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Brighton Marathon done in 4:32:01, London Marathon in 4:38:47. A little over £1200 (including Gift Aid) raised for Macmillan Cancer Support.

Reviews written

since 30/08/2002

690

The Humans - Matt Haig 14/10/2017

Deserving Haig Praise

The Humans - Matt Haig I remember once reading about a distraction technique used whereby someone was trying to explain a difficult concept to a dog or a flea. The concept behind Matt Haig's "The Humans" feels a little bit like that. How would you explain humanity to a being from another planet, especially if you were from that planet and were not just visiting Earth for the first time, but had become suddenly integrated into life here? The reason for the alien's visit is because Cambridge University Professor Andrew Martin has just proved the Riemann hypothesis, one of the great unsolved problems of mathematics. A race of aliens had previously solved this problem and it advanced their civilisation so profoundly that they have realised that humans aren't ready for this information and so they have removed the real professor and replaced them with one of their own and tasked him with removing Professor Martin's family and anyone he may have told about his proof of the hypothesis. Thinking that humans are a primitive species, no-one expects this mission to be problematic. After all, he is from a far more advanced race, who are above such conceits as love and family and so is unlikely to form any attachments to his intended victims and his special gifts would make killing them easy. Unfortunately, his lack of knowledge about the planet does cause initial problems, as this alien race are also above the concept of clothing and money, which results in a swift arrest, news coverage and a brief stay in a ...

What's New Pussycat? - Alexandra Potter 03/10/2017

Nothing New Here

What's New Pussycat? - Alexandra Potter I always enjoy discovering new authors on my wife’s side of the bookcase, although as her tastes tend to lean towards chick-lit, it’s not always an entirely pleasurable experience, particularly as the genre itself tends to be very cliched. But every author is different, so it’s only fair to give them a fair chance. Sadly, “What’s New, Pussycat” falls into most of the genre clichés going. Right from the start, a book titled after a Tom Jones song that features a lead character called Delilah doesn’t exactly smack of originality. Sadly, things don’t really improve greatly from this point, as Delilah has hit a point where she can’t take life in Bradford with her boyfriend of 10 years any more, when she bumps into film maker Charlie Mendes in A&E, who suggests she looks him up if she’s ever in London. Predictably, Delilah heads almost immediately for London and starts looking for him, hampered slightly by losing Charlie’s business card. She also bumps into a guy in a café, Sam, who not only falls for Delilah, but introduces her to his friend Vivienne, a larger than life character who invites Delilah into her home. Delilah sees Vivienne as a new friend, but also sees Sam the same way, much to his disappointment. Sam looks to find a way to change the way Delilah feels about him, whilst she is hunting to find what she had lost with her boyfriend with Charlie. As is so often the case with two men fighting over the same woman in a chick-lit novel, they are known to each other and ...

Dead Famous - Ben Elton 30/09/2017

Not Famous, But Certainly Not Dead

Dead Famous - Ben Elton I remember when Ben Elton was a stand-up comedian and hated pretty much everything that was popular or part of the establishment. Given his history, when “Big Brother” launched in the UK in 2000 and became an immediate hit, it wasn’t a surprise when Elton’s 2001 novel “Dead Famous”, should take aim at such a mainstream television show, although he could possibly have been accused of cashing in on its popularity when “Dead Famous” reached the top of the bestsellers lists, especially as a number of the characters were heavily based on people who had been in the early series of the show. In “Dead Famous”, there has been a murder in the “House Arrest” house. One of the people in the house has been evicted in the most extreme and permanent of ways. The cameras all showed the moment, although very few people watching were aware of what exactly was going on and, despite all the evidence, the identity of the murderer is unclear, putting all the remaining housemates under suspicion. It is down to Coleridge, an older detective completely out of touch with modern culture, to watch all the stored footage from their time in the house to try and figure out motive, opportunity and culprit. The best thing about the novel and possibly one of the few good things here, is the way the mystery is presented. Quite early on in the novel, the suspects are all lined up in a row, under “House Arrest” as it were. However, in an interesting twist on a murder mystery, the identity of the victim is not ...

The Temp - Serena Mackesy 22/09/2017

The Enjoyment is Only Temporary

The Temp - Serena Mackesy When I was first out of University, I took on several temporary jobs to make ends meet. Whilst this is a common job for many, it’s a working practice very rarely touched upon in chick-lit novels. Whilst many of the genre’s characters only seem to be at work temporarily and have time for meeting friends for lunch at any and all times of the day, the transient nature of work isn’t touched upon. In this aspect, Serena Mackesy’s “The Temp” comes a little closer to reality than many chick-lit novels. The title character still lives in a shared house with friends from her University days and is working a series of short-term jobs just to pay the bills, which appears to be beyond a couple of her flatmates, one of whom is her boyfriend, Matt. As if being ignored at work wasn’t bad enough, she is looked down on at home by Tania, who is “something in the City” and further depressed by Donna, who is a social worker and has an even worse job than The Temp. For a large part of the book, this is a highly realistic look at everyday life for many. The Temp goes through a lot of jobs, meeting people with foibles and quirks along the way. She’s looked down upon by any number of people, struggles to make the rent, can’t find a seat on the Northern Line and ends up dealing with an overfilled dustbin in the early hours of the morning because no-one else in the house had thought to do it. There is much here which is horribly familiar to many of us. The characters are very well written, too. ...

Big Hero 6 (Blu-ray) 30/06/2017

Not Big, Not Clever

Big Hero 6 (Blu-ray) My wife is a huge fan of Disney aminations and has a long list of the ones she doesn’t yet have on Blu-Ray or DVD, from which she selects whenever someone asks her for ideas for birthday or Christmas presents. This collection started long before I met her, but “Big Hero 6” has a special place in our collection as it was one of the first films we saw in the cinema as a married couple. Hiro Hamada is a teenager living in the city of San Fransokyo with his older brother, a robotics expert, and their aunt as their parents have passed away. Hiro is also a robotics expert, but instead of studying at college like his brother, he makes money by illegally betting on robot fighting. After a show which gives Hiro a place at college, his brother is killed in a fire and Hiro’s mini robots are presumed destroyed. Shortly after, Hiro finds his brother left behind his latest project, Baymax, a personal healthcare robot. Discovering that the fire might not have been an accident and that a mysterious masked figure might be behind it, Hiro upgrades Baymax and enlists him and his brother’s friends to get revenge and reclaim Hiro’s stolen robots. In terms of the storyline, this is very much a standard superhero film. A main character is driven by a desire for revenge, having to cope when circumstances are against him and makes new friends as well as finding things out about themselves along the way. The outsider is initially unwilling to be a part of a team, preferring not to accept help from ...

Doctor Strange (Blu-ray) 31/05/2017

Another Great Marvel Film - Nothing Strange About That!

Doctor Strange (Blu-ray) Whilst I’m a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe anyway, the aspect of “Doctor Strange” that intrigued me most was the casting of Benedict Cumberbatch as the eponymous hero. Whilst playing a flawed, socially awkward genius is nothing new to him, having excelled in roles such as the drug-addicted Sherlock Holmes in BBC’s “Sherlock” and the sexually conflicted Alan Turing in “The Imitation Game”, as well as the title role in “Hamlet”, none of those roles requires the sort of action sequences your average Marvel superhero goes through, even allowing for the jogging scenes in “The Imitation Game”. I was interested to see how Cumberbatch might succeed at changing the pace, at least in a physical sense. The film opens at the ending of a ritual with a beheading and a theft of a page from a chained book, after which the thief is attacked by a strange hooded figure. Elsewhere, Doctor Stephen Strange is performing brain surgery before being asked to consult on a patient with a bullet in his brain which, with remarkable dexterity, he removes. Looking for a case which will interest him, Strange is involved in a serious car accident which leaves him with nerve damage in his hands which prevents him working as the famous neurosurgeon he is. Strange hears a story of a man who had a miraculous recovery from a broken back which resulted in paralysis, but who is now playing basketball and, when Strange tracks him down, he tells him that he found his answers in Kamar-Taj. During his ...

Simon's Cat : Beyond the Fence - Simon Tofield 12/05/2017

One Step Beyond

Simon's Cat : Beyond the Fence - Simon Tofield After the first Simon’s Cat book was such a success and the You Tube channel continued to grow, it was not surprising that there would be further books. The scope of the book has widened from the previous one, as the title “Simon’s Cat: Beyond the Fence” suggests. After some battles at home, during which Simon’s Cat takes on a rival cat, a tablecloth, a vacuum cleaner, a cuckoo clock and a piece of sellotape, an attempt by Simon to give him a shower is the final straw for Simon’s Cat and he decides it is time for him to leave home. With the help of his friendly local hedgehogs, he goes over the fence and beyond. On the other side of the fence, Simon’s Cat finds much he is not familiar with, from alarms to farmyard animals, fish, other cats and dogs and a wide variety of birds. As is usual, Simon’s Cat wants little more than to be fed, although his attempts at obtaining food are frequently thwarted, by not liking the way an owl wants to feed him and not knowing the workings of a cow. Due to the more expansive nature of the setting for the drawings, there is wider appeal here than to the first book. Cat owners and lovers will probably still enjoy this more than non-cat fans, but there is a wide enough variety of wildlife and situations here that anyone familiar with the outdoors will most likely recognise some of the scenarios and the inclusion of a cat into the middle of them will potentially add a little extra humour to the familiar. Once again, the drawings are ...

Simon's Cat - Simon Tofield 08/05/2017

Cool For Cats

Simon's Cat - Simon Tofield I’m not sure if my wife’s fandom of Simon’s Cat counts as an obsession, but she watches every video that creator Simon Tofield posts on YouTube, and has a Simon’s Cat keyring so large as to count as a child’s toy rather than just a keyring. Whilst there aren’t yet enough books to fill an entire shelf of a bookcase, every time there is a new one available, it comes a little closer. When you consider that the first YouTube video was uploaded in March 2008 and this, the first book in the collection, was published in October 2009, it shows how long she has been a fan. This first Simon’s Cat book is a collection of drawings, more than a graphic novel, showing Simon’s Cat in action, even when “in action” is just trying to find a place to sleep. That said, Simon’s Cat’s favourite activities revolve around eating, whether that is being fed by Simon, or trying to catch something wild to eat in his garden. The former is what tends to happen more often, as whether it is birds, hedgehogs, or fish, the animals in the garden all seem to be smarter than Simon’s Cat. Whatever the cat is up to, many of the pictures here will be instantly familiar to cat owners. Admittedly, they are heavily anthropomorphised and show Simon’s Cat using and carrying all kinds of tools and items that a cat couldn’t possibly utilise, but that only adds to the humour here, especially when he is trying to catch a bird or cause harm to Simon with such items. It helps that the drawings are very simply done, being ...

Dr. Horrible - Zack Whedon 27/04/2017

Horrible By Name, Not By Quality

Dr. Horrible - Zack Whedon I’m not a graphic novel collector by any means, but I do like picking up graphic novel versions of things I’m already a fan of to try them out in a different format. And because I’m more than just a little bit anal in that regard. One such graphic novel is Zack Whedon’s “Dr. Horrible and Other Horrible Stories”, which is a prequel to Zack and Josh Whedon’s highly entertaining web-series “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”. The graphic novel is essentially a collection of short stories, which isn’t something I had come across in my limited experience of graphic novels. However, it does provide the perfect way to introduce all the major players in “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” with introductions to Captain Hammer, and Dr. Horrible, the latter’s henchman Moist, love interest Penny and Bad Horse and his Evil League of Evil, who are only mentioned fleetingly in the show. All the stories focus on the characters’ lives leading up to a period shortly before the start of the series, some going back further than others. In a world where it seems every superhero film or show has an origin story, this is a fantastic way for the show to achieve it and to find a Whedon doing something a little different is no surprise at all. None of the stories are particularly long, but the format allows them to get a lot across in just a few pages. As you might expect from something that originated in the crazy minds of Joss and Zack Whedon, they’re all very funny stories and contain several in jokes, ...

Billy - Pamela Stephenson 13/04/2017

A Little About the Big Yin

Billy - Pamela Stephenson During the recent “Comic Relief” telethon, Billy Connolly made an appeal in which he referred to his Parkinson’s and prostate cancer, both of which he was diagnosed with in 2013 and his need for a haircut, which he has needed on and off since the 1960s. He also referred to the Billy Connolly I remember, a man who would happily parade around naked and tell jokes, although not always at the same time or in that order. For long-time fans of Bill Connolly, this biography, originally published in 2001, covers the man we knew and loved the best. Unlike many biographies, written by ghostwriters or people not terribly close to the subject, this is written by Pamela Stephenson, who has been married to him since 1989 and had first met him a decade before. She has shared his life for more than 30 years, from a point right beside Connolly. Connolly had a tough upbringing, deserted by his mother at a young age and later sexually abused by his father and not well treated by his aunts who were looking after him during a period when both parents were absent. He found work in shipyards, but what he most wanted was to be a folk singer and originally had some success at that, before the jokes and funny introductions to his songs became the main part of his act and he became a full-time comedian. The life caused the breakdown of his first marriage, although his second, to Pamela Stephenson, has been far more successful. The parts of the book which are focussed on Billy’s life story are very ...

Guns N' Roses: The Band That Time Forgot - Paul Stenning 02/04/2017

Rose Tint My World

Guns N' Roses: The Band That Time Forgot - Paul Stenning Quite a few years ago, I read an appalling unauthorised biography of Guns ‘N’ Roses guitarist, Slash, written by Paul Stenning. It was so bad, that I declared I wouldn’t be interested in reading any more of his output. Little did I know until a recent house move unearthed it, but I had another Paul Stenning book in my collection, his equally unauthorised biography of the whole band, “Guns ‘N’ Roses: The Band That Time Forgot” and I can’t bear to throw away a book unread, more’s the pity. The book tracks the band from their early days, growing up in various parts of the United States and with differing childhoods, but eventually all coming together in Los Angeles playing in bands. Eventually these bands came together in what would become an early version of Guns ‘N’ Roses. It didn’t take long for the band to gain a reputation for misbehaviour and excellent music, both of which would follow them for their entire career. The misbehaviour would cover addiction, occasions of violence both verbal and physical and relationship issues both within the band and without. For a book that claims to be a biography of the band, the telling of the story has more holes than a colander. The only band member whose childhood and younger years are covered in any detail is lead singer Axl Rose’s and even that only as explanation for some of his later actions and what came up in his therapy. The huge number of line-up changes are mentioned and some of the arguments and relationship breakdowns ...

Jonny: My Autobiography - Jonny Wilkinson 28/03/2017

Intensely Good

Jonny: My Autobiography - Jonny Wilkinson I don’t tend to have a lot of luck with raffles. At a recent event, I was fortunate enough to win a cut and blow dry, although sadly the prize didn’t include sufficient extra hair to allow me to fully enjoy it. I did have a little more luck the week before, coming home with a signed copy of Jonny Wilkinson’s 2011 book, “Jonny: My Autobiography”. Like many a rugby fan, I can tell you exactly where I was at the moment Jonny Wilkinson kicked the winning drop goal in the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final and I recall my hockey team standing around in the rain before a match later that morning, elated by an incredible sporting performance which we had already witnessed that day and were in no fit shape to emulate. At that time, all I knew of Jonny Wilkinson was his achievements on the field, but I had no idea of what he had to go through to get there. It seems that Jonny Wilkinson had the drive to be a great rugby player from a quite young age. He was a perfectionist who would attempt things over and over until he got them right. With this much pressure placed on his own shoulders, it’s hardly surprising that he also suffered greatly from performance anxiety and would regularly feel and be sick before matches. Even when he turned professional, this obsession would continue and grow, until he worked harder and longer than anyone else to be worthy of his place. With the development of his skills and every remarkable achievement, Wilkinson would face more pressure from himself, the fans ...

Robbie Williams: Angels and Demons - Paul Scott 21/03/2017

No Angels Here

Robbie Williams: Angels and Demons - Paul Scott My wife is crazy about everything Robbie Williams. She was never that big a Take That fan, as far as I can tell, but our various storage units each contain something from Robbie Williams; the DVD shelves, the CD shelves and the bookshelves all have something to do with Robbie she enjoys. There is one exception, however, in all this. One particular book about Robbie Williams, namely Paul Scott’s “Angels & Demons”. I’m not sure whether her ire is reserved for this one due to its 2003 publication leaving it horribly out of date now, or due to the writing style, or just because it’s an unauthorised biography – a type of book I’ve had issues with in the past. The book briefly touches on his younger days, particularly where it relates to his relationship with his father, but mostly focuses on Williams finding his love of performing and then joining Take That. However, it really kicks into gear when he splits from Take That and launches his solo career and the battles with alcohol, drugs and famous girlfriends that made him tabloid fodder for so many years. Despite all these issues, Williams was to sign a then record £80 million recording contract with EMI and release his 2002 album “Escapology” and it is at this point the book ends. The book has everything I would expect to see in an unauthorised biography. It’s very low on insight, but high on drama and tabloid style reporting which, given that the author is a former Sunday Mirror Showbusiness Editor, should come as no ...

The Scarlet Pimpernel - Emmuska Baroness Orczy 14/03/2017

Better Red Than Dead

The Scarlet Pimpernel - Emmuska Baroness Orczy Whilst modern superheroes are undergoing something of a golden age, with their gadgets and computer generated feats, the stories of a century old equivalent aren’t to be sniffed at. Whilst the story of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” may be lacking in some of the explosions of modern Marvel and DC film and television adaptation and the hero had to survive on wits and cunning rather than weapons and vehicles, I found this to be an equally rewarding read. France is undergoing a revolution and many of the former ruling aristocrats are literally losing their heads at the prospect, thanks to liberal use of the guillotine. However, others are escaping the country, aided by a group of Englishmen led by a man known only as the Scarlet Pimpernel. He has come by this name thanks to the notes received following every successful escape which is signed only with a small red flower. The French are quite upset by this, and have sent a man called Chauvelin to uncover the true identity of our hero. He, in turn, enlists the reluctant help of Lady Blakeney, formerly Marguerite St Just, who escaped via different means; by virtue of marriage to an English lord. Chauvelin has discovered that her brother is in league with the Scarlet Pimpernel and holds his life over her head as a threat. This is a fantastic story, containing mystery, suspense and romance. Love is used as both a thing of beauty and as a weapon and several lives hang in the balance on every page. The story advances in every moment, ...

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea - Jules Verne 07/03/2017

Twenty Thousand Out of Ten

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea - Jules Verne My wife has a collection of Classic Adventure stories she was given way back in the late 1980s. Whilst they’re almost a Reader’s Digest style collection for young readers, they are perfect for reading on my commute to work, as they’re small and light and perfect for carrying around all day, as well as being just the right length to go through a couple of them each week. Jules Verne’s “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” is one of this collection and one I was particularly keen to read, as I’d seen it cited by Willard Price, who wrote some nature based thriller novels I enjoyed in my teens. A strange unknown sea animal has been spotted out in the oceans and has collided with a couple of ships, causing some damage. To make the seas safe, an expedition is launched to catch or kill this animal, which Professor Aronnax believes to be a narwhal. However, when they find the beast, they are unable to catch it and Professor Arronax, his servant Conseil and Ned Land, a Canadian who was on the boat as a harpooner are shocked to find themselves inside the beast, which turns out to be a submarine helmed by Captain Nemo, a man who has tired of life on land for reasons which never become clear. From here, what was starting to look like a story of adventure on the high seas becomes an adventure under the high seas, but the novel has far more elements than a standard adventure novel. The workings of the submarine, powered by using only the oceans’ resources, along with some of the ...
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