In their day, Orange Juice passed me by; my knowledge comes from Robert Forster’s amazing memoir. “Badbea” is frontman Edwyn Collins’s ninth, and his first in a half decade or so. The front cover portrays him hamming it up with a walking stick and a couple of songs work that seam, but this release is no “gentle into the night” strum-along. The sound throughout has a swaggering fatness, every tune is constructed with skill, and Collins’s voice remains a baritone force, able to croon or punk-holler. Buttressed with simple yet poetic lyrics, every song has lodged in my head, replaying while working or jogging. Favorites – and they’re hard to choose – are literate earworm “It’s All About You,” driving “Outside,” and sweet “Beauty.” Grab this – Edwyn Collins is on fire.
The first three books in the post-apocalyptic sci-fi series of The Long Night, by Kevin Partner and Mike Kraus, won me over. The next two, “Reapers” and “Betrayed” continue the intelligent, pacy thrills and ideas. In the post-apocalyptic rubble of the United States, the various survivors we encountered in the first three volumes – Solly, his wife, and a small-town policewoman, plus other emerging characters – slowly move towards each other, every step of the way fraught. The stakes have been upped: civil wars erupt across the continent. And the shadowy Lee Corporation, at the heart of the catastrophe releases a new terrifying weapon in its quest for control. A heady brew and a most satisfying read.
A police procedural with tons of panache, a beguiling hero, and writing chops to spare, “The Dying Light” is the third Detective Inspector Jake Sawyer mystery set in the evocative Peak District. Kicking off at full speed, we find Sawyer under arrest as a result of seeking his mother’s killer in the previous series volume, and at the same time beset by the accelerating disappearance of local children. Surrounded by or butting heads against a range of exuberant, well-drawn ancillary characters, the action rockets along. It’s not easy for a mystery’s main character to stand out from the crowded field, but Jake Sawyer does so easily: laconic, relentless, fit, and driven by his demons, he is begging to be turned into a TV series. Crackling dialogue and elegant prose render the read a pleasure, and the plotting is snappy and startling. This is a welcome surprise and one of my favorite mystery reads so far in 2019.
A Canadian fitness trainer espousing “fitness feels good,” Oonagh Duncan has commandeered the “F*ck” title provocation in the service of her training philosophy, principles, and methods. And in keeping with such provocation, “Healthy as F*ck: The Habits You Need to Get Lean, Stay Healthy, and Kick Ass at Life” is saturated with plain-spoke language, including a heap of swearing. If that is a turn-off, so be it, but I’m here to tell you that she is a genuine force and treasure. In the panoply of How-To books, no area is potentially more lucrative than wellness and no area is harder to deliver the goods in. In my half century of exercising and fussing about diet, I’ve sampled many instructional books and only a handful have stuck with me and made a difference. “Healthy as F*ck” is one such. One of her key strengths is a take-no-prisoners attitude that adds the necessary intrinsic motivation to her core idea, namely that health and fitness are not a function of willpower but of habits. Duncan offers seven core habits, which I won’t spoil here other than to say they’re not quite what you might expect but are, in my humble opinion, a marvellous, well-rounded blueprint for modern life. She explores how to render those habits easier to achieve, how to recruit support, what bad thoughts (aka “bullshit”) get in the way, how to “half-ass” the habits (i.e. how to flex within something less than 100% adherence), and then finally, how to deal with the dreaded “fuckit,” that surrendering-in-the-moment impulse that can derail any dietary/exercise regime. None of this is completely new but as a whole, it sparkles, and reading this book challenges one to become healthier in all the right ways. Overall, an apt, cohesive lifesaver.
For his follow-up to the 2015 doco hit “That Sugar Film,” Damon Gameau tackles the most open, most challenging topic of all: climate change. “2040” is his unabashedly positive global search for technologies and solutions which he claims are readily available right now. Using a quirky lens of zooming forward to 2040, when his daughter will be 25, he travels the world to find positive messages, expound their virtues, and then cinematically imagine them into life in 2040. The big picture ideas he exhumes include electricity microgrids, driverless electric vehicles, soil regeneration, Raworth’s “doughnut economics,” seaweed permaculture, carbon sequestration, education/empowerment of women (to reduce population growth), and the use of energy dashboards. The movie is artfully constructed and none of the tech stuff drags. Gameau himself is an engaging tour guide and his cast of do-gooders and smart folks is terrific. Viewers can argue about the achievability of any or all of these ideas, but the overall vibe of the film – that plenty of positive possibilities can be harnessed – is infectious. We all know the Doctor Doom scenarios. What we need is motivation, and Gameau’s film is a cool blast of human hope.
A private eye series set in steamy, unforgettable New Orleans, featuring jaded, hard-drinking ex-policeman David Melancon and his inexperienced youngster partner, Felix Herbert, is always welcome, and “Roots of Misfortune,” the second instalment, rattles along from a funky start to a blood-soaked climax. Young girls are going missing and the reek of voodoo is in the air. The plotting is tight, if a touch predictable, and the evolving cast of characters works well. The occult flavor of the tale is atmospherically unfolded. Author Seth Pevey writes in a slightly self-conscious style that suits the story. All up, an enjoyable read.
For creatives and more so for those yearning to create, Austin Kleon is special. A visual artist whose niche of “blackout art” – newspaper/magazine pages blacked out except for nifty phrases or sentences – was a hit, Kleon nailed the essence of creative craft in “Steal Like an Artist,” nailed the need to get your stuff out there in “Show Your Work,” and now has “Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad” out for that same audience. It’s as good as the first two corkers. Ten beguiling chapters, presented in attractive textual or visual formats, help to maintain the commitment of both seasoned creators and aspirants. On top of standard advice like “every day is groundhog day,” consider motes such as “build a bliss station” and “slay the art monsters.” It’s standout brilliant and I’ll be buying copies to give away, just like I did with the other two.
Such a blast! The second half of “Black Earth Rising” accelerates and coheres and thunders to its climax. I loved the opening episode, enjoyed the next three (but felt the story drifted), and was most delighted to witness the pace pick up thereafter. The plot darkens and twists and the locale shifts from UK and France to include Rwanda itself. Abena Ayivor now shines as the Rwandan president and Lucian Msmati is wonderful as her offsider. The turbulent interplay between Kate Ashby and Michael Ennis is a special treat. And the shocks and epiphanies Kate experiences dovetail perfectly with the sinuous plot. A special series that explores issues of good and evil, even while it entertains.
Amanda Palmer has forged her own path since her Dresden Doll days and is now a unique firebrand performer and Patreon favorite with an independent cast of mind. “There Will Be No Intermission” is an impressive, cohesive crowdfunded work with 10 tracks, separated by 10 musical interludes. Sparsely instrumented, mostly with her piano or banjo, her expressive voice is often delicate, sometimes roaring. Highlights include the nine-minute candid “The Ride,” a passionate cry for solidarity; “Drowning in the Sound,” with its electronica beat and backing, railing against social media hate; and “Bigger on the Inside,” her voice cracking over a repetitive refrain as she covers insults, forbearance and her dead brother. Beauty resides on every truth-infused song.
Three seasons of a dark detective thriller is often one season too long, and after the brilliant first episode of Season 3 of “Cardinal” (which I rated as 9/10), I fretted that the next few episodes dissipated energy (8/10). Rest assured, for the final three grim but stunning episodes, I’m delighted to report, are top notch. Cardinal and Delorme finally begin to piece together the complex clues just as the killing crew, led by a deranged woman, begin to fall apart. The tension climbs to nigh unbearable levels. And even during this, an off-the-books, very personal investigation by Cardinal, inches towards resolution. As usual, we get spot-on acting, a tight script full of twists, and beautiful cinematography. The climax, followed by another climax, were fitting conclusions, and I can only hope for a further season. Another of this year’s viewing highlights.