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.

Advertisements

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. 

8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


10 Favourite Books of 2017

My annual tradition of listing my favourites of the books I read this year.

Observant readers will have noticed there haven’t been as many book reviews recently. With the wedding and honeymoon in the Autumn I was reading less and I had decided to go back and reread The Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. I’ve been loving reading them all over again, and am almost done so new reviews should start again early in the New Year.

Anyway, this is about books I read for the first time in 2017, and we’re gonna kick off with the fiction books.

5. The Princess and the Queen by George R. R. Martin

Part of the reason I went back to the ASOIAF series was that I read and loved this novella by Martin. While it lacks the depth of his other works, it still manages to create a realistic, layered world and the story of treachery and war is gripping. Review here.

4. Conclave by Robert Harris 

Harris seizes on the interesting idea of what happens behind closed doors as the Vatican chooses a new pope to weave a web of scandal and schemeing. It includes one too many scandals, stretching credulity at places, but it’s a quick, gripping read. Full review. 

3. The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz
Lagercrantz takes over the story of Lisbeth Salander and crafts a gritty, involving thriller. Review.

2. 87th Precinct by Ed McBain

I continue to work my way through McBain’s series and I read three this year. The standout was See Them Die, where he creates a tense sunny day as gang members plot murder and the police engage in a stand off. Other entries Lady, Lady, I Did It! And The Empty Hours are solid thrillers too.

1. Adrian’s Undead Diary by Chris Philbrook 
I continued to read this series and as it progresses, it goes from strength to strength. The diary story telling device works very well, and Adrian’s narration is involving. Philbrook also uses other side stories to develop a wider world picture of the zombie apocalypse and provides background to why it’s happening which takes the story in a new, interesting direction. Eager to read more. Check out my reviews of parts twothree and four.

Alright, onto nonfiction books.

5. Strange Places, Questionable People by John Simpson

BBC journalist Simpson recounts his eventful career. It documents some of the major events of the late twentieth century and makes a fascinating read. In places he can be rather pompous, but for the most part he is an entertaining and likeable narrator. Review.

4. Books vs Cigarettes/Decline of the English Murder by George Orwell.

Two collections of essays by George Orwell, am becoming a fan of his clever, insightful writing and will keep my eye out for more of his nonfiction stuff. The review of Books… is here while you can find my thoughts on English Murder here.


3. Lost at Sea by Jon Ronson
Jon Ronson collects writings on various topics which serves up an entertaining read. He brings his usual warmth and keen observation to a mix of criminals, conspiracy theorists and oddballs. My review

2. Frank Sinatra Has a Cold and Other Essays by Gay Talese

Picked up after an offhand mention in another book this turned out to be a gem. Talese writes with a vivid style and keen eye for nuance and subtle tells in his subjects. The Sinatra piece is great but the essay about broken former boxing champ Floyd Patterson is just as impressive and painfully moving. Review.

1. Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen

An autobiography of a rock legend which proves to be just as well written as his music. The insight, warmth and openness that make the Boss’ songs so involving is on show here and it is cracking read pleasingly light on ego. Here I am gushing about it.


Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Kung Fu Trip by Benjamin Zephaniah

There are very few living poets I could name and even less I could recognise. In fact other than Zephaniah, I can’t think of any.

Having been impressed by an interview he did with Russell Howard I decided to check out some of his stuff and found this quick read. It follows him on a trip to China to train with Kung Fu masters.

Zephaniah writes with warmth and humour, a keen observer of the people he meets and captures the sense of place wonderfully. He writes with enthusiasm about his love of martial arts and what he gets from it.

The journey includes odd characters and bizarre events like the writer being mistaken for the long dead Bob Marley.

It’s a short book, but an entertaining one and a good one to read on the go. 

Verdict: Zephaniah is a charming, fun and likeable writer and this short trip is an interesting one to join him on. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: I Can Make You Hate by Charlie Brooker

I’ve long been a fan of Charlie Brooker, who previously wrote a beautifully scathing television column for The Guardian. And have read a few of his collections before, and this captures the end of his Screen Burn column.

The pieces cover 2009-12 and so it’s a little out of date, although it is quite nice to look back at various controversies, news stories and events with hindsight. Brooker attacks a variety of topics with his usual jet black humour and surreal, grotesque hyperbole. It had me laughing out loud and smiling repeatedly, and I found that Brooker is on the money quite frequently. 

There are times when he goes for lazy gags, but it’s evident he knows this himself. And they are off set when he takes unique views on topics and shows real insight.

What is most interesting is Brooker’s frank assessment of his own role, his own writing style and his changing character. Brooker addresses the fact he is mellowing, that he can’t muster the same anger for trivial reality TV. There’s even a sense of guilt over previous punching down. Some might regard this as going soft or even some form of “selling out” but it makes sense. It shows a maturing writer, and his open acknowledgment of this makes sense. The shift isn’t glaring as Brooker can still fire himself up and throw barbs, but the targets have changed.

It’s a very entertaining read and one you can dip in and out of.

Verdict: Sarky, dark and biting, Brooker is an entertaining and fiery writer. But these are not just rants they are tempered with insight, awareness and humour. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.