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Communion: A True Story
Communion: A True Story
by Whitley Strieber
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Food for thought, 20 Oct 2012
This book details Whitley Strieber's experiences in late 1986 when he was abducted by 'visitors'. The book gets off to a blistering start by telling you exactly what happened from his own perspective. Whether you end up believing him or not, this account of his being taken and what happened when he was in the visitor's craft is really well done. Strieber is a novelist, and it shows, because this is not the kind of thing you want to read by yourself late at night.

While it reads extremely well, you have to bear in mind that Strieber presents everything that happened to him at face value, so you either believe him or you don't. To stress the point that it was real to him, he includes as an appendix the findings of a lie detector test that he took.
If you are a sceptic about the UFO and abduction phenomenon, you may not come away from this book having changed your mind. In fact, Strieber's experiences as described are so extreme that you may find it just too outlandish.

Clearly at the time of writing he was in torment and definitely confused about the real explanation for what happened, and so large chunks of this book are given over to attempts to explain who the visitors may be and what they may want. However, because Strieber won't commit himself to one explanation this leads him into several layers of explanation. For example, he could have committed himself and said that he thought these were aliens from another galaxy, but he didn't. I understand why he did this, but ultimately it makes for some rather wooly theoretical passages where he explores all the various possible origins and explanations.

All in all this is a very worthwhile book, but don't come to it looking for any concrete answers. There's plenty of insight, but then again you have to take a leap of faith and believe him in what he says for this to be of much value to you.

As for me, I rate it pretty high as a tale of wonder, less so as a work of science/ psychology, but it's still worth dipping into nonetheless if you get the chance.

The Haunted Year Autumn
The Haunted Year Autumn
Price: 9.36

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Like having the great man singing in the next room., 18 Sep 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Haunted Year Autumn (Audio CD)
Definitely an album of two halves, disc one contains song sketches recorded while the big man was on holiday in Greece. Most are only a minute of so long, but even so they're worth a listen. I guess they're aimed at the true devotee, since they're literally snippets of Jackie roughing out riffs, chorus ideas, melodies, picking patterns and general song ideas. As he says in his liner notes, if you're a songwriter there might be something thee to get you going. If not you'll still like them. I tend to stick this disc on if I'm doing something else and have it on in the background, and it has got that 'background music' quality to it, as if someone in the next room were just having a noodle around on the guitar. Every so often on the tracks you'll hear a car or moped go by Jackie's holiday home on the Greek island he was on, so the whole impromptu feel of it is pretty relaxing.

Disc two is a mixture of three studio tracks and the rest live recordings, and I haven't stopped playing this since I got the album. Stand out tracks for me here are a beautiful setting of a lesser known WH Auden poem (Now the leaves are falling fast...). If you don't know Auden, not only is this a darned sight better than the well-known "Stop all the clocks..", but Jackie's melody, singing and playing lend the whole thing a lovely melancholy grandeur that I doubt even Auden thought he'd attained, and that the poem never really struck me as having before when I read it as a stand alone text. It's a bittersweet discovery for me this track, since it's a reminder of what a great ear for a poem jackie had and how wonderful some of his settings were. Shame there won't be anymore.

The other track that really grabbed me is the live version of "Classic Northern Diversions". I know there are a few versions of this out there, but this is the best I've heard, and while we're talking of poetry just listen (if you haven't ever heard it) to the spoken intro to this song, Jackie's intense and driving paean to those lonely, desperate, troubled drinking men of the north.

As he says here at the end of that song, "God bless those men." And God bless Jackie.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 4, 2013 8:54 AM GMT

The Leopard: Limited Centenary edition
The Leopard: Limited Centenary edition
by Guiseppe De Lampedusa
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For admirers/ collectors this is a must have. Newcomers get the paperback instead, 18 Sep 2012
This is one of the great novels of all time, a superb story about the decline of a Sicilian aristocrat in the 19th century, told against the backdrop of Garibaldi's landing on that island on his gradual way to uniting the whole of Italy. Like all great novels it takes an interesting story and, through the quality of the writing, turns it into a tale for all times that anyone, regardless of background, can read and appreciate.

This particular edition is a hardback facsimile of the english translation as it first appeared over 50 years ago. As such it is a lovely book to have and would grace any reader's shelves. However, if you are new to The Leopard, take a good look at the current paperback edition. What that reprints, that this does not, is a helpful introduction by Lampedusa's adopted son. This gives a fascinating insight into the composition and drawn out process of getting the book into print, which is an interesting tale in itself.

Also printed there- again missing in this edition- are passages omitted from the original novel that have recently come to light. Taken alone those are of academic interest only perhaps. However, "The Leopard" was Lampedusa's only completed novel, and most people who read it become converts for life. In that context, any extra crumbs of prose from the master's table are worth reading.

You pays your money and takes your choice, then. However, true devotees could probably justify owning both editions!

They Would Never Hurt A Fly: War Criminals on Trial in The Hague
They Would Never Hurt A Fly: War Criminals on Trial in The Hague
by Slavenka Drakulic
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a balanced and very human book., 2 Sep 2012
This is a magnificent book, and reminded me very much of Gitta Sereny's writing. Both women have the ability and skill to write about people who commit monstrous acts, and to help the reader understand a little more- perhaps as much as anyone is able- why these things happened.

Drakulic takes a long hard look at the war crimes committed by a variety of men who she saw being tried at the Hague. While the detail of their crimes is shocking enough, as a reader again and again I found myself most stunned by the fact that such disgusting acts were perpetrated by otherwise unremarkable- dare I say rather boring- people. Perhaps the extraordinary circumstances war thrusts people into makes them do outrageous things. For every act of courage there must be countless acts of cruelty. However, it's only when writers like Drakulic reminds you of this fact that you realise just how awful war is, and how much everyone must always try to stop them from occurring.

Two chapters really stood out for me: the first is the one on former Serb general Ratko Mladic (actually a piece that predates his recent capture and sending the the Hague). This chapter actually focusses on his daughter's suicide, and almost achieves the seemingly impossible by making you feel an ounce of sympathy for this piece of human detritus.

The other powerful chapter concerns the way prisoners of all kinds- Serb, Kosovan, Croat etc- seem to rub long well locked up together while awaiting trial. Read the book to see what lesson Drakulic draws from that irony.

Electric Django
Electric Django
Price: 7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous late period Django., 2 Sep 2012
This review is from: Electric Django (MP3 Download)
This is the album cited by Jeff Beck when asked who was the greatest guitarist of all time. Saying that it was, in his opinion, Reinhardt, Beck went on to say that it was this album that made him realise how good the man was. "It's all there," said Beck, meaning, I suppose, the touch, tone, technique, speed, taste and ability to play within the song that makes for a great player and soloist.

There are a myriad of delights on offer here. Stand out tracks for me include the breakneck bebop tune "Impromptu" (I'll have whatever they'd had when they recorded that). There's also a great track called "Fleche D'or" which towards the end when they're all riffing away comes close to sounding like more modern eastern-influenced hard rock. This is not exaggeration. What I'm trying to say is that- like Beck- I can hear all sorts of things going on in this music from flash soloing to great rhythm to all out riffing. As such it's great music, but also of extra interest to Django fans and fans of electric guitar playing in general.

Highly recommended if you like guitar albums that make you sit up and say "how the hell did he do that?", but also if you like tasteful, swinging bop and jazz.

Renaissance People: Lives that Shaped the Modern Age
Renaissance People: Lives that Shaped the Modern Age
by Robert C. Davis
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 24.95

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A lavish guide to a pivotal era., 17 Aug 2012
This large-format book succeeds on every level. It is an illustrated series of pen portraits about the people who made the Renaissance. They are mainly men, such was the way of the world at that time, but there is a scattering of fascinating women covered here too.

The whole thing is a delight for the mind and eye. The authors manage to condense each life story down to a few pages. However, they skilfully make sure that none of the key details and achievements are missed out. The illustrations are wonderful too.

You can just as easily dip into this book and read entries that catch your eye, as you can read it from cover to cover. Either way, it is full of information and well-chosen illustrations. Overall, then, this is an inspiring book about an inspiring epoch in human history.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature)
The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Wordsworth Classics of World Literature)
by Edward Gibbon
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.39

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The best abridged version available., 10 April 2012
Gibbon is an author I will get round to reading in his entirety one day, when I have the time. Until that far off day, an abridgement will have to do. I bought this book because there are certain references made in John Julius Norwich's Byzantium trilogy that I wanted to know more about, and for the relative bargain price of this book I can do just that.

My advice to potential buyers is to bear in mind the following:

a) This book is an acceptable substitute for the full work if you just want to see what it is like (the excellent reviews above give you a flavour of what to expect from Gibbon)
b) A student or researcher can use this book, so long as what you are looking for is actually covered (check the contents for the list of chapters reprinted here)
c) The text is based on the most up-to-date version available, as published in its entirety elsewhere by Penguin
d) Its the best abridged version available at present.

Just bear in mind, however, that there's no index. Given the scale of even this abridgement this is understandable, if somewhat annoying.

Anyway, you pays your money and takes your choice, but if this edition suits your purposes and needs it's a bargain. Top marks to Wordsworth yet again.

The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World
The Library of Alexandria: Centre of Learning in the Ancient World
by Roy MacLeod
Edition: Paperback
Price: 13.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great for the scholar. General readers look elsewhere?, 22 Jan 2012
This book is a collection of essays, mainly put together by classical historians in Australia.

It is aimed at both academic and general readers, but probably the emphasis remains on the former. However, it remains an accessible and enjoyable book and it covers a lot of ground.

Not all the essays will be of interest to non-specialists, although the standout pieces are really excellent (such as the lovely opening piece which takes you on a 'tour' of the city as a whole and the library as things stood during the time of the Emperor Augustus, just as BC turned to AD).

Those in search of a more coherent narrative account might do better with Luciano Canfora's "The Vanished Library".

However, this book is well worthwhile.

The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance
by Paul Strathern
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid survey of the key events and players., 19 Jan 2012
A solid, popular history of the legendary (or infamous depending on your point of view) Medici clan.

I would recommend this book for those who, like me, have always heard of them and who want to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. For my part, I came to this book having come across them in Charles Nicholl's biog of Leonardo da Vinci, and having also read JJ Norwich's "Venice".

If there's a downside it's that in trying to cover all aspects of the Medici's activities and influence (art, local and national politics, the Catholic Church, banking, commerce and so on) the author can only do so much, and while you never feel he's cutting corners, by the same token he has to gloss some otherwise very interesting topics.

However, he's wise enough to print a very good bibliography to send you off to read further and deeper into the subject.

Very good as a one off primer, then, or for whetting your appetite for further reading about a fascinating and dangerous place and time.

Prime Minister Box Set: Heath (20th Century PM)
Prime Minister Box Set: Heath (20th Century PM)
by Denis MacShane
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.12

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb for an understanding of Heath- and the Tories!, 12 Jan 2012
McShane does a sterling job in summarising in 166 pages not only Heath's life, but also his political philosophy, impact on the Tories and also on Britain.

As a Labour MP McShane writes with well-judged objectivity about the former Tory PM. Meanwhile, as a pro-European, he is able to write with real insight into Heath's owned dogged pro-Euproean stance.

As someone who was not even born when heath last served as PM, I found this book to be excellent in shining a light on an aspect of recent history that I had only dimly understood. Looking at the current situation vis-a-via the Tories and Europe, it was useful to get a wider perspective on an issue which continues to cause both the party and the country such collective anxiety.

As particularly good chapter in this book is entitled 'Ted's Nemesis", dealing with Enoch Powell. It manages to pack personal drama, social and political history, and a tracing of the faultlines still running through the Tory party into only a couple of thousand words.

Recommended for general readers and students or researchers looking for a reliable primer, this book will not take you long to read. That's not only because it's short, but because it's so darned good.

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