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Archive for the ‘book reviews’ Category

Growing up I was always encouraged by my parents to read as much as possible, and I still find it difficult to accept when my own children, particularly my daughter, tell me that reading is boring. I think the first book that I loved and read over and over again was, The Cricket in Times Square, written by George Selden with lovely drawings by Garth Williams. The story is about a Cricket named Chester from Connecticut, who ends up on a New York bound train, and then ends up on the subway and finds himself lost in Times Square station. He then goes on to make friends with a cat called Harry and a mouse called Tucker, after being discovered by a boy called Mario, whose parents run a financially failing newstand. After a couple of mishaps, Mario’s mother wants Chester gone but he saves himself by chirping her favourite song, and it turns out that Chester has a perfect ear for music and can chirp any piece of music or opera after hearing it once. It is a charming story with a fairly sad ending which I won’t go into here.

In my teenage years I did tend to drift away from reading for a bit, distracted as I was by girls and football, and although I did read I tended to stick with non-fiction books on football. So although my next book is a non-fiction book that is about football, it also went on to be made in to a film and a stage play. Fever Pitch, by Nick Hornby is the story of one man’s life told in a series of football matches (mostly Arsenal) and we follow Mr. Hornby on his journey through his parents divorce, his first love, work and career etc, all tied in with the effect that being an obsessive football fan has on all of his relationships and friendships and his career. A riveting read and one that I read in little more than a day, plus it led me back into reading fiction when Nick brought out his next books, High fidelity and About A Boy.

In 2002 I began an English Literature A-level course run in the evenings by my local college, and the first set book we had to read was, Regeneration written in 1991 by Pat Barker. It tells the harrowing stories of injured British officers of World War I, being treated  for shell-shock at Craiglockhart hospital in Scotland. It is based on true accounts and some of the more famous inmates included the war poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen although the story is fiction, it is fiction based on fact which is the kind of story I like as it adds authenticity. The book deals with many themes, such as madness, masculinity, homosexuality and the futility of war. The book is the first in a trilogy and it was followed by The Eye in the Door, and The Ghost Road, which won the Booker Prize in 1995.

Now that my love of works of fiction based on fact had begun I had to wait a couple more years to read another one that had an effect on me. That book was The Damned United, by David Peace and tells the story of football manager and self-proclaimed big head, Brian Clough and his brief 44 day tenure as manager of Leeds United. As manager of Derby County, Cloughie was one of the most vocal of all of Leeds United’s critics, and he was never far away from giving out a controversial quote or ten on the subject of Leeds United and their then manager Don Revie. When Revie left to take over the England managers job, the surprise choice of the Leeds United board for their new manager was Brian Clough. This book is fiction and is written totally from the point of view of Brian Clough, it later spawned a film adaptation that was not particularly true to the book and was slated by Clough’s widow, and family.

My last choice is the book that got me interested in a whole new genre, and that is travel writing, The book, Three Men in a Float, tells the story of three guys who one day decide to buy an old second-hand milk float off Ebay and travel across England from Lowestoft to Lands End and the people they meet on the way. The chapters are told from two of the travellers so each chapter is fresh and has a different prospective.

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Following on from my last blog, the next few books I read in March weren’t very good, starting with Strangers on the 16:02, a short novella from the “Quick reads” collection, and to be honest its only saving grace was that it was mercifully short. There is very little story and it just seems to be a collection of characters thrown together, even the event at the end doesn’t add to much. Next up was Dead man’s hand, a collection of short stories based around the game of Poker, One word sums this book up, and that word is “disappointing”. I looked forward to reading it but the stories are badly written and some are difficult to follow, I gave up in the end. I finished the month with another collection of short stories called Speaking with the Angel, edited by one of my favourite authors, Nick Hornby who also contributes with a story. This was another disappointing book with only one or two good stories and the rest were mediocre.

Due to my Open University course reaching its conclusion I didn’t get to read as many books as I would liked to have done in April and May due to concentrating on getting a passing grade, and the only book I managed to read in April was, For richer, for poorer,  a compelling look at the world of poker, through the eyes of journalist and broadcaster Victoria Coren. She details how she became hooked on the game from her early days playing for small stakes in smoke-filled back rooms of pubs and clubs, right up to becoming the European champion. She has an uncanny knack of bringing to life the characters that she has met through the years and the anecdotes are interesting, funny, and sometimes sorrowful. Finally free from the constraints of studying the next book I read is currently the best book I have read this year, a biography about the life of actor Patrick McGoohan called Not a number. I wasn’t expecting much from this biography if I’m honest as all though being a well-known actor, Patrick McGoohan was also a very private person who rarely gave interviews, and when he did he usually gave very little away. However I was blown away by the sheer amount of research that has gone into producing this very well put together book. It is obvious from the very first page that a huge amount of time and effort has been put into finding obscure excerpts from magazines and video taped interviews, that help bring to life the man and his works. If you are a fan of Mr. McGoohan this is a must read book, and if you are not familiar with him then this book should inspire you to sit down and watch this great character actor in action. May finished with a visit to my local library where I picked up a copy of Coming up for air, by George Orwell, which despite enjoying early on it fell away somewhat from the middle onwards and failed to hold my interest.

June started with a Kindle only publication entitled, Diary of the displaced, which I found to be very dull and a little weird, next up was a book that I had been meaning to read for some time, John Haldeman’s The forever war, a science-fiction classic written in the early seventies about a future war against an alien race on a far off world. It is a very good book that kept me interested through out and having read one of his previous works I shall endeavour to read more from Mr. Haldeman in the future.

Well that is all for the first six months of the year, I shall review July to December after Christmas

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The first book of 2011 I read was an autobiography called Gray Matters, written by former footballer and Sky Sports pundit Andy Gray. Now I finished this book about two weeks before Andy Gray and Richard Keys hit the headlines for their sexist comments aimed towards a female assistant referee,  which culminated in them being dismissed by Sky TV. To be fair to Mr. Gray there are no indications of any sexism in his book, but he did come across as someone who has forthright views so I guess it was coming. I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought as it seemed to lack any depth and the anecdotes don’t go into enough detail and the end just becomes a long drawn out advertisement for Sky TV.  Having started my reading year with an autobiography I continued with this genre when I bought a copy of What you see is what you get, Lord Sugar’s memoirs. A breeze block of a book that although I enjoyed I did feel it was just a little to long. The last book I managed to read in January was Three ghosts stories, a classic collection of short stories by Charles Dickens, that I wanted to read for a long time as it includes the famous story called “The signalman”. The other two stories are nowhere near as good which is a shame.

I switched to fiction at the start of February, science-fiction in fact with the alien invasion story called Operation Thunderchild, written by Nick Pope. Nick once worked for the UK government investigating UFO reports and used his experience to write this book. Unfortunately Nick should probably stick to his day job as I found the writing style difficult to follow although the story was a good one. I returned to autobiographies for two of the next three books I read, the first was actually
a biography of the deceased comedian Dave Allen, by Carolyn Souter. This was a huge disappointment, especially as it was written by someone who used to be his personal assistant. The next one was an autobiography by esteemed actor Michael Caine, entitled From Elephant to Hollywood. Again I found this to be less than thrilling, the anecdotes are few and far between which is a shame as those that are included are very interesting. I was expecting a lot more and I was disappointed to find that two of my favourite films starring Michael Caine, Get Carter and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels are only given a couple of pages each, and even then he comments more on the filming locations rather than the film itself. There is an awful amount of filler in this book on subjects such as the history of the Oscars ceremony which is all well and good but does nothing to add to his life story. Sandwiched in between these two books I managed to fit in, Almost Heaven, A run of the mill travel book, that see’s the author travel from east coast to west, whilst recording who he meets and where.February finished with another fiction book, namely Sharpe’s Revenge, the 19th in the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. It was not the most riveting read and fairly run-of-the-mill if compared to the other stories in the series.

For March I started with a non-fiction book by local author Penny Legg, entitled Haunted Southampton a very interesting read detailing hauntings in the Southampton area. I then moved onto Clough’s War, by Don Shaw. The story of Brian Clough’s managerial career detailing his time with Derby County FC. From joining them and taking them from obscurity to the league title, to the
breakdown of his relationship with chairman Sam Longson. I really wanted to enjoy this book but found myself losing interest halfway through before I conceded defeat and gave up. It is perhaps a little too detailed in places and I think that it doesn’t add much to what Cloughie already explained in his two autobiographies in a more concise and interesting way. Next up was a Kindle only novella by Stephen Leather called The Basement, An intelligent well paced thriller cum who-done-it set in New York. A serial killer is on the loose and two NYPD detectives suspect that a writer is behind the grisly killings. This is a well put together novella with a twist at the end. The writing is fresh and lively and not over descriptive, the story is a real page turner and the ending will come as a surprise to those that haven’t guessed it in advance. I returned to the sporting theme with Botham’s Book of the Ashes, a semi-autobiographical work on the rivalry between England and Australia at cricket. He recounts his experiences of the competition as well as listing who he considers to have had the most influence in the competition. March was a busy month for me on the reading front and I managed to fit in quiet a fewbooks although not all of them were finished. In fact I started and failed to finish four books in a row, all fiction and most not worthy of mentioning here. One book I thoroughly enjoyed was Paranormality, by professor Richard Wiseman who takes the reader on a journey through the more well known aspects of the paranormal. From psychics and mediums through to precognition, mind control and ghosts. Oh and there’s even a talking mongoose! He dissects each topic and explains how and why people can be fooled using psychology to back up his argument. It is well written and easy to understand and there are also tests for the reader to take part in.

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