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Mingo Bingo "Mingobingo" (England)
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The Borrower
The Borrower
by Rebecca Makkai
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.73

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Charming and gentle tale about friendship, 11 Sep 2011
This review is from: The Borrower (Paperback)
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Lucy is a librarian in small town America. Child of Russian immigrants, a bit of a loner and of course a bookworm. She lives above a theatre, but never really interacts with the colourful characters who visit it. Her only real friend is an disabled member of the library staff, but she keeps him at arms length because she suspects he is in love with her.

Once a week she runs a reading group for the local children and one of them, Ian, stands out for his love of the written word. Ian's mother is a typical newly wealthy Southern Belle. Deeply religious and overbearingly controlling of Ian's reading habits.

Lucy and Ian strike up a friendship over secretly sneaking books that his mother wouldn't approve of into his school bag. When she finds him camped in the library overnight to escape from his mother she accidentally (I know it sounds far fetched, but she carries it off with ease) kidnaps him and they begin a road trip across america.

Aware of the concerns over adult-child relationships Makkai litters the book with references to Lolita while steadfastly pushing the novel away from that territory. What you get instead is a charming study of friendship, alienation and the joy of reading that is an enjoyable read and an impressive debut.


Jew
Jew
by D.O. Dodd
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.88

2.0 out of 5 stars Too dense and obscure to be truly effective, 11 Sep 2011
This review is from: Jew (Paperback)
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A man wakes in a pile of dead bodies and fights his way to the surface. He finds a man who looks just like him asleep in a room, kills him and takes his clothes. Disorientated and unsure of his own identity he walks into a nearby town, where a platoon of soldiers seem to recognise him and think him their leader.

He is in the centre of a war which is never defined, either in time or place. The town has been cleansed of men and the woman are forced to work naked.

When one of the women appears to recognise him he begins to question his involvement in what is happening to the town and the people within it.

Dodd is obviously aiming for Kafka territory here. The prose is pared back and it has the same nightmarish quality. In place it reads like a parable. This lack of definition though caused problems for me as a reader. I like ambiguity, but it felt wilfully obscure, to a point where any meaning was hard to reach and by the end of this short book I found myself not really caring despite the shocking content.


Wild Abandon
Wild Abandon
by Joe Dunthorne
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.41

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warm, funny and a pleasure to read, 11 Sep 2011
This review is from: Wild Abandon (Paperback)
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Joe Dunthorne perfectly understands the workings of a teenage mind. With Submarine he created a wonderful set of characters, quirky, sad, life-affirming, and with Wild Abandon he effortlessly repeats the feat. His writing flows so easily that you get the impression that he doesn't even need to work hard to do it.

Wild Abandon is set in a crumbing hippie commune in Wales. Kate and Albert are the children of the commune co-founder Don, and both are struggling with growing up in their own way. Albert has become obsessed with the idea that the world is going to end in 2012 and is determined to warn everyone and ensure his own safety. Kate is becoming seduced by the idea of the outside world and all the capitalist trappings that her family have worked so hard to avoid.

At the same time their parents marriage is breaking up, Don is falling out with the other commune founders and the amount of people in the building is constantly diminishing to the point where it is hardly a viable social solution any longer.

The book builds steadily, playing these tensions off against each other, working towards a massive rave that Don decides to throw in celebration of Kate's A level results.

This is an utterly charming book. Sharply observed, frequently laugh out loud funny and in places very poignant.


The Free World
The Free World
by David Bezmozgis
Edition: Paperback
Price: 10.61

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written but too dense for me, 20 Aug 2011
This review is from: The Free World (Paperback)
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I really wanted to enjoy this book and was surprised when I didn't. Of all the books I've got recently this is the one I was most looking forward to. There is a real buzz about David Bezmozgis, appearing on the New Yorker's prestigious '20 under 40' list.

It tells the story of a family of Russian Jews as they leave the Soviet Union and go looking for a new life in the United States, via Europe. It is so detailed and exacting in it's study of this family that it becomes weighty and difficult to follow. Each story has an expansive back story that all intermingle and connect, but rather than enlightening me and giving me a true insight into the family it left me confused and cold.

There is no doubt that this large book is a significant achievement, it's just not a very good read.


Lazarus Is Dead
Lazarus Is Dead
by Richard Beard
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.54

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting idea failed slightly by its format, 20 Aug 2011
This review is from: Lazarus Is Dead (Hardcover)
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The story of Lazarus will be familiar to most people; resurrected by Jesus after being dead for four days. Lazarus is a popular figure in art and literature, but his actual appearances in the bible are limited.

Beard addresses this, attempts to fill in the gaps and to answer the question as to why the myth of Lazarus is so enduring, despite being so sparse in detail.

Lazarus is the only person in the bible described as being Jesus's friend and Beard takes this as a starting point, documenting their competitive childhood relationship, up until they go separate ways in adulthood, Lazarus as an ambitious farmer, Jesus as a preacher.

With Jesus's first miracle Lazarus becomes ill, getting progressively worse with each subsequent one, until finally dying and becoming Jesus's greatest miracle himself. In the background of this we see the priests of the Jewish Temple plotting against both of them, a fake healer struggling with Lazarus's illness and a devious Roman bureaucrat attempting to using the growing notoriety of the friends for his own ends.

Beard has set out to tell the Jesus story from a different angle and at the same time create a memoir for Lazarus. To do this he draws on all the references to Lazarus he can find in literature, music and art. He has obviously done a huge amount of research into his subject and succeeds in producing a compelling narrative from his sources. Written in historical present tense this is very much the world of Jesus seen through Lazarus's eyes.

So it should bring him to life. Except it doesn't quite. His motives seem muddied and his relationship with Jesus is never fully realised, probably from Beard's decision to keep Jesus as a periphery figure so as not to overshadow his less famous friend. Also Beard's decision to make Lazarus vague about what happened to him while dead gives the climax to the novel an insubstantial atmosphere.

I think the problem may have something more to do with the way in which snippets of his source material are littered throughout the novel. It gives the feeling of crib notes and pulls the reader out of the narrative in a jolting manner. For me, rather than enforcing the plot, as Beard intended, it renders it less convincing.

Which is a shame, because it's an interesting premise and is written with imagination and no small style.


Rules of Civility
Rules of Civility
by Amor Towles
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful debut with hints of The Great Gatsby, 9 July 2011
This review is from: Rules of Civility (Hardcover)
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This book came out of nowhere and totally wowed me. I've never heard of Amor Towles, but on this showing I think we'll all be hearing a lot more about him.

This is about as virtuoso a debut novel as you can imagine. Confident, clever, great atmosphere, believable characters you care about, well constructed and beautifully written, this is literary fiction at it's best.

It follows a year in the life of Katey Kontent is 1938 New York. A New York that is vividly portrayed in these pages as a decadent, exciting and beguiling city. Kontent is a young woman at the start, naive, working as a secretary for a law firm with her friend Evelyn Ross, but a chance meeting with a rich banker, Tinker Grey, opens the doors to a totally different New York. A New York which will seduce them, hurt them, teach them and ultimately change them forever.

This is a love letter to the Big Apple of the Jazz era. It bursts from the pages, as large a character as any of the humans in the book and I defy any reader to not be as seduced by the place as Katey is.

I'm sure it's been mentioned by other reviewers, but the Great Gatsby comparison is so obvious that I can't ignore it. Tinker is a mysterious character in the Jay Gatsby mould, appearing seldom in the text, but casting a shadow over Katey and hence the novel, for the duration of the text. That I can mention Great Gatsby and genuinely not think that The Rules of Civility should feel shy in such exalted company is a testament to the quality of Towles novel.

A remarkable debut novel, and hopefully the first of many great books that Towles is to write. Highly recommended.


You Deserve Nothing
You Deserve Nothing
by Alexander Maksik
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.41

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tired subject matter made compelling by some quality writing, 9 July 2011
This review is from: You Deserve Nothing (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
There's nothing new in the premise of this novel. A young, popular teacher has an affair with a student and gets caught. We've seen this particular storyline a number of times before, notbaly in JM Coetzee's Disgrace. What makes this novel stand out is the sheer quality of the writing, the way in which the plot slowly unfurls and the skill in which he creates 3 believable and separate voices of narration.

William Silver is a talented teacher at an international High School in Paris. Populated mainly by the children of ambassadors the school has the potential to be an island in the centre of Paris, a cultural vacumn in one of the most cultural cities in the world. However, Silver's skill in teaching English challenges and inspires his students in a way that enables them to begin to appreciate the world they live.

Will uses the work of Satre and Camus, grounds them in reality and explains them in a way that enables the students to grasp the complicated subject matter. And one of the pleasures of this book is the way in which the lessons Will teaches and the writers he quotes chime so perfectly with the narrative and help to create the novel's subtext.

When Will attends a party thrown by one of his students he drinks too much and begins an affair with Marie, a student in his best friend's class. While he determines to keep it secret, she tells her friends and it soon becomes an open secret amongst the students.

The novel is narrated by Will, Marie and Gilad, another student in Will's class who worships him part as a hero, part as an outlet for his confused sexuality. Each of the voices is distinct and unique, but they work together to create a coherent narrative and authorial voice.

This is a wonderfully written book, which makes a tired subject fresh and intriguing


The Book Lover's Tale
The Book Lover's Tale
by Ivo Stourton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 13.06

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Well constructed and enjoyable, 9 July 2011
This review is from: The Book Lover's Tale (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Matt De Voy runs and interior design business with his wife Cecilia. She chooses the decor and he stocks their library with the books that their clients think will make them look cool. He scours the antique booksellers for first editions and builds collections that will make them the envy of their neighbours.

A failed writer, these bookshops are the nearest that De Voy gets to the art of writing.

Friends to the rich and famous, De Voy uses his influence and intellect to seduce the wives of his clients, conducting a series of affairs and collecting women in the same way as he collects books.

But when they begin to remodel the house of Claudia and Jim Swanson, Matt sees an intellectual equal in Claudia and begins to fall into an obsessive love. When it becomes clear that Claudia won't leave Jim, De Voy reasons that the only way to have her is to kill her husband. As De Voy's mind unravels he begins to see messages in the books that he discusses with Claudia and a plan begins to build.

The book is told in the form of a monolgue, addressed to a second-person solicitor as De Voy awaits trial for murder. So, we know he did commit a crime, just not who or how. De Voy is a classic unreliable narrator, blissfully unaware of how insane he actually is. This makes the novel gleefully enjoyable and it is a testament to Strourton's writing that you can feel empathy with De Voy as a reader despite the fact that he is a sociopath.


Plugged
Plugged
by Eoin Colfer
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Witty enough crime caper, 25 Jun 2011
This review is from: Plugged (Hardcover)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Eoin Colfer, best known for his YA Artemis Fowl novels, has written an adult novel. An adult crime novel at that. Fresh from his extension of the Hitch Hikers Guide To the Galaxy series he's moved on again to another genre. He's certainly a man not afraid of tackling new challenges. The problem is that Plugged seems a bit like a pastiche as well, or at the least someone copying genre tropes and producing a novel by rote from them.

That's not to say this is not an enjoyable novel. I whipped through it in a day at a gallop. I wasn't bored at all. I laughed a bit. And was pretty well entertained. I just can't see this being a worldwide bestseller like Artemis Fowl. Or it may well be because of his name, but it shouldn't be on it's merits. Plugged is a crime novel in the mould of Colin Bateman or Charlie Higson. That is comic crime, with a wisecracking first person narrative. A whole host of coincidences, a couple of gruesome deaths, strip clubs and drug dealing lawyers. On face value it all sounds good fun, and it is.

Daniel McEvoy is an ex-soldier. Relocated to a small New Jersey town to escape the horrors of what he saw as a UN peacekeeper in the Lebanon, he now works on the door of the town's dodgy strip club. When his friend (who is also the man responsible for his newly installed hair plugs) Zeb vanishes, one of the strippers is murdered and he accidentally becomes an accomplice to the death of a police woman McEvoy finds himself drawn into a world that is just as dangerous as the Lebanon of his past.

All pretty standard stuff. And in many ways that's not an issue, the fact that it stays so true to the genre tropes means you always get what you expect and are satisfied, there's just a suspicion that Colfer isn't really being true to himself as a writer and that tainted the book for me


The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible
The Book of Books: The Radical Impact of the King James Bible
by Melvyn Bragg
Edition: Audio CD
Price: 15.21

3.0 out of 5 stars Extensive, well read, but sneaking suspicion I would prefer it as a book, 25 Jun 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This is about as comprehensive a look at the King James Bible without it becoming worthy and weighed down as you could wish.

This audio book edition is unabridged and clocks in at a massive 11+ hours spread across 10 CDs. It was quite a surprise when it arrived in the post. I imagined it being one or at the most two discs. But then how could a study of the most influential book of all time be anything less than 10 discs?

Bragg's look at the impact of the King James bible is exhaustive, capturing perfectly the age of paranoia and devotion into which it was born. Along the way it tells the story of the bravery and devout faith of the men who made it their life work to translate the bible into English so that everyone could share it.

The narration is clear and authoritative. Divided into chapters that allow you to break the listening experience down into manageable chunks.

The main problem with this audiobook is one of format. It's not often that I get to listen to a CD uninterrupted, primarily on car journeys, and so a story as complicated and covering such a period of time is difficult to dip in and out of. Also I have a suspicion that I would enjoy reading it as a book more as I could refer back to earlier chapters for reference.

Fascinating topic, well written, well narrated then, but I think I personally would have preferred to read the book


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