Friday, 30 September 2011

Something for the weekend...


'I Partridge: We need to talk about Alan' by Alan Partridge (with help!)

Ok, I know I'm preaching to the converted here and if you're not a fan of the TV series/radio shows then you won't enjoy this book. I'm really here to reassure any fans that this is a worthwhile purchase. I can confirm that. And I am confirming it. Now.
Coogan's greatest creation is brought brilliantly to life in all his pompous, arrogant splendour. This is not a cheap cash in (we can leave those to Peter Kay) it's a genuinely laugh out loud continuation of the legend that is Partridge (as we wait for the film!)

What I especially like is that although he talks about 'The day today', & 'Knowing me knowing you' as if they were real shows he doesn't acknowledge the existence of the 'I'm Alan Partridge' shows. This means 'Alan' can lie about things he doesn't think we know. So his meeting with Tony Hayers in the BBC cafe (the 'smell my cheese' scene) is hilariously re-played as a triumph for our hero & Chris Feather (Hayers replacement) warns Alan (just before he signs the contract) that he's trapped his hand that morning so his signature might look a bit 'weird & shakey' (for those who haven't seen it - Feather dies just before signing & Partridge fakes his signature). I also like the way he calls Lynne simply 'my assistant' through the entire book.

You hear Alan as you read & that makes it all the funnier, honestly I can't recommend it enough. He's done it, he's bounced back (again).


Thursday, 29 September 2011

Super Thursday!!

It's Super Thursday!!

You may be asking 'What's so super about it?' Good question (if not a touch cynical), what's super is that there were 200 books released today! Today is the day that the books you & your aunts & your brothers & your aunts brothers (or is that you again?) will wake up to on Christmas morning hit the shops.

I've picked a few of titles to highlight what a 'Super Thursday' this is & I've even put them in categories to make it double easy:

Every year some comedian or other likes to tell us their life story & this year is no different
Lee Evans, James Corden & Alan Sugar all have hilarious titles released today - that Sugar cracks me up. But for me the highlight has to be the long awaited (in East Anglia) publication of the follow up to 'Bouncing Back' (now sadly out of print), yes 'I Partridge: we need to talk about Alan'  by Alan Partridge is released today 'AHA!'. Seriously though this looks brilliant, I've had a sneaky look & it's hilarious (expect a SFTW of it very soon)

Maybe your relatives are of a more serious bent? Maybe they don't give a tinkers cuss for the trials & tribulations of some pampered fop! Well in that case there are eagerly anticipated  new books out today by Lee Child (The Affair), Robert Harris (The Fear Index) & Peter James (Dead man's grip'). So they can get their teeth into to some top drawer thrillers.

Or perhaps they just like a nice cake, who doesn't? If so, today sees the release of new titles by Jamie Oliver (Jamie's Great Britain), Martha Swift (The Primrose bakery book) & Lorraine Pascal (Home cooking).

Other notable titles to part you from your pennies are Max Hastings epic 'All hell let loose' & Bernard Cornwell's 'Death of Kings'. Or how about Jacqueline Wilson's 'Sapphire Battersea' (one for the kiddies there), or last but not least -  Darren Shan's 'Palace of the damned' (for slightly older kiddies).

So, basically on 'Super Thursday' there is something for everyone, Christmas is closer than you think (& that's a good thing) get your thinking caps on - what would your Aunt like? (It's Alan Partridge by the way).



Tuesday, 27 September 2011


I think that Shakespeare is the greatest writer this country has ever seen. I’m sure I’m not alone in this opinion, so I thought I would share with you my selection of the best Shakespeare books and what I think makes him have such enduring appeal.

There are obviously different angles from which you might want to read about Shakespeare. I think the very first thing you need to do is read the plays. Maybe not all of them, but certainly some of them. In terms of The Complete Works, for scholars the best edition is the Norton Shakespeare, edited by American scholar Stephen Greenblatt. The Arden editions are also excellent if you want lots of accompanying notes. Arden should also be noted for publishing separately the different surviving versions of Hamlet: the Second Quarto and the First Quarto and First Folio together. If you just want a basic version of the plays, you can’t go wrong with Penguin or Oxford. It is also worth noting that there are 2 versions of Shakespeare’s ‘lost’ play, Cardenio. Arden published Lewis Theobald’s 18th Century version, Double Falsehood  and Nick Hern have published the RSC's reimagining of the play which was staged for the first time this year.

You could look into his life (well, what little is known) to inform your reading of the plays. I have just finished reading 1599 by James Shapiro, which manages to enlighten the reader about Shakespeare’s character, the times in which he was living and his writing and the reception of his plays all through looking in depth at one year. This was no ordinary year: he wrote Henry V, Julius Caesar, As You Like It and Hamlet. Shapiro cleverly uses the seasons of the year as a structure, which allows him to bring in the historical context of each section of the year without it feeling forced or like you’re reading a history book. I have a few books on my ‘next to read’ list, including The Lodger (Charles Nicholl), The Genius of Shakespeare, Soul of the Age (both by Jonathan Bate, who wrote the brilliant play Being Shakespeare), and Will in the World (Stephen Greenblatt). Any recommendations?


You could also read some Shakespeare criticism, to see themes and patterns and contexts you might not otherwise know about. I recently read Looking for Sex in Shakespeare by Stanley Wells. Originally delivered as 3 lectures at Shakespeare’s Globe, Wells has converted what must have been excellent lectures into excellent essays. They are very readable and I found myself being disappointed I had not been lucky enough to hear them spoken out loud originally. The 3 sections covered relationships between men, the relationships in the Sonnets and ‘lewd interpreters’, i.e. people who see more sex in the plays than there is or ever was. I think next I want to read some of Andrew Gurr’s work on the Elizabethan play-going world (The Shakespearean Stage 1574-1642, The Shakespeare Company 1594-1642 and Playgoing in Shakespeare's London).

One of my all time favourite books is about Shakespeare. I have an interest in acting and like looking at the staging and performing of Shakespeare's plays as that’s what they were intended for. If you are likewise interested in acting, I cannot recommend highly enough Exit, Pursued by a Badger by Nick Asbury. Asbury is an actor who was involved in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2 ½ year Histories Cycle. The same company performed the 8 history plays from Richard II to Richard III. The book started its life as a hugely popular blog documenting the life of a stage actor, from forgetting lines to corpsing to being attacked by a badger! Following on from this format came Something Written in the State of Denmark by Keith Osborn about his time playing in the season that produced David Tennant and Patrick Stewart’s Hamlet as well as Love’s Labours Lost and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Also worth a mention is Antony Sher’s Year of the King about his experience of playing Richard III in 1984. He gives so much detail about how he created the role and the psychological impact of playing such a major role, especially coming off the back of a major injury, it gives us a unique insight into how to depict Richard's disability.

So this is just a tiny selection of the massive amount of literature about Shakespeare. If you have any particular favourites or think I've missed out something, please feel free to leave me a comment.


Friday, 23 September 2011

Something for the weekend...

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

This is the first 'something for the weekend' that you could actually read in a weekend (easily). Clocking in at 87 pages it certainly doesn't outstay it's welcome.

Andrew Kaufman's first book was 'All my friends are superheroes' (2003) another short one it sold very well, mostly through word of mouth (I thoroughly recommend it, it's 'something else for the weekend'). He followed that with 'The Waterproof Bible' which is, shall we say, his 'difficult 2nd album', (his charming, quirky style is better in short bursts - but it's still worth a read).

The tiny wife begins with a bank robbery, but the mysterious, enigmatic thief isn't stealing money. Instead he takes one emotionally resonant item from each customer in the bank (''51% per cent of their soul''). The book then follows the victim's post robbery lives as strange & inexplicable & even fatal things occur. The 'Tiny Wife' Stacey begins to shrink very slowly & the book is based round the reasons for this & the attempt to stop this happening.

Now, Kaufman is not subtle, (Stacey is literally shrinking due to a loss of self worth/love from her marriage... a baby excretes cash until it becomes a choice between the baby's life & the money..) however he is funny & engaging & very easy to read (ideal for the weekend!). Plus in this book he has delightful silhouettes drawn by Tom Percival which add to the grown up fairy tale feel of the whole thing. (All in all it would make a lovely little gift). So if you're a fan of 'Amelie' (the Jeunet film), or the works of Tim Burton or any kind of magic realism - give Kaufman a go.


Friday, 16 September 2011

Something for the weekend.

The Somnambulist by Essie Fox

While I’m not normally a fan of writing set in the Victorian era, this is an exceptional book. A well written gothic tale of young Phoebe who lives under the heavy strain of her sanctimonious and puritanical mother, Maud and her vivacious, glamourous aunt Cissy. Phoebe suffers one of the biggest tragedies of her young life only to find out that she has been lied to about where she comes from, who she is and most things about her life so far. The characters are excellently moulded, particularly Cissy and one gets a vivid impression that the character is based on someone the author may know/have known. Set in Victorian London’s East End in real locations such as Tredegar Square near Mile End Station and up the road in Bow, there are very believable situations constructed in the book dealing with racism and in particular, anti-semitism as well as sexism. Fox has crafted a tale unlike any other I’ve read here and having just finished it I want to read it all over again! A dream to read, this is an absolute page-turner and I recommend you read it if you’re a fan of the Victorian era, or just generally good writing.


Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Lauren Beukes - Zoo City

Lauren Beukes's Zoo City is set in a contemporary alternate reality to our own, where the guilt of crimes manifest themselves as animal familiars. The books's protagnonist, Zinzi December, has a sloth. However, the bad tempered fuzz ball is the least of her worries. She's a recovering addict with a large debt to pay off to a local crime boss who specialises in scam emails.

This is a novel that roots the weird firmly in the pedestrian. Zinzi is forced to live below the radar of society, facing prejudice daily on account of being a 'Zoo'. Having a sloth on her back does come with certain advantages, however. Each familiar bestows a mashavi, or spirtiual gift. In Zinzi's case this allows her to find lost things, passports, wedding rings and so forth. However, when her client ends up dead she's forced to take on an altogether more serious job -- to find a missing person.

Told in the first person, Beukes seamlessly fuses a hardboiled detective noir sensibility into a tale of life lived on the fringes in a hostile and frequently violent South Africa. The prose is direct and unvarnished, Zinzi has no illusions about how wretched her situation is, only that she won't go down without a fight.

Beukes makes good use of her journalistic experience, and shows a dark underside of South Africa that is rarely (if ever) mentioned in SFF. Zoo City is also notable for having a female black lead, a rarity in fiction but doubly so in the Speculative Fiction genre.

This is a gritty, no-nonsense novel that relies on the reader to go with the flow of exotic terms and colloquialisms of South African street life.

Zoo City is one of the titles in our Women in SFF section. It won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2010. For a deeper review check out this site HERE.

- Den Patrick

Friday, 9 September 2011

Something for the weekend.

One Day

I might be the last person in the world to read One Day but read it I did last week. The fact that I read it in a mere 3 days of commuting is testament to David Nicholls's brilliant writing. I have read his other two novels (Starter For Ten and The Understudy) and thoroughly enjoyed them so thought I would jump on the band wagon of people that love One Day.

I liked the structure of the book, where you see the lives of Emma and Dexter on the anniversary of their first meeting for 20 years. When I heard that this was the format, I thought it meant that they arranged a reunion on their anniversary each year, but actually sometimes they are together on that day and sometimes they are apart. I'm not sure if anyone else felt the same, but on some of the days I wished it had gone on to the next day as I wanted to find out what happened next, but you then jump ahead another year. Where Nicholls is clever, though, is by mentioning important events we've missed because they have happened in between these anniversaries. It didn't seem forced or over the top, however; just the right balance of finding out what you've missed and discovering what they do next.

I liked the character of Emma very much - I'm sure a lot of us can relate to her wanting to change the world but instead taking a job, any job, to pay the bills. I didn't like Dexter so much to begin with - but I don't think you're meant to. He is likeable all along (despite all of the things he does) because of how much he cares about Emma. You get the impression that she makes him a better person - maybe even the best version of himself. I liked, also, that their success seemed to happen inversely - his all straight out of university and hers after years of slogging away, but they find a balance in the end.

I'm not sure if I had too high expectations, but although I liked the book, it didn't blow me away as it seems to have done a lot of people. I would recommend it as a nice, easy, modern fiction book to read during the first weekend that feels like Autumn.