A place for me to review the books I read, and comment generally on anything book related!

Location: Darlington, Co. Durham, United Kingdom

Friday, January 19, 2007

Is It Me? by Terry Wogan

Is It Me? by Terry Wogan is the first volume of Terry's autobiography. Published in 2000, it covers his life up to about 1985, starting with the story of his childhood and schooling in Ireland, and his first career in a bank. The bulk of the book discusses his radio and TV careers, starting in Ireland and then his subsequent move to the BBC including his first run on the Radio 2 breakfast show and the BBC1 Wogan talk show.

As I understand it, the second volume of autobiography, Mustn't Grumble, released in late 2006, recaps and expands on some of this story, and brings his life right up to date.

I found the book an enjoyable and funny read. At times it was laugh out loud funny, which is a rare thing for me when reading. Terry tells his life story with the same self deprecating charm that he has on both the TV and radio. It was often easy to hear his soft Irish tones speaking the words as I read them. There is clearly no ghost writer involved here, the phrasing and language is all Terry Wogan.

The story itself is an interesting one, from a happy childhood, heavily religious (and at times brutal) schooling, and then a career that has included plenty of risk. The other thing about his career that stands out is his loyalty to Auntie, when there were big money offers from other places - a loyalty that has probably not been rewarded as much as it could have been it seems.

Terry talks warmly and at length about friends and co-workers, which while really enjoyable when about well known people, it is maybe a little long winded at times when referring to people I did not know. It could be my age, in that most of this volume of Terry's story - and so the people - is before my time. It is only the very end of the story, with the Wogan show that I was old enough to know his work covered here.

My only other criticism of the book is that terry almost skips over some of the things that he is best known and loved for. The Eurovision Song Contest and Children in Need are discussed in a matter of a few pages, and the Wogan show does not get a lot more page space. The reviews I have read for Mustn't Grumble suggest that they are covered in much more detail in that book, so it is now a small niggle with that knowledge.

I would definitely recommend Is It Me? to any fan of Terry Wogan - a funny and interesting read.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Revolution Day: The Human Story of the Battle for Iraq by Rageh Omaar

Revolution Day: The Human Story of the Battle for Iraq by Rageh Omaar tells the story of Rageh Omaar's time reporting for the BBC from Baghdad during the 2003 "liberation" of Iraq by American and British forces.

Omaar reported from Iraq during the year leading up to the war, and then from Baghdad through the war to overthrow Saddam Hussein. He was in the Iraqi capital during the "shock and Awe" air strikes, the brief siege of the city, but left soon after American troops took "control" of the city, due to the heightened danger.

The story that he tells gives a completely different perspective on the whole conflict, and what Iraq was really like prior to the war - Omaar had spent a year in Iraq in the years prior to the buildup to the war when United Nations' sanctions were at their worst. He provides a damning analysis of not only the Saddam Hussein regime, but also of the action taken by the USA led coalition and the United Nations.

Omaar speaks with the same passion and conviction that he did in his news reports for the BBC during the war, and does now for Al Jazeera English. He clearly has a huge understanding of the Middle East and in particular Iraq, and has also has gained the respect and trust of many people to get a real insider picture of the country.

The only disappointment I feel in reading this book is that people like Rageh Omaar were not listened to before the ill-conceived invasion. With a better understanding of the mentality of the Iraqi people, and their feelings towards the West and the United Nations, things could have been so different.

The situation in Iraq may have moved on considerably in the 2-3 years since this book was written, but it remains a highly recommended and topical read. In some ways the power of what he writes is only strengthened by the fact that much of what he predicted for the future of Iraq has come to pass. A great read for anyone, and a must read for anyone interested in Middle East current affairs.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Heroes All: My Ryder Cup Story 2006 by Darren Clarke

Heroes All: My Ryder Cup Story 2006 by Darren Clarke reminds me a lot of Danica Patrick's Danica: Crossing the Line, in that at it's core is a great story, but there was not really enough material for a book of this size. As with Danica's book, I think it would have been far better as a coffee table photo book. The book tells the story of Darren Clarke's Ryder Cup, in which he played shortly after the loss of his wife to cancer.

The actual story of the Ryder cup runs to only 78 pages, with the remainder being profiles of the players and captains, a hole-by-hole guide to the K-Club, and a brief history of Ryder Cup. These are certainly interesting, but ultimately feel like page fillers to try to get the book up to reasonable length - which they just about do.

While watching every minute of the Ryder Cup, I was completely drawn into the story Darren Clarke, so to hear it from his perspective was fascinating. It is a lovely read, showing the passion with which he played the tournament, and also the emotion he was feeling throughout. Darren does not go into a detailed hole by hole analysis of his weekend, but focuses far more on the highlights of the tournaments from his perspective. He also talks a lot about how he was looked after and supported by all the other players and wives, both European and American, and how that got him through. It is wonderful to read.

You have to respect Darren immensely for both putting himself on the line in the tournament and then putting those feelings down on paper. It is a touching and moving read, and gives a wonderful personal inside view of the 2006 Ryder Cup, and the fantastic people who took part in it. Despite the short length, including the padding, I would certainly recommend Darren's book, although maybe wait for the paperback to get some better value for money.

Humble Pie by Gordon Ramsay

Humble Pie by Gordon Ramsay is a fascinating read, which really shows his passion and dedication for what he does.

Gordon's story is a fascinating one, from a financially poor, unstable childhood with a selfish, destructive father, a self-inflicted, punishing apprenticeship in Europe's best restaurants, all culminating in his current amazing success.

It is that apprenticeship period that makes some of the most fascinating reading. There were clearly many opportunities in Gordon's career when he could have taken an easier route, been successful and more financially stable. But he did not take this route, being merely successful was not an option, he was driven to achieve bigger things and went after that in a sometimes ruthless manner. But it is a drive that can only give you more respect for what he does and who he is.

Something that really stands out for me from the book is the love and care he has for his family and staff - who seem almost to be another family for him. His difficult childhood has clearly impacted his fatherhood; the way he talks about his family, and philosophy for parenting is wonderful to read. When he talks about his staff, two things are brutally clear - he expects honesty and incredibly hard work, but if you give those things he will stand by you 100% and do everything in his power to further your career and status. He is clearly an incredibly demanding boss to work for, but also equally rewarding.

As on his TV shows, the book Gordon pulls no punches. You finish the book in no doubt about who and what he likes and dislikes, who has respect for, and who he would not piss on if they were on fire.

Definitely a book I would recommend.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Lisey's Story by Stephen King

Despite Stephen King being my favourite author, someone who's annual book I can't wait to read, I foundLisey's Story disappointing. I am not saying it is a bad book, but for me it did not meet the page-turning brilliance I have come to expect.

The biggest problem for me was the time it took to get going, or for it even to make sense. I am well used to King carefully building the back story before the story really kicks off, but in this case, combined with the mystery of what the hell was going on, made it just too long in my opinion.

Having said that, once it did get going the story did become a really good page turner. As usual the characters were well developed, in a real world, and I genuinely felt that I knew and cared about them.

The story itself is clearly very personal to King, in that it deals with a widow dealing with the affairs of here writer husband two years after his death. Considering King's two near death experiences in recent years (Being hit by a truck while out walking and more recently Pneumonia), there is a real element of his reality in the story. The story is not about King and his wife Tabitha, but there are obvious touch-points where the fictional life mirrors the reality.

So, it is still a good read, but to my mind one of the weakest novels in King's portfolio. I think any King fan will still enjoy it, but would not recommend it as first King book, as it is not representative of his work.

Since reading Lisey's Story I have watched the BBC2 programme Mark Lawson Talks To Stephen King, an interview in which King discusses Lisey's Story, his motivation for it, and the influences of his life in the novel. I wish that I have seen the interview before reading the book - I have had it recorded but not watched as I was keen to read the book first! I think knowing the back story/motivation behind the book would certainly have increased my pleasure reading it, despite some small spoilers. It has certainly now left me with a more positive feel for the book.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Gospel According to Chris Moyles

If I had to sum up The Gospel According to Chris Moyles in one word it would be short. Too Short! At 300 pages of double line spaced large font it is crazily short. Especially as Chris has so much to say on the radio each morning and makes a big fuss of how much he was writing throughout the book!

The shortness would be no problem if it was not a good read, but it is! I could have enjoyed it for a considerably longer time. It is funny, and in true Chris Moyles style, direct and to the point! He pulls no punches as to what he thinks about people or places - from his previous radio jobs to the current team at Radio 1!

What comes through most throughout the book is Chris's absolute love and dedication for what he does on the radio. He has clearly worked damn hard to get where he is, and continues to work hard behind the scenes to make each show funny and different. I have long been a fan, but now see him in a very different light. He no doubt deserves all the success he has.

So a great read, a fascinating (blunt and to the point) character, but I would have liked a bit more!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Four Blind Mice by James Patterson

In my opinion Four Blind Mice is not one of James Patterson's best books, but it is still a good read.

As one of the Alex Cross series of novels it features familiar characters, and their personal lives continue to develop and grow. This is one element of the Alex Cross series that I most enjoy. The characters have become very well know to me, and what is happening in their life away from the crimes is one of the joys of the novels.

As far as the crime in this novel goes, it is pretty different to the themes of recent novels, with no real links to previous crimes/criminals. The story was potentially broader in scope, but disappointingly I felt it was treated really lightly. More could have been made of the plot and locations if Patterson had chosen to. It seemed he was almost treading water with this one - maybe it is a setup for some follow-up stories in future novels.

While I did not enjoy this much as I have previous Patterson novels, that is not to say it is not a good pay turner, as it certainly is. As a standalone novel I would not have been so forgiving, but as a part of a well-liked series I will forgive Patterson a not so good one!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

A Fury for God by Malise Ruthven

A Fury for God by Malise Ruthven is an inconsistent read in my opinion.

The subtitle "The Islamist Attack on America" and associated press quotes suggest it's focus is completely on the aftermath of 9/11 and why it happened. While the book does cover this in some areas, it is much more the history of the Islamic religion, and Muslim people. It feels almost like the book was planned/mostly written pre-9/11 and when the attacks took place the author took advantage to make her book more topical.

That is not to say that he book is not interesting, as in places it certainly is. The sections on the formation of Israel, the CIA's involvement in Afghanistan and USA/UK support of Saddam Hussein in the Iran/Iraq ware are fascinating. They really highlight the hypocrisy of the current US/UK policies in each of these areas.

Also when the book does analyse the specifics behind 9/11 and subsequent attacks it is interesting, although a little light on detail - almost like an afterthought as I said earlier.

I have two main criticisms of the book, both regarding the accessibility of the book. Firstly, in places, the level of detail that adds little to the underlining point that seems to be the focus. As such it is almost impossible to make sense of it all. Secondly, the way the book is structured makes reading anything but easy. Within each (long) chapter there are no clear breaks as the subject matter moves on. With the two things combined it makes the book a really unsatisfying read in places.

Would I recommend it? If you are looking for an in-depth analysis of al-Qa'ida and Bin Laden then this is not the book for you. If you want to understand the wider picture of Islam, and it's foundations and factions then this could be the book or you. I certainly learned a lot from reading it... just not what I expected to learn!

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Iraq Study Group Report by James A. Baker III & Lee H. Hamilton (Co-Chairs)

The Iraq Study Group Report by James A. Baker III & Lee H. Hamilton (Co-Chairs) is an absolutely fascinating read, and is highly recommended for anyone who has an interest in the growing disaster of iraq.

James Baker and Lee Hamilton put together a comprehensive assessment of the current situation in Iraq, and follow that with a wide reaching set of proposals to try to bring the situation back under some sort of control.

A very clear message is given that the current policy of the US and UK governments is failing terribly, and things need to change significantly. Tinkering at the edges is not going to neutralise the situation - a wide reaching change of policy is required.

The proposals are exactly that - wide reaching - covering changes within Iraq, the US administration, and crucially changes in the way the whole of the Middle East is worked with by self proclaimed "Leaders of the Free World".

News reports on the report barely scratched the surface of the what the report contained, so well worth a read. It will be "interesting" to see what Bush and Blair come up with as their proposals for change... I for one am not hopeful.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Real Monty by Colin Montgomerie

The Real Monty by Colin Montgomerie is a really cool read of you are interesting in his career, but it does not touch on him as a man that much. Even the parts about him growing up focus on how he got into the game of golf rather then his childhood in general.

While I found the lack of a more personal story disappointing - I think making the book more a story of his career than an genuine autobiography - I still really enjoyed the book. It gives some fascinating insights into what makes him tick as a player, his rise to the top, and his continuing trouble at the majors. He also gives frank views of some of his competitors, the PGA and European tours, and many other subjects.

If you like golf, then I would definitely recommend it.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton

In Harm's Way by Doug Stanton is a great read. The account told, best know from Quint's tale in the film Jaws, is truely horrific. Almost as horrific is the way that the captain was treated by the US Navy - I am in no doubt that he was a scape-goat to save his superiors and the Navy in general.

I wish the survivors every luck in continuing battle to clear their captain's name. Unfortunately it is obviously now too late for those actually responsibility to answer for their negligence.

Friday, July 28, 2006

A Golden Age by (Sir) Steve Redgrave

A Golden Age by (Sir) Steve Redgrave is a fantastic read, although a little suprising that it finishes before the final Gold Medal at the Sydney Olympics. It is an amazing story of a level of commitment that that is hard to comprehend.

I am now really looking forward to reading Matthew Pinsent's book A Lifetime in a Race, as it will be fansinating to see the perspective from the other end of the boat, so to speak.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Driving Force by Danica Patrick

I found Driving Force by Danica Patrick a somewhat strange read. While her passion for racing (and life in general) come across strongly, I think the whole concept of the book was wrong. She is just too young imo to write an autobiography, and despite being only 200 pages long, it seemed like it was padded out to make it work. There is much repetition.

It would have been far better to my mind to have done a book about her first season in the IRL, and specifically the Indy 500, as that was by far the focus of the book. To me it would have sat much easier than the somewhat strained result produced.

And as a final point, if she wants to demonstrate that she is no different to any male driver, and can do the job just as well (which I am sure she can), then she needs to stop highlighting the fact she is the only woman in the IRL at every opportunity.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Player by Boris Becker

The Player by Boris Becker was a "unique" autobiography, which I am still unsure whether I enjoyed or not. It was disjointed book with a chapter for an area of his life - Wimbledon, his marriage breakup, tax evasion allegations etc. , rather than it being a chronological story.

Also it seemed at times that his aim was to answer stories/allegations written about him in the press - and generally the German press. Not having read the majotity of these stories and allegations, I did feel lost at times as to the detail of what he was referring to.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Working the Wheel by Martin Brundle

While Working the Wheel by Martin Brundle had some interesting insights and anecdotes, in my opinion in was certainly not a "nail-biting acount" or "gripping and dramatically vived" as the cover claims.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Serious by John McEnroe

I have thoroughly enjoyed John McEnroe's Autobiography [Serious], and am looking forward to reading Boris Becker's next week - especially to see how Boris remembers the events that they were both involved in!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Song of Stone by Iain Banks

I have not really enjoyed [...], A Song of Stone. It seemed to be style over substance, with how it is written more important than the actual story itself. A real disappointment from Iain Banks.