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Roger Risborough (Richmond)

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For Fukui's Sake: Two years in rural Japan
For Fukui's Sake: Two years in rural Japan
by Sam Baldwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Receptive And Respectful Visitor, 25 May 2015
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I really enjoyed reading this as a companion to my own travels round Japan. Sam Baldwin, as a newly arrived English teacher in out-of-the-way Japan, is a receptive and respectful visitor, trying to unravel the various cryptic aspects of Japanese life and society. His two years in Fukui, allow him to write individual essays on different aspects of life - ranging from rock concerts to rock climbing, and from Tokyo city breaks to paddling an inflatable canoe on a deserted lake. By the end, the author is reduced to tears by the prospect of his time in Japan being over, and I was also sorry to finish the last page.


Away From the Numbers: to be someone in the 1980's
Away From the Numbers: to be someone in the 1980's
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Mange Tout, Tony, Mange Tout, 24 May 2015
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Tony Beesley sets out to write a memoir about his formative years of life and music in Rawmarsh, Rotherham, during the 1980s, influenced by his two big role models, Paul Weller (for his ducking-and-diving street nous) and Derek Trotter (for his song-writing skills and social conscience). The Only Fools And Horses theme runs deeper, because the Kindle edition of this at least, looks like it's been proof-read/formatted by Trigger (you self-publishers!). Look, I don't want to go all Boycie on Tony by sneering at the Beesley/Trotters, but the author's writing style does borrow heavily from Del Boy's rather free-form use of the English language and its various colloquialisms. But like DB, you can't fault TB for his boundless enthusiasm and optimism in his quest to get to the top. "This time next year, our John, we'll be pop stars". "What's that? You're kicking me out of my own band?". "OK, this time next year, our Gary, I'll be a solo singer-song-writer, in whatever style was in about two years ago, be it Punk, Mod, Ska, New Romantic, Soul-Boy-Casual, or, er, Mod again (unless it involves me getting out of bed in the morning or staying out of the pub)". Bits of this are hilarious, particularly when Tony strays into politics ("I'm staunchly anti-racist but I do a great line in national stereo-type gags"), relationships, or in fact anything other than music, because the boy Beesley has got great taste in tunes, and my time in Sheffield over-lapped with much of this book, so I can remember being at some of the exact gigs that Tony went to (Undertones, Skids, Clash - I wonder if it was my pint that Tony nicked that night at Top Rank?).
What Tony really wants is to be is the centre of attention, but because his own attention span is shorter that the Rawmarsh Conservative Club members list, he really struggles to stick with anything long enough to be a success (assuming he has the raw materials to BE a success?). Anyway, writing is Tony's new medium for being the centre of attention, and what he has produced here is a compelling account of a great age of gigs and music, but more importantly a fascinating social history of an area and and an era where things have already changed forever.
I know in giving this 5 stars, I'm putting it on a pedestal with "War And Peace" and "To Kill A Mockingbird", but maybe "this time next year, our Rodney, we'll be at them Booker T and the MGs awards". Why not? I really enjoyed it.


The Story of the Beatles' Last Song (Kindle Single)
The Story of the Beatles' Last Song (Kindle Single)
Price: £2.32

2.0 out of 5 stars Venus or Mars?, 24 May 2015
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This is a very thin book (especially after you take out all the bibliography/index stuff) based on a thin idea to squeeze out another supposedly academic work about The Beatles that hasn't been done before. That's quite a tough brief (the "not having-been-done-before" bit) and in fact many others have written about this song but in other larger, works. Does this song deserve a book all of its own? Probably not, but if it does, it deserves a far better writer than James Woodall, whose trying-too-hard-to be-a-good-writer style is unreadable for long periods (particularly in the early stages when he really was trying much too hard to squeeze the words out). Woodall purports to be a big Beatles' fan, but how can someone have missed The Beatles for most of the 60s and only heard about them "at boarding school" when the time of the band was all but over? What planet was he living on? And which one is he on now?


Romany and Tom: A Memoir
Romany and Tom: A Memoir
by Ben Watt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars Life's Wobbly See-Saw, 3 May 2015
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There is no doubt that this book got published because of Ben Watt's profile as a musician, but thank goodness he was able to use that lever to bring his story to the rest of us. This is a real "everyman" tale, of parents, childhood, family, and that precarious phase when you are poised at the fulcrum of life's wobbly see-saw, with declining parents teetering at one end and young children bouncing up and down at the other end. Ben attempts to piece together "Romany and Tom's" back-story at a time when he is shuttling between care homes, hospitals and their general descent down the property ladder, trying to make his parents' lives as bearable as possible. Everything is laid bare in the process - family secrets, parental failings and faults, and the author's own demons. I can imagine the writer's struggle with how best to tell the story, given its complexity and chronology. What emerges is a fragmentary collage of fading memories and revived recollections from long ago, reflecting exactly what our family stories are like - most of us know embarrassingly little about our parents' and grandparents' lives, but by the time we realise that, it's generally too late to find out what we want to know. Fortunately, Ben Watt realised in time, and if his book wasn't published in time for many of the people involved to read it, there is lots here for the rest of us to reflect on, and perhaps try to grab hold of those around us while we can as a result.


The Greengage Summer
The Greengage Summer
Price: £4.68

4.0 out of 5 stars Forbidden Fruit, 30 Mar. 2015
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This is a charming rites of passage tale that is very much in the spirit of The Go Between (and hence Atonement) and The Railway Children. I'm surprised I'd never come across it before (nor the film that it was made into starring Kenneth Moore, Susannah York and Jane Asher) but as in L. P. Hartley's Edwardian tale, this is essentially a story about adults using children for their own ends, and exposing all the frailties of being "grown-ups" in the process, against an idyllic backdrop of summer and countryside. Here, our narrator is Cecil, the second of five children cast adrift in a Champagne hotel by their mother's hospitalisation. Strangely in the film, Cecil's role has been edited out altogether (I suppose the film tells its own story rather than requiring a narrator?), but in the book she is our eyes and ears as the Grey family become intoxicated by their Greengage Summer and get their first tastes of various forbidden fruits. This intoxication is inevitably followed by drunkenness and severe hang-over, as the adults in the story ripen and then rot in the eyes of the children.


Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life)
Late Fragments: Everything I Want to Tell You (About This Magnificent Life)
Price: £7.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This Magnificent Book . . ., 19 Mar. 2015
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The title, "Late Fragments", is a reference to Raymond Carver's poem "Late Fragment" ("And did you get what
you wanted from this life . . . ?"), but there is nothing remotely fragmentary about Kate Gross's wonderful book. It is a series of sharp, precise, cohesive essays about different aspects of the author's life (friendship; childhood memories; the family unit; her work; her husband; etc) and her imminent death (how the shock-waves of one's grief affect others; what happens afterwards) as she deals with cancer. For any writer, the clarity of thought and expression here would be exceptional, but for one enduring chemotherapy and other drugs (as well as the horror of the diagnosis/prognosis), it is truly remarkable - every word rings true, every sentence makes you want to write it down, and every chapter stops you in your tracks with agreement, realisation, tears and joy. Her description of the "Spiral of Grief" distils something I've often thought about, but would never have been able to put into words (or pictures), as she manages.
Carver's poem continues with:
"And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth."
Kate Gross was clearly beloved on earth, and thanks to her magnificent book, we can all join in with that love.


A Pleasure and a Calling
A Pleasure and a Calling
Price: £5.42

3.0 out of 5 stars Gazumped, 16 Mar. 2015
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William Heming is an unlikely hero. Firstly he's an estate agent, secondly he has a penchant for voyeurism and being an uninvited "hider-in-the-house", but most disturbingly, many of those he comes into contact with tend to die. So why a "hero"? Well maybe it's the first person narrative structure (for the chapters in the present, anyway) that draws you into his confidence, or maybe it's the fact that he seems to do good things for bad reasons, but it's hard not to end up rooting for this creepy key-collector, as impending doom closes in on him. Do his crimes pay-off, or does his sale fall through? I won't spoil the end, but for me, after an exciting build-up, come the completion date I couldn't help feeling like I'd been gazumped.


More Fool Me
More Fool Me
Price: £5.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More Fool Them, 26 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: More Fool Me (Kindle Edition)
And to think I almost didn't buy this, based on the huge number of indifferent or down-right negative reviews on Amazon.
I have previously listened to and loved the first two installments of Stephen Fry's autobiography (you just HAVE to listen to Stephen telling his own story rather than reading it yourself) and this is truly another great installment. Other reviewers have heavily criticised each of the three distinct sections of this book - firstly a summary of the first two books; to me this was great, and it was fascinating to hear the author musing on his earlier musings. Secondly, tales from his London life in the late 80s and early 90s, and the first trappings of success and coked-up-celebrity. Again, for me, brilliant - anecdotes about Kenneth Brannagh, John Mills, Frank Sinatra and numerous others are fascinating, funny and moving, And the last section, direct diary extracts from August to November 1993 when Stephen was writing what turned out to be The Hippopotamus, are a wonderful insight into how someone actually writes a book whilst spinning the conflicting plates of working hard and playing harder. I don't understand why people criticise the diary extracts when I could happily listen to Stephen Fry reading his diary about any day of the week, on any day of the week. Those that just didn't get it, More Fool Them. I can't wait for Stephen Fry Part Four, in whatever form it takes.


Moonraker: James Bond 007
Moonraker: James Bond 007
Price: £5.49

4.0 out of 5 stars From Dover With Love, 16 Feb. 2015
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Like another recent reviewer, I read this following Stephen Fry's recommendation of it in his latest autobiography. And he's right. Moonraker is a gem of a book that I'd somehow missed (along with the film). Fleming brilliantly captures post-war/Cold-War London in this early Bond novel that is distinctive for being wholly set in London and Kent, and one that couldn't be simpler and sparer in its set-up and climax. When they made the film, they ditched this contained Englishness and went (I now understand) for something ludicrous involving space, volcanoes and Roger Moore, completely missing the essence of the book. Hugo Drax is a vividly drawn Bond villain and again the film-makers lost the plot completely when casting him (as well as Bond). In the book, we get the definitive James Bond - excelling at the card table, flaunting his connoisseurship of exotic alcoholic drinks and canapes, chasing the girl, and of course, saving London (if not the World). I'd love to see Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig have a go at this one.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 2, 2015 6:28 PM GMT


Spend Game (Lovejoy 4)
Spend Game (Lovejoy 4)
Price: £4.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The (Love)Joy of Essex, 10 Feb. 2015
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Lovejoy is the original Essex Man . . . a ducker, a diver, and a divvie . . . that means someone with the magical gift of being able to divine the presence of true antiques. That's a great basis for a series of hero-in-peril novels in the Dick Francis mould. This is the fourth in the Lovejoy series - I've read a few previously and hearing that the TV series is to be reborn with more emphasis on the original source material, I thought I'd try another of the books. This is an enjoyable romp with all the same positives and negatives from previous readings. The positives are Lovejoy himself; the Essex-estuary setting (little villages full of big characters, boozy pubs, antiques shops and dealers) but more than anything, the little nuggets of antiques history and information (different in every book but here including locks, railway memorabilia and "treen") that stud the whole story. The negatives? Well this was written in a hurry in the pre-laptop era and could have done with a lot more crafting - many of the descriptions of action and situation may have made sense in the author's head, but they often don't to the reader. The biggest minus, though, is the apparent need for these stories to climax with some improbable maelstrom of danger, fisticuffs, blood, sweat and tears. That's a shame, because that approach detracts from a lot of the earlier cosy antiquey stuff. These are novels of two halves - great beginnings, but with boringly predictable, physical endings. So overall, lots to enjoy, less to love.


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