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England, England

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I was looking forward to reading ‘England, England’. It involves a wealthy tycoon who decides to create a replica England theme park on Isle of Wight, based on the idea that people would rather see a first class copy than a decaying original.The idea is fascinating, as are some of the characters, but somehow the finished product doesn’t fulfil the original promise. Partly, I think, because the idea of reconstructing an idealised England is more interesting than the central characters and relationships that take over the story. I wasn’t particularly interested in the relationship between Martha and Paul, and would have liked more of the Historian and his research.Once the England theme park is established, the novel suddenly becomes light, amusing, and fun, despite viewing much of from Martha’s rather morose perspective. The enjoyment of this section is heightened by the cast of minor characters: Dr Johnson, Queen Denise, Lady Godiva and understudy, smugglers, Robin Hood. The welcome change of tone is short-lived, and strangely at odds with the rest of the book.Having said that, I quite like Julian Barnes as an author and can recommend giving some of his other works a read. This book isn’t bad; more a promise unfulfilled.
Mr American

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I so thoroughly enjoyed the first half of this book that I couldn't put it down. From the halfway point though, I found the plot slower and unsatisfying in light of this novel's early promise. Frazer does develop some fantastic opportunities for conflict and crisis around the central character, Mark Franklin, any one of which might have provided tension and excitement enough to compel a reader throughout the story. However he also created, in Mark Franklin, a character so sensible and self-contained as to ensure that every crisis is tackled head-on with quick, calm efficiency. In short, the key events fail to grip as they might have done. That said, Mr American is still well worth reading for Frazer's impecable depiction of Edwardian England and its people, and a cameo appearance by an aged Flashman (in his nineties) is a real treat.
Flash for Freedom! (The Flashman Papers, Book 5)

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Discovering Flashman has been my highlight for 2010. Fraser’s skills as a novelist and historian is such that he created a character who remains ultimately likeable, despite his treatment of women. There have been many such men in life – why not in art? Flash for Freedom in the first, and perhaps most disturbing, of the American Flashman adventures.
Flashman at the Charge (The Flashman Papers, Book 7)

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Discovering Flashman has been my highlight for 2010. Fraser’s skills as a novelist and historian is such that he created a character who remains ultimately likeable, despite his treatment of women. There have been many such men in life – why not in art? Flashman’s account of the charge of the Light Brigade, and the bungling of the Crimean episode is entirely plausible. His portrait of Russia and her people is entirely grim and cruel, but perhaps understandably coloured by his long imprisonment and experiences in that country. On his return to more familiar territory in Afghanistan, we see Flashy take on the hero’s role with uncharacteristic willingness.
Flashman und der Berg des Lichts: Flashman im 1. Sikh-Krieg im Pandschab 1845-46

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Discovering Flashman has been my highlight for 2010. Fraser’s skills as a novelist and historian is such that he created a character who remains ultimately likeable, despite his treatment of women. There have been many such men in life – why not in art? In a particularly saucy edition of the Flashman papers, Flashy near single-handedly saves the British cause in India, by virtue of his manly virility, stamina and performance.
Leave it to Psmith

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I am currently re-reading and reviewing my Wodehouse collection in chronological order, so a proper review is yet to come. However, I can’t leave off commenting that if I were whisked off to the emergency ward at a moments notice, this would be the book I'd grab for the overnight case, with my last gasp if necessary.
Flashman (The Flashman Papers, Book 1)

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Discovering Flashman has been my highlight for 2010. Fraser’s skills as a novelist and historian is such that he created a character who remains ultimately likeable, despite his treatment of women. Indeed, there have been many such men in life – why not in art? Admittedly, had I leapt into Flashman chronologically, with this book first, I might not have been so enamoured, as we view him at his abusive worst in this most youthful of his adventures. Best of all, Flashy’s account of his service in Afghanistan and the grim retreat from Kabul is fabulous, gripping writing.
Flashman and the Tiger: And Other Extracts from the Flashman Papers (The Flashman Papers, Book 12)

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Discovering Flashman has been my highlight for 2010. Fraser’s skills as a novelist and historian is such that he created a character who remains ultimately likeable, despite his treatment of women. There have been many such men in life – why not in art? This was my first foray into the world of Flashman and I can thoroughly recommend it as a starting point. Flashy is at his charming best with the ladies, and toadying best with his foes. His account of the Zulu attack on Rorkes Drift is spine chilling.
The Thirty-Nine Steps

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At some future date, I will dedicate some time to writing the more detailed review this work deserves. In the interim, I will summarise by highly recommending this corking, ripping, absolutely spiffing yarn.
Persuasion

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One of the few so called love stories I have any time for. This is the last, and in my view best, novel from one of history's most charming authors.
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