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K. K. Jakubczyk "Sofa King" (Subversive Surrey)
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The Last Hiccup
The Last Hiccup
by Christopher Meades
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.73

3.0 out of 5 stars Charming, funny, well written and very nearly brilliant, 5 Jun 2012
This review is from: The Last Hiccup (Paperback)
Let me start by saying that I really enjoyed Chris Meades latest novel and that in this case three stars means well above-average. There are strong signs that Mr Meades' writing has progressed from that of his first major work; the hilariously absurd "Three fates of Henrik...". The prose of his latest work is clear, easy to follow and generally flows very well from start to finish. Whilst this story isn't as laugh out hilarious as "the three fates" it is warm, charming, funny and subtly poignant. Just like his earlier work it is also quite absurd; in the very best sense of the definition. I think that the comparisons with Vonnugut are justified and I think that great things could lie ahead for this talented young author.

However (there's always a but), there is an underlying anachronism to this novel that gets in the way of this being really really good. Before I explain my comments I must state that I do get it; this is an absurdist/ surreal tale and as such historical accuracy isn't necessarily a prime concern. The (albeit minor) problem I have is that Mr Meades paints a picture of Stalinist Russia that is charming, Christian and genteel - a far cry from the tragic reality. As the son of a Gulag survivor, I feel I have some qualification in making that point - which is that there was a genuine opportunity for Mr Meades to have written an even more absurd tale (based on that tragedy). Needless to say on balance that's a minor criticism for what is still a very entertaining read.

Recommended for lovers of the absurd.


The Time Traveler's Wife
The Time Traveler's Wife
by Audrey Niffenegger
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.79

3.0 out of 5 stars Hysterical black comedy, 20 April 2012
This is yet another one of my proxy reviews - of a product that is owned by my dear wife. This book was kindly bought for my wife by my sister-in-law some five years ago - thank you Jo. My wife tried to read the novel, getting about one hundred pages in before giving up. Having recently read a short story by this author (included in the recent Guardian anthology) and being short of a new book to read I thought I'd give this a go.

I'll be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect; mindless chick lit, sugar coated romance, cod philosophy, or popular sci-fi for girls? In most respects it is all of this things. After a hundred and fifty pages, I found myself sharing my wife's view: the time traveling part of the story is pretty much exhausted. A reasonable person could assume that Ms Niffenegger would then wrap things up within another forty-fifty pages. Instead, she drags the yarn on for another two hundred and fifty odd pages. Is it worth trudging on to the end? On balance I'd say yes.

The entire premise of this novel, a man traveling back in time to meet his future wife during her prepubescent years to prepare her for their future life together is dark and there are plenty of uncomfortable moments (their final meeting in particular). A casual reading might suggest that this is a tale of an unusual romance - I think it's closer to black comedy (particularly the inevitable conclusion).

Now for the negatives (not too many in fairness). I must say that I found all of the main characters unlikable. In particular, Henry is an intensely horrible and self-centered individual, who in many respects 'tricks' Claire into becoming his confident and future wife. Indeed, there are suggestions in the novel that she has no free will and cannot prevent the inevitable. In my mind this makes the 'romantic' aspects of the novel unbelievable. I think Ms Niffenegger's is having a laugh at the romantic genre.

Personally, I also found the author's characterization of the Polish-American Gomez at best intriguing at worst borderline racist. I can only assume that his character wasn't (for whatever reason) fully realized. Perhaps this'll be something Ms Niffenegger addresses in her future writing.

Recommended, if you like black comedy.


Epigraphs
Epigraphs
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: 11.06

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice chamber music, 20 April 2012
This review is from: Epigraphs (Audio CD)
I was very fortunate to receive this as Christmas present from my dear old Mum, shortly after it's original release ten-twelve years ago - thank you Mum. Even after all this time I still marvel at the pairing of Darling and Bjornstaad.

My wife and I were lucky enough to spend part of the day driving up the coast from Brisie, to Margate, Redcliffe and Scarborough, during which my Walkman randomly selected this record. It was the perfect soundtrack for a drive in the sub-tropical heat with Bjornstaad's playing matching the brooding weather conditions.

Really nice chamber music. Recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 31, 2013 10:49 AM GMT


Through a Glass Darkly: (Brunetti)
Through a Glass Darkly: (Brunetti)
by Donna Leon
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

2.0 out of 5 stars More soap opera than thriller, 17 April 2012
A colleague, and fellow Town Hall Book Club member kindly gave me her copy of this book to read on a long- haul flight to Aus. She was not very complementary of the novel or Ms Leon's writing and thought that I'd hate it. Sadly, she was pretty much spot on.

I'll start with the positive; the story was easy to follow and read. In that respect it might suit teenagers looking to make the jump to popular adult fiction.

The negatives are numerous. The story itself was sloppy and directionless. The central character was generally unlikable and the surrounding cast two-dimensional. The Venetian connection, which I understand to be the main selling point of this series was, in my opinion, superficial. I think it might be quite fun to substitute the Venetian place names with Bristolian place names and play spot the difference.

To put things into perspective I started rereading my copy of Hammet's Red Harvest and was instantly rewarded with a tight gripping (and gritty) thriller.


Nights Of Ballads...   /Imp
Nights Of Ballads... /Imp
Price: 7.48

5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect late night vibes, 14 Mar 2012
This is not only my favourite McCoy Tyner record but also one of my best loved jazz albums. It's the perfect late night record - gentle soothing vibes to help you come down at the end of the working week.

The opener Satin Doll sets the scene, Tyner working his magic. Three tracks in and you get one of the best interpretations of Round Midnight. Really good stuff.

If you are looking for a simple and intimate jazz set then this McCoy Tyner trio delivers the goods. Highly recommended.


The Battle Cruiser "HMS Hood"
The Battle Cruiser "HMS Hood"
by Bruce Taylor
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Super history remembering the mighty Hood, 13 Mar 2012
As others have noted this is without doubt the go-to single history of this great battlecruiser. In many respects this is for me the perfect military history book. It strikes that difficult balance between scholarly work and accessible/ popular history. It is the type of book I happily leave out on the coffee table ( if my wife let's me). It's positives are accessible text and format, a range of contemporary photographs, the right balance of anecdotal stories and really good CAD drawings of the Hood (which are in colour, fold out and form the centre spread of the book). I particularly liked the section detailing the Hood's menagerie ( cats, dogs and kangaroo).

Recommend - whether you're an armchair historian, a modeller or if you just enjoy really good books.


Mark Hollis
Mark Hollis
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: 0.53

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great late-night music, 13 Mar 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Mark Hollis (Audio CD)
This is a lovely, gentle album filled with beautiful music. It is perfect for late night listening.

Mark Hollis mumbles his way through the record accompanied by a variety of abstract musical interludes - it's not jazz but it has that same late night vibe that works well for me. The minimalist warbling isn't for everyone and I'm sure many will hate it.

Recommended for romantic curmudgeons everywhere.


Delaware
Delaware

1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Good memories but in the cold light of day..., 13 Mar 2012
This review is from: Delaware (Audio CD)
Twenty years ago I had brief love affair with the Drop Nineteens - I rushed around buying their singles, their albums and saw them at least twice. For a fleeting moment I might have even believed that they were the next incarnation of the Pixies or even Sonic Youth.

Twenty years later I see them for what they are; teenage opportunists, peddling an unsophisticated Americanist version of c.1990 British indie pop (dare I say shoe gazing). The whole period is like a Smiths lyric in reverse - "at the time we were all laughing but now it seems so terrible".

The single Winona is unsurprisingly the strongest track on here, even if it is indie by numbers. I remember that at the time their cover of (Madonna's) Angel made me all emotional, now it has me reaching for a bucket. On other tracks they are really trying very hard to impress (Kick the Tragedy and Reberrymemberer) it's just that they fail miserably.

If you're harking back to the 'good old days' of the early 90s and thinking about buying this record then I'd recommend you look elsewhere; it's not as good as I remembered. Even MBV and Slowdive are better than this (or least that's how I remember them...)
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 1, 2013 12:32 PM BST


The Sorcerer           /Imp
The Sorcerer /Imp
Offered by Japan-Select
Price: 24.54

5.0 out of 5 stars Seminal live album, 13 Mar 2012
This review is from: The Sorcerer /Imp (Audio CD)
A truly great live album on the Impulse label. Gabor's guitar sound is unique and to my mind this album showcases his talent very well.

The blend of jazz, pop and eastern sounds works very well in this (small club - the Jazz Workshop, Boston) setting and the listener is rewarded with an intimate experience. The covers of Beat Goes On and Corcovado are personal favourites. Strangely, I once heard the opening track being played over the departure lounge PA system at Brisbane Airport - truly esoteric.

Recommended, especially for those who want to stray from the well travelled jazz path.


Anna Calvi
Anna Calvi
Price: 11.49

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow-speed grower, 13 Mar 2012
This review is from: Anna Calvi (Audio CD)
I was fortunate enough to receive a copy of this nice album for my birthday - thank you Paul.

I know nothing about Ms Calvi; in fact, I'd never heard of her prior to being given this record (yes folks, I live under a stone). For fusty types like me ( who are thinking about picking up this record), the overall vibe is firmly retro. To my ears, Ms Calvi's music is like an absurd mating of late 60s spaghetti-western soundtrack score, with nods towards polar opposites such as Chris Isak and Calexico. Vocally she sounds a bit like Siouxie during her Boomerang period (well that's what she sounds like to me, alright). All in all not a bad concoction.

Further listening and study of the album cover confirms to me that we're looking at an artist with a penchant for post-punk prototype- goth sounds (hopefully more of the former and less of the latter). I think that I'll need to play the album at least another ten times before I start to listen properly. Nevertheless, I'm confident it's a slow and steady grower.

Recommended for most subterranean dwelling forty somethings.


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