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Jim Bruce (Dublin, Ireland)

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His Long Run Home
His Long Run Home

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to a promising talent, 22 Nov 2013
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This review is from: His Long Run Home (Kindle Edition)
This novella, or extended short story, is a very promising entry to the world of fiction writing by novice author Joshua McKenzie. His abilities in descriptive writing and character development are beyond question and make for a highly engaging read.

Clearly McKenzie writes of a world with which he is very familiar and this gives the narrative an authentic ring.

Excellent value for anyone seeking a satisfying read for the next train or plane trip.

England's Greatest Spy
England's Greatest Spy
by John J. Turi
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought-provoking but not convincing, 27 Dec 2011
This review is from: England's Greatest Spy (Hardcover)
From the perspective of Ireland in 2011, this book may provide a fascinating insight as to how we got where we are. Fianna Fail, the party founded by Eamon de Valera in 1926, presided over the rise and fall of the 'Celtic Tiger' in the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries. The result is a loss of national economic sovereignty worse than anything experienced by the country since independence from Britain in 1922.

John Turi's book purports to make the case that de Valera, who was head of government for most of the period from 1932 to 1959, was actually acting in Britain's rather than Ireland's interests from 1916 onwards. Unfortunately, Turi advances no explosive new primary material to support his theory. Instead, he relies on existing sources to create a web of circumstantial evidence that de Valera was a British spy. This is not surprising, of course, as intelligence agencies like MI5 or MI6 do not publish their historical files under Freedom of Information legislation or the thirty-year rule. Unless a spy goes public or is exposed by an enemy, we will probably never know for sure if a particular individual was secretly acting on behalf of some shadowy government agency or other.

So, stripping out the conjecture, what we are left with in this book is a focus on all that is negative about de Valera in the many books and articles written about the man over the last century or so. There are plenty of footnotes so the diligent reader can check the author's sources. Turi cannot prove that de Valera was a spy for Britain. All he can suggest is that such a hypothesis is the best explanation for de Valera's actions over the course of his long career. The reader is free to accept or reject this, but that is not the main point of the book I believe.

The question that will inevitably form in the mind of the disinterested reader after reading England's Greatest Spy is: how could de Valera achieve such power over Ireland for so long? His military record during the Troubles, from 1916 on, was dismal to say the least. As a leader he was indecisive and confused. He was a terrible orator, producing long meandering diatribes, delivered in a monotonous and uninspiring fashion. His economic policies were disastrous for Ireland, especially during the Economic War with Britain. The best he could offer the poverty-stricken emigrants fleeing to England and elsewhere was a life of 'frugal comfort'.

Maybe all this points to the conclusion that the author has reached. Perhaps Fianna Fail itself was the creation of British Intelligence in a bid to prevent independent Ireland from ever achieving economic parity with the former coloniser. Certainly, applying the principle of 'cui bono' to many of de Valera's actions does make one pause for thought. However, Turi falls far short of the mark in making his case that de Valera was consciously working in Britain's interests throughout his political life. That he was incompetent or even insane seem more likely explanations for his many counter-productive decisions.

Nevertheless, Turi has fulfilled a valuable service in raising pertinent questions about de Valera's strange public life. Perhaps other historians will take up the challenge of reconciling the actions of the 'Long Fellow' with the nationalist rhetoric he employed.

The Land of Painted Caves - Earth's Children Book 6
The Land of Painted Caves - Earth's Children Book 6
by Jean M. Auel
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 8.00

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Dull beyond belief, 21 Jun 2011
I stuck with The Land of Painted Caves until page 306 before giving up. That I lasted that long is due to my commitment to the Earth's Children series - I read and enjoyed the five previous volumes. However this final instalment is dull beyond belief. Could life in pre-historic Europe have been this boring?

Clearly the author has done her research but seems incapable of transforming her knowledge and insights into a compelling novel. We can never know what it was like to live in a tribal community 25 millennia ago. However, if it was this tedious I am surprised that mankind did not become extinct through sheer boredom.

Stretch / We Had It All
Stretch / We Had It All
Price: 10.77

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb performances from a great artist, 17 Jun 2011
This review is from: Stretch / We Had It All (Audio CD)
Despite dismissing his albums from the early seventies as representing his 'wilderness years', Scott Walker created a number of classic performances that can stand beside his best work from the late sixties. Some critics don't rate these albums simply because they consist of cover versions. But this is to underestimate Walker's great strength as a sensitive interpreter, blessed with an extraordinarily rich baritone voice.

To listen to him sing Randy Newman's Just One Smile is to realise that here is a rare performer who can raise the popular song to the level of great art. No one has ever invested Jimmy Webb's forgotten classic, Where Does Brown Begin, with such simmering emotion - and what a great arrangement.

For anyone who appreciates this wonderful singer, this album is an essential purchase.

Snow Maiden
Snow Maiden
Price: 13.11

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not first-rate Tchaikovsky but still worth a listen, 13 May 2011
This review is from: Snow Maiden (Audio CD)
While not of the same extraordinarily high quality, this music is in the same vein as Tchaikovsky's three great ballets. That said, even second-class Tchaikovsky like this piece has many attractions. There are enough of the gorgeous melodies and wonderful orchestration for which he is renowned to make The Snow Maiden an attractive listen.

Standout numbers are the Introduction, the second Melodrama, and the catchy Dance of the Tumblers.

All the performers are excellent and the recording is first class.

Shutter Island (OST)
Shutter Island (OST)
Offered by Japan-Select
Price: 27.56

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A landmark soundtrack, 2 April 2010
This review is from: Shutter Island (OST) (Audio CD)
One of the great joys of Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was the extraordinary soundtrack. Not satisfied with Alex North's original score, Kubrick went with a selection of classical pieces, some familiar like Strauss's The Blue Danube and others less well-known such as Ligeti's Atmospheres. That soundtrack became a classic and Shutter Island is easily in the same league. Like 2001, the music for Shutter Island comes from a number of classical composers and none of the pieces used was written specially for the film. In my opinion, the Shutter Island soundtrack is superior to 2001 in that the music sounds like a coherent score, quite like Bernard Hermann's work for Hitchcock in places.

For anyone interested in contemporary classical music, some of the composers represented here will be familiar names, for instance, John Cage, Krzysztof Penderecki and Alfred Schnittke. Others, like Max Richter, were unknown to me. Richter's On The Nature Of Daylight is a haunting piece and features twice on the soundtrack, the second time in a memorable mash-up with Dinah Washington's This Bitter Earth. A real bonus is a complete performance at the end of CD 1 of Gustav Mahler's only chamber piece, his Piano Quartet in A minor written when he was only sixteen.

The music on this double CD was clearly chosen with great care and intelligence by Robbie Robertson. He has created a collection that will appeal on several levels. Those who have seen the film can acquire a musical memento of Martin Scorsese's extraordinary achievement. For anyone who would like to expand their horizons and hear some of the best music composed in the latter part of the 20th century, this is an excellent starting point. Or if you would simply like some superior mood music, then just programme out the two or three songs on the set and play the rest on repeat.

I can't praise these CDs highly enough.

No Title Available

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning Tchaikovsky - stunning recording, 12 Mar 2010
Somehow, despite the symphonies, concertos, operas and a host of other works, Tchaikovsky's true and complete genius emerges only in his three extraordinary ballets. It is difficult to choose between them - each has its own peculiar beauty - but perhaps Swan Lake shades it. Nevertheless, The Sleeping Beauty is a joy from start to finish and never flags over its near three-hour playing time. The score contains wonderful melodies, brilliant orchestration and tons of the passion that Tchaikovsky brought to his best work.

Andrew Mogrelia and Czecho-Slovak State Philharmonic perform this music with gusto and loving commitment. For instance, just listen to the exquisite violin solo in the Entr'acte towards the end of Act II. Only a heart of stone could fail to be moved by it.

This has to be one of the best CD bargains currently available. In truth, it would be a bargain at three times the price!

Schubert;Le Chant Du Cygne
Schubert;Le Chant Du Cygne
Price: 14.52

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Avoid at all costs!, 21 July 2009
I have never heard a worse performance of these songs. In fact, I don't think I have ever heard any Schubert song rendered quite so badly as those on this CD. The fault lies not with van Dam, but with the accompanist, Valery Afanassiev. The latter's keyboard style is mechanical, to say the least. Just listen to his "clunk-clunk" playing on the famous Serenade for instance. He sounds like he was forced at gunpoint to perform music he clearly has no sympathy for. It would be nice to hear José van Dam in a proper performance of these wonderful songs, but don't be tempted by this CD. Avoid it like the plague!
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Parky: My Autobiography
Parky: My Autobiography
by Michael Parkinson
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining if not fully satisfying, 18 Jun 2009
Michael Parkinson is not given to much introspection or self-analysis. That is why he was such a brilliant interviewer, focusing on his guests and never interposing his own personality between interviewee and audience. However, that great strength becomes a weakness in his autobiography. I finished the book without having gained much sense of the 'real' Michael Parkinson.

One aspect of his character that does emerge is his supreme broadcasting intelligence. Until I read this book, I never fully appreciated his genius in facilitating fascinating encounters between guests from different backgrounds. I will always remember that extraordinary performance of Summertime by Larry Adler and (I think) Itzhak Perlman, as well as the comedic sparks that flew back and forth between Stephen Fry and Robin Williams on another memorable show.

Parky reminds us of a time when good television combined entertainment and education and Parkinson set the standard for insightful interviewing. Just don't expect any profound revelations about the 'inner man'.

A Crowd Is Not Company
A Crowd Is Not Company
by Robert Kee
Edition: Paperback

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A classic of war literature, 18 Jun 2009
This review is from: A Crowd Is Not Company (Paperback)
I stumbled across this book, not having heard of it before, although I was aware of the author's later career as a journalist and historian. The most remarkable aspect of the story of Kee's time as a POW is the insight offered into ordinary German soldiers and civilians. With some exceptions, these come across as decent, even courteous, in their dealings with the author. This is particularly evident towards the end of the book when Kee and his comrades receive much-needed food from German citizens on their long march from one camp to another.

Through his wonderfully-observed and straightforward descriptions of what happened to him and his depictions of the people he encountered, Kee humanises the terrible conflict. He also subverts popular notions of all Germans living in Hitler's Reich as "evil Nazis".

My only criticism of A Crowd is not Company is its abrupt and inconclusive ending. However, as it was published originally as a novel, I'm sure this made sense at the time.

That said, this book is comparable to The Diary of Anne Frank in that, although it is just one person's account of terrible trials during WW2, it transcends the personal memoir genre. In fact, Kee teaches us something important about human behaviour under extraordinary circumstances and reveals the capacity for goodness that lies within us all.

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