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RachelWalker "RachelW" (England)
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Mary Swann
Mary Swann
by Carol Shields
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mary Swann - Carol Shields, 24 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Mary Swann (Paperback)
Every time I read another Carol Shields book I just want to rhapsodise about her. Mary Swann is a masterpiece. It's a quiet, forceful storm of a book. It's about literary endeavour, biography, womanhood, wifehood, poetry, the ordinariness of creative impulse, the glory of being a human being with a quiet desire to create. Mary Swann as a character is just stunning. I can't praise this book highly enough. Much of Shields' work sings of the ordinary, but to do so in a novel written with such quiet, unassuming formal daring is remarkable. It's tragic and heart warming. It is quite utterly astounding how Shields manages to make you yearn to meet a character who is dead before the novel begins as much as the characters of the novel want to conduct a postmortem on her life and work. Meet and simply sit with. Hold out a hand over the kitchen table. There is so very much to this book. Shields strips away any pretentiousness sometimes held in the discourse about poetry and creation and exposes the human beings at the core. This novel is first rate, and it is criminal that this is no longer in print from Harper. This may well be her greatest achievement.


The Mask of Dimitrios (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Mask of Dimitrios (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Eric Ambler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mask of Dimitrios - Eric Ambler, 24 Jan. 2016
A very entertaining espionage thriller. Sometimes I find this genre a bit opaque, but this is a clear, intelligent, exciting trek through Europe as a curious layman, hungry for a slice of a darker crime that he deals with in his more genteel detective novels, retraces the steps of a notorious criminal to gain insight into the heart and mind of someone evil. It is full of dangerous atmosphere, and moves at a fantastic pace as we go from Turkey to Athens to Sofia to Geneva and finally Paris, retracing a criminal history at the same time as we are immersed in recent European political and social history. Part of the grand appeal of this book is that it could have been written yesterday: all of the crimes in this book (drug smuggling; people smuggling; assassination; petty theft and murder) are recognisable as common blights on today's Europe. Were you to rewrite this book and set it in 2016, very little would need to change. This novel has a perfect balance of ingredients: social history, philosophy, thrills, twists, soul-searching, morality, murder and secrets. At it's heart it's still a mystery novel, but of a very different stripe to The Murder at the Vicarage. But it is just as entertaining and diverting.


Accordion Crimes
Accordion Crimes
by Annie Proulx
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Accordion Crimes - Annie Proulx, 18 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Accordion Crimes (Paperback)
My first Annie Proulx but not my last. This is a modern masterpiece - a slide of American history and an offbeat riff on the immigrant experience. It's about belonging and otherness and exclusion and family. It's full of tragedy and little joys, and music. Each of the stories is a gem, and the writing is just mesmeric. This is a really, really special book. It bursts with compassion. It's a lengthy read and Proulx's is a very considered literary style, but the quick about-changes in the story keep the pages turning. Very highly recommended in all respects.


New Grub Street (Vintage Classics)
New Grub Street (Vintage Classics)
by George Gissing
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars New Grub Street - George Gissing, 18 Jan. 2016
An excellent, psychologically penetrating account of literary life in the late 1800s. Funny, serious, dark. It has that swampy ability to suck you in like the best Victorian novels do, despite their length. The writing is excellent, and the presentation and development of each of the character arcs is really very strong indeed. Lives join and unravel and end in tragedy and threaten hope and joy and never quite make it and sometimes do. There are maddening moments and heartbreaking ones, and everything in between. The characters are above all human, despite the element of side this novel has in its wink towards portraying the toilers of grub street and the paradox of literary aspiration - they are self interested and kind and generous and loving and sensitive and short-tempered, all at the same time. A great book.


Carmilla (Hesperus Classics)
Carmilla (Hesperus Classics)
by J. Sheridan Le Fanu
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Carmilla - J. Sheridan le Fanu, 26 Dec. 2015
Excellent. Creepy, sinister, claustrophobic, tense. I'm certainly no fan of modern vampiric novels, but I'm certainly very interested in the origins of fictional tropes. And sometimes you find little gems right at the start of the canon. It's short, gripping told very clearly, and has heaps of atmosphere. Very highly recommended.


The Documents in the Case
The Documents in the Case
by Dorothy L Sayers
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Documents in the Case - Dorothy L. Sayers & someone else..., 25 Dec. 2015
I've recently read my way through all Sayers Wimsey novels, with this one tacked on at the end. Now, it was a bit of a struggle to get through the Wimsey canon to be honest, and I don't really know why I carried on bothering. Can't stand the writing, the tone, the plummy dialogue when Sayers wheels Wimsey out (in contrast, the books with Harriet in were much much better but they were sadly few and sadly came to focus on Wimsey in the latter sections anyway).

However, this is fantastic - an epistolary crime novel. The scene is set up brilliantly and the case unravelled grippingly. I really enjoyed this. I like novels told through letters a great deal, and this really really worked here. The perspective is always fresh, the different points of view keep slanting the lens and kept throwing up interesting new details. I liked it a great deal.


Being Dead
Being Dead
by Jim Crace
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Being Dead - Jim Crace, 25 Dec. 2015
This review is from: Being Dead (Paperback)
This is without doubt the best book I've ever read on the subject of death, ever. A masterpiece - an odd beautifully gnarled piece of fiction with hard edges, sharp lines, and a vigorously beating heart. It's a slim, perfect thing - the scenes of decay on the beach, the encroachment of insects, are made as beautiful and grand as a symphony. The recurring images are beautiful and striking - the hand on the leg, the never-letting-go. This is a superlative piece of work. It's my belief that the best works of fiction should be able to be held up as works of beauty and art, and this one truly, truly fits the brief. If Jake and Dinos Chapman wrote a book, this is pretty close to something they might write.


The Penguin Collection
The Penguin Collection

5.0 out of 5 stars In the Time of His Prosperity - Barbara Vine, 9 Dec. 2015
This review is from: The Penguin Collection (Paperback)
This is solely a review of the Barbara Vine story contained within this collection. This review, really, is for those Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine fans who may be seeking this story out.

This was the only piece of fictional writing by Rendell/Vine that I hadn't read. Her only Barbara Vine short story, published in a collection of stories celebrating penguins 20th anniversary, unpublished in any of her other anthologies. And it is *absolutely* a Vine short story, as distinct from a Rendell short story as the Rendell novels are from the Vine novels. It makes me very regretful that no more were written, because this is absolutely marvellous. It's only just over 10 pages long, but it's as horrifying as one of her full length novels - you can kind of sense what may be coming up as the shocking twist; it's a demonstrating of the perfect sense of creeping ghastliness that Rendell made uniquely her own.

The collection this is contained within is no longer in print so if you want to get hold of it you will have to locate a second-hand copy of ISBN 9780140254761, something amazon's buy used/new feature is perfect for!

I absolutely 100% recommend this. It was worth the price of the entire collection. It was only a few pages but so far it has been one of my reading experiences of the year. They really should look to republish this somehow in a small gift/memorial edition.


In the Time of His Prosperity
In the Time of His Prosperity
by BARBARA VINE
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars In the Time of His Prosperity - Barbara Vine, 9 Dec. 2015
This was the only piece of fictional writing by Rendell/Vine that I hadn't read. Her only Barbara Vine short story, published in a collection of stories celebrating penguins 20th anniversary, unpublished in any of her other anthologies. And it is *absolutely* a Vine short story, as distinct from a Rendell short story as the Rendell novels are from the Vine novels. It makes me very regretful that no more were written, because this is absolutely marvellous. It's only just over 10 pages long, but it's as horrifying as one of her full length novels - you can kind of sense what may be coming up as the shocking twist; it's a demonstrating of the perfect sense of creeping ghastliness that Rendell made uniquely her own.

The collection this is contained within is no longer in print so if you want to get hold of it you will have to locate a second-hand copy of ISBN 9780140254761, something amazon's buy used/new feature is perfect for!

I absolutely 100% recommend this. It was worth the price of the entire collection. It was only a few pages but so far it has been one of my reading experiences of the year. They really should look to republish this somehow in a small gift/memorial edition.


The Jungle
The Jungle
by Upton Sinclair
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Jungle - Upton Sinclair, 22 Nov. 2015
This review is from: The Jungle (Paperback)
I didn't expect to like this book as much as I did; it sounded a bit dry. But no, this is a passionate, moving, tragic story about the dreadful hardships faced by a Lithuanian immigrant family as they move to Chicago with hope of building a glorious new life. The working conditions soon take their toll and while the book begins with a glorious, cacophanous wedding celebration, that is to be the pinnacle of the characters' experience of America. Things soon get worse as they are swindled, exploited, abused, and ground down in the labour machine of turn of the century Chicago.

It's sometimes a very hard book to read, so tragic and moving are some of the things that happen to the family. Yes it feels a little overdramatic and exploitative of misery to make a social point (there's no temperedness in the plotting), but as the point is (well, was) an entirely valid one, I can forgive it. Sometimes social novels like this can feel dated if the social climate has markedly changed and the issues described are no longer relevant; however The Jungle is so immediate, heartfelt and passionate that this wasn't a factor for me. Indeed, it may 110 years down the line but there are places in the world where I'm sure conditions like this still exist, and even in Britain there are too many people who feel the bite of poverty and are crushed beneath and alienated from the society they live in.

It's not a perfect book by any means, but the characters feel real, their plights are moving, the story is engaging, and the issues are horrifying. For anyone with an interest in social history, and powerful novels of raw force dealing with everyday characters, this is as good as you could get I suspect.


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