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Animal Dreams
Animal Dreams
by Barbara Kingsolver
Edition: Paperback

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written story of love and ecology, 20 Aug. 2004
This review is from: Animal Dreams (Paperback)
Like many people, I first encountered Kingsolver's work through the magnificent The Poisonwood Bible. After finishing it, I turned to her other novels - one of which was Animal Dreams. To a certain extent, it's a disappointing read in comparison with the scale of The Poisonwood Bible: it lacks the different narrators with their compelling and individual voices and the epic vision which she brought to the relationship between Africa and the 'First World'. However, Animal Dreams is written with the same compassion, the same insight into the lives and emotions of women, the same understanding of complex parent-child relationships, and the same passionate, fervant and whole-hearted sorrow and anger at humankind's lack of respect for the environment. The book is the story of Codi, returning to her home town where she was an unhappy teenager whose life was marked by two familial deaths, because her father, the town doctor, is losing his memory and becoming confused. Her sister Hallie is in Africa, helping to rebuild a community. Kingsolver charts Codi's relationship with the town, its inhabitants, her father, Hallie and Loyd, whom she dated a few times in high school, with skill and humour. Codi is an utterly believable character, traumatised by unhappy events in the past and unsure if she is willing to risk hurt again. Kingsolver's best writing occurs when she describes the landscape and the damage perpetrated upon it by greedy corporations, although the novel veers towards the didactic at times. I felt that Codi's relationship with Loyd is a little unconvincing. Loyd is never fully realised, and his Native American descent makes him virtuous, in perfect communion with the landscape, and able to heal Codi's emotional wounds; perhaps Kingsolver should have made him less of a paragon. I would love to see Kingsolver tackle her themes on a larger scale and tackle the 'great American novel', but this is certainly a moving and evocative read, which I definitely recommend to everyone.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2009 8:37 PM BST

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More with Feeling
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Once More with Feeling
Offered by Bridge_Records
Price: £5.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Witty, charming and clever!, 21 Dec. 2003
This is really one for Buffy fans, who will already have seen the episode from which this soundtrack is taken, and will have liked it or disliked it. For those of you who liked it but are wondering if the songs stand up on their own without the acting and dancing, then the answer is yes, absoutely! This is a really wonderful album, one which I hesitated over buying for fear that the songs would be silly in isolation. That's not the case, however! Standing, Under Your Spell, Rest in Peace and What You Feel in particular deserve a mention, with Anthony Stewart Head and Amber Benson showing their singing talent to great advantage. If you like Buffy, you'll love the album. For those who disliked the episode, stay away, and for those who've never seen Buffy, you'll probably be a little confused as to what's going on ('So she's died twice? And her first love was a vampire and now she's kissing another one? Doesn't she do any slaying?') but who knows? this might be just the thing to convert you! Highly recommended

Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution
Trilobite! Eyewitness to Evolution
by Richard A. Fortey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, funny and for everyone!, 21 Dec. 2003
I've never really been a reader of science books, but the reviews of this were so good that i bought it to read on a long car journey, and it kept me entertained and interested the whole way there! Fortey's enthusiasm for trilobites is utterly infectious as he charts an exploration of their history and the history of those who study them, including himself. The book is packed with wonderful details on the structure of trilobite eyes, the protocol for naming fossils, anecdotes from Fortey's own life (being stung by a hornet in China!) and some groan-inducing puns (plans for a movie about rampaging trilobites called 'Thoraic Park'!). There is a wealth of scholarly and scientific detail in the book, but it never gets bogged down or becomes boring, and Fortey comes across as an engaging, obssessed, fascinating and fascinated man who can teach you the history of a fossil you may never have heard of and make you laugh at the same time. Highly recommended

The Poisonwood Bible
The Poisonwood Bible
by Barbara Kingsolver
Edition: Paperback

90 of 95 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful, passionate and poetic, 5 Sept. 2003
This review is from: The Poisonwood Bible (Paperback)
The Poisonwood Bible is a wonderful book which I wholeheartedly recommend to anyone and everyone. I picked it up at a jumble sale and took it on holiday with me, hoping to be entertained for a couple of days, but instead found myself completely entwined with the story. Kingsolver’s ambitious narrative follows a Baptist minister, his wife and four daughters on their mission to the Congo in the late 1950s, as the region takes its first steps towards independence. The life of each family member is utterly changed by the experiences in the Congo, and even after the sudden and shocking ending of the mission the Congo remains the heart of darkness and of light in each life.
Orleanna Price, the mother, narrates the first chapter in each section, and each following chapter is narrated by a different daughter. This device allows the reader to become quickly and intimately acquainted with the family, but the father, Nathan, remains a distant and ominous figure, reported differently by each narrative. Rachel, the eldest, longs to return to her friends and home, Leah and Adah, the unidentical twins, become fascinated and at home in the Congo, and Ruth May, the baby, tries to understand what she sees around her, accepting her surroundings without surprise. Adah in particular offers fascinating, comic and razor-sharp portraits of those around her. Kingsolver creates an instantly recognizable voice for each speaker. The book encompasses with powerful themes such as freedom, redemption, free will, love vs. survival and many more. The girls have all been brought up on Nathan’s fire and brimstone religion, which leaves no room for compromise or the lessons that are to be learnt from other cultures. In the Congo, however, each member of the family learns that there are no simple choices; as Adah says: ‘Every betrayal contains a perfect moment, a coin stamped heads or tails with salvation on the other side…a two-faced goddess looking forward and back.’
The Poisonwood Bible is a wonderful achievement, weaving together the strands of religion, feminism, politics, morality and environmentalism in Kingsolver’s lyrical and layered prose, with a passionate and fulfilling love thrown in for good measure! I knew only the basics of America’s role in the Congo, and the book inspired me to read more about it, and it certainly opened my eyes to the less-than-spotless dealings that went on. It’s also wonderfully evocative of the surrounding environment, and the jungle is really a character in its own right. The death of one of the family comes as a shock and a tragedy, and yet the other members realize that every other family in the village has lost at least one person—why should their grief be any more important? This is the emotional climax of the book, and the numbness and disbelief that the characters feel is perfectly created and almost tangible.
The later sections of the book, however, are less successful than the parts set during Nathan’s mission. These later sections dip in and out of the characters’ lives in the ‘60s, ‘70s and the late ‘80s, and it is a little tricky to adjust as Nathan and Orleanna’s young daughters grow up to become mothers, hotel owners and scientists. Rachel, in particular, is somewhat sketchily drawn, still using the same malapropisms as when she was 16 (these ARE deliberate, and not typos, as one reviewer here suggested!) Anatole, too, is something of a cliché. It’s as if by virtue of being Congolese he must be a paragon, and it’s disappointing to see Kingsolver not create a more realistic character—is she afraid to create a flawed African? Also, the narrative seems more concerned with cramming in the true political events of these years than advancing the characters any further. By this stage, however, most readers will be so completely caught up in the novel and so connected to the characters that they will accept these flaws. And these are only minor flaws when set against the grand scale of the novel. It is beautiful, heart-breaking, wise, poetic, a damning indictment of colonialism, and a must-read for everybody.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 8, 2013 3:54 PM BST

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Four Disc Collector's Box Set) [DVD] [2001]
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Four Disc Collector's Box Set) [DVD] [2001]
Dvd ~ Elijah Wood

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 5-star film, 5-star DVD, 17 Aug. 2003
THE FILM: watching films of books I tend to mutter (and occasionally shout!) at the screen "That's not what it's like!" Although not an obsessive Tolkien fan, I do love the books and my initial reaction to the film was: "Why?" I felt sure that none of the characters/ locations/ action scenes would match my own mental images, but from the start of the prologue it was obvious that Jackson was the perfect director for the movie and had approached it with respect, vision and imagination. Hobbit-newcomers will be blown away while the initiated will concede that this is one film which comes close to matching its source (although the "Why?" question remains; the books are so descriptive and detailed that there is no real need for a film-why do we need to reduce the written word to the simpler visual image?) Still, locations such as Isengard, Moria and the Shire are wonderfully realised, and the casting is first rate. Ian McKellen and Christopher Lee in particular are marvellous, and Wood pulls off the tricky role of Frodo well, saving him from being a wimp. Mortensen, Bloom, the other hobbits and Rhys-Davies inhabit their roles with great conviction and accents (it's only when you hear them on the commentary that you realise what a good job the Americans did with their British accents) while Sean Bean is a perfect Boromir.
Although I dislike the design of Rivendell and Lorien (I don't think thousand-year elves would go in for such tacky garden statuary), and don't like Blanchett as Galadriel (I would have cast Michelle Pfeiffer), these are minor quibbles based on personal taste. The Ringwraiths, the fantastic fight by Balin's tomb, the Bridge of Khazad-dum and the absolutely flawless Boromir death-scene are guaranteed to win over the staunchest devotees of the book. In some respects, the film is even superior-by cutting out the 17 years that pass between Bilbo's birthday and Frodo leaving the Shire, Jackson has hugely increased the menace and danger of the Ring, and his Wraiths are supremely terrifying, matching Tolkien's Witch-King of the third book rather than the "snuffling" riders that he initially described in the first book. And the Uruk-hai are wonderfully hideous, with Saruman's creation of them brilliantly shown-you're in no danger of confusing them with the orcs, as you might be on a first read of the book. The created character of Lurtz is also a great stroke, and I defy anyone not to feel tearful as Boromir fights on to defend Merry and Pippin with Lurtz's great black arrows piercing him. Overall, a 5-star blockbuster that's also a 5-star film (not many good blockbusters are also good films)-it really should have been rewarded come Oscar night.
THE DVD: The extended version is essential, and you wonder why they released a version lacking such moments as Galadriel's gift-giving, which is important in the next 2 films. Most of the restored scenes built up characters, and thus give increased depth and emotion. Sadly, no Tom Bombadil-I know it isn't essential, but I wish they could have found time to include it.
4 commentaries are included-most people will probably listen to the cast first, which is lots of fun. The four hobbits watched the film together, and have clearly formed a real life fellowship; they have lots of stories about funny moments on set, and you find yourself smiling too. Bloom is a little too starry-eyed (everything is 'incredible') but McKellen, Lee and Bean contribute insightful and interesting comments throughout. The director and writers' commentary is probably more for fans of the book: it's fascinating to hear them explain why they changed or left something out-all three really respect Tolkien's work, while juggling the demands of cinema, the studio and the budget. The other 2 commentaries are less essential but still interesting if you have time for them.
The documentaries are wonderful, and, thankfully, don't go into too much production detail, although I did find myself losing interest in a few. From Book to Script and JRR Tolkien are the best on Disc 3, although the Costume Design, Designing Middle-Earth and Weta Workshop are also interesting. For those who care, there are loads of design galleries, although I found these really dull, and the commentary on some of the images that I listened to does repeat what's in the video clips. On Disc 4, A Day in the Life of a Hobbit is great and lots of fun; Big-atures really has to be seen to show the wonderful work done to create Isengard, Rivendell and the Argonaths, and Digital Grading shows how the distinctive look of Middle-Earth was achieved. After watching the commentaries and documentaries you feel as if you were there during filming, and were one of the group. However, my personal feeling is that there should have been a little more human info. I would have loved a documentary on casting-why was Stuart Townsend replaced by Viggo Mortenson? Why did they pick Orlando Bloom who had never worked on a film and has dark hair and olive skin in real life? How did they approach Elvish, which has never been spoken (except by the Hobbit-addicts at home in their bedrooms!) A greater focus on the cast and the human elements of filming as opposed to the technical elements would have interested me more. Still, this can't really be faulted and it's clear that a huge amount of work went into making the DVD right from the start; unlike some it wasn't cobbled together after the event but was compiled throughout filming. And of course the people behind the scenes are the ones who brought the film to life and really deserve this chance to be appreciated. By the way, if you select chapter 48 and then go down to the bottom right hand corner of the page that plays the fan club credits, there's a hidden trailer for the Two Towers.

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

25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating read from a major new talent, 13 Aug. 2003
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
I’d like to start this review by mentioning a few things that The Secret History is not. It is not the best book ever written, as many people seem to believe; I don’t think it is even the best book of the 1990s. On the other hand, it IS a breath-taking debut novel which utterly engrossed me. Tartt offers a rich, complex, disturbing and gripping experience that is hard to shoe-horn into any particular genre. After the flurry surrounding the publication of The Little Friend, which broke Tartt’s 10 year silence, it’s difficult to come to her work without expectations, but The Secret History works best when you don’t have any idea of what to expect—you become surrounded by the menacing, almost suffocating atmosphere which the book creates so completely. Brideshead Revisited and The Great Gatsby are often used to describe Tartt’s style and voice, and she certainly does create a wonderful picture of an American ivory tower. However, Doestoevsky and Bret Easton Ellis (with whom Tartt was at college) are equally valid comparisons.
As other reviewers have noticed, the book falls into 2 parts. The first follows Richard Papen as he arrives at an elite college to study Classics with the erudite and enthralling Julian, and seeks entry into the clique of Julian’s five other students. As Henry, Bunny, Francis, and twins Charles and Camilla begin to include Richard in their circle, he realises that they have a dark secret, and he becomes more and more caught up in their world. The second part deals with the aftermath of a murder committed by one of these students, in which Richard and the others are intimately involved. As the questioning begins, loyalties and friendships begin to give way to self-preservation instincts, and trust becomes a luxury. Perhaps inevitably, the second part is weaker—Tartt’s real strength lies in portraying the group so that Richard’s desire to be accepted into their inner circle becomes the reader’s desire as well—as they are initially described to the reader, Bunny, the twins, Henry and Francis are fascinating and seductive. The mystery surrounding them is subtly created, but at the same time deeply disturbing and menacing. In the second part, after the murder of one of the group, there are fewer secrets and cracks surface in the friendships — much of the menace has dissipated, but by this stage the reader is so involved with the characters that the story continues to grip the attention.
Some reviewers have remarked that Tartt fails to develop some of her characters fully, and Charles certainly remains sadly underdeveloped. A little more emphasis on Francis’s character in the first part of the book would help his increased prominence in the second part. To a large extent, however, I think the shadowy edges of Camilla and Henry are deliberate—we are only meeting them through Richard’s narration and interpretation, and these two whom he loved the most were perhaps the two whom he remained farthest away from and failed to touch. Richard himself is problematic. Because he is the narrator, we feel close and connected to him. On the other hand, Tartt hasn’t invested quite enough into explaining his interactions with others. Why do other characters like Richard so much—Judy Poovey, for example? Richard describes long afternoons spent with the group at Francis’s house, but we learn very little of his contribution to their friendship—why do these people like him and invite him to join them? Richard’s drug-taking is also perhaps a little overdone—Tartt clearly intends him to be an ordinary (if alienated) student drawn into murder and deceit, but throwaway incidents such as his coke-snorting in a carpark (which is never mentioned again and seems to have little effect on him) are unconvincing compared to earlier events like the Christmas in the hippie’s studio where Richard’s reactions are believable and understandable.
The book has been criticized for dealing with rich, snobbish students. Don’t let that put you off. Neither should anyone feel intimidated by the Classical references. Ultimately, Tartt’s erudition is only skin-deep, and perhaps creates an illusion that the book possesses more depth than it really does. Despite that, the novel heralds the arrival of a stunning talent—the cloud surrounding the details of the first murder is a wonderful touch. It’s even more astonishing when you learn that this was Tartt’s first novel, and she was only 19 when she began it (28 when it was published). Don’t expect ‘the best book in the world’ as some have suggested (a hideously unfair description!) and you will find in The Secret History a wonderful read that you simultaneously don’t want to put down and don’t want to reach the end of. Blackly comic, rich, compelling and disturbing, I recommend it to anyone who loves diving into a good book!

These Old Shades
These Old Shades
by Georgette Heyer
Edition: Paperback

37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars my favourite Georgette Heyer--irresistible!, 20 Jun. 2001
This review is from: These Old Shades (Paperback)
...My grandmother has nearly all of Heyer's novels, and although I've read her whole collection, These Old Shades remains my favourite. Who could not fall for both Avon and Rupert, chuckle at Avon's sarcastic humour, or admire Leonie's adorable courage and outspokeness? The climax is dramatic, the ending is romantic, and there are some great descriptions of life for the nobility at the time. I come back to this book when I'm sick, depressed, or just want to lose myself in its world. Romantic fluff, yes, but fun fluff! Pull up a comfy armchair, open a box of chocolates, and enjoy! Oh, and does anyone else wonder what Avon did to earn the name 'Satanas'?
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jun 23, 2011 10:18 AM BST

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