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Simon Hall (Leeds, UK)

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Love Wins: At The Heart of Life's Big Questions
Love Wins: At The Heart of Life's Big Questions
by Rob Bell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

170 of 181 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could two wrongs make a right?, 22 April 2011
Rob Bell has done some great work in opening up a bit of space for people who have grown up in conservative Christian circles to exercise their brains a bit. Even those who don't agree with him are working hard to combat him. Putting aside their obvious hatred for someone they seem to see as a turncoat, that can't be such a bad thing.

The irony is that this book uses the evangelical methodology to prove the opposite of what evangelicals normally believe. Instead of God as a cosmic bouncer, joyfully pronouncing, 'Your name's not down, you're not coming in,' Bell suggests that God always leaves the door open, even throughout eternity. Not that everyone is saved; just everyone that wants to be.

In the evangelical style, Bell takes a few verses that he likes (stuff about God 'reconciling all things to himself') and then imposes them on the verses he doesn't (anything about hell). He flips between reading texts poetically, symbolically or literally, without reference to literary or historical context. To all those evangelicals criticisng Bell for this weakness, I say, 'Take the log out of your own eye first; he learnt it from you.'

And his habit of making sweeping assertions without reference to any authority other than himself (there are no footnotes in the book, so we have to trust him on everything) leaves him open to the same kinds of critique one might give of a crazy-looking street evangelist: who gave YOU the right to speak for God?

The writing style.

The style.

Reminds me.

Reminds me of an advert for an expensive car in a Sunday newspaper magazine.

It's short.



Conversational, yet persuasive.

It feels cool.

Maybe too cool.

Because sometimes this level of coolness is a bit too much about surface impression and not about depth.

How much can you say in a paragraph of six words?

It raises all kinds of questions about the relationship between Christianity and consumer culture. I hate to say this (because I want to believe it's not true), but the book gives me the impression that Bell is trying to change the theological picture for the sake of some of his friends who struggle to believe in hell. I hope there's more to it than that, because the consequences of this change are far-reaching.

So, I think Bell is wrong, but much more in methodology than in his basic point that we should start by assuming God loves all of us and wants to include all of us. His assertion that God wants everyone to be 'saved' is right and biblical, but he then does violence to the Bible by trying to make every verse line up with that assertion. But, you know what, there are so many thousands of books (and now there will be dozens more) that use the same flawed methodology to 'prove' that God hates us and enjoys seeing us burn that I am glad this book has been written. If it tips the scales a tiny bit towards love and away from hate, hallelujah.
Comment Comments (9) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 11, 2011 1:20 AM GMT

Early In The Morning
Early In The Morning

22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very special discovery, 11 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Early In The Morning (Audio CD)
Sometimes a voice comes along that is the aural equivalent of walking into a crumbling old church. Within the first ten seconds of James Vincent Mcmorrow's debut album you will feel as if you have discovered a ruined cathedral in a city's back streets. His ragged falsetto is hard to describe without resort to cliche: the throbbing melancholy, the aching hope of love, it's all there.

Those first ten seconds will immediately make you think of Bon Iver, and whether this is conscious imitation or not, reading the bumpf inside the CD will inform you that this album was also created in a lonely place (although perhaps not quite so lonely!). Opener If I Had a Boat ('Once I had a dream/it died long before') sounds pretty desperate, but then it's followed by, 'Now I'm pointed north/hoping for the shore.' So maybe a little faith in the future then.

However, as the album progresses and the Bon Iver voice gives way to some Jeff Buckley inflections, one thought undermines all the beauty: take that voice away and some of these songs are ever-so-slightly - I struggle to say it - pedestrian. The same old chords can be made to sound new again, but sometimes they can sound very, very old without imaginative arrangement. With a normal voice, some of these songs might sound a little repetitive.

But then From the Woods arrives, a song that really does sound like it was written by a man on the run - but from what? It's brilliant and terrifying, and reminds me of the first time I heard Violent Femmes' Country Death Song: it's an Irish backwoods horror movie sung by an angel.

So not quite five stars then. This album does not stand up to the debuts of the performers mentioned above, but the good news is that the raw talent is definitely there. There is more to come, I'm sure of it. James, if you're reading this: well done, brilliant, next time have more fun with that amazing voice of yours, and maybe consider a producer that will push you into places you've never been before. But know that you're on repeat, and you can't ask for more than that.

Parker: The Outfit (Richard Stark's Parker)
Parker: The Outfit (Richard Stark's Parker)
by Darwyn Cooke
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £22.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Parker Vehicle Hits Top Gear, 15 Dec. 2010
Parker is an anti-hero perfect for our moment in time, when for some unfathomable reason we find ourselves hankering after the gender certainties of Mad Men. Parker calls to us from a time when men were men and women were disposable. But boy, everyone was so stylish!

This is a beautifully drawn piece of art that perfectly captures the art style of 60s cartoons as much as the amoral brutality of a career criminal driven to exact terrible... well, it's not really vengeance, more a most extreme interpretation of the rule that attack is the best form of defence.

Readers who haven't read the first episode in this new series will no doubt find that there is some learning to do: while part one does not reach the heights that part two does story-wise, it's worth going back to for the added pay-off here.

The story is undoubtedly pulpy, and yet there are elements that feel both original and realistic, and the artist/editor has been brave enough to play with the graphic novel form, even including prose from the source novel at a vital part in the drama. This changes the pace, feeling like a kind of slow-mo close-up compared to the rip-roaring speed of the rest of the narrative.

Undoubtedly one of the most perfectly formed graphic novels in the rapidly-growing crime genre.

A Sickness in the Family
A Sickness in the Family
by Denise Mina
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Horrible, but haunting, 9 Dec. 2010
Do you have a happy family life? Are you happy with your partner, your parents? Denise Mina is out to convince you that you are a blind fool: everyone is vile, hates you, and wishes you were dead!

'A Sickness in the Family' is a very well told tale, but you should probably take a happy pill before reading it. I finished it two days ago and I still feel contaminated by its misanthropic, scabrous take on family life. But even more, I am struggling to come to terms with the most affecting graphic novel I've ever read.

Without wanting to spill any secrets, we are hearing the story of a convicted murderer, but the graphic novel medium is not used to the possibility of an unrealiable narrator, and I found myself assuming that what was depicted on the page was 'the truth'. That was until the very last page, when the whole house of cards comes tumbling down. Are we seeing what really what happened? What a delusional mind believes happened? Or what a truly evil mind wants us to believe?

Beyond this we are looking at a fairly typical 'locked room' mystery. Unless you think the 'room' (in this case, a house) is haunted, as is weakly suggested... In the end, the killer is obvious, once you get into Mina's twisted mind.

So why not five stars? Well, I must admit I don't buy the level of hatred for family life. I'm just too happy.

Children of Men [DVD]  [2006]
Children of Men [DVD] [2006]
Dvd ~ Clive Owen
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: £3.05

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A four star movie with an extra star for genius filmmaking, 10 Oct. 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Children of Men [DVD] [2006] (DVD)
Michael Caine is in this film. I mention that only because a film that comes to mind after watching Children of Men is Get Carter. It feels the same in some respects, like a lot British 70s film and TV: there is undoubtedly a overarching bleakness even though the story is one of hope, and a kind of unpolished reality. That feeling permeates because CGI is kept to a minimum - seeing real action in real locations feels wonderful - wondering at the actual film-making is just as amazing at what is on screen, something that advocates of CGI just don't seem to understand.

And what filmmaking! While the film may have an ultra-realistic aesthetic, it is simultaneously a technical tour de force. The single take shot in Atonement is strangely beautiful and awe-inspiring, but Children of Men has three (that I can remember) that are its equal or superior, both for technical prowess and because they actually drive the story forward rather than just looking fantastic. This is like an arthouse adventure movie.

Well, I've been reading the negative reviews, and they seem to amount to: (a)it's not the same as the book, (b) it's boring and depressing, and (c) it doesn't explain everything. Well... (a) yes, (b) do you watch children's cartoons all day? (c) thank God it doesn't explain everything! I like to use my brain and I'm sick of characters and narrators telling me what to think!

Bleh. This is a good film. It's not perfect, but it is so wonderfully made I can forgive that.

Christine Falls (Quirke Mysteries)
Christine Falls (Quirke Mysteries)
by Benjamin Black
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A promising idea poorly executed, 24 May 2010
Christine Falls is John Banville's first foray into genre fiction and it is all here: the domestic dark secrets of Christie, followed by the moneyed corruption of America in scenes reminiscent of a hundred noirs from The Big Sleep to Chinatown (rich old men in big glass houses - what a cliche!).

Halfway through the book I was still willing to trust that Banville was going to do something interesting with the genre, I even responded to a negative review on this site! Sadly I was disappointed. The move from Dublin to the US is particularly dissonant, but this dissonance runs through the whole book. The main cause is the beautiful writing and emotional characterisation. I rarely care for the victims of crime novels, and I suspect the authors don't care either, but in this instance I was truly moved by the murder of a minor character, and appalled by the ignorant selfishness of another. All this impresses, but when put up against B-movie plotting and 'shock twists' the two make a marriage worse than all the bad ones on show in the book (again, so predictable - do all novelists have bad marriages?). And I have a personal hatred of stories in which bad guys helpfully die while escaping right at the end.

Another comment: Black/Banville shifts the perspective rapidly between characters, sometimes from one paragraph to the next and then back again, giving the narrator a godlike quality. I am not convinced this approach works in a genre which is about discovery. But then things go awry. When our (anti?)hero (an alcoholic, what a surprise!) is declared to have a dirty secret, this 'reveal' reflects badly not only on him, but on the trustworthiness of the narrator, who up until this point has appeared to know the minds and hearts of men and women most intimately. The central character never confirms or denies his dirty little secret, a secret which places him at the heart of the very conspiracy he is attempting to uncover; he is merely accused in an 'off-camera' moment and another character 'knows it to be true.' Are we being informed that it is indeed true? Or asked to make our own judgement on the character based on what this now opaque narrative has chosen to reveal? If this is intentional, it is technically fascinating but breaks the spell of the story as one is left pondering the motivation of the author, rather than the characters.

This seems picky, but writing a genre book requires some level of application, and while the literary skill is evident, the plotting is both slow and cliched.

That said, I will give him one more chance to win me over...

Field Music [Measure]
Field Music [Measure]
Price: £8.45

4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars There's one brilliant album here, not two..., 8 April 2010
This review is from: Field Music [Measure] (Audio CD)
The title really sums up this review: Field Music should have been much more determined with the scalpel, with which they could have formed a classic album. Instead, this double sounds like the outtakes from a number of late sixties bands.

I'm thinking of The Jimi Hendrix Experience (the vocal style is reminiscent of Little Miss Strange from Electric Ladyland), Cream, later Beatles... add to that the string sound from Hounds of Love (yes, it does sound a little anachronistic) and some post-rock noodling and you get... too much of a good thing. Or, to be honest, not enough of a good thing for two CDs. I'm going to rip this album and make a perfect single disc which would get four or five stars. But listening to the whole of this is just a bit too meandering for me.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 5, 2016 6:43 PM GMT

The Name Of The Rose (Vintage Classics)
The Name Of The Rose (Vintage Classics)
by Umberto Eco
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the greatest ever 'Thriller of Ideas', 8 April 2010
It is many years since I first read The Name of the Rose, but the memory has never left me. The book works on so many different levels it's difficult to know where to begin.

The book appears to be a murder mystery, and indeed it is. However, if you are used to reading action thrillers this book may leave you frustrated, as the thrilling aspects of the book are often intellectual rather than physical.

The book is set at the waning of the medieval period, and offers two main characters who represent the two main philosophies that came after: empiricism and romanticism. William of Baskerville (the clue is in the name!) represents the cold perfection of logic, solving murders and theological disputes with the power of the mind; Adso, his young novice, is driven by curiosity, intuition and passion, much to William's annoyance. In these days of postmodernism, Adso's personal drama and William's distaste for his encounters with 'real life' have multiple meanings.

Most readers will probably have stopped by now, but if you haven't, you will probably love The Name of the Rose. The book requires curiosity, concentration and enjoyment of learning, and rewards them heartily. If you have no interest in the workings of a 14th century monastery, or in the possible existence of legendary texts, there will be boring bits. I wasn't bored for a second; indeed, I doubt a book has ever thrilled me more.

The Sea [Digipak]
The Sea [Digipak]
Offered by MediaMerchants
Price: £10.51

33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hear a great singer becoming a great artist, 4 Feb. 2010
This review is from: The Sea [Digipak] (Audio CD)
Corinne Bailey Rae's sophomore album is such a leap forward from her self-titled debut the greatest fear has to be that those who tucked into the pink marshmallow of Put Your Records On may just choke on the richer fare on offer here.

References are all to artists and albums that stand out as classics for all time: Curtis Mayfield, 'What's Going On' era Marvin Gaye, and especially Jeff Buckley, whose debut album could have been recorded at any time in the last forty years and yet still sounds contemporary. Oh, and I'm hearing a lot of The Cardigan's first album, 'Life', too... I happen to love that album, it got me over a great heartbreak.

And of course if you know anything about CBR you will know that this is a true heartbreak album. Very few pop musicians - strike that, very few PEOPLE - display the kind of unconditional love that Corinne clearly had for her husband Jason Rae. To have that person taken away from you by an early and accidental death gives one an experience so alien that there is a danger that The Sea (informed by the death of her grandfather as well as her husband) will leave the rest of us staring in at Corinne Bailey Rae from outside the bubble.

That this is not the case is truly remarkable. The music is complex, yet homespun; intelligent AND emotional; deep, yet light. It's all there on display if you want it, but it's also a beautiful piece of music. The other remarkable thing is that the album is self-written without the ubiquitous co-writers of the debut.

Joyfully, the album starts well and after a slightly languid middle section gets better and better. The final triple whammy of Paper Dolls (as disposably fun as it gets), Diving for Hearts (rock!) and The Sea (the pinnacle of Corinne's songwriting so far) leaves one emotionally wrung out in the best possible way.

Some observations: the overall sound of the album is about as far from contemporary RnB as its possible to get: this is music that emanates from a basement, not a computer. I half expected to hear the sounds of coughing and tea cups clinking. While there are 'up' songs and 'down' songs, CBR continues to be a thoughtful songwriter, so there are no easy songs; everything is open and vulnerable, which is not to everyone's taste. Lyrically this English graduate still has some way to go. An album aiming so much higher than the usual fair has its fair share of heroic failues, but this is forgiveable. 'I want you to journey with me/explore all the hidden scenes' is clearly superior in so many ways to 'lick my lollipop', but it's not Wordsworth... yet. Likewise, the melody-writing is not always up to scratch. Feels Like the First Time is largely tune-free after a stonking opening 6 secons that promises way more than the song delivers. But these are minor quibbles. This is a really good album that should stand the test of time.

My greatest hope for this record is that it will move Corinne from the world of faddish 'pop' (she came just after Nora Jones and just before Amy Winehouse) and into a place where she can build a following that will allow her to continue the journey she has begun with this album. Charting a trajectory from Corinne Bailey Rae to The Sea and beyond, we can expect the next album to be something really, really special. For now, this is just very good, a musician's album and a lovers' album. I hope her old fans trust her and that those who may have despised her poppy innocence may discover the beauty and depths of The Sea.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 10, 2010 12:54 PM GMT

Clarice Bean, Utterly Me
Clarice Bean, Utterly Me
by Lauren Child
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £11.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fun for children and parents..., 14 Sept. 2009
After much arguing among my three children (twins 9, plus an 8), we finally agreed that we would listen to 'girly, baby Clarice Bean' on a long car journey, and since then the kids don't want to listen to anything else. It feels a big jump from Treasure Island and The Hobbit, our previous favourites, but actually this is a Clarice Bean adventure, although slightly more domestic.

Clarice is obsessed with a series of American mystery books, and they end up helping her solve all sorts of mysteries. These include the mystery of the missing school trophy, the mystery of the strange yappinmg sound, the mystery of the missing friend...

The kids laughed out loud over and over again, and so did I, especially at the bits I knew were written just for me, as an adult.

Clare Skinner's reading is absolutely perfect, somehow combining the innocence of childhood with the knowing of adulthood.

The only downer is that the story feels slightly padded out by the American mystery, which is not nearly as good as Clarice's story - although my kids may disagree...

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