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VINE VOICEon 24 November 2009
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )|Verified Purchase
The Vine programme gives ordinary people the chance to try new goodies, often ahead of official release, in return for writing reviews to help potential customers make purchase choices. As you can imagine, there's often a bit of a feeding frenzy for expensive electricals and state-of-the-art gadgets among the reviewers, and items such as this audio book can very easily fall under the radar. Which is a real shame, because this is actually one of the best items I've received since joining the programme.

M R James was born in Victorian times, and his writing has an exquisite simplicity, no flowery prose, no embellishments. He paints pictures of dark woods, bleak seashores, flint churches and abandoned Martello towers. The tales centre largely around East Anglia, which is another bonus for me, as I live in the area, and rarely come across literature based locally. The story of the Saxon crowns, buried around the coast to protect England from marauding invaders, then foolishly dug up by inquisitive locals was so compelling that I did a Google search genuinely expecting to find this confirmed as a previously reported myth or legend. It isn't, but I so wanted it to be. The three other tales are similarly engrossing.

Potential purchasers need to be aware that the terror level is hardly going to match a modern horror film, but the sense of eeriness and atmosphere conveyed in these subtle and unsophisticated stories is absolutely wonderful. As is Derek Jacobi's measured reading of them. I listed to one CD at home on Halloween, and the other made a nice change from the egotistical DJs who normally join me on my commute up the M11!

I thoroughly recommend this item.
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VINE VOICEon 25 November 2009
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Firstly, there is no substitute for reading M.R.James - in my humble opinion one of the finest writers of the supernatural in the English language. At the time of publication his stories introduced a new realism into the age old art form - his tales may have revolved around characters who were educated or educators themselves but the world in which they encountered and engaged in would have been immediately recognized by readers of the time. So, yes, like any realism, whether it be the 1990's or in this case the 1900's what you are reading or listening to is dated, and if you are not willing to take an imaginative leap you won't be frightened. Like all the best horror writers, M.R.James' gift was to make the ordinary terrifying and he did this through implication and suggestion, though a Cambridge don, his use of language is deceptively simple and immediate.

Unlike Spine Chillers, which were dramatisations of M.R. James by Radio 4, complete with music and sound effects and featured Derek Jacobi as M.R. James, Ghost Stories, by comparison, features Derek Jacobi alone reading each tale as written. In fact M.R. James wrote many of his tales to be read aloud at Christmas, so for optimum effect and maximum terror, these tales are best listened to in a candle lit room or in front of an open fire, preferably alone.
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VINE VOICEon 15 December 2009
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I've always liked M R James, and after the BBC's fantastic "A View From A Hill" adaptation for TV I was interested to see how they brought the book to life for audio. The choice of Derek Jacobi is inspired as there are only a few other actors whom I can imagine doing the stories justice, his voice has the right timbre for the job. It's also refreshing not to be confronted with gimmicky sound effects & other such nonsense; this is understated story-telling that allows you to be drawn into the story without distractions. Sat there in the dark of the evening with just a lit candle, this cd has all the hallmarks of a proper fireside ghost story, without the naff visual effects of modern so-called 'horror'. My only very small & personal gripe is that the pace at which the stories move is a little fast, whereas I prefer the slower & more pondorous pace of chiller reading. Well worth getting!
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VINE VOICEon 17 October 2009
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I really enjoyed Derek Jacobi's superb reading of M R James Ghost Stories volume 1 and was eager to listen to volume 2. Needless to say I wasnt dissapointed. Derek Jacobi has a very easy voice to listen to and I have enjoyed a number of audio books read by him. The reading material is also excellent - M R James is probably my favourite ghost story author and this collection contains my all time favourite M R James story A Warning To The Curious (which was also adapted as part of BBC's classic series A Ghost Story For Christmas and starred Peter Vaughn and is well worth watching). The other stories in this 2 cd set are The Mazzotint, The Stalls Of Barchester Cathedral and The Neighbour's Landmark. All the stories are very enjoyable so why not dim the lights and let M R James and Derek Jacobi take you on a fantastic journey into the macabre.
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VINE VOICEon 2 November 2009
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I selected this CD to listen to on a long car journey to a Halloween party, in the hope that it would put me in a ghostly mood! It contains four classic ghost stories from the early 1900s, read by Sir Derek Jacobi.

You can tell the ghost stories are from a long time ago as they have an old English feel to them and are quite tame and non-gory, so if you want something with a lot of blood then you are out of luck. They have lovely, well described English settings and are completely inoffensive. Even so, they still manage to be occasionally quite creepy, though I wouldn't say they are anywhere near as scary as most of the modern ghost stories I have read. They also take a while to get going and can be quite slow.

Also, if you like your stories to be tied up at the end and to make sense then you will not like these as they are left very open and much is left to the imagination.

Derek Jacobi reads the stories quite well, and he has the right sort of voice for stories from this era, a little posh and again very English sounding. However he does not do much in the way of different voices and because of the structure of some of the stories, this can lead to a bit of confusion. For example the first story, A Warning to the Curious, features a narrator telling a story which was narrated to him by an acquaintance, which was in part narrated to him by a young man, which was in part related to the young man by a vicar, which was in part related to him by others. This means that the story has gone through five different people before it reaches us and it can be confusing to remember who is narrating. This is especially confusing if you're concentrating on a car journey!

I would recommend this to those who fancy a classic story whilst at home on a winter evening. It is not for those who want something really exciting.
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VINE VOICEon 12 November 2009
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The last time I was entertained by a reading of a ghost story was nearly sixty years ago when my then housemaster read us 'The Monkey's Paw' by W.W.Jacobs so when given the chance to listen to this audio book, I didn't hesitate. Without a doubt, such readings need a necessarily perfect voice and Derek Jacobi has just such a one.

Although having had this audio around for a while, it took a cold afternoon recently, a roaring open fire, a glass of port, a couple (or more) mince pies which I'd grabbed when they were on offer (BOGOF) and I was set. Several glasses later and when the afternoon had turned into night I was more than happy with my choice. These stories have already been well-reviewed so I need only to add that if anyone likes atmosphere, likes a carefully plotted little story to bring a tingle to your spine, then listen to those of M.R.James. These stories plus the voice of the reader are excellent - I am looking out now for the first in the series and hopefully a few more in the future. And they certainly made me think of my childhood in the fifties; perhaps I'll try to find 'The Monkey's Paw' in such a format, although they do say it's better not to revist old times. Still, what's a ghost story all about if not the unexplained?
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Two of the greatest writers of supernatural stories are, to my mind, M. R. James, and Algernon Blackwood. Many's the time in my younger days when I used to read their work late at night and feel the sharp frisson of repressed uneasiness as I climbed the stairs, entered my bedroom, and looked under the bed, just in case, you can never be too sure. Both are masters of finely drawn wire taut suspense, and it's a pleasure to scare yourself half to death by reading them.

Frequently I have felt let down by TV or Radio productions of such stories, they are either appallingly bland or so far over the top as to make a nonsense of the original story. Not here, the BBC's production is, as ever, quite splendid. Their choice of Derek Jacobi a master-stroke, here is an actor with the perfect voice for these stories, precise diction, perfect intonation, and faultless timing.

I am particularly fond of 'The Mezzotint', although it has changed the way I look at art for ever, and never fail to feel that thrill of fear whenever I read it, this audio version is excellent and does not clash with my personal interpretation. I'm not at all sure now if I could ever buy that wonderful old manor house I keep seeing in 'Country Life' perhaps I should make a claim against M. R. James' estate if I am ever financially sound enough to buy it although to be fair I don't have any infants.

To sum up then: Another BBC tour-de-force and a perfect complement to James' written work, a definite 5 star production.

Having just listened to the collection, the wind is blowing like crazy outside, something is creaking and tapping away out there, and with perfect timing I hear a bump from upstairs, when I go up I shall check under the bed, well you can't be too careful can you ;)



P. S.: If I don't post any more reviews, you can assume there was something under the bed. Night night, sleep tight ;)

Ancient Sorceries and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics)]Algernon Blackwood]

[[ASIN:0486229777 Best Ghost Stories]Algernon Blackwood
[[ASIN:0586063226 Omnibus: At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels of Terror No. 1 (H.P. Lovecraft Omnibus)

Count Magnus and Other Ghost Stories: the Complete Ghost Stories of M. R. James v. 1 (Penguin Classics)]
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 25 October 2009
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Here is a thoroughly civilised piece of Hallowe'en entertainment. One of England's finest actors regales us with four of the famous ghost stories of England's finest ghost story writer. The two discs comprise A Warning to the Curious, The Mezzotint, The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral and A Neighbour's Landmark. The available choice of audiobooks containing the M R James stories has surprised me by its variety, but I have not troubled to find out which others, if any, consist of exactly these four tales. Anyone wanting these four and wishing to hear them read as they ought to be read really need look no further.

James is always slightly tongue-in-cheek, delicately parodying the idiom of his own upper-bracket social class around the turn of the 20th century. Derek Jacobi captures this nuance to something like perfection without overdoing it. As the main narrator he stays himself, a product of the acting schools of the later 20th century. A beautiful middle-aged voice is all that is really needed from the reader: James does the rest. You will experience without distractions the special atmosphere and tingle-factor that make James unique, and I found that I admired the actual selection of the four stories, which offer a nice variety in the author's methods. Indeed A Neighbour's Landmark is rather unlike most of James's plots, and I wondered whether it was based on a real historical court case. It has more sense of reportage and less of fantasy than usual, and I'm sure the feeling of reality that it had for me has nothing to do with the fact that the name Reggie Phillipson is one from my own early schooldays.

Otherwise you will find James's usual recipe of pagan demons present in the heart of high Anglican worship, comfortable Cambridge dons and cathedral clergy confronted with what they do not understand, and the unique and special ambience of East Anglia with its flat landscapes and invasive mists. It is all done with a unique delicacy and restraint that makes me, and I'm sure many, shiver far more than strenuous attempts to scare me ever do. The tingle-factor is largely eerie, as of course it ought to be, but the sheer artistry of it has a lot to do with the matter as well.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 21 October 2009
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Four ghost stories by classic writer of the supernatural M.R. James are presented here, complete and unabridged, over two cd's. Two each to a disc. The first on each disc is slightly longer than the second, but they all run from approx thirty to forty minutes.

The box inlay contains brief notes indicating which tracks on which disc each story takes up, some brief notes about the narrator, and longer ones about the writer.

M.R. James published between 1895 and 1925, and all the stories here definitely belong to that period, being full of atmospheric descriptions of villages and seaside towns and cathedrals and academic types engaging in the scholary pursuit of the supernatural.

All tend to feature such scholary types as the main characters, who narrate in the first person. They investigate strange phenomena, and don't come away too much the wiser.

The first story, a warning for the curious, tells of a man who disturbs an ancient artefact and the trouble he falls into as a result. probably the best of the four. there's a lot of exposition, but it's very absorbing, and the slow build of menace and paranoia is really subtly disturbing.

The second story, the Mezzotint, describes people examining an engraving that reveals details of a terrible event. It's not quite as unsettling as the first story, but it has it's moments.

On disc two, the first story is the stalls of barchester cathedral. The main character in this one pieces together a story via various artefacts, and thus there's more exposition than before. This does take a while to get going but does have some good moments.

Story four, a neighbour's landmark, has a man investigating woodland as a result of an ancient rhyme that gets his curiosity. something strange happening to him makes him determined to learn more. The exposition forms the bulk of the second half of this tale, but the first does manage to spook you.

The strength of this the reading. all read by sir derek jacobi who has a quite wonderful voice and manages to do excellent voices for each supporting character. It's an absolute pleasure to listen to.

A four rather than a five star release because all the stories are very good rather than great, but if you want some good old fashioned chills to listen to, this is well worth getting.
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HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERon 21 October 2009
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In this interesting package four unabridged ghost stories, from the pen of an acknowledged master of the genre M.R. James, are read by Derek Jacobi. This is a 2 disc set, with two stories per disc. There is a track listing in the liner notes allowing you to jump to a particular story. The total running time is 2 hours, or 30 mins per story.

The real star of the show is M.R. James, who penned a series of short, imaginative ghost stories which have become a staple of the genre. Each story follows a similar pattern, with clues being uncovered leading to some final revelation. Things tens to proceed at a decent pace, and a feeling of real suspense is built up as the finale is approached. Part of the joy of these books is that the 'ghost' is always a background figure, only met through second hand accounts, hinted at in passing and never really explicitly described. This allows your imagination to really work at it, and keeps the suspense up.

Derek Jacobi does a fine job of reading these stories, managing to build on the suspense of the stories and conveying the curiosity, fear and disbelief of the characters nicely. His diction is excellent, and every word is clearly audible. He is a good choice for this production.

The CD liner notes consist of a short essay about M.R. James and Derek Jacobi, and a track listing.

A worthy production, well worth getting. Almost as good as reading the book.
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