Book Review: “Rommel?” “Gunner who?”: A Confrontation in the Desert by Spike Milligan

Having really enjoyed the first instalment of Spike Milligan’s war memoirs, I was keen to get on with the rest of the series. So, when I got an Amazon gift card for my birthday, this was one of the first things I downloaded onto my Kindle.

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Picking up where the first ends, this sees Milligan and 19th Battery in Algeria, pushing on for Tunisia as the war starts to heat up. Whereas in the first book the conflict seemed almost a world away from his training on England’s South coast, here he is closer to the danger and actually comes under fire. This means that despite Milligan’s sense of humour there is a darker edge. One particularly dark moment has Milligan taking a watch from a recently killed Italian soldier and sending it back to his father.

The humour of the men changes, there’s more gallows humour and at times Milligan admits that the wisecracks feel forced, or repetitive. The men are clearly rattled, but trying to carry on as normal, to put on a brave face, but the cracks do show. There’s a particularly moving sequence when one of Milligan’s friends, a Lieutenant, is killed.

There are other moments when death looms large, but Milligan is also well aware of the ridiculous moments of war and the quirks of the men he serves with. There is a feeling of not taking life too seriously which flows through everything he does, with even his more introspective moments undercut with quips and gags.

The gags come thick and fast and it made me laugh many times, but there is a darkness and sense of consequence here that makes it less fun and carefree than the first part. That being said it is an entertaining and involving read about one man’s war, and thankfully a man of humour and intelligence.

Verdict: Very entertaining but the horrors of war close in and make this slightly less fun than the first. Luckily, Milligan is still a hugely entertaining writer with a keen eye for the absurdities of war and a knack of capturing characters and place well. A good read. 8/10

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Book Review: Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood

You gotta love a good deal on books. On a recent trip to town I visited HMV where they had a two for a fiver offer, I picked up Carrie Fisher’s Shockaholic which had been on my radar for a while, and decided to take a punt on this book as the blurb told me this had inspired the movie Cabaret and the setting of Germany as the Nazis begin to get a foothold sounded interesting.

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I’m glad I took a gamble as it made for quite an entertaining read, with Isherwood a keen observer of people and he creates vivid, believable characters, all clearly based on people he knew. The writing is clever and witty, with insight and provides little snapshots of life in the city. The political factions are largely in the background as the semi-autobiographical vignettes unfold. It begins with a few SA members on the street, debates in cafes and then builds to the final stages with mass rallies, assaults and the Nazis seizing power.

Isherwood, as a gay man, is perilously placed and a great number of those he encounters are similarly in danger as the Nazis grow in influence. There are the family friends the Landauers, a Jewish family who find themselves subject to boycotts and threats, actress Sally Bowles who thrives in the decadent society that the Nazis will seek to suppress and then there are the Communists he talks to in cafes. Their talk of revolution and civil war has a feel of adolescent posturing to it, yet the real thing is coming and many find themselves in trouble for the things they’ve said.

The early stages of the book are slow and meandering, but not without charm due to Isherwood’s wry observations and knack of sketching characters well. There is a lack of incident which hurts the book slightly as it stops it from being the book you rush back to, eager to know what happens next. But in the closing stages there is a pervading tension and a few episodes which show just how much the city has changed. The decadent, free spirited Berlin has become claustrophobic, tense and dangerous. Isherwood ends the book preparing to leave the city, and the reader knows that worse is to come.

I’d recommend this book as the writing is wonderful, and the sense of place, character and mood is brilliantly realised. A great read.

Verdict: A well written piece that may lack for drama and incident in places, but impresses due to the characters and tone that Isherwood captures. An interesting snapshot of pre-Nazi Germany. The building tension and sense of dread bubbling beneath the surface is captivating. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Sum of My Parts by James Sanford

I’m not usually a fan of misery memoirs or cancer survivor stories. In fact before this the only book about having cancer I can remember reading is Lance Armstrong’s. That book inspired me, leaving me slightly disappointed by his subsequent fall from grace.

I only picked this because I have Kindle Unlimited and I decided to branch out a bit with my reading. I’m glad I did as Sanford is a talented writer and thankfully avoids mawkishness or cliche.

Sanford wakes up one morning to a strange feeling down there and when he finally sees a doctor discovers that it is testicular cancer. Sanford details his treatment and the impact on his personal life.

One of the interesting aspects of this book is that Sanford talks about how the treatment reawakens old body image issues and his slow route to some form of body acceptance and newfound confidence.

The writing is polished and engaging enough, albeit with a lack of flair. It’s a decent reading but at times Sanford appears to be holding himself back. You get the feeling that more may have gone on but he chooses to leave it out. Which is fair enough, it’s his choice after all but it does leave this feeling rather muted. This detachment stopped me from being able to really connect with the book at times.

Verdict: A decent read that avoids self pity but feels too guarded to fully engage. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher

Having enjoyed Wishful Drinking, I was keen to read more of Carrie Fisher’s stuff and this book was just as enjoyable.

Like the previous book the writing here is conversational, witty and painfully honest. Fisher discusses her experience of Electroconvulsive Therapy and the help it did with her personal demons while still mocking herself for her memory lapses.

Fisher trades in sarcastic asides and silly gags, but these merely mask the big heart at the centre as she discusses the troubles of fame, Michael Jackson, ageing and her relationship with her father. It’s this section that touches on her making peace with former stepmother Elizabeth Taylor, that is most profound with Fisher showing great compassion and understanding for the man who walked out on her as a child. She talks about coming to forgive and understand him a bit better, of relinquishing the bitterness that might have grown within. There are moments of humour here too and her portrayal of Eddie Fisher is affectionate but not blindly so, she knows his failings and weaknesses, some of which she sees reflected in herself.

Fisher writes about celebrity and fame with insight few others can, having grown up within the machine and seeing how it all came together.

Her writing is chaotic at times, rambling in places but she never loses the reader, her wit and personality locking you in to what she has to say. A delight of a book.

Verdict: Funny and painfully open this is a great read. Fisher’s style is unpolished but this works well, allowing her larger than life personality to permeate. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Unlike the myths of Greece, I don’t know much about the gods of the vikings. What I do know I mainly got from Marvel’s Thor comics. In his introduction to this book, Neil Gaiman explains that these served as his own introduction too.

Gaiman would go on to delve deeper into the mythology and in this book he tells some of the tales of Asgard and its residents. A couple of the myths were vaguely familiar to me, while others are completely new to me.

What they all share is that they are retold here with plenty of wit, with Gaiman capturing the characters brilliantly and adding humour to proceedings. It’s this that makes the legends come alive, Gaiman’s knack for making the gods flawed and believable. There’s the heroic, if dim and rather arrogant, Thor and Loki, a sly trickster who is often very pleased with himself.

Like many myths there are stories that explain natural phenomena as well as some which just recount the misadventures of the Asgardians. The stories are short but reveal a whole world of gods and monsters, a landscape dominated by giants and magic. They’re magnificently entertaining and you can see their influence on writings which would follow (hello, Tolkien).

Gaiman is a writer I’ve long admired and here his skills breathe fresh life into old, half forgotten tales. I’d love to see him tackle more myths and recommend this as an introduction to the gods of the vikings.

Verdict: A witty and charming read, Gaiman’s clever writing makes the legends fresh and fun. A gem of a book. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Binman Chronicles by Neville Southall

Everton and Wales goalkeeping legend Neville Southall’s career was winding down when I started watching football. I can remember him doing a decent job for an uninspiring Everton side and playing for Wales quite a few times. But it would only be later that I came to appreciate how successful his career between the posts had been.

Southall is Wales’ most capped player and won several trophies at Everton, becoming their most decorated player. This book charts his career and life after football, and is a decent read throughout.

He’s quite direct and open in his analysis of his career, acknowledging that the discipline and dedication which made him so successful also contributed to problems in his personal life, due to his selfish focus.

Southall talks about the players, managers and coaches he worked with, at times with unflinching honesty. He lifts the lid on behind the scenes politics and changing room rifts, as well as the unprofessional chaos of the Wales set up.

He’s also not shy in offering his opinions on problems in the sport. When discussing the banning of English clubs from European competition in the ’80s there is an anger which remains fresh, anger at the impact this had on the careers of a generation. And it’s hard to dismiss that UEFA’s frustration at English dominance may have had a part in the decision.

Throughout this book Southall is a down to earth narrator and seems a decent bloke, if a bit curmudgeonly. And it provides an insight into the drive needed to be a top athlete and the challenges faced, particularly with regards injury and navigating a world of big characters and egos.

And it shows the cutthroat world of football as various players and managers are cast aside unsentimentally. In fact reading about the end of Big Nev’s time at Everton after 17 years provides a sad example of how, despite a player’s contributions and history, clubs are quick to move on and replace players.

A good read for football fans, and Southall had a good life after football, using his experience to teach and help disadvantaged youths.

Verdict: An honest and direct read from a man who opens up about his career and peers. Southall is a likeable writer and provides a detailed look into what was going on in the teams he played for. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Fall of the Governor Part One by Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga

This is a spin off from the comic book series The Walking Dead, and the fourth in a series written which sheds a little light on some supporting characters. Mainly the villainous Governor of Woodbury, who is one of the series’ main antagonists.

In the comics we meet him from the perspective of the heroes, outsiders who arrive at Woodbury and quickly discover the leader to be a sadistic, psychotic individual. The rest of Woodbury’s residents are either thuggish goons or survivors caught up in the ensuing war, their feelings on the Governor never fully explored until he goes too far.

In this book one of the main characters is Lilly, a Woodbury resident who has her own issues with the Governor and how he runs his little kingdom. There are mentions of earlier clashes but she does begin to wonder if maybe they are safer with the Governor, perhaps they need a tough, vicious leader in a tough, vicious world.

As with the comic books and the show, the zombies (known here as walkers or biters) are an ever present threat, lurking beyond defences or hiding in the trees and ruins. But the real threat to the human survivors are each other and their fight for resources.

As I’ve read the comics many of the events here don’t come as a surprise, with all the major beats repeates. But what makes it interesting to see these from a different view. To see the actions of Rick and his allies not as heroic but as the actions of an outside, possibly malevolent, group.

Lilly’s story is interesting as she struggles to deal with the horrors she’s witnessed and starts a tentative romance with another survivor. She’s an everywoman character in many ways, who has learnt to survive and for safety has to join a group she doesn’t fully trust. Yet despite her misgivings she has no real choice, as leaving the relative safety of Woodbury would see her left outside alone, scraping around for food and constantly at risk of zombie attack.

Circumstances then make her situation harder as Woodbury teeters on going to war with Rick’s group.

This is quite a gripping, tense read with some solid character works but I had forgotten just how dark and unpleasant the Governor was as a character and there are some violent sequences which are tough going.

I’m also not sure why this was split in two parts as this is a fairly short book and might have worked better as one longer story.

Verdict: As a spin off that occurs alongside events from the comics there are very few surprises. However, seeing the same events play out from a different angle is quite interesting and I found the character of Lilly relatable and likeable. I’m keen to read more, hopefully as the darkest, most unpleasant parts of the story is done now. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Adolf Hitler: My Part in his Downfall by Spike Milligan

What an absolute gem of a book. This is the first part of Milligan’s war memoirs and I will definitely be continuing with the series.

The book charts Milligan’s life from the start of the war through his enlistment and time as a signaller. The book goes right up to his arrival in Algiers with the prospect of real combat looming.

Milligan’s writing is simply marvellous, delivering a steady stream of gags in a breathless fashion that makes this a hard book to put down. The stories of shirking, scheming, drinking and disorder are hugely entertaining, with Milligan mocking pompous authority figures. The war is largely a distant thing, with the odd moment where it starts to intrude on his life.

The book had me laughing aloud repeatedly and smiling almost continuously. Milligan’s humour and individuality leaps off the page and the result is a book you wish was longer. Thoroughly recommend.

Verdict: Just wonderful, a masterpiece of hilarity. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

I’ve read a few of Christie’s Poirot stories before and while diverting enough, wasn’t overly impressed. I found the stories to be inferior versions of Sherlock Holmes and didn’t much like the narraror Hastings. Luckily in this book, Hastings is not the narrator and the book works better for it.

Hercule Poirot, the renowned Belgian detective is headed home to England after assisting in a matter in Syria. Boarding the express he finds himself among a diverse group of characters, from various countries.

He is approached by one passenger, Ratchett who believes someone is out to kill him. Not liking the man, who has an evil look, Poirot refuses the case. However, that night with the train stranded in the snow, Ratchett is murdered.

The killer is still aboard and Poirot is asked to solve the case. First he uncovers that Ratchett has lied about his identity and is in fact a notorious criminal. But who among the passengers would have cause to kill him?

I really dug this book and was through it in a few days. The story and set up is interesting and well done. Poirot chips away at each passenger’s testimony and pieces together the whole far fetched situation in an entertaining matter.

The case is quite ridiculous, but Christie keeps you hooked and injects subtle humour, often at the expense of the rather pompous detective.

The only flaws are it’s dependence on national stereotypes and the fact that most of the case is based on some pretty big guesses on Poirot’s part.

The final reveal and Poirot’s explanation for the crime is brilliant, as is the ending which doesn’t follow the traditional “criminal is arrested” ending.

Great fun.

Verdict: The story runs the risk of tipping into the absurd, but Christie keeps it moving along well and draws out the truth in a cunning and entertaining way. A good read and a great page turner. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Countdown to Lockdown by Mick Foley

When I got back into wrestling as a student Mick Foley quickly became one of my favourites. He had some ridiculously brutal matches while coming across as a likeable, rather sweet dude. There was something about him that won you over and he seemed more real than many of the characters he grappled with.

I read his autobiography which just made me like him even more as it was well written and very entertaining.

He’s since written more books and this, a fourth memoir details his time having left WWE for TNA. Lockdown is the pay-per-view event where he would face wrestling legend Sting.

As the title suggests the book details the build up to the event with Foley giving a behind the scenes look at how the feud is created, how he comes up with his promos and his fears regarding his injuries and whether he can still deliver an entertaining match.

Foley talks about the mental and physical preparation, the way he tries to build the story for the match. It’s interesting and shows the work and dedication he puts into his craft.

It also provides insight into why Foley left the WWE, and the problems he had there towards the end.

Other parts of the book see Foley write on a variety of subjects including performance enhancing drugs, Tori Amos and his charity work. In places Foley’s humour is slightly juvenile but he still manages to come across well.

For wrestling fans it’s another chance to look behind the curtains and Foley continues to write well.

Verdict: A fun and interesting read about the wrestling business. Foley is adorably goofy at times and a warm, engaging writer. Non wrestling fams might not be too fussed, but for Foley fans it’s a solid read. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.