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Archive for December, 2008

The first thing to mention is that Denis Leary is not a medical Doctor – the Doctor in his name is due to the fact that he has been granted an Honorary Degree.  I mention it because anyone familiar with Denis Leary might be shocked (as I was) to see him referred to as Doctor!

For anyone not familiar with Denis Leary, he is an outspoken, often controversial, Irish-American writer, comedian and actor.  He polarises audiences; generally people think he is extremely offensive, or extremely funny.  I fall into the latter category.

Leary is famous for his onstage rants, and this book is an extended such rant.  He discusses what in his opinion is wrong with America today (blaming lazy parenting,over medication, bad role models and the blame culture amongst other things), and says what he would do to put things right.  To be clear, this book is obviously meant to be comedy, although he does raise many serious points in it.

It’s not an autobiography, although there is plenty here about Leary’s childhood and his relationship with his parents, especially his mother, who is obviously close to.  He also talks about his marriage and children, and it is obvious that his family is the most important thing in the world to him – and he is frustrated that so many people don’t put their family first (or even second or third).

The book made me laugh out loud on many occasions.  If you are easily offended by swearing, then I would advise you to approach with great caution (or just avoid altogether), but if you sometimes wonder at what on earth the world is coming to, and don’t object to a fair amount of bluntness and curse words, and feel like you need a good belly laugh, then I would definitely recommend this book to you.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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There can’t be many people who aren’t familiar with the storyline of A Christmas Carol; briefly however, this is the very famous story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, who through a visit from the ghost of his former business partner, and three further spirits (who show him respectively, the Christmases of his past, the Christmas of his present, and the Christmas of his future) becomes a changed man, and in doing so, is redeemed from the lonely future which awaits him.

A Christmas Carol is definitely the jewel in the crown, of all the stories contained in this book. The other two which I particularly enjoyed from this collection are The Story of the Goblins who Stole a Sexton – which is part of another of Dicken’s work, The Pickwick Papers (this particular short story is worthy of note, as A Christmas Carol was based on it), and A Christmas Episode from Master Humphrey’s Clock.

The other novella in this collection is The Haunted Man and The Ghost’s Bargain, which has an interesting and typically Dickensian premise, but which does not capture the imagination as well as A Christmas Carol (although this is possibly because the story itself is less well known). Other, shorter writings are also included.

The writing in all of the pieces is deceptively simple, as Dickens uses his words to great effect. There are moments of great humour and many subtle comments upon the social circumstances of the time. Dickens’ books are classics with good reason – he certainly knew the power of good storytelling!

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Click here for my review of the 2009 animated movie adaptation.

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Down the Highway is a biography of Bob Dylan, which spans his early life, through to the beginning of his career to music, and his subsequent rise to his current status, which it is no exaggeration to say, is probably that of legend.

The book has obviously been meticulously researched, and is crammed with facts and figures.  It pulls no punches in describing the low times in Dylan’s career, as well as the highlights.

I am not generally a fan of biographies, but this one was a fascinating read.  Although, as stated earlier, it is stuffed full with facts, the writing is not ‘dry’, and the story of Dylan’s life unfolds at a satisfying pace.

What I found particularly interesting is that Dylan himself doesn’t really come out of this biography very well!  He appears at best a mass of contradictions, but prior knowledge of him suggests that that is no fault of the author – it’s just representative of what Dylan is like.  It is refreshing to read a biography that is not constantly gushing about it’s subject.

Sounes interviewed fellow musicians, past lovers and family members for the book (although, not surprisingly, there is no contribution from Dylan himself).  As with any biography, the book will be more interesting to fans, but even for someone with just a passing interest in Dylan’s music, this is an interesting read.

(Author’s website can be found here.  Bob Dylan’s website can be found here.)

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This is the fifth book in the Inspector Montalbano series.  It’s not essential to have read any of the previous books to understand what is happening, but I would recommend it, as the characters have been developed over the series.

In this installment, Police Inspector Montalbano finds himself  heading up an investigation into a young playboy.  At the same time he finds himself dealing with the disappearance of an elderly couple.  Initially there appears to be no connection between the two crimes, but when it discovered that all three people lived in the same apartment block, Montalbano’s suspicions become aroused.  His investigation takes him and his team into dangerous territory involving the Sicilian Mafia.

As is the case with all of the books I have read in this series (so far), the case is interesting, but it takes a back seat to the interaction between the various characters. Salvo Montalbano is an irritable, grumpy man who feels that he is being left behind in a word where technology is taking over.  However, he has amazing intuition and a terrific sense of humour, as well as a deep sense of honour.  His interactions with his detective team – particularly the hapless Catarella and the smart Augello  – are amusing and believable.

The book (and indeed the series) also paints a vivid picture of Sicilian life and culture. It’s a light read, but an interesting one.  This series has not disappointed me yet!

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This book, set in London in 1829, is the first book in a series about Pyke, a Bow Street Runner, and sometime crook of questionable (to say the least) morals.

The book is set at a time for great change for the policing system: Home Secretary Peel had his plans to set up one ruling Police Force, and thus put Runners like Pike, out of work.  His plans were opposed by many, and this conflict is very well illustrated in this book.

Pyke finds himself caught up in trying to solve a brutal triple murder, and his investigations uncover a web of deception which perhaps goes as high as the Government itself, and which threatens Pyke’s livelihood and even his life.  

Aided by an enigmatic society beauty (which comes across far less cliched than that sounds), Pyke has to stay one step ahead of the powers that be at all time, as he faces danger from known and unknown persons.

I really enjoyed this book.  The action moves along at a fair old pace, and I never found myself getting bored.  1820s London is brought vividly to life, with detailed descriptions of the way of life.  However, the historical references did not detract from the main storyline; they merely served to help set the scene.

Pyke is a terrific main character.  He is a cruel and brutal man, who I felt I should dislike, but there was just enough goodness in him to make me want to root for him all the way.  As a character who was very believable, his actions still took me by surprise on many occasions.

There is a lot of violence and bloodshed in this book, and I can certainly see that that in itself would turn a lot of readers off.  I wouldn’t recommend it to a squeamish friend!  However, if you want a good crime mystery with plenty of twists and turns, and don’t mind some blood and gore, this is a great read.  I look forward to reading the next installment.

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Bill Hicks passed away in 1994, at the age of 32, and his death was a sad loss. This show was filmed in Montreal in 1991, and it’s amazing watching it 17 years later, how relevant it still is.

The first thing to note is that as a comedian, Bill Hicks is very very funny.  The second thing to note is that he was more than just a comedian.  He was a social commentator, who was never afraid to stand up for what he believed in.

I have probably said this in one of my earlier reviews (specifically of Bill Hicks’ ‘One Night Stand’ show), but I still want to mention that Bill always gave me the impression that he was disappointed in humanity, and the lack of humanity that people sometimes show to their fellow men.  Ignorance and stupidity angered him.  Banality and mediocrity angered him.  And he was a very intelligent man who was able to articulate exactly what was wrong with so many factions of society.  Yes, there is crudity in his act, and it may not be for the easily offended.  But I would recommend anybody to check out Bill Hicks.  There’s more than just a load of belly laughs here – there is plenty to think about too.

Among his targets on this show are the advertising industry, the Iraq War (the first one), George Bush (the first one) and of course, the anti-smoking fraternity.

Year of release: 1992

Director: Chris Bould

Writer: Bill Hicks

Main cast: Bill Hicks

(For more information about Bill Hicks, please click here.)

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Dear, oh dear.  I was sent this book as a freebie to review, and I have to say it just didn’t do anything for me.

It is essentially a set of essays ranging in length from one sentence to 2 or 3 pages, about all manner of things.  Supposedly, the author is supposed to find hidden meaning in all sorts of inanimate objects and common situations.  However, my view is that the meanings he found were not hidden; they just didn’t exist in the first place.  For example, I really can’t find too much about an ashtray that is worth waxing lyrical about.  Revolving doors are just not that awe inspiring to me.

I will say that the writing is elegant, although the translation sometimes left a bit to be desired.  A couple of the essays even had an element of truth in them – mainly the ones where the author describes any sort of interaction with other people.  But for the most part, Kral attaches such significance and meaning to so many objects that are just not worthy of it that I got bored and irritated while reading.

It was a relief to finish this (and if it wasn’t for the fact that I hate giving up on books, I would have given up on it very early on) – I won’t be seeking out any more books by this author.

(I would like to thank NewBooksMag for sending me this book to review. NewBooksMag’s website can be found here.

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