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Annabel
Annabel
by Kathleen Winter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 6.65

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A possible Booker contender?, 17 April 2011
This review is from: Annabel (Hardcover)
Rose Tremain covered slightly similar territory to this book in her novel, 'Sacred Country'. While that novel portrayed the life of a trans-sexual person, this one tells the story of a child born neither fully male nor female, but both at once.

One of the things that makes this book quite different, though, is that it is set in remote, coastal Labrador, in the far north-east of Canada. The evocation of the ways of life of the trappers and the women in this community is excellent as is the wonderful sense of place. Also brought vividly to life, is the time period (the novel begins in 1968) and this is often done through reference to contemporary television programmes, food products and music: this was the era of 'The Tide is High', Caramel Logs from the sweetshop and the gameshow, 'Truth or Consequences'.

This is a novel about family love and community bonds. About the fierce, unconditional love of a mother for her son, Wayne, who journeys to become her daughter Annabel; the way in which a father, despite the traditional ways of his own upbringing, comes to a redemptive relationship with his child. It is about the power of friendship and reveals the ways in which people can be different from our initial judgement of them. It is haunting and deeply moving.

There are wonderful moments the capture universal experiences, such as this:
'Wayne's sadness over Jacinta was the sadness all sons and daughters feel when their ferry starts moving and the parent stands on the dock, waving and growing tiny. A sadness that stings, then melts in a fresh wind.'

One character, Thomasina, who travels to Europe and beyond, represents the wider world and it's sensibilities impinging on the smaller world of a remote community. The city of St. John's in Newfoundland, symbolises for both Wayne-Annabel and his mother a place of greater freedom, somewhere that lives in memory or becomes a wider world where new beginnings become possible.

This is an extraordinarily accomplished and mature debut novel. It has just recently been short-listed for the Orange Prize for fiction. If it were to make the Booker shortlist too, I think my money would be on it!


Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End
Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End
by Leif G. W. Persson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.75

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of crime writing, 22 Mar 2011
Crime fiction really does not get much better than this. Complex, multi-layered and intricately plotted this novel grabs you from the outset and keeps you turning all 550 pages right through to the end. All the strands come satisfyingly together and there are some surprises as the denouement plays out. The final little twist at the end hits you like a punch to the solar plexus.

Leif Persson is a great stylist and one of the things that distinguishes this book is it's mordently black humour. This is usually achieved by making us party to his characters' inner most thoughts which are often at ironic variance with what they actually choose to say. There is not a lot of descriptive action, as such, the novel progresses through many different conversations - this might not be to everyone's taste - but the narrative impetus is inexorable all the same.

It could be said that the author does not develop his characters in any great depth, yet he avoids some of the stereotypes of crime fiction, and there is a haunting sense of sadness in the inability of his protagonists to achieve satisfying personal relationships. More than one character displays rather misogynistic traits and there is an overwhelming maleness about the world they inhabit though it is also (defensively, perhaps) rather homophobic.

I am not a crime buff, but I do read some detective fiction, and I would rate this as one of the greatest novels that I have read in the genre. It's certainly worth the outlay on the hardback - I don't think you'll be disappointed. In any case the publisher is sure to interpolate a trade paperback at 9.99 before they bring out the mass-market paperback edition - so at Amazon's price you may as well buy the hardback.

For those who've read and enjoyed Stieg Larsson and are looking for something to read next this book might be the best and most obvious choice. The publishers have probably avoided making this comparison, though, as 'Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End' stands in a class apart. The only mystery is why it has taken so long for Leif Persson to be translated and published in English.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 4, 2012 5:39 PM BST


Niche: The missing middle and why business needs to specialise to survive
Niche: The missing middle and why business needs to specialise to survive
by James Harkin
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Lively, informative and enjoyable, 14 Mar 2011
Lively, enoyable and fascinating stories of businesses, big and small, illustrate the main thesis of this book. Accounts of behemoths such as General Motors and Woolworth's demonstrate how the middle ground - where companies tried to be all things to all people - no longer holds. Contrasting with these are the tales of organisations such as Moleskine or Southern California Motorcyles who have created a unique, specialised offer and then courted and built up a loyal and dedicated fan base for their products.

One of the great things about this book is that it ranges so widely; from retail to politics; from the film industry to arts organisations and from on-line dating sites to bookselling and publishing. It, therefore, expands beyond being simply a business book to being a cultural commentary.

Once the growing failure of the middle ground has been delineated, the author goes on to show how the major companies, who occupied this arena, dealt with this problem by traditional market segmentation by age or social demographics. Gap, for instance, opened branded stores aimed at different age groups, thus spreading themselves ever more thinly across the broad market. This wasn't altogether successful.

In the modern-day world of the internet, people can fine tune their search for products and services. The social trend is for them to also gather in special interest groups around something they are passionate about. Successful niche businesses create a distinctive product or service and then go about attracting a dedicated fan base who will spread news of it to other potential like-minded people. The Moleskine notebooks, for instance, have a number of consumer-originated appreciation websites.

James Harkin's book is highly informative, an inspiration for business people and entrepreneurs and a really entertaining read for the rest of us.
Comment Comments (6) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 7, 2011 7:34 AM BST


People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman
People Who Eat Darkness: The Fate of Lucie Blackman
by Richard Lloyd Parry
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.84

11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intelligent and courageous writing, 8 Mar 2011
The fact that this book is published by Jonathan Cape, the doyen of British literary publishers, is the guarantee that it is a serious, well-written account and a cut above the usual books written by journalists. It was for this reason, and a personal connection with Japan that I chose to buy and read it.

The author, Richard Lloyd Parry, is a Times (formerly Independent) journalist who was based in Japan throughout the the period covered by this book. Meticulously researched, it benefits from the author's first-hand understanding of Japanese culture and the legal system in particular. In addition to being present in Tokyo and covering events as they unfolded, he has conducted in-depth interviews with everyone concerned: members of Lucie Blackman's family, people who knew her, the hostesses working in the bars of the Tokyo red-light district and the police.

On one level, at least, this book reads like a non-fiction thriller - there is a certain satisfaction to be found as the pieces of the mystery of Lucie's disappearance come together and the net closes in on the perpetrator. It is also, in part, court-room drama and a whole section covers the convoluted trial of the accused -Joji Obara. It is also the story of a family torn apart by a tragedy of unspeakable evil - the ways in which different members of Lucy's family reacted - and the terrible emotional and psychological scars left upon them by events.

As you would expect, it often makes harrowing and unpleasant reading particularly when it focuses in on the Japanese S & M scene and the nature of Obara's series of crimes against young, Western women. The story is never sensationalised by the author and it offers a sane documentary account.

The first chapters give a picture of Lucie Blackman's early life, formative experiences and personality. The second section of the book then goes on to cover her first experiences of Japan and is particuarly perceptive on the world of the Hostess bars of the Roppongi disctict of Tokyo, Lucie's experiences working there, and portraits of the Japanese salarymen she was paid to entertain.

Joji Obara was never found guilty of actually killing Lucie (the evidence, though compelling, was circumstantial)but rather for the rape - in some cases leading to death - of other young women. Richard Lloyd Parry gives a full account of the life and background of Obara but - despite the jacket blurb's claim - does not really get in to his mind. The accused (and members of his family) were the only people he was unable to successfully interview face-to-face.

As the previous reviewer has mentioned, the compassion, and non-judgemental attitude, displayed by the author to members of Lucie's family is one of the things that marks this book out.


Mission to China: Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit Encounter with the East
Mission to China: Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit Encounter with the East
by Mary Laven
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.34

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, 28 Feb 2011
Mary Laven, a Cambridge academic, tells the story of the first Jesuit mission to China in the sixteenth century. She does so in a highly readable and engaging way although she doesn't make all she could of the dramatic potential there could be in the narrative. For instance, it gets mentioned that Matteo Ricci (Jesuit and main subject of the book)was shipwrecked on his travels - but a brief mention is all you get.

The first chapter tells the story of the earlier years of the mission and the Jesuits first encounter with China. What particularly comes out of this is an understanding of the mission strategy of Ricci and his colleagues. To their credit, perhaps, their intention was to act 'more with deeds than with words'. They set about learning the language, understanding the Chinese cultural ways, assuming Chinese dress and developing friendships. Mary Laven gives you to understand, though, that this could also be interpreted as a rather subtle and cunning way of infiltrating their message!

The remaining chapters - engaging with the business of historical interpretation - cover specific themes. Chapter 3, 'On Friendship', covers the way in which the Jesuits cultivated friendships as part of their mission; the differences between Western and Oriental understandings of friendship and the quality of Ricci's friendships with other people in the Jesuit order throughout his life. Ricci, himself, published a book, while in China, that consisted of an anthology of classical writings on the subject of friendship. Chapter 2, 'Presents for the Emperor' is about the failed attempt to establish a Catholic Embassy in Beijing by wooing the emperor with a collection of Western artefacts. A chapter on, 'Jesuits and Eunuchs' rather speaks for itself.

For insight in to how the Jesuits persued their mission; the extent to which they succeeded and where they failed this book could not be bettered. It paints a wonderful picture of the meeting between two very different cultures. It shows how the missionaries adapted and tailored their presentation of the Christian message to Chinese susceptibilities (the Crucifixion got soft pedalled to the point of actually being left out!!). I wouldn't choose this book, though, if you're looking for gripping historical narrative.


Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 22 & 24
Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos 22 & 24
Price: 14.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserving of the critical acclaim, 21 Feb 2011
David Greilsammer is an exceptional young pianist and this is an exceptional recording that has been justly critically acclaimed.

This isn't an 'early music' ensemble version - the pianist and orchestra play on contemporary instruments - but it draws upon the lessons learned from authentic music practices. The equal balance between orchestra and soloist is what makes this recording so important and vital. The piano is not the master and main protagonist but an equal partner with the orchestra - the interplay of piano passage work with instrumental voices is near perfect.

Not a note, not a single instrumental line, is lost. You can hear everything with beautiful clarity. Here, the solo bassoon duets with the left hand bass of the piano part; there, clarinet, oboe and bassoon lovingly dovetail one into the other while the piano laces with their individual voices.

The piano playing is of the best: just witness how a phrase is shaped to a diminuendo that is closer to the effect that can be produced by a human voice than one might expect from a percussive instrument such as the piano. Yes, the performance - especially of K491 in c minor - is suitably dramatic - but in those quiet moments the silence on the other side of music can be almost palpable.

Great recordings of two of Mozart's greatest piano concertos. Highly recommended.


Tansman: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Boulanger / Gershwin
Tansman: Piano Concerto No. 2 / Boulanger / Gershwin
Price: 14.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tansman is worth discovering!, 21 Feb 2011
David Greilsammer is an exceptional pianist with two highly-acclaimed (and exceptional) recordings of Mozart Piano Concertos behind him. He is also renowned for his inventive programming and recently gave a concert in Paris that juxtaposed the music of John Cage with that of Scarlatti.

The present recording features two world premiere recordings: Tansman's Piano Concerto no. 2 and Nadia Boulanger's Fantaisie. The Tansman is the most substantial work here. It is an extraordinarily joyful work in the Parisian neo-classical style, with influences from Tansman's idol, Stravinksy. There are also clear nods in the direction of Gershwin (the jazz influence is most apparent in the first movement) and Ravel.It is a virtuosic work, the pianist hardly stopping throughout 25 minutes of music. Passages with massive keyboard chords alternate with deeply lyrical passages. The Scherzo is a veritable perpetuum mobile. There is more than a touch of the Blues in the Lento, slow movement. The finale effectively builds up tension, through a number of contrasted episodes (some interesting orchestration in the quieter ones, including prominent tuba solo)to the final climax. This concerto grows on you with repeated listening.

The Nadia Boulanger I found a little disappointing. It sounds rather like a competition piece: well-written and assured but lacking anything substantial to say. It's quite pleasant to listen to, though! The disc concludes this journey of transatlantic connections with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue.

I admit to having been a little disappointed when I first bought the album but, now I've gotten to know the Tansman, I really enjoy it. The three works taken together make for some quite good programming too - they really complement each other.


Edgelands: Journeys into England's True Wilderness
Edgelands: Journeys into England's True Wilderness
by Paul Farley
Edition: Hardcover

65 of 67 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Journeys into England's True Wilderness, 20 Feb 2011
In this, quite simply wonderful, book the poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts explore and reflect upon that familiar, yet often unknown terrain, between city and countryside. These are the 'Edgelands', found on the periphery of cities and larger towns; landscapes of wasteland, landfill sites, ruins, allotments and wild gardens, graffitoed road bridges, sewage plants, woodlands and unexpected paths.

Both writers, presenting a single narrative voice, capture beautifully, in elegant descriptive prose the essence of place. They are wide-ranging in their associations bringing in comments on modern culture and often introducing how other poets and writers - from Wordsworth to Seamus Heaney, have themselves encountered these places. They also introduce visual artists who have documented some aspect of 'Edgelands' territory. Other people's stories are occasionally woven in to the stories of the authors' own journeys.

I noted, from the acknowledgements, that the authors' editor at Jonathan Cape was the Poetry editor, Robin Robertson, and one can imagine the stroke of creative brilliance, on his part, in bringing together these two writers to create this book.

Here is just a taste - from the chapter on 'Ruins' of the way in which the authors put you right in a place and enable you to experience it, through your senses, for yourself:

'Pieces of broken glass click underfoot. Every few paces the floor becomes spongy with pads of mossess until eventually you're standing on a hard and level surface. The air smells cold and musty, uncirculated, tinged with motor oil, mildew, brick dust, black unguents. Somewhere high above, there's the ghost applause of a pigeon, before - a hundred yards or so in front of you - you hear the harsh metallic rattle of big shutters being rolled open'.

This is the best book I have read in 2011 so far and it may almost certainly prove to be one of my personal books of the year!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 18, 2011 10:43 PM GMT


D. Scarlatti: Sonatas
D. Scarlatti: Sonatas
Price: 13.83

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the greatest young pianists of his generation, 20 Feb 2011
This review is from: D. Scarlatti: Sonatas (Audio CD)
After his superlative recordings of Rameau, Couperin and Bach it was, perhaps, entirely logical for Alexandre Tharaud to turn his attention to their contemporary, Scarlatti. This is especially the case as Scarlatti's music, perhaps, is most suited to playing on the modern piano.

The present recording certainly does not disappoint. Tharaud's playing is clear, beautifully modulated with a wonderful chiaroscuro and interplay of foreground and background. The melancholy side of Scarlatti is deeply moving, while the virtuosic music is scintillating and there is real resonance and depth in appropriate passages that makes some sonatas quite exciting. Everything is beautifully phrased and finely judged. Just listen - in Sonata K72 - for instance to the way in which a phrase is made to suddenly leap out of the texture in the right hand, followed by a complementary pharase in the left hand bass contrasting with the even balance between in the two-part harmony up to this point. Note how the 'crushing' harmonies - in K29 - with their abundance of appogiaturas and suspensions convey both pathos and forward drive; the dynamics finely varied each time this particular passage re-occurs.

If you want one recording of a selection of Scarlatti sonatas, I would heartily recommend this one. Then go and buy Alexandre Tharaud's recordings of Couperin and Rameau too and prepare to be bowled over!Like looking in to Chapman's Homer!


Chocolate Wars: From Cadbury to Kraft: 200 years of Sweet Success and Bitter Rivalry
Chocolate Wars: From Cadbury to Kraft: 200 years of Sweet Success and Bitter Rivalry
by Deborah Cadbury
Edition: Hardcover

25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent slice of history, 3 Nov 2010
'Chocolate Wars' has several interweaving strands: the history of one major confectioner - Cadbury; the broader story of the rivalries between different firms and the race to discover new and better ways of making cocoa and chocolate; fascinating 19th century social history and a good slice of Quaker history in to the bargain.

Eminently readable, Deborah Cadbury writes with the pace of a thriller - often leaving a chapter on a 'cliff-hanger' which will be resolved later in the account. The development of the chocolate industry could hardly be made more fascinating and enthralling. With rivalry and competition (the 'chocolate wars') between firms in Holland, the U.K., Switzerland and America this book also sweeps in the fascinating history of such companies as Hershey, Rowntree, Fry, Nestle, Lindt and Mars.

Two thirds of the book covers the period up to the outbreak of the First World War - and this is by far the most interesting period. There is a good exposition of Quaker business values and philanthopy and this, inevitably, covers the establishment of the Bourneville model village and Rowntree's subsequent building of a similar venture at New Earswick in York. The social history aspect is fascinating too and, as a former sales representative myself, I was intrigued by the story of Cadbury's 'travellers'. Initially they had just one man who covered the country from the midlands up to the north of Scotland by horse and on foot! Later in the 19th century they had export representatives who went as far afield as Austrailia on speculative (and successful) missions.

On the Quaker history front it was interesting to see that, while George Cadbury firmly opposed the Boer War, his outright Pacifist beliefs were challenged by the fierce German aggression that began the First World War. Two of his sons even went so far as to enlist to fight while another son, Laurence, took the more Quakerly course of joining the Friends' Ambulance Unit.

The last chapters of the book cover the story from the period of the Second World War up to the takeover of Cadbury by Kraft. The tragedy is that, if the monopolies and mergers commission had not blocked the merger of Cadbury and Rowntree, two historic British firms with a similar history and values would have been saved from hostile foreign multinational takeovers.


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