Tuesday, 27 August 2013

The Drought makes the Shirley You Jest Book Awards final four!

Just got some pretty awesome news - The Drought has been shortlisted in the fiction category for the Shirley You Jest Book Awards!

Four books made the cut after weeks of judging and the winner will be announced on November 1st.

The other books include Murder on the First Day of Christmas by Billie Thomas, Baby Bumps by Amy Sprenger, and In Need of Therapy by Tracie Banister.

Good luck to all the finalists and may the funniest book win! 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Lad Lit Book Reviews: The Stag and Hen Weekend by Mike Gayle

Books For Men Book Reviews! The Stag and Hen Weekend by Mike Gayle
I wanted to love this book so much. When I picked it up, I had visions of scenes straight out of The Hangover. After all, that’s what stag do’s are all about right? Boys getting away for the weekend and getting up to no good while their wives and girlfriends are none the wiser. Even Mike Gayle himself described them as “when every weekend had the potential to be the best weekend of their lives.”

The story is split into two – the stag weekend with Phil and his pals, and then his fiancĂ© Helen and her friends. As a reader, you are encouraged to start with whatever story you wished. I opted for the stag weekend. At first I struggled with the six main characters. Apart from Phil and his best man Simon, it was hard to tell who was who, but eventually I got there. But just when I thought the boys were about to get up to some mischief, Phil throws a massive strop and basically spends the entire time away from the lads!

Granted, he ends up spending time with what sounds like a pretty hot ex-pop star called Sanne, but still! This is his stag do! Apart from the boys all wearing Reservoir Dogs outfits (which was a nice touch) and a bit of a scuffle with some lads from Essex, Phil spends his whole time worrying about one of Helen’s exes who has reared his little celebrity head (her ex is a famous DJ). Throw in Phil’s stoner dad who makes a surprise appearance and Phil’s misery is pretty much complete.

The thing is, I actually liked Phil – he seemed like a good guy, but the fact he was in Amsterdam and the most exciting thing he did was go to the Van Gogh museum was a bit bland for my liking. Unfortunately this Phil was nothing like the Phil from The Hangover, and even worse there was not an Alan or Stu in sight, let alone a Doug!

Anyway, the ending of the stag do set up an intriguing cliffhanger so I was keen to find out what was going to happen and read on. The hen weekend was pretty much what I expected. Even though I’d been hoping for some pretty low-level drunken shenanigans with ‘L’ plates, fairy wings, and Playboy bunny outfits, what I got was nice dinners and spas.

This story followed a similar pattern to Phil’s, where Helen has her head turned by Aiden her celebrity ex, who has found out that Helen was throwing her hen weekend at this exclusive hotel and has basically turned up to try and win her back. Just as Phil has his dad, Helen has to contend with Phil’s sister Caitlin who she has never got on with.

And finally...! The ending is weird, or should I say the complete lack of ending. Others have called it open-ended, but I just felt like I’d been rear-ended. Even after everything, I was still flicking through the pages because I thought I might have missed something and I genuinely wanted to know what happened to Phil and Helen.

Overall the book was well-written and the concept is really clever, it just wasn't to my taste like some of Mike Gayle’s other books. I suppose at the end of the day this was more chick-lit than lad-lit and that’s why it didn’t float my boat. Perhaps the other problem was that I read this book immediately after reading Danny Wallace’s Charlotte Street which I really enjoyed, and hit the nail on the head of what I feel lad lit should be. After everything I’ve said, this book probably doesn’t deserve anything lower than 3 stars, but it’s one I’d probably more recommend to my missus than my mates.


Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Top 10 Best Amiga Games of all time!

When my parents bought me an Amiga 500+ in 1991 my whole life changed. I still look back with a great deal of nostalgia when I think of the amount of time I spent hunched over at my desk toggling my joystick.

And I played a few games on the computer as well! Boom boom!

Even though computers have moved on to a completely different level over the past 20 years, I still genuinely believe that nothing has come close to the sound of clicking in that floppy disc and loading up one of the hundreds of games that were easily accessible for 99p if you knew the right person at school!

So here is my countdown of the games that kept me up to all hours of the night and undoubtedly played a huge part in my appalling GCSE exam results... but it was well worth it!

My Top 10 Amiga Games!

10. Kid Gloves
Kid Gloves is a game that rarely gets mentioned in other 'Best Amiga Games' lists that I've seen, but for me the multi-platform game featuring a baby boxer who punched his way past the bad guys offered hours of gameplay. This may have been largely down to the fact that is was pretty damn hard, but out of the hundreds of games I had back then, I still remember this one, especially the random array of enemies that included snakes, elves and crocodiles, as well as flames and spinning wheels. It was a bit random, and the music was certainly a touch on the annoying side, but for some reason I was quite intrigued by this little dude who paraded around with his boxing gloves!

9. Premier Manager 2
Before Championship Manager took over my life, I got myself warmed up for the world of footy management sims by playing Premier Manager 2. You started your career in the Conference and worked your way up through the leagues. As well as managing the team you were also responsible for the clubs finances by negotiating advertising deals, bank loans, and ticket sales. It's a bit like letting Harry Redknapp have free reign over all financial aspects for the club, and we all know how well that turned out for QPR! It had a few nice touches in the game that  arguably was ahead of its time with options such as stadium rebuilds and contacting other managers via the telephone.

8. TV Sports Basketball
Alongside Outrun and GTA Vice City, this game had the best soundtrack of any computer game ever made. Ever! Okay, that's quite a boast, especially as it's not a soundtrack at all - more of a theme tune really. But listening back to that little snippet of music stirs up an abundance of nostalgic excitement! The pointless middle screen shot between attacks, the strange sound of a basketball supposedly bouncing on the court, the accusations that the computer would cheat if you were winning by too much of a margin! It was all part of a routine of nipping around to my mates house at lunch to get a quick half hour game in as we both hummed the tune to our hearts content!

7. Superfrog
I know people bang on about the golden years of Mario and Sonic, but if you owned an Amiga rather than a Nintendo or Sega back in the day, then this is the only platform game you needed! What was there not to like about this game? You were a prince who had been turned into a frog by an evil witch, and now you wore a superheroes cape, drank Lucozade to restore energy levels, popped pills to increase your skill, played slot machines, shot at people with a strange little yo-yo type amphibian in your pocket, and you had a princess to save! The game was highly addictive, and I was easily kept entertained throughout the five different worlds you had to travel through.

6. Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe
This was a game ahead of its time! A crazy mixture of handball, ice hockey, and five-a-side football; this futuristic sports game rewarded players for scoring goals and extreme violence, all while the shouts for 'Ice cream!' can be heard from the crowd. There was something very special about assembling your own team of thugs and then sending them out to beat the hell out of the opposition. A great example of this was to launch the ball at the goalkeeper and then throw yourself at him to steal the ball back and score.And nothing beat playing against a friend and going full pelt to see who could cause the most amount of damage in the shortest amount of time possible!

5. Lemmings
Who would have thought that blowing up a bunch of small rodents could have been so much fun! Long before amazing graphics, ridiculously hard joystick combinations, and story telling Hollywood would be proud of, us gamers were kept entertained by guiding a bunch of humanoid lemmings through a number of obstacles with a skillset that included building bridges, digging holes, and acting as a lollipop lady to direct lemming traffic. But as the minutes turned to hours, and the hours turned to days, the only communication we had was a simple woo-hoo that the Lemmings would cry in celebration or uh-oh before exploding!

4. Indiana Jones & The Fate of Atlantis
In a time when pressing a dozen buttons in a particular sequence became the norm with computer games, point and click ruled the world, and that was thanks in no small part to LucasArts. Whilst Monkey Island was the undisputed king of the genre, when Indy and his whip hit our screens as our pixelated hero in Fate of Atlantis, it just as addictive as the adventures of swash-buckling pirate Guybrush Threepwood! After the success of this game, it makes you wonder why Indiana Jones didn't turn up in sequel point and click adventures, or why other Hollywood movies didn't follow suit. I mean, could you imagine a point and click version of a Nightmare of Elm Street or The Running Man?!

3. Sensible World of Soccer
You can keep your Fifa's and you can stuff your Pro Evolution Soccer's up your backside, because if there was one football game I could happily play for the rest of my life it was Sensible Soccer - or Sensi as it was affectionately known! The birds-eye view, the fact the ball went left when you turned right, the ability to win games by cricket scores by cutting in from the edge of the box and curling the ball past the keeper! It was simple and brilliant all at the same time, and when they introduced the managerial element of the game which allowed you to transfer players in and out, it took this beautiful game to a whole another level of addiction.

2. The Monkey Island series
I pretty much peed my pants in glee when The Secret of Monkey Island was released as an app on the iPhone. Here I was, a man in my 30s celebrating the fact that a game I played when I was 13 was back in the palm of my hands.And then when LeChuck's Revenge followed I was a dribbling mess. Because that is what the brilliance of this game does to you. It was like playing the lead role in a movie with the most wonderful of scripts, yet you have no idea how it's all going to end. It was a time before Pirates of the Caribbean and looking back you realise that Captain Jack Sparrow is nothing more than a poor man's Guybrush Threepwood.

1. Championship Manager
Many have tried to emulate it, but when it comes to the world of football management games, there is - and always will be - only one game that matters. I'm pretty sure this game was single-handedly was the reason why I didn't do as well in my exams as I would have liked, and then later on in life the reason for poor performance at work, girlfriends leaving me, and my damaged eyesight from staring at a computer screen for too long (although there might be another reason for that last one...). It's hard to believe that 20 years after I first popped the floppy disc into my Amiga that I am still just as hooked as I was back then, forever hopeful that I'll unearth the next Nii Lamptey!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Lad Lit Book Reviews: Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace

Books For Men Book Reviews! Charlotte Street by Danny Wallace
When I grow up and (hopefully) become a proper writer, I want to be Danny Wallace. His words simply trickle off the page like treacle oozing off a spoon, and in Charlotte Street he has a real winner on his hands. Here was have the story of Jason Priestley (not of 90210 fame although he gets that a lot...) whose brief encounter with a mystery beauty on Charlotte Street results in him being left with her disposal camera.

Besotted by the mystery woman and encouraged by his best friend Dev (who is arguably the best character in the book), Jason decides to get the pictures developed to try and use it for clues to find her again. With shades of Friends Like These, Jason ends up searching the length and breadth of the country (well, Whitby anyway) in what becomes a slight obsession to meet this woman again.

Along the way he meets old and new friends (Matt – the kid he used to teach, his ex Sarah and her fiancĂ© Gary, his work colleague Clem the wannabe stand-up comedian, Abbey the free spirit); all have their own rich identities and personalities that Wallace captures so brilliantly well, and weaves them into Jason's life in a way which makes each character seem equally as important to the story, no matter how much or how little they actually appear in the book.

In a way, they all play their part in Jason trying to find this woman which inadvertently means he ends up finding himself. There are plenty of laughs along the way, and the dialogue between the characters at times is nothing short of brilliant, yet so simple. The story is told to us by Jason, which means you get closer to the character as you share his inner-most thoughts, no matter how quirky or silly they are.

One of the greatest triumphs in this book is that even though Jason is going through a tough time in his life (his career is going nowhere fast) he never becomes whiny, and instead as the reader you urge him on in his journey like he is an old friend.

There are lots of funny moments in this book that range from Jason becoming the poster boy for the local pizza restaurant's marketing drive to turning up at his ex's engagement party and being part of a plan that gets all of the guests high on marijuana; Wallace describes them all in that all-so-easy style that makes it feel like the man is sitting next to you in a pub telling you the story himself.

Just in case I haven't made this clear already - this is a really enjoyable book which I highly recommend. If you are looking for a new lad lit book to read, then look no further...!