Monday, October 29, 2007

Book Review: Barcelona Plates by Alexi Sayle

A collection of 14 short stories by the anarchic Alexi Sayle might seem like a strange combination, considering the general blandness of this genre. This collection, however, whilst varying greatly in quality, cannot be said to be bland with some quite provocative mini plots and taboo subjects dealt with. Indeed, the opening story may offend some readers as much as it delights others and one story about a cannibal is like an Edgar Allen Poe story for the modern world. Unfortunately, not all the stories in this collection are of the highest quality with a few seemingly pointless tales, punctuated with irreverant views or bad language to spice them up. Indeed a few of these "stories" could not really be said to be stories at all, simply observational rants.

These shortcomings aside, Barcelona Plates is at times an enjoyable read and fans of black humour will find something to chuckle about in a number of the stories - I particularly liked the idea of how employees for Disneyland were enslaved and the title story is a sick "up yours" to all the Diana conspiracy theorists of the world.

As collections of short stories go, this is one of the better ones I have read, indeed, one of the few I have bothered to get to the end of. Alexi Sayle, whilst struggling to find a point in a couple of these stories, has most certainly breathed life into the largely moribund genre of short stories.

I would strongly recommend that anyone interested in the Princess Diana story read the Barcelona Plates title story, along with those who find her story as boring as I do - Sayle has written an excellent alternative explanation for her death. For those readers looking for something they can pick up and put down with long breaks in between, this collection of short stories is a useful book.

Score: 6.5/10

Book Review: Making History by Stephen Fry

Making History is the story of an alternative reality brought about by the prevention of the birth of Hitler - a very interesting and thought provoking premise. The way in which this alternative reality is brought about is bizarre and makes for an interesting story involving a time portal created by a machine invented by a professor with a guilt complex over the holocaust.

Although the opening few pages are less than gripping, it is worth persevering with the story as Fry quickly creates a humourous yet engrossing story. The story set in the present is punctuated with chapters telling the story of German comrades during and after the First World War and the rise of a despotic leader in the troubled country it had become.

Fry's style of writing is amusing, occasionally developing into a rant, and an intricate story develops although his occasional lapses into film script disrupted the flow of the novel and I found them quite irritating and, in one case, drawn out. This is a shame as otherwise Making History is an original and interesting story with a flow to it that makes the reader keep turning the pages and there is an interesting turn to the ending which is gradually hinted at from the very beginning, although that is only apparent upon reaching the end.

making History is a good book and I would recommend it to those who enjoy interesting stories and to those who like a thought-provoking theme to their books. I enjoyed this novel immensely when I first read it, although I wasn't quite as impressed upon a second reading - still, it was good enough to make me read it twice!

Score: 7/10

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Book Review: Asterix and the Falling Sky by Albert Uderzo

Asterix and the Falling Sky is the 33rd book in the Asterix series and this time the Gauls must deal with alien invaders as well as the Romans. Whilst, as a lifelong fan of Asterix, it was nice to see a new adventure involving Asterix, Obelix and friends this story is rather poor by the standards set in the past. Whilst the illustrations have developed over the years, the storylines have become rather tired and as this one does not leave the Gaulish village, the opportunity to meet interesting characters is limited if not non-existent.

There are none of the puns in character names, beyond the regulars, that make the Asterix series so amusing and the visitng aliens are totally uncharismatic. In this book the Romans and the Pirates are confined to bit parts - token appearances really - and the story does not go beyond two warring alien tribes bringing their battle to the Armorican village whilst the Gauls are confined to being onlookers most of the time.

Unfortunately it appears that Albert Uderzo has finally run out of ideas, and although the quality of the illustrations is superb, the story is feeble. Kids will like the colours and Asterix fans will be happy to get their hands on a new book, but I am afraid they will be very disappointed.

Asterix fans will want to buy this issue to complete their collections but if you are a newcomer to the series then I suggest trying one of the older books.

Read about all the Asterix books here: The 33 Asterix Adventures by Goscinny & Uderzo.

Score: 4/10

Book Review: Lost Horizon by James Hilton

Most people will have heard the phrases "Lost Horizon" and "Shangri-La" without perhaps knowing where they came from: well, this is the book that invented both terms. Four westerners find themselves on a highjacked airplane, flying over the Himalayas which consequently crash lands amongst snow-capped mountains somewhere in Tibet. They are taken to the mysterious and inaccessible lamasery of Shagri-La where they are greeted with a peaceful hospitality. It seems that the four "guests" have found a paradise away from the harsh reality of life in the outside world. However, it soon becomes apparent that they are prisoners more than guests and there are difficult choices to be made.

Lost Horizon is the story of utopia, long-life, peace and complete hapiness and the choices man makes when faced with these. This book is beautifully written, using a slow, peaceful style which is in keeping with the picture it attempts to paint and has become a modern classic. The author also demonstrates the differences in eastern and western attitudes in the clashes between the serene lama, Chang, and the impetuous Mallinson. As the characters learn more about Shangri-La they are more and more astonished at what they find and this air of mystery compels the reader to find out more.

This story is a wonderful tale of a mysterious world which leaves many aspects of Shangri-La shrouded in mystery, and in a way this is one of the beauties of this book - it leaves the reader wanting more. It is obviously a book about choices but it is also a nice story which makes an enjoyable and easy read. Some of the characters are not developed as well as the reader may wish and although I was entranced by the idea of this isolated world I felt the ending something of a disappointment which feels like it was written in a hurry. However, it may have been the intention of the author to create an ending like this to make the reader think about the choice they may have made.

I found this novel an excellent quick read and would recommend it to all readers from about the age of eleven upwards. Although the ending is perhaps a little weak, the story is very enjoyable and the characters are quite mysterious - it may also make the reader think a little about their own life.

Score: 8.5/10

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Book Review: Magic Seeds by V. S. Naipaul

Magic Seeds is the story of Willie Chandran, a former writer who left England for Africa. Willie turns up in Berlin where he is persuaded by his siter to go to India and become a revolutionary. After many years in the jungle he is arrested, spends time in prison and is unexpectedly released to return to England which he finds has changed for the worse.

I found the first half of this novel quite interesting and a pertinent observation upon the real nature of revolutionaries and what they represent. However, I was very disappointed in the second half of the book where the themes of how someone returning to a country after many years finds life difficult are not explored in an enlightening way.

After reading Magic Seeds I found out that it was the sequel to "Half a Life" which tells the first half of Willie's story, and perhaps Magic Seeds would have made more sense had I read part one. In this way, I found that this book was not a novel of its own, but just the second part of a story. There were a number of things I couldn't really understand, probably explained in "Half a Life" such as why Willie's sister wanted him to become a revolutionary and why he was so easily convinced - quite frankly he came across as semi-retarded in the making of this decision.

However, the part of the book which deals with Willie's return to England I found quite poor. The author fails to give the reader an insight into Willie's mind and I would imagine that any conclusions one can draw can only be made in comparison to Willie's time in England in "Half a Life". Instead, the focus is upon a friend's seedy affair with a younger woman which serves to reinforce the message that people should not be so easily swayed when making choices. Unfortunately the message becomes the author's priority over the story and the book just fizzles out into nothing.

I would only recommend this book to those who read and enjoyed "Half a Life" which is, it seems, in fact the first part of the same story. I found this book began interestingly and died halfway through and wondered if the reviews I had read were even about the same book. If the prequel was named "Half a Life" then perhaps "Magic Seeds" should be called Half a Story. A very disappointing novel by a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Score: 4/10

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Book Review: Animal - The Definitive Visual Guide edited by David Burnie

"Animal" is a beautiful book of remarkable visual impact that illustrates and describes the amazing range of creatures that comprise the animal kingdom. The format and extensive number of fantastic photographs suggest that this is essentially a coffee table book; if it is indeed a coffee table book it is arguably the best one ever published.

An excellent 80 page introduction deals with all the major habitats of the world outlining the particular challenges that living in these places presents. The introduction alos has excellent pages on evolution, environmental issues, life cycles, animal behaviour, classification and behaviour. The main body of the book is arranged into sections for mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates and the beginning of each section contains interesting information about each group. It is probably the mammals section which makes this book most worth its cost, with an incredible array of species photographed along with range maps and information, and many of the most popular species, such as tiger and elephant, have fantastic double page spreads.

The only possible criticisms I have of this book are that it has split species which are still being debated by many scientists and that it has perhaps tried to do too much in one book. Such is the quality of information here that it may have been better to have made a book for each group of animals so that each book could expand further upon their subjects. These criticisms aside, this is a wonderful gift for older children and adults who love animals and love to browse through beautiful books.

I would thouroughly recommend "Animal" to all those interested in wildlife and particularly to those who are interested in expanding their knowledge of the amazing range of creatures that exist.

Score: 9.5/10

Monday, October 22, 2007

Book Reviews: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

In a category of its own, Clockwork Orange is the tale of Alex, a 15 year-old gang leader who delights in random acts of violence and robbery along with his gang members, who is eventually arrested for murder. Once within the custody of the police Alex is exposed to the Ludovico technique aversion therapy which leaves him feeling violently sick at the slightest thought of violence.

A Clockwork Orange has been banned and highly criticised since its publication in 1962, for its portrayal of mindless violence and usage of a fictional slang. However, this slang, which is used throughout the book, makes this novel unique and does much to create a realistic atmosphere of gang culture and the violence within the story is all too recognisable from events happening around us now. Essentially this is a story of crime and punishment and how violence or non-violence is a choice we all must make, both as individuals and as a nation, and anyone who enjoys reading novels about moral issues should try this book.

Although at times Clockwork Orange is difficult to read, both because of its slang and graphic violence, this is a story worth persevering with as an important piece of literature and for its unique narrative. This is a thought-provoking book and should have been praised for bringing to light a real social problem instead of being berated and buried for so long whilst moral decline slowly imposed itself on society whilst society remained in a state of denial.

I would recommend A Clockwork Orange to adult readers who enjoy an inventive story telling style and though provoking novels, although if you are easily offended perhaps this is not the book for you.

Score: 9.5/10

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Book Review: My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl is, of course, most famous for his excellent children's books; the content of My Uncle Oswald, however, is the very antithesis of a children's story, invloving a series of sexually manipulated frauds in order to set up a sperm bank of the world's most marketable semen. Victims are plied with the world's greatest aphrodisiac, the Sudanese Blister Beetle, in order to encourage them to inadvertantly donate their seed - these victims include H.G. Wells, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov and Picasso!

This is an extravagant story, full of silliness and fun with a highly original and inventive purpose behind the tale - truly Dahl's most acomplished attempt to transfer his children's storytelling to an adult audience, retaining much of the inocence and humour he was famous for. One should not expect high class literature in this book, but for sheer entertainment value this is one of the most enjoyable books I have read and, incidently, reread.

Whilst I found this a highly enjoyable book, particularly the first half which had me turning the pages to find out what the next twist would be, one crticism I would have is that at one point it becomes fairly repetative, which is acknowledged by the author within the story, and it appears that the plot has run its course - however, Dahl turns this around with a fine, imaginitive ending.

This is highly recommended to any reader looking for a light and highly entertaining book, particularly those who have read and enjoyed many of Roald Dahl's superb children's books.

Score: 8.5/10

Friday, October 19, 2007

Book Review: Earth in the Balance by Al Gore

Earth in the Balance (subtitled "Forging a New Common Purpose") is a superbly researched, comprehensive and holostic discussion of worldwide environmental policy, written in an accessible and readable style. Al Gore himself says that, "writing this book was part of a personal journey in search of a true understanding of a global ecological crisis and how it can be solved", and the style in which it is written takes the reader along a logical path of discovery themselves. Gore's style is to lay out the facts for the reader to see themselves and to argue logically what problems these lead to and what solutions might be sensible without preaching.

Gore makes use of diagrams and graphs to illustrate his point, but only where necessary and does well to avoid turning this book into a scientific treatise, particularly when covering subjects such as global climate change, soil erosion, peak oil production and genetically engineered organisms. It is also worth noting that this book was published in 1992, which clearly refutes any accusation that Gore's Nobel Peace Prize was won on the back of "jumping on the bandwagon" - this is a life's passion, not a populist move.

I came upon this book by chance, when a friend left it in my apartment and I found it an interesting and enlightening read. For those who wish to learn more about how environmental and economic issues fit together this is a great book to read, although at the end one may find oneself rather depressed when reflecting upon the isolated and reactionary ways our serving polititians attempt to bungle their way towards dealing with these issues. My only criticism of this book is that towards the latter third, Gore tends to repeat himself, perhaps in an effort to get his message through, but he makes it so compellingly in the first place that repetition is a little annoying.

I would highly recommend this book to budding environmentalists (it certainly proved useful during my degree in conservation) and to eco-sceptics alike so that both parties can form enlightened arguments.

Score: 9.5/10

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Book Review: Blokes and Birds Edited by Stephen Moss

Blokes and Birds is a collection of 40 birdwatching anecdotes from some of the United Kingdom's most active birdwatchers. Each anecdote is written by a different birdwatcher and accompanied by a short biography and photograph. A short and amusing introduction is written by the television presenter Bill Oddie.

Blokes and Birds is an amusing and light-hearted, short book which is the sort of thing that one can just pick up, read a short section and come back to later, and contains anecdotes which outline the obsessive nature of many birdwatchers. The tales of bird nerding include brushes with foreign police forces, hiring helicopters to arrive in time to see birds and arrest as suspected spies (something which appears remarkably common in birdwatching circles).

Whilst Blokes and Birds is really of interest only to birdwatchers and perhaps other wildlife enthusiasts, it is nicely written and the anecdotes within are interesting and fairly funny. This is the sort of book that makes an ideal small gift for birdwatchers and should not be mistaken for the more educational bird books that one usually comes across in book stores.

For what it is, Blokes and Birds is a nice, amusing little book that birdwatchers will enjoy reading and will reread time and time again ,and perhaps it will also amuse those that find it hard to understand the obsessive behaviour of birdwatchers.

Score: 7/10

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Book Review: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Suess

The story of Green Eggs and Ham uses a vocabulary of just 50 words to teach us not to judge things before trying them. This wonderful book is most certainly one of the best from Dr Suess and was read aloud by the Reverend Jesse Jackson on television as a tribute to the author upon his death in 1991. The persistent Sam-I-am attempts to foist the rather unappealing dish of Green Eggs and Ham upon his nameless victim and Sam-I-am's persuasive technique has often been interpreted as an allegory for methods used by telemarketers.

This amusing tale begins with Sam-I-am proffering Green Eggs and Ham in a fairly conventional fashion, but quickly progresses to tempting the sceptic to try the meal in more adventurous surroundings including within a box or with a mouse as a dining companion. As the story progresses the situations in which the poor victim is asked to try Green Eggs and Ham become progressively more ridiculous such as in a tree or with a goat.

The crazy situations Dr Suess dreams up along with the wonderful rhyming text creates a very funny story for both children and adults alike and the wonderful expressions on the faces of all the characters in the illustrations are memorable in themselves.

I would recommend Green Eggs and Ham to anyone who enjoys books and of course, the kids will love this, as I did when I was a child, and parents will love reading this to their children. However, if you have never read Green Eggs and Ham you must do, whether or not you have children.

Green Eggs and Ham - Information about the characters, video clips and Green Eggs and Ham products.

Score: 10/10

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Book Review: The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Since its publication in 1859 The Origin of Species has caused controversy and remains the subject of much debate today. Despite being demonised by many religious groups, both past and present, Darwin believed in God and wrote this book in layman's terms to describe his findings from years of studying, not only in the Galapagos islands but from his back garden in Kent and at no time does he attack religious beliefs of any kind. This book is simple in its aims: to describe the observations that Darwin made and explain, in a logical process, how they point towards the conclusions he made. It all makes sense and fits into any system of beliefs with a little adaptation.

This book is probably one of the most influential ever written and is worth reading for that reason alone. The easy-to-understand language make all the arguments within simple to grasp and I would emplore anyone who has an opinion on either evolution or creationism to read the origin of species so that they can make an educated argument for whichever cause they represent: for too long people have argued about this book based upon poorly informed accusations that have been levelled at it.

Having said that, the biggest downfall of this publication for me is that although when it was published the contents were boldly original, now it appears hackneyed and cliched. Of course it is not, just that what was once profound is now mostly common knowledge, with terms such as "survival of the fittest", "natural selection" and "struggle for existence" cropping up on most natural history programs.

Despite being one of the greatest books to be published in terms of its impact on the way we understand the world around us, I found it quite dull, despite studying ecology and having a deep interest in such topics from the youngest of ages.

Highly recommended in terms of its historical impact, but don't expect to learn much that you didn't already know, which is testament to the success of this publication.

Score: 7/10

Book Review: Mr Sampath - the printer of Malgudi by R. K. Narayan

First published in 1949 this book is now rated as something of a classic, and in dealing with some serious and sombre subjects with an overlying story employing a farcical style of comedy, it certainly deserves some recognition.

This is the story of Srinivas, a passionate editor of the one-man newspaper "The Banner" and Mr Sampath the printer who shoulders the financial burden of the newspaper and makes uninvited editorial comments. This relationship appears to work well for Srinivas until the Truth printing Works closes down and Sampath invites his friend to join him in the world of movie making. The novel becomes something of an insight into the chaotic world of Indian movie production and concludes with the rebirth of a stronger and more determined Banner.

I found this a very readable book due to its calm style and well-defined characters, with Srinivas being quite a naive but likeable character and Mr Sampath being something of a "wide boy". Whilst the characters and events are very interesting and the understated humour highlights some serious issues, I found that I didn't really laugh at this book at all. Furthermore, whilst the story promised much it fails to develop into anything of consequence and I felt that the author had run out of ideas half way through the story. Having said that, the ending is nicely rounded and it is pleasing to find that Srinivas has learnt from his past mistakes and found his true niche in life.

Overall I found this a good book that I wanted to keep picking up, but it didn't quite live up to some of the glowing reviews of it that I have read. However, anyone interested in Indian literature and/or culture will find it an excellent and memorable book.

Score: 7/10

Monday, October 8, 2007

Book Review: Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie

Midnight's Children is probably Salman Rushdie's most acclaimed novel, being a former winner of the Booker prize, even though he is probably best known as the author of the somewhat controversial "The Satanic Verses".

The midnight's children are those born close to the moment of India's independance, an accident of birth which gives them a variety of special powers including the ability to transport through mirrors, miraculous strength in the knees and the abilty to read minds, which is the power of the main character. The story follows one midnight's child whose troubled life reflects the problems of the fledgling nations of India and Pakistan and indeed the politics of these nations ultimately casuses the demise of the midnight's children.

Although extremely well written with a superb vocabulary, this book is not the inaccessible read that it may seem, in fact I was surprised how easy to read it was and found myself eager to find the next development of the powers of the midnight's children as indeed the main character discovers them himself and by the end of the book I had a real concern for he fate of the characters.

Much about this very original concept seems very familiar in the television series "Heroes" and many of the special powers in this program seem close enought to Salman Rushdie's creations to suggest that this book may have been a major influence, particularly as one of the pivotal characters in this series is an academic from an Indian university. There is also something about the way one of the midnight's children turns upon his own, allying himself to an evil power that is reminiscent of the Star Wars series. Essentially Midnight's Children is a great piece of story telling and highly original in doing so.

I would recommend this book to readers as a fine example that good books do actually win the Booker prize and for those who are curious about Salman Rushdie's ability as a story teller - I'm sure they won't be disappointed.

Score 8/10

Book Review: Mr Vertigo by Paul Auster

For those who appreciate old-fashioned tall tales that are the product of a fertile imagination then Mr Vertigo, by Paul Auster, is an excellent choice of book for a wide range of readers. This is the story of Walt, an orphan, who is plucked from a miserable existence to be groomed for stardom by the mysterious Master Yehudi and the two form an unlikely bond through the sharing of a magical power.

Through Yehudi's torturous tutelage, which includes burial alive and the amputation of part of a finger, young Walt is taught, inch by inch, the secrets of levitation. For anyone who, similarly to myself, has ever had a dream which includes levitation, the style of flight Walt achieves is instantly recognizable, but it is not until he has mastered both altitude and locomotion that the pair are ready to take this amazing spectacle on tour.

Book Review: Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston

This is the incredible story of a young "outdoorsman" forced to cut off his own arm at the elbow to free himself from entrapment by a fallen boulder, and a fantastic example of how to make an interesting story seem boring, something which should be evident from the hackneyed title of the book. Whilst the ordeal that Aron Ralston underwent is an amazing and excrutiating tale, it is one that could have been told more effectively in a magazine article instead of dragging it out into 342 pages that become as painful to the reader as the ordeal must have been for the author.

Whilst the tale of the 5 days trapped in a remote canyon is certainly intriguing, it is unfortunately interspersed by countless flashbacks into previous outdoor adventures where the author's continuous foolhardiness puts himself and his companions into life threatening situations, which, in one case, results in a group of skiers vowing never to accompany him on an outdoor trip again.

Further to this annoying padding out of the story the constant use of climbing jargon and a writing style that attempts to create an air of "coolness" both become extremely irritating and I found myself consistently wishing the author would get on with the story I thought I was going to read about. Indeed, the author's verbose attempt to stretch out a story makes the mistake of thinking the reader is more interested in himself rather than the facts.

So irritating is this combination of poor style and an arrogant disregard of safety that by the end of the book it made me want to cut off his other arm. Mr Ralston seems to be one of those foolish people that put the lives of rescue teams at risk through their cavalier attitude towards their own safety: consequently I have very little sympathy for him.

Whilst the story of Aron Ralston's survival through an incredibly distressing situation is amazing, it is fairly difficult to find in this dreadfully padded out book. Try to find his story in a magazine article somewhere on the internet instead. The fact that I found this book in a "bargain bookstore" says much about its quality.

Score: 2/10

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Book Review: Swinesend, Britain's Greatest Public School

Billed as the indespensable handbook to one of Britain's premier boarding schools, this is a very amusing parody of the public school system in the United Kingdom. For those who have experienced this system first-hand this fiction may be almost too close to the truth for comfort with its absurb rules, sadistic teachers and legitimised bullying.

An interesting school history explains the origins of traditions such as "steg burning" and toasting the "simpletons" as well as how the school reached its reputation as one of the most brutual institutions in the country.

Punctuated with amusing flow charts that mimic the incomprehensibility of their in scholl counterparts prospective students are introduced to many of Swinesend's attractions including world class cage fighting facilities, membership of the Self-Abuse club and the "Hackers" team.

Over 160 pages of satirical information provide plenty of laughs for the reader and the style of the book, which is split into various topic-related sections, makes this publication readable from front to back or in short, laughter filled, snippets.

For anyone who has ever been to a boarding or fee-paying school this is a must read and it could easily reach legendary status amongst both staff and students of such institutions. For those who have been fortunate enough to avoid an education in such a "character building" institution this book reinforces all the stereotypes of such a school and creates some new ones of its own.

Score: 7.5/10

Book Review: Candide by Voltaire

Whilst anything by a French philosopher, published in the 18th century may sound like an intimidating read, this is actually a very easy-to-read and highly amusing story and one of my favourite books.

The story follows the wanderings of Candide, a somewhat naive individual who has been taught to believe that "all is for the best, in this, the best of all worlds". The hilarious adventures and misfortunes that Candide encounters come so quickly that within the first few pages he is kicked out of his home, press-ganged into the army, beaten with sticks and forced into battle, whilst at all times remaining convinced that all is for the best. Indeed, Candide remains true to this philosophy even when faced with absurd examples of suffering, injustice and cruelty towards himself, his friends and other passers by.

Although this novel was written nearly 250 years ago it is easy to see that the same philosophy is applied to life today to keep the "have-nots" in their place by the "haves", making it a thought provoking story as well as an hilarious piece of comedy. At times, the series of injustices and the ridiculousness of the situations becomes farcical and it is very refreshing to read philosophy tackled in such an enjoyable fashion.

Candide remains one of my all time favourite novels and I have recommended it to a variety of people who have all enjoyed it. A superb, easy-to-read and surprisingly short book that can be enjoyed on a number of levels by many different readers.

Score: 10/10

Book Review: Chart Throb by Ben Elton

Chart Throb is a satirical novel based heavily upon the television talent show "The X-factor" and to a lesser extent, other television talent shows. Readers who have enjoyed other books by Ben Elton might expect a bucketful of laughs from the very beginning, however, for me, these were not forthcoming and it was only later in the novel that I did find myself laughing out loud.

Unfortunately, I would say that Chart Throb is not up to the high standards of Ben Elton's earlier novels, such as Stark and Gridlocked, and at times it can feel that the author is trying to "reveal" the fake aspect of these so-called reality television talent shows, aspects that most viewers would have worked out for themselves long ago. Ben Elton also makes constant use of a few phrases such as, " I want it so much", "you owned that song" and "that song was too big for you" which to some readers may become irritating. However, I found this technique to parody the banality of the competitors' and judges' comments on the real X-factor incresingly amusing the more they were used. However, this could be interpreted as a lack of imagination from the author.

At times, in the early stages of this story, there is the hint of something quite unique to come, particularly with the inclusion of the Prince of Wales who is wonderfully characterised without being ridiculed, but, disappointingly, the plot fails to deliver. Some of the characters, whilst being portrayed as fictional, are far too obviously copied from their real-life inspirations, even though they are quite laughable and ridiculous.

Most of the characters within this novel are easily recognised from television talent shows, including the blind competitor, the girl with attitude, the group who have "paid their dues" and the evangelical rappers. Some of the characters are amusing, such as The Quasar and the Prince of Wales, but others are simply annoying, or perhaps they are supposed to be.

Whilst this is not one of Ben Elton's best creations, it is a sufficient parody of the ridiculous genre of TV talent shows to have made me laugh out loud on a number of occasions.

Score: 6/10