Book Reviews

Ghost Signs by Stu Hennigan

What Da Cover Says: Ghost Signs – Poverty and the pandemic – An eyewitness account of the impact of the early days of the pandemic on those living in poverty in Leeds, as Stu Hennigan delivered emergency food and medicine to communities that had already suffered 10 years of austerity. It is a blistering exposition of what happened to a community in one of the richest countries in the world.

What I Says: First off before I start this review I have to say that in my opinion this book is going to go down as one of the most important eyewitness accounts of the Tory government before and during the COVID pandemic and that anything I write after this sentence ends is never going to do justice in showing just how much this book has affected me.

Stu Hennigan was a volunteer during the first lock-down in 2020 delivering food parcels/collecting prescriptions for those in self isolation and this job was to become far more harrowing than he could possibly have expected. Day after day he would visit the poorest most run down places in Leeds, seeing people living in filth, so starved of food that they don’t have the strength to lift the bag of food he had just delivered. He would meet people who were dying, lonely people that were starved of human contact and those too scared to even answer the door even though they were expecting a food delivery. Most traumatic of all though were the children, what sort of world are we living in when a company like A****n can make £Billions whilst a child can be in tears when given a free bag of food?

Whilst it is disgusting that a situation exists where this book has the material to be created there are some good moments, Leeds council seemed to have been quick of the mark to get this food project off the ground and it wasn’t long before the public took advantage, it wasn’t just those in isolation needing the food, it was the starving, those who had lost their jobs and unable to get by and not once does it get mentioned that they were turned away, fantastic response in my opinion. Then we have the many volunteers, what they achieved was incredible, at times fearing for their safety, witnessing poverty far beyond what you could comprehend, what this book shows is how amazing it was that they kept it up, Hennigan was a wreck after only a few deliveries and in my eyes he put in a super-hero effort to keep going. I know that I couldn’t have done it, I was welling up at times just from reading the book.

The damage caused by so many years under Tory rule is staggering, will we ever be able to recover? The leaders of Labour and Lib Dems need to pick up this book and use it as their biggest weapon to take down the most corrupt government the UK has ever lived under.

Bluemoose books have published their first Non-Fiction book and what a book to kick it all off with! Not only is Hennigan a mighty human being he is a fantastic writer…it truly was an honour to read these words, the experience is never going to leave me.

Do not buy this book from A****n, get it direct from a book shop or from the publisher HERE, support indie publishers so they can produce more fantastic literature like this.

Book Reviews

The Overhaul by Kathleen Jamie

What Da Cover Says: The Overhaul continues Kathleen Jamie’s lyric inquiry into the aspects of the world our rushing lives elide, and even threaten. Whether she is addressing birds or rivers, or the need to accept loss, or, sometimes, the desire to escape our own lives, her poetry is earthy and rigorous, her language at once elemental and tender. The Overhaul is a midlife book of repair, restitution, and ultimately hope—of the wisest and most worldly kind.

What I Says: Massive fan of Kathleen Jamie, I’ve loved everything of hers I’ve read so far and you can add this collection to that list. She has this ability to write about the sort of things you might see often, rooks for example, she is able to shine a new light on that thing, seeing it in a way you’ve never considered and it brings it to life on the pages. I especially liked Hawk and Shadow where the poet gets lost trying to focus on the bird and it’s shadow as it glides across the hills.

Favourite was a collection of 5 poems called Five Tay Sonnets a snapshot of 5 brief moments which transport you to the moment. There were a few in Gaelic (I’m guessing the language here) I’ve not much of an idea what they mean but they sound beautiful when read aloud.

A wonderful collection about nature, humanity and hope which will look great on anybody’s shelf.

Book Reviews

Always More: New & Selected Poems by John D. Robinson

What Da Cover Says: Horror Sleaze Trash proudly presents the poems of John D Robinson.

“These are survivor poems, battle scarred verse that hits the soul and assaults the frontal lobe. Here is a poet who has lived several lives and emerged on the other side intact.” —Joseph Ridgwell, author of Burrito Deluxe

“This book is not decorative art. This book is not the exercise of the commercial artisan. This book is stripped of 21st century consumer bullshit. This book is a way in to what matters. Get ready. It is going to hurt. And you will love it.” —Henry Stanton, UnCollected Press.

What I Says: This is some of the grimiest, down-right nasty poetry you’ll ever have the pleasure to read…it is also some of the most sensitive and moving poetry you’ll ever read. Robinson shares with us his fights, his self-abuse (drink and drugs), his relationships, his highs and his lows. He gives his opinions of those who abuse kids, I have never read anything like those, the rage is so intense that it feels like the letters have been punched onto the pages and it is written in such a way that you are left feeling that rage.

The stand-out poem in this collection that I have now read a few times is “No Hang-ups here” incredible opening lines are matched by the closing lines. You’ll find yourself laughing, shaking your head in disgust or holding your head in shame…he really does get under your skin and you forget these are somebody else’s words.

If I had to describe John D. Robinson I would say he was a fine human being who loved children and animals and nature, a gentle spirit and spiritual guy who scribbled poetry…pretty sure I must have picked up those words subliminally. Read this as it’s a corker of a collection.

Book Reviews

The Witnesses Are Gone by Joel Lane

What Da Cover Says: Moving into an old and decaying house, Martin Swann discovers a box of video cassettes in the garden shed. One of them is a bootleg copy of a morbid and disturbing film by obscure French director, Jean Rien.

The discovery leads Martin on a search for the director’s other films, and for a way to understand Rien’s filmography, drawing him away from his home and his lover into a shadowy realm of secrets, rituals and creeping decay. An encounter with a crazed film journalist in Gravesend leads to drug-fuelled visions in Paris – and finally to the Mexican desert where a grim revelation awaits.

The Witnesses Are Gone is a first-hand account of a journey into the darkest parts of the underworld – a look behind the screen on which our collective nightmares play.

What I Says: What a disturbing book this was, I feel I have been on an epic journey, dragged along with the main character as his reality gets twisted and his life becomes corrupted the more he looks for the films of the mysterious Jean Rien. The book is narrated by Martin Swann, after discovering a disturbing film in the shed of his new home he becomes obsessed by finding out more about it’s director, his journey takes him to Scotland, Paris and Mexico, the further from Birmingham he gets the more the decay sets in. The reader is left wondering what is real and what is in Swann’s drug filled mind, the paranoia in the book really grabs you.

Whilst the story is happening Joel Lane gives the reader his political opinion of what is happening at the time, the imminent invasion of Iraq looking for those “hidden weapons of mass destruction”, the media spin on events to promote the war as a good thing and that they are all terrorists over there and there is a wonderful description of President Bush and how you can tell what sort of man he is from his eyes. I would have loved to have read what Lane thought of the messed up world we are living in now.

The writing is incredibly vivid and at times I did think I was viewing a movie (almost David Lynch in style) and it really does get under your skin, I’ve just been reading this out in the sun and yet still felt the cold in me bones. Lane truly was a master of words and gone way too soon.

Thanks to Influx Press for this copy, you can pre-order ca copy of the book from HERE:

Book Reviews

Along the Amber Route: St Petersburg to Venice by C.J. Schüler

What da cover says: Light, portable and high in value, amber is an ideal commodity for long-distance trade. An Amber Route, comparable to the Silk Road, ran from the Baltic to the Mediterranean for thousands of years.

C.J. Schüler followed this route by bus, train and boat for 2,500 kilometres along river valleys, forest paths and Roman roads. His journey traces both the greatest fault lines of European geopolitics and his own family’s history. As he explores lands contested by Romans and Vandals, Teutons and Slavs, lost empires and
the former Iron Curtain, Schüler must also confront his own family history, Nazism and the Holocaust.

What I Says: I had heard of amber before, all thanks to the mighty Jurassic Park, but I’ve never heard of the Amber Route, I couldn’t even hazard a guess as to it’s location. As soon as I saw the map I knew I had to read this book, an area of the world I have barely read about.

This was a fascinating read, Schüler takes the reader across present borders and past borders whilst tracing the route that the amber trade used, all the time keeping an eagle eye for any bits of amber he can find on beaches. During this journey he shares with us the history of the area, so much turmoil going all the way back to Roman times, it is incredible just how much conflict there has been. During this trip Schüler tries to trace his family, looking for their legacy, where they lived and worked before they had to flee during WWII, the stories he shares are heart-breaking, there is no place on the route that escaped this conflict and it didn’t matter how many times Schüler revealed the damage and deaths it never failed to hit you in the pit of your stomach.

One of the most interesting parts of the book was the famous Russian Amber Room, still missing since WWII, Schüler gives an interesting account about how it was made, whom made it and who for, how it was moved around and all about the remade panels currently in their place. It is almost a mini-book within the main book.

Schüler has a vast knowledge about music from this era, I’m always impressed when somebody is able to identify a piece of classical music but to identify a piece that a park bench is playing??? I doff my hat to you Mr. Schüler very impressive. He also discusses the architecture that can be scene, describing what is there currently and comparing it to what was there before it was destroyed during one of the many conflicts in the region.

I felt this book was missing one thing, locals, whilst Schüler does meet the locals he doesn’t share much of the conversations he must have had. Apart from this one bit this was a fantastic read, so much information within these pages, this is one of those books that will sit on my shelf and be dipped in and out of when I need to find a fact to win an argument.

Thanks to Sandstone Press for sending me this book, Grab yourself a copy from HERE cos it be well worth a read.

Book Reviews

Neither Weak Nor Obtuse by Jake Goldsmith

What Da Cover Says:I am very ill. That would be the first and most obvious thing to know.” Thus Jake Goldsmith, a young man with cystic fibrosis, begins this memoir, a sustained, profoundly honest and searching reflection upon the phenomenology of illness: how we perceive and respond to living with illness and dying from it, and how we fearfully evade doing so. His impassioned writing, marked by a brilliantly agonistic, idiosyncratic eloquence, transcends the snare of his own tragic circumstances, and holds up a mirror to society’s time-honored complacencies: our callous attitudes towards the disabled, our false gods, and our general neglect and distortion of the search for meaning that has for those with life-limiting conditions an especially stark urgency.

“In a letter to Goldsmith’s hero, Albert Camus, Boris Pasternak wrote that while there may not be anything beyond “sensualism”, “one that is completely naked and extreme becomes weak and obtuse.” Jake Goldsmith leads us towards a humanely grounded materialism that is neither of these, valuing what is vital in human life: friendship, humor, and love, and giving us a moving glimpse at a partial truce with fear, for, he writes, “we may grow less afraid in each other’s arms.”

What I Says: Before you read this review, I have to admit that a chunk of this book went over my head a bit, I have read very little philosophy (possibly just the one book) and nothing by Camus, whilst it was beyond me at times I feel I understood the basic idea that Goldsmith was trying to put to the reader….so without further a-do here is my misunderstood review of “Neither Weak Nor Obtuse”.

Goldsmith has lived with a chronic illness all his life, he knows his time on this planet is shorter than most and this book is an insight into the mind of a man living with that knowledge, dealing with the pain and difficulties, trying to fit in and wanting to leave his mark, not wanting to disappear never having been known. I found a lot of what he says to be very interesting, especially the idea of the market being saturated, so many memoirs out there and anything Goldsmith has to say has probably already been said, so what can he do to be heard over the many voices out there? I found myself easily drawn in to his discussions, some real “holding my chin and nodding along stuff”, the more interesting side of the book was him discussing trying to live in this world where everybody has an opinion and will share it with you regardless of whether you want to hear it. Particularly heart breaking was when he was stuck in a depression spiral, he forces himself to move and look after himself, a hard walk to the shops for groceries he can barely carry back results in him losing control at an old lady who comments on his health. The despair he shares with the reader after this event is the sort of thing I’ve never considered before. For these little insights into his life I recommend this book, I think it has changed the way I’ll look at people in the future.

This is a book well worth reading, Goldsmith is incredibly honest in his writing, for somebody living with a grim future he has done a good job of giving this book a unique feel by mixing social observations with his rather dark sense of humour, I really think he has produced a memoir that will stand above the many others out there.

Thanks to Sagging Meniscus for sending me this copy to review. If you wanna check it out you can get a copy from HERE: Published July 2022.

Book Reviews

Blog Tour: The Chemical Cocktail by Fiona Erskine

What Da Cover Says: Jaq Silver is back with a bang in this high-octane third novel in the series

When Jaq Silver’s mother dies, she is handed a poisoned chalice. An inheritance more valuable to her than she could have imagined. Travelling from Portugal to Brazil amid conspiracies and corruption to get to the bottom of her family mystery, Jaq learns she is not the only one with an interest in her unusual inheritance. Racing against the clock as the threats to her life increase on all sides, Jaq must use her scientific know-how to save what matters most.

What I Says: I made a bit of a mistake here, I really enjoyed Erskine’s last book so much I jumped at the chance of reading this one…turns out it is book 3 in a series. It’s my mistake but all the pressure is on Erskine, will this book work as a standalone novel or will those readers new to numbers be complaining during their whole review? Luckily Erskine is a mighty fine writer, and this book works well without having read the previous ones, you get a little background that doesn’t get explained and that is enough to entice you into checking out what came before whilst not taking anything away from this reading experience. The character descriptions are spot on so that I can see they won’t get repetitive as you work your way through the series…so in conclusion for this opening paragraph, this book works.

Our main character is Jaq Silver (an autobiographic representation of Erskine herself methinks, kick-ass and a scientist), a rather unusual character, she is tough, knows how to fight, has an uncanny ability to spot trouble and she knows her stuff when it comes to sciency things, but she also shares her weaknesses, she can be selfish by using others to get what she needs and even though she has all these great positives she is lacking in confidence at times, which had me cheering her on as she battled with her confidence. Her mother has just died and in part of her inheritance she receives some proper good “soap-opera” news, as things were building up to the big reveal I had all kinds of ideas but was still way off the mark.

There is plenty of science going on in here and Erskine has this ability to take something complicated, make it easy enough for the layman to understand whilst still making it look complicated enough that you feel clever for understanding it….if that makes sense. There are lots of cool gadgets whose functions are explained in detail and if you are left disbelieving then at the end of the book Erskine shares how close these gadgets are to being a reality, I can’t wait to travel to work just using my belt.

The story is made up of quite short chapters and this makes the action more intense, whilst the story flows along at a fast trot. The plot is tight, everything gets explained well, and it was very easy to get drawn into the story, with the intrigue over the inheritance to have me committed early on. One of my favourite things about this book was the food, a lot of writers will say that a character is eating and that’s it, Erskine must have a real passion for food because the images were so vivid I actually drooled onto the page when Jaq was at one restaurant.

Another fine book from Erskine that leaves the reader wanting more, luckily for me there is more as I will now have to go get books 1 and 2. Highly recommended read for those who like a good thriller.

PS: Check out page 58 🙂

This was my stop on the Chemical Detective Book Tour, if you wanna check out this book then you can find it HERE. Make sure to check out the other stops on the tour.

Music Reviews

Hopscotch to Heaven by Young Southpaw

“…wise-fool Southpaw’s ramblings lead listeners on a surreal journey through doors they didn’t even know existed, into a highly original, deeply funny land of pop culture confusion.” 

– popbollocks.com 

Following on from ‘Humpty Dumpty In HD’, last year’s collaboration with Bobby Barry (The Pipettes, Monster Bobby), Young Southpaw will be releasing his first full-length album, Hopscotch To Heaven, on June 18th. This outing sees the absurdist comedian teaming up with Rick Webb (Rockets Burst From The Streetlamps & co-founder of ad agency The Barbarian Group) on the title track, Saint Etienne’s Pete Wiggs on ‘Infinite Shakespeare’, and Nashville-bassist extraordinaire Kevin Reed on ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flush’.  

Southpaw starts off ‘Hopscotch To Heaven’ by pondering why they call it ‘table tennis’ if people don’t hit actual tables back and forth, winding up 14 minutes expounding upon how cool it would be if Michael Landon had fronted an AC/DC cover band. Along the way he takes in kabbalistic studies, the ability to conjure invisible distilleries, and much more. In ‘Infinite Shakespeare’ he turns the ‘infinite monkeys with infinite typewriters producing the complete works of Shakespeare’ theory on its head, wondering if Shakespeare’s parents had considered this option instead of procreating. And ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flush’ takes a quote by Jaco Pastorius and runs wild with it, conjecturing what might have happened if the great bass player had accidentally flushed the future of low frequencies down the toilet. Iron Maiden’s Eddie has a prominent role in this story, as does the work of Thomas Pynchon, whom Southpaw suggests should front Iron Maiden for a cover of the Rob Base song ‘It Takes Two’.  

What I Says: My first ever review of an album on me blog innit! First off the cover, really like it, reminds me of a Limp Biscuit album cover, I can tell from the emerald city being in the background that this is gonna be pretty wild. There are just the three tracks here which you may think is not many but due to the length of these tracks we’ve got around 40min of listening to do. I really have no idea what to expect, I’m not going to do any research I’m jumping in completely clueless, worked for parenting so I’m sure it will be fine here.

Track 1: Hopscotch to Heaven. Man! what a track, the Young Southpaw is like a preacher, I was instantly hooked by his voice and how quickly he goes off on a tangent. You know how it is at night when you are really really tired and all you want to do is sleep and your brain goes “No Way! We are going to think about everything in the universe until sleep is no longer a possibility” that is what is happening here, from starting off discussing a table tennis table to how cool it would be if Michael Landon was involved in pretty much everything, including “I think” wild prairie hopscotch spray painting…Loved it, so absurd and had me smiling the whole time, in the background we get some pretty cool ambient music which pairs quite nicely with the “discussion”.

Track 2: Infinite Shakespeare. This isn’t the nightmare for school children that you’d expect from it’s title, this is a What-if discussion. What-if Shakespeare’s parents decided to have infinite monkeys instead of a child, some very valid point’s are made in between the madness, and some fantastic moment’s of madness, including almost screaming “IN THE BOUDOIR!” And the ending is cracking good fun. You can actually listen to this track on YouTube.

Track 3: Jumpin’ Jack Flush. I have to admit I have no idea who Jaco Pastorius was but was still able to enjoy this one, I think of the three tracks this is the one that flows best, I might be that it is aided by some very funky bass playing. I like how absurd this track gets, some real tin-foil-hat moments here, you gotta get this album just so when something predicted here comes true you can sit there like a smug bastard.

A sign of whether I like an album or not is whether it get’s put on my old iPod or not…..this is going on there for sure. One final thought, I think this would work as a book of poetry/prose (no idea on the difference) it has a similar tempo to Kate Tempest, would love to read this one day.

Young Southpaw is the comedic alter ego of writer and musician Aug Stone. Stone is the author of the memoir, Nick Cave’s Bar, and the comedy novel Off-License To Kill. His journalism has appeared in The Quietus, The Comics Journal, Under The Radar, and many other sites and magazines. He played in the bands The Soft Close-Ups and H Bird. There are currently 61 Young Southpaw stories at The Young Southpaw Part Of An Hour podcast

Hopscotch To Heaven will be the first release on Stone’s new label/publishing house, Stone Soup.  

augstone.com

​Young Southpaw

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Book Reviews

Shakes Bear in the Dark by Joshua Kornreich

What Da Cover Says: A grieving man with a guilty conscience is tried in a kangaroo court of the imagination for the bedtime transgressions of his youth. Will he finally suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or will he—er, um—get off scot-free again?

What I Says: Well this was an unexpected delight, a lovely little family story featuring the likes of Harry the Hippo, William Shakesbear and Bucky the One-Eyed Bunny this could easily be the screenplay for the next Toy Story Movie. The story is focused on the author, dealing with grief and his imagination runs riot and like Alice in that Wonderland place he ends up in some bizarre kangaroo court fighting for his life.

The book is a quick read but I found myself chuckling from the first pages, I could easily picture the plush bears in their place in court, pacing back and forth like human lawyers and being all judgy like a judge….luckily thanks to Amber and Depp I know all the intricate workings of a courtroom and Kornreich has got it all spot on. The ending was well played out too, couldn’t fault it.

This was a fabulous book, I had so much fun reading it and I can only hope that John Grisham picks up this book to see where he has been going wrong all these years.

Thanks to Sagging Meniscus Press for sending me a copy of this book to review, you really should get yourself a copy of this great looking book from HERE:

Book Reviews

On The Rim Of The Sea: A Journey In Books by Mike Robbins

What Da Cover Says: How will the world see the 20th century a hundred years from now? For many, it was like living right on the edge of a turbulent ocean that threatened to engulf them; and sometimes it did. In this thoughtful book, Mike Robbins looks at the century just gone through those who lived it, and the books they left behind.

Robbins includes some very different perspectives. What was it like to crew the last great sailing ships? How did it feel to be an ordinary man—or a Chinese labourer—on the Western Front? How did a popular Jewish writer react to the rise of fascism? Who wrote detective novels in the 1930s, and who read them? And how has it all looked from the saddle of a bike? It is a varied selection. However, these pieces have something in common; they use one or more books (or in one case, TV programmes) to give a picture of a given time or incident. A further thread that ties these chapters together, it is that most of the books show us the last 100 years of history through the eyes of those that lived it. After all, history isn’t a collective experience for an individual. It’s what happened to them and those close to them.

The years covered in this book (roughly, 1912 to the present) certainly showed us more of a stormy sea than we should have liked. As it was published (April 2022), the cold grey water was back with a vengeance. But it has not always been that way. This book has its darker bits, but there were lighter times and the reader will find a few of them in its pages.

What I Says: I’ve been reading Robbins’ blog for a few years now (HERE) and have always found what he writes to be interesting and informative, one issue I have is being unable to fully take in what is written on a webpage so when I found out Robbins had converted some of these posts into a book I jumped at the chance to read it and for me it was a million times better on paper. There is something very soothing with his voice, a bit like that Attenborough chap, you get drawn in very quickly and find yourself nodding along to what is being described….in fact I kept thinking “Man, this would work as a documentary series” because the research is impeccable and somehow he has made a subject as dry as the books of Agatha Christie into a riveting discussion.

With a couple of exceptions these chapters seem to have evolved from a book review into a discussion on one subject expertly linking together similar writers and their books. I especially enjoyed The Butler Did It. Or Did He? I haven’t read any of the traditional English Whodunnit novels and this chapter was very inspirational, I might have to check out some of the books that get a mention. There are a few chapters on the world wars and Robbins has dealt with the subject matter very well, I was appreciative of how each chapter ended giving the reader info about how the life’s of the people mentioned played out, I’m always surprised how invested I can get.

There was one chapter that didn’t seem to fit in for me, Rear-View Mirror just didn’t seem to interest me, I’m not really sure why, maybe it’s the fact Robbins moves away from books or that I had never heard of the TV shows getting a mention but I just couldn’t connect with it. By far my favourite was A Life In The Saddle I am a massive fan of Robbins’ Travel/memoir book and this was the sort of experience that would have fit in perfectly, really interesting and highlights his great sense of adventure.

All in all I have thoroughly enjoyed this…not sure what my tbr list is going to make of the many additions that will be going on to it. Everybody should give this a read and then join me in demanding that Robbins starts making documentaries.