Peter Steward's Web Site
Book Reviews 2012
Reading is another of my great passions. So this section of the web site is designed for book reviews and recommendations. I hope you enjoy it. If you have any comments you would like added please e-mail them to me by clicking here. Each book is given a rating out of 30 with 10 points being awarded for style, 10 points for story and 10 points for enjoyment or readability. A score of over 25 is outstanding, 21-24 good, 15-20 average, 10-14 poor and under 10 very poor. Books with a score of more than 25 are highly recommended. Of course I emphasise that this is all a personal view.
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
2012 marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Dickens' birth so it seems fitting throughout the year to re-visit some of my favourites. Great Expectations is one of the greatest novels ever written - an almost perfect story. The BBC released a good adaptation, but there is nothing like returning to the original prose. Dramatisations of Great Expectations usually miss characters and much of the humour out. For all its bleakness and darkness there is light and comedy in the story and it does have two of the most endearing characters in good old long suffering Joe Gargerry and Herbert Pocket who befriends Pip. Apart from that there's the almost pantomime villainry. I remember the first time I read Great Expectations and never saw the twist surrounding Pip's inheritance coming. There is so much to trumpet this novel. It's about family values, love, friendship, money, violence, skulduggery, loss, patience, virtue and just about everything else you might be able to name.
Are We There Yet by Ben Hatch - 20
Had this book recommended by a number of acquaintances. Basically it's one of those amusing travelogues. This time involving writer Ben Hatch, his wife and their 8,000 mile travels round Britain in a car, loosely around their attempts to write a book on British attractions and museums. It is amusing in part with all the usual domestic tantrums, child problems, problems with illness and a car crash. Underneath the fun and almost drivel of the drive is the death of Ben's father who just happens to be Sir David Hatch. This is a sad sad part of the book and is very much counter to the fun of much of the rest of it. Not the greatest book of its genre that I have ever read but certainly enjoyable.
Richard by Ben Myers - 23
This is the stranger than fiction story of Manic Street Preacher Richey Edwards whose disappearance shocked the rock world and still resonates today. Myers' novel alternates between Edwards' sate of mind in the presence and flashbacks to his past, the formation of the Manics and the troubles and tribulations of touring as a member of a rock group. Edwards confesses that he is a poor guitarist whose only real part in the band is as a lyricist. It is an excellent insight into a hugely troubled mind. Edwards disappeared in 1995 and wasn't presumed to be dead until many years into the present century. The book gives no real clues as to what actually happened to Edwards. It is less a mystery and more a portrait of an anguished young man who is bright and intelligent but unable to cope with his life or his fame.
A Fifties Childhood by Paul Feeney - 20
Very mixed feelings about this relatively short book. It does conjure up the feel of the fifties - a time of picking up the pieces after the war and also a time when rationing finally came to an end - but it is also sadly very repetitive as if the author has run out of ideas. Don't read this if you want a learned account of the political and socio-economic happenings of the time. Do read it if you want to be reminded of the coming of television and all those playground games and how we all made our own entertainment.
Hucks My Autobiography by Darren Huckerby - 19
I have a number of problems with this so called autobiography by Norwich City legend Darren Huckerby. Firstly let me state that as a player he was one of the best I have seen play for the Canaries. I was expecting something special from a book that had been heralded by Norwich City fans as a must read. Basically it's full of matey stories about good guys and changing room japes. There's none of the acerbic comment that I expected and it told me nothing I didn't already know. Adam Drury is a damn fine chap, Dion Dublin is a damn fine chap. In fact there are a lot of damn fine chaps around and when we do stumble across the odd pantomime villain (Glenn Roeder springs to mind) the author avoids wading in too deeply with comments such as the fact he accepted being called a has been by the manager but his wife had other views. We never learn what those views were. Then we have the sub title of the book "Through Adversity to Great Heights." There seems to be a huge lack of adversity, however. Huckerby had a relatively happy upbringing in Nottingham and flew from non league football into the professional game. Then we have the fact that local journalist Rick Waghorn seems to have had a major input into writing the book - so is it really an autobiography? Even then the writing style is not great. There is plenty to enjoy in this book but it fell well short on what I expected.
The Absolutist by John Boyne - 25
John Boyne is one of my favourite authors for his gritty realism and the vast range of subjects covered by his novels. It sets him aside as a smart author always likely to source new ideas and new areas. The Absolutist tells the story of two friends during the First World War. There is more to their relationship as soon becomes obvious from some quite harrowing passages from the trenches of France. The main subject of the book Tristan Sadler has kept a secret and after the war he seeks out the family of his friend Will Bancroft on the pretence of returning letters to Will's sister. But there is a much darker reason for his journey to Norwich than this and gradually this unfolds through the story of what happened during the war and also his meetings with the Bancroft family. It is a beautifully crafted novel and one of those that leaves you pondering long after the last page has been finished. If I do have a criticism I agree with the Amazon reviewer that at times the languages and some of the phrases used are far too modern for a book set in the First World War period. Also some of the facts about Norwich seem a little loose such as the fact that Tristan is staring into the River Yare when it should be the River Wensum and a character's suggestion that a train setting off from Liverpool Station in London at just after 10 a.m would be in Norwich by around midday. In those days of steam such a journey would have taken over three hours. Other than that it's a rattling good read.
The Congress of Rough Riders by John Boyne - 23
Another rattling good read, although perhaps not as satisfying as the Absolutist. This one features legendary American frontiersman Buffalo Bill Cody and his descendants which gives the author the chance to once again weave history into the present day. It's probably more satisfying from an historic point of view than as a modern day novel and at times reads more like a biography than a novel. Of course this isn't necessarily a bad thing. I felt the book did fall down a little in ambling towards a conclusion without any real twists and turns and at times was rather hackneyed in its approach as if it had been written to a formula. Nevertheless as an insight into the Wild West it is a really good read.
Memoirs of a Fruitcake by Chris Evans - 22
The second volume in Chris Evans' autobiography sees him somewhere between hell and happiness for most of the book. Excess seems to be his middle name as he marries Bilolie Piper, gets divorced (the section explaining why is less than convincing), falls in love and marries again, is re-united with his daughter, has a son, takes over from Sir Terry Wogan as the morning DJ on Radio Two, makes a fortune, loses a fortune, makes another fortune, loses another fortune, buys ridiculously priced cars. Life in the world of Evans is never dull. Once again a very entertaining read, similar in format to the first book. It brings us up to date with his life. I guess there just might be one or more twists and turns still to come.
All the Madmen by Clinton Heylin - 23
A strange mix of a book, in parts enjoyable, educational but also confusing. It takes the lives of some of rock music's more manic personages and discusses their drug abuse, excesses and madness. At the forefront of this are Syd Barrett and Nick Drake - complete fruitloops for most of the time. David Bowie, Ray Davies of the Kinks and a cast of other strange rock stars are also featured. The book concentrates on the great years of rock music of the early 1970s when excess was the order of the day. The book starts off with a chapter on psychology and closes with an appendix on the history of madness - neither of which seem greatly relevant almost as if the author was determined to include them whatever the subject matter was. Nevertheless it is a highly readable book. It doesn't add anything new, culling most of its material from existing sources but it does give and insight into the strange times that were the late sixties and early seventies.
The Smell of Football by Mick Rathbone - 25
One of the best books I have ever read on football. It's particularly good because of the humour that shines through. I rarely laugh out loud at books but this one had me in stitches at times - the chapter where Mick describes his time as manager of Halifax is particularly amusing although at the time seeing the team drop out of the football league was probably anything but funny. Mick Rathbone may not be a household footballing name but he played as a professional for Birmingham, Blackburn and Preston (amongst others) and then became a physio and manager - ending his working days as Head of Medicine at Everton. Today he is an author and after dinner speaker. This is not your usual football biography, however. Mick doesn't spend the time eulogising about the places he has been and the people he has met (although by its nature there has to be some of that). It is mainly about his life as an individual, his almost paranoid fear of playing for Birmingham's first team, his fear of being on the same pitch as his boyhood idol Trevor Francis and his views on how to treat players that came under his care. Okay there are some sycophantic moments where he almost hero worships players he has worked with e.g Wayne Rooney, but the book is always anchored in humility, which makes it a top read. Maybe a few too many four letter words but overall a really enjoyable read.
War Horse by Michael Morpurgo - 22
Having seen the stage play and the film I decided to complete the trio by reading the book. Essentially this is a story for older children and a short book that I read in one sitting. It's interesting that whilst the stage play and film narrate things from a human perspective, the book looks at everything through the horses view. This is something that can be achieved in literature but not on screen or stage. It helps us to get into the mind of the animal and it's a well written tale. The film and play are pretty close to the original written word and this is well worth a read if you have a few hours to spare.
I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg - 19
Enjoying Fannie Flagg's books is one of my guilty secrets only known to a few people (that's because I'm sure nobody reads these pages). I was hugely disappointed with a Redbird Christmas and this one is also disappointing as the saccharin sweetness of some of the characters has just become slightly too sickly. The characters tend to be one dimensional - either good or bad. Sadly the plot is a little pedestrian as well and only becomes interesting when a mystery develops. But the mystery seems to be an aside to the relationships and description of life in Alabama. In the end there's a twist to the mystery but it still doesn't come as a great surprise. So overall I was disappointed with this.
The Messiah Matrix by Kenneth John Atchity - 18
This book was free on Kindle when I got it and so certainly good value for money (or should we say no money). It's a thriller in the Da Vinci code area but quite complex in its ethos. The main problem was in I felt I knew what direction it was going in early on and then it just became rather tedious. Still worth a read but I'm glad I didn't pay £5 or something for it.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkebhan
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Justin Fashanu The Biography by Jim Read - 22
My interest in Justin Fashanu comes primarily from living in Norfolk and being a fan of Norwich City - just one of many of Justin's clubs. I also knew him a little by way of attending the same Norwich gym. There was no side to Justin but he was a highly complex character. Some would say he was a manipulator, others a little boy lost. Thrust into the football spotlight primarily through one of the best goals ever scored, he went on to fame, fortune and latterly depression and confusion that saw him "out himself" as professional football's only openly gay player. Jim Read has done an excellent job in piecing together all the strands of Fashanu's life from his days of growing up in a Norfolk foster home, through his million pound transfer, his hatred of Brian Clough, his many clubs and his inability to come to terms with a life that at times seemed to be completely out of control. The book is well researched and gets us into the mind of the player as well as any biography is likely to do. We will probably never fully understand why Fashanu committed suicide but that doesn't detract from an insightful read that also illustrates the homophobic world of yesteryear.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - 22
Mixed feelings about this book. Must of course remember that it is aimed at teenagers and is a good read, but at times seems to get bogged down in its detail. It's a kind of X Factor meets Big Brother in the ultimate contest with survival the ultimate prize for the winners of the Hunger Games. The actual plot will be well known to most. The book deals with political turmoil, human survival at all costs, the false world of fashion and many other timely topics, hidden within a narrative that at times wanders but at times retains its interest. Did make me want to read the two follow-up books in the trilogy.
Fire and Rain - David Browne - 20
On the surface this seemed like a good idea. Take one specific year in rock history - 1970 - and chronicle it through four major albums - Bridge over Troubled Waters by Simon and Garfunkel, Fire and Rain by James Taylor, Let It Be by the Beatles and Deja Vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. This book is as much about the times as it is the specific albums and there seems to be little to hold it together apart from the year. It chronicles breakdowns, band excesses but somehow struggles to make any real point. There is nothing new here that we didn't already know and the author seems determined to link together diverse artists without ever really doing so. That makes it a great disappointment overall.
50 Shades of Grey - E. L. James - 18
So much hype, a number one best seller but is it any good. The general response is not very. Erotic it may be in parts but after a couple of hundred pages it all gets rather predictable and dull and there's two other books in the trilogy. Not sure I will bother with them.
11-22-63 - Stephen King - 23
An engrossing book and one of his best for a long time. Perhaps a shade overlong but the story is interesting if the style is a bit Americanised at times.
The John Lennon Letters by Hunter Davies - 26
Quite simply my favourite read of the year. I finished this in just two sittings. It shows just what a complex man Lennon was from his Liverpool years through the Hamburg years, the Beatles years to the at times tortured New York years. Lennon, often sending letters to random fans. It's all here with hundreds of letters and the brilliant comments and prose of the Beatles official biographer. A labour of love and it shows.
Towards the end of the year I started to read Pantheon by Sam Bourne, Unbelievable by Jessica Ennis and The Sword and the Sceptre by Simon Scarrow but failed to finish any of them due mainly to lack of interest in them.
26 - The John Lennon Letters by Hunter Davies
25 - The Absolutist by John Boyne
25 - The Smell of Football by Mick Rathbone
23 - Richard by Ben Myers
23- The Congress of Rough Riders by John Boyne
23 - All the Madmen by Clinton Heylin
23 - 11-22-63 by Stephen King
22 - Memoirs of a Fruitcake by Chris Evans
22 - Justin Fashanu the Biography by Jim Read
22- War Horse by Michael Morpurgo
22 - The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
20 - Are We There Yet by Ben Hatch
20 - A Fifties Childhood by Paul Feeney
20- Fire and Rain by David Browne
19 - I Still Dream About You by Fannie Flagg
19- Hucks My Autobiography by Darren Huckerby
18 - The Messiah Matrix by Kenneth John Atchity
18 - 50 Shades of Grey