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The Last Juror
The Last Juror
by John Grisham
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Grisham takes it easy, 12 Sep 2004
This review is from: The Last Juror (Paperback)
Here we have a small town in the Deep South, stocked with affectionately drawn characters. Drunks, lawyers, rednecks, eccentrics and old maids walk the dusty town square. The main thread of plot centres on a dramatic criminal trial featuring a brutal white man, but for long sections of the book, this is not touched on, as we are shown a series of episodes that paint the town and its inhabitants in greater detail. We get to see over the tracks to the black community, their food and their churchgoing.
It could be "To Kill a Mockingbird", but it is instead John Grisham's latest. The two books certainly have something of the same flavour, but I should not push the analogy too far. They may be playing with similar ingredients, but in rather different leagues.
The flowing, readable prose and authentic dialogue of Grisham are the same as ever, but this is the first of his that I have read in which he is prepared to let plot-development wait while he has a good look around the scene he has set and the people in it. Even within the book, the pace changes dramatically. When we reach the end of Chapter 17, just under halfway through, the main plot is set up, and we expect the second half of the book to pile on the pace towards the inevitable denouement. But instead we have to wait, and the author makes this pleasant enough for over a hundred pages as he leads us through the years and around the town.
Grisham seems to be searching for material beyond his lawyer-based work and this excursion in a new pasture can be counted as a highly enjoyable success, though perhaps not a triumph.


The Lady and the Unicorn
The Lady and the Unicorn
by Tracy Chevalier
Edition: Paperback

7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A skilful weave, 23 Aug 2004
This is the story of a set of six tapestries, and their effects on the lives of the people whose lives they touch. There is a lecherous but gifted painter, a grim man of power and his vibrant daughter, a put-upon master weaver, his diverse family and a number of others; the great thing is that you will care about them all.
The tale is told by a succession of narrators, each of whom is responsible for some aspect of the tapestries, either in their inspiration or their making - occasionally both. Each of the main characters gets to tell a part of the story. Whilst all have their own perspective and an individual voice, the style of writing remains uniform; characters are distinguished by what they say, not by how they say it. This seems to be an act of deliberate restraint, and the overall effect of the shared narration is to underline the cooperative way that many hands interact to produce a single coherent tapestry.
Along the way I learned a little about fifteenth-century Paris and Brussels and a little more about weaving and tapestries; this book certainly left me wanting to see the Lady and Unicorn first hand. But at the time time as she spins a genuinely interesting interpretation of a work of art, Tracy Chevalier succeeds in bringing to life a set of characters whose lives are touched by tragedy, triumph, sacrifice and salvation.
Unlike the tapestries, this book is modest in its scale and pretensions; it will not eat up vast amounts of anyone's time. But it is a skilful and satisfying interweaving of its component threads. It is the first of this author's books that I have read; now I can't wait to get hold of her others.


Coraline
Coraline
by Neil Gaiman
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.24

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superbly told fairytale, 20 Aug 2004
This review is from: Coraline (Paperback)
Whilst Neil Gaiman's ingredients (a door to another world, counterfeit parents, perilous rescues) are tried and tested, the deftness and lightness of touch that he brings to telling his story are a real delight.
Gaiman knows how to make a brief description conjure a wealth of atmosphere and emotion. In the "other" drawing-room, the lion-footed table claws into the carpet and the fruit in the still-life painting has been eaten. Knowing this, we don't need to be told how the girl Coraline feels while she is in the room.
This is a superb evocation of nightmarish fantasy, easily read in a sitting. A trifle, perhaps, but a delicious one.


Chambers 21st Century Dictionary
Chambers 21st Century Dictionary
by Chambers
Edition: Hardcover

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Buy the real Chambers instead, 6 Jan 2004
This may be a few quid cheaper than the real Chambers Dictionary, but the economy is not worth while. It serves the basic purpose of helping you spell and check the meaning of relatively common English words, but it lacks the breadth that makes the real thing the definitive source for Scrabble and crossword enthusiasts.


Oxford Dictionary of English
Oxford Dictionary of English
by Catherine Soanes
Edition: Hardcover

155 of 177 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, but not the real thing., 6 Jan 2004
Whilst the massive Oxford English Dictionary is the king of dictionaries, don't be misled into expecting the Oxford brand to be preeminent at the single-volume level. If you need a dictionary in one volume, your first choice should certainly be Chambers. This is particularly true if you have any interest in Scrabble or crosswords, for both of which Chambers, with its wide range of interesting archaic and dialect words, is the definitive work in the UK.
That said, there is nothing especially wrong with this Oxford offering, but you should think hard about whether its gimmicks, like the usage tips that crop up in little boxes, are valuable enough to earn it a place as your second dictionary. You might be better off saving the money towards serious multi-volume work like the Shorter Oxford Dictionary or, for an American dimension, Webster's Third New International Dictionary.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 27, 2009 11:18 PM GMT


Chambers Crossword Manual
Chambers Crossword Manual
by Don Manley
Edition: Paperback

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, 3 Jan 2004
Don Manley preaches the gospel of the crossword better than anyone else I have read. The object of this book is not just to help the reader have a stab at the cryptic on the back of the daily broadsheet - though it certainly does that. Rather, the author opens the door and invites you in to the inner sanctum of the advanced cryptic and the special crossword.
Manley does not plod. He covers all the basic cryptic clue types in fewer than forty pages, and nearly a third of those are taken up with tutorial puzzles. He certainly does not attempt an exhaustive list of indicator and other giveaway words; he takes the view that a large part of the fun of crosswords is learning such things for oneself.
What Manley does provide is an excellent guide to crossword grammar with plenty of discussion on what distinguishes a sound clue from an unsound one. This is vital knowledge for aspiring setters of crosswords, but invaluable too for the everyday solver; recognising what interpretations of a clue cannot possibly be sound is a big time-saver.
Perhaps this book is not for the complete beginner, but it is great for the solver with some experience who is in a rut. When I first read this book I could usually get more than half way through the daily crossword in the Times, sometimes finishing it completely. I was vaguely aware of the more advanced crosswords with barred grids, but never expected to be able to tackle one. Manley's introduction to advanced clueing, coupled with his evangelical zeal for crosswords in general, inspired me to attempt the Listener puzzle, and now I sometimes, very rarely, actually finish it - even though I still can't always complete the Times. I don't believe any other book would have moved me on. Thank you, Don Manley.


The Silmarillion
The Silmarillion
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Paperback

21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Myths of Middle-Earth, 1 Jan 2004
This review is from: The Silmarillion (Paperback)
If you preferred the book of The Lord of the Rings to the films, and especially if you read the Appendices to the book with enjoyment, then this book is for you. The Silmarillion provides the inside information you need to understand what the characters in the Lord of the Rings are talking about.
If you ever wanted to know more about Numenor, or wondered who Luthien Tinuviel and Beren the one-handed were, then you will find the answers here. And not at tediously protracted length. This book contains several works, not one. And in the longest tale, many of the chapters recount individual legends that stand alone.
People can be put off Tolkien by his books' lack of fleshed-out believable characters, humour, points of contact with real life, and sparkling, pacy prose. All these things are especially absent from the Silmarillion. The people you meet here are all fair damsels, tall heroes, twisted villians and proud kings. They talk in deliberately archaic language, and the prose of the narrative is portentous and stilted.
This is all deliberate. Whereas, in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Professor Tolkien was in the business of story-telling, here he is setting out to manufacture myths. He designs his characters not to be people but archetypes along the lines of Pandora and Loki.
And it works. The deeds done are suitably mighty, the evil works satisfactorily atrocious and the strokes of fate fittingly tragic. The history of Tolkien's world - not just here but in the Lord of the Rings too - is a story of gradual but inexorable decline from an initial state of sublime grace. Tolkien delights in talking about corruption, fading and passing away; he seems in love with the past. In the Silmarillion he tries, with some success, to create a mythical past worthy of love.


The Lady and the Unicorn
The Lady and the Unicorn
by Tracy Chevalier
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.08

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A skilful weave, 21 Dec 2003
This is the story of a set of six tapestries, and their effects on the lives of the people whose lives they touch. There is a lecherous but gifted painter, a grim man of power and his vibrant daughter, a put-upon master weaver, his diverse family and a number of others; the great thing is that you will care about them all.
The tale is told by a succession of narrators, each of whom is responsible for some aspect of the tapestries, either in their inspiration or their making - occasionally both. Each of the main characters gets to tell a part of the story. Whilst all have their own perspective and an individual voice, the style of writing remains uniform; characters are distinguished by what they say, not by how they say it. This seems to be an act of deliberate restraint, and the overall effect of the shared narration is to underline the cooperative way that many hands interact to produce a single coherent tapestry.
Along the way I learned a little about fifteenth-century Paris and Brussels and a little more about weaving and tapestries; this book certainly left me wanting to see the Lady and Unicorn first hand. But at the time time as she spins a genuinely interesting interpretation of a work of art, Tracy Chevalier succeeds in bringing to life a set of characters whose lives are touched by tragedy, triumph, sacrifice and salvation.
Unlike the tapestries, this book is modest in its scale and pretensions; it will not eat up vast amounts of anyone’s time. But it is a skilful and satisfying interweaving of its component threads. It is the first of this author’s books that I have read; now I can’t wait to get hold of her others.


The Da Vinci Code
The Da Vinci Code
by Dan Brown
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Fun but not brainy. A bit clunky too., 2 Dec 2003
This review is from: The Da Vinci Code (Hardcover)
The publishers have printed a couple of reviews on the back of this book that suggest its contents are "brainy". Potential readers should not be deceived. Dan Brown is not trying to muscle in on Umberto Eco's territory. Neither will he abandon any readers who might struggle with esoteric allusions.
For example: the phone rings at a London address and the caller introduces himself, "this is the London police." Hardly plausible, so why write it? Well, "the police" will not do, because most of the police in the book so far have been French, and there must be no risk of confusing the reader. And "the Metropolitan police" is impossible, since Mr. Brown is writing primarily for a US audience, who won't know who the Met are.
The art history and numerology here are presented in a manner similarly sympathetic to neophytes, though a trick is missed in the failure to include reproductions (black and white would have done) of the two main Da Vincis under discussion.
The chapters run to two or three pages each, and a common ploy on the last page of each one is for a character to witness a sensational piece of plot-development whose nature is not shared with the reader until a couple of chapters later on, after parallel plotlines have been briefly visited.
But however irritating the devices used, they keep you turning the pages. There are several genuinely good moments amid a rather larger number that fall a bit flat. In particular, a snappier ending was sorely needed.
UK readers might be reminded a little of Dr. Who - except with art history substituting for travel through space and time. The characters may be two-dimensional, but they're fairly likeable. The scenery may seem a bit wobbly if you look too closely, but if you surrender to the story and don't expect too much, you will be entertained.


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