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G Reid (Edinburgh)
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Returning: The Journey of Alexander Sinclair
Returning: The Journey of Alexander Sinclair
Price: £1.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thoroughly Good Read, 19 Dec. 2015
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First a disclaimer - I had the pleasure of reading this book in draft, and I'm delighted to see it now available on Amazon. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the book had two things that drew me in: well-drawn, sympathetic characters I could relate to, especially the teenage daughter, and a story that I didn't know where it was going, and which developed unexpectedly to a very satisfying conclusion.

Added to that is a clean and clear prose style sprinkled with wit, humour and compassion, and a powerfully evocative sense of place that really brings the far north of Scotland to life as a living, breathing, place where real people live, and you have a winner. I thoroughly enjoyed it. (My only regret is that I wish it were longer, as I wanted to spend more time with the characters and see them develop further...) Five stars.


Men's Wool Scarf for Winter - Grey, Brown and Black - Men Scarves - Lovarzi Beautiful Mens Striped Long Scarfs - Christmas Gift for Men
Men's Wool Scarf for Winter - Grey, Brown and Black - Men Scarves - Lovarzi Beautiful Mens Striped Long Scarfs - Christmas Gift for Men
Offered by LOVARZI
Price: £29.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 14 Nov. 2015
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Exactly as advertised, long and warm. A bit squishier than I expected, but does the job admirably.


The Third Policeman: Unabridged (Naxos Complete Classics) (Modern Fiction)
The Third Policeman: Unabridged (Naxos Complete Classics) (Modern Fiction)
by Flann O'Brien
Edition: Audio CD

5.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't Get Better Than This, 21 Jun. 2011
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I first came across Jim Norton in the Naxos unabridged recording of James Joyce's Ulysses - as far as I was concerned, anyone who could make that book not only (mostly) intelligible, but also get me to laugh at the jokes, was a very special narrator. The best audiobooks are like a movie playing in your head, where appreciation of the language is combined with fine acting to bring the characters to life.

He's every bit as good in The Third Policemen, another triumph for Naxos. It's easy to distinguish between the characters, each has their individual voice - including the dialogues between the main character and his soul, "Joe". The deadpan narration allows the surreal humour to unfold, especially where the increasingly deranged ideas of the philosopher De Selby are concerned. You never lose sight of where you are, or who's talking. And the growing horror of the main character's real situation is all the more disturbing for being read in such a matter-of-fact way.

Jim Norton does full justice to Flann O'Brien's text, and I can't say better than that. Outstanding, and thoroughly recommended.


Bob Dylan At Budokan
Bob Dylan At Budokan
Price: £7.44

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Warm and Generous Album, 4 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Bob Dylan At Budokan (Audio CD)
This album was my real introduction to Dylan, way back in the late 1970s. I hadn't realised what a great songwriter - and performer - he was. The album feels like a greatest hits, all the favourites played with a real laid-back affection.

The band's good and tight, the saxophones and flutes wrap the sound in a kind of warm glow, and though this was recorded when Dylan still had a voice, the backing singers ensure that the right notes are hit all evening. The arrangements are fun, too, with only a few of the songs flattened or stretched out of shape. It's an album to enjoy, Dylan sounds like he's having fun, and I love it.

I've wondered down the years why so many critics hate this album so much. Here's my theory:

1. The definitive Dylan live album is 1966, with Before the Flood a decade later coming a close second. Each of these albums is a statement of intent, they're driven, intense albums, and in each case there's a target for Dylan's vitriol: the "Judas" crowd in 1966 and his (soon to be ex-) wife in the wings in 1974. Each of these is an "in your face" album. Budokan, in contrast, is just a fun, enjoyable concert, so inevitably it pales a bit in comparison. (But important as those albums are, I know which I'd rather listen to!)

2. There are stories that the Japanese backers demanded that Dylan play his hits and that Dylan agreed. This doesn't square with the image of rebellious integrity that the likes of Dylan (and Lennon) had foisted on them by their fans. He's sold out! For money! Of course the concert is just a shallow money-making exercise! It can't be any good!

3. Punk rock had by then officially Changed The Face of Music Forever (tm). When 2-minute songs were all the rage, to have Dylan performing Mr Tambourine Man with a big band felt like an anachronism. Well, 30 years on, the wheel has turned.

My advice is to ignore the critics, the ones who think they own Dylan, and just enjoy a truly great bunch of songs being performed with warmth and charm and humour. And it's nice to hear Dylan just enjoying himself singing his songs.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 7, 2013 4:09 PM GMT


Orff: Carmina Burana
Orff: Carmina Burana
Price: £8.69

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rattle With a Train to Catch, 24 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Orff: Carmina Burana (Audio CD)
Berlin Phil, Simon Rattle, cracking cast, live (crystal clear modern) recording, what's not to like?

Well, it just feels rushed. The quieter moments are fine, with a delicious "In trutina" (much of the court of love scenes work well, in fact), but the faster pieces are chivvied along unsympathetically. The opening "O Fortuna" in particular is hurried along at the expense of grandeur, and the glorious "Blanziflor et Helena" is over before you know it - no sense of a climax being achieved, more a sprint to the finishing line.

Maybe Rattle doesn't have a natural affinity with the piece, or maybe the exhilaration of the live occasion led all concerned to just go for it, but for whatever reason this doesn't do Orff any favours. What a disappointment.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 14, 2011 2:20 PM BST


Mahler: Symphony No. 9
Mahler: Symphony No. 9
Price: £9.45

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Superb, 27 Dec. 2010
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (Audio CD)
This is a warm, open, spacious Mahler 9 from Rattle and the BPO which I thoroughly recommend.

Although I am generally speaking an admirer of Rattle, I've found some of his previous Mahler recordings to be a bit fussy, as if Rattle was concentrating so much on the surface details he'd lost sight of the underlying spirit - a bit like Boulez, they sounded like people who'd mastered a foreign language - even though they were fluent, they didn't sound like a native - the head ruled the heart, etc.

Not here. This has a real Viennese lilt, the playing is sumptuous, and Rattle lets the music breathe. The first couple of movements are spacious, but tight, while the 3rd movement Burleske has real bite, and the closing passage is ferocious. The final adagio manages to combine that sense of serenity and loss, of desolation and consolation combined, which I only find in Mahler, without eschewing or wallowing in sentimentality.

In short, this is simply a great recording of a very great symphony. Now I want him to go and re-record all the rest.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 3, 2012 4:22 PM BST


Ghostwritten
Ghostwritten
by David Mitchell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Less Than the Sum of Its Parts, 24 Nov. 2010
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This review is from: Ghostwritten (Paperback)
Ghostwritten is a series of short stories, each told in the first person by a different narrator, all of different nationalities, linked by chance encounters and cross-referencing. It's a very clever conceit, and the final couple of chapters contain enough references to the previous 7 or 8 to almost persuade you that it all adds up to a coherent narrative. Unfortunately, for me, it didn't quite.

I had two main problems with the book. The main one was, I just didn't believe in all the different characters. Partly this is the problem with a self-consciously "literary" work of fiction - it strives for literary effect. Many of the characters write literary similes and metaphors that were not only similar in style, but also seemed way out of character. ("I lay entombed in a slab of rock, in an embryo curl". ""Oy!" I yelled, and some genteel ladies walking dogs harrumphed. "Alfred Kopf!" I yelled, and a man dropped out of a tree with a turfy thump." Does anyone write, let alone speak like that in real life?) Plus the characters are mostly pretty unpleasant, making it hard to identify with their various troubles.

The other problem was the way the book occasionally lapses into cliche. The section in Ireland is horribly, horribly cliched, with everyone straight out of central casting, including the shop where you leave the money when the shopkeepers are absent, the ex-hippy who stayed and now grows locally respected marijuana, Father Wally the ubiquitous twinkle-eyed priest on his tricycle and, God help us, all-night sessions at the pub: "'Come by then later, Mo, or whenever, so. Eamonn O'Driscoll's boy is back with his accordion, and Father Wally's organising a lock-in.' Lock-ins at The Green Man. I was home.") And I wished he'd drawn the Americans with the same care he applied to the Japanese or Chinese - the military in particular seem to be based on characters from The Simpsons or Dr Strangelove.

As others have said, the old woman on Holy Mountain section was outstanding, worth reading the book for that alone, and the disembodied spirit was also beautifully handled. The St Petersburg gangsters were pretty unconvincing, though, and unlike the Asian chapters, felt like things he's got from movies than actually experienced.

So, ultimately, I felt it was clever, a very interesting read - but a bit cold, and more like an intellectual exercise than a depiction of real people with real problems - except for that wonderful old woman on the mountain...
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 19, 2011 1:23 PM GMT


Surface Detail
Surface Detail
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Hardcover

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars War in Heaven, Culture Style, 10 Oct. 2010
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This review is from: Surface Detail (Hardcover)
If you're a fan of Iain Banks' science fiction, someone who's enjoyed the Culture novels in particular, but were a little disappointed by The Algebraist (too much exposition, a disappointing ending), Matter (too much fantasy, a disappointing ending) and Transition (too much alien sex, a disappointing ending), then all I can say is, don't worry - Surface Detail shows Banks back on top form. And it has a very satisfactory ending indeed.

It's a stand-alone novel, though a familiarity with Consider Phlebas, Use of Weapons and Look to Windward will give you a deeper appreciation of the book. It's got all the qualities i enjoy in a Banks Culture novel - quirky ship Minds, a complicated plot, good characters, just enough violence and danger to keep you interested, and the usual sly humour. In fact, for all the seriousness of the subject, it's nice to see that Banks has his sense of outrageous fun back. And it's astonishing to think that after so many books he can still visualise such imaginative, fresh environments.

I think it could have been little tighter - there are pages of background exposition that might have fitted an appendix better, and Banks still writes long paragraphs of just one sentence - but these are minor niggles. I read it in a couple of days, couldn't put it down, and enjoyed it enormously. Thoroughly recommended.


Der Ring Des Nibelungen (Keilberth) [14cd]
Der Ring Des Nibelungen (Keilberth) [14cd]
Price: £114.75

38 of 45 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Curate's Egg of a Ring, 2 May 2010
I was very curious to hear this recording, which as been hailed as the greatest Ring on record. On the whole I thought it was pretty good, albeit with some significant reservations.

First, the singing. Of the leads, Hotter is definitely more secure than he is for Solti, recorded later (though he still sounds a bit too woofly at times for my taste); Windgassen gives a terrific performance, as does Neidlinger; I had a bit of a problem with Varnay, whom I hadn't heard before - she hits the high notes effortlessly, but in the low notes she seems to start off low and sort of swoop up to the note (I assume this is all part of her technique, but I found it very off-putting). The rest of the cast is very good.

I thought Keilberth's conducting was no-nonsense and dramatically effective. It doesn't draw attention to itself, just lets Wagner's music flow, which is a good thing. Das Rheingold is probably the least successful of the cycle, followed by Die Walkure, but stick with it as each opera in turn gets better, with Siegfried marking a real improvement, until Gotterdammerung, which is hugely impressive.

The orchestral playing is generally fine, though (as is often the case with historic recordings) the brass can be pretty strident and takes a bit of getting used to. There's one shrill trumpet that blares out in every instrumental showpiece, dominating the sound, as though it wasn't in the covered pit with the rest of the orchestra (listen to the hymn to the Rhinegold, the entry of the gods into Valhalla, the ride of the Valkyries, or Siegfried's Rhine journey!).

The recorded sound is "very good for its age" - but there's no escaping that it's a recording from over 50 years ago. The balance favours the singers, as you'd expect from a Bayreuth recording, but there are times when you can't hear what's going on in the orchestra very clearly - such as the prelude to Das Rheingold, where the strings just sound muddy. There is a major problem with the Nibelheim scene in Das Rheingold, too, when a special effects machine hisses in the foreground like a vacuum cleaner for 20 minutes. It's like listening to an old radio broadcast through static, and I found it a major distraction during the scene.

So, the pros: it's from the so-called golden age of Wagner singing, and you get to hear some of the greats in their prime; it's a live recording, and captures the electricity of a live performance - and Wagner just doesn't sound like this any more. The cons are that, as with any recording, you either like the voices or you don't; and the sound is not without its problems.

In summary, I think the best way to treat this is as a unique recording of a special few nights in the concert hall, and enjoy it as a historical document. But it needs to be partnered with a well-recorded studio version if you want to hear all of what's going on (there's more to Wagner than just singing!). Oh, and one last point - £113.99 (the current sticker price) seems a bit steep for an old recording at the best of times, but not to include librettos at that price seems kind of shabby.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 18, 2015 8:56 AM GMT


Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Living
Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Living
by Declan Kiberd
Edition: Paperback

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enthusiastic, But Not A Beginner's Guide, 4 July 2009
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First of all, I enjoyed the book and it made me want to read Ulysses again (which I'm doing now), so it certainly achieved something. Declan Kiberd is an eloquent enthusiast and advocate for Joyce. And I loved his idea that you should treat Ulysses like a favourite album, and skip the bits you don't like - a refreshingly liberating approach to a book that can drag at times.

I was disappointed, though, that the author assumes you will know Ulysses fairly well already. So, for example, he refers to the "Ithaca" chapter, or the "Eumaeus" chapter, and you're supposed to know which they are. And in his discussion of the Oxen of the Sun sequence, in which Joyce parodies a number of old styles of written English, again, you're already supposed to know which bits parody which styles (I don't - I wouldn't know a parody or an original passage by John Henry Newman if my chips came wrapped in it).

And I wish Professor Kiberd didn't regard every activity that comes to nothing as "masturbatory", or every group activity like a sing-along as a form of orgasm. But maybe that's what studying Joyce does to you?

It's a good read if, like me, you're an amateur fan and want some insights and a good reason to take the original down from the shelves. But does anyone seriously think any more that reading a novel - even Ulysses - will change the way you live..?


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