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Cole Davis (London)
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The Lowland
The Lowland
by Jhumpa Lahiri
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Good ideas, but it dragged, 9 Mar. 2014
This review is from: The Lowland (Hardcover)
There is nothing wrong with this as a literary novel. Themes of personal proclivities and choices, the consequences of non-reconcilation. As a study of a family, with time in India and America, it is fine. The writing itself is flawless. And yet... It is over detailed without giving much of an impression of the places and, especially towards the end of the book, it is rather flat. Also, the contemporary habit of flashing back to different periods of time does not work particularly well here, as in not achieving much (in this reviewer's opinion); it worked better when it was in linear mode.


Towards Proficiency: Student's Book
Towards Proficiency: Student's Book
by Peter May
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent book, 7 Mar. 2014
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I used this with a group of foreign teachers of English, who had very advanced levels of grammatical understanding but rather a dearth of vocabulary and - as with most non-native speakers - a very limited knowledge of phrasal verbs, idioms etc. They also varied a little in linguistic level. It really does bridge the gap between upper intermediate and proficiency, Superb as a book for special groups, I could also envisage its selective use in assisting graduates of advanced courses in getting ready for proficency level study.

The range of topics and lexis is tremendous. There are some nice pictures, but not so many as to bloat the book. I also recommend the workbook for revision and extension work. Also, save yourself some time and effort and buy a copy of the teacher's book.


The Testament of Mary
The Testament of Mary
by Colm Tóibín
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mother's view, 21 Feb. 2014
This review is from: The Testament of Mary (Paperback)
There is a Jewish joke along the lines of 'I can say what I like about him - I'm his mother'. Nearer to the theme of this book, Monty Python's Brian is put in his place with "He's not the Messiah; he's a very naughty boy". The author does not play it for laughs but views Christ's mother as sceptical of his disciples as men and supporters, fearful of their import and eventually grieving his death in advance. Juxtaposed with the reactions of everyday people when dealing with death and events - with cruelty, fear, self-interest and boredom - this is a rich if rather short book. The author tries to keep the book within the realm of reality rather than miracle, although he does introduce the raising of Lazarus and one or two other unexplainables. Generally, the author does his best to decontextualise the man from much of the religious dogma - Joseph is the father - but JC does declare himself to be the son of God (which does seem presumptuous for a nice Jewish boy), while his mother is not without Roman influences.. More in keeping with history, the author adumbrates the later adoption of Christ by other divines for their own ends, as a ruthless usage of the man.


Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
by Samuel Rawson Gardiner
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.49

3.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable man, portrayed unremarkably, 21 Feb. 2014
This review is from: Oliver Cromwell (Paperback)
Very relevant to the world of the 21st century, Gardiner portrays a man acting illicitly to circumvent the misuse of democratic processes by extremists. Personally generous, Cromwell finds himself savaging those who would impose their religious beliefs on others. As these are both his co-religionists as well as the hardliners of those who would bring back the monarchy, he is increasingly isolated. An autocrat who tried to avoid dictatorship, working for the common people, Cromwell adumbrated modern attitudes to social equality while losing the battle for consensus.

He comes further adrift in foreign policy, including some potentially disastrous ideas for war in central Europe and lacking historical perspective in his approach to Ireland, unfortunately his most potent legacy in terms of how he is remembered. However, the downfall of the Protectorate emerged from his wanting people to be so much more moral than they are. Over-regulation of social life, combined with continued taxation of a people unused to such an imposition, meant that the default mode was monarchy.

Cromwell did ensure, however, that monarchy was never to be the same. The later 'Glorious Revolution' merely told the people what they already knew: there was a limit to the powers of the head of state. Cromwell ensured that merit was a recognised virtue and that top people could be accountable.

Unfortunately, Gardiner, while a technically fine writer, fails to excite and could have organised his material in a more succinct way. He even fails to make much of surely one of the funniest scenes to engulf a head of state. Money being short, some soldiers went into his kitchen, took his very dinner from its plate and told him to his face that they were exacting payment in kind.


The Rise of the Russian Empire (1900)
The Rise of the Russian Empire (1900)
by Hector H Munro
Edition: Paperback
Price: £20.51

4.0 out of 5 stars Saki on old Russia, 21 Feb. 2014
This is of particular interest as the first book by the writer who was to become Saki. His mordant wit is already in evidence in this history of Russia from the development around Kiev in the middle ages to the accession of Mikhail Romanov. Unfortunately, the author goes into a lot of details about who was there and what happened in various battles, particularly in the history of Kiev Rus, where the breadth of sources is rather limited and rather suspect. However, the writer manages to prioritise rather better when it comes to Ivan the Terrible, Boris Godunov and the Time of Troubles. He also makes some interesting judgements about the development of Russian power and the nature of the proto-democracy of that rather remarkable city, Novgorod the Great.

The author makes the choice of using genuine Russian words (e.g. Moskva for Moscow) rather than Anglicised Russian. Whilst this undoubtedly adds to authenticity, this will probably cause some confusion to those who have no familiarity with the Russian language.


A Tale for the Time Being
A Tale for the Time Being
by Ruth Ozeki
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Zen and the Art of Quantum Mechanics, 21 Feb. 2014
A readable tale of culture clash, particularly memorable for the character of Nao, the schoolgirl displaced from California to a deprived life in Japan. Her character is teenage, acerbic and observant, her softest spot being reserved for her great-grandmother, a new woman turned Buddhist nun. Other members of the family include a kamikaze pilot and a professional person falling into depression as his work prospects disappear.

The counterpart is a Japanese-American writer living in rural Canada. Where the wheels come off for me is where the supernatural enters the plot in the guise of Zen Buddhism and quantum mechanics. In the 70s and 80s, relativity was applied to everyday life, as the truth was seen as an infinitely malleable entity. In the use of quantum theory, the realm of the very small, as opposed to the very large of relativity, the possibility of multiple truths exists and reality becomes the creation of the reader. Personally, I prefer the reality of the path of events which has happened; what might have been is a matter for conversation. Newtonian mechanics still rule in the world of human beings.

There are a lot of fine things about this book, including a consideration of the nature of bravery, both at war and in everyday life. However, I wish the author had kept it at that - a fine book already - without the need for a prod from the supernatural and the world of esoteric physics.


The Luminaries
The Luminaries
by Eleanor Catton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent read, 3 Feb. 2014
This review is from: The Luminaries (Hardcover)
The positives: The book is absorbing, with a plot that thickens and a frontier town that becomes all the more real. Several of the situations were interesting. Racism and the sadness of romance in an environment of gender imbalance and poverty are portrayed extremely well, without the author going out of her way to emphasise the points.

The negatives: the astrological themes did not in my opinion add anything to this (although I am very much against the practice as a form of irrationality, I do recognise the use of the occult in much excellent fiction - cf Robertson Davies and Hilary Mantel). Similarly, the much vaunted structure constricts the author at the end, so that the final chapters (if one can call them that) disappointed me and added nothing useful to what I already knew. And what did happen, if anything, to the man in the crate.

The attempt to draw psychological portraits of the characters (no doubt related to astrological predispositions) was an interesting one, but one that again constricted the book. In general, dialogue and actions are more effective writing techniques than one-off descriptions. In this book, most of the characters lost their flavour on the bedpost overnight. There were times early in the book when the author tried to come out with eternal truths that seemed like showing off, particular they sometimes appeared to be meaningless.

All these things notwithstanding, this was in general an excellent read. In terms of the Booker Prize, however, I feel that this is a reversal of the usual situation. Generally, the right author gets the award for the wrong book, his or her original gem having previously been passed over. In this case, it is extremely likely that this talented writer has been prematurely rewarded. Of course, Jim Crace has made himself a lame duck author by declaring retirement, but Harvest was surely the finer work of art.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 4, 2014 4:38 AM GMT


Harvest
Harvest
by Jim Crace
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars the sudden death of a village, 16 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Harvest (Hardcover)
Jim Crace writes poetically of a village that probably never existed. Every one of the incidents almost certainly happened hundreds of times in different eras, but this tale weaves them together evocatively, narrated by a fascinatingly flawed villager. The atmosphere and details fascinate. At times, the detail threatens to slow the reader down, and this might turn off younger readers, but as a tale of social change, collective psychology and rural life, this is a unique, splendid book.


The Unlimited Dream Company (Paladin Books)
The Unlimited Dream Company (Paladin Books)
by J. G. Ballard
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars meaningless, 8 Dec. 2013
He may be dead, he may be back from the dead. He may be a barely alive patient, he may be a cannibal cum saviour. Is he a bird, is he a plane? No, he's just phantasmagoric. Well written of course, but a waste of time.


Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing
Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing
by Andrew Smart
Edition: Paperback

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Firework of a Book, 23 Oct. 2013
Andrew Smart may become the Pavlov of doing nothing. The metaphor of his title is that our brains run by themselves and that interfering with them too much - or at all - is the precondition for crashes, for people as individuals, for society and for the world in which we live.

He bases his arguments on experiments in neuroscience which indicate that much of our mental activity takes place when we are doing absolutely nothing. So, if like me, you find some of your most creative ideas occur when you are in the most out of the way places - and not in that all-important meeting or seminar - you will feel vindicated by this book.

Smart draws from philosophy, history, literature and management theory (thanks for explaining the One Minute Manager to me - I had never intended to read it) and at times draws from economics (as sparingly as he can) and even the principle of emergent properties. His is one of the best comparisons of the ant colony with the human brain that I have read; food for thought, as with the rest of his book.

He rails against the distractions which ruin our ability to think creatively and destroy productivity, including multi-tasking, digital media, the inappropriate rolling-out of management systems and the hot-housing of extramural activities for young people. With considerable logic and a fair amount of imagination, he also concludes with some radical measures for dealing with the plane crash that many believe to be our world's imminent plight.

His aims are to produce `bullet-proof scientific excuses for laziness .. possible neuroscientific insights into the relationship between idleness and creativity ... (and) to hammer the first nails into a coffin for the insufferable time management industry.'

There is much to be enjoyed and learnt from this book. Much of it is backed up by excellent scientific facts, even if some of the neuroscience may at times be a bit unclear to the uninitiated. There are claims which the reader may consider less than justified. The reviewer for one fails to understand the author's obvious detestation of to-do lists as an aid to the weary brain, and the author himself veers from suggesting (as most would agree) that too much leisure is boring or worse, to desiring a huge acceptance of idling as the foundation of a new society. However, this adds to the joy of a book which ranges widely and allows the reader independently to consider just how lazy an idler should be.


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