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Shirley Ramone

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The Night Circus (Vintage Magic)
The Night Circus (Vintage Magic)
Price: £4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Just fantastically odd., 27 Aug. 2014
This is a book that does exactly what books are supposed to do, but few achieve. The Night Circus creates a mesmerising other world, throws you headlong into it 'The circus arrives without warning... It is simply there, where before it was not" and pulls you deeper and deeper. Forget witches, vampires and all that hokey nonsense, this is magical realism and its best.
The story jumps around a little, but mostly takes places in the late 19th century (don't be put off, period books usually ain't my thing, but this is totally different) and follows a coterie of bizarre characters with even stranger abilities. Magicians, clairvoyants, engineers, dress designers and craftsmen with mystical powers,
It's a love story, it's a coming-of age story, it's a good versus evil story. And all wrapped up In world that is at once believable and yet totally bonkers
As I read the beautiful descriptions of the circus tents and their oddball inhabitants, with the smells of sulphur and caramel, the ever-present white flames, the impossible sights and sounds, I was reminded of the theatre company Punchdrunk, famous for creating extravagant and Immersive worlds in disused parts of major cities. It was only when I finished the book I saw an acknowledgment to Punchdrunk as a big source of Morgenstern's inspiration.
Some other reviews suggested this drags a little toward the end. I juts wanted it to keep on going.
If you've been to a Punchdrunk show and enjoyed it, read this book. If you haven't, go see Punchdrunk, then read this book.


The Circle
The Circle
Price: £4.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Computers are bad, m'okay., 27 Aug. 2014
This review is from: The Circle (Kindle Edition)
I knew I was going to like this book; it's by Dave Eggers who wrote one of the most beautiful, funny and moving books I've ever read (A Heart-breaking Work of Staggering Genius), and it's about modern things, computers, the internet, stuff like that. It's a story for our times and a book that had to be written, and will no doubt be written over and over as our technological landscape keeps on changing as technological landscapes are apt to do. It will be written by people a lot less skilled than Eggers. It pains me to say it, but I'm sure it will also be written by others who'll do a better job.
The Circle, which is basically Google with bits of other companies thrown in, is bringing happiness and convenience to the people, making their lives easier, faster and full of all the stuff anyone over 50 doesn't like or understand. There are fictionalised versions of all your favourite modern techy things, social media, must have apps, labour-saving devices and increasingly as the story unfolds, sinister stuff that sucks up all your data and tells you exactly what need and just how to think. This is the message of Eggers' book, the insidious take-over of our personal lives buy 'the man', or 'the 'bot' maybe. And while this is a message that you need to listen to, it's also where the book just doesn't quite work. The message is not subtle. Okay, it's painted on every page like a giant sign that says "Aggh, computers! Watch out! They're going to eat your brains!!!"
I would still highly reckoned this book. Because Eggers has some great ideas and throws in a few Ballardian notions of what's coming down the line which ring true and he is above all a really good writer. In the end though, by the time you're half way through the book you've got the message and each new example of the dangers just makes you roll your eyes a little.


Straight White Male
Straight White Male
Price: £4.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An absolute wanker - you'll love him!, 17 Nov. 2013
This is a book whose beauty lies in creating a character who is totally, almost unbelievably terrible as a human (really, an absolute platinum-lined shitball) and yet somehow sympathetic. Kennedy Marr is rude, self-absorbed, unreliable and from the opening chapter clearly on a fast track to self-destruction, but you know what? I really liked him. And that's not because I am also a shitball, honestly, it's because Niven's writing is clever and funny and honest. Mostly though it is funny - laugh out loud on the bus funny.
Fan's of the US TV show Californication will know the territory here well: successful, charming but deeply flawed writer makes it big in Hollywood and has trouble keep himself on the straight and narrow. In fact he seems to have abandoned any attempt to stay on the highway at all and has gone off road in a massive diesel powered four by four, ploughing up the grass verge and driving over bunny rabbits as he goes. There are drugs, sex, fights, preposterous behaviour in upscale environments (I think this may have been the part the just made Marr so likeable despite his many, many faults)and bad decision after bad decision. Hollywood and the writing trade come in for some sharply observed abuse (Niven clearly more than a little familiar with this world) and the story builds pace nicely to it's denouement. There are touches of genuine pathos as Marr begins to recognise that his trail of destruction has created some real casualties: his dying mother, his brother and most notably his teenage daughter, and the end, when it comes has a nice little twist.
I am delighted to have come across Niven and have already torn through Kill Your Friends. Now the central character in that one makes Kennedy Marr seem like a goddam monk!


A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
by Dave Eggers
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5.0 out of 5 stars A workbreaking stag of genial heartiness, 24 Aug. 2013
Well I know that I'm a little behind the curve here, what with this book being over 10 years old now, but I only just read it and, my friends, if you still have it on your list, DON'T HESITATE ANOTHER DAY.
Dave Eggers' debut novel/autobiog (part of it's joy and beauty is it's defiant refusal to fit a known category - man, it must have been a brave publisher that took this on) is a touching, funny document of life in the early days of the 21stC. This will be studied in years to come as a deeply revealing piece of social history. It helped that Eggers and I are pretty much the same age, and his description of life in the mid-nineties was achingly familiar, despite his taking place in California and mine in North London. The story, such as it is, deals with the sudden death of both the twenty-two year old Eggers' parents, and his struggle to get on with his life, a life that as a young man, he was just beginning. Oh, and now he has his 9 year old kid brother to look after too. Eggers struggles to forge a career as a writer and magazine producer and anything else he can turn his hand to, and this yields some highly comic moments as well as some insightful comments on the world of new media, that back then really was new. But it is the relationship between Eggers and his brother Toph where the 'heart-breaking genius' bit lies. They inhabit a world suddenly free from parental control and parental love, and stumble blindly together into their new life, skidding in their socks through the house, eating pizza and ice cream all day and night, and blowing off all the rules that might otherwise have helped or hindered them. As a parent, it sure made me stop and think about how I'm raising my own.
And then there are all the crazy acknowledgements and attempts to justify the parts where he strays for the truth - unique and delightful. Fans of the great David Foster Wallace will recognise the whole footnote style here.
But my favourite bit is just a little joke he likes to play when he receives the inevitable response from people as they learn about his circumstances:
"You're parents died! Oh I'm so sorry."
"It's okay, it wasn't your fault... or was it?"


Some Day I'll Find You
Some Day I'll Find You
by Richard Madeley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Do you really want to be a writer, Richard?, 24 July 2013
This review is from: Some Day I'll Find You (Paperback)
It will be obvious to most people of course, but Richard Madeley is famous, and at the risk of seeming blunt, that is the only reason that this book has been published. It is not without it's merit and should Richard wish to become a legitimate writer I would say he has considerable potential, but like all writers, he's going to have to put in the work.
From the missing speech marks on the opening page (the opening page!) to the laboured use of language ("bestowed", "gavotte") and the extraordinary over use of hyphens and italics (the lazy man's punctuation tools), it is clear that this book did not have an editor. Or far more likely, it had an editor who didn't want to upset a very valuable client. The book is littered with factual and continuity errors, the dialogue often dropping in phrases completely out of step with 1940s Britain ("that was really something, dad","so unfair!" langauge more at home in a US teen sitcom)and shows rather a lack of respect for the reader.
This is a good early draft of a first attempt at writing a novel that someone starting to write could be justly proud of. All writers have to start somewhere, and all writers who go on to be good will have dumped their first, second, third maybe fouth attempts. Unfortunaley for Mr M, no-one told him he needed to try a little harder and someone knew that in terms of sales, it wasn't going to matter.
If Richard really does want to be a writer, as opposed to a celebrity who has written a book, then he absolutely could be. But like anything else worth achieving, he's going to have to put in the hours.
I suggest two things: first, ignore the lavish praise from fans and instead read what evey review of three stars and below has said. It contains genuinely good advice. Secondly, try sending the next manuscript to an agent or publisher under another name and see what happens.


Consider The Lobster: And Other Essays
Consider The Lobster: And Other Essays
by David Foster Wallace
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Truth, beauty, wit and seafood., 13 Jun. 2013
I discovered David Foster Wallace relatively late, no more than four or five years ago and just as when I came across the music of Warren Zevon for the first time, also far too late, I was astounded I had never heard of him. He is without question, the most intelligent, funny, important, challenging and downright freaki' awesome writer of non-fiction the world has ever known. Hyperbole? I will lay it on the line and say a categorical no; he really is that good.
The reasons why his writing is so remarkable come from the happy confluence of a number of factors. Firstly, he is an incredibly clever and erudite dude. Just as an example, one of his other books is a complex and philosophical treatise on infinity that goes way beyond the limits of my A level maths brain. He has a deeply insightful understanding of American culture, both high and low, and a sharp historical and political awareness that makes him one of the most relevant writers about the modern condition. Alas, the tragedy is that suffering from depression, David Foster Wallace hanged himself in 2006.He would certainly have gone on to wider public acclaim.
Despite his terribly short life, he has left behind a body of work, non-fiction and fiction, unrivalled by any other contemporary writer.
Consider the Lobster was the first of his non-fiction collections I read and it is true to say it took me a little while to get the hang of him. He is not always an easy read, but as Dave Eggers points out in the introduction to DFW's behemoth of a novel, Infinite Jest, that is no bad thing; a lot of writing today is dumbed down and underestimates the reader. Dan Brown, I'm talking to you. There are footnotes on every page and frequent interpolations that go off on the oddest tangents, but within these you will often find the real hidden gems of his wisdom. Like most people I suspect, I began by skipping the footnotes. It wasn't long however before I sought them out and read them with giggling delight.
Consider The Lobster contains his (relatively) well known discussion of the usage of American English, a deeply complex, enlightening and long essay about how we speak and write. There are more frivolous topics too, and as a writer for Harpers magazine amongst others, he gets sent on some odd assignments, including the eponymous Maine Lobster fair. This is a hilarious but touching look at parochial American life with as ever, some fascinating research thrown in. The piece about child tennis star Tracy Austin is a surprise, and as a serious tennis player in his youth, he writes about tennis with a knowledge and love that makes this dullest of sports genuinely interesting and sexy.
I could go on.
Read Consider the Lobster, then , like I did, find every beautiful scrap of his work and read that too. There won't be any more.


Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps
Ringolevio: A Life Played for Keeps
by Emmett Grogan
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ready to be rediscovered, 21 May 2013
Ringolevio is what I think could be described as an important book. To be an important book I think a book has to be
a. big - Ringolevio is a 500+ page whopper.
b. politcally or socially relevant - that's pretty much the whole deal with this book.
c. controversial - no doubt. You're probaly gonna love it or hate it.

The book is the story of one man's journey through the cultural landscape of 60s America: taking on the system, caning drugs, starting "movements", getting down with some free love and so on. As a social history it's fascinating, although the unreliable narrator should make you a little cautious about just how close it is to the facts.

In fact that is my one gripe about what is otherwsie a good old rollercoaster of a read, that the central character/author (as it is in effect an autobiog) is kind of irritating. He is arrogant, deluded and seems to place himself at the centre of about everything important that happened in a twenty year period in the USA. For all that, it's a non-stop ride of craziness and idealism. Just the kind of thing the kids today probably need to get their teeth into.


Why We Run
Why We Run
by Robin Harvie
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.48

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Why I wish I hadn't bought this book, 21 May 2013
This review is from: Why We Run (Paperback)
Robin Harvie's book tries to be too many things and doesn't really succeed at any of them. It is part personal journey, part running manual, part phiosophical meditation. It's not without it's passages of interest, but it's mostly a story of a man who gets into running and likes to talk about it. It needed an editor to be a little more forceful about the direction of the whole thing. I think if you knew the dude it might be a bit more interesting, but he just doesn't have that much to say that you probably haven't thought about yourself, if you run and you can think about stuff.

There are way better inspirational books on running (Scott Jurek, Dean Karnazes), and if you want running and philosphy, Murakami's "What I think about when I think about running", cannot be beaten.

That said, I did read Why We Run to the end, so its' got something, but I think you'd use your time better by just going for a run.


Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession
Feet in the Clouds: A Tale of Fell-Running and Obsession
by Richard Askwith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.48

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Running over the same ground, 21 May 2013
I run a lot and I love to read books about running. On those cold mornings or dark evenings when part of you says "get out and hit the streets", and another part says, "hey, it's cold and dark out there, have a glass of wine and a piece of cheese", I turn to running books to help me make the right choice (that's the running one, not the cheese/wine one).

Feet in the Clouds just did not deliver. Okay, I'm not a fell runner, but running is running and this book somehow managed to make it all seem very dull. On and on about this hill and that hill, this old fella who ran two hundred hills in four minutes or that old fella who used to canter up to the top of Scarfell Pike in hobnail boots carrying a pig on his back before putting in a full day at the mill. There are much better writers on this subject to engage and inspire: Scott Jurek, Dean Karnazes, Christopher DcDougal to name but three.

I have read several of the other reviews, which led me to buy the damn book in the first place, but I have to disagree. The only fast thing about this book was how quickly I got tired of it.


Soft
Soft
by Rupert Thomson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Underrated genius, 20 May 2013
This review is from: Soft (Paperback)
Rupert Thomson is one of our most over-looked literary talents and this is probably his most overlooked novel.
Soft is set in London and has all the hallmarks of a great urban story: gritty streets, oddball characters, fast-paced action, all described with Thomson's foresnic eye for detail and magical ability to create a world at once familiar and yet strangely twisted.

The story is based around the idea of a new soft drink, Kwench!, that hits the UK using some highly dubious sales strategies. Some of the ideas of subliminal advertising and guerrilla marketing may seem a little simple today, even though the book is only fifteen years old, but there's still enough to create a deep sense of disquiet about just how far a company will go to take your money.

Tha characters all seem a little disconnected to the world they inhabit, misfits and drifters to a man, and as ever with Thomson's work their is a dreamlike quality to everything. He has written better books, Dreams of Leaving still one of the most haunting books I've ever read, and less successful ones too. But any book by this master of detail and nuance is always worth a look.


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