Current Spins

Oops, been a while, again.

There’s been a few slabs of wax that have slipped into the racks of late and have been in fairly regular rotation so, along with those, here’s a little gander at what’s going in the old earbuds of late…

Pearl Jam – Let’s Play Two

This one I’d forgotten pre-ordering so was quite surprised when it arrived.Let’s Play Two is the ‘soundtrack’ to the upcoming concert film / basebell love-in of the same name. I’m not one for sports in general and baseball is a uniquely American currency I think so I’m not too excited about the film. While neither the best soundtrack to a PJ film (that’d be Pearl Jam Twenty) or a great Pearl Jam live album, Let’s Play Two is still a worthy listen given that Pearl Jam are one of the best live acts still giving it their all and while the song selection is slight – the band played over thirty songs each night – and not in true concert order, you can’t argue with a great rendering of ‘Given To Fly’, ‘Release’ and one of my own favourites, ‘Inside Job’.

Various – Twin Peaks (Music from the Limited Event Series)

While I still don’t really know what to make of either the majority of the series or the finale to the revival of Twin Peaks – aside from it being Lynch’s take on not wanting things to get old / pass – the soundtrack is a great thing. This one – as opposed to the score – is made up from songs played at the Big Bang Bar at the end of the episode along with a couple of those that featured elsewhere including the stellar Live From Monterey Pop recording I’ve Been Loving You Too Long by Otis Redding. Of course, there’s a couple – particularly the ridiculous inclusion of ‘Just You’ – that aren’t what I’d call top drawer but with tracks like Eddie Vedder’s exclusive ‘Out of Sand’, Rebekah Del Rio’s outstanding ‘No Stars’ there’s a lot of strong songs on here that have ensured this has received a few rotations.

The Replacements – For Sale: Live At Maxwell’s 1986

“THE REPLACEMENTS TO RELEASE FIRST OFFICIAL LIVE ALBUM (RECORDED IN FRONT OF MORE THAN 30 PEOPLE)” said the sticker on the front of this one. This live recording – forgotten about / lost until earlier this year captured the band at a turning point; their first major label album just out, just ahead of the firing of original guitarist Bob Stinson. A 29 song setlist that captures, as one review puts is succinctly, the “moment when the tug-of-war between the Replacements’ split personalities—the perma-blotto garage band vs. the refined rock craftsmen—had escalated into a bloody battle.”

Tom Petty – You Wreck Me

For reasons sadly obvious

Blog Tour: The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen

From the PR: “A successful entrepreneur in the mushroom industry, Jaakko Kaunismaa is a man in his prime. At just 37 years of age, he is shocked when his doctor tells him that he’s dying. What is more, the cause is discovered to be prolonged exposure to toxins; in other words, someone has slowly but surely been poisoning him. Determined to find out who wants him dead, Jaakko embarks on a suspenseful rollercoaster journey full of unusual characters, bizarre situations and unexpected twists.

With a nod to Fargo and the best elements of the Scandinavian noir tradition, The Man Who Died is a page-turning thriller brimming with the blackest comedy surrounding life and death, and love and betrayal, marking a stunning new departure for the King of Helsinki Noir.”

I was not expecting this book to be the book it is, if that makes sense. See, last year I read The Mine – a complex and intelligent thriller that was at times very dark and dealt with some pretty heavy issues. As such I was kind of expecting a read of a similar nature, not that that would be a bad thing. That’s certainly not what The Man Who Died is. The best way to explain this is quote from the Acknowledgements: “After writing five very dark books… I started to feel that I needed to change things up a bit. More than a bit, to be honest. I told my agent this. I think I also told him I needed a laugh a bit.”

The Man Who Died reads like a Finnish Kurkov novel. It’s ridiculously good; brilliantly conceived and plotted, fantastically treads the line between laugh out loud and wickedly dark, surreal humour and has so much going that it’s pretty much impossible to put down. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

From the moment Jaakko receives his diagnosis and starts ‘waking up’ it’s an absolute ripper of a story as he discovers just how much has been going on around him while he’s been blissfully unaware. It would be impossible to point out exact specifics without giving away any plot – and I really don’t want to do that because I sincerely urge all to read this book – but there are so many moments that are so deliciously absurd that I found myself laughing aloud.

Every word in this book is vital and well placed, it takes real skill to get the pacing just right – especially when told first-person narrative – and Antti Tuomainen has it spades. It cracks along at a sizzling pace and it’s hard to believe that so much takes place in such a short space of time sorry wise yet there’s not a moment of bloat as the story builds to its er… explosive finale. A really gifted writer at work here.

The Man Who Died is easily one of my favourite reads of the year. A real treat and one can only hope Antti Tuomainen feels the need to laugh in his writing again.

My thanks again to Karen at Orenda for my copy and inviting me to review and take part in the blogtour.

Blog Tour: Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech

From the PR:‘Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can’t.’

Thirty-two-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria.
With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the devastating deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges … and changes everything.

Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…”

Ok, I’m starting to think the best way to approach Louise Beech’s novels is with the same level of trepidation with which I watch a Pixar film; just when you’re settled in with the characters and plot she manages to completely sucker punch you emotionally. This is certainly true of last year’s The Mountain In My Shoe and it’s most definitely true of Maria In The Moon, Louise Beech’s latest novel and one which – on the strength of her previous two efforts (well, published efforts as this was written first) – I’d looked forward too with eager anticipation. Of course she managed to completely wreck me again.

Hang on, that sounds almost like a conclusion – let’s back up a bit. How does Louise Beech manage to leave me – and, from what I’ve seen of other reviews for this book – her readers feeling like they’ve been watching the opening ten minutes of Up? Well, first she creates characters that live and breath within the pages of her novels. This isn’t a crime thriller or one waiting to be turned into a Tom Cruise movie – Louise Beech deals in real people battling against circumstance and struggle that few should have to face (I say this because each of her three novels to date has done so so brilliantly). This means that Catherine Hope (great surname choice, considering) becomes an immediately relatable and human figure for whom we as readers almost immediately begin to feel empathy. She’s funny, kind and plagued with doubt and has a gaping hole in her life thanks to her father’s early death. Yeah, it’s impossible not to let your heart go out to Catherine – especially as a parent – when Louise so effectively portrays the grief and turmoil that entered Catherine’s life at a young age.

But Catherine has another gap in her life. There’s a vast period of her life that she can’t remember that becomes apparent – because how do you know you’ve forgotten something if you’ve forgotten it? – when she’s asked to recall what happened when she was nine. Of course, nobody puts up a mental block because something amazing happened and we need to forget just how happy we were so we know that there’s a trauma at the centre of Catherine’s memory block but, given that her father had died before that period, we too are at a loss for a) what it could be and b) just how bad it has to be that the death of her father remains in her memory but this doesn’t.

Of course, Louise Beech knows how to write a story so we’re not about to get the answer immediately – besides, suppressed memories don’t just return to you because you file a reveal request with yourself. Catherine’s journey to discovery takes us on one hell of a ride and by the time the reveal comes slamming home like a wrecking ball, I doubt any reader will not be desperate for both answers and for Catherine to catch a break.

And, yes, that reveal is a wrecking ball. It was hard to read and will alter your breathing, this isn’t a bad thing; I’ve said before that a writer that’s scared to challenge shouldn’t be writing and Louise Beech is not scared to do so. Yes, it’s something that’s been dealt with in fiction before and no doubt will gain but few writers manage to handle this subject and its impact as well as this. I’m not going to give a spoiler here but I will say that it did leave me feeling gutted and bare and that’s because of both the subject matter and Louise’s skill at both leading the way to the reveal and unfolding it at exactly the right moment – she doesn’t go overboard, there’s no hacky dramatics or cheap-movie moments, just genuine honest and true emotion and deftness of hand, allowing events and characters to play out. This – as I’ve said before – is where Louise Beech stands apart, writing with an emotional bravery and honesty that few others can or do and delivers something that, because you’re so caught up in the character and because it’s written so honestly, hits fucking hard.

Again; don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a book that’s all emotional wreckage. Maria In The Moon is also very funny, immensely charming, engrossing and bloody well written and will stay with you for some time. So, yes, in a way, my opening summary still holds and, in the same way I still check out a Pixar film I’ll do the same with the next novel to be penned by Louise Beech and recommend doing the same.

Thanks again to Karen and Orenda Books for my copy, no-thanks to “sorry not sorry” Louise Beech for wrecking me again and do check out the previous stops on the BlogTour.

Blog Tour: House of Spines by Michael J Malone

From the PR: “Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he
discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who it seems has been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up.

Entering his new-found home, it seems Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word – the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror … the reflection of a woman…

A terrifying psychological thriller with more than a hint of the Gothic, House of Spines is a love letter to the power of books, and an exploration of how lust and betrayal can be deadly…”

So, here we are with the latest novel from Michael J Malone and, I’ll be honest, after getting into House of Spines I did have to double check that this is the same Michael J Malone who wrote last year’s A Suitable Lie for Malone – as one glance at the man’s ‘cv’ will attest – is a very talented chameleonic writer clearly with “over 200 published poems, two poetry collections, six novels, countless articles and one work of non-fiction” to his name.

Whereas A Suitable Lie was something of a domestic-noir thriller with a twist on spousal abuse, House of Spines is very much a psychological thriller with heavy horror overtones and mystery that brings to mind the likes of Rebecca. Its setting in an old, practically empty and isolated manor really upping the opportunity to give Ran and the reader a real sense of the willies with the jarring jolts between Ran’s seclusion in the house and visits back to the modern world in the local village lending a further sense of disconnect between the ‘real world’ and the events back at Newtown Hall.

It’s a brilliantly conceived and well played mystery by Malone too, so thoroughly absorbing that’s impossible not to get caught up in and it’s impossible to express how so without given away a tiny bit of the plot so I’m gonna have to say that the next paragraph contains a SPOILER ALERT.

They say that if you’re only exposed to one narrative for so long you’ll eventually try and find ways to identify with it and find a sort of kinship (a sort of literary Stockholm perhaps) and this is true of House of Spines and Ranald. You get completely caught up in his viewpoint (even though it’s not told first-person) and, thus, in his struggles between distinguishing reality from fantasy and feeling completely in the dark on so many key points. For in the same way that his cousin has lead him a merry dance and played on Ran’s mental state so, too, is the reader left uncertain as to what is reality and what is the effect of Ran’s own mental state with so many puzzle pieces kept from view or merely hinted at with other characters holding on to key facts or leaving me exasperatingly frustrated at their seeming vow of silence on them. I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to take a character and shake em by the lapels and scream “just sodding well tell him what the hell you know!”

I didn’t seen the final reveal coming, any of them for this is a mystery of many facets, and that’s always a good thing and the final sentence – in true horror style, managed to give me a chill. But then there’s so much going on for such a relatively novel it’s a wonder that it does all get resolved. From Ran’s own parental background, Newtown Hall and his Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick’s history to the current cousin-related concerns and it’s to Malone’s credit that the novel never feels over-stretched and these story lines are not only given all the space and to breath and come to fruition but are so ably wrapped up within the novel’s pages without feeling in the least bit rushed.

House of Spines is a cracking read that combines a real mystery with a genuinely touching and emotionally affecting story that, at times, makes you really feel for Ranald (and others without wanting to give anything else away) and one that I thoroughly recommend.

My thanks again to Orenda Books for my copy and inviting me to take part in this blogtour.