Welcome to reviewsrevues

FB_IMG_1422454510428

Welcome to reviewsrevues.com.  If this is your first visit – where have you been?  I’ve been here since January 2015.  If you like what you read please consider clicking on the “Follow” button and then you will be notified whenever there is something new on here.   I live on the Isle Of Wight off the south coast of the UK (lovely place if you have never been).  I have been producing book reviews for websites and magazines for some time and now want a place where these can be gathered together.  I really will have a go at reading anything.  I love variation and will skip from genre to genre.   This is what you should find on the site:

  • Reviews of recently read books and pieces about books
  • Murder They Wrote – Crime book reviews
  • Female Fiction – (from a male point of view)
  • Kid-Lit (I was a Primary School teacher for many years and the habit of reading children’s books is hard to break!)
  • The Running Man (Adventure/Thriller reviews- so called because my local library, where I volunteer, uses a symbol of a running man for this fiction category.)
  • Real Life – Biographies, autobiographies, biographical fiction fits in here
  • 100 Essentials – Books and Music – Those that will have a permanent place on my shelves and hopefully in yours too!
  •  What I have been watching – TV, Films
  •  Music Now – What I have been listening to – the future Essential CD’s?

Use the indexes to find out what you may have missed.  There’s also a very good search option in the side-bar if you are looking for something specific.  Thank you for visiting reviewsrevues.com.  I hope you like what you find and that you come back soon.  Feel free to comment on any of the specific posts (you should find a Comment link underneath each post which will bring up the Comment box.)  I always reply……………….

Sandie Shaw And The Millionth Marvell Cooker – Wendy Robertson (2008) – A Chick-Lit From A Male Point Of View Review

heartimages

Sandie_Shaw_RHB_small

This was British author Wendy Robertson’s 21st novel.  Prior to this she was best known for Victorian family sagas, this was a nod to more recent times and you can tell derives from some personal experience.  Set in a factory in the fictional ex-mining Northern town of Grafton in the summer of 1965 members of the management team decide to put into place a publicity stunt involving the presentation of a free cooker for the millionth Marvell customer and getting former Ford, Dagenham factory girl turned pop sensation Sandie Shaw to make that presentation.

This is the life of those on the shop floor and upstairs in the offices in the days leading up to Sandie’s arrival.  Parts are narrated by central character Cassandra, a girl who has managed to make her escape and leave the town but who has come back for summer holidays from college.  Her mother has got her a job on the lines at the factory where she and most of the rest of the town works.  Cassandra goes from bloody-fingered raw recruit determined not to hold up the flow of the production line to becoming accepted as one of the team and finding romance as well.  The book manages to be quite strongly character-led which I like.  If a book like this was published in 2017 I think there would be a demand now for a more explicitly humorous stance which would put it in line with the more commercial chick-lit.  Nine years ago you could get away with a book like this which straddles the lines between romance and saga with some humour.  I think the characters would be expected to produce more laugh-out-loud moments in their everyday goings about.  Friendships are strong as is the all-encompassing nature of factory life which dominates both working and social lives. 

Sandie ShawSandie Shaw – arriving at Marvells?

I did really feel the anticipation of the impending pop star visit.  The factory cannot afford Sandie Shaw to sing but hope she will turn up minus shoes and the whole place needs to be cleaned thoroughly to ensure she does not snag a toenail on the red carpet.  There’s laughter, tears, infideleties, pregnancies, both wanted and unwanted and the book reads really quite well.

Wendy Robertson turned to writing full-time in 1989 after publishing her first four novels.  Since “Sandie Shaw…” she has published another eight novels, her latest bing “The Bad Child” from 2016.  “Sandie Shaw…” is according to GoodReads her best known book and would be a good place to start with this author.

threestars

Sandie Shaw And The Millionth Marvell Cooker was first published by Headline in 2008.  It is still available as a Kindle e-book and although the physical book is out of print can easily and cheaply be found on Amazon.  I read a library hardback edition where a previous reader had been upset by the word “blond” to refer to female hair and went through with a ball-point adding the extra “e” every time it appeared.

Eeny Meeny – M J Arlidge (2014) – A Murder They Wrote Review

imagesN8KPZ1YT

eenymeany2

TV writer/Executive Producer Matthew Arlidge made an impression at his first meeting with Penguin Books when he pitched seven titles of a new crime series.  They took him on board and must have then hoped for a big seller with his debut publication. This they got.  It was picked up as a Richard and Judy Summer Book Club title and established the author as one of the most exciting crime writers of the last few years and he has followed this title with to date another five featuring Detective Inspector Helen Grace.

I was three-quarters of the way through before I discovered M J was a male writer.  The use of initials and a female lead had me thinking Matthew might be a Melinda.  It should make no difference but I realised I quite like to know the gender of the writer whilst reading.  The autobiographical blurb in this debut is (deliberately?) gender-neutral. Is this some kind of marketing ploy?  Does it actually make a difference to crime fans?

Arlidge certainly packs a punch with this debut right from the start.  Helen Grace (a nod to Peter James’ Roy Grace perhaps?) has such a tough time with this case that it’s hard to see how the author will top this for her – surely every other case must be a breeze to solve after this one!

A female serial killer is abducting people in pairs and placing them in an abandoned building.  There’s a way out for one of them- kill the other.  Grace finds herself challenged professionally, through involvement with someone on her team and through leaked information as well as personally when she spots links between her and some of the victims.  The crimes are cruel and chilling which makes this an edgy and compelling police procedural.  Short chapters power the reader through the book.  It’s unpredictable but I did feel the twists running up to the end felt a little rushed.  There’s no doubt that M J Arlidge is a welcome, fresh addition to the crime book world and I’m looking forward to reading more.

fourstars

Eeny Meeny was published by Penguin in 2014.

What I’ve Been Watching – Riverdale – Season 1 (Netflix 2017)

watching

Riverdale1

I recently took out a free trial of Netflix and I was soon drawn in to paying the monthly subscription.  Apart from a couple of films it has been three series which have caught my attention- the sumptuous  royal drama “The Crown”, the absolutely addictive drag-queen competition “Rupaul’s Drag Race” and this teen mystery series which I was absolutely delighted to see on the Netflix schedules.

I had heard a lot about “Riverdale” and it taps into a little obsession I’ve had since I was a very young child.  One year on holiday in Cornwall on a visit to the newsagent’s at the end of the road where we were staying I discovered a set of American comics I had never seen before.  In those days my reading habit was fuelled by comics- I would buy, borrow, swap many during the course of the week, “Beano”, “Dandy” “Sparky”, “Cor!” “Whizzer and Chips”, “Beezer”, “Buster” “Topper “, “TV Comic”, “Look In” – I loved them all.  I wasn’t so keen on the football or war ones, they had to be funny, although I did used to read my sister’s “Bunty” and “Mandy”.  Occasionally I would pick up an American comic from the Harvey publishers “Caspar The Friendly Ghost” “Richie Rich”, but these were harder to come by because they were imported.  I loved the adverts in these as much as the stories but by the time I was in that newsagents in Cornwall I would have deemed these as a little young for me, but in a rack in front of me was something that would certainly fit the bill.

Riverdale18

The history of Archie Comics was unknown to me.  I didn’t know that the character on the cover that I was trying to get my Dad to buy alongside the “Daily Mirror” had been around since 1941 when he appeared in a strip in “Pep Comics”.  The success of Super-powered Comic Book heroes had led the publishers to deduce that the market was ripe for a teenage “Everyman” to appeal to all readers and thus Archie and his group of friends living in Riverdale were developed.  By 1943 he had his own national radio programme which ran for over 10 years and by 1946 (71 years ago! ) the publishers changed their name to Archie Comics and the seal was set.  There were lots of spin-off publications from the range of characters (many still going to this day), there were Cartoon series (don’t think we ever had those in the UK) and most famously as the 60’s moved into the 70’s a massive US and UK#1 single “Sugar Sugar”.  Recorded (obviously) by a session group led by Ron Dante, Toni Wine and Andy Kim this was not the only #1 single by an animated group but it remains the first and the best.  It was the biggest selling single around the world in 1969.

Riverdale17

Archie and his friends have lurked around in the background to my life since then.  Every visit I have made to the United States has found me bringing back a small pile of the latest publications.  I have an Archie comics app on my tablet, a much-followed Pinterest board and I even named my cat after the character.  And now, on my TV, there is a real-life adaptation where the characters have been re-imagined and developed into a series – I’m going to watch it, aren’t I?

Riverdale4

I’m now one episode away from the Series Finale (with Season 2 due on Netflix in the UK in October) and I do really like it.  Certainly darker than the comic-book world of Riverdale this has a death at its centre of Jason Blossom, a character who was introduced to the comics in the 1980’s as twin brother of Cheryl, a more prominent character who has had a whole comic book series dedicated to her.  Although these perennial teenagers have been “reimagined” it’s important to the legions of fans over the decades that this reimagining does not take anything away from the original creations.  I think, on the whole, the makers of “Riverdale” have got this right.

Riverdale2

Where they have certainly got it right is in the difficult to cast lead character.  Archie Andrews (who in real terms must be knocking on 90) is played beautifully by 20 year old New Zealand actor K J Apa.  It must have been a brave bit of casting to choose to play one of the ultimate All-American boys a Kiwi whose father is a Samoan chief, but he looks the part and he has become the part.  I’m totally convinced by his performance.

Riverdale3

The series is narrated by Archie’s pal, Jughead, who is more intense and less goofy than we would remember from the comics and he brings in the air of darkness which permeates the series and which works very well, making it something more than just another set of teens doing their thing.  This curiously named character was there in the very first 1941 strip and has always been a little bit of an outsider.  They’ve taken away the food obsession which fuelled the animated character and have developed a dysfunctional family background for him.  The character and performance has developed throughout the series. He is played by one half of child acting twins Cole Mitchell Sprouse, who with his brother was one of the wealthiest children alive in 2007, from franchised products and TV shows.  Thankfully, we were largely spared the Sprouse Twins in the UK.  It is interesting casting which makes his portrayal of the intense, disadvantaged teen even stronger.

At the heart of the comic’s success is the eternal (70 years and counting anyway) love triangle between Archie and the two girls he cannot choose between, Betty and Veronica.

Riverdale8

I’ve always been a Veronica man myself, with her bitchy edge compared to the sugar-sweetness of wholesome Betty.  The real-life portrayals are less stereotypical and more rounded and in “Riverdale” it may be Betty who has the edge.  (Incidentally,  in 2009 the publishers launched two story lines of a post High-School Archie, in one “Archie Marries Betty” in the other “Archie Marries Veronica” showing that really that lack of decision which has been going on for so many years is entrenched).

Also featured in the cast are Archie spin-offs Josie & The Pussycats (who we did have as a cartoon in the UK in the 70’s– great theme tune, as well as a fairly awful 2001 movie).  These have been part of Archie’s gang since 1962 and featured Valerie, the first non-stereotypical African-American regular in a cartoon series. The Riverdale version takes this further by recreating the Pussycats as an R&B trio.

The Archie comics also pushed boundaries by having the first out-gay teenage character with Kevin Keller -an important step.  Kevin looks somewhat different in his TV version- but I am glad they have included the character.  In fact actor Casey Cott is a closer match for the traditional representation of another member of Archie’s gang, Reggie, who is somewhat sidelined in the first season of the TV adaptation.  Having Kevin as an accepted character whose sexuality is not an issue either with his friends, family or Riverdale marks a significant movement in TV’s representation of gay characters.

Riverdale12Riverdale13Riverdale14

Casey Cott as Kevin Keller, masquerading as Reggie?

There has been some drastic reimaging in some of the minor characters.  Take a look at Archie’s teacher Miss Grundy who at the start of Riverdale Archie is conducting some extra-curricular romance with……

Riverdale15

And the TV adaptation version……..

Riverdale16

Fits the plot better, I suppose………..

The older generation characters are interesting in that some are played by actors who a decade or two before were themselves teen heart-throbs, notably Beverly Hills 90210 dreamboat Luke Perry who now plays Archie’s Dad, Brat-packer and ex-number 1 VH1 Teen Star Molly Ringwald who plays Archie’s Mum, Twin Peaks star Madchen Amick as Betty’s Mum and teen horror classic “Scream” star Skeet Ulrich as Jughead’s Dad.  This gives the show an interesting dimension and lifts it further above run-of-the mill teen fare.

Does this programme really want to make me feel old ? Presenting the parents of Riverdale

It is the darker edge that lays underneath the comic book sunniness of Riverdale which is the most potent aspect of the series.  A couple of episodes in the first series forgot this and veered towards teen soap, but it got back on track and the later episodes were very satisfying .  I have one more episode to watch and ends seemed to be quite nicely  tied up by episode twelve, which might suggest a slightly new direction for the remaining episode as a prelude to the new series.  All in all I think this has been a bold television venture which no way detracted from the source material (as so many re-imaginings do) .  The Archie heritage is preserved by the TV show being developed by the company’s chief creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and along with the other shows I mentioned more than justifies my monthly Netflix subscription.

fivestars

 

Season 1 of Riverdale can be found on Netflix in the UK.  Season 2 is due in October

Mama Tandoori – Ernest Van Der Kwast (Scribe 2017)

mamatandoori

Dutch author Ernest Van Der Kwast made his breakthrough with this 2010 Netherlands and Italian best-seller translated now into English by Laura Vroomen.  Publishers Scribe have done a great job in the recent past bringing Dutch authors to wider attention- their 2006 publication of Tommy Wieringa’s “Joe Speedboat” is the current Reviewsrevues Book of The Year and here is another strong title.

“Mama Tandoori” is a study of a family with Dutch and Indian parents.  An autobiographical novel which focuses on Ernest’s mother whose outrageous behaviour verges on the monstrous.  She is a woman determined to get her own way as cheaply as possible.  I was initially quite resilient to Van Der Kwast’s fictional account of his childhood whilst reading of a trip to Lourdes with his disabled brother but the novel really began to draw me in when other adult characters were added to the mix. I found myself fascinated by Uncle Sharma who came from a dirt-poor background and was transported by a visiting outdoor cinema into dreams of becoming a movie star, which came to be realised. From here things all fall into place and I seemed to appreciate more the wider family dynamics.  Mother herself became a more rounded character in my mind when running alongside her competing son on the athletics track and proving to be too nervous to pin on his race number.

There is no doubt that this character can be mean but this meanness does become more appealing in a tragi-comic way.  Her ploy to get a fitted kitchen out of her husband’s dying grandmother is shocking but you cannot help but admire the gall of this character.  The humour is ramped up by the contrast between the narrator’s unemotionally “wooden-hipped” Dutch relatives and the fiery passion and determination of the Indian women.  His mother will both shock you and win you over in laugh-out-loud moments.

Van Der Kwast writes in a likeable, easy style which makes the book feel highly visual and enjoyable.  It has certainly made me keen to read his take on the Italians in his Dolomites-set family saga “The Ice Cream Makers” also published as a Scribe paperback.

fourstars

Mama Tandoori is published on 10th August 2017  by Scribe.  Many thanks to the publishers for the advance review copy.

 

 

Chickenfeed – Minette Walters (2006) – A Murder They Wrote Review

imagesN8KPZ1YT

chickenfeed

One of the continuing aims of World Book Day/Night is to get reluctant readers immersed into the world of books.  Back in 2006 a set of “Quick Reads” were published in an initiative between publishing and other related industries.  Twelve popular authors were asked to produce short, fast-paced books to bring people back into reading and to encourage the emerging adult reader.  It was a highly successful enterprise which has been repeated in subsequent years.  Amongst this first batch of Quick Read authors were Val McDermid, John Francome, Ruth Rendell, Maeve Binchey and Minette Walters who was presented with the Readers’ Favourite Award for this short novel “Chickenfeed”.

I have read three earlier Walters novels, “The Breaker” (1998) which I really enjoyed, her 1993 breakthrough novel “The Sculptress” which I had more reservations about and “The Tinder Box” a novella from two years prior to “Chickenfeed”.  I’ve seen that book described as a “Chapbook”, I’m not sure what constitutes that in the 21st Century.

In “Chickenfeed” Walters fictionalises a real-life crime. It has a simple plot-line, understandably given its length and scope and much is given away in just a few lines on the back cover.  I like the surprise element of reading and often do not read back covers until I’ve finished the book and too big a reveal is the main reason why.

The murder took place in the 1920s on a chicken farm and it’s a tale of boy meets girl, girl has unrealistic expectations, boy wants to get rid of girl but she won’t take the hint- a universal life-lesson theme but here it ends in tragedy.

The most interesting and thought-provoking aspect can be found in the author’s notes at the back of the back where Walters doubts the established turn of events and gives a very valid reason why.  This challenges what has been assumed before and if I was a reader with limited recent experience of books I might just feel stimulated by this doubt raised and want to read more.  This book could very well be an entrée into crime fiction and true crime accounts.

By its very nature this is a slight book but well handled.  As I didn’t read the back cover I wasn’t sure how it was going to pan out or even who was going to be murdered.  I read it in under an hour, the largish clear print meant I could read it on the bus without my usual slightly nauseous feeling and it was certainly time well spent.  Just sometimes there’s a lot to be said for a “quick read”.

threestars

Chickenfeed was published by Pan Books in 2006

100 Essential CDs – Number 91 – Pet Shop Boys – Behaviour

images

Behaviour- Pet Shop Boys  (Parlophone 1990) 

UK Chart Position – 2

US Chart Position –45

psbbehaviour

With the release of “Behaviour” in late October 1990 the Pet Shop Boys found themselves with a healthy dose of critical approval.  Contemporary reviewers were keen to point out a move away from the club-dance of “Introspective” to a more subtle use of wider pop music references and high quality lyric writing.  Despite its early 1990’s issue it was still considered relevant enough to appear on a number of Best Albums of the Decade list at the turn of the century and is featured in the 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die publication.  Commercially it became the third PSB album in a row to peak at number 2 in the album charts although it disappeared off the sales charts in a fraction of the time of the previous two (14 weeks).  Its US Top 50 placing pales against the number 7 platinum release of their debut.

PSB

By this time they had proved themselves as a viable live act and an account of their tour in Japan and the UK had been documented by writer Chris Heath and published earlier in 1990 as “Pet Shop Boys, Literally” which is one of the greatest books about British pop music of all time and which features as one of my 100 Essential Books.  The album’s lack of chart longevity compared to previous releases rankled with the duo who felt it to be one of their best releases.  Neil Tennant has claimed that the extended 12” mixes of tracks on “Introspective” had lost them some of the fans who would have bought “Behaviour” if it had been the follow-up album to “Actually”.  I personally have always had a bigger soft spot for “Introspective”, but this release was their third essential recording in a row- a feat I think unprecedented on my 100 CD’s list up to this point.

psbbehavour2

The album is produced by the boys alongside Munch’s Harold Faltermeyer, a man well known on the Disco scene since the mid 70’s when he was involved with arrangements and productions alongside Giorgio Moroder for artists such as Donna Summer.  From the early 80s he had become involved in movie soundtracks, giving him his own UK/US Top 3 single in 1985 with “Axel F” from the big selling “Beverly Hills Cop” soundtrack.  Given the producer it is a little surprising that for probably the first time on a Pet Shop Boys album the biggest and best tracks are not the out and out dance tracks.  Maybe the experience of working with Broadway Legend Liza Minelli the previous year on tracks such as the slowed down “Rent” inspired a more theatrical less frenetic feel.

psbbehaviour3

The album kicks off with the dance-orientated “Being Boring” which has a lengthy introduction with what sounds like one of those tubes children used to whirl around to make a sound.  “Being Boring” was something the PSB were unfairly accused of in the music press and this track might have fuelled that.  As the second single off the album it became their least successful single in their five years of hits when it stalled at number 20 in the UK.  It’s actually really a cleverly written song using that of looking back to those “bright young things” moments of our youth.  Coming across “a cache of old photos/and invitations to teenage parties” gets the mature Neil recalling the past.  The song moves through times from leaving home in the 70s, to the present day when “All the people I was kissing/Some are here and some are missing/ in the 1990s.  Neil’s rather deadpan delivery recalling times when “we were never being boring” suggests there’s a touch of ennui in the present with some significant other not being present or having become less significant.  Neil has said it is a song about a friend who moved to London with him when they were teenagers and who died from AIDS.  That sense of loss comes across well.

psbbehaviour5

Neil and Chris with the bright young things of the “Being Boring” video

 

“This Must Be The Place I Waited Years To Leave” sounds like it would have been a great track for the Boys to do with Liza Minelli had a second album happened.  I would love to hear how she would have dealt with the first line of the verse “Each morning/After Sunblest”.  Can’t see her as a sliced white bread girl myself.  There’s also “kneeling on the parquet” which would have been fabulous laden with Minelli-type drama.  Fitting “Behaviour” into the context of the times there would have been two occurrences that could only have influenced this album – the spread of AIDS and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  A  threat of a return to tyranny is used here both in a public school setting and with its Russian background voices, the escape from repressive communism.   “To Face The Truth” is a tale of unrequited love which brings into sharper focus the sense of melancholy that simmers throughout the album.

psbbehaviour6

“How Can You Expect To Be Seriously” sees the Pet Shop Boys taking New Jack Swing elements and using it to attack the established rock music industry.  Slightly heavier guitar riffs seem to indicate the direction the lyrics are meant to apply to.  The rock and roll lifestyle has become big business and “you live within the headlines and everyone can see/ you’re supporting every new cause and meeting royalty.”  Maintaining credibility amongst all this seems to be the point there and I’ve always felt it was Neil and Chris taking a swipe at bands such as U2, a point further taken on when they combined the group’s “Where The Streets Have No Name” with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” for a cheesily effective medley and got to number 4 in the singles charts in 1991.  The fact that it was a double A sided single with this very track from “Behaviour” shows the point the boys wished to make.

psbbehavour7

This would be the last Pet Shop Boys album that I would buy on vinyl and the closing track on Side 1 “Only The Wind” rounds things off nicely.  It’s a calm song which hides an inner turmoil of violent anger. So far, this has been a solidly but not classic Pet Shop Boys album.  The second side ups the quality considerably with a couple of tracks that rank with their best.

“My October Symphony” is a gem of a track and one of those which marks the duo’s passage from pop artists to having lasting potential.  It’s full of class and sophistication.  We’re on political territory here again reflecting the changes in Russian society since the loosening of the repressive regime all filtered through a classy, swirling melody with some lovely string work arranged by Alex Balanescu and played by his Quartet.

psbbehaviour7

From the “So Hard” video

The lead single from the album “So Hard” feels most like it is a natural successor from the “Introspective” and “Actually” albums with its driving intro, wry lyrics and sing-along feel over club beats.  We can also hear here the lessons the boys taught Liza Minelli with Losing My Mind.  In interviews she was always keen to say that Neil taught her to enunciate the “d” sound in Mind as a “t”, but it sounded like it and here it does sound as if Neil is singing “you make it so heart” which actually brings back memories of their  chart-topping “Heart” track, which it also resembles it a little.  It’s a song about lack of trust and suspicion which is making a relationship impossible;

“You lock your letters in a box

And hide the key.

I go one better- I’m indebted

To a contact magazine”

Great lyrics here.  Released around a month before the album “So Hard” got to number 4 in the UK charts.  It became another big international hit reaching number 1 in Finland,  number 2 in Italy, Spain and Switzerland and a top 10 hit in, amongst other markets, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, Japan, Norway and Poland.  Their big hit US days were behind them as they were no longer attracting much US radio airplay.

psbbehaviour8

Another great track follows “Nervously” feels like a highlight track from “Pet Shop Boys- the Broadway Musical”. It’s a tale of a sensitive male finding a like-minded soul.  Nothing is made explicit but this is perhaps the boldest attempt yet to open the closet door, at a time when being gay was not good for careers in public eye and media hysteria over AIDS was rampant.  This gentle, beautiful song feels like perhaps their most radical statement to date.  Both this track and “My October Symphony” have been on my I-Pod since I first loaded songs onto it.  “The End Of The World” is good PSB electro-pop which saves another great track to round things off- and it’s another ballad.

“Jealousy” was the fourth single taken from the album and reached number 12 in the UK and made the Top 10 in Ireland and Finland.  In many ways it is the other side of the coin from the club track “So Hard” where the indiscretions are half-hidden, almost for the other to discover, but here the jealousy of one partner becomes all-consuming in the mantra “Where’ve you been? Who you’ve been? You didn’t phone when you said you would?”  Such neurosis flows through the calm-sounding song which then explodes into a brass band ending which is just terrific and feels like a fitting finale as harps swoop.  This was apparently the first song that Chris and Neil wrote together and they held back from recording it because they wanted Ennio Morricone to arrange it for release.  That didn’t happen and now on the fourth album of their career it appears with Harold Faltermeyer at the helm.  It fits in well with all that has gone before and is an ideal closer.

psbbehaviour9

With “Behaviour” the duo had left the club scene behind a little and produced perhaps their most rounded pop album.  The fact that it didn’t sell as well as expected caused them to redress the balance a little the next time out.  Although I like other Pet Shop Boys albums better there is enough here for me to consider it another one of their essential releases.

 

Behaviour  is currently available from Amazon in the UK for £8.48 and used from £0.45. It can be downloaded for £5.99. In the US it is currently $29.98 new and used from $0.38 and as a download for $9.49.    In the UK it is also available to stream on Spotify.

Book Bingo – A Monthly Update

Let’s start this monthly update on my local library’s Book Bingo fund-raising initiative by showing you what my card looked like last month.

bookbingo3

And here is how it is looking today:

IMG_20170727_0001 (2)

I did say last month I needed to crack on a bit to get those stickers and there are seven squares filled and with one month to go it’s looking a bit more do-able.  What did I read to achieve win these stickers?  Proof I’ve read these can be found in my reviews which you can get to by clicking on the titles………….

Firstly, two of the squares were “Questions”- with a little less time to play with this year we threw in a few random Question squares and I devised a book related quiz.  When someone brings back a book they can opt to be asked a question from this list- get it right and there’s a sticker, get it wrong and they’ll have to try next time.  As I thought up the questions and my memory is not so bad that I’ve forgotten the answers this bit has meant I’ve had to have rapidly made up questions asked me.  I will let you know the questions on my list which have been causing the most problems for the participants.

What kind of author would not have been eligible to win the Bailey’s Prize for Fiction or the Orange Prize?

Which crime writer almost won the Grand National on “Devon Loch”?

I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to catch out any reviewsrevues.com readers with those two…….

Onto my books read.  The top line (flower sticker) was for a book I found in the teenage/young adult section of the library.  This one was also recommended to me.  Patrick Ness’ The Knife Of Never Letting Go – the first part in his Chaos Walking trilogy (could also have been “first in a series” but I had another one lined up for that).  Reginald Hill’s “A Clubbable Woman” is the first in the Dalziel and Pascoe series.  You may recall I had reservations about this particular title but readers have been urging me on, it seems I have just touched on one of the great British crime writers.  FictionFan kindly wished that;  “I hope you get as much enjoyment from the series as it has given me over many decades and many re-reads…”This book got me the flower sticker on the third row.

The tulip (?) on the second row covers an author whose names begin with consecutive letters.  We allow this to go in either direction so Charlotte Bronte is as valid as Charles Dickens (but not Jane Austen).  Feels like a literary party game when I describe it like this. Rupert Smith was my preferred author here and I read his “Man’s World.”

The piggy sticker covers “With a family member in the title”.  Perfect for this would be a couple of titles by David Walliams.  I chose “Awful Auntie.”  (Gangsta Granny would have done just as well, but someone had already borrowed that from the library).  Lastly I had to have a book lent to me by someone so thank you to my friend Penny for passing on her copy of Robert Seethaler’s “The Tobacconist“.

I felt more confident about finishing yesterday but I can see I am going to be distracted by the announcement today of the Man Booker Longlist – of which I have read just one, “Swing Time” by Zadie Smith.  Unfortunately none of the longlisted titles have five words or more in the title, nor can be found in the library’s saga section nor are they poetry and almost certainly all longer than 200 pages.  I suppose if I researched them a little more I might discover that at least one is set before 1700, but I already had something lined up for that category.

So seven squares down this month and six to go before the closing date…………….

 

Awful Auntie – David Walliams (2014) – A Kid-Lit Review

imagesYC433BKV

awfulauntie

It’s been a couple of years since I read David Walliams’ “The Demon Dentist” and in that time his reputation as a writer (and his book sales) have continued to soar.  Just the other week the Duchess Of Cornwall’s Bookshelves Project celebrated her 70th birthday with a list of the UK’s favourite children’s books.  It’s quite a wide-ranging list and Walliams has two titles on it- neither of which I’ve read so I’ve obviously got more treats in store.

I thought “Demon Dentist” was “up there with the best of Dahl” and had everything that a children’s book should have. “Awful Auntie” was his next publication so it might be hoped he’d pushed the quality boundaries further.  He hasn’t really and if “DD” is up with the best of Dahl (that’s “Charlie & The Chocolate Factory”, “The Witches” and “Matilda”) then this is nestling in with the mid-range of “The Twits” and “George’s Marvelous Medicine”.  I feel these are appropriate comparisons as they both share a one-dimensional overly sadistic undertone which stops this feeling as well rounded as its predecessor.

Set in the dilapidated Saxby Hall in 1933 the twelve year old main character Stella awakes to find her life has changed.  Her parents are no longer around and she is being held captive by the monstrous Aunt Alberta, a character without even the slightest drop of humanity who has as a side-kick a giant owl.  Agatha wants to claim the Hall as her own and is prepared to murder all around her to get it.  Stella has to use the Hall’s past to attempt to thwart her Aunt’s plans.  Such misery heaped on Stella becomes disturbing more than funny.  Walliams attempts to lighten the atmosphere by having her step temporarily away from life-threatening situations to make some mundane comments to her captor seems jarring to adult readers but most children will no doubt lap this up.  I think there’s also an over-reliance on lists to bring out the humour (Walliams does do this well as did Dahl) as here it does not add much to the flow of the novel, which highlights that the plot is sparser this time around.  The Tony Ross illustrations are great fun and would add much to the enjoyment, especially the plans and maps.

Children will relish guessing the twists in the plots.  He uses a small cast here and at least one character (Gibbons the ancient butler) is under-used.  There’s actually a complaint letter at the back of the book from recurring character, shop-owner Raj, who is moaning about his non-appearance in the book because of its 1930s setting and I thought that was written with more sparkle than a chunk of the preceding 400 pages.  “Awful Auntie” did fall a little short of my high expectations.  I feel that “Demon Dentist” is a better balanced book and has the feel of a lasting children’s classic whilst this over-emphasised dark slapstick to cover up Aunt Agatha’s evil machinations.  I expect Walliams to be outrageous but I think he over-eggs it here and loses something in the process. Kids, however, are a different breed and the continuing popularity of things like the film “Home Alone” suggest that this kind of slapstick-under-peril is perennially popular and the 1451 (at time of writing) 5 star reviews on Amazon would suggest I might be a little out of touch here but I just think he’s done and will do better.

threestars

Awful Auntie was published by Harper Collins in 2014

The To Be Watched List – A What I Will Be Watching Review

watchingQuestion_mark

 

This week I was geared up to review the opening episode of Series 7 of “Game Of Thrones” which exploded onto Sky Atlantic.  It’s been plugged for what feels like months on Sky and was such a big event that even people who have never watched Sky must have been aware of its return.  I have watched every episode, but saw the review writing as a challenge as there’s so many plot-lines and characters that I take (most) of it in while I’m watching but tend to forget quite a lot soon afterwards.  Visually, it’s stunning and like no other television series ever made and I do always enjoy it, but I’m not a super-fan who knows every little detail and my review could end up just upsetting the super-fans if I get things wrong.

game of thrones2

I prepared myself for this by watching “Game Of Thrones- The Story So Far” on Sky Atlantic, a 90 minute re-cap narrated by Sue Perkins and whilst there were a few things I’d forgotten I actually surprised myself by recalling much of what had gone on.  It’s the unpredictability of the series which can throw you off-kilter.  Seemingly minor characters become important, major characters get killed off, and plot lines develop from all directions which demands attentive viewing.  I felt I was ready to give you my verdict on the opening episode and sat down to watch.

game of thrones

But I fell asleep.  This had nothing to do with the episode (although it was one of the slightly too dark to totally make out what was going on scenes which did it).  It’s been a busy week at work and although I know Arya got some splendid revenge for the massacre of much of her family, that Ed Sheeran sang a song and Daenerys sailed into somewhere I’m not totally sure where.  I’m going to have to re-watch but as it’s not going to fit in with review deadlines I’ll have to hang my head in shame and feel like an old man.  I know I’m  probably not too far away from being my Dad who used to wake up from armchair TV slumbers after the channel had been changed and we were watching something else, him thinking it was the same programme with increasingly bewilderment as to what had been going on.

It’s actually the second time this week this has happened.  The night before I had rented overnight from the library “Hidden Figures” which I’d really been looking forward to seeing ever since I saw a trailer when I went to see “La La Land”.  Starring Taraji P Henson, who I adore in “Empire”, this based on a true story tale of three African-American women working in the early 60’s at NASA at the Langley base in Hampton Virginia seemed right up my street and I was really enjoying it until Taraji’s math genius character, Katherine Johnson, began writing long sums on a blackboard and it was if I was back in double Maths and, like the perfect sedative that used to be, I fell asleep.

hiddenfigures

Which is why I’ve decided to use what’s recorded on my Sky Planner as my To Be Watched list (not to be confused with my To Be Read List- which is massive) to take a look at what I should  be watching over the coming weeks, should I stay awake long enough.

There’s the last episode of ITV’s “The Loch”, which began really well and I was delighted to see Siobhan Finneran in a leading role.  I had high hopes of this as another “Broadchurch” turning the Loch Ness area into a must-see for television watchers in the West Bay location boosted tourism for “Broadchurch” voyeurs.  It looked just as stunning, but the series for me didn’t sustain it’s very good opening couple of episodes.  It’s still good but not the must-see tv event I had initially anticipated.

theloch

There’s three US series shown on Sky that have episodes stacked up on series link.  I’ve nearly worked my way through Series 5 of “Elementary”.  This feels like a good old fashioned detective series, it’s wobbled slightly over the years but its back as strong as it ever was.  Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr Watson in modern day New York are a great combination.  I know I’m in a tiny minority here, but I prefer Miller’s Sherlock to Benedict Cumberbatch’s.  There I’ve said it………. “Quantico” is midway through its second series on the planner.  I didn’t watch all the first but rejoined it for the second because Russell Tovey was joining the cast.  It’s all over the place, seemed to change tack drastically a few episodes ago and it’s really only Tovey (who’s very good in it) and the very attractive cast which is headed by ex Miss World Priyanka Chopra that’s keeping me tuning in as I really don’t know what’s going on.  I also have ten (gulp!) episodes of the re-booted “Hawaii 5-0” to watch.  This is probably past its prime now, it has always has the odd duff episode but there are now fewer quality episodes to make up for that.  The news that the leading Hawaiian actors have decided to leave over pay inequality does not bode well for the future.

When I’ve got a good few hours to spare I may also catch up on the Channel 4 school based drama “Ackley Bridge”.  Watched the first episode, liked the cast more than anything else but haven’t got round to catching up with the rest of the series.  It features Paul Nicholls who has had his own personal drama this week after being trapped under a waterfall for three days with a broken leg in a Thai jungle- a real life story more dramatic and chilling than anything he’s appeared in on TV.  It sounds like a long road to recovery for him.  Those of us that have enjoyed his performances in “Eastenders”, “Clapham Junction”, “Canterbury Tales”, “Goodbye Charlie Bright”, the very under-rated “A Thing Called Love” and even as  a posh doctor with Suranne Jones in the weirdly casted “Harley Street” wish him a speedy return to good health.

Paul Nicholls in “Ackely Bridge” and being rescued in Thailand

There’s another poignant presence on my Sky Planner.  We heard this week that Britain’s Got Talent winner Pudsey has died leaving owner Ashleigh Butler and his legion of fans heartbroken.  I’ve got his full length movie appearance in “Pudsey The Dog- The Movie (2014) which was shown on TV a few weeks ago to watch.  I know reviews were atrocious and that’s there probably as much CGI as real dog.  I’ve got to be home alone to watch it- the other half drawing a line over this one but I’m hoping it will be a tribute to this extraordinary dog who just seemed to love to perform.  I might need to wait a few weeks to watch it though to avoid sniffling through it.

pudey

Ashleigh and Pudsey – a true showbiz trouper

 

The Tobacconist – Robert Seethaler (Picador 2017)

tobacconist

A novel full of poignant moments and a sense of yearning at a time of great change.  Austrian born Seethaler’s novel is quietly impressive.  It begins in 1937 when 17 year old Franz is sent by his mother from their Austrian Lake District home to Vienna to work in a small tobacconist’s shop.

Here Franz begins to learn about life from the merchandise and the shop’s aromas, from the newspapers he reads each day and from the customers.  These include an aging Sigmund Freud with whom Franz strikes up an unlikely friendship.

But the times are a changing and anti-semitism makes a bond with the Jewish Freud increasingly difficult and the one-legged tobacconist who Franz works for seems a threat to the authorities.  Franz, initially bewildered by the mysteries of love and an obsession for a worldly Bohemian girl finds he has more difficult things to contemplate.

The very likeable Franz is the heart of this novel.  Everything is underplayed, there are few big dramatic scenes yet the drama and turmoil of the times is palpable.  It is clear that for the people in Franz’ circle things can never be the same again.

I like novels where young characters attempt to make sense of the adult world and in Franz’s Vienna there is little that makes sense.  His retreats to analysing his dreams is both as a result of his meetings with Freud and an attempt to fathom out his existence where neither the real nor dream world seem quite right.

Robert Seethaler has written five novels.  His last “The Whole Life” was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize.  This, translated by Charlotte Collins, with its quiet tenderness may slip under the awards radar but it is of lasting appeal.

fourstars

The Tobacconist was published by Picador in 2017.