Thrills, spills and pills

28 09 2019

The Thrill of it All by Joseph O’Connor

At college in 1980s Luton, Robbie Goulding, an Irish-born teenager, meets the elusive Fran Mulvey, an orphaned Vietnamese refugee. Together they form a band. Joined by cellist Sarah-Thérèse Sherlock and her twin brother Seán on drums, The Ships in the Night set out to chase fame. But the story of this makeshift family is haunted by ghosts from the past.

Spanning 25 years, The Thrill of it All rewinds and fast-forwards through an evocative soundtrack of struggle and laughter. Infused with blues, ska, classic showtunes, New Wave and punk, using interviews, lyrics, memoirs and diaries, the tale stretches from suburban England to Manhattan’s East Village, from Thatcher-era London to the Hollywood Bowl, from the meadows of the Glastonbury Festival to a wintry Long Island, culminating in a Dublin evening in July 2012, a night that changes everything.

A story of loyalties, friendship, the call of the muse, and the beguiling shimmer of teenage dreams, this is a warm-hearted, funny and deeply moving novel for anyone that’s ever loved a song.

Very good novel indeed from an outstanding writer. Following very much in the footsteps of Espedair Street and, more recently, Daisy Jones and the Six this really is a highly entertaining, very credible and immensely readable fictional rock biography. As with other similar offerings there is something about fictionalised music and lyrics which remains (to me, at least) largely unconvincing but this doesn’t detract from what is a highly recommended read. And the author only name checks his (very real) sister Sinead two or three times…





Left overs – the briefest of brief book reviews

21 09 2019

All the ones from recent years I failed to review. Until now.

In completist mode we have all the books I’ve read over the past few years which, for one reason or another, I failed to review, even briefly. Just the briefest of comments on each, which does no real justice to anything.

Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell – Evocative classic four stars

Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin – one from a few years back in which Rebus is back (again)

Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom – Haunting wartime tale four stars

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris – Very poor indeed 

A kind of loving by Stan Barstow – It’s tough up North

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – Best/worst of times

What’s Left? by Nick Cohen – Insightful and dispiriting critique four stars

Where the Bodies are Buried by Chris Brookmyre – new PI does good

Persuasion by Jane Austen – Rereading my fave Austen

The Lewis Trilogy: The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen by Peter May – Death in the Western Isle

Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith – an entertaining mix of overlapping tales as Scotland Street comes to Pimlico

Ordeal by Innocence by Agatha Christie – a classic Christie in which a man dies for a crime he didn’t commit and then gets turned into a BBC mini-series

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrente and The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrente – Richly portrayed Neopolitan friendship and life

The Thirst by Jo Nesbo – another gripping outing (the eleventh) for everyone’s favourite flawed and reluctant Scandinavian detective

You Had Me At Hello by Mhairi McFarlane – Entertaining and intelligent non-romcom romcom

Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson – Time travelling fun and games

A Murder of Quality by John le Carre – Smiley and the murder mystery

Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie – Murder. On a nice train. But whodunnit?

Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie – Another classic Poirot murder mystery

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie – Poirot again. Another murder. On another train.  

Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten – Swedish crime noir

The Mind’s Eye by Håkan Nesser – another dark Swedish crime thriller

Disgrace by Jussi Adler-Olsen – Cold case Scandi noir 

Blind Sighted by Karin Slaughter – Slaughter delivers some slaughter

Oliver VII by Anton Szerb – Bizarre and paradoxical tale four stars

Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardottir – Icelandic crime complexity

Jaggy Splinters by Christopher Brookmyre – entirely typical short story collection

God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson – Bit of a mixed bag –

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte – I pined a lot 

The Peppermint Tea Chronicles by Alexander McCall Smith – another Scotland street gem to add to the collection

Crows, Papua New Guinea, and Boats by David Thorne – Should be funnier

Things Can Only Get Worse? by John O’Farrell – Worse than TCOG Better

Anyway, this is really just for my benefit so no arguing.




14 09 2019

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


So much has been done, exclaimed the soul of Frankenstein—more, far more, will I achieve; treading in the steps already marked, I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.

Obsessed by creating life itself, Victor Frankenstein plunders graveyards for the material to fashion a new being, which he shocks into life by electricity. But his botched creature, rejected by Frankenstein and denied human companionship, sets out to destroy his maker and all that he holds dear.

The result of a compact (when Mary Shelley was just nineteen years old) between Mary, her husband Percy and Lord Byron one stormy night to write their own haunting stories, Frankenstein remains essential reading today. Influenced by the myth of Prometheus and Milton’s Paradise Lost, this chilling gothic tale would become the world’s most famous work of horror fiction, and continues to be a devastatingly relevant exploration of the limits of human creativity.


Shelley’s Gothic masterpiece really is an outstanding novel. Having only just read it for the first time (goodness knows why I never had before) I realised how narrow and limited the popular version of the story is. It really is a wide-ranging, compelling, subtle, philosophical and quite moving narrative.


Philosophical crime capers

7 09 2019

The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith


Amateur sleuth Isabel Dalhousie is a philosopher who also uses her training to solve unusual mysteries. Isabel is Editor of the Review of Applied Ethics – which addresses such questions as ‘Truth telling in sexual relationships’ – and she also hosts The Sunday Philosophy Club at her house in Edinburgh. Behind the city’s Georgian facades its moral compasses are spinning with greed, dishonesty and murderous intent. Instinct tells Isabel that the young man who tumbled to his death in front of her eyes at a concert in the Usher Hall didn’t fall. He was pushed.

With Isabel Dalhousie Alexander McCall Smith introduces a new and pneumatic female sleuth to tackle murder, mayhem – and the mysteries of life. As her hero WH Auden maintained, classic detective fiction stems from a desire for an uncorrupted Eden which the detective, as an agent of God, can return to us. But then Isabel, being a philosopher, has a thing or two to say about God as well.

All good clean fun as ever (apart from the death, obviously) from McCall Smith who really has comfortable middle class Edinburgh completely sewn up. Add in some philosophy and cosy-ish crime and then you’ve got the perfect combination.

Enjoyable stuff.


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