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London Stories (Everyman's Pocket Classics)
London Stories (Everyman's Pocket Classics)
by Jerry White
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.39

2.0 out of 5 stars Editor's historical perspective on "London Stories" loses the place!, 30 Jan. 2015
"London Stories" - anthology in the Everyman Pocket Classics series. Attractive pocket size hardcover. Arty dustcover and a ribbon bookmark. The editor's selections, stretching over some four centuries, open with a piece written in 1603 and progress chronologically to the present day. Some readers may be dismayed to note that the editor, himself an historian, chooses to depart from the 'short story' (fiction) format successfully established as the norm in previous titles of Everyman Pocket Classics (such as New York Stories) and opt instead for a mixture of fact and fiction in selections consisting of journalistic pieces, short stories and excerpts from longer works.

Other 'city' anthologies, short stories with a 'city' setting such as the Everymans Pocket Classic "New York Stories", succeeded (IMO) in capturing the essence of New York, a sense of place, the atmosphere and feel of New York City always in the foreground of the stories. I anticipated that the stories in a book with the title "London Stories" would similarly convey a strong sense of place, would have the feel of the city of London all about them. Unfortuneately, too often, this is not the case. Drawn from both the contemporary period and the past, the stories themselves are a mixed bag: whilst some very good stories are on offer, in more than a few selections London seems peripheral to - rather than in the foreground of - the stories (IMO). For stories purporting to be "London Stories", too many of the stories could have been set anywhere really. To cite but one example, in the last story "The Umbrella" re a broken marital relationship, other than a passing reference in the story to "tube station" there is little sense of the place of London in "The Umbrella" that would justify calling it a London story. London is shortchanged by too many selections in "London Stories" that lose the place.

Two early factual pieces on the Plague (1603) and the Great Fire of London (1666) are written in a convoluted style of English that some modern readers may feel is past its 'read-by' date. This convoluted style is observed again in "Anne of Oxford Street" (1822), Thomas De Quincey's moving piece describing his friendship with a young street prostitute. More arresting stories with something of the atmosphere combined with a strong sense of the place of London about them include Defoe's "A Ragged Boyhood" (1722), an excerpt from a longer work "Colonel Jack", with the feel of the London of Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger about it; George Gissing's "Christopherson" (1906), and John Galsworthy's " A Forsyte Encounters the People" (1917) - breaking down class barriers in a crowded London Underground Tube station being used as an air-raid shelter.

My overall response to "London Stories" was one of disappointment. London deserves more than it gets from the historical perspective of the editor's "London Stories". In my view, the established format (short stories} of an Everyman Pocket Classics anthology, "London Stories" - with a strong sense of the place of London in the foreground of each story a pre-requisite for selection - would have served the City of London, the Everyman Pocket Classics series and not least the reader, better.


Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence
Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence
by Scott Hames
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars Stand up and be counted for Scotland's future!, 2 Mar. 2014
What kind of Scotland do the Scottish people want? Will the Scottish population overcome fear and a collective lack of national self-confidence and seize the day, a once-in-lifetime opportunity offered by the forthcoming referendum to create a new independent Scottish Nation? Is it time for Scotland to stand on its own feet, roll up its sleeves, slough off the fear of striking out on its own and face up to the challenge of taking responsibility for itself and its own affairs? Is now the time for the Scottish population to realise that no one can run the affairs of this country better than the people who live in Scotland? Has the time now come for Scotland to empower itself to be the architect of its own future? Have the freedom to be who it wants to be, not simply a nation shaped by decisions made from a remote Westminster government. Is it high time for Scots to show the fear-mongers once and for all that Scotland is not too wee, too poor nor too stupid to govern itself? Is now the time and now the hour for the Scottish electorate to stand up and be counted for Scotland's right to self-determination, if that's what it really wants? Come the day and come the hour, will Scotland have the willpower to step out of the shadow of, as some of the contributors to this book say, a scare-mongering British state that seeks to deny Scotland the right to self-determination and that will use every means and every argument at its disposal to cling onto power and keep Scotland firmly in its place?

The above questions and other central issues come under the spotlight in this must-read book featuring prominent Scottish writers, frequently outspoken, each with something worthwhile and thought-provoking to say about Scottish Independence. Each of the contributors, writing within their own parameters, record their personal thoughts and what they really feel deepdown about Scottish Independence, their narratives exploring the issues and setting out the choices before us in a way that, refreshingly, endeavours to steer clear of mindless party political dogma handed down to us by career politicians. Some see the forthcoming referendum as a 'now or never' moment when a new independent Scotland can remove nuclear weapons and rid itself of weapons of mass destruction. On balance, the writers contributing to this excellent book generally incline towards the pro-independence camp, the belief that ordinary Scottish people can control their own destiny again, many contributors coming down emphatically in favour of putting Scotland's future into Scotland's hands, the right of Scots to run Scotland and choose the government of their choice. For most of the writers here then, in place of fear, its onwards and upwards to a better and fairer independent Scotland with a socialist programme at its centre, an independent Scotland empowered to take major future-shaping decisions for its health services, its social welfare systems, its defence strategies and its taxation policies. Well worth reading! Outspoken and provocative! Informative and thought-provoking! Recommended.


Dog Stories (Everyman's Library POCKET CLASSICS)
Dog Stories (Everyman's Library POCKET CLASSICS)
by Diana Secker Tesdell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.09

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars our four-legged friends, 5 Nov. 2013
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"Dog Stories" - anthology of short stories in the Everyman Pocket Classics series. Attractive pocket size hardcover. Arty doggy dustcover and a ribbon bookmark. A delight for dog lovers! I'm not a dog lover by any means, one of my pet hates being canine souvenirs on city streets but - contrary to my expectations when I picked up this hardcover - I liked most of the stories selected, some of which have a twist in the 'tail'. The editor's selections represent great writers old and new, the stories drawn from both the contemporary period and the past. Overall, a good selection of short stories though you may feel that a few of the stories struggle somewhat to sit comfortably in the 'Dog Stories' category. A dog's presence in a story doesn't necessarily make it a 'dog' story. Still, what the hell when the stories are as good as most of these are.

No messing around with introductory/ background material here - just straight to the stories. Of the twenty short stories included, among my favourites are Jonathan Lethem's "Ava's Apartment", a captivating contemporary story set in a wintry New York in which a three-leggged pit-bull gives a sense of purpose and direction to a drifting New Yorker's life and Lydia Millet's excellent "Sir Hilary", also set in present-day New York, in which a professional dog-walker finds himself in a quandary about what direction to take when confronted with a difficult moral choice .

From an earlier time, Mark Twain's "A Dog's Tale" illustratess dog loyalty to humans at its deepest and purest. A wonderful moving story that tugs at the reader's heartstrings for which the words of the song, "he'll never let you down, he's honest and faithfull right up to the end", could have been specially written. Canine fidelity is also the central theme of P.G.Wodehouse's entertaining story "The Mixer" in which an ugly watchdog gets caught up in a house burglary scheme. Also at the top of my doggy stories hit-parade is "Kashtanka" by Anton Chekhov in which a lost dog has to adapt to a new home and master and interact with the other inhabitants, a cat and, would you believe, a gander! Never for a moment did I think I would fritter away valuable reading time on this kind of story and with such main characters... but what do I know? Humour is the driving force behind "Kashtanka" which added to a strong storyline and a twist at the end makes it (IMO) one of the best in the anthology. And for some good fun and more good storytelling about leading a dog's life, you need look no further than "Memoirs of a Yellow Dog" by O'Henry, Brete Harte's scoundrel of a dog, in the colourful story "A Yellow Dog" and James Thurber's "Josephine Has Her Day", an amusing exploration of the theme of dog-owner loyalty to dogs.

The loyalty, affection and exploits of our canine companions and their special bond with humans are well-served by this compilation. Good editorial choices for the most part and writing of a high calibre ensure that this anthology of stories featuring our not-so-dumb friends will appeal not just to 'doggy' people with a passion for dogs but also introduce to a wider readership a range of authors perhaps not encountered previously.


Days of Destruction. Days of Revolt
Days of Destruction. Days of Revolt
by Chris Hedges
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.99

4.0 out of 5 stars sacrificed in the name of corporate profit, 11 Aug. 2013
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A collaboration comprising Hedge's reportage and Sacco's comic book journalism presents a harrowing account of what daily life looks like in four so-called "sacrifice zones" - screwed-up places in America where dire poverty is rife, and where human (eg, workers) and natural resources (eg, land) are exploited to the extreme in the name of profit. That is, squeezed dry of profitable yield, then ruthlessly discarded. Hedges hard-hitting tragic life-stories based on interviews, and the expressions of pain, misery, indignation, rage and despair on faces in Sacco's moving graphics, allow characters and situations to speak for themselves. This combination of text and comic book journalism works well when put-together, to show in all four "sacrifice zones" the obscene greed of vulture (free market) capitalism as practised by corporate power in its rapacious use of land and resources to maximise profits.

A shocking exposure of the obscene naked greed of corporate bloodsuckers in America.


Winter Journal
Winter Journal
by Paul Auster
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars A ramble of memories, musings and minutiae., 2 Aug. 2013
This review is from: Winter Journal (Hardcover)
Count me in as a longtime follower of Paul Auster's work, hoping that his latest book at 64 years old, a memoir "Winter Journal", would signal a return to form for Auster following the post-modern jiggery-pokery of Travels in the Scriptorium and Man in the Dark and the mediocre Sunset Park. Sorry to report, it was not to be. Winter Journal, though smoothly written, is not one of Auster's best books (IMO). In Winter Journal, Auster observes his own life. What follows is a rambling account of Auster's impressions about any number of things that have touched his life at various stages. The reader does gain some insight into Auster the man - a man not afraid to publicly voice his opposition to America's continuing overseas misadventures, a man who speaks out his "manifold grievances against the evils of contemporary American life ... the senseless wars, the barbarism of illegal torture" and the CIA's 'torture-taxi' extraordinary rendition flights.

In Winter Journal, Auster breaks down his life into chronological stages and from each stage - from childhood, onwards into young adulthood, then mature adulthood, and on again into late middle-age - presents the reader with Auster memories, Auster musings about all sorts of things and masses of Auster minutiae arranged into lists.
Auster memories: some extremely emotional as in Auster's recollection of the death of his mother.
Auster musings: a ramble of musings about all sorts of things (eg, ten pointless pages rambling on about an obscure 1950's movie).
Auster minutiae: an overload of minutiae dredged up from different stages of his life eg, the swallowing of a fish bone that stuck in his throat/ details of cuts, scrapes, injuries sustained in the rough and tumble of boyhood/ three pages of the minutes taken from the board meetings of his co-op apartment in Brooklyn.

Be prepared to work through a mass of minutiae detailing very ordinary/ mundane Auster experiences many of which are arranged into long (and short) lists eg, a list of examples of food Auster ate as a young boy. Lists, and then more lists - a stylistic touch that was an annoyance (for this reader). Top of my hit list among Auster's overuse of lists must surely go the list of 'the houses I have lived in', comprising Auster's chronological description over some fifty pages of all twenty-three residences, houses or apartments, where he has ever at one time lived.

No, Winter Journal is in many ways a big disappointment, containing lots of padded out material and including all sorts of mundane stuff and masses of minutiae (everything, it seems, apart from Auster's kitchen sink is thrown into the mix). Winter Journal is a lightweight effort from Auster that fails (IMO) to captivate the reader like the old Auster magic of his younger days displayed in such novels as Moon Palace, The Music of Chance, The Book of Illusions, Mr. Vertigo and The New York Trilogy. Moreover, when measured against other Auster books in which Auster recollects his relationship with his father and recounts grim revelations about his family's past (The Invention of Solitude) and his early struggles with poverty (Hand to Mouth), Winter Journal falls far short. A final word on lists. For all its lists... and more lists, Winter Journal fails to make my list of favourite Auster books. Hopefully, his next book will! Count me out on this one.


White Lies
White Lies
by Nick Davies
Edition: Misc. Supplies

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A web of white lies, 12 Jan. 2012
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This review is from: White Lies (Misc. Supplies)
Recently re-read "White Lies" after some twenty years, Nick Davies' disturbing account of gross racial injustice in a small East Texas town, Conroe, where an innocent victim Clarence Brandley, a black high school janitor, was set up and convicted by a web of white lies and sentenced to death for murder for no reason other than he was black. And because of the colour of his skin, in the eyes of the law and the legal establishment of Conroe, Montgomery County, Brandley was presumed guilty from the outset and elected to be the murderer. Right from the outset too, law enforcement officer Wesley Styles, Texas Ranger, (complete with gleaming white stetson and sparkling silver star) had kept a blind focus on convicting Brandley for the murder, operating on the basis that he had already gotten his man and to hell with any leads that could prove otherwise. So black Brandley was elected to be the murderer, simple as that, even before an investigation had been properly conducted. Once Brandley had been elected the fallguy, the Conroe courthouse set out full steam ahead to convict him, steamrollering over any facts or evidence at odds with their predetermined conclusion.

"White Lies" dramatically exposes the grim, chilling truth obscured by the maze of corruption (legal establishment and law enforcement conspiracy and witness intimidation) underlying this gross, ugly perversion of justice in 1981 (yes, in the 1980's would you believe!) - a perversion of justice that was the legal equivalent of Ku-Klux-Klan lynch-mob justice of an earlier time, almost resulting in what would have been a legal lynching fully endorsed by the town of Conroe, Montgomery County, Texas. At the dark heart of the project to convict Brandley was the Conroe courthouse itself, with a roll call (among others) of District Attorney in collusion with a succession of judges who had a blind focus set on convicting their elected victim Brandley and sending an innocent man to his death. Texas injustice, Conroe courthouse style, ensured that Brandley's fate was sealed and the verdict in the trial a foregone conclusion.

And the town of Conroe stood by twiddling it's thumbs and watched it happen! There was no campaign from the local press or from leading citizens of the town to clean up the court - on the contrary, the press relished Brandley's conviction. Corrupt public officials who had run the trial and watched Brandley being railroaded were returned to office as a matter of course at the next elections. Ultimately, Brandley's outrageous conviction was an act of the white people of Conroe who knew their ringleaders in the courthouse were up to no good and did nothing about it. With an appalling track-record of public murder of black people in its recent history, the reputation of Conroe and its courthouse was left in ruins. Dramatic account of a monstrous miscarriage of justice in Conroe, Montgomery County, Texas.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 11, 2012 11:53 AM GMT


Assorted Fire Events: Stories
Assorted Fire Events: Stories
by David Means
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars a range of horrors!, 28 May 2011
For the most part, I found "Assorted Fire Events" to be a strong debut collection - violent, (sometimes) brutal stories delivered in Means's powerful prose, though Means's style of writing (IMO) can sometimes get in the way of the story. For this reason, I have mixed feelings about Means's style of storytelling - his best stories are topnotch but others delivered in a too-clever-by-half (IMO) far from conventional narrative style didn't connect with me at all. Therein lies my reservation about the book: sometimes it seems stories are being used to show off Means's writing skills rather than the writing skills serving the narrative flow of the story.

Many of the stories in "Assorted Fire Events" look into the seamy world of the dispossessed, the destitute, the misfits, the disaffected - a menacing subculture of outsiders and discards without a foothold in society, wasted lives led on the edge. I've focussed on four of the strongest (IMO)....

During the depression years, hoboes travelled across the U.S.A. in, on top of, under or between the boxcars of freight trains in futile search of work, often slipping or falling to their death under the wheels from numbing cold, wind, weariness or drifting into sleep. Such is the predicament of the hobo in "The Grip" as the train traverses the night desert..... In "The Interruption", the pivotal moment in the story is where two opposing worlds collide when a hungry hobo desperate for food intrudes into a flash wedding reception.....

In Means's world, violence and death are commonplace. His interest in grotesque violence is witnessed in the extremely violent "Railroad Incident, August 1995" and the harrowing title story "Assorted Fire Events", two full-blooded stories that deliver uncompromising, graphic, gut-wrenching descriptions of violence and death that some may find hard to stomach. "Railroad Incident..." describes the mindless violence inflicted on an injured man limping along railroad tracks when he stumbles on "a bunch of rubbish" - four yobs, while "Assorted Fire Events" illustrates in scorching prose, the destructive power of fire in all its ferocity, in an assortment of conflagrations, some evil in intent - a thug sets a dog on fire, a pyromaniac relishes the sheer thrill of torching houses. Stringent stories introducing the reader to a range of horrors!.


The Elephant Vanishes (Vintage International)
The Elephant Vanishes (Vintage International)
by Murakami
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars no neatly wrapped-up endings, 21 April 2011
Interested in unconventonal, offbeat short stories? If so, take a trip through the strange world of cult author Murakami's collection "The Elephant Vanishes". There is a tendency in short fiction to conclude and resolve. Murakami's stories however, often darkly comic - and moving from the ordinary to the extraordinary, frequently ignore that expectation and end at a blank wall. So don't always expect Murakami story endings to provide resolution where all becomes clear, everything is resolved and loose ends are tied up - or you may be disappointed.

Take the weird, haunting title story, "The Elephant Vanishes", for instance, Here the narrator recounts strange, inexplicable events in which an old elephant vanishes into thin air with its keeper from an elephant house one night. This is a typical Murakami story conundrum - the story ending with no clear-cut explanation or resolution of the mystery, the mysterious vanishing of elephant and keeper. Ending up against a blank wall may not be your preferred choice of ending to a story but as is often the case with Murakami, the journey to the 'blank wall' in itself provides sufficient reward for seeing the story through to the end.

In the strange world of Murakami, the mundane and the surreal mingle - as exemplified in the disturbing story "Sleep" where the stultifying, mind-numbing routine of a woman's married life is unsettled following a terrifying dream that represents a crossover point in her life, an awakening, a kind of surrealistic 'wake-up call' from which she surfaces a changed woman, more 'alive' than she's felt in years...with unexpected consequences.

Other personal favourites include: the humorous "The Second Bakery Attack" in which midnight hunger pangs drive young newly-weds (who feel a "weird presence" in their lives) to hold up a MacDonalds with a shotgun in the middle of the night and rob it of 30 Big Macs; "Barn Burning", in which the narrator listens to the story of a man whose hobby is burning barns; "The Silence", in which a young man, following an act of physical aggression, feels the isolation and ostracism of being cold-shouldered by his social community.

If you enjoy "The Elephant Vanishes", take another memorable trip into Murakami 'country' with the strong collection "After the Quake", short stories linked to the terrible earthquake that shook Kobe in 1995. Although none of these haunting stories are actually set in Kobe, the epicentre of the devastation and the characters are far removed from the scene of the tragedy, the earthquake nonetheless reverberates in subtle ways deep into their troubled lives. Both books contain compelling stories intermingling elements both of realism and surrealism that may not be to every reader's taste, particularly reading tastes that require some reward in the way of clear solutions or 'neatly wrapped-up endings' for seeing a story through to the end.


Sunset Park
Sunset Park
by Paul Auster
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Sun goes down on Auster!, 5 Jan. 2011
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This review is from: Sunset Park (Hardcover)
Count me in as a long-time follower of Paul Auster's work, even if somewhat browned off (being polite here) by the post-modern jiggery-pokery of 'Travels in the Scriptorium' and 'Man in the Dark'. Disappointing therefore, to find little in Auster's latest novel 'Sunset Park' that would signal the return to form for Auster that someone like myself (who regarded Auster as a favourite author) would love to see. Part of the 'old' Auster appeal for me is that there's no guessing where a Paul Auster novel will take you. You may start off in New York as happens in 'Moon Palace' my favourite Auster novel to-date, and incredibly, find yourself transported in the blink of an eye to the American West. Another novel, 'Mr. Vertigo', whisks you off on a magical tour across the USA. You never knew where you would end up with Auster. Count me in for more of that 'old' Auster of his younger days!

In 'Sunset Park', Auster offers insights into writing and publishing and makes some pertinent comments on the state of present-day America and its ongoing overseas misadventures ("a sick destructive monster") but count me out of all the trivia on baseball and the arty stuff on the film 'The Best Years of Our Lives'. Ditto for all the bits on erotic drawings; and Auster's stylistic touch of using lists and then more lists (IMO) is another annoyance.

The intriguing situation presented in 'Sunset Park' involving the occupation of an abandoned house in New York City by four twenty-something squatters Miles, Bing, Alice and Ellen - each in turn taking their place on centre stage as Auster switches the focus of the narrative from one to the other, relating the story through their eyes - looks promising, creates anticipation of.... struggle?... strife?... confrontation perhaps? - a situation that begs the kind of imaginative treatment at which Auster has excelled in earlier novels such as 'The Music of Chance', 'The Book of Illusions' and 'The New York Trilogy'. Given the set-up, I had hoped a story with 'fire in its belly' would ignite from the squatters' illegal occupation. Yet Auster makes little of the dramatic potential of the situation and the disappointing end result (IMO) is a busload of pedestrian characters plodding through a lacklustre plot where nothing much happens that isn't expected, where there's no real drama in the interaction of the four squatters sufficient to yoke this reader's attention to the narrative. I soldiered on manfully to the end but in the end found myself starting to gloss over pages as my interest in the proceedings waned. Nope, not one of the 'select few' Auster novels I would run through smoke to save from a fire. On this one count me out! Comment | Permalink


The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break
The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break
by Steven Sherrill
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sherrill serves up super starter!, 30 Sept. 2009
If you've ever felt lonely or confused about life in general, this novel, a super starter served up by Steven Sherill, may connect with you. The odd, arresting title hints at the unusual, even bizarre, premise set up by Sherill in his original debut novel, both funny and painfully sad, locating a mythical creature - trying to jettison his gory past - in present day America's Deep South where he longs to fulfil his life and put his savage past behind him.

Then: the Minotaur lived in a labyrinth and ate virgins.
Now: five thousand years on, the Minotaur, M, bull-headed but man-bodied, lives in a trailer in the Lucky-U Park.

The novel, written in an understated style from M's alienated perspective, is essentially a slice of M's humdrum daily existence: in the rundown trailer park where he lives an orderly life observing the ordinary, everyday comings and goings, and goings-on, in the adjacent trailers, repairing cars in his spare time; and in the Grub's Rib diner where he works as a line chef. In a novel where there's no real story as such, no real incident to speak of and little character development, Sherrill's sensitive and sympathetic portrayal of M's ordinary everyday life, in both M's domestic and working habitats, the trailer park and the diner, makes compelling reading.

An accomplished cook, skilled in car maintenance, M finds greater difficulty interacting with people. Slow-witted and clumsy with his sharp horns, thick-tongued and inarticulate, socially awkward, emotional turmoil burning within, M deperately seeks an outlet for his human needs - a longing for love, a yearning for 'connection' in a world that seems to barely tolerate "outsiders" like himself, try as he may to leave his bloodthirsty past behind him. If there is a plot, it revolves around M's awakening feelings for Kelly, the epileptic waitress at the Grub's Rib diner but the novel is more about what it means to be lonely, what it means to be an 'outsider'. Recommended!


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