Monday, 19 June 2017

Today's freebie? A boxed set of 7 David Walliams novels

Thanks to? Not sure, but thanks!


I think I've mentioned before that my first degree specialised in childrens' literature. My love of reading started early and hasn't stopped. My reading choices haven't changed, they have just widened and I don't see why boundaries of reading material need to be dictated by age.
Having children that love books also made it easy to get into new writers and each sprog has introduced me to new authors. They're getting older now though and so I'm the first in the house to have read all 7 of the books in this set.


Not that you need to have read the books to be familiar with the stories of course. Billionaire Boy, The Boy in the Dress, Gangsta Granny and Mr Stink have all been made into film adaptations with Ratburger to follow this Christmas. If you've seen any of those then you'll be familiar with the style - David Walliams' books are very stupid, very British and very, very funny.

Like many famous books, the heroes of these books are mostly outsiders who are shunned by other children for something that is harmless and beyond their control. Each book focuses on a brave child overcoming the odds to beat the baddies and each book overcomes prejudice. The boy in the dress becomes the footballing hero despite enjoying female fashions; billionaire boy eventually has friends because of who he is, not what he's worth; Ben's granny shows that old ladies aren't boring; Chloe is bullied and is the loneliest girl in the world until she meets Mr Stink, who has his own story of prejudice to tell.

Walliams is the heir to the Roald Dahl throne. There is very little to tell between styles and themes (the description above could apply to any of Dahl's books too) and even the illustrations continue the similarity - Quentin Blake and Tony Ross providing the illustrations to these books, you can't get more heavyweight illustrators than that. Dahl's canon was always too short in my mind, so to have someone take that mantle and continue running pleases me.

Where Walliams differs just slightly is his willingness to put true sadness and tragedy into some of the stories, and when I say tragedy I mean true heartbreaking tragedy. While the baddies never win, the hero's victory sometimes comes at a price. There is an astonishing depth to each book and often I need to flick back through to remind myself of the breadth of storyline that has been covered in about 2 hours worth of reading.

Walliams is a man of many talents. Whilst his sketch comedy did start to wear thin with me he soon scotched any negative vibes by raising ridiculous amounts of money for charity by completing astonishing feats, then he becomes a genuinely supportive and amusing judge on BGT and still churns out these books.I hope he churns out many more, and my library and bookshop can continue wondering who I'm getting them for when I'm still reading them in 20 years time.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Saint Etienne at RNCM - I took it all in

Today's freebie? Tickets to see Saint Etienne at the Royal Northern College of Music

Thanks to? Northern Soul


Another first for the Best Things in Life Blog. I've done albums, DVDs, smellies, days out, food, crockery, footballs and all manner of stuff. This is my first gig review, and what a wonderful gig I'm kicking off with.

Saint Etienne are a cameo of my student days. If those days were a film you'd hear 'Who do you think you are?' in the background at a Friday Night Bop in the Students' Union or tracks from the 'Tiger Bay' album thumping from a housemate's bedroom. They never quite made it to the forefront of my taste in those early to mid-nineties days when I headed more towards the rockier, guitar sound of indie pop. I don't mind, it's lovely to be able to find a whole back catalogue of a band in later life and think "I remember this", "this reminds me of so-and-so" or "wow, this is brilliant!"

Saint Etienne formed in 1990 and early tracks had a 'baggy' drum pattern of that time on songs such as 'Nothing can stop us'. Where other bands headed in a guitar direction Saint Etienne stayed with the dancier beats and are essentially a pop group, but a proper and cool pop group that retained the integrity and popularity of the indie scene.

This was my first time seeing Saint Etienne and my first time back at RNCM since my student days too, it's a wonderfully relaxed venue. I'm sure it won't be my last of either. The band treated us to a masterclass of pop music and musicianship that was a joy. They obviously have a group of loyal fans and they give those fans so much respect and love back - this was one of the most intimate gigs I've ever been to and more like a party than a gig.

Let's get one of the main things out of the way and answer the question I have been asked most since I went to see them. Is Sarah Cracknell still, you know...? The answer is yes, she is still stunningly beautiful. And funny, charming, talented, caring, empathic and pretty much perfect.


Having listened to their latest album 'Home Counties' twice during the day I was looking forward to hearing a few songs from this sublime piece of observational pop and I wasn't disappointed. My favourite track from the album ('Whyteleaf,') featured, as did 'Magpie Eyes' 'and, during the encore, the brilliantly worded 'Train drivers in eyeliner' - an anthem in theme that makes you want to shout "Yes!! Yes we do need more train drivers in eyeliner!"

Amongst the pop and observances of modern life we see Saint Etienne's caring side. This is a band that states clearly where their beliefs and allegiances lie from their Tweets during the recent election to the backdrop of "for the many not the few" that appeared throughout the night. This is a group that cares, that invites fans to dance on stage at the end of the gig and that appeals to such a diverse audience - many of Manchester's most fabulous were out on Sunday and it was magical.

Older fans weren't disappointed - 'You're in a bad way', 'Sylvie', 'Like a motorway' and, to close, 'He's on the phone' were received with joy, flamboyant dancing in the aisles and sing alongs. It's clear why Saint Etienne have such a loyal following and have continued unabated throughout their career - these aren't comeback albums and tours, these are a continuation. I'm already looking forward to the next album and tour.


(video taken from this YouTube channel)

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, by someone who hasn't read her other book

Today's freebie reviewed - Into the water by Paula Hawkins

Thanks to? - Penguin


Wonderful to have a hardback book drop on the doormat and at £20 not one I'd have forked out for. As my Goodreads review says, I have never read the "Girl on the Train" - a 20 million selling worldwide bestseller. That makes my review look at the book purely on its own merits, I bet there aren't many of those around.

You can own this copy by scrolling down and entering my competition. It's not a review copy, it's a proper £20 off the shelf copy. Good luck.


Into the WaterInto the Water by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The next sentence is probably the most important in this review.

I have never read "The girl on the train" nor have I seen the film. The next book an author writes after a 20 million bestseller is going to draw lots of comparisons but not this one. The dust jacket biography mentions that this is Hawkins' second stand-alone thriller and it's important to note that this is standalone - as far as I am aware there are no continuities with any characters.

Nel Abbot dies just before the start of the book, drowned at a location known as the Drowning Pool. The pool has claimed several victims over the centuries, all women ("troublesome women" as one character describes them). Nel was obsessed with these women and the water and was researching for a book on them - research that seems to have got too close to uncovering secrets.

Nel's estranged sister, Jules, travels to Northumberland to look after Nel's troubled teenage daughter. It's a return to the scene of her childhood and many uncomfortable memories.

Each chapter is told from the perspective of one of the many characters in the vicinity. Most, but not all, are in the first person. Even those chapters written in the third person still divulge inner thoughts and feelings of the character an it's these half remembered, half told thoughts that reveal a very twisted mystery. It's a mystery that goes back several decades and covers each death.

The plot thickens and stirs. Many twists are revealed throughout the book and a whole history of a small area gradually reveals itself. The chapters are short and intense, jumping from character to character and sometimes going over the same scene from several viewpoints - it's a style that is mastered and for me keeps a perfect pace. I was happy to move the plot on as a personality is gradually revealed over the course of the book, some are quite plain until the very end.

A criticism is the number of characters - there are a number to keep up with. Several are similar - quite and loyal wives who take some reading to discern which wife is which. A bit sexist of me? This is a very patriarchal book - the men control the women throughout the plots and not always through explicit aggressive dominance. This harkens back to the earliest vignette of a witch trial and the first girl to drown in the pool, men subjugating women. Despite the number of characters I did find enough depth to keep me in the story, a story that kept me guessing and gasping until the very end.

It's inevitable that there will be calls for this to be made into a film like Hawkins' first book. I don't think it's suited to that. I see this as a series that gradually reveals itself over its course. I hope they keep it in Northumberland too - any sighting of Craster is a good one.

So there you go - a standalone review of a standalone thriller. No comparison to the Girl on the Train at all, I hope that helps.

View all my reviews

Listed On Loquax   Into the Water hardback giveaway- worth £20!