Review archive 2015

To be reviewed by Mark Watkins please email

Carpe F Diem by Elina Brotherus  (Kehrer) Non-Fiction/Photography

Elina Brotherus is a Finnish photographer currently living in France. She specializes in self-portraits and landscapes. Carpe F Diem is her sixth storytelling in monograph form, and so we rejoin her autobiographical journey mapped out on neutral card and nude paper.  
Tableau tones are laid out in neat, muted textures to provide us with a, kind of, ‘ year in the life of…,’ thematic, but one never explaining  childish hopes and fears, and therefore leaving everything open to observe and interpret.
Personally, I found the indexing methodology a little confusing and time consuming - in order to try to relate each ‘Annonciation’ (image) to its correct title - nonetheless, my perceived inconveniences didn’t detract too much from reading such a noble, artistic delight.
Within:- a sad , yellow rocking-horse escaping the snow;  pale pink back marks wearing pale pink panties ; LONE lettering set large against a night sky; bedroom scenes; bathroom scenes, and objects left on the cutting room floor. Also, some interesting forest and flower, but the colours throughout always tearful rather than bright.    
Exhibitions of Elina’s sorrowful & soulful works are already announced for 2016, being staged in two “F’s”,  Finland and France. 7.5/10

SSHH... by Deborah Azzopardi (IOlogies) Non-fiction / Art

Londoner Deborah Azzopardi paints pop perfectly - pictures framing friends & family whilst Makin’ Whoopee.
SSHH... is a coffee-table-wide smile of a big book: full of reds and legs; blues and bums, and Golders Greens and high heels.
Estelle Lovatt FRSA launches us -Foreword - into this world of magic - befitting as  D.A’s worked with W.D ( The magical Walt Disney Company) - plus -  her pop- art’s on full display and/or available at Ikea, The Cynthia Corbett Gallery, Bonhams and Christie’s. a candy floss treat for discerning eyes, and superbly reflects Azzopardi’s good body of canvass endeavour covering up her past ten years.
 To cherry pick only one personal favourite is so hard, however Lost Earring is mine, so Bottoms-Up!
Deborah’s own Preface sums-up the books spirit : “...painting makes me happy. It’s as simple as that ”. Viewing Azzopardi’s pop-art makes us happy too, so let’s all raise a glass to that. 10/10    

The Heyday Of The Football Annual by Ian Preece & Doug Cheeseman (Constable/Little Brown)

This is very good timing by ace publishers , Constable/Little Brown, as this new football annual arrives in the shops ready for the Christmas kick-off, and so is bound to be snapped up as a stocking filler for any football fanatic (sitting in the family enclosure).
Back in the Heyday... certainly hits the spot, covering the beautiful game in colour and b&w retro from Post-war to Premiership. Think: Charlton, Law, Best , Dave Mackay, Greavsie, Kevin Keegan, Southampton (when they were 60’s & 70’s good) AND sometimes confused with the sport of boxing - ‘The Mighty Whites’ of Leeds United.
For the football anorak amongst us, Fleetway wasn’t a football league team languishing in Division Four, and D C Thomson wasn’t a wing-half.  These are just two of the greats  gelled into publishing folklore.  Indeed,  these two hardback stalwarts are included in this annual, playing their part (left to right) alongside a glorious gallery of football book covers from Christmas Past ; what  a present!
Wordage scoped in an entertaining When Saturday Comes style, and, as commentator John Motson might say “no real surprise there” as  both Preece & Cheeseman have lined-up previously for WSC.
Before Christmas comes, pick up a copy, deliver to the nearest till and read in (your own) Extra Time - or -  go modern, and buy online, and pass it on - what a gift! 8/10

Uncommon London, edited by Michael Fordham (Uncommon) Non-fiction/History

Born and bred Londoner, Michael Fordham, edits us around the uncommon sights that the Capital offers, then as compared to now, but are often overlooked or simply passed by on the other side of the (sunny) street.  
This hardback is part relief map, part travelogue and definitely something to guide book one around London town, as well as relax with at homestead,  and let the mind and fingers, rather than the legs and Arches, do the walking.
You can spend 24 hours in Tilbury , where earth and water meet, not to mention unamerican graffiti on building walls, plus, take in the sights and smells of dingy London, as the stock question is brokered, how does London smell? So there’s reeking history and teaming tales too , as winding and tributed as The Thames.
Plenty of colour and b/w photos, including a lovingly dated picture of 80’s sister singing act Mel & Kim, “showing out” for the weekend. Jellied eels, whelk stalls and Camden market also feature in this great slab of London Life.    7/10

Southern Rites by Gillian Laub (Damiani) Non-fiction/ Photography

Gillian Laub is a native New Yorker, and natural born photographer. Southern Rites is published by Damiani, who create wonderful books, as works of art. Southern Rites is award-winning Gillian’s follow-up to her first, and critically acclaimed,  monograph, Testimony (2007).
Laub also directs the film, Southern Rites, based on her photo book ; which documents one community's struggle with deep seated issues of race and rebellion. This credible  film is produced by Grammy, Oscar, and Golden Globe–winning musician John Legend.
Touchy subject matter which divides the locals equally , much as turning the pages divide this important book.
A contemporary, visual study, in black and white, and through her picture-telling, Gillian Laub manages to stir within a range of difficult emotions, and that alone is worth the price of admission.  8/10

Breezeway by John Ashbery (Carcanet) Non-fiction/poetry

Contained within this paperback are sixty-nine poems penned by native  New Yorker , John Ashbery, from his first,  The Dream Of A Rarebit Fiend to the final, A Sweet Disorder.
It’s not all sweet tooth and candy floss though from this American poet, there’s the haunting and hilarious, and great lines abound. Eleventh Pleasantry gives us, “Once the giant tickler is out of your system”, and Mrs  Foster’s Pears  begs us the question : “What crumbles before it crumbles?”
To hear the answer, you’ll just to have to buy the book! Ashbery’s big body of work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages, and in 2012 he was presented with National Humanities Medal at the White House, by President Obama.
John Ashbery keeps good company, and his new book will entertain you in a flag waving breezeway.  7.5/10

On The Snap by Brian Case (Caught by the River) Non-fiction / Music

This is a really nice jazz book +, compiled with dignity by Brian Case. A “case” opens and shuts of course, and this hardback is a snappy little number that one can delve into.
This ‘Life Of Brian’ contains concise interviews and anecdotes spanning three decades. Case gives us snapshots from the world of jazz, film and crime fiction. So behind the covers, bits and pieces on saxophonist Johnny Griffin, actor Al Pacino, writer James Ellroy. and many more such luminaries.
There’s also an excellent Glossary based on Case’s journalistic wizardry  with publications such as NME, Melody Maker & Uncut.
A case of unpack Brian’s notes, and you’re breezin’.  8/10

The Bird And The Beeb by Liz Kershaw (Trinity Mirror Media) Non-fiction/Auto-biography
Liz Kershaw has produced a really charming and funny page turner, looking back at her good life and good times to date. 
It’s interesting to note, more by accident than design in some cases (as modest Liz admits herself) that ‘her and him’ – talented brother Andy Kershaw - have both presented new music shows on radio & TV, although sibling Andy is the globetrotter.
However, worldly Liz has certainly had her own journey to make, and is well able to articulate her news and views, plus trials and tribulations, in writing. She posts several difficult and challenging personal matters she's self-addressed along the way - recounting with insight and steady balance.  Mainly though, she’s made hay whilst the sun shines, enjoying being in the ‘fun at one’ moment, as a pop music fan and top radio presenter. 
Liz Kershaw’s radio shows are still a must listen - BBC Radio 6 is currently where you’ll find Our Elizabeth residing.  
The Bird And The Beeb is a must read, right!  8/10

The People’s Songs by Stuart Maconie (Ebury publishing) Non-fiction/Music
Stuart Maconie is a gifted writer and in his latest book:- The People’s Songs,  he dutifully and beautifully counts down “The Story Of Modern Britain in 50 Songs”. 
Stuart’s writing style? Suggest : part historian, part pop-picker and part- comedian... maybe as David Brent might say?! There is certainly a clerical worker confidence that comes typing through these back pages , and quite unlike Ricky Gervais’s TV character, Maconie’s timing is never off key or off colour ; although a small selection of b & w pix back up Stuart’s history notes (he’s done his homework!). 
I can’t help wondering whether English actress ,Jane Birkin, was ever at ease wearing see through dresses at public appearances with fellow heavy breather (and singer about town) Serge Gainsburg. That said it was the record – Je T’Aime - that was banned by The Beeb not Jane’s boobs!!   
So to close off,  a super pop book of a Top 50 as heard on BBC radio 2, from We’ll Meet Again to Merry Christmas Everybody in 430 detailed and interesting pages. 
A treat for soul eyes and big ears!    9/10

Edith Bowman’s Great British Music Festivals (Blink publishing) Non-fiction/music
Summer’s (2015) here and the time is right for...reading a brand new book about music festivals past, in order to decide which festivals to book for in the present. 
Written and complied by Scotch- jock Edith Bowman, best known for championing new bands on various BBC radio and television music shows. 
A bendy softback to thumb through, containing 230 pages, and numerous black & white and colour photographs of crowd scenes and sound stages; not forgetting popular artists and discerning audiences.
So plenty on Glastonbury, Reading & Leeds and T In The Park, plus in conclusion, a festival year planner, all courtesy of Edith Bowman : her words and camera – many of her own stills included.  7.5/10

Tough & Tender by Sheila Rock ( Kehrer)  Non-fiction/ Photography
Pages roll like waves on a black and white sea in Shelia Rock’s new photography book of English seascapes. 
Born in the U.S.A, Sheila has exhibited her classic photography all over the world, although perhaps best known in the U.K for stylistically shaping the look and the sound of The Face magazine. 
This hardback will certainly sea sell, containing within a good representation of the UK’s most weathered faces, chavs, coastlines , deckchairs, Punch & Judy and the iconic Blackpool Tower.     
Books and superstars – Sheila’s produced and photographed and wears the T-shirt; everything she touches turns to Rock. Including Tough & Tender.  8.5/10

Drugstore Camera by Dennis Hopper (Damiani) Non-fiction / Photography

Actor Dennis Hoppers list of cinematic credits are cult, legendary and long-listed on the internet in great detail, stretching as far back in the canyons of film fans minds to his first , but minor role, in Rebel Without A Cause (1955) -  appearing alongside superstar James Dean. So, Hopper knuckled down, worked hard, showed up and soon became a  gritty superstar in his own write; producing, directing as well as majoring (and often madly) on the silver screen, including David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986).
Hopper burst out like a silver bullet from hometown Dodge City, Kansas, and years later befriended fellow American actor Vincent Price - both shared love of art - but not simply art for art sake ; offered up here are Dennis Hopper’s last photographic  remains.. left behinds unearthed from a disposable camera.
Drugstore Camera is a cracking volume of black & white road & motel photographs from the late 60’s when he and his generation were youthful, bad and cool.
These pictorial finds are pure Easy Rider (1969) in quality and sheen, and include fallen women, fallen friends... and even, fallen trees.
Hopper loved nature, the verve of human spirit just as much as the rock & roll he’s put down for in The Dustbin Of History. This book makes some amends.  Old stills given new could say. A valuable find indeed.   10/10

Psychotic Reactions & Carburetor Dung by Lester Bangs (Serpent’s Tail)

Californian-born truth-teller and record reviewer Lester Bangs died suddenly in 1982, aged thirty three and a third.  Giving his age away, early Doors, is important. It’s not only the correct speed to play such vital vinyl at, but also an early appointment to shake hands with The Grim Reaper - Bangs untimely demise due to an accidental intake/overdose of drugs IS very rock & roll.
And rock & roll is what Lester hacked and waxed clever and witty tonnage about , usually off-message and not all scribbled in the public domain, so it’s good to revisit this re-issued text from 1987, and for the record, the publishers flip over sides toSerpent’s Tail.  
With Lester’s letter to Dave Marsh from beyond the grave printed upfront, for me, we already we have the Creem of American rock & roll writing featured in one hit, namely: Marsh, Greil Marcus (the book’s editor) and Bangs himself.
So only missing Robert Christgau – to make up THE fantastic four.
Anyway, these great & good (and fortunately for us, and for them, still alive and writing)  mustn’t cloud The Big Issue, namely that this is very much Lester Bang’s tome.
The chapter headed, New Years Eve, is worth the price of admission alone; first published in Village Voice in 1979 as end of year / new decade party angst beckoned. So, to quote a line not to be sniffed at from that period piece: “It’s not me that’s frigid it’s my Foster Grants!”
Bangs book is a must grab, and much more than a Reasonable Guide to Horrible Noise.... 10/10  

Seize The Day by Mike Read (Biteback Publishing) Non-fiction/ Auto-biography

Mike Read started his long and winding road on Reading’s first commercial radio station, Radio 210 Thames Valley. Back in the seventies, 210 (now a Heart station) was a popular, easy listening station which began broadcasting to the Reading area on 8th March , 1976. 
In fact, Bury FC fan Mike was born on 1st March, the intended on-air date for Radio 210, but the start date was put back a week, perhaps 210 staff were still celebrating Mike’s birthday?! Chum, Steve Wright also began his radio career at this small, friendly station based in studios in leafy Calcot and the station broadcast nineteen hours a day (not 24!), including Outside Broadcasts, gardening programmes, phone-ins and chemist rotas.
Having had the pleasure of meeting Mike at Big L in 2007 , I can vouch that he’s  exactly the same in person as he is in print (author of books on : Rupert Brooke – he’s the founder of the Rupert Brooke Society; Cliff Richard; The Shadows), on the radio (Luxembourg, BBC Radio One, Capital Gold, Classic FM, Magic), and on-screen (Pop Quest, Saturday Superstore, Pop Quiz, Sky News – newspaper reviews) i.e dapper, genial, down to earth, friendly, humorous, forgiving. Mike has an abundance of charisma, creative flare and knows his politics too!
Mike’s very entertaining book covers a lot of ground, more than a humble review like mine can do justice to, although various romps, japes, escapades and – Relax! - fun for all the family fills 400 pages, whether via a microphone, bicycle, cricket bat, or indeed a fountain pen, studiously compiling those early chart positions forThe Guinness Book Of British Hit Singles.
Poet and raconteur Read now lives in Henley-on-Thames and continues to present interesting/innovative programmes on radio and Vintage TV, most recently (and for a number of years) on BBC Berkshire - with great interviews and detailed coverage of the Berks & Oxon cultural scene, including enthusiastically awarding blue plaques to the UK’s notable and their historical places.
Bury your nose in Mike’s super book and Yes, enjoy his Wonderous Stories.  10/10

Clive James – Sentenced To Life  (Picador) Non-fiction/poetry

Clive James is an extraordinary human being ; well-known, and universally admired and respected as a brilliant broadcaster, writer and chronicler of good taste –however- his latest poetry book seems self-indulgent, basic and plain boring.
It lacks vitality and imagination and is not even a variation of a theme, which is maintained steadfastly, and repetitively, poem-by-poem.
Some difficult and personal subjects like these are perhaps best left behind on the hospital bed, or kept “in-house” with family/friends, and so publishing one’s odes to an ongoing,  spirited fight against life threatening illness was not a good idea, in my view.
Suggest: it is sometimes best not to take a well-meaning Editor’s advice and publish, only to be damned, in this case by a far inferior, less talented writer and reviewer.  5/10  

The Last Two Seconds by Mary Jo Bang (Graywolf Press) Non-fiction / poetry

This is poetry in motion; Mary Jo Bang sets us off along a speeding monorail of syllables and symbolism with her latest and greatest, American writing. Bang teaches and educates, as well as writes and edits, including her masterwork translation of Dante’s inferno.
And so to this burning book, delivering ninety pages of melting mind pictures based on the human experience of time. The lack of time, the too much time, the loss of time, for example as illustrated in her poem, The Elastic Moment ,from which here’s a fragment of time...
“ Forgive Me The Streetlamps above emit a halogen haze The light makes it easy to think Everything here is reversible”
So a “not too late” to finish on, and not too late to buy this wonderfully crafted paperback of top end, classy poetry.  9/10

Get The Truth by Philip Houston, Michael Floyd and Susan Carnicero (Icon Books)

The premise of this paperback is certainly achieved, exactly as the declaration on alarming red cover : former CIA officers teach YOU how to persuade anyone to tell all. The authors also penned The New York Times Bestseller, Spy The Lie.
So, I would suggest this is a book is also best placed in the American book market. I’m not so sure there’s such a thirst for this style of book in the UK, especially post-Cold War, and one that is based on stateside methodology.
To be honest, I found it an exercise to read.  Although clearly grounded on expertise and research, it felt somewhat like re-sitting an exam paper in a subject I lacked any interest in.
I for one am not persuaded, but that’s only my truth.  6/10

Geoff Hurst’s 50 Greatest Footballers Of All- Time (Icon Books) Non-fiction /  Football

Geoff Hurst MBE achieved so much in his illustrious football career, not only as a top player (West Ham, Stoke City, WBA) but also as a successful manager (Chelsea). That said, Sir Geoff, will always be best known for that extra-special (and completed in extra-time) hat-trick against West Germany.
So who better than a World Cup Winner to select 50, rather than sixty-six, Greatest Footballers Of All-Time in association with Icon Books. Without revealing the entire list contained within 220-odd pages, Geoff selects his personal favourites and explains why; soccer stars selected from the great and the good, and from far and wide, including Holland’s Johan Cruyff (No.2) and Germany’s Gerd Muller (No.14) Understandably, Geoff picks several Boys From ’66 .
Of course, a sporting life like this wouldn’t be complete without a few contentions - the inclusion of Liverpool’s Stephen Gerrard is a real surprise to this reviewer (as a very good, but not World Class player, in my view) – however - football is all about talking points.
No doubt after reading Hurst’s neat and tidy book, its readers will be shouting their favourite players names from armchairs up and down the land.   7.5/10

The New Wild by Fred Pearce (Icon Books)  Non-fiction / Environment

The New Wild - Author Fred Pearce cleverly coins his catchphrase-cum-book-title to sum up beautifully, his green ideas in an attractively designed hard back; bedecked with very much alive parrots! Fred certainly gives it The Full Monty!!
However, isn’t it an old equation we’re still grappling with? Man is destroying the planet = climate change. We think we know the answer, yet still seem not to be able to solve the problem!
Environmental journalist Pearce diligently goes about his work (wonderfully researched and indexed); setting out his case, chapter-by-chapter , across some 300 pages, as to why (he thinks) invasive species will be natures salvation.
In short, we should welcome the invaders and not repel boarders with pesticides. An interesting read.

Colour Therapy - illustrated by Richard Merritt, Cindy Wilde and Laura-Kate Champan. Written and designed by Sophie Schrey. Cover designed by John Bigwood. Designed by Jack Clucas. (Michael O'Mara Books Ltd) Non-Fiction/Therapy/Art

Colour Therapy is part of a fantastic series, Art and Creative Therapy being the other colouring books available here:
At last, we have colouring for grown-ups, and its allowed! Its such fun to pen or pen in all of these wonderful pictures, plus, there are therapeutic benefits of doing so.
A perfect way to de-stress, through creative therapy, whether you abide by the colour wheel inside or just doodle away until your heart is content. 
And that surely is the point! Whether using crayon or felt-tip, one can lower one's anxiety and lift one's mood imply by switching off for some quiet 'me time' and re-connecting with one's inner-child.
In conclusion, drawing and colouring for adults is not such a guilty pleasure after all. So Play away 10/10