My Top 10 Books of 2015

For December, I’m taking a break from reviewing books. I’ve not stopped reading them, but in recent weeks, I’ve felt myself being a touch too critical of perfectly good books.


With that in mind, I’ve decided to follow the tradition that every other media outlet follows in December. Regurgitating old opinion, dusting off old content, covering it in a sprinkle of glitter and presenting it as a ‘Review of the Year’


Here are my Top 10 books of 2015 – there’s even some new content in here not previously on my blog!


  1. The One In a Million Boy by Monica Wood


This charming tale hasn’t been published yet, but the hardback is coming in April 2016, and it’s definitely one to keep an eye out for. My review when I first read it back in October comes across more critical than it should – but only because of the impossibly high standards I expect of books that are sent to me from the delightful @PublicityBooks at Headline publishing. More about her later.


  1. Losing It by Helen Lederer


I have a rule about the reviews I put on my blog. To avoid being accused of any kind of bias, if I’ve socially spent time with, or am in regular contact with an author then I don’t review their books. But that doesn’t mean I don’t read them.


This novel from funny-woman Helen Lederer about a middle-aged writer whose life seems to have stalled, while the lives of those around her flourish is the only book this year to make me snort with laughter on the underground, so earns it’s place on this list.


  1. Nothing But Trouble by Matt Cain


Another title – and the last – on the countdown that didn’t get a review of it’s own on the blog this year, but this look at the glamorous behind the scenes goings-on of popstar Lola Grant is funny and sexy as well as being so well-written, that I was shouting at the character’s as they made some dubious decisions. There was a strong anti-drugs streak through it and the main character as well, which is not the obvious route to go with a book like this.


  1. The Secrets We Keep by Jonathan Harvey


This is another one that I feel looking back I was too harsh on in my review. The acid tongue of Lynda La Hughes mixed with the plot twists of Coronation Street, what’s not to love? A pacy plot mixed with characters you actually care about makes up for the ever so slightly frustrating ending.


  1. My Sunshine Away by M.O. Walsh


I’ve never been to New Orleans, but this book made me feel as if I had. You can feel the humidity coming off the page and it’s that sense of place that really helps this coming-of-age story succeed.


  1. the long way to a small angry planet by Becky Chambers


This science fiction novel is like somebody decided to make a list of all the things needed to make a successful mix of Douglas Adams, Red Dwarf and Star Trek – but it works. A compelling cast of characters means not only do I want another book, but I want a TV series. The upcoming Star Trek television revival, would do well to have a look at the rough nature of life in space represented here.


  1. Moving by Jenny Eclair


I liked this more than I ever thought I would, and it’s only as I write this and consider the upcoming books in the list, that I realise it’s because it’s the story of someone’s life. There’s something incredibly voyeuristic to think that come the end of the book, only one person knows the truth about everything, and that’s us, the reader. What makes this book even better is that despite Eclair’s unique personality, she manages to reign it in, giving the character’s their own distinctive voices.


  1. I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh


I nearly gave up on this book, despite it being well written, it seemed to be meandering early on. Then there’s a development that I wasn’t expecting and it shoots the book off into a completely different direction. Well worth a read.


  1. A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale


I read this almost a year ago now, a copy of the book sent to me by @PublicityBooks – and I didn’t regret it. Harry Cane (not the footballer currently playing for Tottenham Hotspur) is a Victorian gent whose life is changed when he discovers the pleasures that other Victorian gents have to offer.


Like Moving, you’re fully invested in the characters, and like My Sunshine Away has a wonderful sense of place. An amazing book with a great cast of characters, this will be appearing in a lot of people’s best books of 2015 – not least the Costa Book prize who have shortlisted it in Novel category, the winner of which will be announced on 2nd January.


  1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara


There’s really not much more I can say about this book and I don’t think it will have come as any surprise to anyone that I’ve placed this at the top of the list. I’ll be re-reading it again soon, but the biggest pleasure I’ve gained from this book, is the sense of community it has engendered with other people who have read this book.


There’s a knowing look, a smile and a sympathetic pat on the back.


I always considered myself to be dead on the inside, but A Little Life had be sobbing like a child. If you don’t even squeeze out one tear while reading the ending of this, then you truly are emotionally dead.


the long way to a small angry planet by Becky Chambers

I thought it was due to the fact that I was writing a screenplay for the BBC Writer’s Room at the time, but all the way through reading the long way to a small angry planet (no capital letters) I couldn’t help but think what a great TV series it would make.

Then, a colleague who also read it, said it reminded him of Firefly that I realised it wasn’t just me.

long way… tells the story of a crew of a spaceship who are travelling to the centre of the galaxy in order to ‘punch’ their way back and create a shortcut to open up trade with a dangerous and violent race who are occupying a planet there.

As a child, I was brought up on Star Trek: Voyager, and then stumbled upon Star Trek: The Next Generation myself shortly after. As such, my view of the future of humanity has always been quite a sanitised, civilised, perhaps unrealistic one.

In a lot of other science fiction stories (be they Red Dwarf, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or even Deep Space 9) the future is a lot more uncertain. Alien races all conflicting with each other, humanity conflicting with itself and the starships conflicting with space itself.

In short, I’ve always struggled with the other kind of sci-fi because it always feels a bit grubby and hopeless compared to the utopian Federation presented in Voyager.

But I didn’t struggle with this book. It was a wonderful read, with a fascinating set of well-drawn and varied characters – by no means an easy thing when trying to introduce characters of several different alien races at one time.

The only issue I had with it, was the ending, after a solid two part ‘episode’ towards the end of the book, several strands feel like they’ve just been left dangling, and after the action up to that point, the ending feels lifeless and flat.

Perhaps another book is coming – and if it does, it’s one that I will definitely read – but as it is, it feels like the show was cancelled mid-season.

Losing my Star Wars Virginity – Part 1 (or Part 4)

I am a Star Wars virgin.

I think I might have seen one of them once, years ago as part of a school trip to the cinema, but I can’t be sure.

With the seventh live action film in the series coming out this winter, and with many of my close friends being big fans, it’s time to change the situation.

Needless to say, this post is going to contain spoilers, so if, like me, you’ve never seen the film before, step away now.

I know much of the obvious stuff, I know what a lightsaber is, I know about Princess Leia – including that she nearly gets off with her brother, and that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker’s dad.

I’m intrigued by ‘the force’ and wish to know exactly how one goes about feeling it.

That’s about all I know, so here goes, a blow-by-blow account of my first experience of watching Star Wars

00:00 – The 70’s version of 20th Century Fox starts to play. I’m dismayed to discover the film is two hours long. It’s already 10:30pm as I sit down to watch it!

00:25 – A long time ago in a galaxy far away… – the text appears on screen rather plain and boring. This isn’t what I was expecting.

00:39 – This is more like it, the text is now scrolling up at an angle, much more in keeping with expectations. Did it really say Episode IV at the beginning though, back when the film was first produced? I’m assuming not

02:01 – Thee planets come into view and two ships appear and start fighting. The big one unfairly seems to have the upper hand

02:35 – The robots have appeared. The gold one is flapping his arms around. The little one on wheels is squeaking. I’ll remember their names as soon as they mention it. Is one of them R2D2?

03:45 – White versions of Darth Vader have appeared. They’re all shooting rather unconvincing red lasers at each other. The robots don’t seem to be in much of a hurry to get out of the way. Maybe they need bigger wheels.

04:40 – Darth Vader has appeared!


05:00 – The gold one has just called the little one R2D2! He spotted Carrie Fisher slipping a little disc into the little one. The gold one seems a bit of a fusspot.

06:02 – Vader has just killed someone. He’s using James Earl Jones’ voice.

06:33 – Princess Leia has just been shot. She didn’t last very long.

07:05 – The gold one and R2D2 have just escaped. They’re going to crash land on a planet.

07:30 – Ah! She’s alive, but she’s a prisoner. Although, she appears to be miming her part. In fact, they all seem to be miming their parts. The soundtrack could be better synced. Was it like this in ‘77? Or is this part of the George Lucas edits?

09:04 – The robots are in a desert. The gold one is still fussing about. He’s gay, right? Makes Kryten look positively butch.


10:20 – They’ve had a bit of a tiff, and are now going off in opposite directions. Suspect the gold one’s going to regret it.

11:00 – Oh, he is regretting it. And he’s blaming the little one. Shady bitch.

11:52 – There’s something hiding in the quarry. It appears to be the same quarry that Star Trek always used to use. Some things never change.


12:21 – Oh, the little one’s been shot. Turns out the gold one was right, that was the wrong way!

12:53 – These little monk creatures sound like a cross between Donald Duck and the aliens from Toy Story.


14:04 – More robots? Are all the characters made out of tin? Princess Leia’s the only real one we’ve seen so far. Apart from the bloke that the Green Cross Code man killed.

14:59 – Ah, so they both went the wrong way. The gold one and the little one have both been picked up.

15:17 – Some of the graphics have clearly been updated. It jars a little, because some of them haven’t.

16:05 – “We’re doomed!” The gold one channeling a bit of Dad’s Army there.


16:59 –Did anyone else have a black robot at school they had to program called Pip? I’m pretty sure the monks have him now.

17:20 – Luke Skywalker’s turned up! He lives with his aunt and uncle and appears to be a bit of a surly teenager.

18:51 – Gosh, they picked the little one on wheels that looked even cheaper than the R2D2.

19:52 – The gold one is having some sort of bath. He reminds me of Niles Crane.


20:29 – C3P0! The gold one has a name. I shall never remember these serial codes. I’ll call them Niles and Little Blue

21:12 – Oh, there’s a tiny Princess Leia. Help me Obi Wonky Nobi, you’re my only hope. Luke thinks they’re talking about his neighbour Ben

22:37 – Little Blue sounds like he’s trying to connect to dial-up.

23:58 – Luke’s aunt and uncle seem a bit shifty when he mentions Obi Wonky Nobi. They’re referring to him Obi One, though, so I think I’ve misheard the princess.

25:05 – Luke looks suspiciously like a young Selina Cadell.


25:45 – One assumes the igloo-like structure is the top of a larger underground residence? There doesn’t look room to swing a penguin in there.

26:33 – Niles has just dropped Little Blue in it. He’s a right snitch.

27:58 – A different set of masked creatures. And one giant thing that looks like the big hairy thing from Sesame Street.

Mr Snuff

28:43 – Selina and Niles have found Little Blue. They’re spying on the sand creatures when one of them appears. Niles actually faints! The big pansy.

29:26 – Little Blue is hiding while this new set of creatures raid their hover board. They’re scared off by a cloaked figure screaming in a high pitched tone. I bet it’s Niles.

30:15 – It’s not Niles. It appears to be Bernard Cribbins.


31:00 – Ah! It’s Ben Kernobi. He’s also Obi Won. But is actually Alec Guinness. I’ll just call him Bernard.

32:08 – Selina and Bernard find Niles. His arm has fallen off and he’s being a complete drama queen. I’d just leave him where he was.

33:00 – Bernard is telling Selina about his father. Turns out he was a Jedi. I’ve heard of them.

34:00 – Selina plays with a lightsaber.

34:29 – Ah. Darth Vader killed Selina’s “dad”.

34:44 – The force gets its first mention. It binds the galaxy together, apparently. Suspect the force will end up being love. Or Jesus.


35:20 – Princess Leia’s message in full. Bernard thinks about it for a second, then tries to recruit Selina to learn the ways of the force. The dirty old man.

36:24 – Selina can’t fight the Empire, apparently, he’s got work in the morning.

36:40 – “Learn about the force, Luke.” It’s gay sex, isn’t it?

Gay Sex

37:00 – There’s a cockney on this ship. around a Dr Evil type table. And they’re referring to Starfleet. It’s like Austin Powers meets Star Trek meets EastEnders

37:50 – I’m not really listening to this evil plotting. I’m focusing on a guy in the background. I think he was in EastEnders as Melanie Owen’s dad.


39:00 – A man who looks a lot like The Demon Headmaster also seems to be there as well. He doesn’t seem that happy, but I’m not sure who he’s pissed off at.

40:03 – Selina’s worried about his aunt and uncle. He jumps in his hovercraft and speeds off., only to find the igloo’s been blown up. Pingu’s been made homeless.

40:42 – Oh, yikes! There are two charred skeletons outside the igloo. That’s a touch graphic!

41:20 – James Earl Jones’s voice doesn’t really seem to fit Vader. It sound silly to say it about JEJ, but it doesn’t sound deep enough?

42:22 – Selina wants to learn the ways of the force. The gays get everyone in the end.

42:53 – CGI rats. They’re clearly a later addition to the film. These extra effects are really quite jarring.

43:46 – Oh, Bernard’s good at this mind-control lark. He’s a bit like Dumbledore crossed with Doctor Who. His full name will now be Bernard DumbleWho.


45:00 – Even more odd looking creatures in a bit what appears to be a 1920’s Jazz bar. Is this where Selina’s going to feel the force for the first time?

45:40 – The bartender is discriminating against Niles. He doesn’t serve their kind. NOT a gay-friendly bar then. Selina will have to feel the force elsewhere.

46:28 – DumbleWho is talking to a giant hairy beast. Now wondering two things: 1) It MIGHT be a gay bar, 2) Where are the Hendersons?


46:34 – A chap with a chin that looks like a pair of bollocks has taken offence to Selina so DumbleWho chops off his friend’s arm.

47:32 – Ah, so Harry is actually Chewbacca. I’ve hard of him. Chewbacca and the Hendersons doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

47:56 – And there’s Indiana Jones for the first time. Luke is looking at him like he’s hoping to feel his force.


48:36 – Indiana’s not really my type, but he’s got a nice smile.

49:20 – Indiana asks for 10,000 unspecifics. Bernard DumbleWho offers him 17,000, I don’t think he’s really got the hang of this negotiating lark.

50:00 – Indiana is now being held up by a green hedgehog. This is a very odd film.

51:00 – Mrs Tiggywinkle is about to shoot Indy, so he blows her up first.

51:30 – It appears the Demon Headmaster is in charge here. I thought Darth was the man in charge?


51:50 – The white vaders are doing a door-to-door looking for Niles and Little Blue. We get a nice slow version of the Star Wars theme in the background as they do.

52:40 – Bernard and Luke are being followed by Cyril Sneer.


53:06 – Indiana is talking to Jabba the Slug. He looks like he’s part of the new CGI too. Have they updated him, or was this how he looked at the time?

54:59 – I took a quick break to Google Jabba the Slug. He’s not even supposed to be in this film, so it appears that this is how the scene first played out. BUT he was a puppet in his original-original appearance.

55:27 – I haven’t been paying enough attention. Niles, Little Blue, DumbleWho, Indiana , Harry and Selina Cadell are escaping the planet in Indy’s ship.

56:43 – One thing occurs to me during this extended technobabble scene (turns out it’s not exclusive to Star Trek) – why has Selina spent the first hour of the film in a dressing gown?

57:22 – Ah, the princess says the Demon Headmaster is holding Vader’s leash. So he’s just a henchman? Also, the Demon Headmaster seems to report into an Emperor? Who’s he?

58:32 – Actually, the Demon Headmaster looks a touch like Charles Dance. He’s blowing up the Princess’s home planet. It all happens rather quickly, considering that’s a whole planet being blown to bits.

59:26 – Bernard felt a great disturbance in the force and nearly fell over with shock. It’s happened to us all, love. Selina meanwhile is playing a lightsaber version of Pong.

01:00 – The robots and Harry are playing monster chess.

01:01 – Indiana Jones doesn’t believe in one all-powerful force controlling everything. So it’s about God, not gay sex.

01:02 – Except now Bernard DumbleWho has put a mask on Selina and told him to stretch out with his feelings. He’s a kinky bastard.

01:02 – Luke tells him he could almost feel something. He may as well have just asked “Is it in yet?” Way to make an old man feel good about himself.

01:03 – The boys have just discovered the destroyed planet. They’ve dropped out of Doctor Who’s time tunnel right into the middle of it.

01:04 – They’re being dragged into the big black ball. Gosh, it’s enormous.

01:06 – I’m quite enjoying this. I should have watched it sooner.

01:07 – Oh! Just got an extreme close up of one of the white vader’s crotch. Nearly felt his force. Niles would have enjoyed that.

01:07 – PS My DVD display can’t handle hours, minutes and seconds, which is why my timings have suddenly become less specific.

01:08 – Those white vaders are really daft. Although the Nazi controllers in the tower seem to be dafter. At least Selina’s finally out of his dressing gown.

01:09 – Little Blue has just penetrated the mainframe. This whole film is about sex, isn’t it?

01:10 – A thought occurs to me. If this was being made now, we’d be watching Ian McKellan, Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron. I may have just said that so I can include a gratuitous picture of Zac…


01:11 – Indiana and Selina Cadell are arguing about whether to rescue the princess. Indiana can’t be bothered. He’d rather watch Little Blue penetrate the computer. At least until money is mentioned.

01:11 – Now I’m trying to think who would do the voice of Niles. David Hyde Piece is the obvious choice… but maybe Alan Carr?

01:12 – Charles Dance would play the Demon Headmaster and Darth Vader would almost certainly be Stephen Fry.


01:12 – Harry’s just roared at a tiny little lego brick on wheels. A black robot has just walked past them. It looks like Niles in bondage.

01:14 – The Nazis seem to have rumbled their disguise. Harry knocks some of them out and a bad laser light fight scene takes place

01:15 – I’ve got to say… these white vader suits actually makes Indiana look quite sexy. That probably says more about me than anything else.

01:16 – Selina Cadell rescues Leia. I can’t help but think he should have kept his dressing gown on, then they’d be a matching pair.

01:17 – The white vader troops on closer inspection seem to be polystyrene stuck to black spandex.

01:18 – Leia’s got some balls to her. She seems infinitely more capable than Selina Cadell

01:19 – Wait – I think I’ve seen this film… do the walls of the garbage store start to squash in on them?

01:20 – Oh, maybe not. Instead Selina Cadell’s been dragged into the water by a tentacle. He’s going to be livid, his hair will lose it’s fluffiness.

01:21 – After a tense few moments, he is spat out by the creature. Probably the taste of the shampoo.

01:21 – Oh! The walls ARE starting to close in on them. Selina Cadell looks better with wet hair. Shame he’s about to be squished.

01:22 – Niles and Little Blue are proper sneaky. Mincing about the ship, everyone just letting them past.

01:23 While Niles is mincing about, Selina, Leia and Indy are worried they’re going to be crushed. I’m not that worried. There’s about a million more films yet for them to die here.

01:24 – At the last moment, Niles thinks to check his messages. Little Blue penetrates another computer, and while it’s distracted by his advances, the crusher stops.

01:25 – Meanwhile, Bernard DumbleWho is just wandering around another part of the ship. The security seems quite lax on this big black ball.

01:26 – Indiana is getting snarky with the princess. The galaxy is a big place, but there’s only enough force for one queen.

01:27 – I’m enjoying the cheesy screen swipes between scenes. These were state of the art back then, weren’t they? They’re all a bit powerpoint now.

01:28 – Selina Cadell is back in his dressing gown now. Still as thick as shit, blowing up the controls to the bridge that is his and Leia’s only escape route.

01:29 – They swing across the bridge Indiana Jones style. Or rather, I guess, Indiana stole the moves from Selina Cadell, since the film was released after this one.

01:30 – A face off between Bernard DumbleWho and Darth. Bernard’s lightsaber expands at the sight of Darth. One assumes he’s feeling the force.

01:31 – Darth tells him the circle is complete. Hakuna matata.


01:31 – This light saber fight is very Dumbledore/Voldemort, isn’t it?

01:32 – The white vaders spot DumbleWho and Darth having a scrap and leave the ship unguarded. They good guys all run toward the ship until Selina Cadell spots the fight.

01:32 – DumbleWho seems to sacrifice himself and collapses under his cloak. You might say he’s submitted to the force. Selina Cadell gets all emotional, but runs onto the ship when DumbleWho’s disembodied voice tells him to.

01:33 – I’m assuming DumbleWho ain’t dead, although they all seem to think he is. There’s still half an hour to go, and nobody else has vaporized at the touch of a lightsaber.

01:34 – Oh, good a space fight. These are always the most tedious bit about these sort of films for me.

01:35 – Pow, pow, pow!

01:36 – They did it! Good. We can get on with the film. Niles, continuing the bondage theme, seems to have tied himself up in a bunch of wires.

01:37 – Worth noting at this point that Selina’s Cadell hair has returned to it’s natural state.


01:37 – He quickly tells Indiana that he and the Princess aren’t suitable. We’re supposed to think that he has feelings for her instead, when actually, he’s clearly hoping to feel Indy’s force

01:39 – Fifteen minutes since his last one, Little Blue penetrates another computer.

01:39 – Harry and Indiana raise eyebrows at each other during a Q style briefing when their instructor says the word penetrate. Kids.

01:40 – Q says the word shaft several times, but we don’t see their reaction to that one.

01:40 – Q wishes the force upon everyone (every good film needs an orgy scene) and his audience – who all seem to be dressed like Oompa Loompas, head out.

01:41 – Indiana is abandoning the Starfleet, presumably, because it’s from the wrong franchise, but he invites Selina Cadell along. He refuses, and Indiana wishes that the force be with him.

01:43 – At the mention of the force Selina suddenly misses DumbleWho, until Leia kisses him and he forgets all about it. I’m sure his mind will certainly be back on the force once he realises he’s fancies his sister.

01:44 – They are siblings, right? I haven’t made that up?

01:44 – Niles says goodbye to Little Blue – he’s off in one of the ships. I think Niles is a little jealous that Little Blue has penetrated everything in sight apart from him at this point.

01:45 – As he’s taking off, Selina hears DumbleWho talking about the force. It’s always at the most inappropriate moments you think about your ex.

01:46 – Have I missed something? Why is Little Blue piloting one of the attack ships? They’ve only got four good pilots in the whole fleet?

01:46 – Oh, good, more space fight. I’m going to take this opportunity to refill my wine glass.

01:47 – Darth is mincing around with his cape billowing behind him. I love a cape.

01:47 – DumbleWho’s voice keeps bouncing around Selina’s head, reminding him of the force. Not the greatest of moments to be thinking about sex.

01:48 – More cape billowing. I’ve just decided on my next Halloween costume.

01:49 – I don’t know what he’s doing, but Little Blue seems to be penetrating the back of the ship now. These characters are all sex-obsessed.

01:49 – Darth has stopped billowing and is now flying an attack ship. I know he’s one of the henchmen, but you would think in a ship that size, he would send out a few more minions first?

01:53 – This space fight is going on too long. Nobody’s talked about the force and nobody’s penetrated anything in ages.

01:54 – Oh! Little Blue’s doing some more penetrating. It seems to be helping.

01:55 – The Demon Headmaster looks worried. I’ve just realised he’s probably got reason to be. Darth’s not on the ship, so the big black ball – along with Charles Dance – will get blown up. Darth gets to return in another film. A bit like the Borg Queen.

01:55 – “Use the force, Luke.” At last. It’s been ages since anyone had a bit of force in them – obviously not including Little Blue.

01:56 – No sooner does Selina start using the force and Indiana turns up. Major power bottom.

01:57 – So he uses the force and his big ball explodes? No comment.

01:58 – Niles offering to be an organ donor for Little Blue. Yeah, we all know which organ he’d like to donate.

01:58 – There appears to be some sort of ceremony. They’ve all got different hair. Even Harry seems to have had at it with a bottle of Loreal.

01:59 – Niles has buffed himself up as well. He’s the robot equivalent of a Muscle Mary now. I think this is his civil partnership with Little Blue

02:00 – They all turn to the camera – I mean, the audience, and grin. Half expecting them to take a bow.

02:00 – The credits roll. My first experience of Star Wars is over. Bit disappointed that DumbleWho didn’t come back to life. And the ending seemed a bit ambiguous. I mean, I know there’s more films – but did the audience back in 1977?

Overall, I quite enjoyed it. Which, I guess is lucky, since I’m committed to watching the other five films. It’s hard for me to imagine watching this and not knowing ANYTHING about it – it’s had such a massive cultural impact, that even though I’d never seen it before, I knew some of – if not all – the main plot points.

Next week – I’ll watch Episode V, I’m looking forward to it.