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Owlbear2008 (UK)

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The Pre-War House and Other Stories
The Pre-War House and Other Stories
Price: £3.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Unusual, memorable, 12 Sept. 2014
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Beautifully written, intriguing, and often powerful collection of stories by the author of 'The Lighthouse'. You can see her exploring some of the ideas and approaches that she would later develop in that work.

Would definitely recommend for both the casual reader and anyone with an interest in the short form.


Dead Ever After: A True Blood Novel (Sookie Stackhouse 13)
Dead Ever After: A True Blood Novel (Sookie Stackhouse 13)
by Charlaine Harris
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too Many Tomatoes?, 25 Nov. 2013
A rather perfunctory and joyless conclusion to the series, it reads as if, for Harris, the fairy dust has long since worn off the subject -- understandably since I gather that fan and publisher pressures may have sent her into a direction she wasn't really interested in.

Many fans will be and were, however, disappointed by what could be read as an affirmation of small-town life and 'normality' at the expense of the wider supernatural world (which has often stood for 'alternative lifestyles' and races, within the context of the fiction).

Also, there's a lot of stuff about tomatoes.


The Charioteer: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
The Charioteer: A Virago Modern Classic (VMC)
by Mary Renault
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary, 25 Nov. 2013
The Charioteer is a beautifully written and extraordinarily perceptive novel, detailing the life and relationships of a young soldier confined to hospital in the days after Dunkirk. An extremely vivid evocation of time and place, it is also one of those subtle works that is likely to linger in the memory, growing in force, long after it has been read.

While Renault deserves credit for her unusual choice of subject matter (in the context of the early '50s), the fact that the novel addresses homosexuality may in fact serve to distract from what is, in the end, a powerful and moving exploration of love, loss and the complexities of lived experience as opposed to inflexible ideals of existence.


No Title Available

5.0 out of 5 stars Due for Rediscovery?, 22 Sept. 2011
Lesser known but undeservedly forgotten work by the author of Grand Hotel, the film of which iconically starred Greta Garbo as the ballerina who wanted to be alone.

Baum, an exile, sets this novel in a bomb-torn Berlin which is losing the war although many characters are still trying to deny this fact. The large cast includes an awkwardly situated English writer, who has been pressured to give broadcasts for the government, an ambitious and initially ignorant young actress, a weathered prostitute with a tragic history, and a middle-aged Jewish woman desperate to ease her husband's suffering. (And also features the scarred and embittered doctor from the earlier novel.) While Baum's omniscient style of narration might initially be jarring to those used to contemporary trends, Baum writes with a powerful sense of vision and Hotel Berlin is more perceptive and thought-provoking than many current 'good reads'. An author due for rediscovery?

Although unfortunately out of print at the moment, it is still possible to obtain second-hand copies of Hotel Berlin. Mine was printed in 1946, on paper that conformed to the rationing laws -- contributing to a physical sense of reading a link to the times Baum was writing about.

Get it while you can.


Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
by Helen Simonson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Touching and Original, 22 Sept. 2011
Touching, funny and original love story between two mature characters with different backgrounds but a strong spiritual affinity. Set in a sometimes alarming English village. Major Pettigrew is a retired widower; Mrs Ali, at first a distant acquaintance, runs the village shop.

Does the cultural backwardness of the village always seem consistently grounded in the early 21st century? No. Does it matter? Not a bit; Simonson is expressing a sense of the English village and of a variety of attitudes that have been present in the culture, to varying degrees, at various times.

Moving and highly memorable.


The Unfinished Novel and Other stories
The Unfinished Novel and Other stories
by Valerie Martin
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Striking and Memorable, 22 Sept. 2011
The most striking and memorable tale in this collection is the titular one, 'The Unfinished Novel', which reads more like a novella itself than a short story and is unusually powerful and haunting.

My reason for giving this book only three stars is that the other stories are, especially by contrast, less memorable, although still of a very high quality. I would definitely recommend reading this work, though mainly for the title story, a devastating tale of failed ambitions and lives gone awry.


Ethan Frome (Oxford World's Classics)
Ethan Frome (Oxford World's Classics)
by Edith Wharton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable..., 22 Sept. 2011
One of my all-time favourite novels, this beautifully written, spare tale of wasted lives and lost dreams has stayed with me for many years. The character of Ethan, an imperfect man with longings for something larger that he can sometimes glimpse, is one of the most moving in fiction.


Great House
Great House
by Nicole Krauss
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Less than the sum of its parts?, 22 Sept. 2011
This review is from: Great House (Paperback)
Haunting, evocative but in some ways problematically opaque exploration of memory, trauma and loss, and the role which physical objects can play in these experiences.

Like some other reviewers, I was left uncertain as to whether the book -- memorable and moving -- at the same time constituted less than the sum of its parts, which if the case might be appropriate to a novel dedicated to the subject of what is lost and missing, and the gaps and absences in people's lives. On the other hand, I personally was left feeling a little obtuse, as if, like the husband who narrates one strand of the novel, I too was left outside shivering and slightly blank outside a deep but unaccessed pool of content and secrets. This may well have been the intention, but at the same time did dilute the impact of a remarkably accomplished work for me personally as a reader.

Although engrossing and impressive at the time, Great House, over the following days, left less impression on me than I had expected. Nonetheless, a rich and extraordinary work.


1492: The Year Our World Began
1492: The Year Our World Began
by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.68

4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing and Illuminating, 19 Sept. 2011
An engrossing, highly readable survey of the state of the world in 1492, when Columbus's (or his overlooked lookout's) discovery of the Americas dramatically changed the global status quo. Fernandez-Armesto, a Professorial Fellow of Queen Mary, University of London, writes with clarity and intellectual rigor (not always an easily managed combination), examining the international situation with the enthusiasm of an ideal explorer.

At 321 pages, this book is deceptively lightweight, and minimally footnoted, but the author manages to pack an impressive amount of content between its covers.
Over the course of ten chapters, subjects covered include, among others, the fortunes of Islam in Africa, the reign of Ivan III and his massive expansion of Russia, and the complex tensions between Confucian mandarins and the Buddhist-sympathizing Ming dynasty.

Some of Fernandez-Armesto's most striking observations are only briefly treated in the text, but provide much room for further thought: for example, his speculation that a decline in the fortunes of the great empire of Mali, during the fifteenth century, may have directly influenced the concurrent decline in the status of black people, evinced in contemporary map illustrations, thus strengthening the justifications for the slave trade (itself already well underway) and constituting a dramatic turning-point in the history of race relations.

Occasionally, the author's attempts to provide contemporary pop-culture parallels for historic reference points can feel slightly jarring, but this is rarely an issue and in any case is also a reflection of the book's appealing chattiness and immense enthusiasm for and engagement with its subject.
Notwithstanding its light touch, however, this study provides a cogent and intensive analysis of why other parts of the world, for one reason or another, did not take over the Americas -- thus giving the lie to the inevitability of the "rise of the West" -- and what this take-over, five hundred odd years ago, means for the world today.


The Seas
The Seas
by Samantha Hunt
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written and haunting, 19 Sept. 2011
This review is from: The Seas (Paperback)
Beautifully written and haunting tale of a girl growing up in a town, in the 'Far North', which is best known for its phenomenal rate of alcoholics per capita, and who may or may not be a mermaid.

The supernaturally inflected, often dream-like story describes her troubled friendship with a local war veteran (and alcoholic)and their attempts to make sense of their lives and perhaps to find some way out of their situations. More of a novella than a novel, and perhaps more of a modern fairy tale than a novel, The Seas leaves a long-lasting and powerful, if hard to encapsulate, impression on the reader's imagination and own dreams.


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