Tuesday 30 November 2010

Book Reviews

Nerd Do Well
Simon Pegg
Century/Random House
Available Now - £13.99 (Trade Paperback) & £18.99 (Hardback)
Review by Rob Wade

Zombies in North London, death cults in the West Country, the engineering deck of the Enterprise: Simon Pegg has been ploughing some bizarre furrows in recent times. Having blasted onto the small screens with his now legendary sitcom Spaced, his rise to nation's favourite son status has been mercurial, meteoric, megatronic, but mostly just plain great. From his childhood (and subsequently adult) obsession with Star Wars, his often passionate friendship with Nick Frost, and his forays into stand-up which began with his regular Monday morning slot in front of his 12-year-old classmates, this is a joyous tale of a homegrown superstar and a local boy made good.

Simon Pegg is a man who should need no introduction to E14ies. The star of the films described above, as well as the creator and star of Spaced, Pegg has enjoyed tremendous and deserved success over recent years. As a fan, I was looking forward immensely to reading about his experiences. For those in the same position as me, a caveat: If disappointment is your bag, avoid this book. It is excellent.

The details of his early life are excellent, with Pegg a very talented storyteller as we all know. Interspersed between the chapters detailing his earlier experiences are excerpts from a fictional autobiography, detailing Pegg as a handsome muscular crime-fighting billionaire with a robot butler named Canterbury. That’s absolutely genuine, by the way, and piss-your-pants funny at its best. The main body itself, however, is a really interesting read, with some fantastic anecdotes throughout. Also, if Simon Pegg had been involved in the creation of Revenge of the Sith it could have made for a much better ending (though I take issue with his point that all the prequels are crap, but that’s for another day).

If I have one small criticism of this book (and it’d be a strange way to open a sentence if I don’t), it’s simply that the ratio of early life to more recent times is quite disproportionate, which makes it feel rushed when you start to hear about his more recent success. Don’t get me wrong: I fully support and respect that he doesn’t want to burn any bridges or bitch about anyone he’s met that he’s not been on the best of terms with, but there must be a ton of fantastic anecdotes about his time making some of these TV projects and movies which will have inspired the next generation of Simon Peggs.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Pegg and his robot butler get into a few scrapes. Incidentally, that last sentence? Best sentence ever.
Sex/Nudity: Talks about sexual experience in some vague detail.
Swearing: Lots.
Summary: A very entertaining insight into one of the most E14 people ever. 9/10
Billionaire Boy
David Walliams
Harper Collins
Available Now - £12.99 (Hardback)
Review by Rob Wade

Joe has a lot of reasons to be happy. About a billion of them, in fact. The thing is, you see, Joe's dad is rich. Really, really rich. He buys Joe anything he wants, and lots of things he doesn't want besides. Joe's got his own bowling alley, his own cinema, even his own butler who is also an orangutan. No one dares to bully him, because he can always pay them off. But Joe isn't happy. Why not? Because he's got a billion pounds, but not a single friend. It's pretty hard to trust people when your dad's idea of a birthday present is a million-pound cheque. But then someone comes along! someone who likes Joe for Joe, not for his money. The problem is, Joe's about to learn that when money is involved, nothing is what it seems -- and nearly everything he believes is wrong…

David Walliams has emerged recently from his role in shows such as Little Britain to become one of the country’s leading children’s writers, with many comparing him to Roald Dahl, arguably one of the all-time greats. Reading this certainly illustrates some of the reasons that Dahl’s work springs to mind, with the style very whimsical in the same sort of vein. Although the story is grounded in reality, and to a good level, there are some more fantastical elements such as some crazy school dinners including all sort of corporeal waste products and animal matter. It’s got that sort of delightful whimsy that you associate with Dahl’s work, and you can certainly feel the love without having to wonder if there has been some suspect lifting.

However, this book isn’t all gravy (and even when it is, it’s made from badgers in accordance with the book’s school dinner menu). The plot, while interesting enough, is pretty clich├ęd at the best of times, with the lead character learning that money isn’t the most important thing in the world only when faced with anything but money for a day. I mean, Prince could tell you that ‘Money Don’t Matter 2 Night’, and he wears arse-less chaps!

In addition, the novel relies heavily on listing things for comedic effect on a number of occasions. Sure, it may work for kids who lack the imagination to list things for themselves in the same way, but here are a short list of things that are more fun than reading a book of lists:

Painting a seascape using only Smarties.
Playing Fallout 3 until your eyes bleed. Then having someone describe it to you, Knightmare style.
Punching your enemy’s grandmother (doesn’t really matter where, but in my experience the kidneys always work well).
Telling a seagull to fuck off – the louder and more exasperated, the better.
Reading a book where there are not as many lists.

Well, you get the picture.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: A kung-fu fight and some bullying.
Sex/Nudity: It’s a children’s book. What exactly were you expecting?
Swearing: A long list of fake swearwords, none of which resonate as well as the word “wanker”.
Summary: A nice idea let down by a few little things that all add up. 7/10
Black Swan Rising
Lee Carroll
Transworld Publishers

Available Now - £12.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

New York jeweller Garet James has her fair share of problems: money, an elderly father, a struggling business. One day she comes across an antiques shop she'd never noticed before. The owner possesses an old silver box that's been sealed shut. Would she help an old man and open it, perhaps? She does...and that night strange things begin to happen.

It's as if her world - our world - has shifted slightly, revealing another, parallel place that co-exists without our knowledge: the world of the Fey...Garet learns that one of her ancestors was 'the Watchtower': an immortal chosen to stand guard over the human and the fey worlds - a role that she has, it seems, inherited from her mother. But the equilibrium between these two existences is under threat. The 16th-century magician and necromancer Dr John Dee has returned, the box has been opened and the demons of Despair and Discord released. In a race against time and impending apocalypse, it is Garet who must find Dee...and close the box.

Black Swan Rising contains several great ideas, meshing folklore, fantasy and the works of Shakespeare all together, but is not executed quite as well as it could have been. The writing tone feels like something a teenage girl would have written, containing several annoying buzzwords, and an almost condescending tone. Also, whilst the action scenes are good, they take far too long to arrive. Black Swan Rising pads along with lots of things happening around Garet, but without anything really happening to her.

There are a few attempts to be scary, as well, and these backfire through the simple flaw of “not being scary”. Throw in that the story depends upon coincidence after coincidence after coincidence, and we’ve got more than a little bit of a wasted opportunity here.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Some scuffling and gunplay.
Sex/Nudity: One sex scene, but not very explicit.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A fun, fantasy, paranormal romance let down by a slow star and occasionally babyish narrative tone. The ending indicates that a sequel would have more potential, though. 5/10
LOLcat Bible: In Teh Beginnin Ceiling Cat Maded Teh Skiez an Da Erfs N Stuffs
Martin Grondin
Ulysses Press

Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Well, this is pretty much it for LOLcats. Hopefully. Last one out, turn out the light.

I’ve never been especially taken with LOLcats. I can see why people might be, but I think that whilst there are the odd few that have made me laugh, it’s a serious case of quantity over quality. Anyway, here, the LOLCats present their version of the bible. It is – surprise, surprise – almost exactly like the human bible, only with much worse spelling, and even less funny.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t LOLcats supposed to be pictures of cats with odd facial expressions or doing funny things, with a caption added? Only, the photos that are scattered liberally throughout LOLcat Bible are just of cats, well, being cats...They’re sitting in baskets, or lounging on floors. None of them are in a ceiling, travelling along a monorail or anything even slightly like that. They’re just cats.

And, it’s virtually impossible to actually read the bible bits without getting a migraine.

So, what we have here is a version of something that isn’t as funny as something you can get on the Internet for free. If someone buys you LOLcat Bible for Christmas, I think you’re then legally allowed to punch their mother.

Teh Emoshunalley Forteen Ratingz
Sex/Nooditty: Frequent unshaven pussy. Say what you like, that last sentence is funnier than anything in the LOLcat Bible.
Swearz: Nonez
I Can Hasz Summary?: An Internet fad dies the moment that a cash-in book is released around Christmas time. That’s enough LOLcats now, Internet. Bring on your next unfunny craze. 1/10

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