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I. Sondel "I. Sondel - lover of the arts" (Tallahassee, FL United States)
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The Birds, The (Phoenix 60p paperbacks)
The Birds, The (Phoenix 60p paperbacks)
by Daphne Du Maurier
Edition: Paperback

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is the most terrifying story I ever read. ..., 24 Dec. 2014
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This is the most terrifying story I ever read. This has nothing whatever to do with the Hitchcock film what used only two words from Lady Browning's story "the" and "birds." This needs a new film - a faithful adaptation - in stark black & white - claustrophobic feeling - if I had any talent I'd do it myself.


The Tree that Sat Down (Collins Modern Classics)
The Tree that Sat Down (Collins Modern Classics)
by Beverley Nichols
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars I had never heard of this book until Emma Thompson ..., 29 Nov. 2014
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I had never heard of this book until Emma Thompson mentioned it in an article. It was delightful - filled with magic and whimsy.


Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead
Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead
by Paula Byrne
Edition: Hardcover

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As witty and amusing as its subject, 19 Nov. 2009
I freely admit to an aversion to most biographies; those half ton tomes stuffed to overflowing with regurgitated facts that so often represent the flotsam and jetsam of the life in question as opposed to actual milestones and achievements. Happily, this is not the case with Paula Byrne's Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead, a biography as witty and amusing as its subject.

Mad World follows Waugh's life from cradle to grave. As we trek along we are treated to brief portraits of Waugh's parents and brother Alec, all those Mitford sisters, his annulled first marriage and life-long second, his conversion to Catholicism, as well as pointedly detailed descriptions of his published works, including Vile Bodies, A Handful of Dust and Brideshead Revisited.

The pace quickens (and never flags) once Waugh enters Oxford, where he quickly develops friendships with the likes of Harold Acton and Brian Howard, and embarks upon a series of homosexual relationships, the most profound and lasting with Hugh Lygon, second son of the 7th Earl Beauchamp, and the inspiration for Sebastian Flyte.

Waugh is taken under Lygon's wing, and is introduced to the family, becoming a life-long friend and confidante of sisters Mary and Dorothy, as well as a fixture at the family manse Madresfield (hence "Mad World"). He witnessed, and remained steadfast throughout the family's dishonor and the disgrace of the Earl, who fled the country rather than face charges of Gross Indecency.

Byrne has painstakingly researched her material, and though her finished text is rich in detail and critical observances, it seems never heavy handed or in the least tedious. Indeed, her work reads as though it were a novel, a brilliant modern day retelling of Waugh's classic Brideshead, which is the kindest compliment it could be paid.


A Life Like Other People's
A Life Like Other People's
by Alan Bennett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

72 of 77 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful writing - Bennett in top form, 6 Nov. 2009
These days Alan Bennett is enjoying a well deserved renaissance with a new play The Habit of Art opening this month in London, plus the recent hit play/film The History Boys, novel The Uncommon Reader and Pen/Ackerley Prize winning non-fiction collection Untold Stories remain fresh in our minds. This new volume was lifted in it's entirety from Untold Stories, and deservedly so. In A Life Like Other People's the openly gay Bennett tells with great wit and measured sentimentality the story of his parents and maternal aunts.

We are treated to truly inspired reminisces of the author's earliest and formative years. The story of how his parents met, and their absurd wedding ceremony (or lack there of), his mothers mental illness, and his father's all consuming steadfastness. There is a poignant scene of visiting his mother in an asylum; a harrowing scene of searching for an aunt with Alzheimer's who's slipped away from her hospital ward. There are revelations of family secrets, as well as ribald stories of marital misadventure. Finally there is a heartrending scene in a nursing home between mother and son that left this reader gob smacked by the purity of the writing.

This volume (which I ordered from Amazon.UK) is a precious gift of memories and observations, anecdotes and personal judgments harsh, humorous and unabashedly honest
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 3, 2011 1:46 PM GMT


The Devil's Paintbrush
The Devil's Paintbrush
by Jake Arnott
Edition: Paperback

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Robust and enjoyable historical novel, 1 July 2009
This review is from: The Devil's Paintbrush (Paperback)
Arnott, best known for his gay inclusive crime novels "The Long Firm" and "He Kills Coppers," has opted for a change of pace with this historical novel featuring the real life characters Major General Sir Hector Macdonald and occultist Aliester Crowley, "The Beast 666."

Sir Hector rose from the ranks of enlisted men, a hero of many Middle East campaigns, earning the moniker "Fighting Mac." After decades of service and achieving an international reputation, he shot himself in lieu of facing a court martial for acts of gross indecency. It is a documented fact that these two men met briefly in Paris in 1903; Arnott imagines what may have transpired between the flamboyant magus and the disgraced officer, conjuring a story of adventure, intrigue and sexual repression. Scenes of great daring-do are coupled with others truly poignant.

Though I enjoyed reading this, I must admit that I felt the whole somehow unbalanced. Crowley often seems unintentionally broad and humorous, the characterization a burlesque and not at all menacing, which I feel was the author's aim. I couldn't help but think of him as a great buffoon, the Roger Elizabeth Debris of the occult world, or refugee from a Lucifer Box book. This in itself wouldn't bother me save that it is in direct opposition to the rather grave and sobering tales of Sir Hector, both his reminiscences and present circumstances. I found the Major General's story fascinating; another bit of hidden LGBT history. Unlike the notorious traitor Colonel Redl, blackmailed and thus compromised, our hero fell victim to a villain more malignant and pervasive: the snobbish bigotry of the British upper crust.

For all its faults, "The Devil's Paintbrush" is a compelling and richly detailed novel, atmospheric and deftly observed.


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