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July & August 2011 Book Reviews

pauline_black  Black by Design: A 2-Tone Memoir by Pauline Black


This is a MUST HAVE for any 2-Tone fans out there.


The Selector and days of 2-Tone records are very well documented within the pages of this book. But, what also makes this book great, is that you get a feeling of what it was like to grow up whilst searching for an identity in Britain during the 1960's and 1970's.


Pauline Black's tome takes us back to that time with cultural references and some shocking and moving revelations.


But whether you are a fan of the music or not, this book is an eye opening read I'd recommend to anyone.... your bookshelf is a poorer place without it.



syd_barrett  Barrett: The Definitive Visual Companion to the Life of Syd Barrett by Russell Beecher & Will Shutes


This book is an absolute must have for a Syd Barett fan.


A beautifully bound and presented book full of exquisite reproductions of rare Pink Floyd photos, private unseen moments, letters to loved ones and of course Syd's paintings.


It's extremely moving. Rob Chapman's book A Very Irregular Head is the definitive textual reference --researched and written with thoroughness and respect-- and this is absolutely the definitive visual effort.


We finally have a publication which shows Syd as the artist and as a prolific creative force.


Yes Syd's mental deterioration was instigated by chemicals --coupled with an aversion to the stresses of become famous and the demands of 1960's music industry demands-- but you will see there is much, much more to understand than the shallow myth. Syd the person; Syd the boy, the artist and the creative soul.





tina_fey  Bossypants by Tina Fey


I'm a Tina Fey fan. If you're not, there's probably very little chance that you'll like this book, but then you're also probably not reading this review. I enjoyed Bossypants, although it surprised me because 1) it's not really an autobiography, which is what I was expecting, and 2) while it's entertaining throughout, there are very few genuine laugh out loud moments. It reads more like a series of short essays about parts of Tina's life, spliced with essays about her views on subjects like body image, breastfeeding, photoshopping and raising a daughter. Some of these diversions are thoughtful and terrific, others are pretty ho hum and just read like padding.


The early segments about her upbringing are enjoyable, but I was especially interested in Tina's stories about moving into comedy and starting up 30 Rock. She's extremely self-deprecating about her own talent, barely mentions Mean Girls and only has one passing aside to the awards that 30 Rock has won. What she does talk about it the male dominated world that is comedy ("only in comedy, by the way, does an obedient white girl from the suburbs count as diversity") and the challenges of balancing work with her personal life ("my reverie of quitting my job is inevitably interrupted by someone who needs me to get back to work"). She also avoids getting into any territory that's too personal.


Some of my favourite chapters were the ones dealing with her personal relationships. A moving salute to her father - always referred to as "Don Fey". The hilarious cruise vacation that goes horribly wrong that was her honeymoon. Her guilt about having a nanny and her indecision about whether to have another child, knowing that it would mean an end to 30 Rock and unemployment for her 200 colleagues.


In short: an uneven read, but one that Tina Fey fans will undoubtedly enjoy.



john_burridge  Budgie by John Burridge


A brilliant read. The man is one sandwich short of a picnic but the stories in it are great.


Budgie was one of the games great characters and sad to see he has suffered. Nobody has ever loved football as much as him. I remember the first time I saw him come out at Selhurst Park, go to the centre circle and walk to the goal on his hands!! He is one of the big characters of football, when I was growing up I remember him sitting on his crossbar during games at Palace and playing in goal wearing his superman outfit at Wolves.


His flamboyant character often took away from what a top keeper he was.


Eccentric doesn't come close, I have to say I suspect he wouldn't last 5 minutes in the modern game but its a shame, he understood that fans paid to be entertained.


I like sports biographies but often you find they struggle for material, this one is overflowing with great stories.


I wish him all the best. This book is a great read for any football fan.



cobra  The Cobra by Frederick Forsyth


Being a big fan of Frederick Forsyth since his debut book, The Day of the Jackel, I was looking forward to reading his latest, The Cobra. However, much to my surprise, The Cobra is a major disappointment and, in my opinion, Forsyth's worst book to-date by far.


To Forsyth's credit, the premise of The Cobra is an interesting and timely one. The premise is that the President of the U.S has decided to destroy the cocaine industry once and for all, and paves the way for a man called The Cobra (who used to run Special Ops for the CIA) to develop and execute a plan to accomplish this assignment. The Cobra is given carte blanche for anything he needs to accomplish this assignment -- no boundaries, no rules, no questions asked. Unfortunately, Forsyth's book reads like a boring, overly detailed chronicle of the events taken to carry out the President's decision rather than a suspenseful story with good dialogue and well-developed characters.


Forsyth wrote The Cobra in a style that is highly narrative, with dialogue kept to a minimum, making the book very slow-paced. And, The Cobra, unlike many of Forsyth's previous books, is virtually devoid of character development, which contributed to my feeling that I never got to know any of the characters well enough to like or dislike them.


Also irritating is how Forsyth seems to has started to preach; about the perils of drugs and even Middle Eastern ways, something which he has never done before and even embraced in the past.


I imagine that many of you who read my review and are fans of Frederick Forsyth will be skeptical that this author can write a book as bad as I'm describing. All I can say to you is that I hope you heed my advice and not read The Cobra. I'm sure you have better ways to spend your time and money.



embassytown  Embassytown by China Mieville


This is my second China Miéville book. He is a talented writer, I found myself immersed in this book. The descriptions of the environment, inhabitants and occurrences were really good.


It centres around a girl/woman called Avice on a place called Arieke, which is inhabited by the Arieki, a race of alien (or exot as they're called here).


The human population cannot speak the Language of the Arieke but they can understand them. Also the Arieke cannot lie (due to a complicated combination of words and thought being their Language). Ambassadors are grown/made to be doppelgangers, exact copies of people who are "linked" so that they can think the same so that they can speak the double tongue of the Arieke (they both need to the same thought behind the words for the Arieke to understand them).


Obviously the Ambassadors are treated as higher class citizens due to their abilities, and the nickname Embassytown comes from their standing.


The book really gets going in the second half when something major happens to the Arieke.


The story takes many twists and turns but it is a very good read. Avice is a flawed but intriguing character and she is embroiled in pretty much everything that is going on. The Ambassadors are haughty mostly and the Arieke are just plain weird!


Highly recommend this book to anyone, not just Sci-Fi/new wierd/speculative fiction fans. Think I'm going to be reading all his stuff. Great!



filter_bubble  The Filter Bubble: What The Internet Is Hiding From You by Eli Pariser


Most people should know by now that Facebook, Google, Amazon and the rest are collecting information about us. This enables them to tailor their services to our needs. But we often forget that their prime motive is to make money, and information is valuable.


What Eli Parser does is to show the extent of that information gathering and its consequences.


The overall argument is that whilst there are benefits to us there are also drawbacks, such as reducing our understanding of the complexity of world (we are only told the things we want to know) and, consequently society is harmed.


It is not necessarily a new argument but is a persuasive one.


Pariser has an easy style of writing and his passion shines through. The themes are repeated a little too much and I would have liked a bit more depth.


But an important topic which too many people will ignore because social media is more fun.



last_werewolf  The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan


The Last Werewolf represents a brutal collision between sci-fi/fantasy and literary fiction.


Glen Duncan presents us with Jacob Marlowe, an erudite, articulate and super-wealthy werewolf. He's the last of his kind and his life is a monthly struggle to stay one step ahead of the Hunt (WOCOP) whilst satisfying his full-moon cravings for human flesh.


Jacob has at his heart a contradiction. He wants to atone for his rapacious habits through philanthropy, but he inevitably values a month of his own life more than the whole life of each of his victims. That's not philanthropic. Jacob is an enigma and his complex personality is enough to allow the reader to suspend disbelief.


Most of the novel is Jacob's first person narration. From the outset, it's clear that he is bored with life and his boredom is infectious. He lacks focus and even when his life is under threat from the Hunt (again) he is more preoccupied with the banking collapse and the smell of shop doorways than with self preservation. There's also the frisson of reading about the habits of the super-rich. Jacob is, as Gordon Gecko would say, liquid. He is able to jet around the world; he was at the scene of all the world's historical moments. He can hire armies; buy business class tickets at the airport; abandon vehicles; owns a home in every port; drinks fine whisky; and lives life on the run. The members of the Hunt seem similarly blessed with money but are, perhaps, less blessed with good taste.


The novel has two significant changes of direction. One is a major plot development half way through. This changes the pace and mood considerably. We find a happy and resolute Jacob; just as his boredom was catching, so too is his joie de vivre. The second major development happens at Chapter 55 when the narrative point of view changes away from Jacob. This is necessary to the plot, but is nevertheless jarring.


The bigger gripe, however, is that the initial focus - on Jacob's motivation, feelings, etc. gets drowned out as the action starts to become ever more frenetic. And as the action hots up, the story becomes rather silly, relying ever more on improbably coincidences and arcane rules with which sci-fi/fantasy tends to bog itself down in. It's as though it's not enough to expect us to believe in werewolves and Hunters, we have to be given proof in the form of a comprehensive and internally consistent werewolf code. At the same time, the Hunt and all its various substreams also need to have this constantly updating internal logic. And the rules that are supposed to clarify ultimately become confusing.


A novel which started out with something to say ends up chasing after its own genre into oblivion.



liverpool  The Official Liverpool FC Family Tree


From the small Scottish mining village that was Shankly's birthplace to the sun-drenched Spanish resort of Fuenlabrada that is home to Fernando Torres - from the Bootle playing fields where Jamie Carragher learned his trade to the medieval Finnish town that gave birth to Sami Hyypia - The magic of Liverpool FC is made up of many different people and places.


This book takes you on a colourful journey of discovery - through ten unique excursions linking the Anfield past and present.


LFC Family Tree is the most unusual and revealing story of a football club you'll ever read.


You may think you know your history but this book is guaranteed to unearth some fascinating secrets about your LFC loved ones.


Just like researching your own family, this book will inspire you, make you laugh, provoke emotion and ultimately fill you with pride.



miracle_cure  Miracle Cure - Harlan Coben


Firstly for all Harlan Coben fans this book was written years ago, originally published in 1991, its published in this country for the first time.


Secondly for all non-fans there is a note from the author that if this is the first work you are going to read , don't, go and start on another book as he wrote this at the beginning of his career and its not very polished.


I think that's a bit harsh, I found it an engaging read, a bit preachy as he says but you can easily skim over that.


It's a hell of a lot better than recent works from such accomplished writers as Patricia Cornwell. I didn't work out whodunnit and I read a LOT of crime thrillers.


The story is about an AIDS clinic and people who were treated there being murdered, its clever with lots of twists and turns and although some of the attitudes towards AIDS and homosexuality seem of the times its still relevant today.


I've never come away from one of Coben's books feeling let down, or why did I bother, or that wasn't very good and I didn't with this one either.



most_human_human  The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive by Brian Cristian


I loved this book. Really easy to read, but also intelligent, stimulating, and witty.


Sometimes the style is a bit confusing, when he jumps in and out of the present tense, plus there were massive footnotes which were all worth reading so really should have just been in the text (in my opinion) - but these are minor niggles.


Put me on to a lot of interesting ideas and people I had not heard of. Explained some things I had been wondering about, e.g. it includes a very good explanation of how file compression works, and loads of stuff I didn't know about chess.


If you are interested in language and philosophy you will enjoy this book. The author explores areas where art and science meet.


Definitely worth reading (and I'm a real person writing this review, not a robot, honest!).



johnny_cash  Pocket Cash by Jim Marshall


Has there ever been a significant musical figure whose entire life could be so easily read in photographs as Johnny Cash? From the famous picture of the young Arkansas sharecropper boy to the handsome young Sun Records star, to the gaunt, seemingly anorexic pill-popper of the early 60's, to the defiant face on the "Folsom Prison" LP cover, to the infamous "middle finger" shot, to the man so obviously in love with June Carter, to the hulking figure dressed all in black, to the creased, weary face of the old man who did the American Recordings series, our immediate reaction upon hearing the name "Johnny Cash" is as much a visual one as a musical one.


Not all of the iconic photographs of Johnny Cash mentioned in the above paragraph were taken by photographer Jim Marshall, but many of them were. Those that were snapped by Marshall, however, can be found here in this new book. Marshall was essentially the "official Johnny Cash photographer" during the period was at his peak of popularity and influence. "Pocket Cash" is a small, yet memorable collection of many of Marshall's pictures of Johnny Cash, along with a few photos (with and without Cash) of his friends and members of his real and musical families. Marshall had a gift for being in the right place at the right time, but it wasn't simply a matter of luck. He had a talent for knowing exactly when Cash's face and physical stance were supremely photo-ready. Moreover, he had the skill to choose the correct angles, the best backdrops, the right settings to snap his pictures.


There are many photos of the Folsom Prison concert here, as well as behind-the-scenes shots from the set of Cash's t.v. variety show, candid pictures of home life, live performance shots, and glimpses into the recording studio. Most are in black-and-white, which to me seems the most appropriate medium with which to capture Cash's worn visage and monochromatic wardrobe, though there is a small color section as well. There are also three brief texts. The intro, by son John Carter Cash, helps place Marshall and his pictures in a context. The one-page reminiscences by Kris Kristofferson and Billy Bob Thornton are not really necessary, yet they're interesting to read nonetheless.


Johnny Cash is such a seminal figure in American music history, and Jim Marshall such an important chronicler of the Cash saga, that it's easy to recommend this slim volume to anyone who wants to know as much about the life and real-life legend of Johnny Cash as possible, even without the presence of words.



gary_neville  Red: My Autobiography by Gary Neville



United fans love him for his passion and other fans may not enjoy his uncompromising style and his passion for United, but his significant achievements can't be denied. Publishing this after his retirement (Theo Walcott take note) this is an articulate and perceptive view of his career and is refreshingly honest and humble "I wasn't even the best sportsperson in my family". It is short, 300 pages and I had no problem in reading this in an evening, short chapters usually with a focus on a specific event or person (the Treble, Terry Venables, Sven, etc).


I personally found the early stuff the most interesting, as he joins United, the initial `beasting' by the older generation and then the real drive for excellence that seeped through his generation of players, the golden generation of the likes of him, Butt, Scholes, Beckham and Giggs and even Robbie Savage! Neville captures the fear of young players about if they will make it and what it really takes to make it at a club like United. His is honest about his love of United and the desire to get one over the likes of Liverpool, but he is also respectful of the other clubs like Liverpool and Arsenal and their players. Throughout the book he does not feel the need to overly spill the dirt, but you can tell who he respected and who he didn't but with context and example, the contrast between England under Venables and Hoddle for instance.


But ultimately this is a view of his career through his eyes, it's important to note that because many big United names come and go but generally they are on the periphery of his personal story. Likewise this is about his career, not his family, so not much in the way of the personal element of his life.


It is too easy to call players `legends' but in the eyes of United fans Gary Neville deserves that accolade, his achievements with United, his drive and desire to win and the fact that he was United through and through.



theo_walcott  Theo: Growing Up Fast by Theo Walcott



When the name of Theo Walcott was included in the England squad for the 2006 World Cup, shock waves ran through the football world. But no one was more surprised than Theo himself.


Five years later, Theo Walcott is one of the most recognizable names in football. This book tells the story of Walcott who only started playing football when he was 10.


The book has caused controversy because of his criticism of England manager Fabio Capello, whom he describes as "cold and clinical", something which the Italian has been less than impressed with.


The England insights are fascinating and insightful, but you can't help feeling a tad sad reading an autobiography from someone so young.



andrew_strauss  Winning The Ashes Down Under - Andrew Strauss


When Chris Tremlett took the wicket of Michael Beer on 7 January 2011, England won the Ashes in Australia for the first time in 24 years of pain and toil. Not only that - England did it in style, with the margin of victory 3-1, which included a remarkable total of three innings defeats for Australia.


In Winning The Ashes Down Under, Andrew Strauss tells the full inside story of the long run-up to the Ashes series, as well as the highs and lows, triumphs and near disasters, of the five Test series itself. With excerpts from his daily diary, Strauss reveals what happened behind the scenes. The dramatic draw in Brisbane after centuries by Strauss, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott; the victory in Adelaide following sublime batting from Cook and Kevin Pietersen; the surprise of Australian victory in Perth after England collapsed; the remarkable bouncing back to victory at Melbourne which meant England retained the Ashes; and the emotional final Test in which England won the Ashes in Australia for the first time since 1987.


Including Strauss's analysis of England's and Australia's players, Winning the Ashes Down Under reveals how it all went so right.