Book Review: Frozen Heat by Richard Castle

Having recently finished and rewatched Castle I was eager to throw myself back into the tie-in novels and this, the fourth instalment, didn’t disappoint.

Nikki Heat investigates when a body is found crammed into a suitcase and stashed in a freezer truck. But the case becomes painfully personal when she recognises the case as having belonged to her mother, stolen the night of her murder.

Digging into the case she discovers more connections to her mother and her death, and soon begins to delve into a murky world of secrets and conspiracy. Learning new things about her mother, Heat must confront the secrets she kept and is left questioning her morality.

Aided by wisecracking journalist Jameson Rook, Heat hunts for justice but must also deal with the walls she has built up emotionally. Are these more hurtful than helpful?

Again, I think that this book provides more for viewers of the show as there are little injokes and references to it (they even work in a Firefly reference). Similarly, the characters are thinly veiled versions of the show’s, meaning long-term fans will have a clearer image of the characters.

However, I believe that even for newcomers to the world would enjoy what is a fun, if formulaic, thriller. This is the kind of airport novel which entertains and grips you enough but won’t change your life.

Verdict: An involving and entertaining thriller which ticks a lot of boxes and is a fun, gripping way to pass the time. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Beautiful Dream by Ralf Haley

I found myself identifying a lot with Ralf Haley. Like him I was a kid who loved football and who dreamed of being a professional. And like him, I was nowhere near good enough.

It’s a dream billions of kids have across the world, with only a relatively small number of them achieving it. I knew I was crap even as a kid, and realised that my few skills – okay in the air, hoofed clearances and hacking tackles, weren’t going to be enough. And so, my dream faded away aside from bus stop daydreams where I envision myself leading Swansea to Champions League glory.

Haley, however, reignites his dream and despite hating exercise and not having played a proper match in years decides to give it one last go. He just wants to get paid to play once. One euro, one minute, it doesn’t matter. He’ll still be able to say “I was a professional footballer”.

Haley sends requests for trials all over the world. He joins the gym, which he hates and tries to play more football. He also starts saving money from the job he hates to fund his trip to various countries.

He chooses smaller, less successful footballing nations and sets out with his brother in tow. Malta, Andorra, Latvia and Lithuania are among his destinations as he tries to get a game.

It’s a frankly crazy idea but one that is admirable in it’s ambition, naivety and optimism. Haley wants it badly, and throws himself into his trials.

The problem is that while the quest is noble, it feels half baked and left me wanting more. Haley gives himself a few months to train and save cash, leaving him a relatively small budget. I found myself wondering why he didn’t save for longer which would have helped him go to more places and got his fitness to a higher level too.

This not only would have made the book more interesting and given Haley more countries to write about, but would have helped his chances, as his low key build up leaves his mission looking pretty likely.

The writing is good, if nothing special and could do with a bit more of a polish. And the tone shifts quite a lot, with lots of moaning slightly souring the optimism of his journey. Haley is likeable enough and fairly humorous, but the banter between him and his brother grated on me, completely failing to win me over. It’s like an inside joke, with me being the outsider who views it as stupid.

That being said it was a decent read and Haley’s conclusion is strong. And I had to admire him for just going for it, despite the odds.

Verdict: Flawed but fun, Haley’s dreams surpass his abilities as a writer. A decent attempt at the dream but at times a frustrating one as you wish he had done more. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: In the Arms of Family by Chris Philbrook

Part six of Philbrook’s Adrian’s Undead Diary series picks up after the previous instalment’s revelation that one of Adrian’s allies had been under the sway of evil forces. Here we see our hero and his allies dealing with this and also fresh challenges.

There are new, shady types about in town and some of their allies are brought down by a man on the inside. Now those survivors are living with Adran but he knows one is not to be trusted. But which one.

By witholding the identity of this traitor Philbrook ratchets up the tension and leaves the reader unsure and uneasy at the prospect of their next move. Similarly, aside from vague allusions, the new group of enemy survivors are kept hidden. It leaves Adrian worried about what to do next and leaves the reader on the hook.

Elsewhere Philbrook does very well in slowly, steadily building the good vs evil story in the background and bringing the players together. It’s great writing and provides a deeper meaning for the zombies.

As ever Adrian’s diary is at times crude and vulgar, but it works for the character and makes it feel more real. And despite writing from this perspective for much of the book Philbrook is fleshing out some of the supporting cast nicely.

This book doesn’t have as many interludes as before which is a shame as each one so far has served to expand the world Philbrook is building and introduce fresh characters and events. They also provide more tension for the reader than the diary entry format does.

And as with every book so far it left me craving more.

Verdict: Another solid entry in the series which adds more threats and deepens the storyline. Well written and utterly gripping. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: What Does This Button Do? By Bruce Dickinson

Iron Maiden frontman and Bruce Dickinson, would be an interesting bloke based purely on his rock god status. But this book reveals a man for whom music is just one of many interests.

These include flying, machines, history and fencing. All of these side interests add depth to a man who could just have stuck to the music side of his life. Throughout this book Dickinson comes across as a smart bloke, but one without too much ego. When there is boasting it’s undercut with humour and balanced out when he owns his failures.

Despite this the book disappoints, mainly because of how thin it is. You get the impression there are plenty of stories left untold, and he confesses to being selective. In fact, the personal side aside from band break ups and learning to fly is completely missing. There are no romances or relationships, and his family don’t feature after he heads to university in the 70s.

It’s these gaps that leave the reader, or this reader at least, feeling a little short changed. Dickinson’s no frills writing is likeable and charming, and makes good company to be in, but frequently it feels too guarded or too shallow. More went on than is told.

That’s not that it’s without emotion, particularly a sequence where Bruce visits wartorn Sarajevo or his cancer fight. Both are handled well, without too much wallowing.

It’s a decent read, but leaves you wanting more and knowing that Dickinson could have given so much book.

Therefore it’s a decent read, but sadly underwhelming.

Verdict: Dickinson is funny, clever and good company. There are some good tales and insight, but it feels as though the walls are up and a lot is missing. Entertaining enough but by no means definitive. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: Like Love by Ed McBain

I returned to the 87th Precinct once more and was rewarded with an involving read loaded with red herrings and twists.

Steve Carella attempts to talk down a woman on a ledge. He fails and she jumps to her death. Across town a salesman rings a faulty doorbell which triggers a gas explosion. Inside the flat are two dead lovers, lying in bed seemingly after a suicide pact.

Carella and Cotton Hawes investigate, and despite no concrete evidence something seems hinky. With a nagging doubt they look into the case. There are a couple of suspects, a cuckolded husband and a mother who would collect a healthy insurance policy, but nothing sticks. It looks like a suicide, but there’s still something in the back of the cops’ heads, something off about the whole thing.

McBain’s skill here is to layer in a few subplots as well as sprinkling minor clues into the narrative. Things you almost miss but at the end hang together well. There’s also a false trail and a few events which muddy the waters, although one red herring does lead to the epiphany that closes the case.

The writing is tough and fast paced, as is usual for McBain and there’s also the same flashes of humour and small, nuanced character work that fleshes out even the supporting players.

All in all this is a smart, captivating read.

Verdict: A solid entry in the series and an interesting case. McBain’s writing flows wonderfully and he structures the investigation cleverly. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: Help by Simon Amstell

This book comes with a selection of glowing quotes on the back. Adam Buxton, Russell Brand, Matt Lucas and Martin Freeman are all quoted heaping praise on Amstell’s writing. I couldn’t understand it, as I didn’t feel this bowled at the end. My response was a lot more “Meh”.

Here’s the thing, I like Simon Amstell. I’ve been a fan since his days on Popworld and this book includes excerpts of his stand up, which are quite funny. The writing too is amusing and, in places, earnestly open, with Amstell talking about his fears, insecurities and anxiety.

But the book feels throwaway. Amstell touches on these issues, but in a way I found shallow, never going deeper. Similarly, while there are a few decent stories there are massive gaps in his life story and it feels rushed.

I enjoyed reading it, but would struggle to muster enthusiasm in recommending it to you, reader. It’s not awful, and I smiled to myself a few times. But my main feeling was of disappointment.

A decent read, but nothing special.

Verdict: Amstell is funny and open, but the book feels lightweight and superficial. Passes the time, but I doubt it will stay with me. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: Wrath by Chris Philbrook

After a few nonfiction books I figured it was about time to travel to the land of make believe. And so I returned to Philbrook’s Adrian’s Undead Diary series.

The fifth instalment follows the same structure, with the story told through the journal entries of Adrian, a foul mouthed, ex-soldier who leads a small group of survivors against the undead. These are broken up by sections which follow supporting characters and sketch in more details of the post apocalyptic world.

The series, thanks to Adrian’s funny, profane narration has been a winner from the jump, but Philbrook has slowly added more meat to the story. Supernatural elements have been added and the setting up of a good vs evil game afoot is handled well, and explains certain characters’ actions.

There’s plenty of twists and action, and one revealation about a long standing character is a gut punch, but written well.

A series which grows in terms of depth and scope, this continues to be a very entertaining read.

Verdict: The story continues to develop and Philbrook keeps the reader hooked. Left me keen for part 6. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: The Panther in my Kitchen by Brian Blessed

Brian Blessed is a true national treasure in my eyes. The bearded, booming actor is full of life, humour and eccentricity, and the world is a better place for having him in it.

This view would no doubt be shared by the many animals the man has befriended, loved and cared for over the years. From a legion of dogs and an army of cats, to a collection of wild animals he hosted in the ’60s, Blessed has lived a life as a keen animal lover and this memoir is all about his furry friends.

The writing is laid back and conversational, complete with jokey asides and exclamations it’s hard not to hear in the loud memorable tones of the writer. The stories don’t flow in order, and he disappears on tangents, but the book doesn’t suffer for it. It’s like a favourite uncle telling you stories over a cup of tea and some sandwiches. 

The stories are amusing and told with verve, and there are moving moments. Blessed’s clear love and enthusiasm is infectious and it made me appreciate my own little menagerie more.

It helped pass the time on a couple of night shifts and is just a lovely, charming read. It gives a snapshot of one man’s love of animals and hints at the odd, crazy life Blessed has led. I will have to seek out some of his other books now.

Verdict: Full of character and humour, this is a charming quick read with Blessed a likeable and vibrant narrator. A real gem of a book. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: Football’s Strangest Matches by Andrew Ward

Cliche tells us that football is a “funny old game” and there are plenty of odd occurences, strange coincidences and memorable moments throughout it’s history. This book decides to collect several of these oddities.

While the book is diverting enough and there are some interesting tales it fell far short of my expectations. The problem is Ward’s rather dry writing style, which just offers a rather bland retelling of events when a punchier style might have worked.

Similarly some incidents don’t deserve a full entry and might have been better servrd by being dotted throughout as bullet points. There are far too many games that share a theme- ridiculous scores, bizarre reasons for cancellations and extensive replays, which robs this book of being truly involving.

It passes the time but it is nowhere near as entertaining or strange as a reader might hope. 

Verdict: Disappointing. Although there are interesting stories the book on a whole is repetitive and let down by lacklustre writing which seems to get bogged down in stats and facts. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

Book Review: James Acaster’s Classic Scrapes

I’ve been a fan of Acaster’s for a little while now, he’s a regular on Mock the Week and his quirky, awkward humour and delivery works for me. One of his knacks is for telling stories of awkwardness, etiquette and things going quickly wrong. This book is essentially a bunch of those stories.

I read this during a night shift and it helped pass the time brilliantly. The stories are consistently amusing with some genuinely laugh out loud funny. They capture Acaster’s on screen persona and the sense of a man who blunders into scrapes remarkably easily. 

Acaster’s writing is easy and affable, and there’s insight into his own foibles and flaws. He seems aware that many of the scrapes could have been avoided with some thought or choosing a different approach.

But as bizarre as some events are there are other scrapes you can relate to, knowing that you wouldn’t know how to act in some situations.

It’s great fun and probably a book you can dip in and out of, if you don’t fancy burning through it in one night. 


Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.