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J. C. Bailey (East Sussex United Kingdom)
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I Am Pilgrim
I Am Pilgrim
Price: £3.49

4.0 out of 5 stars VERY READABLE IF YOU IGNORE THE UNCONVINCING TECHNICAL DETAILS, 20 Sep 2014
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This review is from: I Am Pilgrim (Kindle Edition)
As a former journalist, you would expect the author to be well informed geo-politically, and he is. As a successful screenwriter, you would expect him to have a good narrative structure, and here also he does not disappoint.

What does let this well-informed, well-structured, well-written first novel down is its unconvincing technical and technological detail. Also, the occasional biographical digressions sometimes slow down the pace without always building entirely believable characters or motivations.

Nevertheless, as long as disbelief can be readily suspended, this is an engaging novel that would potentially make an excellent serial in the "24" mould.


The Skin Collector (Lincoln Rhyme Book 11)
The Skin Collector (Lincoln Rhyme Book 11)
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars NEEDED MORE WORK, 3 Sep 2014
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Jeffery Deaver (JD) seems to have a fairly consistent way of constructing a novel. He taps into a topic - typically a branch of technology, criminology and sociology - and researches the ass off it. The said topic is milked for a plot device, and a multi-layered conspiracy is built up around it. Finally, or so it would seem, the author's lead characters are dropped into place and allowed to peel away the layers of the conspiratorial onion one by one. And the reader can rarely tell how many more layers exist to be peeled until the last page is turned and the players (sometimes rather summarily) stop playing.

Generally the teachnique has worked well, and some of JD's novels have been superb. This is not one of them. The plotting seems (within JD's quite original way of writing) somewhat by numbers. Some of the twists are certainly unexpected, but in contrast with his best work the most radical twists are the least plausible ones, often made unexpected by the mere withholding of information earlier in the story line. And architecturally this is a mess: the Wiki-style digressions (I won't spoil by being specific) are the least well-integrated into the story-telling of any of his books that I have personally read. The final episode, which was the most predictable, actually felt to me like a bolt-on to a story that simply did not know when to stop. And JD seems to be aware of the shortcomings, because I could not help seeing the sly reference (put into the mouth of one of the characters) to a famous movie director using rambling, irrelevant patches of dialogue to cover up holes in the plot, as an ironic self-reference.

None of these flaws is fatal, but there is an additional weakness this time out. JD has generally been good at building his wounded-but-brave characters in a way that made you care about them. But the behaviour patterns here seem stereotypical, their relationships static, their decisions straightforward, their physical or mental frailties less of a problem than usual. In short, more work was needed in streamlining the plot and bringing the characters to life.

This isn't a bad novel, and I would not recommend giving it a miss, either to new readers or those familiar with JD's work. For the former, however, there are better places to start. And for the latter, expectations should be kept in check.


The Secret History
The Secret History
by Donna Tartt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars Sprawling Tragicomedy of Manners, 12 Aug 2014
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
An interesting and original tragicomedy of manners, with some passable descriptive prose. Sadly weighed down with too many contrived allusions to classical language and literature, and rather fanciful characterisations.


Fuse
Fuse
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: £16.34

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keith Urban comes of age with this crossover masterpiece, 25 Sep 2013
This review is from: Fuse (Audio CD)
I must admit that I did not have high expectations of this release, but in the event I was delighted. I had felt that for all the strong reviews and sales KU was going through the motions a bit. Then there was all the controversy over the release of "Get Closer", with many buyers outside the USA frustrated at the limited track count and many European listeners having difficulty finding a copy at all (iTunes UK still doesn't carry it). Initial signs with "Fuse" were little more promising. iTunes UK still doesn't have it at the time of writing, and even Amazon UK has only just secured a stock two weeks on from the official global release date.

BUT the good news is that this is a stonking album: rich, varied and sonically gorgeous. Of course, as befits Urban's growing status as a celebrity pop music guru, this is more mainstream pop than country. I can understand that AM purists and fans of lengthy guitar solos may begrudge this. But then Urban has always been more FM than AM - the banjo and fiddle parts more a stylistic flourish than a badge of cultural identity. And now, it is as if his work on AI has given him fresh creative judgement in relation to his own work.

The crux of the matter is that he has produced (no that is the wrong word, because he has evidently enlisted a number of producers for this project. Rather, he has been the 'auteur' of) a dazzling series of mini artistic statements in which he radically recontextualises the elements of his earlier musical vision. His singing has acquired maturity and confidence, and his guitar work has been ruthlessly refocused in service of each song. Chugging guitar riffs and wailing guitar solos have been all but squeezed out. But this is still very much a guitar album, and the shimmering, chiming vintage lines on these tracks do more to cement Urban's reputation as a virtuoso than any amount of the old stuff.

If I have a criticism, it is that the album is perhaps a little over-produced, its soundscapes a little too atmospheric and lacking in visceral punch. But there is more rebel attitude in these performances than in anything that has gone before, and this really is one of those albums that merits listening on a decent pair of studio headphones to capture the full impact of its sonic architecture.

Thoroughly recommended as a release that deserves to become a landmark in the singer's career.


The Hypnotist
The Hypnotist
Price: £1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Overhyped but effective, 15 July 2013
This review is from: The Hypnotist (Kindle Edition)
Novel does not live up to some of the industry hype, and the rather mannered narrative technique sometimes gets in the way. all the same, an involving and interesting story from an author who shows flashes of real empathy with the main character and the reader.


Green: 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
Green: 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition
Price: £16.54

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars REVISITED: R.E.M.'S SPRINGBOARD TO GLOBAL DOMINATION, 29 May 2013
Time passes so quickly. A 25th anniversary edition of this landmark album has now been released, the band itself has disbanded, and the pivotal role of "Green' in their story can be seen more clearly than ever.

It's no accident that "Green" is sandwiched in time between R.E.M.'s most demanding album, "Document", and their most accessible "Out of Time". In every sense it is a transitional product, marking the band's movement from parochial to global perspectives and from rock to pop.

The last word of the preceding paragraph may enrage some of the band's fans. But let me clarify. I'm not comparing R.E.M. with the here-today-and-thankfully-gone-tomorrow pop that fills the singles charts, but rather with the thankfully-here-for-ever classic pop of the Beatles and Phil Spector (in other words the universal riverbed of pop, of which rock is only a sub-set). R.E.M. were actually stretching the unyielding envelope of rock from 'Radio Free Europe' onwards, but by the time of "Green" such narrow genre boundaries were no more than a plaything in their inquisitive hands.

The transition is appropriately marked by several traits that are now considered to the quintessential hallmarks of R.E.M.'s career, but which really made their first substantive appearance here. All of these traits have their roots in a new found artistic self-confidence that expresses itself in a quantum leap of both vision and technique:

1) Experimentation with new sonic textures.
2) Willingness to risk alienating the established fan-base.
3) A typically post-modern playfulness with musical genres that simultaneously honours and subverts the band's own influences.

Some commentators of course claim to see these traits in the band's earlier work, but very few of these could offer conclusive evidence that they were interpreting the earlier stuff that way at the time it first appeared. It is an easy and excusable mistake to read back into an artist's earlier work insights that emerged at a later date, and I believe that to be the case here. In other words, however good the early albums were (and for me, they include some of the band's best work), they have been largely reinterpreted by critics and established fans in the light of more recent statements.

This leaves "Green", in historical terms, in a rather similar position to "Murmur": A ground-breaking album, not universally appreciated but with a massive cult following, that acted as the springboard for an entire phase in the band's history. Indeed, the best parts of the later albums came when the band successfully opened up to deeper exploration some of the musical motifs that had their genesis in the "Green" sessions.

Of course that sort of historical significance doesn't necessarily make an album rewarding to listen to on its own terms, and when I first got my copy home I wondered if I'd made a mistake buying it. However it grew on me by leaps and bounds, and of all R.E.M.'s classic cuts it is now the one I return to most often. The anniversary edition's bonus disc of live performances is just icing on a very substantial cake.


Wheelhouse
Wheelhouse
Price: £11.52

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Has Brad Paisley finally lost the plot?, 9 April 2013
This review is from: Wheelhouse (Audio CD)
For the first time in his career, I think that Brad has really miscalculated with an album. It's fair to say that he has often miscalculated with individual tracks - there has never been a Paisley album without a few bits of self-indulgent whimsy or unctuous sentimentality that don't stand up to repeated listening. In the past however, even on a mixed bag like Mud On The Tires, there has always been enough quality to make the album a viable purchase. I've bought all of them up until now (except the Christmas one), and been to see the guy in concert.

Unfortunately, I won't be buying this one. With a couple of particularly dire exceptions, it is not a bad album; Brad is too much of a master craftsman for that. In terms of artistic judgement, however, there is not (in my opinion) enough strong material on Wheelhouse to counterbalance the novelty items and the sheer dead weight of slush. Add to that the worst song about race relations I have ever heard (N.B. I respect the sentiment behind it, but the lyrics and arrangement are terrible) and I would be skipping more tracks than I would be listening to.

I've tried, I really have; I don't want a hole in my collection. But I just wouldn't listen to it. I hope the next one will be better.


The Studio Albums 1968-1979
The Studio Albums 1968-1979
Price: £26.99

24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars UNSURPASSABLE, 2 Nov 2012
The most sublime and significant body of work in the history of modern popular music. An ineffable bargain at this price. If you are missing more than three of these flawless albums, this is almost a compulsory purchase.

As another reviewer on here has commented, the male-dominated reviewer community has tended to portray Mitchell's work as peaking with Blue. Nothing can be further from the truth. Different people will have different favourites, but in terms of technique and grace Mitchell has never stopped evolving - to the extent that she saved some of her most affecting work for late in her extraordinary career.

It is impossible to recommend this work highly enough.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 4, 2012 10:20 AM GMT


A Wanted Man (Jack Reacher, Book 17)
A Wanted Man (Jack Reacher, Book 17)
Price: £3.49

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars LOW POINT IN THE SERIES, 4 Sep 2012
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I don't need to go over the qualities that have made this one of the most successful extended series in the history of the crime novel. But sadly, in "A Wanted Man", both Lee Child and Jack Reacher slightly miss their mark for the first time since the series began so many years and novels ago.

This happens because both author and character deviate from what they do best. Whether this is because Child has come under external pressure to evolve his creation, or because he has become bored with repetition, is hard to say. And it remains by any standards a good thriller, but here are some clues to what has changed from earlier novels that I consider to be more successful:

- A more complex and involved back-story. The virtue of deceptive simplicity has been sacrificed in favour of a seriously complicated plot premise that has just too many coincidences to swallow.

- A more claustrophobic setting, involving more of spoken dialogue that is not Child's strong point. Child has consistently been at his best in wide open spaces, crisp third-person narrative, and sparse dialogue.

- A more fashionable storyline about terrorism and homeland security. Reacher has always been at his best confronting America's homegrown dark side. Middle-eastern terrorists are such a soft target for the American reading public, and in the past Child has been conscientious at defusing stereotypes like this. Here again, the new novel is at its best when inter-agency dominance games become part of the threat.

- A more inclusive approach to typecasting the female characters - a good thing in itself, but it is not perfectly realised in this particular case. One gets the impression that Child is not sure how to make Reacher react to strong, self-sufficient women, but feels he has to include them.

- A more self-conscious and mannered narrative technique which tends to obstruct the reader's feeling of involvement, including a preoccupation with irrelevant facts and statistics and excessive switches of viewpoint between different characters.

In conclusion, this is an experiment with new situations and storytelling dynamics that has not fully paid off. Regular followers of the series will want it, and most will be only mildly disappointed if at all. This is not the best place for new readers to start, however. And if the trend continues, the author risks turning his back on the distinctive strengths on which his success was built.


Nocturnal
Nocturnal
Price: £3.95

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars SHOWS TALENT, 4 Jun 2012
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This review is from: Nocturnal (Kindle Edition)
This starts as an engrossing, well-executed X-Files type detective story, and if it had maintained the same balance of intrigue and character development throughout, I would have rated it more highly. However, the book switches genre half-way through. The second part is essentially how you would imagine the book-of-the-film based on an adult-rated comic book movie. Many of the superhero-noir genre tropes are in evidence, and the book lost it for me at that point.


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