Reading Maze For Book Reviews

Reading for the Young & Old

The Road To Nab End

I haven’t been reading enough lately.

This is largely because I wanted to feel the sense of loss after I finished Sahntaram for a week or so, to ruminate on the tale a while before launching into something new.

And the new is oh so very different.

I was working up in Blackburn earlier this year and commented on its faded glamour having been a deep slide from a not very high position in the first place.

One of the lads I was working with went out there and then to buy me this interesting autobiography, The Road To Nab End by a guy called William Woodruff.


Woodruff was born and grew up in Blackburn from 1916 and saw minor booms, which meant that his parents could afford food and drink, to deep depressions when his gran starved to death. That’s in this country, within living memory.

It’s hardly a rip roaring tale, but it is very real, and all the more captivating for that. The grime, the smells, the toil, and the occasional luxury all hit home and are recounted so very well.

I’ve take this image from Amazon as I have just ordered copies for my mum, sister and a friend in the states, all of whom I believe will love it, in part as they are all a lot older than me and so a bit closer to the times Woodruff writes about.

People may well have been a lot closer to each other back then, by my God did they have to work hard to make ends meet. Pride was huge too, and going to the poor house for hand outs inhibited our man’s family almost as much as their poverty itself.

It’s an easy, flowing read. I recommend it.


Oh my now this is a tome to be reckoned with!

Don’t start Shantaram unless you’re prepared to set aside several hours a day for a couple of weeks.

Once you’ve started you won’t want to put it down, so ideally take it on that beach holiday you have been dreading. You’ll barely notice the holiday as you’ll be in India in your mind, loving and hating the smells, the people, their hearts, and yet their extreme capacity for brutality.

This is essentially a crime novel, but laced with love, much on morality, travel, and understanding of a very different part of the world.

2013-04-17 11.12.30

Shantaram is fast, it’s funny, it’s shocking (it’s often that). It’s full on.

I recommend it to anyone who looks at the size of the book and doesn’t flinch. Don’t pick it up if a thousand pages daunts you.

And please don’t make my mistake of looking up the author Gregory David Roberts online, a glance at his photos that he chooses to show the world are enough to put you off for life, but that aside, his writing is superb, his love is real, and fook me, I do believe he is a very hard man!

I photographed the book on my bed as when I was reading it I couldn’t wait to sneak off for an early night and a read.

An entertaining and thoughtful gift for Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day presents can be universally trite (anything in the cute knick-knack range), unimaginative (chocolates) or ephemeral (flowers) so the gift of a book is a much better choice… but which to select?

If your mum has every cookbook every printed, consider a different type of book. Mothers with a sense of humour (and let’s face it, a sense of humour and an ability to laugh at life’s little trials and daily minutiae are fairly essential characteristics for mothers) will appreciate a recent release by journalist and writer Caitlin Moran entitled “How to Be A Woman”.

This book does not just cover motherhood, but looks at all aspects of what it means to be woman in today’s world…in a very light-hearted way. With plenty of laugh out loud moments, Moran strikes the balance perfectly between an entertaining read and a feel-good, life-affirming, thought-provoking work.  With a strand throughout reflecting the sexism still to be found in modern society, Moran poses and answers lots of female-focused questions.

Much of the narrative is autobiographical, having been distilled from Moran’s own experiences. She’s certainly had a varied life so far, as the daughter of a rock musician who was home schooled from the age of thirteen and had a career as a music journalist before writing for several newspapers and becoming a published author.

Overall, the message the reader is left with is a good one regarding a woman’s sense of self-worth in the world and an encouragement to everyone in general to celebrate women for what they are and who they are, rather than what they look like and how old they are.  All very positive for any one, of any age or gender – but a female reader who has shared the author’s experiences of teenage angst, pregnancy, childbirth, marriage and career struggles will gain the most.

Brian Epstein: A Cellarful Of Noise

In 1964 Brian Epstein was the manager of the most famous and adored pop band in the world.  As the man who discovered the Beatles, Epstein was perfectly placed to document the circus that surrounded them.  A Cellarful of Noise is his personal account of life with the Fab Four, starting at the very beginning.

An autobiography, Brian Epstein wrote this book just before his 30th birthday.  As a young man of 27 he was working in ‘NEMS’, one of his family record stores, when a lad by the name of Raymond Jones asked him for a very specific record.  The record was “My Bonnie” by the Beatles and that random meeting would change his life.

Epstein’s description of his own childhood is detailed – it’s easy to see where his grit and determination to succeed came from. Expelled from school at 10 (he was exiled to Southport during the war with his family just four years before) his attitude toward formal education continued to decline until leaving Wrekin College aged 15, excelling in art and drama and, shockingly, with ambitions to become a fashion designer.  He left RADA and began working for the family business, soon running his own chain of record stores. By the time John, Paul, George and Pete Best came into his life the Liverpool music scene was thriving and Epstein knew he was onto something.

This concise tale is considered one of the essential texts about the Beatles. And for good reason – Epstein’s account is well-written and littered with important details. From The Cavern via Hamburg to the top of the US Billboard Charts, everything is covered and the dynamics of the band are evident (John was the dominant one – the leader, Paul was moody but loyal, George was “the business Beatle… generous but shrewd” and as for Ringo, he was “…uncomplicated, a very nice young man”.)

Epstein died of an accidental drug overdose in August 1967. Paul McCartney once said of Epstein: “If anyone was the Fifth Beatle, it was Brian.”  If you’re into the Beatles make sure you read this book.

The Andy Warhol Diaries

The late Andy Warhol was an American artist whose work was central to the Pop Art movement. He started his career as a commercial illustrator, but became famous worldwide for his work as a painter and avant-garde filmmaker – his 1963 work ‘Eight Elvises’ canvas sold for $100 million.

This diary is a personal account of his life, starting at November 24, 1976 right up until February 17, 1987. Every morning for the last ten years of his life he recounted his adventures, thoughts and feelings from the previous day to one of his closest friends, who, in 1989, edited and published this 1000+ page book. Tedious in places (his account of visiting his eye doctor and his insistence on telling us how much he paid for almost everything), Warhol is not shy to name drop, the pages scattered with references to his famous friends; from Jane Fonda and Bianca Jagger to Donald Trump and President Carter (as well as loads of others I’ve never heard of), not all of them complimentary.

Author Pat Hackett was one of Warhol’s closest confidantes, meeting him for the first time in 1968. As an undergraduate she was determined to inject some glamour into her life and approached Warhol at the Factory for a typing job. From there, she worked with him on the book ‘The Philosophy of Andy Warhol (From A to B and Back Again)’ and his memoirs of the sixties ‘Popism’.

Sadly, on Sunday 22 February 1987, Warhol died aged 59 following a routine gall bladder operation and so the diary ends. It’s a hefty book but don’t let this put you off. If you can persevere (and I almost gave up!), you’re a fan of Warhol and are familiar with his life already, it’s a truly fascinating, if time-consuming, read.

Look Back in Hunger: The Autobiography

Never one to be afraid of sharing her personal secrets, you can be pretty certain that Jo Brand’s latest title “Look Back in Hunger: The Autobiography” is going to be a no-holds-barred account of her life to date. Easily one of the best and most popular female comedians in the UK, Brand made a name for herself on the comedy circuit before storming on to the BBC and making regular appearances on television. She is also a highly successful author and counts various titles, such as “It’s Different for Girls” and “Sorting out Billy”, among her most acclaimed works.

Her story is by no means the norm for a stand-up comedian. Growing up in a middle class family, living in a small seaside town, she went on to become a psychiatric nurse – a job which she held for 10 years – before going against her parents’ wishes and pursuing her comedy career.

It is brave for any woman to take on the male-dominated world of the stand-up circuit and even when Brand goes into detail about the abuse she suffered while on stage, she – in the style she has become so famous for – describes the scenes with humorous and almost nonchalant observations. Fans of her quick-witted and insightful comedy won’t be disappointed with this book; Brand is easily able to show her appreciation for and ridiculous attitude towards life just as well in writing as she does when she is behind the microphone.

Cruise Confidential by Brian David Burns

If you’ve ever been on a cruise holiday you’ll know it’s one of the most relaxing and enjoyable ways to spend your precious vacation time. There’s none of the airport hassles or queuing at the baggage carousel – just a blissful two weeks on the sea without a care in the world. Over 10 million people take a cruise each year, taking in over 2000 ports of call and more people cruise to the Caribbean than any other destination in the world.

Working on a cruise ship must be one of the best jobs in the world. Or is it? This raunchy yet hilarious book tells the truth behind the glamour of working on a cruise ship – from stewards fighting over food to the seemingly non-stop sex-fest. Parts of the book are too far-fetched to be believed but if you can get past this then some of the exploits really are genuinely funny. The gist of the story is of a guy working for ‘Carnival Cruise Ships’. He wants to work with his girl friend, Bianca and eventually make Maitre’d. His grand plans are sabotaged though; the 16 hour days eventually take their toll and he quits.

Author Brian David Bruns clearly has experience in the catering side of cruising, even if it is only the 13 months he actually worked for Carnival Cruise Ships. His characters lack depth though and by the end of the book I was glad I’d finished. If you don’t mind the graphic description of the sex scenes (i.e. if you’re squeamish, give it a miss) it’s a good, easy holiday read. I’d recommend this novel if you’ve cruised in the past or if you’re planning a cruise holiday in the future; but if you’re thinking of getting a job on the cruise ships, reading this might make you think twice!

Ian Brown: Already In Me – With and Without the Roses

Ian Brown once of acclaimed indie band the Stone Roses, has become a successful solo artist and self-proclaimed ‘King Monkey’. This biography by Michael O’Connell traces Brown’s life from growing up on the outskirts of Manchester to his current highly successful solo career, with a big chunk of ‘Madchester’ thrown in.

Concentrating on the Stone Roses era, O’Connell seeks to place Ian Brown as the most significant member of the band, citing the huge success of his solo work as the yardstick (only Mani has gone on to achieve a credible music career with Primal Scream – John Squire’s Seahorses floundered in early 1999 after only one album and Reni disappeared from the scene after leaving the band in 1995). Squire’s drug taking was a constant cause of upset within the group, Brown being adamantly against Class A narcotics.  Squire left on 1 April 1996, describing his departure as “the inevitable conclusion to the gradual social and musical separation we have undergone in the past few years”.

In 1998, Ian was sentenced to four months imprisonment for an air-rage incident while flying back from Paris. His time in Strangeways is fully documented here and there are some shocking tales of violence. Brown was looked after inside; the Governor ordering him to “get writing”, but the episode clearly affected him and this is reflected in his subsequent album, ‘Golden Greats’.

The book chronicles the life of Ian Brown so far, complete with pictures. The break-up of the Stone Roses after only two albums was a crime – for many reasons, the band were destined to split and the contractual and legal fiasco certainly didn’t help matters. The fact that Brown has gone on to have a thriving solo career shows that his musical influence is loved by the masses, with or without the Roses. Long live King Monkey.

Open: An Autobiography By Andre Agassi

Andre Agassi is easily one of the most talented and colourful players ever to take to the tennis court, and in his autobiography, he reveals the real story of how he rose to the top after being a child prodigy.

As many tennis fans will know Agassi’s story is not without its darker moments, and he spent many of his formative years disparaging the sport that would make him a worldwide celebrity. Forced into the game from an incredibly early age, he had a very turbulent childhood, turning professional by the time he reached sixteen.

The player’s style in the late 80s and early 90s served to revolutionise the sport and in “Open”, Agassi reveals what was going on behind the scenes at the height of his career. Of course, the celebrity focus on Agassi would eventually get too much for him and after failed relationships with Brooke Shields and, briefly, Barbara Streisand, he finally found true love with fellow tennis star Steffi Graf.

This is certainly a life story that is worthy of an autobiography and to date, Agassi has won wide acclaim for his candid storytelling and sharp writing style. It is a rare occasion when an autobiography of a sports personality shows good writing ability, but here Agassi has told his amazing life story with an exceptionally taut and well written delivery. This book will not be just for fans of Agassi or the sport of tennis in general, but has enough gravitas to appeal to a wider audience.

Open An Autobiography

Saturday Night Peter

Bolton performer, actor and writer Peter Kay is easily one of the most successful comedians of the last 10 years. Not only does he have a huge following across the country, but he can also claim four British Comedy Awards and three awards from the Royal Television Society to his name. His TV shows, such as the BAFTA-winning “Phoenix Nights” and “Max and Paddy’s Road to Nowhere”, have been huge hits.

In the book world, Kay is also no stranger to success. “Saturday Night Peter” is the follow-up to his well received autobiography “The Sound of Laughter”, and picks up from when he began his first foray into touring the comedy circuit. Here Kay describes not only the shows and venues he visited throughout the tour, but also the low-budget accommodation, long car journeys, and the exposure to characters that would be the inspiration for his material.

Of course, “Saturday Night Peter” will be high on the list for any fans of the Bolton comedic genius and is packed full of his sharp-witted and unique observational humour. Some critics have suggest that the story of his rise to fame seems a little bit too easy compared to most comedians, but the fact of the matter is that Kay was always a good, natural stand-up comic. Many of the book’s subjects, such as the weird and wonderful tribute acts he met on the road, were the original source material for “Phoenix Nights”, and it is a great insight to see how Kay draws his inspiration.

Saturday Night Peter