The Thrill of it All by Joseph O’Connor

bookshelves: summer-2014, music, published-2014, autumn-2014, britain-england, luton, newtome-author

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from August 23 to September 06, 2014

 

BABT

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04f9lmn

BBC description: Spanning 25 years, Joseph O’ Connor’s new novel The Thrill of It All rewinds and fast-forwards through an evocative soundtrack of struggle and laughter. It deals with the formation of a band in the early 80’s in Luton, their struggle for recognition, playing low dives, living in transit vans culminating in overnight worldwide success. Then the inevitable, “artistic differences!”

This is an incredibly warm-hearted and uplifting story for anyone who has ever loved a song.

Author ….. Joseph O’Connor
Abridger ….. Neville Teller
Producer ….. Gemma McMullan

The Author: Joseph O’Connor is the author of eight novels: Cowboys and Indians (short-listed for the Whitbread Prize), Desperadoes, The Salesman, Inishowen, Star of the Sea, Redemption Falls, Ghost Light and The Thrill of it All. He has also written radio diaries, film scripts and stage-plays including the multiple award-winning Red Roses and Petrol and an acclaimed adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel.

His novel Star of the Sea was an international bestseller, selling more than a million copies and being published in 38 languages. It won France’s Prix Millepages, Italy’s Premio Acerbi, the Irish Post Award for Fiction, the Neilsen Bookscan Golden Book Award, an American Library Association Award, the Hennessy/Sunday Tribune Hall of Fame Award, and the Prix Litteraire Zepter for European Novel of the Year. His novel Ghost Light was chosen as Dublin’s One City Book novel for 2011. He received the Irish PEN Award for Outstanding Contribution to Irish Literature in 2012.

1/10 October 1981 in Luton, and Robert Goulding first meets his ‘glimmertwin’ Francis Mulvey.

2/10 On Rob’s 19th birthday, life is about to change when he meets Trez.

3/10 The trio turn their attention to finding the band’s ‘unbeatable drummer’.

4/10 An unexpected windfall for Fran prompts the band to make a go of it.

5/10 Are the fortunes of the band about to change?

6/10 After being dropped by their London music label, the band try their luck stateside.

7/10 With the release of the album in New York, the Ships look set for global stardom.

8/10 Twenty-five years later, and Robbie’s life is very different to his former music career.

9/10 Robbie receives a surprising invitation to Dublin by his former bandmate Fran.

10/10 At the reunion concert in Dublin, will Robbie hold his nerve?

I thought the story really started to fly once the band had broken up and we zoom twenty-five years to see just who is doing what. Before that it was an okay sort of read but nothing special, a cliche almost.

Apache Indian – Boom Shakalaka for dancing with the nurse in hospital.

The Thief Taker by C.S. Quinn

 

Description: The year is 1665. Black Death ravages London. A killer stalks the streets in a plague doctor’s hood and mask.

When a girl is gruesomely murdered, thief taker Charlie Tuesday reluctantly agrees to take on the case. But the horrific remains tell him this is no isolated death. The killer’s mad appetites are part of a master plan that could destroy London – and reveal the dark secrets of Charlie’s own past.

Now the thief taker must find this murderous mastermind before the plague obliterates the evidence street by street. This terrifying pursuit will take Charlie deep into the black underbelly of old London, where alchemy, witchcraft and blood-spells collide.

In a city drowned in darkness, death could be the most powerful magic of all.

Opening: London, 1665
In the year of the Black Death London is a city of half-timbered houses and dark towers. In the narrow backstreets, astrologists predict the future, and alchemists conjure wonders. Traitors’ heads line London Bridge, where witches sell potions, and gamesters turn cards. The river flowing beneath lands a daily cargo of smuggler gangs and pirates.

Loved this from the very start: it is gory, graphic and dead gruesome. Many gizzard for dinner scenes so I suppose this is not for the squeamish, and the murdering hulk is terrifying so this is not for the shiverers either. Rest assured though, it is not a horror fic by any stretch of the imagination. The Thief Taker for all its grisly subject is written in a very upbeat fashion. I would loath to call it YA because lots of people have a very prejudiced mindset when it comes to that shelf. It is a highly enjoyable piece of hist-fic fluff.

Holborn Bridge: 1831 Drawn by Tho. H. Shepherd. Engraved by M. Woolnoth.

What a debut, and ike Oliver Twist, I’m asking for more of Charlie Tuesday. Three point five plague hoods rounded up for the sites that do not operate on half ratings.

Endorsed by my Peter James: ‘Quinn is a brilliant new talent!’
Images from the book

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

 

Description: How do you solve a crime when you can’t remember the clues?

Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn’t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Back home she finds the place horribly unrecognizable – just like she sometimes thinks her daughter Helen is a total stranger.

But there’s one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.

Because somewhere in Maud’s damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. One everyone has forgotten about.

Everyone, except Maud . . .

Some nice ratings around for this one already. Smashing.

I thought this an exceptionally clever debut novel, and we really get inside the mind of senile dementia. But what really is senile dementia if not just the notching up of internal dialogue to the exclusion of all else? Well it’s a safety hazard, that is apparent but not scary per se. I thought the grand-daughter dealt with it all better than daughter Helen.

However Healey did rather over-egg the pudding didn’t she, bet I wasn’t the only one screaming at the pages saying: ‘get the Foxtrot on with it, why don’t you.’

Like I said above, a clever debut where the some of the looseness should have been edited out. Three point five marrow flowers.

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Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love by James Booth

bookshelves: summer-2014, radio-4, published-2014, biography, newtome-author, nonfiction, poetry

Read from August 23 to 28, 2014

 

BOTW

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04f9frc

Description: Philip Larkin was that rare thing among poets – a household name in his own lifetime. Lines such as ‘Never such innocence again’ and ‘Sexual intercourse began / In nineteen sixty-three’ made him one of the most popular poets of the last century.

Larkin’s reputation as a man, however, has been more controversial. A solitary librarian known for his pessimism, he disliked exposure and had no patience with the literary circus. And when, in 1992, the publication of his Selected Letters laid bare his compartmentalised personal life, accusations of duplicity, faithlessness, racism and misogyny were levelled against him.

There is, of course, no requirement that poets should be likeable or virtuous, but James Booth asks whether art and life were really so deeply at odds with each other. Can the poet who composed the moving ‘Love Songs in Age’ have been such a cold-hearted man? Can he who uttered the playful, self-deprecating words ‘Deprivation is for me what daffodils were for Wordsworth’ really have been so boorish?

A very different public image is offered by those who shared the poet’s life – the women with whom he was romantically involved, his friends and his university colleagues. It is with their personal testimony, including access to previously unseen letters, that Booth reinstates a man misunderstood – not a gaunt, emotional failure, but a witty, provocative and entertaining presence, delightful company; an attentive son and a man devoted to the women he loved.

Read by Michael Pennington
Written by James Booth
Abridged by Libby Spurrier
Produced by Joanna Green
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4

1/5 Aged 17, Larkin goes up to Oxford to read English and meets a jazz-loving kindred spirit.

2/5 Philip meets Monica Jones, an assistant English lecturer at Leicester University.

3/5 Philip begins work as librarian at Hull University and oversees plans for expansion.

4/5 As middle age approaches, Larkin’s private life is as complicated as ever.

5/5 Despite having two continuing relationships, Larkin brings another woman into his life.

Would you have shagged him? Not me. It is a question of liking the output, disliking the outputter. And Oh! how he disliked his parents, and families in general, which is why he penned these:


They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.

and in reply, this:

They suss you out, your girls and boys.
You may not know it, but they do.
They find out all your faults and foibles
Because they concentrate on you.

Their eyes and ears are sharp, perceptive,
Slicing through your best disguise.
And if you grit your teeth and take it,
Their advice might make you wise.

They cannot cure your old compulsions;
They will not stroke away the aches
That plague your heart and grieve your bones
But they can learn from your mistakes.

And:

They tuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not want to, but they do.
They give you games and stories they had
And make up new ones, just for you.

And they were tucked up in their turn
By parent figures in the past,
Who helped them, growing up, to learn
That pain and misery end at last.

Your kids can comfort smaller kids.
And get some pleasure from this chore.
The fretful baby’s drooping eyelids
Move our hearts to ask for more.

“Annus Mirabilis” by Philip Larkin (read by Tom O’Bedlam)

A Song for Issy Bradley

 

BABT

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04d8dvt

Description: This is the story of what happens when Issy Bradley dies.

It is the story of Ian – husband, father, maths teacher and Mormon bishop – and his unshakeable belief that everything will turn out all right if he can only endure to the end, like the pioneers did. It is the story of his wife Claire’s lonely wait for a sign from God and her desperate need for life to pause while she comes to terms with what’s happened.

It is the story of the agony and hope of Zippy Bradley’s first love, the story of Alma Bradley’s cynicism and reluctant bravery, and it is the story of seven-year-old Jacob. But mostly it’s the story of a family trying to work out how to carry on when their world has fallen apart.

Incredibly moving, unexpectedly funny and sharply observed, A Song for Issy Bradley, explores the outer reaches of doubt and faith. Author Carys Bray was brought up in a devout Mormon family. In her early thirties she left the church and replaced religion with writing. She was awarded the Scott prize for her debut short story collection Sweet Home. A Song for Issy Bradley is her first novel.

1/10 It is little Jacob’s birthday, and he wants all the family to have breakfast together.

2/10 Claire is trying to keep control of Jacob’s birthday party, and Issy says she feels unwell

3/10 Issy has been rushed to hospital suffering from meningitis. She is in critical condition.

4/10 It is Issy’s funeral, but little Jacob is hatching a plan to make everything better.

It wouldn’t be the first time that my reticence would be proven unfounded and it was that reasoning that I embarked upon this Book at Bedtime insert. Unfortunately it was as dismal as the description makes out, a real playing on the heart-strings. It is fair to say I am not the target audience here. Abandoned at 40%

NEXT!

The Descendants by Kaui Hart Hemmings

 

Description: Matthew King was once considered one of the most fortunate men in Hawaii. His missionary ancestors who came to the islands were financially and culturally progressive one even married a Hawaiian princess, making Matt a royal descendant and one of the states largest landowners. But now his luck has changed. His two daughters are out of control 10-year-old Scottie has a smart-ass attitude and a desperate need for attention and 17-year-old Alex, a former model, is a recovering drug addict. His thrill-seeking and high-maintenance wife, Joanie, lies in a coma after a boat racing accident, and will soon be taken off life support. The King family can hardly picture life without their charismatic mother, but as they come to terms with this tragedy, their sadness is mixed with a sense of freedom that shames them and spurs them into surprising actions.

Jonathan Davis narrates.

Book before film.

LATER: No film for me, it would ruin this story in the mind’s eye. The Descendants is not 5* perfect, however it is pretty darn fantastic debut, and so well read by Davis. I have internal film of all the family members, and that, right there, shows how finely wrought Hemmings has crafted them.

My one-liner sum up is this: Mr King, father to Valley Girls, new millenium style, has to grow thick skin in order to keep his family together in the aftermath of tragedy and amidst revelations of disloyalty.

Four and a half Hawaiian Islands

Don’t Look Back by Gregg Hurwitz

bookshelves: published-2014, summer-2014, adventure, mexico, net-galley, e-book, newtome-author, rape

Read from August 02 to 11, 2014

 

Description: After the breakup of her marriage, Evie takes the holiday of a lifetime. A few weeks of hiking, rafting and jungle adventure at an eco-lodge in Mexico sound ideal. But what should have been the perfect pick-me-up soon turns into a nightmare.

Nothing is quite what it seems. There are secrets hidden that can’t be allowed to leave their jungle hiding place. And which their keeper will kill to protect.

If she is ever to see her son again, Evie will be forced to find reserves of strength, courage and ingenuity she never dreamt existed. Or die trying.

It’s a jungle out there!

Left feeling completely indifferent to both characters and plot. Maybe the rape in the opening jungle scenes had something to do with my apathy, or maybe it was the writing that never once made me stop to admire a turn of phrase or marvel at a description. There are many who enjoy Hurwitz judging the ratings on his previous books so I’m not sure he will mind too much if he loses out on my conversion.

Two and a half machete swipes and a hand wobble is all I can muster.

Gregg Hurwitz is the internationally bestselling author of You’re Next, Or She Dies, We Know and I See You. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford Universities, he lives with his family in California, where he writes screenplays, television and comics including Batman and Wolverine.

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace

bookshelves: e-book, shortstory-shortstories-novellas, summer-2014, historical-fiction, love, published-2010, nutty-nuut, italy, debut, newtome-author

Recommended for: Laura, Wanda, Dagny, Karen Legge, Joy, Susanna
Read from March 03 to August 05, 2014

 

Description: An iridescent jewel of a novel that proves love is the mother of invention
In the early 1800s, a young Italian contessa, Carolina Fantoni, realizes she is going blind shortly before she marries the town’s most sought-after bachelor. Her parents don’t believe her, nor does her fiancé. The only one who understands is the eccentric local inventor and her longtime companion, Turri.

When her eyesight dims forever, Carolina can no longer see her beloved lake or the rich hues of her own dresses. But as darkness erases her world, she discovers one place she can still see-in her dreams. Carolina creates a vivid dreaming life, in which she can not only see, but also fly, exploring lands she had never known.

Desperate to communicate with Carolina, Turri invents a peculiar machine for her: the world’s first typewriter. His gift ignites a passionate love affair that will change both of their lives forever.

Dedication:

  for my mother: your trip to Italy

Opening quote:

‘Until morning comes say of the blind bird: His feet are netted with darkness, or he flies His heart’s distance in the darkness of his eyes.’

 — Wendell Berry, “Elegy”

Opening: ON THE DAY Contessa Carolina Fantoni was married, only one other living person knew that she was going blind, and he was not her groom.
This was not because she had failed to warn them.
“I am going blind,” she had blurted to her mother, in the welcome dimness of the family coach, her eyes still bright with tears from the searing winter sun. By this time, her peripheral vision was already gone. Carolina could feel her mother take her hand, but she had to turn to see her face. When she did, her mother kissed her, her own eyes full of pity.
“I have been in love, too,” she said, and looked away.

A tale as pure as the driven snow, and do you know what is even better? – The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is a fictionalised account of a real breakthrough in the printed word. From A Brief History of Typewriters:

‘But the first typewriter proven to have worked was built by the Italian Pellegrino Turri in 1808 for his blind friend Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano; unfortunately, we do not know what the machine looked like, but we do have specimens of letters written by the Countess on it. (For details, see Michael Adler’s excellent 1973 book The Writing Machine. Carey Wallace’s 2010 novel The Blind Contessa’s New Machine is based on the relationship between the Countess and Turri.)’

Loc 24/129: ‘The summer that Turri began to visit her lake, when she was sixteen, Carolina had no reason to believe that she was a favorite with Pietro. But she had several well-worn bits of hope.’

Charmingly envisaged without playing to heavy romantic conjecture, this is a lovely short read. Three prototype typewriters that aid the blind.

Dead Men’s Bones by James Oswald

Dead Men's Bones (Inspector McLean, #4)

bookshelves: summer-2014, published-2014, mystery-thriller, series, newtome-author, e-book, fife, britain-scotland, ipad, casual-violence, contemporary, cults-societies-brotherhoods, execution, eye-scorcher, games-people-play, gangsters, gorefest, lifestyles-deathstyles, mental-health, net-galley, ouch, recreational-homicide, revenge, sleazy, superstitions, suicide, twist-on-a-theme

Read from August 02 to 03, 2014

 

Description: Dead Men’s Bones is the fourth novel in James Oswald’s phenomenal Inspector Mclean series set in Edinburgh.

The body of a prominent Scottish MP is discovered outside his home, a remote house in North East Fife. In a horrifying attack, Andrew Weatherly has killed his wife and two young daughters, before turning his gun on himself.

The question on everyone’s lips is why would this successful and wealthy man commit such a gruesome crime?

Inspector Tony McLean is surprised to find himself at the centre of this high profile investigation. The deeper he digs, the more McLean realizes he is being used in a game between shadowy factions from the world of power and privilege.

Pressure is on to wrap up the case. That would go against everything McLean believes in . . . but to carry on will threaten the lives of his closest friends and colleagues.

Opening: The pain is everywhere.
It pulses through his head is if there’s a hole in his skull and someone is squeezing his brain in time to his heart beat.

Several pals have reported that series is incredibly good and given this, my only foray so far, proves them right. It is the marvellous tone of the proceedings that makes this book stand out: the backdrop of Scotland in referendum year, the police coming to terms with Police Scotland and all the insecurities roiling in the wake of these issues. A lot of space is given over to ex-soldiers being unable to connect or settle down to civvy life after the horrors of Afghanistan and Iraq, so they become foot soldiers in the army of the homeless; a stark look at how Community Care fails in the bigger picture.

Inspector McLean is a man with recent injuries and who has to attend physiotherapy and counselling sessions and I mean to backtrack to the previous books to find out the answers to some of my questions, however this works well enough as a standalone.

The middle section of this story was eye-scorching, nevertheless, slight cracks started appearing towards the end; a supernatural element was alluded to on several occasions that seemed at odds with the story that had gone before. It could be posited that this was excellent police procedural for a good three quarters and then it seemed to change genre and leave some unresolved issues. For these issues Dead Man’s Bones loses glister where more patience in the fine-tuning would have made all the difference.

Would I recommend it? Oh yes, but with the above caveats. Three and a half bowls from Bobby’s soup kitchen.

‘The Bull’ Roslin Glen

Roslin Glen, cup and ring marks

————————————————————

James Oswald is the author of the Detective Inspector McLean series of crime novels. The first three, Natural Causes, The Book of Souls and The Hangman’s Song are also available as Penguin paperbacks and ebooks. He has written an epic fantasy series, The Ballad of Sir Benfro, which is published by Penguin, as well as comic scripts and short stories.

In his spare time he runs a 350-acre livestock farm in North East Fife, where he raises pedigree Highland Cattle and New Zealand Romney Sheep.

Cold Blood: Adventures with Reptiles and Amphibians

bookshelves: radio-4, summer-2014, nonfiction, britain-england, autobiography-memoir, published-2014, nature, newtome-author

Recommended for: BBC Radio Listeners
Read from July 30 to August 01, 2014

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04ch156

Description: As a boy, Richard Kerridge found refuge in the wilderness of suburban England whose reptilian inhabitants were wondrously untameable. His often troubled and turbulent relationship with his father formed the backdrop to his adventures with neighbourhood friends as they scoured local parks and streams for newts, frogs, toads, lizards, and the ultimate prize – snakes.

What might it be like to be cold blooded, to sleep through the winter, to shed your skin, and taste wafting chemicals on your tongue? Do toads feel a sense of danger as the wheels of a car approach ? What exactly is an ‘alien’ species?

Kerridge has continued to ask these questions during a lifetime of fascinated study and countless expeditions.

Weaving startling nuggets of research (e.g. fewer than 5% of toads reach adulthood) with elements of history and folklore, the author has also created his personal emotional map of a lifelong relationship with these often unloved and overlooked creatures.

Read by Robert Powell.
Abridged, produced and directed by Jill Waters
A Waters Company production for BBC Radio 4

Theme music is Serge Prokofiev: Peter and the Wolf. Vancouver Symphony Orchestra.

1/5 Eight-year-old Richard catches his first newt.

2/5 Toads – real and imaginary. The temptations of anthropomorphism.

3/5 Tensions at home are released by a lizard hunt.

4/5 The much maligned adder, and how to catch one.

5/5 Family memories, a Natterjack sings, and the ‘alien’ Camden Creature.

Richard Kerridge with Laura Rawlings at BBC Radio Bristol

Lovely. Four jumping frogs