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Roger Risborough (Richmond)

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Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink
Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink
by Elvis Costello
Edition: Audio CD

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappearing Ink? I wish it would, 4 Dec. 2016
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Elvis Costello is a construct. That construct's real name is Declan MacManus. He is not from Liverpool, his formative years were all spent in Twickenham so where that accent came from, who knows. And so the construct gets deconstructed in this book, as do just about all the lyrics he has ever written, as he embarrassingly wallows in explaining his great art to his adoring audience. Only it turns out not to be great art, and this member of the audience is no longer adoring. What a horrible autobiography! Where do I start (or continue)? Structurally, this is a complete mess. The author's stylistic determination to avoid straight-line-chronlogy-biography means that everything gets jumbled-up into an incoherent kaleidoscope with all colour drained out of it and the sense you must be looking through the wrong end. Costello wants to be loved, and he wants to be seen as a deeply caring, deeply intellectual, all round great guy . . . the trouble is, the more he tries to impress you with his intellect, the more you realise how little of it there is, and the more he keeps telling you how much he CARES about people and issues, the more you realise that he is just an "issue butterfly" who has a habit of conspiculously and colourfully landing on whatever is currently right-on at any given time, but without any real impact. Like lots of autodidacts, he is desperate to establish how clever he is every time he speaks, but again, silence would have been a better weapon in that battle than 688 pages of this blather. Disappearing Ink? I wish it would.


The Past
The Past
by Tessa Hadley
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.79

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Writing A Novel Isn't Just About Joining-Up All The Dots . . ., 4 Dec. 2016
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This review is from: The Past (Paperback)
I'd never heard of Tessa Hadley before, but I now know that she teaches creative writing . . . and no doubt her courses tell students how to learn the trade-tricks of structure, plot and characterisation. In this novel, she herself unashamedly admits in the acknowledgements that the whole structure of this is lifted from another book. Structure set, Hadley then duly delivers 12 chapters to tell her story - the first six in 'the present', then three in 'the past' and predictably three more to finish off, back in the present. And each chapter is just about identical in length, each feeling as if it has been driven primarily by word-count . . . but this is not how you write novels! The creative process isn't just about joining the dots of predetermined chapter headings and filling the blank space in between. There has to be much more than that - including things like imagination, drama, jeopardy, emotion, credibility, creativity and empathy, all of which are sadly absent from "The Past". This was very disappointing, and in the end amounts to very little - it is impossible to care for any of the (very cliched, very clumsy) characters or their (supposed) dilemmas, which in reality are just the self-obsessed worries of a wet, neurotice middle class English family. In the end, who cares?


Magpie Murders: the Sunday Times bestseller crime thriller with a fiendish twist
Magpie Murders: the Sunday Times bestseller crime thriller with a fiendish twist
by Anthony Horowitz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £9.99

11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A PURE GEM (and more), 27 Oct. 2016
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Whodunnit writers everywhere can put down their (poisoned) pens and feed all those red herrings to the cat, because Anthony Horowitz has written the ultimate version of the genre, and no more contributions are required! In the context of classic crime fiction, this is part lampoon, part tribute, part history, part pastiche, but at all times fully enjoyable and compelling. Horowitz gives us a veritable Matryoshka doll of a novel involving a book that is in a series of books, in a book, with other books involved. The reader is presented with several possible murders from these various stories to try to unravel - so even if you get one wrong, you get other chances to feel good about yourself. This cleverly deals with that dichotomy of the Whodunnit - ie if you don't solve it you feel disappointed for not spotting the key clues, but if you do solve it, that sort of spoils the fun and it feels too easy. Here, I got one death right in all respects, one right but for the wrong reasons, and another one wrong in all respects, so as I say, the author has covered all bases. This is a post-modern book of layers and puzzles and riddles, but most of all it is a book of love and nostalgia for those past-masters of the wonderful world of death in cosy English surroundings. Agatha Christe, Conan Doyle, Dorothy L Sayers et al all get regular name-checks and multiple references to their detective creations, but with Magpie Murders, Anthony Horowitz has earned the right to join their elite club.


Home and Away: Round Britain in Search of Non-League Football Nirvana
Home and Away: Round Britain in Search of Non-League Football Nirvana
by Dave Roberts
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.38

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Van Man, 30 Aug. 2016
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Dave Roberts, author of the fantastic "32 Programmes" takes us on another footballing journey. This time, it's a journey not back in time as with 32 Programmes, but instead to football's non-league backwaters as he follows his beloved Bromley FC in their first year in the Football League's 5th tier, the wonderfully named Vanarama League. Bromley's promotion to this league happens to coincide with Roberts' own return to the UK after 30 years of self-imposed exile overseas. For an unspecified reason, our intrepid (but largely potless) author bases himself in Leeds for this exercise, so it is the away fixtures that become his focus in what he bills as a Bill Bryson-type investigation of the state-of-the-nation, and how it has changed in his absence. In truth, what emerges, as his journeys take him as far north as Gateshead, as far west as Wrexham, as far south as Torquay, and generally deep into his over-draft, is more Motsonesque than Brysonesque, as he busies himself mostly with statistics and programme content rather than too many cultural observations aside from the state of the train network and M&S's latest snack range. Roberts' low-point in the season comes when he is mistaken for a trainspotter by Scunthorpe fans on Doncaster railway station, but his devotion to Bromley is that of the helpless fanatic who just can't get enough of league tables, match predictions, club gossip, commentaries and highlights programmes on BT Sport. And this is all very infectious! even for non-Bromley fans . . . I raced through this in a couple of days, all the time saying to myself, "just one more chapter, just a couple more matches" (all the time resisting the urge to google the final league table) and before I knew it I was at the end of the book and the end of Bromley's roller-coaster season. Aside from the football-book-writing-task, this year on the road was also our author's chance to convince himself and his wife to come back home for good. Let's hope he makes the right decision, because the "Bromley Geezers" need him (as much as he needs them) and so do all fans of great sports books.


Our Endless Numbered Days
Our Endless Numbered Days
by Claire Fuller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.58

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Daddy, My Daddy, 27 Aug. 2016
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"Peggy was a normal girl to begin with . . . ." A thorough working knowledge of E Nesbit's The Railway Children is a big help in reading this surprising debut novel. Surprising, because I expected Claire Fuller's book to be another humdrum tangled family history, but it goes way beyond "tangled" into a twisted fairy-tale world of Doomsday delusions, kidnap, incest and mental collapse. Oh, and general family dysfunction too, of course. Both books are about father/daughter relationships, but the contrast between the idyllic Edwardian world of Bobby/Phyllis/Peter with Peggy's post-Apocalyptic "Good Life" with her "papa", couldn't be more startling and is a constant strand through Peggy's tale. As I said, you have to know the old book to understand all the clues in the new one . . . I spotted the key one straight away, but then had mixed feelings about the rest of the story - split between pride in having worked it out but disappointment in knowing what had happened long before the final reveal, in that house in Hampstead in 1985, where neither Papa, nor anyone else, is wanted now.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 22, 2016 9:44 AM BST


A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment
A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment
Price: £4.99

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Complete Justice, 19 Aug. 2016
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I loved this book and galloped through it in a couple of days. I was born in 1960 so remember most of what is covered time-scale wise, and I have a very early memory of my grandfather confidently predicting that Jeremy Thorpe would win the Liberal leadership battle, so he was as fooled by Thorpe's oleaginous charm as everyone else was at the time. The picture of Jeremy Thorpe that emerges from this book though is a scathing one - he is depicted as being out for himself at every turn and at whatever cost to friends, family and foes alike. How he even became a Liberal is a bit of a mystery, because he exemplifies entitled ex-Etonia . . . and in fact the only things he was "liberal" with appear to have been his own re-writing of morals, rules, laws and history to suit his own ends. Of course, he is in part a victim of his era's terrible legal and social persecution of homosexuality, which meant he was forced to lead a secret life, but he wasn't forced to also commit acts of sexual assault, fraud, bullying, lieing, misappropriation of funds, conspiracy to murder, etc, etc, as apparently alleged by the various other characters in this book. And history now turns a very different spotlight on campaign teams that were made up of Thorpe, Cyril Smith, Clement Freud and Jimmy Savile. So there is social history and political history to enjoy here, but more than that, there are two things that make this such a compelling read. Firstly the author - John Preston has done a wonderful job of digesting the many versions of events from the individuals involved in this (their biographies, press interviews and court material as well as personal interviews) and then magically turning all this into a completely coherent single narrative that appears to explain all. The second key point is that this single narrative is an unbelievable page-turner. The actual events and actions in this confound belief at every step - everyone involved just makes the worst possible choice whenever a moral junction presents itself - Jeremy Thorpe, Norman Scott (for he is not just a helpless victim in all this), Peter Bessell, David Holmes, "Gino" Newton, Justice Cantley, Harold Wilson, the Establishment generally, everyone, just self-destruct at every opportunity through stupidity, vanity, ignorance, desperation, prejudice, fear or down-right nastiness. Almost 40 years on from Thorpe's trial, it seems clear that justice wasn't done in court, but John Preston has done complete justice to the telling of this extraordinary tale.


Absolutely Foxed
Absolutely Foxed
Price: £5.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Falling Fowl Of The Authorities, 9 July 2016
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This review is from: Absolutely Foxed (Kindle Edition)
Foxy Fowler is clearly a man of complexity and contradiction. A natural right-hander who batted left-handed, he was a slip of a lad apparently influenced by Haircut 100 in his 80s persona, who is now (or was until recently) a grizzly-bearded, bespectacled dissident voice in the world of modern cricket. He was a die-hard Lancastrian, who ended-up being sacked by that dyed-in-the-wool county side, enabling him to join the new-kids-on-the-county-block, Durham. He started as a mid-order slogger but emerged as an opener and keeper. And for someone who was often the life-and-soul of the party (he tried to bite a chunk out of Elton John's manager one night in Australia) he is now prone to debilitating bouts of depression. So lots of stuff to wrap an interesting autobiography round. Fowler starts by paying his dues . . . to Bumble, to Beefy, to his family, and various others who inspired (or provoked) him along his way to 20 plus tests and a double century in India. His test career was just getting into full swing when it was taken away from him by a pain in the neck - whether that was due to an earlier car crash or the return of the banned Graham Gooch isn't absolutely clear, but what shines through every chapter is Foxy's willingness to state his mind, whoever it may upset. And there's lots that needed saying - this book paints a woeful picture of how cricket used to be run at county AND national levels - by small minded box tickers, devoid of creativity and immune to innovation. That willingness to make himself heard has played for and against him over the years, but it did get him the job as the head of the Durham University Centre of Cricketing Excellence - somewhere that produced more than its share of England players during his time there. Having to leave that post triggered another bout of severe depression for the author, and writing about this condition is part of his own coping-strategy for it. All of that is eye-opening and important, but where I ended-up really warming to Foxy was right at the end where he shares some of his thoughts for how cricket needs to respond to an ever-changing world. Fascinating - and enough to convince me that here is someone who, having played himself into numerous aspects of English (and Australian) cricket over the last 40 years, should really be back at the top of the sport's order now, whether in helping people understand mental health issues, or establishing all-weather cricket.


Following On: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession and Terrible Cricket
Following On: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession and Terrible Cricket
Price: £7.12

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Negotiating The Nervous Nineties, 26 Jun. 2016
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I bought this on the strength of the title and some of the reviews, without really picking-up what exactly it was covering. And then when I found out, I was initially a bit disappointed . . . because charting one of England's least memorable cricketing decades doesn't promise a roller-coaster read. But after playing myself in and getting used to the (author's) pitch, I started to enjoy it. Emma John's obsession with cricket, inspired by her mum, was unfortunately sparked when England's first XI was either: (a) facing some of the best players in the history of cricket (the players' view) or (b) a bunch of spineless surrender monkeys (the press perspective). The author isn't really interested in results, she's more taken by the mysterious personalities lurking behind those helmet grills, so in her quest to get to know the men-in-the-masks, she tracks eleven of them down to get their perspectives now on those nervous 90s and their team-mates. This is a great way to tell the story and a great way to reveal her addiction to the game, it's just a shame that there aren't many surprises, because so many of her interviewees are now high-profile media men (Hussain, Tuffers, Ramps etc). So its the lesser lights who make the most interesting chapters - Jack Russell, "Creepy" Crawley and Andy Caddick to name three. The final chapter, though, goes to her real idol - Mike Atherton, whom she unrequietedly loved through his extended stay as England captain and wept with grief over when he retired. When she eventually meets him, she is almost too nervous to serve up anything other than full tosses rather than yorkers, and Athers is too old a hand at this sort of thing to do other than play everything with a very straight bat. But he does reveal that by the end of his tenure, his big emotion was relief - and the realisation that obsessing about hitting ball with bat (or trying to) is just a childlike thing that you eventually grow out of. He may have done, but Emma John certainly hasn't - and she has written this warm, witty memoir to prove it.


Bel Canto
Bel Canto
by Ann Patchett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.23

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Being Held Captive Against Your Will, 8 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Bel Canto (Paperback)
This is all about a group of people being held captive against their will, and deprived of their normal requisites . Unfortunately, the group of people in question is the readers, and the "normal requisites" include jeopardy, depth of charaterisation, credible plot-lines and emotional engagement. Or at least those were some of my literary expectations of this much-lauded novel in advance of actually being taken prisoner, sorry, starting to read it. Of course, some of the captives get released early - generally the unattached readers not tied to book-club demands to actually finish their selected titles. That was my story - out of loyalty to my group, I stuck it out to the bitter end, if only to find out what it all leads to. The answer is anti-climax and disappointment. The central message in this vanilla-version of the awful reality of kidnapping is that you can turn trauma into self-realisation via those stock aspects of most hostage scenarios, ie singing arias, cooking chicken, and, er, gardening . . . . the fluffiness is further embellished by floppy love stories and a convenient emotional denouement that pours sugar all over the vanilla. By the end, I felt relieved to be released, but slightly sick.


The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (Complete Classics)
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (Complete Classics)
by Alan Garner
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £20.41

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Underground, Overground, Waffling Free . . ., 2 Jun. 2016
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This book was written the year I was born, 1960, and having read it and loved it as a teenager, I thought I would review it now, via the unabridged audiobook version. Is that fair? Not sure really, because my conclusion is only 3 stars now. There seem to be 2 big issues with this "fantasy" genre: firstly, it seems to be immune from proper editing (Tolkein, Rowling and definitely Garner just write far too much, far too unevenly), and secondly, authors make a choice of writing "pure" fantasy (Tolkein), or (as in this case) fantasy that touches the real world (Garner, Rowling, Lewis). My preference is definitely the fantasy/real world combination, so that is a big plus for Weirdstone - in fact the Alderley Legend and the real locations and imagined 'real' people (especially Gowther) are the big strengths of the book. Where TWOB really falls down, though, is with the editing issue. The book is just FAR too long, rambling and unbalanced. Essentially, after the initial scene-setting, assembling of characters and inciting incident (the disappearance of the "Weirdstone"), this is really just two incredibly drawn-out descriptions of two incredibly drawn-out journeys, one underground, and one over-ground. And boy, does the author waffle freely on each journey . . . in fact the second journey is a completely ludicrous plot device to spin out the tension - in their quest to return the Weirdstone to a certain place by a certain time, Colin, Susan, Gowther and two dwarves (whose spelling escapes my memory) opt not to travel by bus, train or car, but decide instead for the much safer option of going cross-country on foot through the night! This sojourn is so drawn out that by the time it ends and they are confronted by their arch enemy, I'd completely forgotten his name and where he fitted into the story! My other criticism, is that for a story that relies on its connection to the real world for its contrast and impact, our two main protagonists, Colin and Susan are as incredibly under-developed character-wise, as their names suggest. What do they look like? How old are they? What are they thinking about? No idea. They are as bland as their names suggest. Weirdly disappointing, despite Philip Madoc's excellent narration.


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