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Bluecashmere. (Scotland)
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The Glass Room
The Glass Room
by Simon Mawer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Very well worth reading., 8 Jun. 2016
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This review is from: The Glass Room (Paperback)
Simon Mawer’s novel strikes me as both ambitious and cleverly conceived. What is more, I think that despite some rather mediocre recent Booker award winners this book deserved serious consideration. It is no mean feat to knit together a compelling story that reaches from the years before the Nazi movement take control in Central Europe to the rigidity of Soviet control to the emergence of an independent Czechoslovak state.

I found the whole powerfully atmospheric and the characters a great deal more convincing than some of the more negative views allow. The Landauers seem to me to be developed with credibility; It seems harsh to dismiss them as ciphers, as “genteel English people” translated into an unconvincing world in which they do not belong. Likewise, I find the symbolism associated with the glass room as rooted in serious and compelling issues. Much of the strength of the novel derives from the fact that so much of it is beautifully written, though I would agree with those who find a slackening of interest and involvement in events after the return to the house, as I would accept that some of the minor characters are too obviously stereotypical. Not a great novel but a fine one, nonetheless.


The Historian
The Historian
by Elizabeth Kostova
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Full marks for effort and no mean achievement either., 8 Jun. 2016
This review is from: The Historian (Paperback)
I am not surprised that there are so many varying responses to this book. There is much to say about both its strengths and its weaknesses. Setting everything else aside, I feel that it is hard not to acknowledge the enormous amount of work and research that must have gone into the writing of the novel. Its content has been alluded to in detail in many earlier reviews, so no need to repeat here. A powerful imagination operates throughout and the author’s stamina never seems to waiver. I was surprised that despite the overwhelming detail the story held attention to the extent that it did.

Undoubtedly there were passages that strained patience, but somehow as teeth were on the edge of gnashing, momentum picked up and interest quickened once more. I doubt whether it is of much importance whether the reader is familiar with Stoker’s story or the Dracula myth from other sources. All is available in abundance here. In the last analysis, I feel that although I admire the intention and to a large degree the achievement, in the end I do think the book would have lost nothing and probably gained a deal by being considerably shorter.


Stasi Child: A Chilling Cold War Thriller (The Oberleutnant Karin Müller series)
Stasi Child: A Chilling Cold War Thriller (The Oberleutnant Karin Müller series)
by David Young
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Suggestions of finer things to come., 8 Jun. 2016
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On the whole I enjoyed this book. I feel that it starts better than it ends, but contains a cleverly worked out plot, at least until the finale. The attention to detail, proof-reading, is not all it might be and the finer points of German grammar are given scant regard but David Young sustains the atmosphere well and on the whole tells a compelling story. Eastern Europe has become a rich hunting ground for crime novelists. There are better than this out there, but as a first novel “Stasi Child” shows promise.


Apple 2 GB iPod Shuffle - Space Grey
Apple 2 GB iPod Shuffle - Space Grey
Price: £36.00

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great value although now dated., 5 Jun. 2016
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Although now superceded by more advanced technology, this is excellent value. Its size is both its strength and its weakness. It could not be more portable and is excellent for combating the horrors of Radio 1 and the like at the gym. On the other hand the controls are fiddly and require some concentration. As others have remarked, it is essential to push the socket fully home if you wish the device to issue forth most eloquent sounds.


The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared
by Jonas Jonasson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Never sunk its hooks in but some amusing passages., 5 Jun. 2016
This book would gain a great deal by being shortened considerably. I found the early sections original and agreeably amusing. As the novel progressed tedium began to set in, though occasional episodes lifted it to a higher level. I'm not at all sure that the relationship between past and present really works to the book’s advantage. The encounters with known, celebrated, and notorious historical figures wears thin quite soon and are not compensated for by the rather unengaging companions that Allan falls in with. For me the novel lacks any strong holding centre and at the end I felt it was all much ado about very little. I acknowledge though that many responded far more positively.


Academy Street
Academy Street
by Mary Costello
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Impressive opening but weakens and leaves little in its wake., 5 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Academy Street (Paperback)
Very Irish, very emotional, easy to read, but for me the strength of the book is packed into Part 1. After that, although it holds attention, the writing lacks the vitality and originality promised, and in the end I found little that had taken any firm hold. The novel is readily absorbed in a single sitting but essentially ephemeral.


Towards the End of the Morning
Towards the End of the Morning
by Michael Frayn
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Signs of what is to come., 5 Jun. 2016
I found this early Frayn novel lightly amusing but rather loosely constructed and lacking the cutting edge of both novels and plays that followed. From the beginning there is an atmosphere of in-jokes that don’t exclude the ordinary reader, but clearly have more punch for those familiar with the inside world of national journalism before the “modernisation” that lay in weight and is heralded by the odious Morris Erskine, the prototype of the future reporter-cum-newspaper proprietor. There is little here of the finesse or hilarity of say “Noises Off”, but an enjoyable enough read that picks up some steam as it goes along.


Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life
Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life
by Jonathan Bate
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.49

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absorbing but question some of the emphases., 5 Jun. 2016
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The British have an obsession with the sex lives of celebrities, often to such an extent that it distorts any balanced assessment of an individual’s accomplishments, whether political sporting or creative. Many of the reviews of Jonathon Bate’s biography, and indeed the book itself, reinforce this. Although a fair degree of critical attention is given to the poetry, this often proves secondary to the more colourful events and anecdotes that spring from the subject’s life.

Quite apart from these considerations, other problems present themselves. Few, I think, would dispute that much of Hughes’ early published poetry is fine, even if rather narrow in range and preoccupations. The poems have force and their impact on the reader derives significantly from the control and craft of a poet who has learnt his trade. Bate shows how from his early years Hughes’ mind is driven by myth and superstition as much as by observation and keen intelligence, much as the latter factors are in evidence. After “Wodwo” the poetry becomes for not a few of us, I suspect, obscurantist and far more self-conscious. Whereas Yeats’ absorption in myth only directed his poems back to the immediate and real world, for all that arguably it is a lot of nonsense in many ways, Hughes moves away into a world more and more visceral, but also more and more remote from shared human experience. “Birthday Letters” I suppose, stand apart, but for me lacks the freshness of impact of “Hawk in the Rain” and “Lupercal”.

It seems to me a pity that Bate by and large shuns any overall critical assessment of Hughes vis a vis Gunn, Larkin and indeed Sylvia Plath, or at least tries to bring them into some common focus in terms of interpreting the world of the mid-20th century. All this said, there is a great deal of fascinating detail that holds attention, even if it sends us off at a variety of tangents and leaves many questions unanswered. Unlike many reviewers I see the book as neither an onslaught on Hughes, nor a defence of the indefensible. That the biography – is it really a critical biography? – elicits such diverse responses says something interesting about Bate’s opus.


Our Souls at Night
Our Souls at Night
by Kent Haruf
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth all the superlatives it has earned., 12 May 2016
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This review is from: Our Souls at Night (Paperback)
This is a wonderful little book, more than a fitting climax to a fine literary career. Its great quality lies in its simplicity and sincerity. Short of rehashing previous reviews or divulging more of the contents than I would wish , there is no more to say. Very strongly recommended.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 27, 2016 11:15 AM BST


Far from the Madding Crowd (Wordsworth Classics)
Far from the Madding Crowd (Wordsworth Classics)
by Thomas Hardy
Edition: Paperback
Price: £1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A very fine novel., 19 April 2016
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This is a fine edition of a remarkable book. Hardy set relatively little store by his novels in comparison to his poetry, but his achievement in both spheres is impressive. I can think of no other classic novel that packs so much vital incident into its pages, while at the same time driving ahead with a relentless plot that takes us to the inevitably tragic conclusion.
While in many ways the daily pattern of country life continues unchanged, the central characters enter into situations which have profound consequences for each of them. Amongst other concerns the novel is a powerful love story – or perhaps rather a series of interwoven love stories. All four of the central characters find themselves in the grip of false illusions; Bathsheba’s passion for Troy has more to do with the glamour of the dashing soldier than firm reality and he, in turn, is caught up in what is little more than shallow infatuation, while Boldwood’s love rests on little more than a valentine card. Even Gabriel Oak’s love begins in romantic idealisation, even if it transcends these flimsy foundations.
Behind all lays the natural world, often dangerous, even malignant, but Oak’s understanding of this world is constantly proven via the demands of specific events. Particularly vivid renderings of country life are seen in a series of scenes that are much more than mere background to the story. Favourites of mine are: the evening spent at Warren’s Malthouse, the escape of the sheep and the Greenhill Fair.
Lucy Hughes-Hallet provides a most interesting and accessible introduction to this wonderful book – a treat in waiting for those who have yet to encounter it, and to which many will return


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