictions that pull Billy and his troop buddies one way and another, particularly the sense that, as supposed heroes who have sacrificed so much in defence of the nation, they have become commoditised in the extreme, their "reward" being nothing more than to fuel a prolonged campaign - for both themselves and their country.

The only element that doesn't ring true for me is the character of Billy who, as likable and realistic as he is, seems a little too liberal in his thinking to be an authentic U.S. soldier. But perhaps I'm being uncharitable to the average U.S. G.I. This is easily overlooked, however, because without the device of a questioning soldier at the centre of the maelstrom, Fountain would clearly have been unable to relate the story, and its socio-political commentary, as he has so expertly done. Furthermore one gets the sense that the author has spent a lot of time with troops because the dialogue always rings vibrant and true, and their humanity (with all its attendant hopes, fears and emotions) always impresses.

Oh, and it's pretty funny in the right places too.


The Devil: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
The Devil: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)
by Darren Oldridge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Devil, not in detail, 22 Mar. 2013
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This book does what it sets out to do, that is, provide a historical survey of the devil in western thought and culture, starting from the pre-Christian premise of Satan as "the other", a receptacle for all that is not human, or humane. What is central to the author's brief inspection is the changing face of the Devil in our culture, particularly his use as a politico-religious bogey-man of medieval times. It's well written and concise, though inevitably held back somewhat by the format. This wouldn't however, put me off going to the "Very Short Introduction" series for other topics.


What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets
by Michael J. Sandel
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I don't care too much for money . . ., 9 Aug. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
In the wake of recent economic collapses, Sandel has contributed a work that urges to reflect upon the prevailing wisdom of free market thinking, and its moral limitations. I'd never come across Sandel before reading this, and that's a surprise, because he comes across as a very wise, cool and authoritative voice, eschewing anti-capitalist hyperbole for a balanced presentation of facts and a pertinent examination of them.

Sandel even concedes early on that we are unlikely to reach a consensus about what money should or shouldn't be able to buy as, he argues, whatever moral framework we hold - and there are many - will determine your answer to that question. And it is an examination of these moral frameworks that the author focuses on, in a refreshingly open-minded way.

What we are given, then, are a number of scenarios - such as cases of economic incentive, the purchase of preferential treatments, corporate sponsoring of public space - and Sandel's critical inspection of the prevailing market-based thinking usually associated with them. The result is less of a dogmatic treatise urging us to reject capitalist values, rather more of a thought-provoking discussion in the spirit of Grayling or Singer.

Interestingly, Sandel steers clear of both private schooling and prostitution, two of the longest running subjects related to the morality of money. Regardless, this is an enjoyable, informative and thought-provoking book, and it's definitely made me want to read his other book, Justice.


The Sea on Fire
The Sea on Fire
by Howard Cunnell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not literary. Not thrilling., 14 Jun. 2012
This review is from: The Sea on Fire (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
As soon as you see the cover of this book - an intense looking young man pensively poised among silhouetted palm trees - you can guess the territory you're headed for when you start to read it. Think Alex Garland's "The Beach" - one of the main characters is even called Garland: a coincidence? - or the film "Point Break" - this book has multiple references, not to mention Garland at one point being likened to Bodhi - with their portrayals of high octane, opt-out lifestyles, much beloved of the backpacker fraternity.

The theme of escape and escapism regularly surfaces. Kim reveals his hand no more clearly that when he declares "Aren't we high, though? . . . and flying underwater and getting high would seem to me the same thing . . . And I think that in a world that seemed to promise and want from me nothing but work, I'd been let in on a great secret". Or "diving also encouraged me to avoid any demands to grow up or settle down."

But that's about as deep as it gets. As a narrator, Kim inspires annoyance as much as anything, beholden as he is on the one hand, to his technical fetishes - there are too many detailed descriptions of scuba gear and procedure - and, on the other hand, to his tireless quest for the next hedonistic hit. Worse still, true to his deeply selfish, immature nature, his narrative offers little, if no, valuable insight into the story's other characters. It's as though he's not at all interested in them. The only person he's vaguely interested in is Garland, and then only inasmuch as how he, Kim, is reflected in Garland's person.

Kim's story suffers, apart from its mundane plot, from being little more than the self-indulgent diatribe of a morally confused hedonist caught up on the fringes of a Guy Ritchie inspired clique. The prose is often clumsy and lacks flow and coherence - it should have been a much shorter story. As for the back cover synopsis claim that this is a literary thriller, this is at best fanciful, at worst misleading - it's neither literary, nor that thrilling.


The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning
The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning
by Hallgrimur Helgason
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.64

2.0 out of 5 stars This Hitman Misses the Mark, 24 May 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is the story of Tomislav "Toxic" Boksic, a New York resident Croatian hitman who, after hit #66 goes badly wrong, is forced to flee the US with little more than his considerable emotional and psychological baggage and a comically false identity. Striving for maximum impact and comedic value, Helgason has Toxic pitch up in the author's own homeland, cast here as the dullest place on earth.

The plot and setting offer good scope for a great story. Pitching this violent anti-hero, a whirlwhine of angry self-preservation, against an ecclesiastical setting in sleepy, quaint Iceland gives Toxic the perfect backdrop against which to vent his irreverence - a caustic thread that runs throughout the book. This thread, though, wears pretty thin, pretty quickly, reading more like the gobby posturing of a lads' mag subscribing Neanderthal than a complex war veteran from the former Yugoslavia.

And this is where the author misses his trick: the premise is well set up for the protagonist to reflect deeply on his life, war, his relationships and to give the reader a more rounded insight into the events that formed his character, that made him such a bloated caricature as ugly, cynical and casually brutal as you could imagine. Such insight would more convincingly underpin his damascene conversion.

Ultimately, though, none of the book's characters display the depth displayed in Helgason's excellent 101 Reykjavik, and Toxic's personal odyssey lacks conviction, leaving a sub-standard comic caper that misses the target.


Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right
Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right
by Thomas Frank
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Tea Party's Over, 27 Feb. 2012
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Thomas Frank has had enough. Enough of standing on the touchline while a bunch of - at best - ill informed morons bully the public into backing the wrong horse or - at worst - the evil puppet masters manipulate the hoi polloi with the most audacious bit of reverse psychology in political history. And so, in this passionately argued book, he guns for the Republican Tea Partiers who, in the wake of the greatest economic collapse since the Depression era, seem to be advocating more of the financial industry de-regulation and government cut-backs that were, he posits, at the root of the current malaise.

What puzzles Frank, as much as gets his goat, is the current popular response to recession. Drawing on parallels to the Depression era, which invoked a raft of government measures to protect the public and the small business against risk and economic instability, he wonders how the recent travails have led to a strengthening of right wing economic thinking, rather than the reverse, which ought to have been expected.

Nobody escapes his ire, nor the sharp end of his wit. Modulating somewhere between Michael Moore's dumb everyman, Jon Stewart's wry observer and the deep knowing of Chomsky (all of whom get a name check) Frank strips down the outright stupidity of the Tea Party philosophy, exposes the impudent posturing of TV shock Jocks, and puts the boot into City traders and Ayn Rand (among others). But it's ultimately the complacent Democrats who get it most in the neck for their cosying up to big business and banking, and for failing to tackle the Tea Party head-on.

This is a brilliant and passionately reasoned exposé of the prevailing political mood, but the most saddening fact is that, for all its power and righteousness, its cutting humour and erudition, it's likely to get filed under "preaching to the converted". Good luck Mr.Frank.


The Early Learnings Of
The Early Learnings Of
Offered by best_value_entertainment
Price: £1.53

4.0 out of 5 stars Playful and Inventive, 14 Dec. 2011
This review is from: The Early Learnings Of (Audio CD)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
My first few listens to this didn't grab or impress me, perhaps as I wasn't quite in the mood for this sort of thing. The musical scale and scope which frame McGuiness's singing is quite odd and takes a bit of getting used to. But it's definitely a really strong grower, really playful and inventive, and joyfully impossible to pigeonhole.

There's some good, very slightly off-kilter harmonies, like those in Bold Street and Vela, while Vampire Casino is reminiscent of early Aztec Camera. Madeleine is a hauntingly beautiful piano-accompanied ballad that reminded me of something which I can't quite put my finger on - Mercury Rev, Jenny Lewis, Bat For Lashes? Bit of all of them? High Score is playfully slack and folksy - consistent with the whole album - the guitar and piano playfully following the singer's steep inclines and sudden plunges, whilst Monsters Under the Bed is an infectious and paranoic number, its manic tune- and word-play skillfully reflecting its subject matter.

Well done to Eugene for making an excellent album that sounds different to so much of what's around at the moment.


A Rage in Harlem (Penguin Modern Classics)
A Rage in Harlem (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Chester B. Himes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars Crazy times in the big apple, 13 Oct. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
A Rage in Harlem might introduce us to Himes' hard-bitten cop duo of Gravedigger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, but it proves to be less a dedective story - the pair making not much more than cameo appearances - than a madcap descent into a world of petty crime and sleaze on the streets of Harlem.

The hapless and naive protagonist in all of this is the rotund Jackson, who is manipulated by his cynical, opportunistic beau, the bombshell Immabelle into getting involved with a dodgy money scam. Things go from bad to worse as one character after another has it in for him as he gets himself deeper and deeper into trouble.

Along the way we are introduced to a cast of shady characters, from the aforementioned Jones, Johnson and Immabelle through to Jackson's brother Goldie - whose scamming and jiving brings high quality comedy - and the real crooks. It's an enjoyable, high-tempo affair with sassy, stylised dialogue - and it doesn't pull its punches.


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