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D. Stephenson (UK)

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Falling Man
Falling Man
by Don DeLillo
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Searing, 5 Jun. 2007
This review is from: Falling Man (Hardcover)
Whether you are turning the events of 9/11 into money or into art you are open to attack for your use of so many people's pain. DeLillo deflects criticism by the searing way in which he conveys the impact on the lives of his protagonists and by the indirect incorporation into the narrative of a performance artist (the Falling Man of the title)and the angry reaction he provokes. Image upon image and idea upon idea pile-up in a poetically condensed account of the day and its aftermath focussed on an already dysfunctional family group. The result is psychologically powerful and gripping, but a harrowing experience for the reader.

The short sections dealing with one of the hijackers are less convincing: a problem that John Updike also demonstrated in The Terrorist.

For me DeLillo's best since Underworld.

Offered by skyvo-direct
Price: £12.85

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another triumph, 18 May 2007
This review is from: Nightmoves (Audio CD)
Kurt Elling's new CD Nightmoves, while still awaiting UK release, has been available from the US since early April. With pianist/arranger Laurence Hopgood on board again, it's another triumph, consolidating and building upon 2003's magical Man in the Air. The choice of material is varied from Ellington to bossa nova to Sinatra to The Guess Who (a 60's rock band)- but all made uniquely Elling's own - plus vocalese with Kurt's own lyrics. The result is inspired.

The basic trio is supplemented with appearances, for example, from Christian McBride, Bob Mintzer and strings, all adding dynamics and colour without compromise. Kurt's voice is also deeper in tone somehow and for me has, if possible, improved.

It's hard to see how he could top this. Very nearly 5 stars.

Dead Souls (Everyman's Library Classics)
Dead Souls (Everyman's Library Classics)
by Nikolaĭ Vasilʹevich Gogolʹ
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.68

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dead Souls, 15 May 2007
Volume 1 of Dead Souls was published in Russia to immediate acclaim in 1842 when Gogol was 33 years old. Volume 2 remained incomplete on his death in 1852. Therefore there is no final resolution, and what exists of Volume 2 (while enjoyable) is fragmentary.

The basic "plot" is summarised in the Amazon synopsis. It consists of the adventures of Chichikov as he tries to buy up his "dead souls". The humour lies in the widely different characters he encounters and their responses to him. We do not find out Chichikov'a own history and what he is up to until the last chapter of Volume 1.

Gogol casts a cynical eye over Russian society. Not one of his characters comes out well and it is hard to like any of them. The humour is essentially satire and how funny you find the novel will depend on your taste. It has a historic interest - although presumably the widescale corruption and deceit portrayed is a caricature rather than a portrait.

Translation is a difficult art. I have no means of judging how well it has been done. However I missed the strong sense of the author's humanity that runs through Gogol's short stories.

The Everyman edition is the usual beautufully (for the price) produced hardback, bound in cloth with an attractive paper jacket and printed in Bembo. It contains a helpful short introduction, a bibliography, a chronology to help place the novel aginst world events, a Translators' Note, Volumes 1 and 2 of the novel and Notes on the text. Reading the short Translators' Note before the novels is a must if you want to understand the relevance of key English words used.

It would have helped to have had a summary of the different grades of nobility and public service in Imperial Russia as an understanding of relative social rank is important at points of the story.

The Reminder
The Reminder
Price: £3.99

15 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Some great material, 13 May 2007
This review is from: The Reminder (Audio CD)
For me the strength of this cd lies in the songwriting and the musical ambition. Its weakness is Leslie Feist's voice which is limited in its range and depth, and is on several songs pushed beyond its natural bounds. While there are artists who can make a plus of this, Leslie is not one of them. That's not to say there are not good performances - there are - but the weaker ones bring my rating down from 4 to 3 stars. That said there is some great material here for others to interpret, or for Leslie to revisit.

I prefer overall Leslie's 2004 cd, Let it Die. If you've got that and like it you will probably like this. Otherwise I would start with Let it Die.

Martin Luther (Routledge Historical Biographies)
Martin Luther (Routledge Historical Biographies)
by Michael A. Mullett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £24.99

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Concise and accessible, 1 May 2007
Mullet's biography works well as an introduction to the chronological development of Luther's theological views. It is less successful in conveying a sense of the man and his times, perhaps inevitably in a work of its length. Wider historical perspective is available elsewhere, for example in MacCulloch's, excellent 'Reformation, Europe's House Divided' (2003).

While Mullet acknowledges the repugnant nature of many of the opinions held by Luther, especially those published late in his life, he is broadly sympathetic. His view of Luther is essentially as a reforming Catholic and socially conservative townsman. Comparatively little time is spent dealing with the other strands of protestantism and their more radical agendas, creating a risk of an unbalanced appreciation of the extent of Luther's unintended achievements.

The book is thankfully free of theological jargon. Stylistically the writing is straightforward and easy to understand, if sometimes clumsy - increasingly chapters start by introducing their intentions ("In this chapter we ..."). The Introduction, which can be sampled from the Amazon webpage, is the most elegantly written part of the book.

The book is part of a series which the publishers intend (according to the blurb on the back of the book) to be "concise and accessible". Mullett succeeds on both counts.

A Tribute to Joni Mitchell
A Tribute to Joni Mitchell
Price: £17.09

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven, 27 April 2007
Few musicians have developed a body of work with the artistic range, depth, quality and integrity of Joni Mitchell. In a career spanning over 40 years she has continued to develop while many of her contemporaries have become (albeit well-loved) "juke box" artists churning out their old hits for their old fans.

Therefore it is not surprising such a wide-range of musicians should become involved in the production of this covers album. With the exception of Sufjan I have and enjoy music made by all of the participants. Every one of the contributors is talented and all bring something new to the music. However the individual performances are disparate in their styling and pacing ultimately producing an unsatisfactory listening experience. I suspect most people will programme the CD to play only certain tracks, depending on their particular likes and mood.

Joni revisited her back catalogue to better effect on the superb Travelogue in 2002. Ian Shaw's marvellous 2006 jazz take on Joni, Drawn to All Things is also to my mind a preferred purchase to this compilation.

So not by any means a bad CD, but uneven.

A Taste Of Strawbs
A Taste Of Strawbs

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Convincing, 16 Jan. 2007
This review is from: A Taste Of Strawbs (Audio CD)
A Taste of the Strawbs is a career review of the band from the late 60's to date covering the various line-ups and extending to the reunions and the work of the Acoustic Strawbs. Although most of the songs are familiar from the classic run of albums they are radio recordings (v good sound quality), outtakes, demos, live dates, etc. Therefore they compliment the albums rather than replace them. So probably not for those looking for an introduction.

The running order is generally by date of recording which means "old" songs may appear in the later Cd's - this works surprisingly well and is a testament to the lasting quality of the music.

The song versions on the set [apart from some grandstanding by Rick Wakeman towards the end of Disc 1] tend to be softer in their approach than on the official albums where sometimes prog bombast got in the way and ironed out the subtleties.

Inevitably with 4 Cd's [5 if you have one of the first 1,000 sets] and well over 5 hours of music this is not a set that many people will be able to listen to right through very often. However it is not just a historical document and each disc stands up well on its own.

There is an excellent booklet with a band history and a list of the tracks with recording details: but no song timings. Pity about the cat/milk/strawberry cover!

A convincing 4 stars for the content and the booklet.

In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind
In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind
by Eric R. Kandel
Edition: Hardcover

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Science and autobiography, 13 Sept. 2006
Kandel's book is a mixture of science and autobiography, beginning with the flight of his family from Nazi Vienna and concluding with his Nobel Prize and current scientific interests.
His writing is at its best when dealing with science. For a non-scientist, such as myself, his explanations are mercifully clear. The frequent diagrams also help. Although there were passages dealing with the mammalian brain that I found tough going these were few, and leavened by episodes of personal history and anecdote.
Ultimately my expectations created by the book title were not fully borne out. I will not be the only one to wonder whether the sea snail results, however fascinating, really do tell us much about what we commonly think of as memory. Overall I benefited greatly from the investment of time the book requires.

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