Everybody has a comedic touchstone - a stand-up or a sitcom they can go back to time and again and know just how easily it will tickle them and engageEverybody has a comedic touchstone - a stand-up or a sitcom they can go back to time and again and know just how easily it will tickle them and engage fond memories. Steve Coogan and his comic creations have seen me through my adolescence, my uni days, and my working life so far. Alan Partridge is - as for many Coogan fans - my ultimate comfort comedy; the one I can recite backwards. I can still laugh at his frantic and futile attempts to placate enraged farmers despite a thousand previous viewings.
Perhaps part of the challenge in appreciating Easily Distracted is in remembering that this is the autobiography of Steve Coogan and not one of his creations. Indeed, after I read it and put it on my bookshelf, my wife asked me to fetch it so she could have a read and - unconsciously - I picked up I, Partridge, instead. I could imagine Steve shaking a mock-angry fist at me for doing so, and at those who claim there is too much similarity between him and his comic characters (and between some of those creations). But this only strengthens a point Coogan tries to get across in telling his story - that there is a bit of Alan Partridge, Paul Calf, Gareth Cheeseman, Duncan Thickett and co in Steven Coogan and vice versa. It's not a secret, it's a fact - one he is happy to acknowledge and embrace. In Easily Distracted, Coogan does not try to paint a whiter-than-white image of himself; rather, he accepts himself for what he is, vices and virtues. He talks of his youthful, idealistic visions of his future self - unflappable, engaging and witty - but acknowledges the man he has become: a man who at times can exhibit all of these qualities and at other times none of them. It's quite a rational and balanced stance and one that is not hard to empathise with; it certainly helped me as a reader to understand a little bit more about the man behind the comic mask.
The book - slightly unconventionally for an autobiography - starts with the here and now, the recent times of the Coogan we think we know: the darkness of the Leveson inquiry, the exhausting realities behind the Partridge movie and his pride at the BAFTA-winning Philomena (an excellent demonstration of his abilities as a straight actor). It then settles into a more typical chronological account of his life, delivered in an enjoyably raconteurial rhetoric: from his sepia-tinted memories of boyhood holidays in Ireland (I challenge any child of the 50s, 60s or 70s to read this without drifting off to memories of their own holidays of this ilk) and life in his somewhat eccentric family home, to his struggles to break into comedy and acting, then on to the stellar rise that followed... and the well-documented baggage that came with it. It's an engaging and fulfilling journey, though I suspect - and respect - that Steve hasn't given us absolutely everything (who would?)
Being such a fan of his comedy, there was a big part of me looking for in-gags in each paragraph, but that's not what this book is about. It does have gags and it did have me chuckling away, But he makes it clear that straight comedy doesn't quite cut it for him any more. That said, there are a few Easter eggs in there, such as page 201 when he refers to that excellent James Bond movie 'To Russia With Love' (To Russia? Stop getting Bond wrong!).
Easily Distracted works well in doing what I think it set out to achieve: presenting Steve Coogan, as he is, without apology. An entertaining, at times gritty and at times warm, and consistently thought-provoking read.
Blood of Kings was an impulse buy and a holiday read for me. I picked this volume from the many in the Kindle store because it promised everything I fBlood of Kings was an impulse buy and a holiday read for me. I picked this volume from the many in the Kindle store because it promised everything I fancied at that moment in time: a desert tale of ancient empires and grand-scale war. It was the same impulse that drove me to write Legionary: Land of the Sacred Fire - I wanted to travel into the deep, unforgiving sands and imagine that I was trekking through the fiery wastes, short of water, armour grating on my skin, knowing a hidden enemy might sweep over the dunes at any moment. James' novel delivers just such atmosphere in buckets: in the Egyptian desert and the leafy, cool relief of the oases, and in the icy, rocky mountains of northern Persia too - he put me right there.
The premise - following King Darius' rise to power and charting his part in the campaign which saw an army of tens of thousands of Persians vanish mid-desert - has not been tackled in historical fiction before (at least, not that I am aware of), and this only lends more kudos to James for crafting such a detailed, vivid and immersive account of this virgin territory.
The historical detail is well observed and subtly conveyed in the narrative in a way that informs but does not distract. The Persian kings, armies, people and their customs and everyday life are richly characterised, with tiny observations like the Persian Shahanshah (King of Kings) being given "a magnificent war bow, its belly chased with electrum, elaborately carved griffins at each end, eyes and beaks picked out in gold", causing me to arch an envious eyebrow more than once.
In terms of setting, the author's attention to detail has been honed by virtue of living in the desert for a number of years, walking the paths he writes about. The maps included in the book are a testament to his intimate knowledge of the land. As stated before, the descriptives are generally first class, but there were a few that I found overused - or that made themselves conspicuous by their frequency - such as Darius' observation of the date palms and the ripeness or otherwise of the fruits on them. Not a massive issue, but it was a little 'bump' in the read (and made me crave syrupy dates!).
I chuckled when I read a review of this novel on Amazon which complained about 'too much gore'. Those who are familiar with my books will know that I'm not squeamish and neither is Andrew James - if his torture scenes are anything to go by. Wonderfully done: I won't give anything away but I was wincing/peering through one eye as I read some of the horrific ends and near-ends a few of the characters come to. In terms of battle scenes, I have a healthy appetite for clashing swords, and I found James' fight scenes fell into one of two camps: some, like the clash at the Spring of Shade, were succinct, powerful and memorable; others, such as the ambush at the icy pass near the beginning, were rendered somewhat punchless due to a degree of overdescription (in my opinion anyway). Without giving too much away, one character is tossed from his horse as enemies shoot arrows at him from up on the pass sides, but the descriptive of him being thrown is 2 pages long, and I found that this sucked the pace and peril out of what could have been a thrilling moment.
The tale takes us from Persia to Egypt and back again, and there are a fair few bends along the way. I say bends rather than twists, as I feel they could have been more devious. For example, a lingering doubt resides in Darius' mind throughout most of the book regarding the seeming reappearance of a character he thought was dead. Now the author resolves this in a reasonably satisfying way, but I reckon he could have gone a few steps further to make it more of a jaw-dropper. Easy for me to say, but I just had that nagging feeling that the potential wasn't fully realised with that otherwise impressive plot strand.
Blood of Kings is a lengthy saga, and I did wonder if the author had missed a trick in not breaking it into two or maybe even three volumes. Certainly, the scope of the tale would have allowed for it and if I recall correctly I only paid a few pounds for this book (in late 2015) - great value but probably not quite the reward the author deserves.
Overall, Blood of Kings enthralled, engrossed and delivered my desert adventure fix with aplomb. Recommended.
There's a strong hint of Irvine Welsh in this author's punchy and at times hair-raising style. At first I wondered if the powerful narrative voice migThere's a strong hint of Irvine Welsh in this author's punchy and at times hair-raising style. At first I wondered if the powerful narrative voice might overshadow the tale or its characters; instead, it proved complementary and indeed crucial in underpinning the gritty and at times starkly observed world of ambition, greed and the darker side of human nature.
The story rocks along at a perfect pace and the rhythm of twists and brutal turns made this one of my swiftest and most enjoyable reads in some time. When the expiry of a villain - no matter how detestable - has you simultaneously cheering and sighing in dismay, then I think it's safe to say the author has utterly nailed it.
I've always had a rose tinted view of 70s footy: shirts with no sponsors, 3pm Saturday kick-offs, honest times, simpler times when the game lay unsullI've always had a rose tinted view of 70s footy: shirts with no sponsors, 3pm Saturday kick-offs, honest times, simpler times when the game lay unsullied by media magnates and untainted by big money. This book blew away that image and underlines that the issues that plague football today have always been there: bonus rows, league reconstruction debates, players calling off from national duty due to dubious 'injuries' and rows over non-native Scot selection were all the rage back in those supposed halcyon days. And if you thought 'Boozegate' and the subsequent fallout in 2009 was a first, then prepare to grin wryly as I did at the account of Jimmy Johnstone, running around the Hampden pitch after a WC74 warm up game, brazenly flicking the Vs at the press box. The more things change, the more they stay the same...
Quote of the book for me was Danny McGrain, on being asked how he felt on the day when he lined up for his country in the World Cup vs reigning champions Brazil: Danny gazed into the middle-distance as if combing through his memories, then said in a wistful tone: "I was sh*ting myself" :)...more
I've read Mr Jackson's very enjoyable historical fiction, and I'd have been very chuffed with more storyThis was the pick of my summer reads. Easily.
I've read Mr Jackson's very enjoyable historical fiction, and I'd have been very chuffed with more storytelling of the same standard. But with this tale of a psychic detective set in the gritty modern world of central and borders Scotland, he has somewhat rocketed rather than stepped into the genre. The writing is first class, with dry wit, pithy action, poignant moments and a small dose of cheese (every tale in this genre has to have a wee bit).
I had wondered at the outset if the author's background in historical fiction might be detrimental to this tale, especially when the story takes us to a few historical sites around Scotland - Trimontium, Bannockburn, Melrose Abbey and Castle Douglas amongst others. But this is handled deftly, and the historical locations become clear assets, integral to the story and particularly atmospheric thanks to some excellent descriptive.
In places, 'War Games' reminded me strongly of the late, great Iain Banks, and I don't think there's a bigger compliment that that.
To sign off, here's a line from the tale that I had to jot down enviously:
"But there are some places where we are always profoundly alone. The human head contains its own torture chamber; a hidden room where the weak and the ruined retreat to seek martyrdom at the hands of their cruellest inquisitor – themselves..."
Awesome! Is there anybody on this planet who cannot identify with that?...more
The empire is on its knees, but a last hope lies beyond the eastern frontier . . .
377 AD: Emperor Valens has stripped the Persian frontier of its legThe empire is on its knees, but a last hope lies beyond the eastern frontier . . .
377 AD: Emperor Valens has stripped the Persian frontier of its legions, sending every available man to Thracia in an effort to contain the rampaging Gothic hordes. Now, covetous eyes have fallen upon Rome’s trade-rich but sparsely defended desert provinces. Shapur II, Shahanshah of the Sassanid Empire and his many client kings have long believed Rome’s eastern holdings to be theirs by ancestral right, and those lands have never been more vulnerable. Thus, Valens must grasp at the slimmest of hopes that a Persian invasion can be staved off, not by the brute force of absent legions, but by the tenacity of a hardy few. For in the heart of enemy lands, something thought long lost might just offer salvation.
When Optio Numerius Vitellius Pavo and a select group of the XI Claudia are summoned to the Persian front, they leave Thracia behind, knowing little of what awaits them. They know only that they are to march into a burning land of strange gods. They whisper tales of the mighty Persian Savaran cavalry and pray to Mithras they will see their homes and families again. All too soon it becomes clear to them that this is no ordinary mission – indeed, the very fate of the empire might rest upon their efforts. But for Pavo the burden is weightier still, for he knows that the east also holds something even more precious to him . . . the truth about his father....more
When I was in primary school, I used to read and re-read Blyton for adventure and Dahl for comedy. Those were happy times indeed. The Family Itch realWhen I was in primary school, I used to read and re-read Blyton for adventure and Dahl for comedy. Those were happy times indeed. The Family Itch really took me back to those days, with the author employing a cheeky and at times deadpan humour as we follow young Dylan, a.k.a his High Smelliness, in his quest to become a potato farm...that's right, not a farmer, a farm! Highly recommended....more
The Danubian frontier is weaker than ever, and a storm is gathering in the north . . .
Deep winter, 376 AD: Emperor Valens has withdrawn the field armiThe Danubian frontier is weaker than ever, and a storm is gathering in the north . . .
Deep winter, 376 AD: Emperor Valens has withdrawn the field armies from Moesia and Thracia to fight in the Persian War. The impoverished limitanei legions left behind to defend the banks of the River Danubius are now all that stand between the war-hungry Goths and heart of the Eastern Roman Empire.
For Numerius Vitellius Pavo and the men of the XI Claudia, the brief from Emperor Valens is simple: to avoid war with the Goths at all costs while the Roman defences are so weak. But in the frozen lands north of the Danubius a dark legend, thought long dead, has risen again. The name is on the lips of every warrior in Gutthiuda; the one who will unite the tribes, the one whose armies will march upon the empire, the one who will bathe in Roman blood . . .
I'm a historical fiction addict, but I always like to dip into other genres to see what's out there in the hope of finding a hidden gem, and in 'ParodI'm a historical fiction addict, but I always like to dip into other genres to see what's out there in the hope of finding a hidden gem, and in 'Parody Lightfoot and the Bane of Time', I've most certainly found one.
Charlie seems like a normal 13 year old girl at first, with a know-it-all older sister and an annoying brother, then they find a rip in time...
The world Charlie finds herself cast into is a mind-bending twist on what we think of a 'reality' and it really took me back to my first readings of classics like 'The Chronicles of Narnia' and 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory', and there is a really strong sense of adventure throughout that keeps you reading 'just another page'. I don't want to spoil the story, but I will say that the ending is particularly tense and eventful!
Also, the narrative is written from the first person point of view of Charlie, and the author proves to be masterful in conveying her adventure in a charming, witty and very genuine style, with subtle nods to famous films along the way. Indeed, some of the witticisms had me laughing out loud, and it's not often a book does that for me.
All in all, this has the hallmarks of a cracking read for younger and older audiences, and I couldn't recommend it highly enough! ...more
In a nutshell, this novel is a gem. The author weaves this tale in a relaxed, confident prose, laced with wit and charm as he dips into the psyche ofIn a nutshell, this novel is a gem. The author weaves this tale in a relaxed, confident prose, laced with wit and charm as he dips into the psyche of the protagonist, Donnie.
Poetic licks of detail add an air of authenticity to the scenes and I really felt like I could smell, taste, hear and see everything our hero could. Added to that, the narrative tension is relentless, upheld by slap-in-the-face cliffhangers as Donnie's quest takes him across the globe.
I sincerely hope that rumours of a sequel are true.
In summary: read this, you won't be disappointed!...more
The main characters are warm and instantly likeable and the camaraderie between Rome's finest is spot on. EvenMarius' Mules is simply a cracking read.
The main characters are warm and instantly likeable and the camaraderie between Rome's finest is spot on. Even the not-so-good guys are well woven: take Caesar, who comes across as intriguing and devious - just what is he up to? This one of many compelling reasons to keep turning the pages. The battle and fight scenes show a rich imagination and you can feel the action going on around you through vivid and gory description, some of which still make me shudder.
At the start of each chapter, the author issues bite-sized chunks of learning in the shape of a mini-encyclopaedia of the one or two new Latin words he uses in that chapter. I found this very helpful and unobtrusive.
All in this is a non-stop rollicking read. Indeed, after reading the last page, I felt like a veteran legionary! ...more
A really nice, compact and fact-packed read this. Much like the other books in the Osprey series the text is interspersed with illustrations, diagramsA really nice, compact and fact-packed read this. Much like the other books in the Osprey series the text is interspersed with illustrations, diagrams and photographs of archaeological artefacts.
I demolished it in a couple of hours and the only reason I didn't give it five stars was because I felt the book could have been far longer; a lot more detail that I was interested in that was only briefly touched on.
Entwined is so readable (I was hooked after the first tale and guzzled the rest in the same sitting) thanks to the author'A top debut by A.J. Armitt.
Entwined is so readable (I was hooked after the first tale and guzzled the rest in the same sitting) thanks to the author's very natural style. Each tale is spine-tinglingly creepy but also woven with a dark humour and this combination keeps it totally engaging throughout. The characters' lives are neatly interlinked in subtle and sometimes gruesome ways and it all hangs together very neatly so you just won't want to put it down. I can't wait to read the next volume.
**spoiler alert** The second book in the Rigante series continues the epic tale of the Keltoi and the coming of the Stone Empire and sparkles like I k**spoiler alert** The second book in the Rigante series continues the epic tale of the Keltoi and the coming of the Stone Empire and sparkles like I knew it would. I tried to resist reading this for a while to give other books on my TBR shelf some attention but the spine-tingling end to the previous volume, Sword in the Storm, made it a temptation I could not resist for too long.
I expected this book to pick up where Sword in the Storm left off – those last few pages were packed with foreboding. Surely, I thought, what happened next would be pivotal and consequential enough to fill several volumes of sequels.
But, effortlessly, Gemmell packaged the happenings immediately after Connovar's ascension to King into a haunting backstory, with spirits locked in eternal battle and Connovar having grown to become an embittered, battle-hardened old man. So instead we follow Connovar's bastard son, Bane, a young man born to a family and into a world where he was never going to be accepted and in his own way as complex a character as his father. Bane's journey echoes that of his father as he comes to terms with his place in life, while the armies of Stone once again turn their attentions on the Rigante lands.
I think the next volume will be bubbling to the top of my TBR shelf.
A very good read this. The author clearly has a genuine love of the historical setting and this shone through in some of the detail. The narrative wasA very good read this. The author clearly has a genuine love of the historical setting and this shone through in some of the detail. The narrative was smooth and the characters likeable and I found the chemistry between Vespasian and Magnus humorous and memorable. There were some issues with flat dialogue early on, where a lot of backstory seemed to be conveyed through unrealistic sounding conversations, but overall this was a tiny blip on an enjoyable journey.
If I ever forget what good storytelling is, then I can safely turn to David Gemmell for a sterling reminder.
Sword in the Storm exhibits all the traitIf I ever forget what good storytelling is, then I can safely turn to David Gemmell for a sterling reminder.
Sword in the Storm exhibits all the traits that made me love his style (have read Troy series, Lion of Macedon series, Stones of Power series) and in particular the very real-feeling portrayal of Connovar, the flawed hero. Every character has a touch of this, no archetypal villains or infallible good guys in this story, and the people of the Roman/Kelt-like world only become tainted as good or bad because of their choices and actions.
Sword in the Storm is the first in the Rigante series and it's a safe bet that I'll be reading the rest after this masterpiece.
If you're a historical fiction fan, don't let the fantasy aspect put you off. This book is a must read....more