Books, Reviews

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Jesse Fink – The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC

21 Oct 20144 stars

'One of the few genuinely good books about a hard rock band'

From 1974 to 1980, AC/DC were sly, funny and feral. But when frontman and self-described author of 'toilet poetry' Bon Scott died, and was replaced by the diligent but charisma-impaired Brian Johnson, the band began the slow process of rigidification…

Chuck Palahniuk – Beautiful You

20 Oct 20142 stars

Satire following the commodification of female pleasure lacks humour and heart of earlier novels

The transgressive fiction author of Fight Club brings us the story of Penny Harrigan, a frumpy law intern seduced by C Linus Maxwell. He’s straight out of the Fifty Shades mould, and Penny is wined, dined and pleasured as the guinea pig to test-run…

Tim Minchin – Storm

13 Oct 20142 stars

Comic book based beat-poem drips with pointlessness and proves inconsequential

Is there anything Tim Minchin refuses to have a stab at? Already an award-winning musical comedian (he took the Best Newcomer prize at the 2005 Edinburgh Fringe), acclaimed composer of musicals (for West End powerhouse Matilda), and hairy actor (taking…

Dawood Ali McCallum – The Final Charge

13 Oct 20143 stars

Engaging fourth novel from human rights expert set in 1950s Kenya

In his fourth novel, human rights expert Dawood Ali McCallum has turned his attention to Kenya, where British doctor Tom Miles is arrested for a war crime alleged to have been committed in 1954 during Kenya’s battle for independence. Centred around…

Kevin Bridges – We Need to Talk About . . . Kevin Bridges

9 Oct 20143 stars

Autobiographical self-awareness and emotional honesty from Glaswegian stand-up

While it's virtually taken for granted that an arena comic will pen an autobiography sooner rather than later, Kevin Bridges appreciates that he's ridiculously young to be reminiscing about his life. Now 27, more than a third of this book passes with…

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Marilynne Robinson – Lila

8 Oct 20144 stars

Third novel set in Gilead is moving exploration of existence, love and inevitability of loneliness

Lila is the third of Marilynne Robinson’s novels to be set in the fictional Iowa town of Gilead and tells the story of the ageing Reverend John Ames and his much younger wife. Readers first met this pair in Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel…

Tina Sutton – The Making of Markova

26 Sep 20144 stars

Meticulously researched and dynamically written homage to Britain's first ballet star

When journalist Tina Sutton was handed the boxed-up archives of prima ballerina Alicia Markova by Boston University, she could scarcely have guessed the treasure trove that lay inside. Decades of letters, diaries, press clippings and theatre programmes…

Emily St. John Mandel – Station Eleven

26 Sep 20144 stars

Expert storytelling sets this provocative tale of societal apocalypse apart

When the Georgia Flu hits, the age of electricity comes to an abrupt end. 99% of the world’s population die, taking with them the knowledge mankind used to create everything from aeroplanes to running water. For the few that survive the collapse, life…

Kate Mosse - The Taxidermist’s Daughter

11 Sep 20144 stars

Subtle and seductive tale of murder and mystery from the Labyrinth author

The sodden marshes and thunderous skies of the small village of Fishbourne near Chichester – and Kate Mosse’s home – provide a suitably gloomy setting for the Labyrinth author’s new Gothic tale of murder and mystery. Mosse pulls that landscape in…

Kate Saunders - Five Children On The Western Front

11 Sep 20142 stars

A disappointing sequel to E Nesbitt's wonderful, immersive and humorous Five Children and It series

Five Children and It is the first of a much loved trilogy from writer E Nesbit about five children and the Psammead (sand fairy) who grants wishes. It has since been adapted for TV and film and has inspired various takes on the story including books by…

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Samantha Harvey - Dear Thief

11 Sep 20143 stars

Exquisite writing and a poignant story fail to be truly exciting in the long run

The art of letter writing is almost lost, but it's a tool used by Dear Thief's narrator as some form of catharsis. ‘In answer to a question you asked a long time ago,’ she begins, moving off on a journey through friendship, love and betrayal. The…

Adam Roberts - Bête

11 Sep 20144 stars

Dryly funny sci-fi novel about food that can talk back to the eater

Imagine if your food could talk back to you? That’s the extremely high-concept opener much-decorated sci-fi author and academic Adam Roberts plays with in his latest novel, opening on a bizarre but starkly amusing sequence in which a cow tries to reason…

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera discusses Story of a Death Foretold at 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival

29 Aug 20144 stars

Colombian historian delivers thrilling talk on Salvador Allende's last stand

In Story of a Death Foretold, Columbian historian Oscar Guardolia-Rivera chronicles the rise of Chile's socialist president Salvador Allende and the brutal CIA-supported coup which ousted him. In this electrifying hour, Guardolia-Rivera describes…

Letters Home

27 Aug 20143 stars

Four snapshot stories of exile at 2014 Edinburgh International Book Festival

Consisting of four short scenes and an unnecessary epilogue set 'backstage' where the actors turn back into civilians, Letters Home is surprisingly slight for a two hour flagship production at the Book Festival. Only Grid Iron's own Ben Harrison deals…

David Stubbs - Future Days: Krautrock and the Building of Modern Germany

27 Aug 20144 stars

A thorough critical and cultural history of the genre of Kraftwerk, Can, Neu!, Faust and more

'The European canon is here' declared David Bowie on 1976's Station to Station, signalling his allegiance to the new German music, crassly but enduringly dubbed krautrock by the 1970s British music press. Four decades on, krautrock is enshrined in the…

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Julia Donaldson, James Robertson (trans.) - Room on the Broom in Scots

27 Aug 20144 stars

An already engaging and exciting story becomes even more theatrical when ‘performed’ in a new tongue

The winning combination of Julia Donaldson’s stories and Axel Scheffler’s illustrations has seen their picture books grace the shelves and bedside tables of children the world over. As such, it’s a formula you don’t want to mess with without due…

Matthew Thomas - We Are Not Ourselves

26 Aug 20143 stars

A patchy period narrative following the immigrant American Dream

Eileen Tumulty, raised by hard-drinking Irish parents in 1940s New York, craves a different life. She manages to pursue a nursing career and marries Ed, a brilliant scientist, seeing in him an opportunity for a better life. But Ed isn’t as enamoured…

Sarah Waters - The Paying Guests

17 Aug 20144 stars

An absorbing read, rich in period detail and complex characters

Four years after she was nominated for the Booker Prize with The Little Stranger, Sarah Waters has returned with her sixth novel, The Paying Guests. In a shabby but still genteel London suburb just after World War I, Frances Wray and her mother are…

Howard Jacobson - J

17 Aug 20142 stars

Man Booker Prize-longlisted dystopian novel full of historical flashes of little political mooring

Howard Jacobson’s J has been longlisted for this year’s Man Booker Prize. Though he won in 2010 for The Finkler Question, his publisher assures us J is unlike his others, explicitly encouraging its being named in the same breath as Nineteen Eighty-Four…

Ali Smith - How to be Both

17 Aug 20145 stars

Man Booker Prize-longlisted book a stunning work that is as rewarding as it is challenging

Being longlisted for the Man Booker Prize before publication adds heady expectations to a novel, but with How to be Both, Ali Smith has reasserted herself as one of the UK’s most inventive and progressive writers. Replicating techniques borrowed from…

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Alan Warner - Their Lips Talk of Mischief

17 Aug 20143 stars

Novel set in Thatcher's London is as funny and poignant as anything he's written

In the cold climate of Thatcher's London, Douglas Cunningham meets dissolute young writer Llewellyn Smith, who lives with his baby daughter and beautiful wife Aoife in an Acton tower block. Moving in with them and their extensive collection of Penguin…

John Boyne - A History of Loneliness

17 Aug 20144 stars

Strong, emotive work exploring child abuse in the Church

This latest offering from The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas author John Boyne deals with revelations of child abuse in the Church. It’s a powerful meditation on a deeply distressing issue from which his audience is not censored. As the narrative darts…

Sweet Potato and Callaloo: Voices from the Caribbean Diaspora

15 Aug 20145 stars

Project exploring Scotland's role in slave trade, featuring Dorothea Smartt and Millicent AA Graham

Fresh from their appearances at The Empire Cafe, a remarkable project exploring Glasgow and Scotland's under-acknowledged role in the transatlantic slave trade, come four poets from the Caribbean Diaspora. Warmly introduced by Scottish poet Jackie Kay…

Haruki Murakami - Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage

14 Aug 20143 stars

Welcome addition for fans, but one that never quite reaches the heights it could do

There aren't many writers whose novel launches can be classed as an event, but Haruki Murakami is one of the few who fit the category. When Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage, his 13th novel, launched in Japan last year it sold a…

Iain MacWhirter: After the Referendum - Sat 9 Aug 2014

12 Aug 20144 stars

Clear-sighted analysis of Scottish independence referendum from experienced political journalist

'What would happen if Putin invaded an independent Scotland?' asks one tweedy doomsayer of Iain MacWhirter. 'You can't be serious,' the political journalist laughs, 'Are you a Yes campaign plant?' That apocalyptic warning aside, this event, chaired by…