And the award goes to…

Well that’s it for 2014. What another fantastic year for books!

Here are my winners, carefully chosen from all the fabulous books that I have read this year (not necessarily published in 2014)

See you in 2015 bookworms!

THE SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM BEST FICTION PRIZE:

Speaking from among the bones cover

1. Speaking From Among The Bones by Alan Bradley

2. Man at The Helm by Nina Stibbe

3. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

THE SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM BEST NON-FICTION PRIZE:

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1. Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

2. The Richard Burton Diaries by Richard Burton

3. Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klein

Earth is the loneliest planet of all*

the humas

THE HUMANS BY MATT HAIG

The Humans is quite simply one of those novels that you wish you had written. Remarkably inventive, heart-warming, very funny and gripping right up to the last page. Matt Haig’s fifth book is really something special.

One Friday night Professor Andrew Martin is found walking naked through the streets of Cambridge. He feels lost amongst his new species. He is repulsed by human food, clothes, their appearance – and even by his wife and teenage son. In fact he hates everyone and everything except his dog, Newton.

But as he sets about the tasks that he has been sent to Earth to complete, he gradually starts to change his mind about the human race. Haig uses this fantastic story to explore what it is to love and be human and all that is weird and wonderful about that. Like looking at our planet through an outer body experience (from outer space). Continue reading

Wilde about these mysteries!

OSCAR WILDE AND THE NEST OF VIPERS

BY GYLES BRANDRETH

I have previously written on this blog about my love of the Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries Series. Nest of Vipers is the fourth book in the run. Not quite my favourite but neither did it disappoint. We join the story in 1890 as the game is afoot after The Duchess of Albemarle is found dead with two small puncture marks in her neck following a glamorous reception.

The Prince of Wales, sensing foul play, asks Oscar Wilde and his friend Arthur Conan Doyle to quietly investigate the crime for fear of a public scandal.

A thrilling pursuit unfurls that includes royalty, hysteria, vampires and dancers from the Moulin Rouge. The story is brilliantly told through the letters, journal extracts and diary entries by the central characters adding pace and excitement to the slow reveal.

As with all his books, Brandreth’s Wilde is convincing and dazzlingly entertaining as a detective.The dialogue is richly enjoyable and there is no denying that our author certainly knows his stuff. Full of twists and turns and glorious Wildean wit, there is nothing not to love here.

Highly recommended.

SOUTHSEA BOOKWORM RATING: 8.5/10

Notes on the author – Gyles Brandreth

  •  He is a writer, broadcaster, former MP and government whip
  • Currently a reporter on BBC1’s The One Show and a regular on Radio 4’s Just a Minute
  • These acclaimed Victorian detective stories are now being published in 21 countries around the world.
  • Many my age will known him as the man in the crazy woolly jumpers on breakfast television in the 1980s

Giving your city a break

MINDFULNESS & THE ART OF URBAN LIVING: DISCOVERING THE GOOD LIFE IN THE CITY

BY ADAM FORD

This is a wonderful short book that I read in just a couple of hours. Like many of us city dwellers, I regularly find myself falling out of love with my surroundings. The traffic, noise, pollution, neighbours, anti-social behaviour – the list goes on, if we let it. Adam Ford’s book tackles breaking this cycle of negative thoughts about the city we live in and embracing our urban lives instead.

“Mindfulness,” he says, “is a way of living, a way of knowing oneself and the world. It involves taking stock regularly of the way things are, living consciously, becoming more aware and realistic about life.”

He encourages us to apply this approach to the way we live our lives in cities throughout the world by making time to think about ourselves in the here and now and to notice more, to look for the peace and for the beauty when moving around our neighbourhoods. Ford explores creative uses of small spaces in cities with inspiring ideas for urban gardens, allotments and even bee-keeping. He asks the reader to look around again at the wealth of parks, gardens, galleries, buildings and vistas that we may have taken for granted or been too busy rushing past to have ever really observed properly. Continue reading

Nice book, dude

FAN PHENOMENA: THE BIG LEBOWSKI

BY ZACHARY INGLE

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This book really is for the obsessive fans of The Big Lebowski film – of which there are thousands going by the name of Achievers or Dudeists.

I’m one of those, maybe not the most fanatical, but I love this movie dearly and have watched it over and over – and yeah I have my favourite quotes and catchphrases from it too (scroll down for my Top 5).

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Rewind to 1998 when directors/ geniuses Joel and Ethan Coen first made this film, little would they have known then that the picture would go on to triple its budget in the box office, generate a cult following and even spawn a slow moving religion.

Many argue that Lebowski is the most significant cult film of the last 30 years and I tend to agree – can you think of another? Maybe, but I can’t.

The hilarious story of The Dude, a post-hippy slacker and his chum Walter – a violent, compulsive, bowling obsessed, Jewish convert, Vietnam veteran has inspired Lebowski conventions to spring up worldwide and the sheer wealth of related material and memorabilia out there is staggering. Continue reading

A roaring summer to remember

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ONE SUMMER:  AMERICA 1927  BY BILL BRYSON

If all teachers made history as enjoyable as bestselling author Bill Bryson does here, we’d all be A+ students in the subject. In his latest fascinating book, Bryson takes us back to the hugely eventful summer of 1927 in the US. It is a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read. So many characters and stories from just a few hot months of one year impacted on almost everything to come and ushered in the modern world we now live in.

MAY saw unprecedented nationwide interest in a sensational murder trial dubbed “the crime of the century” and the Mississippi River flooded during great storms leaving an area almost the size of Scotland underwater. Terribly, a closer count was made of livestock deaths than those of the poor (and often black) humans that perished. It was America’s most epic disaster yet, in a month when the stock market boomed and prohibition was failing badly.

Young, handsome aviator Charles Lindbergh captured the hearts of the nation and beyond when he took 33 hours to fly across the Atlantic to Paris. Safely landed, he received a heroes welcome as he would everywhere he went for years to come. Hospitals, parks and children were named after him as was a song called “Lucky Lindy” which went on to spawn the Lindy-Hop dance craze.

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In JUNE arguably the first celebrity shot to fame – baseball player Babe Ruth. Rising from a difficult background to become the charismatic undisputed star of Major League baseball. 1927 was “a year that no one who knew baseball would ever forget'” writes Bryson.

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In other news radio was the wonder of the age, New York overtook London as the world’s largest city and prohibition continued to be farcical and inept. “It made criminals of honest people and actually led to an increase in the amount of drinking in the country,” notes our author. The government even poisoned liquor – some reports claiming this act killed as many as 11,000 people in 1927 alone – all dying in agony just for having a drink!

Continue reading

Great author, great director, great film, great read

THE SOCIETY OF THE CROSSED KEYS

SELECTED WRITINGS OF STEFAN ZWEIG CHOSEN BY WES ANDERSON

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Being a huge fan of film director Wes Anderson I could not wait to dig into this book which I’d heard was the inspiration for his great new movie The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The Society of Crossed Keys contains Anderson’s selections from the writings of the great Austrian author Stefan Zweig.

The book is split into four parts, including a discussion about Zweig’s life and work, extracts from his memoir, a chapter from his only novel and one of his best loved stories in full.

 A Conversation with Wes Anderson

Here Anderson talks with Zweig’s biographer George Prochnik in a fascinating discussion where they introduce the author and examine the context in which his work was received at the time and survives today.wes anderson

Anderson describes how he hadn’t heard of Zweig until six or seven years ago when he bought a copy of Beware of Pity by chance. He then discovered the rest of the Austrian’s work and says here that The Grand Budapest Hotel contains elements “stolen” from several of his stories.

“M. Gustave, the main character who is played by Ralph Fiennes, is modelled significantly on Zweig.”

Prochnik could be describing Anderson’s own films, known for their luxurious colours and eccentric cast of characters, as well as Zweig’s writing when he says “even in the little sketches he gives, there’s something so visually charismatic in just the suggestion of what these places were. We somehow feel an aura of that luminous life…”

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The World of Yesterday – selections from the memoirs of Stefan Zweig

These extracts make up a sizeable chunk of this book and rightly so as they are delightful to read. I am certainly keen to discover his full memoir now as I found this glimpse to be as the back cover described “an unrivalled evocation of bygone Europe.” A Europe before the First World War that I feel we do not know today.

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Zweig describes the sense of security integral to his country, and the belief in progress over any religious or political factor. How people became stronger, healthier and more attractive thanks to sporting activities.

“We lived well, we lived with light hearts and mind at ease in old Vienna…”

Zweig offers beautiful, insightful windows into the lives of Austrian-Jews, the liberal optimism of the times, changes in attitudes towards sexuality and his early days as a writer.

“I felt to some extent that this ‘security’ complex weighed me down, made me more likely to be fascinated by those who almost recklessly squandered their lives, their time, their money…and perhaps readers may notice this preference of mine for intense, intemperate characters in my novels and novellas.” Continue reading

Compelling melancholy

STONER BY JOHN WILLIAMS

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Stoner, the story of a lifelong academic whose life is full of sadness, loss and disappointment was first published in 1965. At the time it was respectably reviewed and sold reasonably. Now fifty years on it has become a surprise bestseller and was the “must-read” novel of 2013 among avid literary readers.

Prior to its original release, author John Williams wrote to his agent: “The only thing I’m sure of is that it’s a good novel; in time it may even be thought of as a substantially good one.”

And right he was. Stoner is not a great work, it is probably not the “best novel you have never read”as the cover sticker shouts, but it is as Williams suspected a substantially good novel. And for that reason it has become a belated bestseller across Europe, one caused almost entirely by word of mouth.

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William Stoner works on the family farm before his parents send him off to study agriculture at The University of Missouri. He is required as part of the course to take a class in English literature. When asked to explain his understanding of a poem one day, Stoner is surprised to find himself unlocked by the subject, to see the world around him at last and feel a “sense of wonder” at grammar. He goes on to teach there until his death in 1956. Stoner is a patient and enduring man, good things do happen to him but not for long and they all end badly, all of which he accepts stoically.

 The knockbacks come one after the other for Stoner and as a reader you find yourself limiting your progress through the novel to just a couple of chapters per day such is the onslaught of sadness. But Williams writes in a truthful matter of fact way about these sad events so that we come to recognise them as the inevitable part of life that we can do nothing about.

“He was forty two years old, and he could see nothing before him that he wished to enjoy and little behind him that he cared to remember.”

I found the first 100 pages completely without warmth but the deep melancholy written with a delicate writer’s hand soon becomes compelling – what will poor Stoner be forced to endure next? When will life give him a break? Continue reading

What if you could talk to the dead?

THE FIRST PHONE CALL FROM HEAVEN

BY MITCH ALBOM

American writer Mitch Albom is one of my best loved authors. He has sold more than 34 million books worldwide which is no surprise to me as his thought provoking novels are such lovingly crafted reads.

I have previously enjoyed 5 of his magnificent stories:mitch albom

  1. The Five People You Meet in Heaven
  2. Tuesdays With Morrie (Memoir)
  3. For One More Day
  4. Have A Little Faith and
  5. The Timekeeper

And his latest release is no let down! The First Phone Call From Heaven is a story of hope, loss, love, faith and the existence of Heaven. Residents in the small town of Coldwater, Lake Michigan begin to receive phone calls from loved ones that have passed away.

The world and its media descend on Coldwater hoping that this is the greatest miracle ever. Deceased sons, sisters and even former employees appear to be calling the people they left behind from the afterlife.

But not everyone is convinced. Some suspect a hoax, like lead protagonist and grief stricken single Dad, Sully Harding. Watching his son Jules waiting for a phone call from his dead Mum breaks Sully’s heart and he vows to uncover the truth. Continue reading

Moz Mania!

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MORRISSEY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT

BY DICKIE FELTON

Morrissey means just everything.

His music is a crutch, an emotional blanket.

It’s there when nobody else is or when you just need familiar words

(Olivia, Morrissey fan)

Dickie Felton is a Morrissey devotee from Liverpool. Morrissey International Airport is his story of following Moz on tour to 10 gigs in 10 towns in 5 countries. From Dunoon to Dallas, he covered 12,000 miles during Morrissey’s tour of far off places.

dickiefeltonHis book is full of shared stories, tales and experiences from fans all over the world who devote their lives to the legendary Smiths singer’s every move.

Often quiffed, tattooed and rocking the double denim look, The Moz Army  are world-renowned for their globe-trotting passionate pilgrimages. For them, no Moz gig is a gig too far.

But what motivates Moz mania? Why has Margaret from Fresno travelled 5,000 miles for a handshake with a 54-year-old pop star? I can understand it, as will most who read this book. But it’s also a great read for anyone who can’t fathom why we fling ourselves at stage barriers, write him silly notes, blow the overdraft and endure the endless pity of our loved ones for the sake of seeing up close what others perceive as a miserable old bugger.

Little do they know! Continue reading