The magic of the cup

27 04 2019

How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the FA Cup by J L Carr

 

 

‘But is this story believable? Ah, it all depends upon whether you want it to believe it.’ J.L. Carr

 

In their new all-buttercup-yellow-stripe, Steeple Sinderby Wanderers, who usually feel lucky when their pitch is above water-level, are England’s most obscure team. This uncategorizable, surreal and extremely funny novel is the story of how they start the season by ravaging the Fenland League and end it by going all the way to Wembley.

Told through unreliable recollection, florid local newspaper coverage and bizarre committee minutes, How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers Won the F.A. Cup is both entertaining and moving. There will never be players again like Alex Slingsby, Sid ‘the Shooting Star’ Swift and the immortal milkman-turned-goalkeeper, Monkey Tonks.

 

It’s a fantastic yarn about how a team from nowhere wins the FA Cup. A highly entertaining tale which has humour, pathos and really embodies what used to be the magic of the FA Cup. It’s a timeless read and highly recommended. The story, although published in 1975, also reminded me of the Miracle Of Castel Di Sangro by Joe McGinnis from many years later about how a small team from a tiny town in Abruzzi made it to the top of Serie A in Italy. Wanderers perhaps have a little less of the glamour but they do have all the heart.

 

 

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Crimes in space

13 04 2019

Places in the Darkness by Chris Brookmyre

 

“This is as close to a city without crime as mankind has ever seen.”
Ciudad de Cielo is the ‘city in the sky’, a space station where hundreds of scientists and engineers work in earth’s orbit, building the colony ship that will one day take humanity to the stars.
When a mutilated body is found on the CdC, the eyes of the world are watching. Top-of the-class investigator, Alice Blake, is sent from Earth to team up with CdC’s Freeman – a jaded cop with more reason than most to distrust such planetside interference.
As the death toll climbs and factions aboard the station become more and more fractious, Freeman and Blake will discover clues to a conspiracy that threatens not only their own lives, but the future of humanity itself.

I think this is Brookmyre’s first off-planet science fiction outing and it’s as gripping and entertaining as his more down to earth offerings. There are plenty of twists and turns in the low gravity plotting as well as some decent characters and credible future society politicking. Great fun and games and many a murder to solve and conspiracy to unravel in space.

 





Stories from before

31 03 2019

The Reservoir Tapes by Jon McGregor

 

Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home.

But the aftershocks of Becky Shaw’s disappearance have origins long before then, and those in the village have losses, and secrets, and stories of their own…

A woman remembers a son’s inexperience – and a father’s rage; a young wife pushes against the boundaries of her marriage, whilst an older one finds ways to ensure the survival of hers. A hunt for a birthday present takes an alarming turn, and a teenage game grows serious.

Fresh hurts open old wounds, salvation comes from unexpected quarters and chance encounters release long-buried memories.

First broadcast as a series of specially commissioned stories on BBC Radio 4, The Reservoir Tapesreturns to the territory of the Booker-longlisted Reservoir 13, revealing the web of connections that bind us, and the many layers on which we all build our truths.

Written in the same precise, spare and powerful style as Reservoir 13, there is nothing not to admire about this prequel which comprises a set of stories foreshadowing that novel’s narrative strands. It’s an outstanding read, as ever with McGregor, and highly recommended therefore.

 





Rebus in the house (again)

23 03 2019

In a House of Lies by Ian Rankin

 

IN A HOUSE OF LIES

Everyone has something to hide
A missing private investigator is found, locked in a car hidden deep in the woods. Worse still – both for his family and the police – is that his body was in an area that had already been searched.

Everyone has secrets
Detective Inspector Siobhan Clarke is part of a new inquiry, combing through the mistakes of the original case. There were always suspicions over how the investigation was handled and now – after a decade without answers – it’s time for the truth.

Nobody is innocent
Every officer involved must be questioned, and it seems everyone on the case has something to hide, and everything to lose. But there is one man who knows where the trail may lead – and that it could be the end of him: John Rebus.

It feels like Rebus is having the most active retirement imaginable. Despite being largely focused on walking his dog and avoiding cigarettes and alcohol, Rebus still seems to find time to get completely embroiled in a new/old case. Naturally this brings out many a skeleton, metaphorical and in one case literal, from lots of closets for Rebus to get mixed up with.

Hard to believe after all these years but this is a series which continues to entertain and this is one of the best to date with much to challenge and stimulate. Definitely recommended.





Telling tales

16 03 2019

Hings by Chris McQueer

 

 

 

From the streets of working class Scotland, and on occasion, a little beyond our solar system, comes one of the country’s most hilarious debut writers. Putting surreal and witty twists on the everyday, Chris McQueer creates recognisable characters you will love and want to avoid like the plague.

Peter’s earned his night off, and there’s not a bloody chance he’s covering Shelley’s shift. He just needs to find some pals for the perfect cover story. Deek is going to be at the forefront of the outsider art movement and do Banksy proud. Davie loves tattoos and his latest is going to be a masterpiece. Tam is one of the most creative minds in the galaxy (apparently), but creating parallel universes can cause problems. Everybody on Earth wakes up with their knees on backwards.

 

There are some very entertaining short stories in here from a writer who is new to me. I do think some of the story titles give a flavour of what’s on offer:

 

I really did enjoy most of these and McQueer is an extremely creative and entertaining writer. There are obviously some similarities with early Irvine Welsh but there is a unique voice here who is both sharp and very, very funny.

Looking forward to reading more like these.

four stars





The Time Traveller’s Strife

23 02 2019

Miss Blaine’s Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas

 

Fifty-something Shona is a proud former pupil of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, but has a deep loathing for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which she thinks gives her alma mater a bad name.

Impeccably educated and an accomplished martial artist, linguist and musician, Shona is thrilled when selected by Marcia Blaine herself to travel back in time for a one-week mission in 19th-century Russia: to pair up the beautiful, shy, orphaned heiress Lidia Ivanovna with Sasha, a gorgeous young man of unexplained origins.

But, despite all her accomplishments and good intentions, Shona might well have got the wrong end of the stick about her mission. As the body count rises, will she discover in time just who the real villain is?

But, despite all her accomplishments and good intentions, Shona might well have got the wrong end of the stick about her mission. As the body count rises, will she discover in time just who the real villain is?

A really light-hearted and rollicking entertainment this, the first novel (under her own name) by Olga Wojtas, who was for many years the Scottish editor of the Times Higher. She wears her learning lightly though and manages to make this a perfectly judged, very witty and fast-paced romp.

All good fun and a recommended comedy crime caper.

 

 





Planet suburbia

16 02 2019

Another Planet by Tracey Thorn

 

In a 1970s commuter town, Tracey Thorn’s teenage life was forged from what failed to happen. Her diaries were packed with entries about not buying things, not going to the disco, the school coach not arriving.

Before she became an acclaimed musician and writer, Tracey Thorn was a typical teenager: bored and cynical, despairing of her aspirational parents. Her only comfort came from house parties, Meaningful Conversations and the female pop icons who hinted at a new kind of living.

Returning more than three decades later to Brookmans Park, scene of her childhood, Thorn takes us beyond the bus shelters and pub car parks, the utopian cul-de-sacs, the train to Potters Bar and the weekly discos, to the parents who wanted so much for their children, the children who wanted none of it. With endearing wit and great insight, Thorn reconsiders the Green Belt post-war dream so many artists have mocked, and yet so many artists have come from.

I first encountered Tracey Thorn on Pillows & Prayers, the 99p bargain Cherry Red sampler, in 1982. With a solo track, ‘Plain Sailing’, and Marine Girls and Everything but the Girl songs too, I quickly became a fan. Since then of course she has released a sackful of albums with Ben Watt as EBTG and continues to produce solo records too. She has also produced two terrific books about her life in music too and this, the third in the inter-related series focuses more on the early teenage years and, interestingly, on family and suburbia too.

This one too is a great read and includes much confessional material from those teenage diaries as well as some really poignant reflections on parental relationships. The reminders of teenage life which emerge from her recollections of place though and the nature of suburban life including some really rather scary sounding encounters with older men are perhaps the really distinctive feature of the book.

It was great to hear her reading from the book at a recent event at Rough Trade in Nottingham (before she went down with a dreadful cold resulting in the rest of the book tour being postponed – get well soon!) and answering questions, mainly about the music. The question I never got to ask though was how she managed to get an A in her A level English despite reporting in her diaries doing pretty much no work. I reckon some revision slots were not recorded…

There are plenty of references to the music in Tracey’s life too at the time, some of it dead cool, some of it less so perhaps but actually all good. The disadvantage she had growing up, unlike me of course, was that she didn’t have the Marine Girls, Tracey Thorn and EBTG to provide the soundtrack.

Recommended reading for fans of Tracey and/or real life in suburbia.

four stars








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