Archive for July, 2012

Book review: Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City that Made the World.

July 20, 2012


Book review: Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City that Made the World.

Author: Boris Johnson

US date of publication 31 May, 2012

Do you hate history? Many people do and it’s easy to see why. Because as taught in school, it is usually mind-numbingly deadly dull. With a [very] few exceptions, historians do not help things either, each one seemingly vying to be even duller than the next. Paradoxically, everyone likes a good story, which all of us have. Certainly you have stories in and from your life telling about people living out their lives in places and times. This is what we can and do remember and enjoy, because they are real and engaging.

So is Boris Johnson’s: Johnson’s life of London. Boris, as he is known, is the most famous Englishman that Americans have not heard of—yet. Boris is the newly re-elected Mayor of London and a lovable eccentric, if ever there was one. He was swept into office in 2008 on a platform of making London safer, appealing to the suburbs, and of ridding the city of the universally detested, but mandated, modern Mercedes articulated “bendy-buses” that were not at all designed for London’s ancient, narrow streets.

He, Boris, now bicycles about the city advocating for loaner bikes, and “green tech”, civil civility, and is responsible for the re-introduction of the much loved, people and eco-friendly, New Routemaster double decker buses. AKA, “The New Bus For London”, the “Boris Bus”, or even the “NB4L”. Public transport is important in a huge city and most people liked Boris’ attitude on this vital subject very much. The “NB4L” has been quite a coup, if an expensive one. If ever there was a Londoner that Americans can love, it is Boris. And as he was literally born in the USA, he is one of us too.

But why should we care? Because this is a book that should be of interest to you, it is more of a collection of stories, essay like, that chronicle the 2000 plus years of history—oops, [sorry!] story[s], of what is perhaps the most desirable city in the world to live in. These are stories of people, events and things, some you will know about and some are new to you. You might agree or not, but you will learn some things about London and about the modern world we all live in and how it came to be as it is now.

I learned quite a few things from Boris in his humorous, self-deprecating and engaging style. Does he promote London? Yes. Is he clever? Yes. Does he know what he is talking about? Yes again. Did I like it? Absolutely. Will those people who hate history enjoy it? I can’t say. What I can say is this, with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee just over and the Olympics about to begin, I expect we will be hearing a lot more about Old London Town and about Boris too. If all goes well there, he just might be on his way to 10 Downing Street. I hope so, I mean, everyone likes a good story…

bill littlefield


The World without You by Joshua Henkin

July 19, 2012


This is a compelling novel about the Frankel family and how they are coping in the aftermath of the death of the youngest son, Leo, a journalist in Iraq. Told from all of the characters’ perspectives, you gain insight into everyone’s lives, their memories of Leo and the emotions they are experiencing. This is a well-written story with amazing character development. Through flashbacks and stories, Leo is brought to life by the various family members. The story seamlessly weaves together past and present. The characters are realistic with realistic flaws, shortcomings and vulnerabilities.  The novel demonstrates the complexities of adult sibling relationships. This is a gripping family drama that I highly recommend.

The World Without You: A Novel by [Joshua Henkin]

CD Music Review: England Keep My Bones by Frank Turner

July 17, 2012


CD music review: England keep my bones

Artist: Frank Turner

Release date: 7 June, 2011

If you are like me, you might hear a song now and then and think; hmmm… that is pretty good. And then you do laundry, pay bills and of course go to work. And time passes, and so it is with “England keep my bones” by the English folk/punk singer Frank Turner and released last summer. And then you hear the song again in an altogether unexpected place, and you think, wow; he/she/they has done it—that elusive muse of fleeting fame has touched her/him/them and it is being shared and given to me.

The song I am talking about is “I still believe” is now this last month or so receiving the imprimatur of at least several of the so called progressive radio station in Boston. Why? It is a classic rock n roll song, a tribute to many of the greats of this genre. This is interesting as Turner, like the now famous, Adele before him, does not sound English to American ears. As to whether this is good, bad or indifferent is moot, for in the global village all English speakers have vastly more in common than they are likely to admit, and are likely to sound more alike as time passes.

Fine, great, but is this CD any good? If you can get over the classic English slam of being a case of “Carrying coal to Newcastle”, the answer is a resounding yes! American country/western music had to come from somewhere and it sure did not originate [for the most part] in Bessarabia. Folk and country music exists and has existed in England for hundreds of years before country people there migrated to North America, so we should not be surprised that people in England are capable of what some might mistakenly consider to be an all American style.

In addition to “I still believe” is the excellent “Wessex boy” a homecoming song if ever there was one. In a completely different vein is “English Curse”, guaranteed to make you blood run cold. And “Glory Hallelujah” is not in any way what you think and it is courageous for anyone to have the guts to sing about the advantages and utility of atheism.

This style of curiously American folk/country/rock Turner succeeds in. although it has taken some time. I am not sure that it or he will be a big hit here in the US and some have found it cloying. Personally, I enjoy it for what it is, a celebration of an English, but not a British lifestyle. It is corny? You will have to decide, as for me, like Frank Turner: “I still believe that rock and roll will save us all”. And you know, that really is a pretty darn good thing to aim for.

bill littlefield


CD music review: Ladyhawke: Anxiety

July 13, 2012


CD music review: Ladyhawke: Anxiety

Album release: USA, 29 May, 2012; UK, 4 June, 2012

Ladyhawke, the New Zealand indie rock band have finally released their new CD Anxiety. Are you happy, elated or indifferent? If you think I’m going to say that I, at least, am elated then you will be correct. Why? Ladyhawke are one of those things in life that are to me more valuable than their purchase price, or, to be crass, their cost. Not that $8-10 for their CD is going to break the bank, but that the whole [music experience] is in my opinion more than what you expect and more than you hope for.

I had hoped for more than more of the same from this disc and, I at least, have not been disappointed, although some reviewers have been disappointed and have said so with considerable alacrity bordering upon glee. People are, as always, entitled to their opinions but not to their own facts. The fact is that this is an evolutionary album. It is not part two of the original. That that is not incandescent is unfortunate, but perhaps to be expected.

This means that if you loved Ladyhawke the CD in 2008, then you ought to love Anxiety the CD in 2012. “Pip” Wilson’s voice is right out there as before, yet maybe as the cliché goes, “not so much”. Is the music as powerful, might one even say, as strident as 2008? No. What is it then? As I have said, it is in my mind a delicious progression of talent, work, thought, experience and ability that I certainly wish that I had. And to do it right takes time, lots of it, thus the four year hiatus.

Anxiety ought not to be listened to just once, but several times. There are tracks that will say “Ah, this is a Ladyhawke song alright”, and amongst those are “Black and white and blue”, “Sunday drive” and “Cellophane”. Other tracks are just that, not that they are poorly written, just the opposite. Wilson and the band have I believe consciously decided that they do not want to be pigeon-holed and become stuck with a certain sound. So they try different sounds, which I like a lot. Mercifully, this is a group unlike some, who shall remain nameless, who either through inability, or fear of loss of commercial success grind out the same stuff over and over. OK, Anxiety by Ladyhawke is out and here at the WML. I say it was worth the wait.

bill littlefield


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

July 12, 2012


I loved this book! He is a really wonderful writer, and I loved how distinct and engrossing the different characters and storylines were. The locations are beautiful, and I was completely drawn in from beginning to end. LOVED it.

Available as ebook and audiobook on LIbby/Overdrive and Hoopla

Beautiful Ruins - ebook

Music Review: The Vaccines, live from London, England

July 10, 2012


CD music review: The Vaccines, live from London, England.

Release date 26 April, 2011, Sony Music

I must admit right now that I am on new territory at this point. Always before I have read at least two, and usually more, music reviews before I write one for the WML. This is not the case today. I looked for online reviews, but there were none at all. Not that I plagiarize, quite the contrary. I like to see what other people might think, feel or experience as they listen to a music CD from this person or that group. Not that I spent all day looking for reviews. I expect that there actually are some somewhere, though in my brief trawl I came up empty handed. So I’m on my own.

If you liked The Vaccines debut CD “What did you expect from The Vaccines” last spring, you will find that this is the icing on the cake. As it is simply—and in no way to damn with faint praise ‘cause I sure couldn’t do it—a live album. It is just that, nothing fancy, just a group of the lads singing and playing their songs, live from King’s College in London and recorded early last year.

I just learned about this CD last month and hasted to order it and have been impressed. I have had my copy for a couple of weeks and it has been on my player over and over again. It is fast, catchy, fun, high energy and just a really good album and an excellent recording. This live album will hold us over until September when the second studio album from The Vaccines is released. I was thrilled then, I am now and I hope to be soon thrilled again. I hope that you will be too.

bill littlefield


The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller

July 5, 2012

[Lesley]  I didn’t want to like this book – retellings of greek “myths” are usually disappointing, and I was worried that the author would be overly maudlin or sentimental with the love story at the center of this retelling. But I did like it. I thought that it stayed very true to the type of storytelling needed and added depth to the original story. The whole book was very well written and each character, no matter how small, seemed fully realized. The ending was especially well done.

Available on audio on Libby/Overdrive  and Hoopla

The Song of Achilles

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

July 2, 2012


This book has a really wonderful combination of magical, fairy-tale elements, and harsh, stark reality of life in Alaska in the early 20th century. The characters are memorable and the writing is beautiful. If you like Alice Hoffman you might want to give this one a try.