Until Darren and Jodie move in, Lowland Way is a suburban paradise.
Beautiful homes. Friendly neighbours. Kids playing out in the street.
But Darren and Jodie don’t follow the rules and soon disputes over loud music and parking rights escalate to threats of violence. Then, early one Sunday, a horrific crime shocks the street. As the police go house-to-house, the residents close ranks and everyone’s story is the same: They did it.
But there’s a problem. The police don’t agree. And the door they’re knocking on next is yours.
Does it deliver?
It absolutely does.
It takes time for the reader to discover what the crime that shocks the street is, the first part of the novel begins the day that Darren and Jodie move in, but each chapter begins with snippets of transcripts between the police and the neighbours describing what happened that Sunday morning.
It works well to build up the tension, but I was half expecting the crime to be the main focus of the book, instead, we reach it within a third of the novel and we then focus on the fall-out and the escalating tension between Darren and Jodie and the rest of the neighbours – building to an ending, leaves the loose ends just tied tight enough for you to want that teensy bit more, but feeling satisfied
We follow four neighbours – Ralph, Tess, Sissy and Ant – they are in effect the heroes of our story, battling against the invasion to their perfect lives. That’s certainly how they see themselves
And while Darren and Jodie aren’t exactly the nicest neighbours to have, they’ve technically not committed any crimes. They just haven’t fitted in.
There’s a wonderful moment when Ralph – after having encourage Ant to record Jodie and Darren’s driveway for evidence – complains that Darren is looking out his window at them. “He’s probably a paedophile” he complains.
And that’s typical of these characters. They’re all nice enough on the surface, but they’re full of prejudice and NIMBYism. It is said that a person’s true character is revealed when they’re put under pressure, and that’s certainly what happens here.
Candlish has created a large cast, but one that is easy to get a grip on and instantly feels real and compelling.
Most of the action takes place in Lowland Way – a street in modern-day London, with a few small snippets taking place in some nearby pubs. Candlish cleverly doesn’t waste too much time describing the street.
We all know places like Lowland Way and all have our own images of it. The geography of the houses starts to make itself known naturally as the book progresses. I imagined a mix of Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives and the street I grew up in.
The Verdict – 9/10
It’s another strong book that I think will be a big hit this summer. It builds tension and suspense throughout and even though you might find yourself not liking the characters very much, you do still care about them, wishing them their little victories, excusing some of their mistakes – even when it’s obvious they’re doing something wrong.
My theory is that you’ll probably find yourself feeling sympathy to one of the characters – but it’ll be a different one, depending on who you’re most like. Expect a BuzzFeed quiz on it very soon.
(If you feel sympathy for them all, you’ve got problems)
Look Out For
If you enjoyed Those People you’ll enjoy Our House also by Louise Candlish.
You can buy Those People from my own online book shop Bert’s Books. If you use the code RAMBLING at the check-out, you’ll get 10% off.
I’m trying out a new format for reviews – just to see if it will help me find the time to actually write them! I’m still reading loads, but not finding the time to put my thoughts down in words. Hopefully this will work!
Tom is a successful author, but he’s struggling to finish his novel. His main distraction is an online admirer, Evie, who simply won’t leave him alone.
Evie is smart, well read and unstable; she lives with her father and her social-media friendships are not only her escape, but everything she has. When she’s hit with a restraining order, her world is turned upside down, and Tom is free to live his life again, to concentrate on writing
But things aren’t really adding up. For Tom is distracted but also addicted to his online relationships, and when they take a darker, more menacing turn, he feels powerless to change things. Because maybe he needs Evie more than he’s letting on
Does it deliver?
The first two paragraphs of the blurb are a neat summary of Part One, the first sixty pages or so, where we flit between Evie’s POV and Tom’s POV during the time of the trial.
Tom’s parts are told in third person, reflecting on the events that led them to the trial, while Evie’s sections are in first person and told through the course of the trial.
Part Two picks up after Evie is given her restraining order and this is where the blurb doesn’t quite match up. I didn’t feel that Tom was particularly addicted to his online relationships. He does neglect a real-life friendship with Emma when he’s cruising – but that’s in real-life, not online.
The characters are sparse, we are tightly focused on Tom and Evie and their relationship, and as you might guess from the blurb, it’s only really through Tom that we meet anyone else. His best friend Emma, a hook-up called Luke, and his next-door neighbour whom he starts to form a bond with.
And though we don’t focus on them very much, it’s only really Luke who doesn’t quite feel real to me (only because his presence in parts is a little coincidental). Tom and Evie feel real, both of them flawed, and as a result we’re never quite sure if they’re both telling the truth or if neither of them are.
Tom, particularly, is well-drawn, both as the victim, and as someone who needs the victim-hood. He seeks out Evie, wanting to know where she is, wanting to keep an eye on her, and while it might be a case of wanting to keep your enemies close, it dances the line between self-protection and self-harm.
Set between London and Hastings, this is very much set in the real world, more so than many other books I’ve read. Burston’s characters think and speak in the way we all do. They don’t sensor themselves to stop them inadvertently advertising a brand.
When they walk past a bookshop, they walk past Foyles, not a bookshop. When Tom talks about being picked for a book club, he talks about Richard and Judy, not a ‘TV Book Club’. They’re small things, but it helps the whole world much more real.
Perhaps the only thing against it is the world doesn’t feel hugely populated, perhaps because of the limited use of characters. This works really well in Hastings, but the London scenes felt a bit 28 Days Later to me.
Verdict – 9/10
Of course I liked it. I don’t review books if I don’t like them, but I more than liked this book, I loved it.
It was a gripping read, one I kept wanting to pick back up whenever I wasn’t reading it, and so I devoured it.
It’s a new kind of fiction, not just because it explores the effects that social media has on our lives – the stalker can find out everything she needs with just a click of a mouse, but also, the victim can stalk right back – but because it’s that rare thing where a gay man is front and centre, but the plot doesn’t revolve around his sexuality.
Of course, it’s referenced, and it does play into the plot, because it’s part of who Tom is, but it doesn’t define the plot. A lot of what happened to him, could have happened to a straight man.
Thrillers where the lead character happens to be gay are rare, and that’s what makes this refreshing. The fact it’s so well written is what makes it excellent.
You can buy The Closer I Getfrom my own online book shop Bert’s Books. If you use the code RAMBLING at the check-out, you’ll get 10% off.
One of the benefits to running your own business from home is that this year I’ve had time to listen to all the Eurovision entries before the big night.
Of course, I didn’t just stop there – I ranked them all as well from worst to best. The first time, I just listened to them, the second time, I watched the videos.
Then I watched the videos all over again just to make sure I had them in the right order (I didn’t).
So, buckle up kids, we’ve got 41 songs to get through – complete with my comments. Obviously, this is just my opinion, so it is 100% completely correct.
41. Slovenia – Sebi by Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl
On first listen: Accidentally watched the video of this first and I can’t say I particularly want to sit through it again. It’s quite a gloomy quiet song, really not for me at all.
During the video: She’s moping about in the video, it’s not a very energetic performance, although granted that would be difficult with this song. I don’t know what they can do to make this any more interesting on stage.
40. Albania – Ktheju tokës by Jonida Maliqi
On first listen: This song reminds me of something, but I can’t think what. The singer has a dramatic tone to her voice, but it all feels a bit urgent, I’m struggling to relax while listening to it. And I’ve just noticed some yodeling. It’s not the worst song, that’s probably about the best thing I can say about it. I’m sort of glad it’s over.
During the video: Probably just me, but I think she looks a bit like Sandra Bullock. I think this song thinks it’s more important than it really is. If it rains on stage and she’s wearing that skin coloured dress, she could pick up a couple of extra points.
39. Iceland – Hatrið mun sigra by Hatari
On first listen: It took me ages to find that funny little ð so this better be worth it. And instantly, it’s not. If you thought Lordi were heavy rock, then this lot are Lordi’s heavier older brother. Please don’t make me listen to this again.
During the video: He looks like a kid having a strop. Honestly, his parents ought to keep him home from Eurovision and do us all a favour. On the third listen this started to grow on me, but still…
38. Georgia – Keep on Going by Oto Nemsadze
On first listen: It feels like a funeral march. I don’t know what he’s singing about, but it’s very moody. Because it’s not in English and it’s slow, it’s sort of lost me. I don’t understand the language and I can’t sing along with the sounds like I can with some of the others
During the video: The video at least matches the song. It’s black and white and a bit moody. In fact it’s more than moody, it’s downright depressing. At a guess, I’d say it’s a song about war/refugees. I guess the end is uplifting. It’s definitely song with a message, but not for me.
37. Serbia – Kruna by Nevena Božović
On first listen: Starts with strings, a sound we don’t hear much. The singer is quite breathy, and not in English. It’s slow, so it feels like there’s not going to be anything catchy. Hang on, she’s just flipped to English. But not for long. It’s not holding my attention.
During the video: I got all the way to the end of the video before realising I was watching Slovenia’s not Serbia’s, which probably says a lot about both of them. There is probably more to work with here, but not much.
36. Portugal – Telemóveis by Conan Osiris
On first listen: Ok, this is a good start. It’s not in English, but it has sounds I can emulate, and interesting music. Although, it’s already feeling a bit eclectic, almost as if it doesn’t know what sort of song it wants to be.
During the video: This is a selections performance, rather than a video, which I like because it gives you a clue what it might be like during the finals. This guy has a style that is as eclectic as the song. He’s dressed in feathers, and he’s got a topless friend dressed the same way. The dance is distracting but the audience don’t seem overly enamoured with it.
35. Germany – Sister by S!sters
On first lesson: The singers are quite nasal in parts and as ballads go it seems pretty unmemorable. I like the slightly quicker moments during the song, but when they start chanting ‘Sister’ it feels a bit durge-y.
During the video: Well, they don’t look like sisters, and I don’t think they really have a connection. They’re both a bit shout-y. It’s like something you’d have seen on Glee 15 episodes into series 5 when everyone was getting a bit tired. Not a fan, but again, it grew on me during the third run-through.
34. Belarus – Like it by ZENA
On first lesson: It starts off immediately more interesting than some of the others. The music feels quite Eurovision-y. It’s dance-y and does at least allow you to sing along to it, but it goes on slightly too long for my taste.
During the video: This isn’t a produced video, but the performance from the Belarussian selection show. It’s slightly easier to judge these songs, and unfortunately, I don’t think she’s got any stage presence. She’s ok, not terrible, but I think both her and the song are too forgettable.
33. Austria – Limits by PÆNDA
On first listen: Another high pitched female. It seems like it’s going to be quite a ballad-y year. This is fairly nondescript. There’s not a lot to interest me here.
During the video: The video is about as interesting as the song. It’s all quite bland. I don’t think it will do very well, which means it will probably win. Having said that, it grew on me again during the third viewing
32. Hungary – Az én apám by Joci Pápai
On first listen: At first, this appears to be like many of the others, a bloke singing a ballad. It doesn’t just feel like this is in a different language, it sounds like it’s being played backwards, but it makes for an interesting sound. The whistling interlude is new and breaks it up a bit. I don’t think this song is going to take off with a Westlife-style key change, step off the stools moment, but with so many of those moments in the other songs, that might help set it apart.
During the video: We’ve got another one who doesn’t like to open his eyes while he sings. But worse than that, he’s got a topa-knot. And a guitar. Christ.
31. Australia – Zero Gravity by Kate Miller-Heidke
On first listen: I can’t work this song out, it feels a bit too experimental for my liking. I’m not sure who they’re trying to target with this song. Oh, wow, a disco beat has just dropped in. That’s quite a change in tempo – could lead to an interesting visual. But after about thirty seconds of that, it’s back to the linnet-bird style of the beginning. And now opera. This is definitely too messy, I’m just waiting for it to finish now.
During the video: She looks like someone turned Princess Elsa into one of those dolls they put over toilet rolls. I liked the woman on the stick bouncing around in the background, but I was sort of waiting for her to smack Elsa in the mouth to shut her up. We should beat this.
30. Poland – Fire of Love (Pali się) by Tulia
On first listen: This has a unique sound – at least compared to the others, which could be an advantage, though it seems fairly linear. There’s no ebb or flow in it yet. What you get at the beginning is just kind of there for the rest of the song. It lost me mid-way, I got bored of it.
During the video: We’ve got a black and whie video with women carrying shoes and a man at a garage having a fag. This video isn’t really revealing to me anything about the song. It feels a bit obscure.
29. Israel – Home by Kobi Marimi
On first listen: From the start this song felt like it had a bit of an Irish feel to it – it took me a moment to realise why, but then I realised I could picture it being played atop a montage in Lord of the Rings. I suppose comparisons to Enya aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Marimi’s vocals are good, but I feel the choir and backing track threaten to overwhelm him from about a third of the way into the track
During the video: With the right emotion and the right staging this could do quite well, but I don’t think Marimi brings it in the video. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to feel, and so the song doesn’t really connect with me.
28. Montenegro – Heaven by D mol
On first listen: This might be the first act I’ve listened to this year which isn’t exclusively one gender or the other. That could help their perofrmance on the night, although the transition into an Irish style of music doesn’t work for me. It picks up towards the end. It’s another one that’s OK. Nothing special.
During the video: Oh, there’s four of them! I didn’t get that from the song. Even they seem surprised by the Irish music. Actually, there’s five of them! No… six. They’ve all found theIrishman and are now singing at him on the beach. I didn’t really pay attention to the video, I was too busy counting. I stand by my OK.
27. Estonia – Storm by Victor Crone
On first listen: He’s got a guitar. I can tell without even looking – I’m getting singer/songwriter vibes. The world doesn’t need another Ed Sheeran. Oh, it’s called Storm? Copy-cat. It’s ok. Enough to make me tap my foot, but I’ve already forgotten it and I’m still listening. That could be said about a lot of the songs this year, though.
During the video: He did have a guitar! But then it disappeared in some clever camera trickery. I can’t tell if this is an actual recorded performance, or the proper music video. Either way, it hints at what’s to come on the night, they might have some ambition for the staging that could lift it above average.
26. Romania – On a Sunday by Ester Peony
On first listen: A dramatic start, almost like a horror movie – but that could just be the video. The music falters to begin with, which is odd. The lyrics are simple and clear, the structure of the song seemingly obvious. It’s ok, bit dull for me.
During the video: A dramatic start, almost like a horror movie – but that could just be the video. The music falters to begin with, which is odd. The lyrics are simple and clear, the structure of the song seemingly obvious. It’s ok, bit dull for me.
25. Greece – Better Love by Katerine Duska
On first listen: The Greeks have come along to prove that just because an act sings in English, it’s no guarantee I will have a clue what’s going on. It’s a little bit catchy, but it’s mostly warbly.
During the video: If I was hoping the video would give me any clue what was happening, then I’m disappointed. They’ve definitely gone for theatre with this one, but it might be just a little bit too avant garde for most people. The song is similar to a lot of others this year. It seems to be the year of the ballad.
24. Moldova – Stay by Anna Odobescu
On first listen: She sounds like Claire from Steps. That’s a good thing. She’ll stand out for being a female doing a ballad among a sea of men doing ballads. But like the others they’ve not been able to resist dropping a beat in for the middle third. It’s another one that feels like it goes on a minute too long, though.
During the video: This could almost be a Steps video . It looks like clips from a trashy daytime soap opera, and who doesn’t want melodrama with their Eurovision? She doesn’t move an awful lot so itwill be interestin what they choose to do on the night. It’ll probably involve fake rain of some sort.
23. Sweden – Too Late for Love by John Lundvik
On first listen: This guy wrote our song and the Swedish normally do quite well, so I’m interested. It’s straight into the vocals, I wonder if we’ve missed a bit. This is firmly in the style of bloke singing a ballad. I’m a bit disapointed by it, I mean it’s not terrible, but I don’t think it’s up to Sweden’s standards. You can tell he wrote ours. They’re not massively different.
During the video: This is a live performance rather than a video so again, a bit of a clue a to how he might perform on the night. There’s some good camera work which makes it feel slightly more dramatic than it is and he moves a bit more than I’ve seen Michael move when he performs, although he is still doing it on the spot. It’s a little bit catchy, but not a lot.
22. Russia – Scream by Sergey Lazarev
On first listen: A song from Russia called Scream makes me nervous, but it starts quite calm, although the drama is quickly starting to build. Having said that, it’s not holding my attention. It feels like the song you get at the beginning of the second act of a musical, the sort of song that eases everyone back in, but nobody would miss.
During the video: Worth pointing out this is yet another single white male singing an ballad. There’s a story unfolding around this guy in the video, but again, he’s not doing much apart from waving his arms around.
21. Lithuania – Run with the Lions by Jurij Veklenko
On first listen: When I saw the title of this song, for some reason I had bigger expectations of this song. It’s not what I thought it would be. I was expecting something a bit more energetic. It’s ok, but it doesn’t really go anywhere and am a little bit disappointed.
During the video: He’s quite a handsome chap – but honestly, do we need any more single white males on this stage? Perhaps my fatigue of this kind of singer is colouring it for me, but it’s nothing special. I think it’ll make it to the finals, but if it doesn’t, I don’t think it will be missed.
20. Malta – Chameleon by Michaela
On first listen: This song that feels like it’s stuck in second gear. It’s not a slow song by any means but it doesn’t ever kick in. It’s growing on me the more it goes on, but it’s definitely a middle-of-the-pack. It sounds a bit like an Ava Max reject.
During the video: She looks like Avril Lavigne – perhaps she’s one of her stand-ins. The words are coming up on the screen in case we’re having trouble understanding her. This means I’m reading the words rather than looking at the performance which seems to be not a lot going on in artistic backgrounds. It is definitely growing on me, but I think the verses are weak.
19. United Kingdom – Bigger Than Us by Michael Rice
On first listen: The only song that I wasn’t listening to for the first time, so it makes it a bit harder to judge in comparison to the others. Rice’s vocals are a bit like Israel’s at the beginning where they dominate the music, but then the chorus comes in and the music takes over. It’s a fairly typical British song. It feels like a sequel to Storm – which I loved. I like this too, but it doesn’t deserve to do better than Surie.
During the video: Michael overperforms this too much for my liking, the lip wobbles and air-grabbing are a bit too much. It’s a nice story, I guess, but it won’t play out too easily on stage, unless they try some sort of interpretive dance like Ireland did last year, but really, I don’t see what they can do apart from have a few flashing lights and a smoke machine.
18. Croatia – The Dream by Roko
On first listen: Shades of Conchita from the beginning – this time in the sound of their voice. It’s a promising start. Oh, wow, the shades are getting shadier, it’s quite like a lot of other ballads.
During the video: He looks like Belgium’s older brother. And he plays his own piano, but the problem with that is he doesn’t open his eyes while he’s playing or singing. It’s an ok song, but I don’t think he’s that charismatic.
17. Latvia – That Night by Carousel
On first listen: Instant thought is that this is a husky version of Amy McDonald. The lyrics are predictable, but that’s no bad thing, it means I’m singing along in less than a minute, which is what you need from a Eurovision song. A lot of the voters will only be hearing the song for the first time on the night. It doesn’t go anywhere, but it’s inoffensive, likely to be forgotten
During the video: It looks like she’s performing on last year’s Eurovision set. The performance is understated (they’ve even coloured it in black and white) so could stand out for its sheer simplicity on the night, but I fear for them that the song isn’t special enough for that.
16. Finland – Look Away by Darude feat. Sebastian Rejman
On first listen: The most famous (slash only) Darude song I know, isn’t actually a song. From memory, Sandstorm doesn’t have any lyrics, so I haven’t really got anything to compare this to. BUT it does have a Darude feel to the music. The vocal seems a bit weak, but it has echoes of BrightLight BrightLight about it, who I like. This could get in my head. (Pun intended).
During the video: This guy doesn’t really match his voice, but I like the look he’s going for. I’m not entirely sure if Darude is actually doing anything back there, but it’s good to see him, or it was until they turned him around and replaced him with a floating green woman. A nice bit of theatre, coupled with the fact I imagine this will be played all over Europe, this could do well.
15. France – Roi by Bilal Hassani
On first listen: There are some good hooks in this song. Some of the more memorable moments come toward the end of the song which will help – if people haven’t left the room during the beginning. Seems like standard Eurovision fare.
During the video: There are some good hooks in this song. Some of the more memorable moments come toward the end of the song which will help – if people haven’t left the room durin the beginning. Seems like standard Eurovision fare.
14. Italy – Soldi by Mahmood
On first listen: The first song I listened to where it was completely non-English, but that’s ok, I liked it from the beginning, possibly because it wasn’t a ballad. It feels quite dance-y and I can see this one going off on the night with the crowd. As a non-Italian speaker, there are no hooks for me to grab onto though, so not sure it will stick in my head. There are parts of it that made me think of Holly Valance and Kiss-Kiss
During the video: I still like it, but the video doesn’t give the vibe I was expecting. I thought they were going for a Fuego-style song, but Mahmood barely moves in this video, in fact for much of it, he just stands there looking moody as if you’ve criticised the painting and decorating you asked him to do on your kitchen. If that vibe translates to the final performance, I don’t think this will do very well on the night.
13. San Marino – Say Na Na Na by Serhat
On first listen: As the name suggests, this is quite dance-y. At this stage I’m grateful that it’s not another ballad. The male singer of this sounds a bit creepy, but they’ve got a hook, even if it does remind me of Fat Les and his Vindaloo. I don’t think he was the right person to sing this song, probably needed a woman’s voice. I am enjoying it, though.
During the video: He looks as I sort of expected. There’s a club setting and he looks slightly too old to be there, chatting up people ten years younger than him, which is fine, do what you like, but it’s not endearing. A lot of dancing in this video which can’t be replicated on the night with just six people on stage. This is one of those songs that gets better the second time you hear it. Weird little girl at the end.
12. Denmark – Love is Forever by Leonora
On first listen: Plinky plonky music to begin with. This has shades of Lily Allen circa 2001 – and that girl that had flowers in her hair. It’s a good example of that kind of music and it’s been long enough that it might feel fresh again. Ah, Eliza Dolittle is the other one she reminds me of. It’s going on a bit too long for my liking. The twee-ness of it outstays its welcome.
During the video: She looks like Lily James. If Lily James was a waitress. I like the giant chair she’s sitting on – it adds to the twee-ness, but it works. As do the two that join her with their ladders towards the end. It’s differen enough from the others so far.
11. Armenia – Walking Out by Srbuk
On first listen: This comes for you right from the beginning, it reminds me a bit of The Saturdays, but she loses that as the song goes on and she breaks into a bit of a Celine Dion impression. Mashed together two quite different styles, but it works for me, I think. At least it does for the first 2 minutes. The third minute completly breaks the style. Too unpredictable to dance to. I think this could be a bit too messy
During the video: This girl’s got attitude, and she’s got topless dancers in blazers which works for me. This works better with a visual and I quite like it second time around. There’s still that weird break in it though, which sort of breaks the momentum, but it does just about bring it back.
10. Spain – La Venda by Miki
On first listen: This had a dramatic start, but then seemed to introduce a banjo out of nowhere. Like Italy before it, it’s competely non-English and a bit dance-y – there are some hooks that I can get on board with though, so it will stay in my head a bit longer.
During the video: I was singing and dancing along on the second time round. This is infectious to me, it’s fun, and could potentially have everyone up and dancing on the night. The success of this one will depend on its position in the running order but it’s my favourite so far.
9. Norway – Spirit in the Sky by KEiiNO
On first listen: I’m already disappointed that this isn’t Gareth Gates and the Kumars. It’s got a night dance-y beat to it. The dancing with the fairies line will play well to the crowd on the night – I can already picture it on someone’s t-shirt. Oh, dear it was all going so well – a shaman seems to have taken over for the last third. It’s interesting, just not what I was expecting. The rest of the song is good, though.
During the video: They’ve filmed the video in Narnia – but it is at least another male/female combo which is different from most of the other acts. They’ve clearly got a vision/story for this song so the performance on the night should hopefully be something spectacular. The shaman looks like he’s in pain.
8. North Macedonia – Proud by Tamara Todevska
On first listen: I like this. The vocals are clear, not being drowned out by the music, which is sweet, but with a promise to rise as we go along. I do like a violin solo as well and it’s not too long here. Here comes the swell. I can imagine myself singing this in the shower pretending to be Whitney. It’s not the best song, but it’s more than OK.
During the video: It’s a song about female empowerment. That’s very now. I think this could do well on the night. It depends on what they decide to project on the screens behind the singer. But this could become a bit of an anthem.
7. Cyprus – Replay by Tamta
On first listen: She sounds like a lot of the acts in the chart at the moment. You can decide whether that’s a compliment or not, but it should mean she attracts an audience of some kind. There are some good hooks in this, and there’s enough to keep you interested.
During the video: This is a proper video. I’m going out on a limb here and saying she’s probably an established music star in Cyprus. She oozes confidence and if the performance on the night is anything like the video, we could be in for a good one. Half decent song with a good perfomance, it could be in with a chance.
6. Switzerland – She Got Me by Luca Hänni
On first listen: It’s not terrible, it’s making me move, which is always a good sign. It sounds like something you might find on One Direction’s second or third album, where they’re trying to be popular, but also a little bit edgy.
During the video: He’s got presence, although that could just be the hat (I do like a hat) – he looks like he’s recently left a boy band so I stand by my 1D comparison. He can move so we should be in for a good performance. I think he’ll have some fans on the night, he won’t win, but he’ll finish on the left hand side of the board.
5. Ireland – 22 by Sarah McTernan
On first listen: I’m listening to this one straight after Iceland, so I’ll probably love it. Oh, already, I do, it’s a bit plinky-plonky in a twingy-twangy way. That’s expert analysis for you. The music is better than the lyrics here, but she can sing. I don’t think it’ll match Ireland’s perfromance last year, but it’s decent enough, and is at least different from the other songs. I’ve surprised myself by singing along with it towards the end.
During the video: They’ve gone for a vintage feel with the video, which seems to be working for the song. It feels like it’s achieving what Michael Rice’s set out to do. I’m interested to see what they do with this on stage. I definitely like this more now than I did when I first heard it. Have to say, she did well in all that wind, especially when her hair smacked her in the face.
4. Azerbaijan – Truth by Chingiz
On first listen: I’ve liked a lot of Azerbaijan’s songs in the past, so I always look forward to what they bring. I like the beat of this song. It builds to a change that kicks in at just the right moment, and the chorus is easy to sing along to. It brings more of the same after this point, but I like it enough to listen to it again.
During the video: He looks like he’s rocked up to the gay club a bit too early. If the array of other interesting people in the video turn up on the night it could be for a fun performance. I like it even more the second time around.
3. The Netherlands – Arcade by Duncan Laurence
On first listen: This is the last one I’m listening to, I might have a bit of fatigue. It’s a slow start. Oh, good, it’s another solo male ballad. He’s got a nice quality to his voice though, I think he can sing better than some of the others. This is quite nice actually, and might be the best of the ballads. There’s a nice lively chorus that doesn’t break from the rest of the song.
During the video: He appears to be naked in a lake. We even get to see a bit of bum. Why did I wait 40 songs before watching this one? Winner. In all seriousness, it’s probably not, I think it will suffer from wherever it’s placed in the order, depending on how many of the other male ballads go through. They might all merge into one. This is the best of them, though.
2. Czech Republic – Friend of a Friend by Lake Malawi
On first listen: Straight into the vocals, which is a shame, as I don’t think I like them. Oh, hang on, have I heard this before? He’s got a cockney talking bit, and then the vocals get better. It’s a little bit catchy and the cockney bit is memorable at least. It makes you pay attention.
During the video: This guy has small ears. But he’s cute and I like the instagram-like video. This could be a hit. Some of the vocals bother me, but I think I like it because of that. It’s only problem is it’s not a serious song, that’s fine (look at Toy), but it might not be silly enough for Eurovision.
1. Belgium –Wake Up by Eliot
On first listen: At the beginning it sounds like the opening credits for something, but then the singing starts and it doesn’t anymore. I’m enjoying the way it’s building to something. I think I like this song, it sounds a bit like something Justin Bieber or one fifth of One Direction might sing. Bit anticlimactic though.
He’s cute. He looks like he could be one fifth of One Direction. I actually think on second listen this might be one of my favourites.
So, agree? Disagree? I’ve probably cursed half the field now and Serbia will end up winning!
I’ve been a bit remiss lately with writing my book reviews – but I feel I have a good excuse.
As well as being busy doing edits on my own novel, I sort of accidentally launched my own business in March.
CAUTION: SALES PLUG
For those of you not aware Bert’s Books is an online bookshop that specialises in subscription bundles.
/END SALES PLUG
Fortunately, this new business means that I’m getting to read more than I ever did before. Some might say that that’s the reason I launched it. To them, I say – “Excuse me, move out of my light, I’m trying to read.”
So, I’m going to try and make up for the books that I haven’t blogged about yet, by writing them now. This might mean you get a few blogs hitting you over the next few days – but that’s the way it will be from now on, since I’ll be reading 3 or 4 books a week.
It’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it.
First up – and in no particular order is Hold by Michael Donkor
What’s it about?
Belinda is seventeen years old and a housemaid in Ghana to a couple she knows as Aunty and Uncle, she works alongside Mary, a much younger girl and the two of them become surrogate sisters.
But then Uncle and Aunty send Belinda away, to London with Nana and Doctor. There, she is to be treated as a member of the family, to be educated, and they hope to tame their wild-child daughter Amma.
What’s it like?
Most of the book is told from Belinda’s point of view, which with her Ghanaian sensibilities and idioms – at first proving distracting to me. There is a glossary at the beginning of the book with some Ghanaian words and their English.
I tried not to use it, I don’t like books where you have to keep flipping back to check something, be it a map, a family tree or a glossary, I think it takes you out of the action, and really the book should be well written enough to not need it.
I’m not saying don’t put the Ghanaian words in, but using them in the right context at the right time and the reader will pick up what it means. Fortunately, Donkor achieves this and I didn’t have to use the glossary, bar one time towards the end of the book.
It’s not until you get to Amma’s point of view chapters that you realise how well written Belinda’s are. They have two distinct voices, I can see and hear them, almost feel them in my head.
What’s the best bit?
The bit that will come to mind when I think of this book in the future is Belinda’s trip from the airport to her new home in London.
It’s a switching of positions for the reader and Belinda. We’re (probably) unfamiliar with her home in Ghana, but her commentary as Donkor takes the reader into the familiar streets and sights of London is both wry and spot-on. A real insight into how a stranger to this country must feel.
Bridie Devine is the finest female detective of her age – at least that’s what the blurb on the dust jacket of Things in Jars says. However, when we meet her, she’s trying to get over the failure of her previous case, so perhaps she’s not that great after all.
We never find out the full details, but we know it went wrong, and we know it’s left Bridie facing her next case with an increased determination to solve it.
However, the next case might be harder than she thinks – it involves the disappearance of a mysterious child with rumoured special abilities.
The special abilities are supernatural in nature and are presented as fact by the Victorian characters. They might be a bit hard for the reader to accept, but for the fact that we’ve already had to accept that Bridie is followed wherever she goes by the near-naked ghost of an Irish boxer – Ruby Doyle.
Kidd’s writing presents these quirks of nature through the eyes of Bridie in such an accepting way that we simply just move on without even blinking.
I’m not a massive fan of historical fiction, but Kidd’s writing is so evocative you can almost feel the smog of Victorian London circling around you as you’re reading, it throws you into the setting and it leaves you there, letting the story unfold around you.
A great read – I’m giving it 4 stars out of 5
You can get yourself a signed copy of Things in Jars by subscribing to the Literary Hardback bundle on bertsbooks.co.uk by Sunday 31st March or you can get 10% off any full price title – including Things in Jars – by using the code RAMBLING at the checkout.
Things in Jars is published in Hardback by Canongate on 4th April 2019
Over the past few years biographies have been spoiled by the sensationalised, heightened realities of superstar celebrities and politicians, all the scandals being laid bear on the pages of tabloids and news websites.
This has result in the whole genre feeling a little bit cheapened, but we’ve started to see a revolution against these cynical money-grabs (I mean, all books are a money grab of some kind, else they’d be given away for free, but some of them were blatant, written with no love).
First there was Robert Webb and Sara Pascoe who used their own stories to create extended essays on gender identity (I still think a lot about both of those books) and then we had Adam Kay’s memoir-with-a-message This Is Going To Hurt – a look at what it means to be a modern day junior doctor.
All three of these books were powerful insights, not just into their subjects, but also into the overriding issue. What I’ve missed – the bit about biographies I’ve always liked – is the ability to identify with a person’s life and understand a bit more about who and what they are.
The three books mentioned above (which are just three of many examples I could have used) are brilliant books, but they’re all carefully edited and constructed to support their overall message. I’m not saying it didn’t all happen, I’m saying I don’t feel like I necessarily saw all that happened.
Not so with Sara Cox’s Till the Cows Come Home.
I love Sara Cox. I listen to her radio show and I’m slightly in love with her irreverent humour. You know when a straight man is slightly obsessed with another man, it’s called a man-crush… what’s the opposite of that for a gay man being slightly obsessed with a straight woman? Possibly just a crush.
Anyway, I’m slightly pre-disposed to love her book – but I went into it with the aim of being objective – and objectively speaking, this is a lovely heart-warming memoir. No trashy scandals, no message, just the story of the first twenty (or so) years of Cox’s life
From her early days growing up on a farm, to the accidental loss of the ‘h’ from the end of her name this covers all the parts of life that we all experience that we can all identify with, all told with Cox’s trademark warmth.
To be completely frank, it feels a little more restrained than the DJ is when she’s live on the radio and as such, loses the sound of her voice a little. This is probably to be expected, but I wonder if she was writing about something other than her family, her own history, whether her voice, her humour would shine through more.
Perhaps a fiction book might be coming in the future? For now, though, back to this book and it was a really nice exploration of Cox’s formative years. It doesn’t go into any huge detail about her party years as a nineties IT Girl – partly because Cox says she doesn’t really remember a lot of it – so anyone interested in that side of things might be disappointed.
But anyone who’s a fan of Sara Cox won’t be and this makes a lovely read. If you’re not a fan there’s still just enough here to keep you interested. I particularly enjoyed the stories of times she spent with her father, it’s clear she has a lot of love for him – as well as the rest of her family
Till the Cows Come Home is available now from Coronet
The chances are – if you’re on Twitter – then you’ve stumbled across Brian Bilston and his poetry on at least one occasion. Often dubbed the unofficial poet laureate of twitter, it is perhaps unsurprising that he found himself offered a book deal.
Diary of a Somebodystarts out promisingly enough with diary entries each headed with a short poem. It’s not a gimmick though, the fictional Brian Bilston is an aspiring poet and is planning to spend his year writing a poem a day.
The diary entries are split into two – poetry and prose. However, like all good resolutions, Brian starts to falter, finding lack of inspiration or lack of time.
Brian’s year goes as well as his poetry, his ex-wife is moving on, he’s fast losing interest in his job and his rival’s poetry career is going from strength to strength. Even his twitter followers have stalled at a measly forty.
Things start to look up a little when a new woman – Liz – joins their poetry group and Brian starts to develop a crush, which appears to be reciprocated.
I was excited for this book when I first got it – I’d seen some of Bilston’s poetry online and I’d enjoyed it, plus any differentiation from the normal structure of a novel is like catnip to me.
Did it work? I’m going to go with yes, but I struggled a bit. The story was good, but the pacing was slow – and the poems slowed it down somewhat.
The blurb of the book teased a potential murder, but when that doesn’t happen until somewhere near the end of August in a diary that starts in January, it does feel like you’re spending a lot of time waiting for the plot to start.
Perhaps that’s an issue with the marketing of the book, perhaps the ‘murder’ shouldn’t be mentioned at all, but I think without that mention, I’d be wondering where it was going.
The plot sort of meanders along, a bit like in EastEnders when something dramatic happens in June, and then they have the characters tread water until they can do a big Christmas Day reveal.
Looking back on it now, as I write this review, I realise that’s my biggest problem with it, the plot being stretched out over the course of a year. It could have all taken place in the space of a few months and rattled along nicely.
The poems however were great, they fed the theme of each chapter, and although they didn’t necessarily advance the plot, they were quite amusing at times.
In summary, a nice idea for the structure, but it doesn’t quite work for me. It’s funny, though, and dark in places if you like that sort of thing (I do) – and the diary entry structure does at least make it a nice to book to dip in and out of.
You can quickly read an entry or two while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, so would be perfect for people who don’t have a lot of time to read.
Diary of a Somebody will be published by Picador in June
I’d seen a lot of good things about The Six Loves of Billy Binns but I wasn’t entirely sure what it was about – it just felt like it was going to be one of those books that I’d enjoy.
Luckily for you, I’m going to give you a little summary of what it’s about so you can decide for yourselves if you’ll enjoy it (you will).
Billy Binns is 117 years old, he’s the oldest man in Europe and the longest-serving resident of his care home, having been there for over thirty years.
He’s your typical, sweet old man, but – as you’d imagine for someone approaching his thirteenth decade – he’s pretty frail and his memory is failing him.
He decides to write down his own potted history, exploring the relationships he experienced in his life so that he can share them with his son Archie, the next time he comes to visit.
The book flips back and forth between Billy as an old man and Billy’s younger life – a method that works well to put you in Billy’s fragmented memories. He starts off as young a boy, innocent but curious and then begins to grow up into a man who makes mistakes – some quite big ones, some perhaps unforgivable.
In a way, the book makes me think of a cross between Joanna Cannon’s Three Things About Elsie and Anne Griffin’s recent When All is Said.Both concern older people approaching the end of their lives, reflecting on their past.
The difference between them is I a hundred per cent believe their account of things, even Cannon’s Florence who is suffering from dementia… but there’s something about Billy where even at the end of the book, I’m not sure we completely know the truth.
That’s because we see everything from his point of view, we don’t see anybody else’s version of events and there’s enough vagueness in Billy’s to make you realise it’s only an interpretation not necessarily an accurate count.
What this novel does succeed in doing is making the reader think about the nature of aging and how easily their interpretation can be dismissed. There is one thing about his past that is contradicted by a staff-member at the care home and from then on, I immediately began to doubt everything he was telling me.
The lasting thought though is how he has spent thirty plus years in a care home. We all like to think that when our time comes, if we have to spend any of it in a home, that it will be brief, but to spend a third of your life in one is a scary thought.
Sometimes the only thing scarier than dying is living forever.
The Six Loves of Billy Binns is available now from Tinder Press
I finished this book a little while ago and it’s been hanging around the edges of my mind ever since. Maybe, partly because Jacob Rees-Mogg was waxing lyrical about the Boer War the other day on Question Time
You Will Be Safe Hereby Damian Barr is a novel set in South Africa. It starts – after a brief prologue – at the turn of the twentieth century following Sarah van der Waat’s diary entries from her time in a concentration camp.
While very well written, it seems to bear little relation to the character of Willem, a young boy who appears in the prologue based in 2010.
As part one gives way to part two, we jumped forward to 1976, and we meet a new character, a young woman named Rayna. Again, very well written, very engaging, but her story of her family life and her marriage has seemingly no connection with Willem.
I was enjoying it, but there was a niggling voice at the back of my head that was asking ‘where is this going?’ – which actually made the read more enjoyable.
I read hundreds of books and with most of them I have a fair idea of where it is going, I’m pretty good at spotting twists, but this is unlike anything I’ve read in a long time.
And that’s because this isn’t a book about Willem, or Sarah or Rayna. This is a book about war and nationalism.
The effects of the Boer War – fondly looked back on by the likes of Rees-Mogg as the last gentleman’s war – had and continue to have a lasting impact on South Africa.
There’s a quote on the back of the copy I read from Diana Athill that says‘You come out of reading it a different person from when you went in’, while another, from Alex Preston reads ‘A book that will change the way you see the world’.
I highlight these two particular quotes because they manage to sum up exactly how I feel, in perhaps a more eloquent way than I ever could. I knew nothing about the Boer war – apart from Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army who claimed that ‘they do not like it up ‘em, sir’.
I didn’t know a huge amount about South Africa. I didn’t realise it was the British who basically invented concentration camps – perhaps not the gas chambers of Hitler’s war – but the British army was responsible for a huge amount of deaths in that country.
I’m angry that I didn’t know about this. It’s because history is written by the victors and the Empire as it was saw it a great victory. It’s not, it’s a shameful period of our country’s history and should be recognised as such. It should be taught in schools, alongside both World Wars. We should grow up knowing that we’re not always the heroes.
I did know that. Of course I knew that. But this is perhaps the first time I truly know what that means.
One last word before I go, and it’s another quote from the back cover – this time, from Patrick Gale: ‘Astonishing’.
You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr will by published by Bloomsbury on the 4thApril.
A couple of years ago when Graham Norton published his first novel HoldingI rushed out to read it. Norton is one of my favourite broadcasters and never fails to make me laugh, but if I was expecting one of his famous opening monologues in book form, I was disappointed.
Norton managed to do what so few celebrities do, he created such a strong voice for his characters that it instantly took the celebrity shine off the book – to leave you in no doubt, that’s a good thing.
My verdict at the time – this man can write, but there was something missing. Something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. As debut novels went, it was a very solid start, but it was his next book I would be keenly watching.
That (difficult?) second novel came out a few months ago, and while I didn’t quite rush as quickly as I did the first time, I kept my eyes keenly on a copy, ready to insert into my reading schedule.
A Keeper is about Elizabeth Keane who travels from New York to her childhood home in Ireland in order to pack up her mother’s house after her death. While there she must face an estranged family and confront secrets her mother had kept hidden for years.
Once again Norton manages to avoid writing what most would expect of him (when are we going to get a super-camp love story?) – but hidden letters and family secrets are like catnip to me, so I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.
The pace has picked up since his first novel, but the writing is just as good, with a plot that just begs you to keep reading and do it quickly, please.
Loved this! When book three comes out, it will go straight to the top of my to-read list!