“It’s Only A Movie” by Mark Kermode

When it was announced that Simon Mayo was leaving Five Live to take over the Drivetime slot on Radio 2, I turned into a five year old – stuck my bottom lip out and sulked. A few minutes later, I found out that he would stay with Five Live for the Friday afternoon film reviews with Mark Kermode and it would now be a whole two hours long. Perfect, I thought. Just a few weeks later, I find out that not only to I get an extra long helping of wittertainment each week, I now get to read a book by the good doctor too! And, what a great read it was.

If you’re a fan of Mark Kermode and his style of reviewing, you’ll love this book. You’ll understand how, where and why he came to love films, you’ll get the full story behind some of his anecdotes, and you’ll get the lowdown on why Mamma Mia! is so bad, it’s brilliant.

This is a memoir rather than autobiography, and it focuses solely on the importance film has had on Dr Ks life. To add a nice thread to run through the book and tie it all together, he imagines that he’s retelling his story as if it was being made into a film with all the different actors who would be playing the various roles (Hello to Jason Isaacs).

The good thing about the book is that it is obviously written by Kermode, as his distinctive style runs throughout, it’s very funny, covers a wide variety of films, and is full of name dropping anecdotes about some big names and some more obscure ones too.

The bad thing is that it’s obviously written by Kermode, with plenty of in-jokes for listeners to the show (Hello to Fairport Convention, Stephen Fry, David Morrissey, Michael Sheen and David Tennant) which I loved but I’m not sure that it makes it accessible to film fans who don’t listen to him. I guess the intended audience is his listeners anyway so maybe that isn’t such a negative.

I laughed out loud, I nodded knowingly, I chuckled to myself, I cringed and I giggled, and I know I will go back and read it again at some point. I would definitely recommend it to fans of wittertainment. If, however, you haven’t come across Mark Kermode but love films and wondered if you should read this, I would suggest you download an episode of the weekly podcast first to see if you like his style, because if you don’t I suspect you might find the book annoying.

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“The Carbon Diaries 2015″ by Saci Lloyd

This was a very thought provoking look at the near future in a world where the Great Storm has led to the UK becoming the first country in the world to introduce a form of rationing on energy consumption to try and combat the effects of global climate change. An innocuous enough start to the year with Laura’s family having to make changes to their usual lifestyle such as virtually eliminating car use, significantly reducing the time they spend watching TV and using the computer, and cutting back on the central heating. Gradually, Laura’s story reveals how much the changes affect her and her family, her friends, college, neighbourhood and society in general. Newspaper clippings, printed emails, leaflets and posters are “stuck” in, adding an authenticity to the diary format.

Incredibly accessible, this book has some great science and climatology without being too scientific, facts, figures and theories are put forward in a way that neither preaches nor condescends, and the mixture of teenage life, the changing climate and the sociological implications of the situation give a well balanced story that I can imagine causing some interesting discussions in a classroom environment. What I think it does most, is ask the reader to question the “facts” we are given in the media and to think about the implications of the short term decisions made in society today.

I would say that it is definitely a YA book. I like books for this demographic, and I think that while there is plenty for adults to enjoy, there is content designed to appeal to teenagers (relationships, rebellion, peer pressure, etc.) which might put some people off, but for me I felt that it added to the authenticity of Laura’s world, showing that no matter what the situation, some of the things that teenagers go through will always stay the same.

There is a second instalment “The Carbon Diaries 2017” out now, and I will definitely be looking to get hold of a copy to see how Laura and the world are coping another year into the future.

“A Touch of Dead” by Charlaine Harris

This books is a collected anthology of short stories about Sookie Stackhouse, the heroine of Harris’s Southern Vampire series.

This book was a quick and easy read, but for true Sookie fans only I’m afraid, as it’s a hardback book, s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d to 208 pages, with a large typeface, big spacing, blank pages, a title page for each story plus a double page illustration at the start of each one, it did smack of publishing a book just to make money.

The stories themselves were entertaining enough, but overall, I found them unsatisfying, and I even felt the reveal in the conclusion of the story “Giftwrap” was slightly sickening. I’m very glad I borrowed my copy from the library and didn’t spend my hard earned cash on it, as I think it was poor value for money, and only for those who want to collect the entire Southern Vampire series.

“Cranford” by Elizabeth Gaskell

Centred around the fictional village of Cranford, this book by Elizabeth Gaskell is a charming, comic look at the genteel early Victorian village community with its predominately female population resolved to maintain their traditions and society, resisting the onward march of the progress.

While I loved the writing style, the subject and the characters, I found I’d been spoiled by watching the BBC adaptation first. The trouble with reading the book second was that the stories and events were in a different order to the adaptation, different characters got married (or even died!) than did on the television, and whereas dialogue is obviously important in the visual medium, the style of the writing (similar to a journal) didn’t include much actual dialogue and the nature of conversation is implied rather than written.

I think if I’d read the book before having seen the series I would have loved it, and although I can usually isolate the two mediums and view them as separate entities, in this case, I just couldn’t achieve that. I will, however, look to read North and South by Gaskell, as I’ve never seen it on screen, and I think I will enjoy the style, and the period, characters and society the author writes about.

“Ox-Tales: Earth”

Only available through Waterstone’s, “Ox-Tales” is a set of four collections of short stories, poems and extracts with each one based around a theme of one of the four elements, Earth, Fire, Water and Air. With contributions from well known authors, the books are being sold in aid of Oxfam to promote the charity’s work in various project areas around the world.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my ventures into short stories over the last few years, and I so wanted to enjoy this book what with some of my favourite authors contributing and it being sold in aid of Oxfam, but unfortunately, I found it rather unsatisfying on the whole. The Earth collection included one poem, eight short stories, and one extract from a work in progress. Of these, I did enjoy the Rose Tremain story, and as she’s an author I’ve only read one book by, I was pleased to find I liked this contribution, as I have another book on my TBR list, and lots of recommendations for her others, so I will definitely be reading more. I also loved the extract called “Telescope” by Jonathan Buckley, although I’ve never actually heard of him, the extract was the most intriguing piece in the collection, and I definitely want to read the book when it’s published!

Despite not being particularly inspired by this one, I think I will probably get the others, as they are only £5 each and some of that goes to Oxfam, plus I want to see what some of the other authors I admire have contributed, but I have lowered my expectations after this instalment and will be on the look out for some other short story collections by individual authors, as these have been more rewarding.