Looking Back, Looking Forward…..

Well, that’s another year of reading and blogging behind us.  At the end of the year I’m always tempted to have a look back and see which of the 459 posts now on reviewsrevues.com have been attracting the most attention. It never fails to surprise me.  The counters were turned back to zero at the start of the year yet it does seem that those posts that got the highest traffic in 2017 were also those who attracted readers in 2016 – so indulge me in  a quick look back towards the most read posts before looking ahead to what 2018 might have in store.  Here are the category winners! (Click on the titles to find the full reviews)

Books – Recent PublicationsDon’t Wake Up – Liz Lawler (TwentySeven 2017)

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I posted this in June 2017.  I actually read it in instalments from Pigeonhole who send you a daily section to read before publication and this hospital-based thriller was the ideal book to read in this format .  If this book doesn’t grab you in the first few pages, it never will. A debut novel from an ex-nurse which might not be the best choice if you have an operation pending but certainly a lot of people were interested in reading about it.

Books – The Back CatalogueMotown – The History – Sharon Davis (Guinness Books 1988)

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First posted way back in November 2015, this is the real slow burner of the reviews.  I’ve had this book on my shelves for nearly thirty years so it’s good that my enthusiasm for it has been matched by people wanting to seek this review out.  A British journalist’s view of the incredible Motown story adds a fascinating perspective and there’s a rigorous obsession at work here in the author’s comprehensive discography of all releases of Singles and Albums which sorts out the output of  founder Berry Gordy’s different labels in the US as well as a list of all British releases to the mid 80’s.

CD Reviews- Let’s Groove: The Best Of – Earth Wind & Fire (Columbia 1996)

Posted even earlier in October 2015, this review started off slowly but took off following the passing of EWF mastermind Maurice White in February 2016.  Since then it continues to be the most read of the CD reviews on the site.  Thing is, it’s not even my favourite Earth Wind & Fire album (that would be the 1977 studio album “All N’ All).  Proof that people are still looking to find their “Boogie Wonderland” !

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TV ReviewsThe Level (ITV 2016)

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And here we go again…..! I wrote about this at the start of October 2016 after watching the first episode of this six parter that really hooked me because of its casting and its Brighton location.  It felt like it arrived and disappeared on ITV without a great deal of fanfare but even though the counters went back to 0 on Jan 1st 2106 this is without doubt once again the most read review on here by some distance, as it has been from within a couple of months of it appearing on the site.  Perhaps it’s worth ITV contemplating another series, the interest in certainly there! Will it still be at the top at the end of 2018? Proof that we are not only using the internet to search for the very latest thing!

So looking forward….Yesterday The Guardian published it’s Literary Calendar as a taster for what we can expect book-wise in 2018.  I think it provides a good starting point for the year, obviously a bit sketchy as the year goes on, for the last couple of years I’ve been noting down what appeals.  I actually forgot all about last year’s list until recently and I noticed that out of the ten I’d highlighted as being books I wanted to look out for I had read four.  The titles that had piqued my interest and ended up being read were The Good People- Hannah Kent, White Tears – Hari Kunzru, Queer City – Peter Ackroyd and The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst.  In fact, what is interesting is that a couple of the titles predicted to be big hitters in 2017 came out without much fanfare.  I actually had to look on Amazon for a couple on my list to see if they had even been published.  Armistead Maupin had a memoir out in October which had completely passed me by and I had also missed completely satirist Armando Iannuci’s introduction to classical music “Hear Me Out”.  I was also miffed by publishers  turning me down for a preview copy of Sara Baume’s “A Line Made Walking”  on Netgalley as I felt I’d done a good job promoting her debut novel so consciously haven’t got round to reading that yet.  (Don’t cross me, ha ha!)

So from this year’s list here are nine titles that appeal.  I’ll see how many I’ll get round to during the year.

The Only Story – Julian Barnes (Cape) – Due in February – A look back at an ill-fated relationship which according to the Guardian “darkens into the tragedy of a destroyed life.”

Bookwork: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading – Lucy Mangan (Square Peg) – Due in March

Barracoon- Zora Neale Hurston (Harper Collins – Due in May) – Recently discovered non-fiction account of the last survivor of the Atlantic Slave Trade.  I loved Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (1937) , a novel which is still growing in reputation in the UK where it is emerging from the status of a lost classic.  Hurston died in 1960, hopefully the first publication of this work will put her further into the spotlight.

Warlight – Michael Ondaatje (Cape) – Due in June – London after the Blitz tale of two abandoned children seems right up my street . Canadian writer  Ondaatje’s seventh adult novel.

My Year of Rest And Relaxation- Ottessa Moshfegh (Cape)- Enjoyed Moshfegh’s 2016 Man Booker shortlisted “Eileen” enough to look forward to this novel appearing in July.

Playtime – Andrew McMillan (Cape) – Due in August.  Hopefully I will read more poetry in 2018.  This collection reputedly focuses on what it is like to feel different as a child.

The Lost Magician -Piers Torday (Quercus) – Due in August.  Pick of the bunch of children fiction is set in 1945 and concerns a magical world entered through a library door.  Shades of a modern Narnia?

Transcription – Kate Atkinson (Doubleday) – Due in September which will give me a chance to catch up with this author’s output since being so impressed with her 5 star rated Costa winning “Life After Life“.

Melmoth — Sarah Perry (Serpent’s Tail) – Due in October.  I was slightly guilty of putting too high expectations on the Waterstones Book Of The Year “Essex Serpent” and when it did not quite live up to the hype as far as I was concerned I felt more disappointed than I should otherwise have been.  So I won’t build this time-travelling gothic tale up too much in my mind so as to get the maximum enjoyment from it.

This is just a smattering of titles expected to appear in 2018.  The great thing about the publishing world is that no-one can be absolutely sure what is going to generate the most interest.  I mentioned the four titles on the Guardian list that I was really looking forward to this time last year and got around to reading and yet none of those four made it onto my End of Year list.  It’s that unpredictability that makes our book choices exciting! I wonder if we will be talking about any of these books in twelve months time.

 

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Motown – The History – Sharon Davis (1988) – A Real Life Review

realives

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Back in 1959 Berry Gordy Jnr,  erstwhile professional boxer and enthusiastic songwriter, on the advice of his friend, Smokey Robinson, borrowed $800 from his family and used it to open Tamla Records putting out “Come To Me” by Marv Johnson in January 1959.  From 1961 Berry was also putting out records on his new Motown label.  (In Europe Gordy’s music was released on Tamla Motown, but in the US this was two separate labels under the Motown banner).  And the rest, as they say, is history.

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Berry Gordy

Motown, originating in Detroit, became The Sound Of Young America and the rest of the world lapped it up as over the next few decades it introduced us to some of music’s biggest stars including Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Michael Jackson & The Jackson Five, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Lionel Richie…………………….the list goes on.

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Sharon Davis is the perfect person to write a book about Motown.  Working for Blues and Soul Magazine from the 1970s she wrote a column “Motown Tracking” which gave a regular review of news, recordings and gossip from the label forming a large body of work and making friends with the artists which would have helped her produce this book.

What this makes this book different from many books about Motown (and there are quite a few out there – it being such a fascinating success story) is that British perspective and also the thoroughness of the whole thing.  Motown completists may very well weep with joy as there is at the back of this book a comprehensive discography of all releases of Singles and Albums which sorts out the output of  Gordy’s different labels as well as a list of all British releases to the mid 80’s.  It is this more than anything that keeps this book on my shelves.

Occasionally, Davis adopts a slightly scatter-gun approach and veers all over the place, which can make it a little frustrating and perhaps demonstrates those journalistic roots and I think the whole thing could be tighter in terms of chronology.  What is also different with Davis’ account is the broader time spectrum she focuses on.  I actually would have liked to have read more about “the golden years” of Motown but Davis is keen to give us the greater picture.  In 1972 the label moved from Detroit to Los Angeles, reputedly to support Diana Ross’ film career and for many this is where the golden age ended and many in Detroit felt betrayed by the label’s departure.  However, Motown did put out some of its best music throughout the 70’s  and 80’s but as the organisation grew the family feel of the label from its younger days departed and it became another large conglomerate .  I think part of Davis’ brief was to show that the label was still relevant at the time she was writing and as a result there may be too much emphasis on the 80’s where you can detect even the author’s enthusiasm is flagging as she chronicles the myriad of artists whose stay on the label (and probably in the music business in some cases) was extremely short-lived.  Through the 90’s Motown would have another golden period due to the success of Boyz II Men – perhaps an updated version of this book would have put this into perspective and placed less emphasis on the years when the hits were harder to find.  Some of the artists from the golden years ( including music producer Frank Wilson whose “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” is one of the most loved Northern Soul tracks and Frances Nero who had a revival of fortunes in the 90’s when she recorded with Ian Levine) are given very scant attention.  However, I’m nitpicking because this is a solid volume, full of photos of the artists in colour and black and white and it would be highly worthwhile to search this out

Sharon Davis is also well known for her book about Dusty Springfield “A Girl Called Dusty” (2008) which I didn’t enjoy quite as much as her take on Motown.  She has written books on Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder amongst others and a couple of books on the stories behind chart-topping singles.  Her latest book (2014) which I am adding to my Wants list is a biography of Disco Superstar Sylvester for whom she worked as a publicist.  All of Sharon Davis’ books can be found on Amazon.co.uk

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Motown – The History was published in 1988 by Guinness Books