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W. Pearce (Morecambe)
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How to be Good
How to be Good
by Nick Hornby
Edition: Paperback

5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uninspiring, 27 April 2007
This review is from: How to be Good (Paperback)
This story is about a doctor called Katie, and her husband David who undergoes a spiritual conversion, and the affect this has on the lives of herself and her children. The conversion occurs after a visit to a healer called GoodNews. GoodNews moves in with them, and David gives up writing his newspaper column and being the angriest man in town to concentrate on putting the world to rights with GoodNews. One of their schemes is to get the neighbours to give up their spare bedrooms in order to accommodate homeless people.

The trouble with this book is it's a bit bland. It doesn't really take you anywhere. There's no adventure, no excitement, nothing out of the ordinary. There's too much bourgeois domesticity. It's a comedy, but although there are some amusing episodes, there's nothing in there to make you laugh out loud. The characters, although likeable are not particularly interesting. The book explores some interesting issues, such as what it is to be good in today's world, but there's nothing really original there. This is quite a good read but doesn't really have anything profound to say.


Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Book 1)
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (Book 1)
by J. K. Rowling
Edition: Paperback

2 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good read for adults and children, 26 April 2007
A book full of good ideas.

The thing that struck me most about this book is how jammed full of original and creative ideas it is. The first of these is the concept of a school for wizards and witches. Of itself not the most original idea in the world, but it is a trunk from which many fruitful branches can sprout. For example, I loved the idea of a mirror which shows the person who looks into it what their most heart-felt desire is. On the down side, the book is not as good as the film, and is lacking excitement. For example, the chapter where Harry goes to find the Philosopher's stone is quite short and does not have you on the edge of your seat, as you might have expected it to. The book is also lacking in wisdom. The only real words of wisdom are that death is not to be feared if you have an orderly mind. There is no real moral to the story, as far as I can tell. However, the book is well worth reading, even if you have seen the film already.


Under the Greenwood Tree (Penguin Classics)
Under the Greenwood Tree (Penguin Classics)
by Thomas Hardy
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

3.0 out of 5 stars Hardy without the bite, 19 April 2007
Anyone coming to this book after reading such classics as Tess of the d'urbevilles and the Mayor of Casterbridge is bound to be a little disappointed by this, Hardy's second published work. For although Hardy's skill at characterisation is evident, as is his ability to tell a good story, there is none of the profundity of the later novels. The main theme of the book is the wooing by tranter Dick Dewey of school mistress Fancy Day. Fancy's father is initially opposed to the marriage, wanting Fancy to marry a more affluent farmer, but comes around to the idea when Fancy (following the advice of the village witch) pretends to be pining away.

The book is quite hard going, mainly due to the archaic language, and the way Hardy over-ladens his sentences, but it is worthy of a read, whether or not you are a fan of Hardy's other works.


The Maid of Buttermere
The Maid of Buttermere
by Melvyn Bragg
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.09

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Unlike his character, Bragg is no imposter, 17 Sep 2006
This review is from: The Maid of Buttermere (Paperback)
I love the way this book has come about. The author, Melvyn Bragg, has obviously done some historical research, and come across a very juicey tidbit, a scandal, covered in the newspapers of the time, involving a very flambuoyant character who is not what he claims to be, and a woman famous throughout the region for her good looks, known as the Beauty of Buttermere. He must have rubbed his hands in glee when he came across it! He has then taken what he has found, and spun it out into a really interesting, and at times gripping, novel.

Before reading this book, the impression I had of the author from his appearances on the television was of quite a shallow and superficial character. However, Bragg has obviously put a lot of himself into the book, and it is evident that he is far from being just a showman.

I would imagine the character John Hatfield is based to quite some extent on the author himself who, as i understand it, comes from humble origins but has, of course, risen to considerable heights. Maybe at times he has felt like an imposter in the same way that Hatfield plays at being a gentleman.

The character Hatfield, whilst unfortunate because of his pretence and show, is also very likeable because he knows his weaknesses, and underneath it all wants to do what is right. His motives are good, even if the way he goes about things eg by assuming a title which isn't his, is not.

Bragg has an impressive knowledge of social history, which he paints lightly onto the canvas, not letting it become a distraction in the way that some writers do. The reader doesn't continually get the impression he is trying to show off his knowledge. Instead, you genuinely feel you are experiencing the events in Cumbria and north Lancashire at the turn of the 19th century.

The book is of particular interest if you happen to live in these parts, as most of the action takes places in the area between Lancaster and Carlisle. I love the opening scene in which the protagonist rehearses his lines in Morecambe Bay. Living only two minutes' walk from the Bay myself I could picture this scene very vividly.

This is not quite a classic, but it is one of the best books by a contemporary author I have come across.


The Third Man.
The Third Man.
by Graham Greene
Edition: Paperback

3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Third rate, 28 Aug 2006
This review is from: The Third Man. (Paperback)
This short story is far from Graham Greene at his best. Novels such as The Power and the Glory, and The Quiet American (though NOT Brighton Rock i have to say) are literary classics. But this is a dull and tedious story. The fact that the police officer - who wasn't present at all of the events which took place - narrates the story makes it clumsy and implausible, in my opinion. The characters (especially Harry) are formulaic and poorly developed, and there is none of the anticipation and suspense you would hope for in a story of this genre.

This one is only to be read if you're a fan of Graham Greene and have already read all of his other stuff!


The Unbearable Lightness of Being
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
by Milan Kundera
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

14 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Definitely needs to be read more than once., 26 Aug 2006
This is an unusual book, and well-worth reading just for its originality. I like what Kundera has done in using a novel as the basis for philosophical speculation. I'm not sure how much validity there is in his philosophy. I've read Russell's History of Modern Philosophy, and don't remember coming across anything in there about excrement being closely related to divinity! But whether or not Kundera's musings have any firm backing from respected philosophers is neither here nor there. Some of them seem to make sense, and all of them are entertaining.

On the down-side, because he has used the novel in this way, the story is not particularly exciting, and the characters are not especially well-developed, perhaps with the exception of Tomas, a man you have to admire for carrying the aroma of several women's groins in his hair! I like the fact that all of the chapters are short, though I don't mind long chapters if the narrative is gripping. It isn't in this book, though the final few chapters are very moving, even if providing a somewhat curious end to a book. I will certainly re-read this book at some point. It is a book one might need to read several times before fully grasping everything the writer has to say, and this is no bad thing.


The Pearl (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Pearl (Penguin Modern Classics)
by John Steinbeck
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pearl of Wisdom, 5 Aug 2006
This story is about how we are all prisoners of circumstance, and how what seems like the chance to escape the misery of our lives can be but an illusion. It shows how something which in an ideal world should be a great blessing can in fact become a curse. Such is the discovery of the `Pearl of the World' for Kino and his family.

The darker side of human nature is very much paramount in this story, revealing to what depths people will go for the sake of their own financial gain. Steinbeck uses the story of the pearl to illustrate how difficult it can be to change the course of our lives, and how if we try to break out of the unwritten consensus which governs our daily lives, things can not only become lonely but also dangerous, as Kino discovers to his great cost.

I'm not generally a fan of short stories, but this one says more about human nature than some authors can fit into 400 pages. As usual with Steinbeck, it is a very good piece of writing.


The Woodlanders (Wordsworth Classics)
The Woodlanders (Wordsworth Classics)
by Thomas Hardy
Edition: Paperback
Price: 1.89

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Where's the tragic finale?, 30 July 2006
The basic plot here is young woman has to choose between rich man and poor man. And no surprise the rich man is a liar and philanderer, whilst the poor man is modest and honourable. Which does she choose? The liar and cheat, of course. But it is not entirely Grace's fault. Indeed, she is basically told to marry the aristocrat Fitzpiers by her father, who in his obsession with social status and advancement for his daughter effectively ruins her life. The plot may not be especially original, but the story is entertaining and explores some interesting issues.

The Woodlanders is a bit different from some of the other works of Hardy I've read. I was surprised, and somewhat relieved, when I reached the end of the book that things didn't turn out as they could have done. Yes, there is tragedy as you would expect, but there are also rays of hope for the characters. The Woodlanders is also a little harder going than some of his more popular books. I found I had to concentrate quite hard with some of the earlier chapters as the language was quite ornate. However, it is typical Hardy in so far as it is a very good read, with believable characters, and some very interesting insights into life in pre-industrial times.


Words Words Words
Words Words Words
by David Crystal
Edition: Hardcover

15 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A nice intro, but not quite meaty enough for me, 24 July 2006
This review is from: Words Words Words (Hardcover)
To write a book about words which is a page-turner would I suppose be a difficult task. So we can forgive David Crystal the fact this is no page-turner. It is, however, an interesting read. It's a well-laid out and accessible book, and I learnt some interesting facts from it. Personally, I'd have liked more coverage of the history of individual words - though the book does have an interesting chapter on the birth and evolution of words - but this is perhaps beyond the remit of such a book. The book is most suitable for someone who is new to the subject of linguistics (as I am), and would probably be too basic for anyone with any kind of existing knowledge of the field.


East of Eden (Penguin Modern Classics)
East of Eden (Penguin Modern Classics)
by John Steinbeck
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If only all Steinbeck's works were this long!, 2 July 2006
This isn't Steinbeck's best novel, but it is a very fine work indeed. John Steinbeck is one of the few authors whose work i can read without regularly looking up to the top of the page to see how far i have left to go. He takes you into an absorbing world you don't want to leave. In this case it is the Salinas valley, and the lives of the Hamiltons and the Trasks.

In the book, we encounter two generations of Hamiltons, and three generations of Trasks. The characters are well developed and believable. I found Samuel Hamilton, head of the Hamilton family, and Cathy, a whore and psychopath, particularly compelling.

Steinbeck has a very good understanding of human nature, and the author's own wisdom expresses itself in the conversations of characters such as Samuel and Lee. As always with Steinbeck, not only do you get some wonderful characters, you get a really good plot, some social history, and some very good writing.

His exploration of the rivalry between brothers, as first played out by Cane and Abel, is masterly and convincing.


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