No one would call David Rose - or ‘Rosie’ as he’s known to one and all - a star, but he’s good at his job and proud of his work as a sportswriter for a national newspaper. He’s used to seeing flashier talents come and go - both on the field, and in the competitive world of the press. Football comes first in the way he spends his working life, but he’s happy to pitch in whatever the sport - from Formula 1 to Test cricket in the West Indies, the Olympics to a heavyweight championship bout in Japan.
He’s used to the ups and downs of a journalist’s life and has learned to keep his own head safely down - until an especially venal boss pins his own misdemeanours on the entirely innocent Rose. Rosie’s revenge is slow but sweet, as he manoeuvres through a world where egos clash, money talks and you’re only as safe as your latest by-line
Author Simon Barnes was the chief Sports Writer for The Times until 2014, with a number of journalistic awards encompassing a career spent writing about both sports and nature. Writing his first book in 1986, Barnes has written over 20 since, with "The Game's Gone" an Audible exclusive, brilliantly narrated by actor Colin Mace, who, judging by his Twitter feed, is an apt choice due to his passion for sport.
I'll be honest and admit to a little apprehension when I began listening to this, as I'm not the biggest sports fan - I enjoy Rugby, love the Tour de France and get briefly into Wimbledon every year, but I'm certainly not a commited sports fan, and my only real knowledge of sports commentary and journalism comes from watching Grandstand or Match of the Day with my father on the Saturdays of my childhood.
In truth though, "The Game's Gone" isn't necessarily a book about sport. Yes, sport plays a big part, but what's clever is how sport is weaved through the plot - not only the games, but the emotions and passions that lie at the heart of every game out there.
Rosie is a compelling character for the listener, and narrator Colin Mace conveys him well, making this a relaxing read that's told with a friendly intimacy by a character whose side it's impossible not to be on, and whilst his story is certainly not plain sailing, the warm humour Simon Barnes infuses his story with ensures that the reader isn't on edge for too long.
Barnes cleverly uses his experience to create characters who are layered and interesting - he's not interested in using characters that are stereotypes or who are instantly likeable, but instead he builds them to feel real and relatable - and it takes a while to warm to some of them - including the narrator! This worked well for me, and combined with what felt like very real reflection on sporting events, made for a listen that truly bought the world of sports journalism to life for me. In essence, it reminded me of the humanity and warmth at the core of sports that Nick Hornby wrote about in Fever Pitch, combined with a gripping plot about the cutthroat world of journalism - a Count of Monte Cristo but with balls and pens instead of swords and pistols.
A vastly enjoyable listen that took me on an immersive and exciting dive into the world of sports journalism, "The Game's Gone" is available exclusively from Audible.
Many thanks to Amber at Midas PR for the review copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour for "The Game's Gone" - I received the review copy in exchange for an honest review.
A body is found bricked into the walls of a house - from the state of the hands, it's clear he was buried alive, that he had tried to claw his way out before he died. The victim is quickly linked to a missing person's case and DS Adam Tyler is called.
As the sole representative of the Cold Case Review Unit, Tyler understands he's been placed there to keep him out of the way following an 'incident'. So when the case falls in his lap, he grabs the opportunity to fix his stagnating career.
But then he discovers he has a connection to the case that hopelessly compromises him, and he makes the snap decision not to tell his superiors. With such a brutal and sadistic murder to unpick, Tyler must move carefully to find out the truth without destroying the case or himself.
Meanwhile, someone in the city knows exactly what happened to the body. Someone who is watching Adam closely. Someone with an unhealthy obsession with fire...
Author Russ Thomas was born in Essex, raised in Berkshire and now lives in Sheffield. After various 'proper' jobs (including pot-washer, optician's receptionist and storage salesman) he discovered the joy of bookselling, where he could talk to people about books all day. Firewatching is his first novel.
I'm in the fortunate position to be able to read a few books a week - and my pile to be read is so large, and so teetering, that I feel guilty about truly indulging in a book. Firewatching is one in which I found myself rationing the book out - desperate to reach the conclusion but also eager to eke out every last drop of enjoyment and mystery.
I've struggled with crime books in the past - I've been a huge fan of Ian Rankin since I was a teenager, but it's quite an oversaturated market and it can be hard to know where to start when wanting to find a new Detective or Investigator to latch onto. But in Firewatching I think Russ Thomas has created the most compelling lead since Will Dean's Tuva Moodyson appeared a few years ago, and Firewatching is one of the most compelling stories I've read in some time.
Lead DS Adam Tyler is compelling, troubled, but utterly believable, and whilst it's sad to say that this is still surprising, it's nice to see a gay character appear in a crime novel who isn't a sterotype, but a layered, three-dimensional human being. Yes, he's incredibly hot, and yes, he hooks up with men, but he's utterly believable, and easy to relate to. As a lead he's compelling - and I found myself increasingly worried for his welfare as the book continued. And, as a gay man, it was really bloody nice to read a crime novel with a gay officer as the lead, whose sexuality is part of his life, but isn't necessarily the sole characteristic that defines him, as I find can often be the case in fiction.
man who In fact my only issue with Tyler is that at one point another described him as "a prettier Jake Gyllenhall", which I (through extensive research) have deemed an utterly impossible statement - if Jake Gyllenhaal could be any prettier we might as well all give up and start wearing paper bags over our heads, as the pinnacle of beauty in mankind would have been reached...
That insignificant grumble aside, Firewatching is tightly plotted, and threads a number of fascinating plots together to the extent that each twist is genuinely surprising, and leads up to a conclusion that left me rather breathless. Characters are likeable and well-rounded, with Thomas avoiding stereotypes whether positive or negative in drawing his characters - cuddly old ladies are shaped into something far more complex, gruff senior policemen turn out to have slightly more to them, and Tyler's a thoroughly fascinating man who I can't wait to read more about. Do check Firewatching out - it comes highly recommended.
Despite everything being pretty terrifying outside, we're in a pretty golden age when it comes to conversations about sexuality and gender. Growing up in the 90's and early noughties, finding books I could relate to as a gay kid was really bloody hard. Prior to online shopping being much of a thing, I didn't dare ask in bookshops for books that had gay themes - so I was left with occasional glances at a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover (which, heterosexual sex scenes aside, is really quite dull) to fulfill initial curiosity - and it was only through chance that I discovered Patrick Gale, who was the first author whose works I truly fell in love with, and who allowed me to discover a positive life for those of alternative sexualities, outside of the small town in which I grew up.
Thankfully, with the rise in popularity of Young Adult fiction today, there is a huge amount of material out there which allows young people to explore and discover different sexualities and gender identities - and I can't think of a better example than Heartstopper by Alice Oseman.
Back in 2016 (4 years ago, when we could do things like see friends and go to the pub. Ah...), Alice Oseman began writing Heartstopper as a web comic. Skip forward to 2018, and Heartstopper began becoming available in Graphic Novel form - with volume 3 released earlier this year.
Heartstopper is the tale of Charlie and Nick - two boys at the same school. They've never met, until the two are forced to sit together in class - and, from there, romance grows... Over the three volumes that are out so far, you watch the boys grow together, meet their friends, families and teachers, and genuinely feel part of their lives. It's rare that I become quite so invested in fictional characters, but there's something very real about Charlie and Nick that sucks you in, and I can't deny that I feel a real sense of connection with this tale of gay love at school - I was in the closet for most of my time at school but certainly felt the pangs of adolescent love.
Whilst some of you may roll your eyes at the fact that this is another love story about two cisgendered white guys - the accompanying cast are varied, diverse, and fully fleshed out, with a whole range of subplots that are massively entertaining, but also completely relevant to what young people are, I believe, going through today - although I should point out that it's going on for 15 years since I was in school!
These books are gorgeous - beautifully drawn and it's clear that creator Alice Oseman has a huge amount of love for these characters - they first appeared in her novel Solitaire. which I've not read but is very much top of my pile! I'm excited and cautious about Charlie and Nick's future - I know wherever they go, they'll be dealt with huge amounts of care, but also huge amounts of truth - so I have a distinct feeling it's not going to be plain sailing for them...
Check out Heartstopper on Alice Oseman's website to see where you can read it, and where you can grab a copy, and enjoy. I certainly did.
It's a tricky time for everyone at the moment - and as a book fan it's hard to ignore quite how much Covid-19 has thrown the publishing world into disarray - publishing dates are being postponed, many independent bookshops have closed completely during this time, and a lot of people, myself included, struggled to concentrate on reading in this time of immense change and uncertainty. But, things are going to continue as they are for quite some time, and now my mental state has just about adjusted to our "new normal", I wanted to take a look at a book that came out on the 19th of March - so pretty much as all of this kicked off. It's a brilliant read that deserves to be shared - so let me tell you a little bit about it.
Celebrity, with its neon glow and selfie pout, appears hypermodern. But the famous and infamous have been thrilling, titillating, and outraging us for much longer than we might realise. Whether it was the scandalous Lord Byron, whose poetry sent female fans into an erotic frenzy, or the cheetah-owning, coffin-sleeping, one-legged French actress Sarah Bernhardt, who launched a violent feud with her former best friend - the list of stars whose careers burned bright, long before the Age of Television, is extensive and thrillingly varied.
Greg Jenner is a historian, broadcaster, author, and an Honorary Research Associate at Royal Holloway, University of London, where he does occasional teaching. I've been listening to Greg Jenner for a while now, as his BBC Comedy podcast "You're Dead to Me" has proved hugely eye-opening and exciting both for history buffs like me, and for friends who perhaps haven't been so keen on history in the past. The podcast allows anyone to discover fascinating facts about historical figures - but the way it's set up means that those who maybe got put off history after a bored teacher repeated dates to them ad infinitum, will hopefully have a new interest sparked by the compelling way in which the tales are told.
Telling people's stories in a compelling fashion is clearly something that Jenner excels at - and in Dead Famous he's able to combine an overarcing study of the way celebrity has grown and changed over the centuries, with intimate glimpses into the lives of those who have been raised up and celebrated for a huge variety of reasons - both good and bad.
Jenner is the historical consultant to the brilliant Horrible Histories tv show, and it's clear that he has a telent for comedy as well as history, with witty asides peppered throughout the book. It works well - this is clearly a hugely well researched piece of work, but the warmth and humour ensures that it doesn't read like a dry textbook - it has a clear focus, and the compellingly human lives that Jenner resurrects on these pages ensure that it's a page turner - he skillfully weaves fascinating facts throughout every single page, leaving me with a long sheet of people I'm keen to do more research on.
Books that combine history with humour can, in my experience, occasionally err on the side of cruelty - poking fun at the figures they reference in order to entertain readers. That certainly isn't the case here - Jenner allows fact to speak for itself with little room for harsh judgements - and that ensures that Dead Famous is a compelling piece of social history that educates just as much as it entertains - it's one of the best history books I've read in some time.
If it sounds like your cup of tea, - grab a copy where you can, and check out "You're Dead to Me" whereever you get your podcasts. The author has also just started a history podcast called Homeschool History that aims to get children interested in history during this rather difficult time - if you're in the UK it should be available on the BBC Sounds App.
Poland, 1980. Anxious, disillusioned Ludwik Glowacki, soon to graduate university, has been sent along with the rest of his class to an agricultural camp. Here he meets Janusz, and together they spend a dreamlike summer swimming in secluded lakes, reading forbidden books - and falling in love.
But with summer over, the two are sent back to Warsaw, and to the harsh realities of life under the Party. Exiled from paradise, Ludwik and Janusz must decide how they will survive, but their different choices risk tearing them apart.
Author Tomasz Jedrowski was born in West Germany to Polish parents, and studied law at Cambridge and the Universite de Paris. He currently lives in France. Swimming in the Dark is his first novel, and my god - what a novel it is!
James Baldwin's sublime Giovanni's Room is a key touchstone of this novel, and the two share a lot - not only themes of queer love and escape, but both are exquisetely beautiful reads full of desire, discovery, and the bittersweet pain of first love.
Whilst the Gay love story is what drew me to pick this book up, the setting is just as fascinating - taking place in Poland in 1980, and allowing the reader a glimpse into the beginnings of the turmoil that, 9 years later, saw the Polish Worker's Party fall and Poland move into a full market economy.
I like to think my historical knowledge is pretty good, but I'm woefully under informed when it comes to Poland, so it was fascinating to have such an in-depth glimpse into the country's past. In terms of tone and setting I was reminded a little of An Honest Man by Ben Fergusson - one of my favourite books of 2019, and one that also deals with a gay love story under an opressive regime. However my knowledge of german history is decent, so that book was perhaps slightly less enlightening for me on that front - whereas Swimming in the Dark genuinely opened my eyes and has made me interested in the Poland of the mid to late twentieth century, helped hugely, I imagine, by the fact that the author was born to Polish parents who I imagine would have had first hand knowledge of some of the events and situations described in the book.
Jedrowski's prose truly envelops you in the story - I felt the warm summer haze of the initial chapters turn into the cold grey later in the book, and as a Gay man myself, I felt the emotional heart of this story incredibly deeply. I grew up under a far more accepting government in nineties england, but the themes that are explored here were easily related to stuff I went through as a teenager and a young adult, and, I imagine are fairly universal. I think I fell in love with Tomasz almost as much as Ludwik did - and that's a mark of how emotionally honest the author is in his writing.
My only real gripe with this book was that it wasn't longer - but that's a gripe that comes from pure selfishness - in truth it's a well balanced tale that's told with great care. I won't forget it in a hurry, and I'm eager to see what the author does next - he's certainly one to watch for me, and Swimming in the Dark is one of my favourite reads of 2020.
Does Magic Exist?
Charlie Watson thinks it does and he wants to tell you all about it. Before he was famous, Charlie Watson decided to write a book to share with the world everything he knew about Magic. This is that book. You will discover why Charlie always wears a Top Hat, why his house is full of Rabbits, how Magic Wands are made, how the Universe began, and much, much more. Plus, for the first time, Charlie tells of the strange events that led him from England to the Arctic, to perform the Extraordinary Feat that made him famouse, and he finally reveals whether that Extraordinary Feat was Magic or whether it was just a trick.
Author Mike Russell was born in 1973. As a child he enjoyed daydreaming, art, and writing strange stories, and as an adult he enjoys daydreaming, art, and writing strange stories...
His books have been described as Strange Fiction, Weird Fiction, Weird Lit, Surrealism, Magic Realism, Fantasy Fiction...but he just likes to call them Strange Books.
Mike is a full time author, and grows his own potatoes
Magic tells the story of Charlie Watson - a famous magician who has finally decided to tell all about his relationship and history with Magic. Famous for an incident in the Arctic, he regales the reader with tales of the first magician, an upside down top-hat, and a glimpse behind the scenes in a wand factory.
Charlie encounters magic, love and mystery throughout, and he speaks to the readers with an open, friendly voice that kept me engaged throughout. There are various twists and turns throughout, and Charlie is a handy guide through them for the reader - he's a hugely engaging character, and his distinct voice rings clear throughout.
In keeping with Mike Russell's previous work, and with the ethos of his publishing line, this truly is a Strange Book - but that strangeness is combined with heart and humour - quirky characterisation and an intriguing plot ensure that "Magic" is certainly strange - but also hugely readable and extremely enjoyable.
Strange Books are a beacon of individuality in the publishing world - long may that continue!
Tim Waterstone is one of Britain's most successful businessmen, having built the Waterstone's empire that started with one small bookshop in 1982. In this memoir he recalls the childhood experiences that led him to become an entrepreneur and outlines the business philosophy that allowed Waterstone's to dominate the bookselling business throughout the country. Tim explores his formative years in a small town in rural England at the end of the Second World War, and the troubled relationship he had with his father, before moving on to the epiphany he had while studying at Cambridge, which set him on the road to Waterstone's and gave birth to the creative strategy that made him a high street name, and Waterstone's the largest booksellers in Europe.
I've never been a big fan of the business memoir - I've never found "rags to riches" tales particularly exciting and as someone who has always been far more interested in the creative side of life as opposed to the business side, it's not a genre I've dipped my toe in very often.
However, as a huge lover of books, a regular shopper in Waterstones (there are 3 within a ten minute walk of my office, which, for someone with a love of books and no impulse control, is dangerous!), and as a former bookseller in a Waterstones, I was intrigued to read the tale of how Tim Waterstone (Sir Tim Waterstone now) turned a single bookshop into an empire -and I was pleased to find that "The Face Pressed Against the Window" is half personal memoir, half account of years spent running and growing his bookshops. Tim Waterstone has, unsurprisingly, rather a unique voice -and the account of his life is well told, with spirit, warm humour and a careful balance of tone that conveys both the nostalgia and the harsh realities of life in post-WWII Britain
From childhood, through University, and then a brief spell in India, Tim Waterstone comes onto his time running bookstores -but what's important is that he doesn't allow himself to wallow in his own success, but instead celebrates his staff - of the culture and creativity that his bookstores have inspired, and of the mere fact that, in this "Digital" age his idea has endured and, in recent years, thrived. A testament to the power of learning and reading - "The Face Pressed Against a Window" is a surprising, moving and heartwarming read from an industry leader.
In 2010—long before the release of Lemonade—Professor Kevin Allred created the university course “Politicizing Beyoncé” to both wide acclaim and controversy. He outlines his pedagogical philosophy in Ain’t I a Diva?, exploring the process of teaching Beyoncé and what it means to use a superstar to blow up the canon. Allred brings his syllabus to life by pairing music videos and songs with historical and academic texts, and combines analysis with classroom anecdotes. Topics range from a capitalist critique of “Run the World (Girls)” to the politics of self-care found in “Flawless”; Beyoncé’s art is read alongside Black feminist thinkers including Kimberlé Crenshaw, Octavia Butler, and Sojourner Truth.
Interrogating the entertainer’s career through a media studies lens, Allred attests that pop culture is so much more than a guilty pleasure—it’s an access point for education, entertainment, critical inquiry, and politics.
Singer, songwriter, actress, mother, wife, there's no doubting that Beyoncé is a modern day icon - a clear star since her Destiny's Child days who has only grown in terms of influence and power. As one of the most famous women on the planet, Beyoncé could have gone down a standard, crowd pleasing route -but in recent years has taken career choices that surprised and excited many, stepping away from the pure pop pleasure of her earlier work and stunning the world with the surprise drop of "Lemonade" in 2016. A visual album that combined a range of musical genres with a furious anger that allowed Beyoncé to explore black history, feminism, indifelity, sexuality, and even Yoruba culture, "Lemonade" showed the world that Beyoncé is a far deeper artist than many expected - and it's these deeper levels that author and Professor Kevin Allred has been exploring since 2010 with his course "Politizing Beyoncé" -a syllabus that analyses the work of Beyoncé alongside black feminist texts to use intersectionality as as an analytic tool through which to view both pop culture and the rest of the world. Here Allred takes his course and transforms it into a fascinating, highly readable book that explores both the political and cultural background behind the work of Ms. Knowles, explored through black feminist thinkers and ending in a fascinating read.
I've always rather taken Beyonce at face value - I've been a fan since the Destiny's Child days, and particularly enjoyed her explosion onto the music scene as a solo performer with Dangerously in Love - but I never gave her work a huge amount of thought, even in recent years when her politics have become more overt in her music. I fully appreciate that's likely due to my privilege as a Cis White Man, and as such I found "Ain't I A Diva" an eye-opening read, and Allred is careful to ensure that he doesn't wallow in dry academia, but instead fills his work with references that are relevant to both the subject and the reader. If the book is this good, I can only imagine how engagingly excellent Allred's lectures are - with the book going far deeper than I perhaps imagined, and as such is a valuable and enlightening read for anyone with an interest in popular culture.
Katharine Smyth was a student at Oxford when she first read Virginia Woolf's modernist masterpiece "To the Lighthouse" in the comfort of an English sitting room, and in the companionable silence she shared with her father. After his death -a calamity that claimed her favourite person - she returned to that beloved novel as a way of wrestling with his memory and understanding her own grief.
Smyth's story moved between the New England of her childhood and Woolf's Cornish shores and Bloomsbury squares, exploring universal questions about family, loss and homecoming. Through her inventive, highly personal reading of "To the Lighthouse" and her artful adaptation of its ground-breaking structure, Smyth guides us towards a new vision of Woolf's most demanding and rewarding novel - and crafts an elegant reminder of literature's ability to clarify and console. Braiding memoir, literary criticism and biography, All the Lives we Ever Lived is a wholly original debut: A love letter from a daughter to her father, and from a reader to her most cherished author.
ClearVirginia Woolf that evokes a range of feelings in people - some love her for her remarkably ahead of time writings, and her outspoken drive for women to be offered equality in a time when it was denied them. Some only know her for her suicide - walking into the water to end a life of mental illness and and the fears caused by World War II. For me she's an incredible writer and a powerful woman -her writings still fresh and contemporary a century after they were written. Author Katharine Smyth understands that -and her love and respect for Virginia Woolf allows her to weave a cleverly considered criticism of Woolf's work with a personal narrative of grief and loss. Clear, considered prose tells a tale of family, love and loss and commands emotion almost as powerfully as Woolf does - waves of grief and raw emotion conveyed with startling clarity.
Comparisons to Helen McDonald's "H is for Hawk" are inevitable and apt -both works of loss and grief that centre around a love for a long-dead author, but the transatlantic setting of "All the Lives We Ever Lived" gives it a very different feel that seems to fit Woolf to a tee -waves both literal and emotional crashing against the pages with palpable power. Moving, powerful and destined to stick in the mind long after the book has closed, "All the Lives We Ever Lived" is a tribute to a father, an author, and a powerful work in its own right.
Hindsight 20/Something is a chronicle of quarter-life crises-stories of moving to the midwest and losing a lover, losing your mind and changing your pronouns, renting a house with a urinal in the living room, coming out , moving back in with your parents. It's a book-shaped living room of honest friends -two nurses, an architect, a med student, two poets, a teacher, a software engineer, the depresses, the wandering, the anxious-all in their 20s. All here telling you that it's probably not okay right now. And that's okay.
543Austin Beaton is a poet essayist 20something who studied regret at the University of Oregon, where he was a finalist for the Walter and Nancy Kidd Memorial Writing Competition in Poetry. His work has appeared in Boston Accent, Porridge Magazine, Angel City Review and elsewhere. He lives near the Pacific Ocean and gives nicknames.
Hindsight 20/Something is a response to that conversation young 20somethings keep having at happy hour, over FaceTime, alone in their brain: 'I don't know what I'm doing. It's all so crazy. My job's fine, I guess. I want to move. I want a different life, but I'm not sure how to change it and even if I could, so what?'
Being in your 20's is seen as a golden time for many -youth, good looks, energy, nights out - there's a lot to enjoy and a lot to be thankful for. However, it's also a time of great uncertainty for many people - living away from home, outside of the structure that school and university provides, and faced with bills, jobs, relationships, along with the many expectations that family and society can place on an individual at that age.
Here poet and writer Austin Beaton collects the stories of a wide range of 20-somethings - covering a huge range of emotions and providing a collection that's moving, relatable and immediate - and brilliantly conveys the maelstrom of feelings and urges that can be part of being in your 20's. Family, Love, Anxiety, Depression, Drink, Drugs, Religion, Work, Music - all are covered in recollections that range from a few paragraphs long to short stories of a few pages. What's fantastic about this collection is that, whilst the stories are clearly carefully collated, they're not over-edited - leaving a certain amount of rawness and individuality to shine through in each story, making all very readable, and offering a sense of immediacy and connection to the individuals sharing their stories and journeys with the reader.
As someone only just out of my 20's, I found this a collection that's both relatable and assuring - with all the concerns and emotions explored here, I find it impossible to think that any reader wouldn't find connections and similarities with the content.
Original, immediate and necessary -this is a well curated content that's appealing, rewarding, and ultimately comforting as it enables the reader to find connections and companionship in the recollections of others.