Ed Balls – Speaking Out Review

Arguably the most anticipated political memoirs of 2016 was from Ed Balls; the ex-Shadow Chancellor, shadow cabinet minister, Treasury adviser, and all-round extraordinary dancer. As the blurb highlights, on the 7th May 2015, Ed was one day away from possibly becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer, but instead he woke up the next day without a job. Ed’s book looks at the highs and low of his life and career so far, from his early days being right hand man in the Treasury to Gordon Brown, all the way to his appearance on Celebrity Great British Bake Off.

There were so many reasons I was hyped for this book. Firstly, I’m a big fan of the man himself. Ed is a great character, a bright mind, and a big inspiration for me in both politics, and the Labour Party. Another draw was my keen interest in politics, and the stories behind the scenes. There’s been many a time that I’ve thought of entering politics over the past few years, being able to help those up and down the country who need it, and this book could offer a great insight into the front line. And finally, arguably the biggest reason of them all, the Gordon Brown anecdotes.

Balls’s autobiography looks over his life in an unconventional format. Rather than following the events of his life chronologically, each chapter focuses on one lesson or subject, and Balls reflects on how this subject has touched his life in politics. Some of the subjects are quite personal, deep, and moving; for example, the chapters that focus on vulnerability, mistakes, and purpose. Other chapters such as markets, spin, images, and opposition are much more applicable to his life, and offer the key insight and knowledge into the workings of parliament.

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Nomad – Alan Partridge Review

Nomad, I think it itself, was a great title choice by Coogan. The Partridge we know and love is a bit of a nomad himself, a loner of sorts. We’ve seen the series, the movie, Mid Morning Matters; he’s the guy who tries to impress all around him, tries to be everyone’s friend but also keeps them an arms distance away. He’s a divorced man who no longer sees his kids, lives alone in a big house in the countryside, has no real family left, and the only person who would probably call him a proper friend is his long-serving, long-suffering, PA Lynn.

Partridge’s latest novel arguably deals with the subject of this loneliness and separation he deals with. Most of his work flirts with the subject, an odd line here or there referencing his ex, his kids, his parents, but this book tackles it on in a typical Partridge way. Whilst cleaning out his attic, Alan comes across an old letter of his father’s regarding an interview he had at a Nuclear Power station over 40 years ago. However, his father never went to the interview for a reason unknown to Alan, so in very Partridge style he decides to honour his father by walking from Norfolk to the Power station, a journey of almost 200 miles.

The rest of the book covers Alan’s preparation for the journey in his local swimming pool, as well as the exhausting walk across the country. The writing style of Partridge leaves no stone unturned as he describes each place in excruciating detail, with a little bit of Alan-ness on top. Every interaction is as awkward as ever, from the friendly competition with a rival at his local swimming pool, to the tramp Alan decides to confide in whilst sleeping at a local park. Every chapter, or location, feels like a whole new story or episode in a long series, and I imagine that’s on purpose.

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John Green – Will Grayson, Will Grayson Review

Will Grayson, Will Grayson is the fourth novel by John Green that I have read, and although I didn’t enjoy his first three, I decided to persevere because of the rave reviews he often gets. Green’s is a style of writing that I had never really warmed to, and often actually felt irritated by. It kind of felt like when you were a teenager and you’d have that annoying teacher who tried to be ‘down with the kids’, and painfully use their lingo.

Nevertheless, I gave this book a go. I also decided to give it a chance as it was co-authored by David Levithan, and I hoped this might well dilute the awkwardness Green brings to his books. Like most of Green’s novels, it’s bold. Will Grayson, Will Grayson is told from two different perspectives, the odd-numbered chapters, wrote by Green, follow Will Grayson 1, and the even-numbered chapters, penned by Levithan, follow the other Will Grayson. The writing styles in these perspectives vary greatly; Green’s chapters are much more traditional, whereas Levithan’s mirror that of a chatroom message, with each character having a quirky nickname. As the story progresses and the characters’ lives intertwine, the writing styles begin to thin and merge into one, which I really do like.

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A Boy Called Christmas Review

The latest book that I’ve just completed was another from the wonder that is Matt Haig. This was his new Christmas book, A Boy Called Christmas, telling the story about how a little boy called Nikolas came to be known as Father Christmas. The two books of Haig’s I had previously read I loved so I really did have high hopes for his new project. However I can’t help but feel a tinge of disappointment after completion. Don’t get me wrong it’s a good read and sure to be a Christmas classic, I guess I just had built up incredibly high hopes.

The story started with Nikolas as a poor young boy living with his dad in a small, cold barn. His dad wasn’t able to afford anything each year for Christmas until he was offered a once in a lifetime opportunity to find some elves. After a short stint in the care of his horrible aunt, Nikolas goes off to find the elves and search for his dad with the company of just a little mouse. It’s not long before Nikolas is able to find the elves, as well as other creatures including reindeers, pixies and also his dad’s party.

Initially the elves are hesitant of him, but he is able to quickly (probably too quickly) gain their trust by saving an abducted child elf and soon becomes the leader of the Elfhelm. To be honest with you, not too much happens after this point. It took about 2/3rds of the book for Nikolas to find the elves and gain their trust so there isn’t too much room for the rest. We don’t even properly see how Christmas starts. We see Nikolas get older, put together his famous costume, but its not made explicit how he starts delivering presents or quite how it’s possible.

Overall it is a good read; it’s exciting, good characters and really gets you in the Christmas spirit. The elves and their city are wrote about well, the little things that turn Nikolas into Father Christmas are well inserted, and throughout it’s a believable story. However the book is quite rushed; the language is quite childish but it’s probably more of a kids’ book anyway and the dad/humans need more of a role. Overall, a decent read but probably a one time read, 7/10. 

The Humans Review

After reading Reasons to Stay Alive and being incredibly impressed with Matt Haig’s writing, I thought I would buy and try some of his fictional pieces of work. His most critically acclaimed book is The Humans, so I thought it would be best to start here.

In short it is a book about a mathematician who solves the Riemann Hypothesis; however an alien race believes that humans are not yet ready to have this kind of information, so they kill him and replace him with one of their own to eliminate any proof. Sound a bit silly? It’s really not. It’s another beautiful, funny, smart, insightful book that deals with many subjects: what it’s like to be a human, love, death, depression, and even what a dog might be thinking…

It’s a book rather split in two. One part focuses on the mistakes of the human race and what we’ve done wrong (most things) and the other part focusing on how in our own quirky, messed up way we’re not so bad after all. It’s a clever book too. The way he tells the story of an alien adjusting to human life is so brilliantly witty: adjusting to clothes, speech, food, even infidelity. The plot is also rather good, albeit for a slightly underwhelming ending, and both the characters and relationships feel real and well thought out. The idea of the alien being a better husband and father than the man is a nice twist and leaving the happy (it’s assumed) ending to the last page keeps the reader hooked until the very end.

With most Matt Haig books there’s some quirky writing styles, some very short chapters and pages dedicated to alien conversations; but in my mind that only improves the book. I would highly recommend this book to others and once the plot thickens I dare you to try and put it down… 8.5/10.

Reasons to Stay Alive

My first post is about my most recent read which was ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’ by the very talented author Matt Haig. I purchased this book because for a few years now I have suffered with deep depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts so I thought that this book may resonate with me, and maybe help with some of my struggles.

I know from experience that depression is a very hard concept to describe, especially to those who have never suffered with the illness. This book, for the most part, captures what living with depression is like perfectly, and explains it in such a brilliant way. A lot of the stories, emotions and self help tips matched my experiences with depression and this was an insightful, brilliant and easy read. One thing I really did enjoy within the book was the variety of chapters, and the different writing styles used. If every chapter was explaining depression it may have become boring but having chapters that gave reasons to stay alive, self help tips and inner dialogue kept the read refreshing throughout.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone suffering with depression, anyone who has a friend or family member suffering, or even if you just want to know more about the illness, and I’d have to give it a 9/10.