Review: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

The Blurb

High Fidelity is Nick Hornby’s hilarious and heart-breaking first novel bestseller

Do you know your desert-island, all-time, top five most memorable split-ups?

Rob does. He keeps a list, in fact. But Laura isn’t on it – even though she’s just become his latest ex. He’s got his life back, you see. He can just do what he wants when he wants: like listen to whatever music he likes, look up the girls that are on his list, and generally behave as if Laura never mattered. But Rob finds he can’t move on. He’s stuck in a really deep groove – and it’s called Laura. Soon, he’s asking himself some big questions: about love, about life – and about why we choose to share ours with the people we do.

A million-copy bestseller, and adapted into a 2000 film starring John Cusack, High Fidelity explores the world of break-ups, make-ups and what it is to be in love. This astutely observed and wickedly funny book will be enjoyed by readers of David Nicholls and William Boyd, and by generations of readers to come.

The Review

It has been 15 years since the movie High Fidelity was released into cinemas. It was 15 years ago that I sat in a movie theatre thinking to myself “well there is two of my life that I am never getting back.”

I hated it. Not even my weird crush on John Cusack could save this film for me. I have watched it again as an adult (I was fifteen when I saw it in the cinema) and even then I just could not find a redeeming factor in the movie much to the chagrin of some of my male friends.

Fifteen years later, I read the book version. Fifteen years later, I found the redeeming factor.

You are probably wondering why I decided to read High Fidelity considering I hate the film so much. Well, last year I read a few Nick Hornby novels: Juliet, Naked, A Long Way Down, Stuff I’ve been Reading to name a few and I fell in love with his writing style. In one week I managed to inadvertently acquire two copies of High Fidelity (both from independent book stores – I think protagonist Rob would approve of this fact) and I decided to add it to my ever growing to be read pile. Once again, Nick Hornby’s writing made me smile.

High Fidelity is brilliant. I mean, it makes me utterly thankful that I was born female because the male psyche is just bizarre but the book itself was excellent. All these misnomers I have believed about the male species – gone or at least explained away. I feel enlightened, lighter by the knowledge that I have gained. Hazzah.

Nick Hornby is one of my favourite authors. He is an author who has yet to let me down which is why I am thankful that I have many more of his novels to read. Next up, Funny Girl!

In keeping with the High Fidelity theme – here are my top five Dessert Island Discs…or rather top five songs.

1)            Town Called Malice – The Jam

2)            Born to Run – Adam Green

3)            La Vie en Rose – Edith Piaf

4)            Son of a Preacher Man – Dusty Springfield

5)            That Boy – The Beatles

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby is available now.

High Fidelity


Review: My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clark

The Blurb

In this delightfully comic and touchingly romantic book Colin Clark describes – for the first time – what happened between Marilyn Monroe and himself during the “missing” week from his celebrated diary for 1956, published in 1995 as ‘The Prince, the Showgirl and Me‘.

In 1956, fresh from Eton and Oxford, the twenty-three-year-old Colin Clark was employed as a humble “gofer” on the set of The Prince, and the Showgirl, the film that was intended to unite the talents of sir Laurence Olivier, England’s pre-eminent classical actor, and Marilyn Monroe, Hollywood’s greatest star. From the outset the production was bedevilled by problems, and the clashes between Monroe and Olivier, who was both directing and co-starring, have entered film legend.

Nearly forty years later, Colin Clark’s wonderfully entertaining diary of that time was chosen as their book of the year by Jilly Cooper, Joan Collins and many others. But – one week was missing from the middle of the book. Here, at last, is the story of that week: a delicious idyll in which Clark came to know an unhappy Monroe desperate to escape the pressures of working with Olivier and an often hostile cast and crew, from the crowd of hangers-on who continually surrounded her, and from the burden of stardom itself. Her new husband, Arthur Miller, was away, and the coast was clear for Colin to introduce Marilyn to some of the pleasures of British life. How he unexpectedly ended up sharing a bed is a story readers will have to discover for themselves.

There have been many books about Marilyn Monroe, but few have shed such a compassionate light on her troubled character. ‘My Week with Marilyn‘ is as much a revelation of the oppressive nature of fame as it is an account of a singular week in the life of one of the twentieth century’s greatest icons.

The Review

I’m not going to lie to you; I read My Week with Marilyn purely because I wanted to watch the film. Why did I want to watch the film? I wanted to watch it because I have a growing crush on Eddie Redmayne. Yes, I am a slave to the mentality of watching a pretty actor perform on screen and since I have a “books before I looks” rule, I purchased the novel.

It is good.

Like most people I have been charmed by the enigma that is Marilyn Monroe. I can even admit that this is based on legend and not on her acting ability (I have only watched one of her movies) but the story My Week with Marilyn gave me a different perspective on Marilyn Monroe. A perspective not tarnished by the booze and drugs and the tragic end to her short life but one where the make-up has been scrubbed away and you get a glimpse of the insecure mess that she was. I take no pleasure in that fact but it does show you that even the most desirable woman in the world had flaws; something we would all do well to remember.

How much of the story is true? Well that is up to history to decide. All I know is that for nearly 400 pages I was completely charmed by this simple Cinderella story were a regular boy was charmed by the world’s most famous lady.

My Week with Marilyn by Colin Clark is available now.

Review: Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed

Brave EnoughTitle: Brave Enough – A Mini Instruction Manual for the Soul

Author: Cheryl Strayed

Pages: 176 Pages

The Blurb

Across the world, millions of people have found life and depth in the words of Cheryl Strayed. Whether it has been in her bestselling memoir Wild or in her collection of advice on love and life, Tiny Beautiful Things, she has been a companion to those who feel alone, a balm to those who hurt, a co-conspirator to those who laugh, and a steel-toecapped boot to those who need tough love. In this courageous and glittering collection of quotes and thoughts, Cheryl Strayed shows that no matter how much life might get you down, words can have the power to pick you back up.

The Review

Like Cheryl Strayed, I love a good quote and also like Cheryl Strayed – I collect them. I have books, diaries, scraps of paper used as bookmarks all with quotes scribbled on. What Cheryl Strayed has done has compiled a list of quotes that she has said or that others have said that inspire her. We have to give Strayed her due: the woman says some clever things.

Overall, Brave Enough is just a nice little collection to dip in to. If you are having a lousy time or a day that isn’t going your way, Strayed always seems to have some advice at the ready.

Give it a whirl, people. You know you want to.

Brave Enough by Cheryl Strayed is available now.

35 Stars

Review: The Night that Changed Everything by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice

The Night That Changed EverythingThe Blurb

Rebecca is the only girl she knows who didn’t cry at the end of Titanic. Ben is the only man he knows who did. Rebecca’s untidy but Ben doesn’t mind picking up her pieces. Ben is laid back by Rebecca keeps him on his toes. They’re a perfect match.

Nothing can come between them. Or so they think.

When a throwaway comment reveals a secret from the past, their love story is rewritten.

Can they recover from the night that changed everything? And how do you forgive when you can’t forget?

The Night That Changed Everything is a funny, feel-good and bittersweet story, told in alternate chapters by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice.

The Review

I am genuinely at a loss at how to describe just how much I loved this story. That never really happens; I can talk and talk and talk about books all day long and to be fair I probably could talk about this book but anything I say will not do justice to just how brilliant The Night that Changed Everything by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice actually is.

Let me give it a try anyway.

The Night that Changed Everything is the story of Ben and Rebecca – a couple so perfect for each other that is makes you kind of jealous but when the solidity of their relationship comes into question we realise that all relationships have their cracks.

One of the hardest things in relationships is the knowledge that other people are going to feel the impact of any emotional drama. As with most friendship groups, when a relationship breaks down picking sides is expected.

You see, The Night that Changed Everything is more than a story of love and romance. Yeah, that part of it is great and all but it is the theme of friendship that is the most gripping and heart-warming. The cast of characters – in particular the secondary and tertiary ones really do glue this story together.

What makes The Night that Changed Everything truly special is that Rice and Tait have not gone for the easy option; their story is gritty, heartbreaking and realistic. It is this reason – along with some excellent story telling skills – that will make me recommend this book again and again.

The Night that Changed Everything by Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice is available now.

You can follow the authors, Laura Tait and Jimmy Rice on Twitter at the following handles @LauraAndJimmy and @JimmyRiceWriter

5 Stars

Review: The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

The Blurb

Unicorns, dragons, sprites, will-o’-the-wisps: the inhabitants of an enchanted world. And into this world – through the pages of an old book – ventures Bastian, a lonely boy of ten or twelve. But Fantastica is slowly decaying, its Childlike Empress dying. Only a real human being can set things right by giving the Empress a new name. Bastian takes up the challenge, and finds himself crossing the Swamps of Sadness and the Silver Mountains, meeting sorcerers and giants, bats and night-hobs, gnomes and racing snails, as he journeys bravely toward the Ivory Tower, Bastian’s quest is filled with all the wonders of myth and fairy tale. It is a fantasy adventure that will capture your heart – and recapture the magical dreams of childhood.

The Review

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende is one book that I read in the wrong order. By that I mean I watched the film before reading the book. To be fair, the movie came out when I was 2 and the book was a little to advanced for my tender reading age (I was still on picture books) however, and it pains me to say this – the movie is better.

Let me explain. About a third way into the book the movie ended. The makers of the movie stopped the Michael Ende version of The Neverending Story, changed a few things around and made the story movie ready. In my opinion, the film makers did the right thing. The rest of the book was tiresome and a dirge of nonsense that left me with a headache.

I am so disappointed. I absolutely love the movie and was hoping I would be even more impressed by the book. Sadly that wasn’t the case and now I feel like two days of my life have been wasted.

For those of you reading this, save your time and watch the film instead.

The Neverending Story by Michael Ende is available now.

Review: 27 – Amy Winehouse (The 27 Series Book One) by Chris Salewicz

27 Amy WinehouseTitle: 27 Amy Winehouse (The 27 Club Series Book 1)

Author: Chris Salewicz

Pages: 38 Pages

The Blurb

In 27: Amy Winehouse, the first in a series of exclusive ebooks, acclaimed music writer Chris Salewicz celebrates the life of one of the most talented performers of recent times. In an intimate mini-biography, he explores Amy’s artistic influences and inspirations, her ability to capture the imagination and her appetite for self-destruction. Salewicz provides a startling portrayal of the perils of genius and the true cost of fame. Must the ferociously good die young?

The Review

Chris Salewicz 27 series examines the lives of the talented musicians who all tragically ended up as members of the “27 Club” – a club so named because all of the members died when they were 27. Amy Winehouse is one such member.

Salewicz examines the highlights and pitfalls of Amy Winehouse’s life and all the eventualities that led to her death. He started his book talking about her death and poses the thought that admittedly I had thought at the time. Weren’t we all expecting this death to happen much sooner? Winehouse lived her life on a Molotov cocktail of drink, drugs and dodgy decisions. Yet one thing no one can deny is that she did things of her own volition. As much as we would all love to blame other people – her dad for being controlling, Blake for introducing her to drugs, the paparazzi for hounding her – essentially, like us all, Winehouse had free will and she chose the things that led to her demise.

I was – no, I still am – a fan of Amy Winehouse. Her albums – few that they were – drip with raw emotion, her pain and her truth; they are the verisimilitude of her life. Seeing her live was something else; you never knew which Amy you were going to get. I was lucky enough to see her three times. On one of those occasions she was majestic. The other two are best not spoken of.

27: Amy Winehouse is a fascinating read. It is not judgemental, it tells you what happened, it gives you dates and facts and figures. I think my one criticism is that it can come across as a bit cold. Others have written about this same topic and have managed to be a bit warmer. Other than this personal preference, I thoroughly recommend this book as a quick read.

27 Amy Winehouse (The 27 Club Series Book 1) by Chris Salewicz is available now as are the other five books in the series.

35 Stars

Review: Hook, Line and Singer by Cerys Matthews

Hook Line and SingerThe Blurb

From Cerys Matthews, radio 6 DJ, ex-singer of Brit Pop band Catatonia and one of Britain’s best known music devotees, comes Hook, Line and Singer, a sing-a-long book for all the family, for any occasion

After more than thirty years of singing, travelling and collecting songs, Cerys Matthews still finds there’s no better way to spend time than singing along in good company.

In Hook, Line and Singer she invites you to join her in a grand old singalong. From songs for young families through tunes for vintage-lovers, trips away, American favourites and songs for times of optimism, ending with celebration songs for Christmas and New Year, this is a book filled with Cerys’s own memories and musical arrangements. A mix of the traditional and contemporary, Hook, Line and Singer presents music and lyrics clearly so the book can be sung as well as read, offering you the stories behind the songs, their ages and origins, and the reason for their inclusion.

This is a life-affirming book of the most memorable, melancholy, silliest and easiest-to-sing songs that Cerys knows, designed to keep handy at home for those moments when only a song will do.

The Review

The raspy Welsh voice of Cerys Matthews is synonymous with such hits as Road Rage and The Ballad of Tom Jones, however, of late the singer has been more known for her music show on Radio 6 or her bit part reporting for The One Show. What some people might not know is that Matthews has also turned her hand to writing. This has come in the form of her sing-a-long book Hook, Line and Singer (Penguin, 2013).

Now this treasure was found in the music section of my lovely library but it could equally have been placed in the history section and also the biography section. This is because the book examines traditional folk songs and to some extent popular songs throughout history. So far, so normal, however, the biographical element comes with the rich warmth that Matthews discusses the songs. You can’t help but hear her lilting Welsh tone tell you the stories of how the songs came about or about why they are so important to her. It is a ridiculously endearing read.

The book is set out for musicians to be able to play the songs (all in the key of C to help out budding musicians) and is ornately decorated with illustrations. It is just one of those books that feel good to read.

The one slight bug bear comes with the description of how to perform the actions of thee songs. However, it is understandable as to why they are there. After the first chapter though (which to be fair is a section on nursery rhymes) the call for actions are few and far between. Please don’t let that deter you from reading the rest of the book because the wealth of knowledge n these pages is phenomenal and you can tell that each song has been included because Matthews has such a love for it and indeed for its story. This is a charming book and deserves to be read.

Hook, Line and Singer by Cerys Matthews is available now.

3 Stars

Review: Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield

Talking to GirlsThe Review

Having previously read Rob Sheffield’s debut Love is a Mixtape (Piatkus Books, 2010) I already had a feeling that I would like Talking to Girls About Duran Duran (Dutton, 2010). You see, Sheffield has what appears to be an effortless way of revealing himself without being over the top or boring. The quality of his writing is warm and endearing. In Love is a Mixtape he writes about the loss of his wife and whilst doing so offers the reader a raw piece of himself through not only his words but the words of the artists that feature on the series of mixtapes that accompany each chapter. I implore anyone to read that book and not be moved.

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran has less of the heartache featured in Sheffield’s debut yet it is no less special. Sheffiled takes you through key moments of his life and how the soundtrack to these moments has stayed with him and has resonated enough for him to associate the memories to the songs.

It would have been easy for Sheffield just to compile a silly list of songs i.e. the number one when he was born or his first slow dance (incidentally for me Karma Chameleon by Boy George was number one when I was born and I had my first slow dance to Never Ever by All Saints) but he goes deeper than that. These are songs that remind him of long hot summers in Spain or looking after this grandfather, or the girl he met whilst working as a garbage disposal man. His stories are gloriously charming, off the cuff and completely engaging.

For all intents and purposes, no matter how self indulgent it may seem, this book is an example of one man’s lifelong love affair with music. Sheffield just gets it. He gets how loving a silly little piece of music is such a wonderful thing, but ultimately how it can be a lonely thing, yet with the closing of each chapter that gap of loneliness seems to get a little smaller as you realise that there are other fans out there like you.

This is a glorious book that makes you examine the impact of music on your own life. And what makes it all the more compelling is that as you read it you feel Sheffield’s love of music drip off the each page. There is one downside. Much like most of my favourite songs, it ended far too soon.

Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield is available now.

Follow Rob Sheffied (@robsheff) on Twitter.

4 Stars

Review: Edith Piaf – The Little Sparrow by Tom Teller

Edith PiafThe Blurb

According to legend, Edith was born atop a policeman’s cloak on the pavement in front of a slum building in one of the poorest sections of Paris. Her mother abandoned her and her father was a soldier in the French army fighting in the trenches of World War One. She spent her younger years in a brothel in Normandy where her paternal grandmother was the resident madam.

Her early teen years were spent with her father, a circus acrobat, living in a carnival caravan and touring France. She separated from her father and began singing for coins on the streets of Paris until she was discovered by a homosexual cabaret owner who made her famous.

The Review

After watching La Vie en Rose a few years back I became fascinated with Edith Piaf. I have an obsessive love of France and loving the singer who is iconic and synonymous with the country just seems sensible.

In Tom Teller’s potted history of Piaf’s life, Teller breaks down her life to the highlights. He tells you a very basic story and doesn’t go into a lot of detail but he does whet the whistle to find out even more. Some people may think that his book Edith Piaf – The Little Sparrow is sparse on details (it is) but it gives you the desire to find out more.

Edith Piaf – The Little Sparrow by Tom Teller is available now.

3 Stars

Review: McBusted – The Story of the World’s Biggest Superband by Jennifer Parker

McBustedThe Blurb

This is the first book to tell the full inside story of the world’s most awesome supergroup, McBUSTED.

McBusted takes an exclusive look at the birth of Busted and McFly, two ground-breaking pop-rock bands who journeyed through sell-out arena tours with number-one hits, and the unique friendships that the boys shared from the very beginning.

Packed with behind-the-scenes gossip, it follows the boys through the years, revealing the truth behind Busted’s shock break-up and McFly’s hiatus, the secrets of their private lives, and their roller-coaster ride that fame took them on – both the good times and the bad.

In September 2013, McFly staged their tenth-anniversary show at the Royal Albert Hall and James and Matt were invited along as special guests to perform a medley of hits with the band. The reaction to the six-piece supergroup was stratospheric and the boys decided to take the new suprband on tour – and lo, McBUSTED was born.

McBustedwalks side by side with Tom, James, Danny, Dougie, Matt and Harry as they build the band and provides a backstage pass into the tour, the fans and what the future might hold.

The Review

When I was 21 I was coming home from college (the second time for me, having completed a BTec in Performing Arts I had taken a year out and then gone back to college to study A Levels…not important to the story but I’m just offering a little context) and I received a heartbreaking text from my best friend. My favourite group had split up. Busted were no more.

Some people laughed and told me to get a grip of myself but I was genuinely devastated by the news. Everyone has that one group, you know; that one group that they fall blindly in love with. No one could say anything negative about them. I would defend them until I had basically scared and ranted the hater into submission (this happened quite recently to a member of staff that works in the same school as I – he won’t look me in the eye now…I know it is through fear!).

Before Busted came onto the pop scene the music was terrible. I was tired of listening to Fast Food Rockers and sugary novelty pop. Here came a band that wrote their own music and lyrics and performed live. It was pop at its best. It did so much for the indie craze that followed. It got young people into guitar music again. I will forever be thankful to Busted for doing that.

Anywho, I digress. In 2013 McBusted was born and I got to see two thirds of my favourite band team up with another band that I love and become a superband. It was magical. I know that sounds completely cheesy but anyone who had hoped, prayed and begged to a deity that they would get to see some form of Busted again knows exactly how I feel.

In Jennifer Parker’s book McBusted: The Story of the World’s Biggest Superband, the writer chronicles the history of both bands and the present day excitement of the McBusted and you know what. She bloody nails it.

The respective stories of these six individuals are amazing, from humble beginnings, to heartache and strife and drug abuse to reality TV shows. For people who are relatively young they have lived a life worth reading about. You find yourself chuckling away to yourself throughout McBusted: The Story of the World’s Biggest Superband but there are times of genuine sadness that did bring a tear to my eye. In part, this was probably brought on through nostalgia and rose-tinted spectacles but a lot of it was because of the hopelessness of certain situations.

What comes across more than anything is that Jennifer Parker is a genuine fan of both Busted and McFly. Both bands have not been excluded from negative press coverage whose main goal is to belittle them both and diminish their achievements to cheap pop fodder. For that, I personally thank Parker – you did good, kid!

McBusted: The Story of the World’s Biggest Superband by Jennifer Parker is available now.

You can follow Jennifer Parker (@McBustedBook) on Twitter.

5 Stars