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Ben (UK)

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A Fraction of the Whole
A Fraction of the Whole
by Steve Toltz
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining but a tad too ambitious. Sometimes less is more..., 21 Dec. 2008
If you're an author publishing a debut novel over 700 pages, you should ideally have an exceptionally 'literary' and evocative writing style, coupled with a very captivating story. "A Fraction of the Whole" is entertaining, but I'm not sure Toltz has sufficiently demonstrated either here. Still, this is is a fun, slightly quirky book that never felt like much of a slog; but then it never felt entirely captivating either.

Rome (Lonely Planet Best of ...)
Rome (Lonely Planet Best of ...)
by Cristian Bonetto
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Adequate, but I'd consider other books..., 14 Oct. 2008
I confess, I usually prefer Eyewitness Travel guides - so you should probably bear that in mind when reading this review.

I used this book recently on a five day trip to Rome. On the plus side, it provided a short summary of all the key, major sites in Rome. Also, the restaurants that we tried based on their recommendations (three in total) were all excellent.

On the flip side. The descriptions of the major attractions I found were pretty sketchy at best, and really not as informative as I would have hoped. What was particularly frustrating were the quality of the maps, which are all extremely basic (bar perhaps one); so navigating your way round all the streets and avenues is not made easy, or reassuring, by using this book alone.

Ultimately from I guide book I personally want to feel well informed and comfortable navitgating my way around unknown territory - this book, I felt, didn't do that well on either count.

Therefore, I would recommend you shop around!

The Rain Before it Falls
The Rain Before it Falls
by Jonathan Coe
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Evocative and well crafted..., 26 Aug. 2008
Having previously read "What A Carve Up!" and "The House Of Sleep", I expected Jonathan Coe's latest to be more quality fiction laced with his slightly mischievous, surreal edge.

So, that "Before The Rain Falls" is a more traditional, straightforward (although no less memorable) book came initially as a bit of a shock. Still, I found it a moving and enjoyable novel. The switch from first to third person narratively is handled deftly throughout and, without wishing to give anything away, using a series of old photographs to unfold the narrative was a slightly teasing, but very clever, plot device. For anyone who has looked through an old photograph album that has laid dormant for several years, you know how the feeling of nostalgia and memory over takes you - and he replicates that feeling well here.

I've always found Coe an unusual, but always interesting and entertaining writer and "Before The Rain Falls" is well worth a read.

The Hard Way
The Hard Way
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £11.52

5.0 out of 5 stars Happily, another cracking album..., 22 Aug. 2008
This review is from: The Hard Way (Audio CD)
James Hunter previous album, "People Gonna Talk", remains a real gem of a record - wonderfully sharp songs, brilliantly played and exquisitely produced by Liam Watson. After a number years of hard graft and solid touring, Hunter and his band had delivered an exceptional record.

Fortunately, with all the success it brought, everyone went back to Watson's Toe Rag Studios and decided to do it all over again. It was a great formula, so why mess with it? So, much like its predecessor, "Hard Times" is a witty, intelligent record that repeatedly harks back to a different era but easily avoids being considered derivative or a pastiche.

The musical arrangements are skilled and effortless, Hunter's songs are smart and lyrics crafty - his vocals and understated guitar playing still impress. I find this album great fun to play, and the collection of songs hang together as a collection extremely well.

Now, if only he'd just tour the UK a little more!

Blindness (Harvest Book)
Blindness (Harvest Book)
by Giovanni Pontiero
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Frightening, but compelling..., 22 Aug. 2008
Now on the cusp of a forthcoming film adaptation, which should hopefully bring it some much deserved extra attention, Jose Saramago's extremely provoking book "Blindness" is a wonderfully evocative, frequently disturbing read.

The premise is straight forward; an unexplained disease of sudden blindness plagues a (purposefully) unnamed city. The consequences are predictably devastating.

The key to your final interpretation of this book rests with how you adapt to Saramago's unusual style. This is a book built almost of a series of long paragraphs, practically uninterrupted by normal punctuation. Characters have whole conversations without quotation marks - and it's occasionally quite easy to get lost as to who is speaking to who. The overall effect is dizzying, complex, but quite brilliant. It's an immediate jolt that tells you this is something quite unique. Perhaps it's not the best comparison, but it's akin to when I read my first Cormac McCarthy novel. Something about how it's written just doesn't feel quite right at first.

Stick with it though and you're richly rewarded by a brutal story and frightening imagery that fully deserve your attention. This is a very impressive book.

The Seldom Seen Kid
The Seldom Seen Kid
Offered by mrtopseller
Price: £2.95

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heavenly..., 22 Aug. 2008
This review is from: The Seldom Seen Kid (Audio CD)
With "The Seldom Seen Kid" Elbow continue their healthy track record of making wonderfully emotive music coupled with quite appalling sleeve art. Guy Garvey's voice still continues to pierce right through the heart with that heavenly falsetto he occasionally wields (that presumably umpteen cigarettes cannot dent). Almost irrespective of what he is singing about it all sounds utterly gorgeous.

This album, perhaps more so than the others, is not initially quite as immediate. I've found it doesn't work quite as well as a casual listen either. Given it's structure, and the lengthy running time of a couple of tunes, it feels like more time is needed to sit and just digest the whole thing. In other words, apply a little patience and you'll be rewarded.

Countless other bands, with much higher profiles, have struggled to make valuable, important music album after album - but Elbow continue to do it with ease. This is lovely stuff.

Back In Black
Back In Black
Offered by CAC Media UK
Price: £22.04

5.0 out of 5 stars An essential album in just about every collection..., 8 Aug. 2008
This review is from: Back In Black (Audio CD)
I could spend a tremendous amount of time in this review trying to establish to you that I'm not actually some avid AC/DC fan - the point being I don't want you to think my unequivocal praise for this astounding record is bound up in any kind of sycophantic obsession with the group. The truth is, I own just one of their albums - and this is it.

But what a record! Carved out of what must have been a terribly situation (your much loved singer dies in the most depressing of circumstances) the band swiftly bounced back with this - the most well crafted, well recorded, well written, well played and well sung rock and roll record out there. If you disagree, recommend me another record and I'd challenge you to a duel any day. This album is just, pure and simply, an unstoppable force. The sort of record that anyone, of any age, who has an interest in guitar, bass and drums must own. If you're young (say, under the age of 20), in a band and don't own this album then, quite simply, buy it now. It is a masterclass in rock and roll.

Quite why it is so brilliant I do largely put down to just two words: Mutt Lange. Yes, Shania Twain's ex-husband produced a record that, despite being 18 years old, still sounds as crisp, fresh and thrilling as it did then. The clarity and force here is just astounding.

I won't bother picking through the songs, as they're all amazing. Yes, some are complete daft and frequently sexist - but when coupled with Brian Johnson's blistering vocals and the Young brother's guitars...who cares?!

Sorry, but there really is no debate - this is an essential purchase.

Price: £11.23

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An Impressive Set..., 8 Aug. 2008
Strong tunes, a typical characteristic of early I Am Kloot albums, were frustratingly in short supply on the band's last album "Gods and Monsters", so it's a welcome relief that "Play Moolah Rouge" is more in keeping with this great little bands first two records.

With an expanded line-up (this 3 piece is now bolstered to 5), "Play Moolah Rouge" has a rough captured-live-in-the-studio feel, which is a result of being recorded and mixed in a matter of days. It's an approach that suits the band perfectly. John Bramwell's vocals have a particularly unpolished rasp that enhances the more maudlin and introspective songs on this record ("Down at the Front", "Only Role In Town") very well.

The other most obvious stength to this album is that it's well crafted; with obvious thought being given to structure and sequencing, and aside from one clanger on the album ("Hey Little Bird", which marries a pretty melody to some uncommonly trite lyrics) it's another strong set from the band.

Finally, the accompanying DVD with the special edition is worth seeking out, as it mixes great live footage of the band playing songs from the album alongside an entertaining interview with Bramwell.

Nothing to Lose (Jack Reacher)
Nothing to Lose (Jack Reacher)
by Lee Child
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing - not the strongest of the series..., 8 July 2008
After the very entertaining "Bad Luck and Trouble" I hoped Lee Child would be on a role with this, the latest in his typically excellent Jack Reacher series.

Sadly "Nothing to Lose" is indeed a bit of a dud, soley due to the extremely weak plot. It meanders along to a very unsatisfying conclusion, and is not helped by an equally uninspired, and rather limp, sub-plot that doesn't really deliver much satisfaction either (I won't go into details, because whilst I don't recommend the book I don't want to give away any spoilers either).

Sadly, for every entertaining distraction (Reacher's numerous brawls with heavy handed locals, coupled with some killer Reacher put-downs) there were other annoying traits, such as Child's bizarre geographic obsession with using the words "west of.." and "east of..." throughout.

So, whilst it's a novel technically as well written as any other in the series, it's the dreary plot that drags "Nothing to Lose" down to the bottom of the pile. I'm confident though that next time Child will come up with a winner.

One Night Stand!: Live At The Harlem Square Club
One Night Stand!: Live At The Harlem Square Club
Price: £19.76

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This record is essential..., 16 May 2008
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I read a magazine article a few months back about what were the 25 greatest live albums. Granted, it was a rock and roll magazine, but still I felt a considerable pang of disappointment that "One Night Stand: Sam Cooke Live at the Harlem Square Club" wasn't featured, as it just about wipes the floor with all of them.

No one can dispute Sam Cooke was an amazing singer, but this record not only underlines that particular fact in the boldest pen possible, but demonstrates he was a showman without equal. This is an astonishing record. A perfectly formed, brilliant emotional journey that Cooke, through his amazing talent, leads you by the hand all the way through.

It's Cooke's grounding in gospel that nails it - much like James Brown "Live At The Apollo" (which Cooke was inspired by sufficiently to lead him to release this record) he acts as the appointed leader of his 'congregation' - and whether the audience noise was dubbed on afterwards or not, I suspect they did indeed all go berserk from the moment he hit the stage.

Far removed from the silky smooth sound that became his trademark, Cooke and his band are far grittier, harder and more energised here. Even during the slow numbers nobody seems willing to hang back to take a breath less the energy should drop even by a fraction. That they all must have worked to the brink of dropping is tangible.

Aside from the performance you of course have the songs - and let's be honest, they remain fantastic. It's almost impossible to pick a highlight, but the obvious choice is the utterly jubilant "Twistin' The Night Away" that eases (and I use that word loosely) into the gorgeous "Somebody Have Mercy".

Some records just beg to be played loud. This is one of them. Enjoy.
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