Book Review: Drinking My Way Through 14 Dating Websites by Tiffany Peon

One of the best things about owning a Kindle is that you can get these cheap little books that otherwise I probably wouldn’t stumble across, like this one.

Peon is in her early 20s, living in New York and reeling from a recent break up, but decides to buck herself up by starting a social experiment and signing up for a whole mess of dating sites and writing about her experiences on a blog, and later this book.

drinking

It’s quite a fun light read and made me aware of dating sites I was previously unaware of (one dedicated to fans of Ayn Rand, another which only admits “Hot” members, although this may be a false claim to foster an image of exclusivity) along the major ones, while also trying her hand at speed dating.

Peon’s quite a relaxed, amiable writer and I imagine her blog of her adventures  was quite entertaining, but the book is a bit lacking in funny stories and she gives her dates short shrift. Mainly because she’s more focused on her life away from dates and they mainly serve to teach her a few lessons that help her get back with her ex on a surer footing. This is all well and good, but not what the title suggests you’re going to get.

The dates she goes on are interesting enough, and it’s a nice insight into the world of dating stateside, but there aren’t any stand out anecdotes or nutters, in fact many are, as Peon herself says “boring”.

But it’s a nice enough way to pass the time and Peon has a certain charm in her friendly, open writing.

Verdict: A nice, quick easy read. Peon is pleasant company but the book is fairly low on incident and nowhere near fun as I’d hoped. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Top 10 Books I Read in 2013

So, it’s the end of the year so I’m looking back, here are my top 10 books of the year, divided into fiction and non-fiction.

Fiction

5. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

A wonderfully evocative tale of lost love and obsession, written with real lyrical beauty and a pleasantly quick read. Full review.

greatgatsby

4. The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Collins’ sci-fi trilogy kicks off with an exciting, taught high concept idea of young people forced into a vicious arena of death for the enjoyment of the rich elite, and then builds on it fantastically in two superior sequels. Touches on the uncertainty of youth, the psychological impact of violence and the compromises and savagery of war. A superior example of books for young adults. Full reviews.

3. A Song of Ice and Fire by George RR Martin

Martin’s fantasy epic goes from strength to strength. His knack for combining high fantasy with down and dirty grit and believable, complex characters make these a complete treat. Handles the sprawling, epic world he’s created with real skill and imagination, crafting captivating reads. Now have to sit and suffer until he releases volume 6. Reviews here.

2. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The author’s most famous work is a true joy, with Austen’s trademark skill in picking up the little quirks in personalities and a wonderful heroine. Gloriously written and a fantastic love story that stands the test of time. Review.

1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

A wonderfully beautiful novel that is by turns funny and heartbreaking, Green avoids the “brave cancer kids” stereotypes and makes a book that really stayed with me. A triumph. Review here.

the fault in our stars

Non-Fiction

5. One Night in Turin by Pete Davies

A fascinating insight of life behind the scenes at the 1990 World Cup, with Davies granted great access to the England team. Looks at it from a variety of different angles, the organizers, the fans, the players and the press, and captures football just before it would undergo a massive change and grow even bigger and global. A treat for footy fans. Full review.

turin_book

4. Bossypants by Tina Fey

Fey’s hilarious book is a mix of memoir and advice, highlighting the writer’s intelligence and wit. Laugh out loud funny. Review.

bossypants

3. How To Get Away With Murder in America by Evan Wright

Wright crafts an engaging book about corruption and the drugs trade, including the theory that the CIA may have sponsored a vicious drug runner. Exposes the corruption that goes on in the halls of power, and is a gripping read. Full review here.

htgawmia

2. Goodfellas by Nicholas Pileggi.

Pileggi’s book examines the life of low level gangster Henry Hill, in a book which manages to capture the excitement and allure of the mob without glorifying or judging. Busts some of the myths about the Mafia and is a great look at life in the criminal class. Full review.

1. The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Ronson’s book is hugely entertaining and interesting, an insight into mental health and how it’s treated. Full of quirky anecdotes and shocking facts, it’s one of the most enthralling non-fiction books I’ve ever read and Ronson is a superb writer who I’ll definitely read more of. Review.

psycho test

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Red Dragon by Thomas Harris

This is the novel where Harris introduced his most famous creation Hannibal Lecter to the world, and it’s been adapted twice for the big screen, the first time as Manhunter in the ’80s and with the original title about 10 years ago. I’ve seen both versions, but when given the option to buy the novel for a reduced price I seized it eagerly, having thoroughly enjoyed the sequel, The Silence of the Lambs.

The plot follows Will Graham, a retired forensic expert with a gift for profiling, who suffered grievous wounds while trying to bring Lecter in. He’s brought back into the fold by his old boss, Jack Crawford, who needs his help investigating the brutal killings of two families.

red dragon

It’s obvious they are the work of the same killer, dubbed the Tooth Fairy because of his habit of biting his victims, and he strikes around the full moon. With a little under a month to go, Graham joins Crawford and his team, struggling to regain his mojo as an investigator at first but soon starting to piece things together.

The killer is the physically and emotionally scarred Francis Dolarhyde, who believes that the killings will help him change into the “Great Red Dragon”.

Can Graham regain his instincts and work out who the Tooth Fairy is? Can his home life survive the pressure and should the door of insight into the mind of a killer really be opened? Does the interest of a sweet, blind colleague offer Dolarhyde a chance to change his path? And does Graham really want to visit Lecter, the killer he put away but who left him in hospital?

I really dug this book, it’s an immensely thrilling and captivating read, the kind of book that I found myself ploughing through chapter after chapter, entirely engrossed  by Harris’ fast flowing, no nonsense prose. Harris does a great job in conveying Graham’s fragile mental state as well as the insanity of the killer, but in such a way that you do develop some sympathy for Dolarhyde.

It’s genuinely unsettling in places and as it hurtles towards the conclusion the tension builds unbearably. There’s a particular nasty sequence featuring Dolarhyde dealing with a scumbag journalist which will stick with me for a while.

I thoroughly recommend this for anyone looking for a quick, thrilling read which will keep you entranced throughout.

Verdict: A gripping thriller which is written with real verve and energy, and Harris has a real knack for racking up the tension and some delightfully nasty flourishes. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Year of Living Biblically by AJ Jacobs

I borrowed this from one of my religious family, I think as part of their continuing hope that I will “see the light” and return to the Christian faith.

The premise is simple, journalist AJ Jacobs decides to try and follow as many of the Bible’s laws, commandments and rules for an entire year. He’s coming at it cold, being a secular Jew with little experience or knowledge of the Bible, but he hurls himself into it.

biblically

Over twelve months he does his best to fulfill as many as he can, from the easy and well known “big ten” to the weird, quirky and bizarre, leading him to grow a great big bushy beard and stone (well, pebble) sinners.

He examines the different interpretations of the Bible and how different people try to follow it’s rules. He sees the ridiculous lengths some people go to but also the joy and help that religion can provide for some people.

It’s an interesting look at some of the more obscure aspects of the Bible, but the main draw is the warm, irreverent tone.

Jacobs is a terrifically funny writer, exploring the effects it has on his beliefs and life, while reveling in the absurdity of it all. There are times when he struggles with rules or little frustrations, but for most of it he has warm, engaging positivity and throws himself head first into all of it. While he does poke fun at some of the people he meets there’s a genuine warmth and kindness to his worldview, which I dug a lot.

As well as the Bible stuff he deals with his continuing day-to-day life, including his attempts to have a second child with his wife. It’s good to have in anchored in the every day, and I genuinely warmed to Jacobs, with his odd obsession and dedication for a daft and pointless task, and his long suffering wife.

It taught me interesting things about the Bible and the changes in how Christianity has been practiced, the different ideas and theories behind it’s meaning and the positive effects it has on him, despite the inconveniences.

I enjoyed the book a great deal, but remain agnostic.

Verdict: An interesting and entertaining read that highlights the weird aspects of the Bible, but also the positive effects faith can have on people’s lives, and the good it can inspire in people. Jacobs is a witty writer and embraces the weirdness of his Biblical year to great comedic effect, great fun. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Vertigo aka The Living and the Dead by Boileau and Narcejac

I’ve always found it quite interesting to read a book after you’ve seen the film adaption and this is the case with this book, which provided the inspiration for the Alfred Hitchcock movie Vertigo, which is a magnificent story of obsession and it’s destructive power.

living and dead

The classic Vertigo poster designed by Saul Bass

The classic Vertigo poster designed by Saul Bass

Similar to the movie it follows an ex-cop who’s resigned from the force after his aversion to heights caused problems, but the setting is different, with this taking place in Paris with World War II looming on the horizon. Flavieres has begun working as a lawyer when he is approached by an old friend, Gevigne.  Gevigne tells him he fears for his wife, who has been acting strangely, going off in weird trances and wandering aimlessly. It all seems connected to a tragic ancestor who she is meant to be unaware of.

Reluctantly Flavieres begins following Gevigne’s wife, Madeline and rescues her after she almost kills herself by drowning. Flavieres falls head over heels for her and begins to spend lots of time with her, trying to keep her safe. Madeline speaks of memories of places she’s never visited and the feeling of having lived before.

One day they visit a town she has a memory of. Madeline rushes up the church tower, but Flavieres, crippled by his fear of heights is unable to follow and she throws herself from the tower.

After the war, Flavieres returns to Paris, having spent the war in Africa, drinking himself mad with the memory. At a cinema he sees a newsreel featuring a woman who looks a lot like Madeline, and ignoring his doctor’s advice travels to Marseilles to find her. There he finds Renee, and the two fall in together, with Flavieres insisting she is Madeline reborn and must remember her earlier life.

Has Madeline returned from the grave or is Flavieres just cracking up? How will Renee withstand his obsession and theories? And is there more going on than there seems?

living and dead

I sort of liked this book, but found it incredibly draining at times. The story is fascinating and it keeps you hooked as you want to know how it’ll all pan out (I could only half remember the movie, and I kinda guessed the novel would be different). The twist when it comes is rather far fetched, but still worked for me.

The problem is that Flavieres is a hard protagonist to warm up to, he’s weak, flawed and rather cruel at times, meaning he’s extremely unlikable. His obsession with Madeline is hard to fathom and his actions towards Renee are unforgivably nasty at times.

That being said, it’s a magnificent portrayal of obsession and madness tearing an already fragile man apart and it’s written in an odd style that manages to be oddly poetic at times and brutally no-nonsense at others.

I really liked the early stages where the approaching war looms in the background, as it captures how despite what’s going on in the world people are always more caught up in their own lives and problems, with Flavieres barely registering all the news updates. It’s also a great narrative device in explaining the gap halves and the fragile, recovering France that the second half takes place in

It’s an interesting, twisted little story and well worth a read, but I’d hardly call it fun.

Verdict: Dark and messed up this is an engaging and well written book, but does leave something of a bad taste in the mouth. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Chronicles Volume 1 by Bob Dylan

Aside from The Beatles and Elvis, probably one of the most iconic and legendary musicians is singer songwriter Bob Dylan. Or so I thought, until one of the freshers asked me “Who’s Bob Dylan?”

dylan book cover

Dylan was a phenomenon in the ’60s when he was labelled the voice of a generation and his distinctive (some might say whiny) singing and poetic, charged lyrics made his folk music capture the changing times and feeling of unrest among some young people.

I’ve always had mixed feelings about Dylan, while I love lots of his music (his 1976 album Desire is one of my top 10 albums of all time, while “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is, to me, one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever recorded) and kinda like the guy, based largely from seeing him being clever, sarky and funny in the documentary Don’t Look Back.

At the same time, a few of his songs leave me cold and there’s an air of pretension that hangs over him at times. Interviews with him can sometimes show him to be self indulgent and obtuse, and some of his changes in direction over the years have been misjudged.

This book does little to help me decide which side of the fence I fall.

It’s not really a traditional autobiography, more a brief memoir, with each section finding Dylan at a different stage of his career- just having signed his deal, recovering from the motorcycle accident and feeling isolated, injured again and wondering if he can continue touring in the late ’80s.

From these moments he shoots off in a meandering chains of thoughts, describing his unease with his “spokesman for a generation” tag, press intrusion and insecurities about his own abilities. His prose his wandering, shambolic and aimless, but it’s captivating enough even if it lacks real depth of reflection at times. Due to the way the book is set out, Dylan touches on things you’d wish he’d develop more, like the reclusive period after the bike crash, the way his star rose in the ’60s or his later career having to deal with the legend tag, but he offers us glimpses and then moves on.

It’s a tough book to read in some ways, with names, books, bands and poems being dropped all over the place, making it the kind of book you have to keep a bookmark in to scrawl all the things you’re going to look up later. There are times when this flows quite easily, but it does at times seem a bit pretentious as though Dylan wants to show how clever and well read he is.

The book’s major strength however is his writing, which has the same kind of lyrical beauty as his songwriting, there are turns of phrase that really grabbed me and little flourishes of beautifully constructed prose.

It keeps you involved but there are times when it frustrates you. Major players are glossed over and it’s light on anecdotes. There’s honesty here but it’s frequently brief and unexplored. It’s nice to read a biography that’s written so well and doesn’t get bogged down in all the childhood stuff (let’s face it, most biographies have one or maybe two interesting childhood stories and then get good when the person is trying to or does achieve their goal), but it’s a frustrating read and I found myself regretting all the things that aren’t here.

Verdict: Extremely well written and an interesting read, but at times extremely frustrating and I found myself wondering if Dylan couldn’t have opened up a bit more and gone a little deeper. It’s less a biography and more a collection of snapshots of the writer at specific times in his life. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: A Dance With Dragons by George R.R. Martin

The word “epic” has tended to be overused in recent years, but it definitely implies to this book, the fifth installment of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga, which has taken me about a month to read.

a dance with dragons

I was super keen to read this book because as much as I enjoyed part four, A Feast for Crows, a few of my favourite characters hadn’t appeared much in that book, and so I was keen to see what was going on. As with previous installments I was quickly engrossed in Martin’s intricate and vividly realized world. Martin’s best gift is his ability to tie together loosely connected strands and switch focus in a way that keeps the reader guessing and allows the rug to be pulled out from under them frequently.

Describing the story here would take too long, but this novel mainly focuses on the characters across the sea, including my personal favourite Tyrion Lannister AKA the Imp, who’s on the lam having killed his father and forced to adapt various disguises in his exile. Mercenaries, slavers, conspirators and fallen heroes all cross his path as his fortunes change.

There are also new characters who have travelled across the narrow sea to seek out Daenerys Targaryen, who sits uneasily on the throne of the city she freed from slavery, surrounded by treachery and uneasy alliances. Two young men seek to make her their queen and use her dragons for glory.

Other characters who crop up are Jon Snow attempting to lead the Night’s Watch, his brother Bran’s quest into the Northern wilds and their sister Arya and her bizarre role in a shady temple.

With the focus moving about it’s essentially a series of cliffhangers, with Martin leaving characters dangling until their next chapter picks up their tale. It all makes it a very hard book to put down.

His characterization work is superb, giving insight into a variety of different character’s motivations and creating a weird situation where you find yourself liking characters with entirely different goals. Here also, Martin achieves something truly astounding, generating sympathy for one of the series’ major villains and least likable characters.

I’ve loved every single one of these books, largely because unlike many fantasy works I’ve read this is grounded in the messy side of things- vicious, unromantic battles, sneaky maneuvering  and human weaknesses drive the plot, and are for me as much of a draw as the dragons, sorcery and mysteries. Martin’s writing has a visceral, rough and ready to feel to it and this keeps me engrossed even if there are wince-inducing moments.

That being said, Martin is a bit of a knob, largely due to his ability to kick his readers right in the gut by treating his characters abominably. There are a couple of moments in this book where plot developments caught me completely by surprise and left me reeling. In most books you can roughly guess how things are going to go down, but Martin seems to revel in shocking his audiences and destroying characters they’ve come to love.

It’s this unpredictability which means that I find myself in a new and infuriating position. Previously when finishing one of these novels my problem was not diving head first into the next one, but I have now caught up with Martin’s writing and join the ranks of his fans who must now wait with growing frustration until part six is ready. I do hope he hurries up, as I really, really want to know what happens next.

Verdict: Martin’s series goes from strength to strength and his skill as a writer is immense. The scope and intricacy of his world is a marvel and he continues to be able to surprise his readers. A true epic and extremely engrossing read. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And other concerns) by Mindy Kaling

One of the shows I’ve loved recently is The Mindy Project, which follows the exploits of Mindy a New York doctor who’s obsessed with romantic comedies and her dating life. The show is extremely funny and cute, like it’s protagonist the slightly awkward, ditzy Mindy, played by the actress Mindy Kaling.

Kaling writes for the show and is apparently well known in the States as one of the supporting players and writers of the remake of The Office. I didn’t know this because I’ve never actually seen that show, not in a “It won’t be as good as the original” snobby way, just because it started while I was at uni without a TV and I’ve just never got caught up on it. Now that it’s finished I may check out a few episodes as I’m a fan of Steve Carell and now Kaling’s.

I thought I’d check this book out because Kaling appears to be a funny, likable person and I figured it might be a fun, light read.

mindy book

It totally was. Kaling writes with warmth, honesty and self deprecating charm. The book is a series of short pieces about her life and career, or little essays on friendship, modern day etiquette and dating. These are fun, endearing little bite-sized chunks that make it perfect commuting reading as you can read a whole section on a train/bus ride or with a coffee.

There’s nothing earth shattering here, but there’s plenty of humour and warmth. Kaling is never overly bitchy or nasty, there’s an endearing sweetness to her and she seems extremely normal and down to earth.

Of course, being a female TV comedy writer and performer, the book is going to be measured against Tina Fey’s Bossypants, a fact Kaling addresses in her introduction, and while Fey’s book is probably the better, that doesn’t mean this isn’t worth checking out, for as quick reads go this one is a winner and will leave you grinning to yourself.

I’m definitely going to be keeping an eye out for Kaling’s future work.

Verdict: Funny, warm and charming, Kaling is a sweet and endearing narrator with a real down-to-earth vibe and wonderful humour. A delight. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Everyone’s Reading Bastard by Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby’s opening brace of novels, High Fidelity and About A Boy, remain among my favourite books, especially High Fidelity which outside of the books I studied at school and Roald Dahl, is the book I’ve re-read the most. In those two books Hornby did a good job of capturing masculine obsessions and insecurities in funny and touching prose. I also enjoyed his non fiction works 31 Songs and Fever Pitch, which is so good it almost makes you like Arsenal.

But as his fiction career progressed I’ve found his work less engaging, How To Be Good was alright, but I couldn’t get into A Long Way Down. Still, with his latest short story being available on Kindle I thought I’d check out how he was doing.

Everyone's Reading Bastard by Nick Hornby

The premise is simple, Charlie and his wife Elaine get a divorce. It’s been a long time coming but the decision is a little out of the blue. Charlie returns to work after the weekend to be confronted with the fact that his ex, a newspaper columnist is using him as fodder for her new column “Bastard”, where she savagely attacks him and details his many failures, mistakes and indiscretions.

Initially horrified Charlie is stunned by these and as the weeks past Bastard becomes increasingly popular. Try as he might, Charlie can’t avoid it.

I quite liked this story, the idea is pretty strong and it’s handled with this real sad, comic touch which is what Hornby’s best at. Charlie seems like a bit of a douche at times, but it’s still easy to sympathize with him and his ex does come off as slightly evil. The qualities Charlie originally found exciting have soured over the years and it captures how the novel

But Hornby sidesteps it being a misogynistic rant story by having Charlie actually be a bit of a bastard. He’s previously been unfaithful and he’s shown to be selfish at times. What makes it more interesting is how Charlie uses the column as an excuse not to try hard with dating. A woman he meets has such little regard for him that simply be being normal he appears nicer.

That being said, it never really crackles like those first two novels, although that might be due to length. Charlie is also nowhere near as endearing as some of Hornby’s other protagonists and it’s a shame that Elaine is kept in the background.

It’s a nice idea and fairly well done, but it’s too short to make a lasting impression, even though there are glimmers of the Hornby I loved.

Verdict: An alright, quick diversion. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: One Night in Turin aka All Played Out by Pete Davies

I have a dim recollection of the 1990 World Cup, so vague and murky that I sometimes wonder if it’s a fake memory. The memory is of being five years old and uninterested in football, sat on my grandparents’ carpet as my Dad and Bampa watched the match. I knew none of the players, or what was going on, but I remember tension and then disappointment, as England lost on penalties to Germany. Whether this actually happened or if my synapses have crossed two memories into one- being at my grandparents’ and oblivious to whatever was captivating the adults and seeing the penalty shootout later on.

1990 is as close as the English have come to winning the world cup again since 1966. Boasting a team of skilled players- Gary Lineker, John Barnes, Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne, David Platt- and headed up by Bobby Robson, a man who in my football-following years is held in great regard. The team made it all the way to the semis where they were eliminated by the Germans in one of the newly introduced penalty shoot outs. Gazza got booked and wept, as it meant he was suspended for the final and both Chris Waddle and Stuart Pearce missed from the spot.

I bought this book because I thought it was a look back at the tournament and I’m interested in what really goes on behind the scenes with the players at a big tournament. What stories would come out as the major figures looked back?

turin_book

It turns out that the book was actually published shortly after the World Cup, as All Played Out, and that Davies was on hand to interview and document what he saw. Davies had fantastic access and over the course he interviews the players, Bobby Robson and a wealth of sources from all over- FA officials, English fans and locals, the press covering the event and the organizers of the tournament.

This provides the book with great scope, capturing the shifting atmospheres over the World Cup- the glee in Rome when Italy win a match, the chaos behind the scenes as the Italians scrambled to get everything ready, the paranoia over hooliganism and the tensions between players and the press.

Davies writes with intelligence and wit, as well as passion. He’s clearly a football fan and gets caught up in the games, capturing the tension and excitement of following sport, and the World Cup’s ability to create heroes and villains, through his warm affection for Roger Milla and Cameron and the opprobrium towards Diego Maradona.

It’s biased at points, but Davies is a good enough writer to acknowledge that England rode their luck at times, even if he gets in on the ground floor with the English fans whinging about penalties (my opinion is this- a shoot out is the quickest, cleanest way of resolving a draw. Yes it can be unfair or harsh on players, but every other option has severe weaknesses- Golden Goal reduces matches to dull, overly cautious defensive lines and replays waste time. Penalties are high pressure, but no one side has immunity to that. It comes down to who’s nerve holds out or who’s keeper plays a blinder).

Davies is funny, especially as he revels in the madness, excess and contradictions of “Planet Football”. There are sarky one liners galore and a nice eye for the ridiculous or plain daft, which make this an entertaining journalistic account of a tournament and not just a fan’s griping and hyperbole.

One of the best things is how Davies manages to look at situations from different viewpoints and create an interesting picture of the footballing landscape back at the start of the 1990s. The horror of hooliganism looms over the whole tournament, with English fans facing hostile police and the team being exiled to play their games away from the big cities during the group stages.

While acknowledging the terrible nadir of hooliganism, Davies also makes valid comments on how the actions of the minority don’t reflect football or football fans, but rather society in general. And he delves into the way the moral panic over football violence was hyped up by tabloid exaggeration and the UK government’s lack of connection to the sport.

The actions of the press at times seem awful, with headlines screaming of “rampages” and “battles” where in truth only a few dozen were involved at most. Similarly the press’ stories regarding players are often flimsy or invasive. It’s sad to see that some things haven’t changed since then.

The FA seem out of step too, and with Hillsborough only a year earlier it’s a new group, the Football Supporters’ Association, which tries to build trust and respect between fans and the governing body. Over the course of the tournament many fans come round to the FSA, which does appear to do good work, but Davies knows both sides need to set the politics aside.

It’s not all big picture stuff, there are fantastic interviews with key England players, with Davies capturing the passion, camaraderie and personalities of the squad. We get Gazza messing about and Terry Butcher’s ferocious pride and dedication. Davies seems to get a good idea of how these men tick and does a good job in drawing out insight which reveals the mix of pleasure and frustration they get from representing their country.

Not that he has rose tinted specs on and he does criticize their hypocritical attitude towards the press- complaining but still taking money- but on the whole he seems to just treat them as an alright group of lads trying to get by under the media spotlight.

It’s great to see things at the time, with Gazza seeming poised for world domination and Robson, later a beloved legend, getting flak from press and fans alike due to his tactics. It’s interesting to see how differently people were viewed at the time, and the big changes in the footballing world- all seater stadiums becoming the norm, English clubs returning to European competition and the creation of the Premier League, leading English football to new heights and popularity.

One of the few problems I have with the book is that there’s no “what happened next?” section, which would have been handy. While some of the players and their stories are familiar to me- Gazza’s troubled life and failure to live up to the skill he displayed, Lineker’s career on television and most personal to me, Stuart Pearce’s penalty redemption in Euro 1996.

psycho

But other players and figures are less well known, and it’d be interesting to know where they ended up, and to hear Davies’ views on the legacy of the tournament and the changes to the football landscape since ’90, which is something he wonders about during the book.

It’ll work best with football fans, as they’ll know more of the figures in the stories, but Davies’ writing has verve and intelligence which should win over those less in love with the beautiful game.

Verdict: An enjoyable, well written and smart book which while focusing on England also manages to capture a sense of the tournament and the background it took place against. It benefits from fantastic access at all levels of the game and a clever, funny writer. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.