How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran review – sex, drugs and Britpop

Who cares if the hero’s too good to be true? The bestselling poptimist has rewritten her past in heroic terms, creating a rollicking fantasy which leaves a rosy afterglow

These days the concept of Britain as a creative meritocracy is retreating as alarmingly fast as the polar ice caps, as libraries shut, youth centres are defunded, record companies retrench and London is made uninhabitable for the young by dodgy money from the Wild East. In the 1990s, it was a different story. There was still plenty to get upset about – the aftermath of the Gulf war, for starters – but some things were occasionally all right. A relative nobody, even a female person, could rock up and live somewhere cheap in Zone 2 and – with the generous application of chutzpah, some bat-wing eyeliner and a well-lubricated social life – careen their way into a journalistic career.

This past ...

The Secret DJ review – debauchery with spin

An anonymous exposé of the touring DJ’s drug-fuelled life both entertains and appals

Last April, a 28-year-old called Tim Bergling – known to millions as the Swedish superstar DJ and producer Avicii – took his own life while on holiday in Oman. He had retired from nearly a decade of heavy touring in 2016, having had his appendix and gall bladder removed in 2014 due to alcoholism; Bergling also suffered from pancreatitis. A documentary about his career – True Stories (2017) – reportedly contained scenes in which the exhausted DJ pleaded with management to cancel bookings, meeting with resistance. It’s since been removed from Netflix.

Bergling did not write this anonymous exposé of the cult of the DJ, and neither did Erick Morillo, the veteran US house DJ whose ketamine addiction nearly lost him his arm, or Deadmau5, the rodent-headed DJ who has struggled with depression. But you suspect they ...

Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime – review

Grime, black music’s rawest cry for political justice, has found the passionate chronicler it deserves in Dan Hancox

It’s December 2010. Hundreds of young demonstrators are kettled in Parliament Square by the Met’s scary territorial support group, despairing of the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, which kept underprivileged young people in colleges and sixth forms, and seeking to influence the parliamentary vote then under way on raising university tuition fees.

A makeshift PA system turns up, and the jack into the amplifier is passed around the demonstrators’ devices, all naturally loaded with MP3s. A rave erupts in the kettle, playing a huge variety of “music of black origin” – that unsatisfactory portmanteau word covering, at least that day, R&B, dancehall, UK funky and dubstep.

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All Gates Open: The Story of Can by Rob Young and Irmin Schmidt – review

Rob Young’s scholarly history of the hugely influential 70s band, written with the one surviving member of the group, neglects their human qualities

It all begins, and ends, with Irmin Schmidt. A classical musician under the tutelage of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the young Schmidt travelled to New York in 1966 and immersed himself in the brave new music of Terry Riley and Steve Reich. His open mind was blown out even further by the possibilities of rock’n’roll.

The group he formed on his return to Germany became Can, one of the most influential experimental bands of all time: their sinuous creations went on to warp generations of sound-makers. Brian Eno became a fellow traveller; John Lydon begged to be their singer before forming Public Image Ltd. Happy Mondays’ song Hallelujah bows to Can’s Halleluwah. The Jesus and Mary Chain and Radiohead covered them, the late Mark E Smith of the ...

All Gates Open: The Story of Can by Rob Young and Irmin Schmidt – review

Rob Young’s scholarly history of the hugely influential 70s band, written with the one surviving member of the group, neglects their human qualities

It all begins, and ends, with Irmin Schmidt. A classical musician under the tutelage of Karlheinz Stockhausen, the young Schmidt travelled to New York in 1966 and immersed himself in the brave new music of Terry Riley and Steve Reich. His open mind was blown out even further by the possibilities of rock’n’roll.

The group he formed on his return to Germany became Can, one of the most influential experimental bands of all time: their sinuous creations went on to warp generations of sound-makers. Brian Eno became a fellow traveller; John Lydon begged to be their singer before forming Public Image Ltd. Happy Mondays’ song Hallelujah bows to Can’s Halleluwah. The Jesus and Mary Chain and Radiohead covered them, the late Mark E Smith of the ...

Fiction for older children reviews – adventure seen with fresh eyes

With psychic wolves and ghostly narrators, the latest children’s novels – including one by Dave Eggers – put a new spin on familiar themes

Breathtaking originality is rare in most genres. The bulk of mainstream culture workers are just rearranging familiar tropes with reinvigorating flair. Every boarding school caper bears the mark of JK Rowling; sparky heroines channel their more famous fore-sisters, and so on.

First appearances suggest that Brightstorm, a debut by Vashti Hardy (Scholastic £6.99), is a solid orphan adventure narrative. Siblings Arthur and Maudie are sold into a slum, then flung into a perilous scheme after their explorer father fails to return from a mission to South Polaris, disgraced and presumed dead.

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Raw: My Journey Into the Wu-Tang review – poignant, insightful memoir

Lamont ‘U-God’ Hawkins is suing his fellow rappers for millions – now he gives his side of a hip-hop saga

The first memoir out of the ranks of the Wu-Tang Clan – a sprawling hip-hop organisation who lit up the 90s with their martial arts-themed works – is not that of their mastermind, RZA. It is not by Raekwon or Method Man, two of its bigger personalities. It is by U-God – a core, if minor, member of the original nine-strong Staten Island outfit. And there are reasons for that.

Back in 2015, the latterday Wu recorded an album – Once Upon a Time in Shaolin – and pressed only one single copy. In a flurry of publicity, it was sold for $2m to the disgraced pharmaceutical entrepreneur Martin Shkreli.

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Rave On: Global Adventures in Electronic Dance Music by Matthew Collin – review

A scholarly account of how dance music migrated from the margins to the multibillion-dollar mainstream is illuminating

Where you stand on today’s dance culture might actually have a lot to do with where you stand (or, in my case, stood) on the dancefloor itself. For thrill-seekers who came of age during the late-80s rave boom or earlier, the dancers were the focus, and the repetitive beat the lodestar.

The vinyl being spun could still trace its lineage back to gay and African American subcultures. The most dedicated clubbers were kaleidoscope-eyed margin-walkers rejecting the grind for a more egalitarian, smiley-faced existence, in what the anarchist writer Hakim Bey has termed “temporary autonomous zones”.

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Fiction for older children reviews – snow quests, standup and skullduggery

A well-plotted comic quest from Harry Hill, a treat of a seafaring saga, and a Dickensian dystopia in which a fox leaves an orphanage in search of home

Snow flurries blow across ice palaces, and a penguin or seven crops up in this season’s stockingful of books. Best enjoyed with a mug of sustaining cocoa, Alex Bell’s The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club (Faber £6.99) – probably the start of a series – delights in sleety detail. Twelve-year-old Stella Starflake Pearl dreams of being an arctic explorer like her adoptive father, a derring-doer who disdains club rules about moustaches and not taking girls along on expeditions. Soon Stella is questing through the Icelands. Inadvertently stumbling across the uneasy secrets of her childhood, she forges unlikely friendships. Big on tiny enchanted penguins, pygmy diplodocuses, moustache wax, unicorns and compassion, Bell’s book also packs some fairytale-calibre grimness (hence the need for strong cocoa).

Another ...

The Sex Pistols 1977: The Bollocks Diaries; Punk Is Dead, edited by Richard Cabut and Andrew Gallix – review

Two very different histories of punk help to explain why the controversial movement changed so many young people’s lives

Nothing could be less punk than commemorating its 40th anniversary. The late 70s have been commodified, just as the swinging 60s were. John Lydon is now a Brexit-praising expat (although the veteran polemicist might just have been promoting his book earlier this year). So much sputum has passed under the bridge.

Born in a heady swirl of controversy, battles raged over punk’s essence from the start. What should it be called? Who, if anyone, was in charge of anarchy? Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren always insisted it was all his own Machiavellian-situationist art prank. Lydon has always lasered the notion with his cerulean stare. And what of the thousands of ordinary suburban teens punk touched? Were they swindled or liberated?

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Fiction for older children reviews – tales of the cities

London and New York both feature strongly in stories from both sides of the pond, while Room author Emma Donoghue makes her children’s fiction debutIn the UK, you wouldn’t want under-12s to have much contact with doormen – ours being burly negotiators who remove the ill-behaved from nightclubs. In New York, however, doormen are the guardians of gracious apartment buildings and, thus, civilisation itself. One such building is the star of The Doorman’s Repose, by Caldecott Medal winner Chris Raschka (Faber, £11.99), an urbane collection of New Yorker-ish short stories. It begins with a new doorman – who, disastrously, knows nothing about baseball – taking up his post. Otis, the elevator, plays matchmaker; Liesl, the boiler, loses her va-va-voom; the mice are into jazz and psychotherapy, and the humans in these droll, Lemony Snicket-like stories are only slightly less variegated. Continue reading...

Fiction for 8- to 12-year-olds reviews – cyborgs, sisters and a girl called Owl

Film directors Sylvain Chomet and Bobbie Peers give a fantastic spin to the challenges of the tweenage years, alongside vlogging cats and talking fishPicture books for key stage 2 readers require a balance of graphics and grist – too cute and you’ll insult their sense of maturity. Dancing across the divide from picture- to text-led is Abby Hanlon’s anarchic Dory Fantasmagory (Faber £6.99), for the very youngest in this range. Poor Dory: nobody wants to play with a kid sister whose imagination is matched by her pestiferousness. Hanlon’s cartoons add devilment to the narrative, mostly set in Dory’s imagination. Her siblings make up a baby-stealing bogeywoman to scare her; Dory responds by darting Mrs Gobble Gracker with sedatives. Very funny. Continue reading...

Fiction for 8 to 12-year-olds review – magic, moles and redemption

Celebrity authors Tom Fletcher and Clare Balding come up trumps along with seasoned favourites from Moira Young to Lauren ChildMost kids want at least one unattainable thing for Christmas – a pony, a spaceship, a real live dinosaur. That’s the simple but effective premise of The Christmasaurus (Penguin hardback £12.99), the latest book from erstwhile McFly singer Tom Fletcher, whose dino-themed picture-book output (with bandmate Dougie Poynter) probably helped earn his icelolly.com celebrity dad of the year 2016 accolade. For a man more used to the three-minute medium, Fletcher’s not bad. The story of Jurassic-fixated William Trundle (wheelchair-using, mumless) and a dinosaur raised at the north pole (who secretly wants to be a reindeer), Fletcher’s first solo venture for older children is full of redemption, magic and gleeful silliness, especially on the mechanics of Christmas. Continue reading...

Fiction for older children reviews – tales of gumption and cunning

Alexander McCall Smith gives us a lion tamer, Sophie Thompson a zoo keeper, and Lucy Worsley medieval sex and violence…The onslaught of celebrities dabbling in children’s fiction doesn’t look like abating. Fortunately, some are good at it – not least the pros. Alexander McCall Smith has previously taken Precious Ramotswe back to her childhood and his latter-day run of mischievous children’s tales has a brand new hero, Freddie Mole, Lion Tamer (Bloomsbury, £9.99 hardback). We’re not in Africa any more, Toto; we’re closer to home, with young Freddie who works at the circus to make ends meet while his father’s repair business founders; his mum is away at sea. At the lower end of the age range, and fizzingly illustrated by Kate Hindley, it’s a tale of bravery rewarded, positively a-thrum with human decency in the face of adversity (impending penury, trapezes, lions). Continue reading...









Older children reviews – animal magic

Judith Kerr’s rescued seal, a cat, a gun-toting lion, a wolf – plus Sandi Toksvig’s tale of an Irish tomboy

What would Christmas be without a few familiar faces? To adults and children alike, Judith Kerr needs no introduction. But there’s a new animal in the nonagenarian kid-lit superstar’s menagerie. Joining the tea-guzzling tiger and the dotty cat, Mog, is Charlie, a seal pup.

In Mister Cleghorn’s Seal (HarperCollins £12.99 hardback), Kerr’s first book in 37 years, Charlie is rescued from his rock after his mother is culled. Mr Cleghorn is the benign retiree who smuggles him in past his officious janitor; he enlists his neighbour, Miss Craig, in helping make a mixture of fish and milk. This is a gentle tale out of time that looks defeat in the face and wrangles a series of happy endings from it. (Kerr’s father, you discover, once kept a seal ...

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein review – mysteries remain

The Sleater-Kinney guitarist’s candid, amusing memoir is packed with revelations, but the alchemy of the band remains elusive

Fans of Portlandia, the successful comedy of north-western American manners co-created by Carrie Brownstein, will have to wait. This memoir is about Brownstein’s first flag on the hill – being one of the finest rock guitarists of the past 20 years, in a band both critically adored and commercially viable. Named Sleater-Kinney, with gender-neutral emphasis on the street where their practice room was located, they were the Nirvana of riot grrrl, a trio who far transcended the feminist punk scene that formed them.

Sleater-Kinney got big enough to support Pearl Jam in stadiums; both Robert Christgau and Greil Marcus, the dons of US rock criticism, praised their idiosyncratic, tensile post-punk to the hilt. Few bands playing unorthodox music get to this sweet spot, where admiration coalesces with making a ...

Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink review – Elvis Costello’s idiosyncratic memoir

It jumps around and spends pages discussing bass players, but Costello’s account of his long career is as beautifully written as it is infuriating

You learn to dread the autobiographies of our most literate pop stars; to read them tensed for the letdown. The last major beast of the lyrical jungle to publish an autobiography through Penguin – Morrissey – came out with writing that was both purple and petulant. Maybe the succinctness of the three-minute pop song serves some wits better than the long form.

At 688 pages, the life work of Elvis Costello is a whopper – written elliptically, episodically, beautifully and infuriatingly by turns. “The first time ever he saw my face, Ewan MacColl promptly fell asleep,” is a typical pose. Never particularly given to straight answers where five densely allusive stanzas on the next album will do, Costello probably thinks chronology is for pedants. He’s not ...

Fiction for older children reviews – delight in wordplay, disrespect for authority and a touch of evil

Michael Rosen continues to question the logic of the adult world, while Daniel Whelan juggles wisecracking demons in a madcap adventure
Best picture books for children – Kate Kellaway’s picks
Best fiction for teenagers – Geraldine Brennan’s picks
Click here to buy any of the books featured at a special price

Delighting in language makes many writers tick. This summer’s crop of fiction for eight- to 12-year-olds gleefully introduces big words to medium-sized people. There is some “fulminating” here, and some “festooning”, a few “teasels”, and “digressions” galore that “bamboozle and confuzle”.

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Stephen Witt: ‘Music piracy is illegal – but morally, is it wrong?’

Kitty Empire talks to Stephen Witt about his eagerly awaited book charting the rise of the MP3 file, the online pirates who exploited it and the record industry that ignored its cultural impact until it was far too late

How Music Got Free is in essence the gripping tale of three men: Karlheinz Brandenburg, the German scientist whose lab cobbled together the MP3; Doug Morris, the old-school record company executive who presided over the rap boom and began the fight-back against piracy; and Bennie Lydell “Dell” Glover, the North Carolina CD pressing plant worker, whose light fingers and computer skills singlehandedly led to a haemorrhage of A-list rock and hip-hop releases – Eminem, Kanye West, Queens of the Stone Age, Björk – being freely available on the internet two weeks before release.

The three men never met, but Witt ...