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Roger Risborough (Richmond)

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Cheltenham et AL: The Best of Alastair Down
Cheltenham et AL: The Best of Alastair Down
by Alastair Down
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Down Memory Lane, 25 Jan. 2015
Alastair Down is brilliant at putting into words what we are all thinking but can't articulate ourselves.
And often, we only realise we were thinking it, after he's put it into words. That is a great skill, and one that outsiders could say is wasted in the narrow world of horse-racing, evidenced by his articles on 9/11 and the Queen's visit to Ireland. But I think it was Brough Scott who once said that "racing may be narrow, but boy, is it deep", and Alastair Down's articles over the years take us deep into our memories and deep into our emotions (laughter and tears in equal measures). Racing tends to make us focus too much on the here-and-now - what's going to win today? how can I make some money in this race? but Alastair Down's writing takes us on a glorious gallop back in time, straight down memory lane to the there-and-then, when Corinthian values and colourful characters were the order of the day . There can be no greater tribute to any journalist than for the very people he writes about for his daily bread to end up wanting him to write their funeral eulogies and obituaries, but that is where this writer really comes into his own - commemorating Terry Biddlecombe, Henry Cecil, Best Mate and all the other greats who are now gone but far from forgotten. This whole book is an extended elegy to late Twentieth Century horse-racing, an age that has already all but slipped away from us, but one that couldn't have been chronicled and immortalised by a more loving scribe.


F: A Novel
F: A Novel
Price: £5.49

3.0 out of 5 stars F is for Fake . . . F is for Fate . . . F is for Faith . . ., 25 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: F: A Novel (Kindle Edition)
From the various options available for what F may stand for (in English, if not the German original manuscript), you can take your pick really, because this is a novel with plenty of gaps between the dots allowing you to create your own meanings even where they may not have been intended by the author.
F is for fake . . .
- Lindemann is not really a hypnotist . . .
- Arthur is not really a writer . . .
- Martin is not really a "believer" . . .
- Eric is not really a financial wizard . . .
- Ivor really is a painter but pretends not to be . . .
F is for fate . . .
- We are all the result of chance . . .
- We have no control over our past . . .
- We have no control over our future . . .
F is for faith . . .
- Have faith that the author has something deep and meaningful to say about life, then it will be so.


The Goldfinch
The Goldfinch
Price: £3.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 867 Pages Of Impending Doom, 20 Jan. 2015
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This review is from: The Goldfinch (Kindle Edition)
And it is the impending doom that gets you through the 867 pages, as opposed to any other Pulitzer-worthy aspects of literature. This length of book must inevitably stray into other people's territory, and this (more Jackdaw than Goldfinch) helps itself to: "a novel about a painting" (cf The Girl With The Pearl Earring); a conventional thriller (cf the Bourne franchise - terrorist bombs, flight across different continents); the state-of-the-nation/Great American Novel (cf Jonathan Franzen); born-again (as opposed to Bourne-again) redemption movies/books (cf It's A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol). But as they say, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few curate's eggs. So: is it the longest book I have ever read? Yes . . . by a mile; is it worth the time investment? Yes . . . just; Did I enjoy it? Yes, but there's a better, shorter book lurking inside this cuckoo's nest; should it have won the Pulitzer Prize For Literature? Surely not?


An Encyclopaedia of Myself
An Encyclopaedia of Myself
Price: £8.83

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Me Me Meades, 6 Jan. 2015
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Jonathan Meades lifts up a big heavy mirror to reflect on his post-war adolescence, and hurls it to the ground to produce 40-odd shard-like chapters of his back-story - sharp, fragmentary, uneven, and lots of different sizes. Meades is determined to resist the conventional chronology and structure of autobiography, preferring instead a willful, esoteric approach (based loosely on the alphabet, if only to justify the word "Encyclopaedia" in the title), an approach that perhaps reflects the true haphazard nature of memory. His story is of the English military generation that emerged limping, drinking and embittered into the real battle that post World-War-Two peace-time represented for them. These colonels, majors and captains (ranks real or imaginary) are the people who rage and sulk through Meades' memories - bastard barbarian masters at school, dysfunctional parents at home, all steeped in booze and deeply resentful of the post-war children having it better than they had it. Meades has a great (encyclopaedic?) recall of period detail, but more than anything this book feels like a Latin/Greek primer in which the author exercises his immense classics-derived vocabulary. The reading process (for me anyway) was constantly interrupted by delving for definitions, and it's hard not to conclude that the aim of the book isn't to tell Meades' early life story, so much as to tell us all how clever he is as a result of it.


The Case of the Missing Servant (Vish Puri 1)
The Case of the Missing Servant (Vish Puri 1)
by Tarquin Hall
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Red Herrings & Butter Chicken, 22 Dec. 2014
This is fun, well written and a refreshingly sweaty, sprawling antidote to all that stark Scandinoir stuff. Vish Puri, sitting somewhere between Mma Ramotswe and Sherlock Holmes, is the affectionate creation of author Tarquin Hall who lives in India and has married into Indian society. This is his teasing examination of Modern India's conflicts between the grasping, emerging middle classes and the old traditions and beliefs, seen through Vish's jaded (but ever-peeled) eyes. I sense he's someone who will always get his man (or woman), but not before he's had his butter chicken, a few red herrings and a peg or two of whiskey first.


KEITH RICHARDS-LIFE - AUDIOBOO
KEITH RICHARDS-LIFE - AUDIOBOO
by Keith Richards
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £9.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Keith Richards Has Left This Recording . ., 22 Dec. 2014
At the time of me writing this review, there has only been one other review of the audiobook for Keith Richards' "Life", and that reviewer complained that her version was read in German. Well my complaint is that my version was in read in American, rather than the dulcet tones of Dartford, Kent. Surely the whole point of choosing a reader for an autobiography is to get someone whose voice is as close the author's as possible, if they are unable to read the book themselves? Johnny Depp may look a bit like Keith Richards (in Pirates of The Caribbean at least - well he did nick the look) but he sounds nothing like him. Compounding this problem is the fact that Johnny loses interest after a couple of discs (having mispronounced all the place names, and lots of other words), and in steps Joe Hurley an American voice-over artist who chimes in with a brilliant impersonation of . . . Mick Jagger. Then, right at the death (Disc 19 or 20 - this is a very big listen) up pops Keith himself to do all the most moving bits at the end. This is great, but a stark reminder of what we've been missing through all the other discs. Keith's voice is warm and amused, and bears a slow, wheezy testimony to a hard-lived-life. Having said all that, the listener's enjoyment of an audiobook is all about two things - the production and the content, and despite the production being bananas (for the reasons listed above) the content is brilliant. Keith Richards' has a great story to tell, if only to remind us that Mick Jagger was only ever half of Jagger & Richards, and if Mick was handy for chipping in some suitable words when required, it was Keith who came up with all those riffs that live on today. Keith doesn't shy away from revealing the tears, tantrums and triumphs of their relationship down the years - in the end, the summary is they are brothers who fight, rather than friends, and that's not surprising as Mick seems hard-wired to nick his band-mates girlfriends, credit, control, glory etc. The rest of the Stones don't really feature - Brian Jones' rise and fall is in here, and Charlie Watts pops up now and then, but Bill Wyman and the others are very much in the "peripheral character" category. Keith's dialogue may be from another age (chicks and cats abound, plus various much more pejorative descriptors), but it's clear from this how ground-breaking his music has been, albeit as a reworking of blues and rhythm-and-blues. Thank god he's still alive (he's had his fair share of near misses), and thank god he's told his wonderful tale. It's just a shame he couldn't have read it all out for us too.


Funny Girl
Funny Girl
Price: £6.99

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Funny Peculiar, 7 Dec. 2014
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This review is from: Funny Girl (Kindle Edition)
I spent the whole time reading this wondering why Nick Hornby wrote the book at all (other than to meet publishers' deadlines). I'm sure there's something interesting to be written about the world of BBC sitcoms of the early/mid 1960s, but Hornby hasn't found it. His central characters are all loosely (lazily?) based on real people from the era - the (allegedly) funny girl of the title is an apparent amalgam of Lucille Ball, Diana Dors and Barabara Windsor (she's called Barbara, initially at least), and she ends up working with comedy writers, Bill and Tony, who are in the mould of Galton & Simpson. Various actual known names are thrown into the mix (Harold Wilson, Marcia Williams, Mick Jagger, Lucille Ball etc) all to create a true-life memoir feel (but failing), and various issues of the time (class, permissiveness, homosexuality) are leadenly layered over everything. If the book tries to be the tale of a life in showbiz during the formative years of TV and comedy, what eventually emerges is a book about partnerships, both personal and professional, and this really could have been a much stronger theme capable of saving the book. But ideas about how partnerships ignite, flourish, crumble, turn in on themselves, but ultimately continue in some form, all come too late to justify a further commission for this established writer whose latest experiment has failed, I'm afraid. Cancel the sequel.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 25, 2015 3:35 PM GMT


Killing Bono
Killing Bono
Price: £3.49

3.0 out of 5 stars Pro Bono, 18 Nov. 2014
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This review is from: Killing Bono (Kindle Edition)
This was recommended to me as a side-splitting, life-changing book, which is always dangerous, because rather like Neil McCormick during his formative years, my expectations were way too high. My sides didn't split and my life hasn't changed, just as the author's life didn't change as much as he assumed it would as soon as he plugged-in his microphone and faced his fans. He also assumed that that gobby little squit Paul Hewson in the year below him at school in Dublin would never amount to anything, and this book is basically a record of Neil McCormick's lifelong astonishment at the meteoric rise of Bono and U2 set against his own faltering steps in the music business. So the book is really a tragedy rather than a comedy, about the world's 2nd most ambitious pop-star-in-waiting going to school with the world's 1st most ambitious ROCK star in the world (the distinction is Bono's). I'm not a fan of U2's music, and I was never won over by their lead singer, but while McCormick just wanted fame a little too much (check out the "Shook Up/Yeah Yeah" videos on Youtube for evidence), what I take most from this book is a warmer disposition towards Bono.


Us
Us
Price: £2.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The Story Of A Lot Of Us, 28 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: Us (Kindle Edition)
In his first novel "Starter For Ten", David Nicholls wrote about student infatuations. He followed that up with "One Day" which dealt with what happens when student relationships leak out into the grown-up world. Now comes "Us", and here the author writes about what happens when grown-up relationships leak-out into middle age and mid-life crises. So there's a sense of continuity with the earlier works, and another strong structure (which made One Day so compelling), this time based on one family's last ditch attempt to find harmony and unity by flogging across Europe on a latter day Grand Tour. Our grand tourists are Douglas (54, a straight-line-thinking-scientist), wife Connie (a thwarted artist who fell into a relationship with Douglas to escape all the flaky Lotharios of her trendy London life), and 17 year old son Albie (Egg) - a predictably taciturn teenager much more in the image of his Bohemian mother than his "on-the-spectrum" father. After more than 25 years of head-down-hard-work, career-progress and generally battling the outside world, Douglas suddenly realises that the biggest threats to his happiness are within his own family. His son is due to leave home for college (never having been that close to his Dad) and his wife is terrified by the prospect of being left alone with dull-Douglas, and wants to leave too. For some reason, Douglas thinks the claustrophobia and stresses of an extended family holiday will repair all this damage. Instead, it gives Douglas lots more evidence of how far he's drifted apart from wife and son. Throughout this process though, the author leaves us in no doubt where our sympathies should lie, and it's hard to disagree with him, particularly if as the reader you share Douglas's age, career arc, character traits and place in the family pecking-order. Connie has fallen out of love with the man who hasn't changed since the day she met him, and their son doesn't value any of Douglas's values of steadfastness, reliability, efficiency and moderation. So it's not exactly a balanced argument on behalf of all parties, and we are asked to believe in this very unbalanced marriage of personality-polar-opposites, but it makes for a fast-paced read about an increasingly frenetic game of Unhappy Famiies/Hide And Seek across the art galleries of Europe. It isn't One Day, but it is the story of a lot of Us.


Man at the Helm
Man at the Helm
Price: £6.02

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Man Overboard, 12 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: Man at the Helm (Kindle Edition)
What an odd book! Nina Stibbe's first book was a memoir of her times as a teenage nanny in London, seeing her strange new world through child-like eyes with simple, matter-of-fact, child-like observations. Now we get the prequel, a first-person, simple, matter-of-fact child's eye view of growing up and coping with parental divorce in rural Leicestershire in the 1970s. In other words, the same "voice" and general approach as "Love Nina", only this time the narrative is presented as being fictional rather than autobiographical. The trouble is, this FEELS very autobiographical, and the ambiguity this creates (did that actually happen to the author or not?) robs "Man At The Helm" of all its interest for me. The success of "Love Nina" is down to the reader thinking "that's amazing/hilarious/bizarre BECAUSE it's true . . . ". With the follow-up I found myself thinking "that would be amazing/hilarious/bizarre IF it's true . . . if not, it's just a random load of make-believe". Odd to criticize a piece of fiction for being made-up, but Nina Stibbe's wonderful first book is an impossible act to follow with fiction . . . with or without a man at the helm.


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