PositiveThe Times (UK)The nigh-on 500 pages, compiled mostly from 26 volumes of handwritten diaries between 1993 and the end of 2015, will not radically reinvent Rickman’s public image. They are, however, fascinating and gradually colour in the picture of a performer who put huge amounts of himself into his work ... mostly pithy, always frank ... The weary elan pours off the page ... There are sharp observations in here; sometimes outright digs. Would he have had this stuff published if he had lived? Would he want the world to know how brilliant yet self-absorbed he found Kate Winslet when he directed her in the film A Little Chaos ... at first seems a roll-call of nothing but starry dinners, trips, ventures of varying degrees of glamorousness, lucrative but rejected offers and nice holidays too. It can read like its own Private Eye parody ... Once you’ve stopped applying your own Professor Snape sneer to the name-dropping nature of all this, though, you are forced to think: Well, what else is he going to write about? What else would you write about? There is a sense, only rarely underlined, of the boy from Ealing cooing over all this high life ... somehow, although you know full well it’s coming, that sudden absence leaves you bereft.
RaveThe Times (UK)Jonathan Coe has written weightier books than this coming-of-age story meets movie-buff elegy. He’s certainly written longer ones ... That, though, suits both his subject and his tone ... Coe mixes fabrication and film scholarship with his customary wit ... Along the way we get first love, film gossip and film theory galore and the restrained humour of the hard-to-impress Diamond ... So Mr Wilder & Me doesn’t lack resonance, yet stays light on its feet. The whole book feels like some marvellous party where you ricochet from one good conversation to another. A wish-fulfilment fantasy laced with a sure sense that no dog’s day goes on for ever.
PositiveThe Times (UK)McAleer, an American with a doctorate from Oxford, is perhaps attracted to Robinson for his transatlantic leanings ... what McAleer has come up with is a forensic yet readable account of the gifted, personally adventurous but politically conservative Robinson.
Michael J. Fox
RaveThe Times (UK)... bracingly honest ... a memoir with an unusual sense of purpose, because it’s a book about Fox trying to figure out what his own sense of purpose is. And he writes it in a pithy, highly readable, present-tense bestsellerese. Granted, as he starts telling us about how and he and his wife found their dog while taking one of their regular breaks on Martha’s Vineyard, or talking about his happy struggles playing golf, you wonder if it’s straying into the more standard terrain of a famous man who has already told his story twice ... Never for long, and always for a reason. Nobody could read this book without ending up with the utmost respect for Fox’s fortitude and a palpable sense of the love between him and his wife and family. He puts us into the heart of what it’s like to live with this disability, where every movement is a challenge, where you might prefer walking on stairs to walking on pavements because the terrain is more predictable ... Fox is wonderfully lucid as he explains exactly how Parkinson’s manifests itself ... Fox tells his story vividly with plenty of quips and self-deprecation. The most compelling moments, though, are when he questions his can-do spirit, when he asks at what point positivity becomes self-deception ... Fox knows what he has to be thankful for, knows what he has achieved, so his humility doesn’t feel faux. And it’s all the more moving when he ends up by putting his personal issues in the context of the whole world’s annus horribilis in 2020.
PositiveThe Times (UK)Does this act of filial ventriloquism come off? After an effortful prelude in which Reacher beats up a nasty Nashville bar owner on behalf of the band he has ripped off, it pretty much does. I won’t pretend that The Sentinel rivals Lee’s early hot streak. But then Lee, by his own admission in Heather Martin’s recent biography, The Reacher Guy, was struggling to do that of late. And although Andrew takes on much of Lee’s artful simplicity of language and fares well with the set-piece violence, the new Reacher is slightly wittier and chattier than we are used to ... What we have here, once the throat-clearing is done, once our baddie-bashing former military policeman and his new allies are trapped into their rats-in-a-maze plot, is a thoroughly entertaining, mid-ranking Reacher adventure ... Heavens, though, when the world is crumbling, it’s good to have some of Reacher’s brutal certainties back. Pull back to observe the plot and it may all appear higgledy-piggledy in its construction. What matters, as before, is the intensity of the experience while you are in Reacher’s mindset. Few other bestselling authors would dare to bore you by detailing the length of their hero’s shower routine (a relaxed 14 minutes here). Yet that is of a piece with succinct yet avowedly thorough descriptions of restaurants, motel rooms, mansions, bunkers, junk yards, car parks and booby traps. So when the ultraviolence comes, when Reacher pulls off the impossible for the tenth time that week, we buy into it because of the commitment to detail ... As before, the storytelling loses its charm when the action moves away from our protagonist. These books always need Reacher’s ex-military mindset front and centre to sell their contrivances. Even so, you close The Sentinel thinking that the family firm is in decent hands. Good enough, anyway, that I’ll still be a customer for the next one in 12 months’ time.
MixedThe Times (UK)In 2016, the year his 21st Jack Reacher novel was published, Lee Child made 90 cents a second. Almost $30 million. That’s if you believe every word the author tells his biographer in this exhaustive, authorised account of how a Midlands-born scholarship boy called Jim Grant became a Manhattan-based publishing sensation called Lee Child ... One of the more interesting strains of this book, though, is the extent to which both Lee Child and Jack Reacher are creations ... Truth and fiction may get blurred now and then, but, blimey, future biographers will be hard pushed to outdo Martin for detail. You’ll emerge from the first 300-odd pages knowing more about his formative years that you do about your own ... The best chapters are when Martin details Child’s incredible focus as he began his second career ... Millions of us powerless readers are desperately keen that the new Reacher guy will be able to keep the unputdownable revenge fantasies coming.
PositiveThe Times (UK)... beguiling ... Konnikova does a good job of convincing us that her story is about more than money or power or confidence or luck, although it touches on all of these things ... One part quest to one part behavioural science book, The Biggest Bluff is accessible even to non-poker-players. The science bits sometimes weigh a little heavy on the narrative, but it nonetheless follows in the noble tradition of journalists taking time off from the day job to learn a new trade, with one eye on personal growth and another on the book or articles they can get out of it. Still, Konnikova is always upfront about that ... she draws vividly the characters she meets ... Is it all about reading other players’ faces? No, that’s little use apparently; you are better off looking at their hands. Some of the book’s greatest pleasures are little discoveries like that, moments when you get to feel like quite the insider ... Konnikova is a good writer and hellishly bright, but she’s not a lean, mean storytelling machine like Malcolm Gladwell. If The Biggest Bluff sprawls a bit, though, it also takes you on a rewarding journey into a new world. It won’t tell you the secret of how to win at poker any more than it will tell you how to win at life, but it might give you a few ideas.
PositiveThe Times (UK)There are essentially two books in one in this (for what it’s worth) highly consumable memoir by Woody Allen, and it’s not always an easy join between the two. The first and frothier is an overview of his life and loves and influences and achievements, one conveyed in fluent Woody Allenese, all set-ups and payoffs and sprinkles of self-deprecation and existential dread...The second is his vigorous defence against the charges of sexual abuse that have come to cloud his career again after first being raised in 1992 ... Allen mounts a stout defence of himself, and his account of going out with (and never living with) Mia makes her appear simply awful and him appear merely passive and incurious ... Allen argues correctly that he has spent decades writing many strong leading roles for actresses, but it’s a shame he has a tin-eared tendency to define them by their looks ... Still, while it’s jarring to be reading about Mia’s attempts to destroy him one moment and what a joy Alan Alda is to work with the next, the Allen fan will find plenty of details and plenty of delights in here ... his comic defences are his consistent and, in their way, thoroughly sincere response to a world he has countered for so long and so staggeringly successfully with his wit.
MixedThe Times (UK)Takes a long old time to get going ... you can’t quite forget that Child, who tends to discover the plot as he writes rather than meticulously planning, hasn’t quite paced it right here. You could call it slow burn, but I think it’s more of a shilly shally ... Still. Child’s prose is always ultra-digestible. Even if his characters seem to speak the same sort of operating-manual language. And the last third or so of Past Tense, when the stories do eventually, belatedly, dovetail, is really pretty gripping. Busy, bloody and ingenious enough that you can almost forget you don’t really believe a word of how they got to be there in the first place.