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Graeme Wright "book worm" (salford)
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Blue Monday (Frieda Klein)
Blue Monday (Frieda Klein)
by Nicci French
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Not A French Classic, 2 Jun. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It seems to have been quite a few years since the husband and wife team that is Nicci French produced the sort of edge-of-seat page turner of a book for which they have become famous. 'What To Do When Someone Dies' published in paperback lasy year was, frankly depressing and one dimensional so it was with a little trepidation that I began 'Blue Monday'. The plot, admittedly has been done before - copycat abductions years apart with no apparent connections apart from a gut feeling from a police officer or, in this case a psychotherapist and more twists and turns than the Monaco Grand Prix before both abductees are rescued and returned to normal life. My expectations weren't improved with the rather stereotypical setting of central London and a cast of characters who appeared to have been invented for the possibility of an ITV adaptation.
Suffice to say that 'Blue Monday' does not disappoint providing you are not looking for a ground breaking, state of the art thriller. With Penguin/Michael Joseph's full PR team behind it the book will invariably sell in sufficient quantities to keep everyone there happy and will probably attract new readers along the way. And yet I can't help but feel that this is an opportunity missed. Compared to such greats as 'Killing Me Softly' and 'The Red Room' 'Blue Monday' lacks sparkle, invention and a real air of suspense running throughout. It may be that the earlier books have sharpened our taste for everything that French does well. If that is the case then let us hope that the next book will be a truly vintage one.


Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands (Lonely Planet Travel Literature)
Tony Wheeler's Bad Lands (Lonely Planet Travel Literature)
by Tony Wheeler
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Much more than "just another travel book", 14 April 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Badlands takes you to the sort of places that Gloria Hunniford and Thomas Cook don't tell you about: Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, North Korea etc. They're the holiday destinations that never appear in anyone's favourite places visited list quite simply because, in the big, bad world of the 21st century these are the places our politicians, civil servants and media warn us about constantly. In a slightly more madcap situation one could imagine Karl Pilkington being unwittingly transported to the centre of Kabul or bussing it from Jeddah to Abha in Saudi Arabia while a chortling Ricky Gervais provides instruction via mobile phone from the comfort of a London studio. Until that happens we have the seasoned pen of Lonely Planet's Tony Wheeler to guide us through the deserted roads of North Korea, the eerily dark and unsignposted highways of Cuba and every sand dune south of Tripoli. Wheeler's accounts of trying to enter some of these countries is an adventure story in itself - Iraq via Turkey and Kurdistan is one of the more Indiana Jonesesque journeys undertaken and Wheeler's skill in weaving travel observations with historical background and cultural insight is, at times, pure magic.
Wheeler has developed a system of point scoring to justify the inclusion of the nine countries covered in this book using something he has trade marked "the evil meter". Using this system scores Cuba a fairly paltry 1.5 while North Korea tops the list with a whopping 7 points. In an attempt to redress the balance Wheeler also runs the measure past the USA, Australia, the UK and France, none of which come out smelling entirely of roses. Finally the author suggests some future contenders for inclusion in a possible sequel. The likes of Somalia, Angola, Haiti, Syria and Israel/Palestine are all "bubbling under" so to speak. With the tumultuous changes that are currently (April 2011) taking place throughout North Africa and the Middle East that sequel may be written sooner than you think. With an author as entertaining, as knowledgable and as intrepid as Tony Wheeler I, for one, can hardly wait.


Monty Python's Flying Circus (Vintage Beeb)
Monty Python's Flying Circus (Vintage Beeb)
by Eric Idle
Edition: Audio CD

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Vintage Stuff!, 22 Feb. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
1970 - what a year. England were famously battling the heat and altitude of Mexico against the likes of Pele, Muller and Beckenbauer. The Beatles, backed by a chorus of lawyers were recording their final swan song. Ted Heath was elected Prime Minister and a bunch of ex Oxbridge students with a great line in surreal humour burst upon the national consciousness - Monty Python was born!
It would be great to say that the early material in this BBC collection has stood the test of time and is as evergreen as the day it first emerged from behind Terry Gilliam's absurdist animations and the theme tune of Liberty Bell. But fashions come and go and humour obeys that rule a great deal more decisively than some other art forms. 'Arthur Two Sheds' and 'Flying Sheep' have disappeared from the comedy barometer completely while 'Nudge Nudge Wink Wink' and 'Albatross' still possess the ability to astound and entertain. Limited repeats on satellite television have helped to preserve some of the freshness of some sketches while others are so ingrained into our collective DNA that it is a wonder that so few children today can recite the Dead Parrot Sketch verbatim as I and my contemporaries could do back in the dark days of the early seventies.
It has often been argued that Python's humour relied too much on the visual aspects and did not translate suitably to the record or CD. To some extent this is the case - nothing on a CD could prepare one for the sight of John Cleese in drag selling sea birds at a cinema! The real joy of listening to Python is using one's imagination to fill in all the gaps. This collection then is a perfect gap filler and much more fun than visiting the dentist!


Aurelio Zen: Blood Rain (Aurelio Zen 07)
Aurelio Zen: Blood Rain (Aurelio Zen 07)
by Michael Kitchen
Edition: Audio CD

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Detection Sicilian Style, 22 Feb. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Michael Dibdin's Zen books were a welcome addition to the genre of Italian crime fiction when they were published throughout the nineties and into the early years of this century. In Aurelio Zen there was a policeman with flaws a plenty and a wistful, sardonic outlook on life - in short, a totally believable, totally human policeman. Dibdin's exquisite way with prose shone from every page as characters and settings emerged with colours, senses and emotion intact while the plots swung through hairpin bends of deception, surprise and laundered money like a supercharged Ferrari.
It was with a degree of trepidation that I approached this 8 CD audio book. Would the magic still be there? Would the characters still be as plausible? And yes, would the narrator speak with funny, Italian regional accents during conversations? Thankfully the only 'no' to these questions is to the last one. In fact Michael Kitchen gives a nicely underplayed reading of the book in his normal clipped English, very much in the style of the recent filmed versions of three of the early Zen books starring Rufus Sewell.
As stated previously one of the everlasting qualities of the original books is the author's evocative descriptions of place and time. Kitchen has meticulously carried this through to the spoken version and the detailed landscapes that are painted of Catania, of the countryside around Mount Etna and the stirrings of unrest among the Mafia-phobic police give depth and energy to the reading.
Audio Go deserve praise not only for their choice of material but also their choice of narrator. I highly recommend this.


Brighton Rock (Radio Collection)
Brighton Rock (Radio Collection)
by Graham Greene
Edition: Audio CD

4.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Reading, 22 Feb. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Graham Greene's greatest pre war triumph surely needs little introduction and with the recent release of a new film version (albeit set inappropriately in the 60s of Mods and Rockers) interest in Greene's enviable output is bound to increase. Very canny timing then for this 8 CD unabridged reading from Audio Go. Samuel West makes a very listenable to narrator and takes on the voices and personas of the cast with great credit. In Pinkie Brown, the teenaged gangster at the heart of the story Greene created a monster of Frankenstein proportions but with little of the pathos or sense of injustice shown towards Mary Shelley's character. Pinkie is one of those people you would rarely want to meet and never want to socialize with and yet Rose, the girl he wants to marry in order to buy her silence over a murder he has committed sees the loneliness and confusion behind the menacing bravado of him.
Much has been written about the complexity of Pinkie's character, about the relationships between the characters and about the undercurrent of Catholicism which runs through the book and it is again to the credit of the narrator that this reading is not overly weighed down by such arguments. West is a fine actor and is proving to be an even better interpreter - not only does he vividly recreate the reality of what Pinkie Brown has done but he also evokes the chilling possibility of what he is capable of. And when the final CD brings a kind of justice and fairness to the story West puts this across with the passion and commitment one would expect from such a reading.


Faithful Place: Dublin Murder Squad:  3
Faithful Place: Dublin Murder Squad: 3
by Tana French
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great Setting Let Down By Repetition Of Concept, 22 Feb. 2011
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Having recently read (and enjoyed) French's first novel, In The Woods I was anticipating this, her third, to show progress even from the heady, award winning heights of 'Woods'. How disappointing then to find that the shaky plot revolves around the central character, undercover cop Frank Mackey returning to the disappearance of his girl friend twenty years previously just as Detective Rob Ryan, the central character in 'Woods' returns to the scene of the disappearance of two childhood friends - coincidentally - twenty years previously. Such a plot line is acceptable to a novelist with a string of titles behind them but to "borrow" a similar premise for only your third book suggests a certain lack of imagination.
Faithless Place also fails to deliver with its cast of supporting characters. Mackey's large and confusing family read from the page like stereotypical Dubliners surviving on endless cups of tea and home spun philosophies and the dialogue is at times quite laughable, a dangerous quality in any psychological thriller. The real hero of the piece is the city itself. Dublin has made its mark in the minds and hearts of many fine writers; the old city will never be better remembered or described than in the words of Joyce but the modern Dublin has also attracted many literary admirers and Tana French, no Joyce, admittedly, does a better job than most in fleshing out the bones of the place and breathing life and emotion into it. Places like Cosmo's cafe or Gallighan's club may or may not exist but the precise details about them certainly make you want them to. The Liffey drifts through French's Dublin, soaking virtually every chapter and making every human character a mere shadow. Faithless Place is a great travel guide but you really wouldn't want to live there.


A Week in December
A Week in December
by Sebastian Faulks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Moral Message For The Noughties, 8 Jan. 2011
This review is from: A Week in December (Paperback)
Seven. Something of a magic number, certainly symbolic and used, throughout life as well as fiction as one of the more portentous numbers. With Sebastian Faulks' readiness to attach such symbolism to his books it was only a matter of time before seven became the central theme of one of them. A Week In December though is not just about seven days in the life of London it is also about seven characters trying to survive it. In a cleverly understated way it is also about the deadly sins these charcters commit during this week. First there is a hedge fund manager whose shameless aquisition of wealth reads like the plot of a Shakespeare tragedy. His son, isolated in his bedroom with just the worst sort of reality television and soft drugs (which prove to be anything but) for company tells us volumes about the disintergration of family life. Then there is the underworked lawyer whose days are filled with crosswords, high literature and regretting a lost love. One of his few clients is a female Tube driver who is challenging a charge of negligence brought about by injuries sustained by someone who jumped in front of her train. Perhaps to compensate for the monotony of her Circle Line filled work the driver, in her spare time loses herself in a virtual reality computer game and imagines herself to be somebody she is not. There is also the son of an Asian industrialist who is in the process of being involved in a suicide bombing and whose metamorphosis from Islam student to fundamentalist is a vague mirroring of the central character in Faulks' 'Engleby'. To complete the septet there is a book reviewer seemingly at home with the nineteenth century and a Polish footballer trying to establish himself at his new Premier League club.
It is to Faulks' immense credit that these seven lives interact, sometimes randomly, often through design and that the laws of cause and effect shape not only these interactions but also their consequences. As an avid reader of Faulks I approached this book with more than a little trepidation. He has certainly proved in previous books that his eye for detail and his exhaustive research can add richness and colour to most of the decades of the last century. Could he achieve similar success on as recent a year as 2007? Mercifully, he can and the targets for his wonderful satire are as numerous as they are obvious: reality television, multi media celebrities, ladies who lunch, modern football - no bubble is too big or too important to be popped by the author's finely sharpened pen. A theme which runs throughout the book is the question of where the line should be drawn to divide reality from fantasy. Whether the fantasy is a parallel world on a computer game, a television programme which makes Big Brother seem highbrow or the voices commanding the lawyer's schizophrenic brother to tap on certain tiles in the hallway of the hospital where he lives Faulks escorts us on a tour of illusion and disillusion which lasts right through the book.
It has been commented on by some reviewers that A Week In December is too slowly paced, too pedestrian but I feel that this is its advantage, allowing the main characters to develop at a sympathetic rate while introducing secondary ones who can still be remembered right up until the last page. There are too few books which are so well paced, so cleverly constructed and with characters who challenge so brutally our conceptions. A Week In December is one of those few.


Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century
Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century
by Sam Kashner
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Insight into an Extraordinary Marriage, 30 Dec. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor were, to the fifties and sixties what Posh and Becks were to the nineties and noughties - a celebrity couple that the media, and by extension, the public just couldn't get enough of. To film goers their names at the head of the credits guaranteed box office success whereas newspaper headlines, when not envying their yachts, beach villas and diamonds gloated about Burton's latest extra marital affair or his battle with alcoholism. Whatever the Burtons touched turned to gold - certainly for the newspaper owners.
There have, since Richard Burton's death in 1984 been many books about his life and the one he shared with Taylor and there will be many who question the need for any more. However Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger have a ready advantage over any literary rivals in their access to Elizabeth Taylor's personal correspondence. The resulting biography is an in depth, thoughtful and sympathetic attempt to dissect what they modestly dub 'the marriage of the century'. To a great extent they succeed where others have floundered - quotations from Burton's many letters, which he signed 'Husbs' are testament to the liberal nature of his and Taylor's marriage - though at times the authors appear to be caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Dame Elizabeth's generosity regarding access to many very personal papers seems to have had a price attached to it and she definitely emerges from the four hundred plus pages in a far better light than her late husband.
The authors, it must be emphasised have gone to great lengths to create the most complete picture possible, interviewing the likes of David Frost, Franco Zeffirelli, Gore Vidal and Tony Palmer among many others. They were also assisted not only by Dame Elizabeth but also by Burton's widow, Sally Hay Burton who allowed access to Burton's works, both published and unpublished. Among these are two poems written by Burton which reveal yet another layer to this most complex of men. The first of these, untitled and undated deals with his home country. For these uncomplicated yet emotive words in praise of a Wales which he had long since left this book is well worth reading.


Discover Great Britain (PC DVD)
Discover Great Britain (PC DVD)
Offered by SelectGames
Price: £12.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars For A Bird's Eye View Of Britain, 6 Dec. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
Whilst this is a well put together and visually stunning piece of software the downside is that in order to play it you have to install Microsoft Flight Simulator X or FS2004 on your system which is neither visually stunning or well put together. Flight Simulator also has a tendency to slow down older computers. If you have a fast, high powered system this may not pose too much of a problem and you will be able to experience the thrills of flying over the Welsh mountains or the Scottish lochs in an Auster Autocrat. For those of us who can't quite afford the real thing it is a very capable substitute.


Tender: Volume II, A cook's guide to the fruit garden
Tender: Volume II, A cook's guide to the fruit garden
by Nigel Slater
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £20.40

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry on a plate, 6 Dec. 2010
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
The companion book to Nigel Slater's masterly compendium of vegetable recipes, Tender Volume 2, logically deals with fruit - growing and using it - and is packed throughout nearly six hundred pages with a cornucopia of recipes using, literally the fruits of Slater's labour from apples right through to white currants. Some of the recipes are simplicity itself while others are elaborate and multi-faceted but nevertheless achievable under Slater's expert and colourful instruction. No other cookery or food writer in this country puts as much enthusiasm for the most basic of ingredients into his writings and when this is combined with the extravagant and beautiful photography of Jonathan Lovekin you are presented with a book which enraptures, enriches and inspires in equal measures. Particularly of note are Slater's suggestions for other flavours and ingredients to match each fruit to; apple with cheese or pork is a marriage made in heaven but with fennel in a salad or with maple syrup in a puree are less obvious yet totally logical combinations. I am not so certain about peaches with mozzarella or raspberries with goat's cheese but then again I could never imagine grinding black pepper onto strawberries until I saw it being done on television (it may have been one of Slater's programmes) and absolutely delicious it is too.
Throughout the book Slater educates, enlightens and gives fresh perceptions on a food group which is seriously in danger of industrial standardisation and public ignorance. His is a loud, distinctive voice alerting us to the threat and re-awakening the childhood memories of home made apple crumble and rhubarb custard fool. The real fool will be the person who is still tempted towards the frozen dessert aisle after reading this truly inpirational book.


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