Book Review – Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbo

Jo Nesbo is best known as the creator of Detective Harry Hole in a number of his novels, but the central character in Blood on Snow couldn’t be any further removed from Nesbo’s most famous creation. Olav is a fixer. He fixes people. Terminally. So he is an assassin for hire, down on his luck, removing the tiny obstacles from people’s lives. He has a code that he lives by, but it becomes increasingly complicated, when he falls for his boss’s wife, and his next job is to kill her.  As he tries to protect her, whilst going about his usual business, he realises that there is no easy way out of his dilemma, and if he doesn’t kill her himself, his own life will be put at risk, particularly if his boss finds about the relationship that is swiftly developing between the two. As we have come to expect from Nesbo, the book starts with a bang, and continues, through many action set-pieces, as Olav fixes a number of people throughout the book. We learn about his favourite ways of assassination, of his relationship with his family, of the life choices he made that led to his current occupation. This is an action packed read, with characterisation, and crime pushed to the forefront.

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Book Review – The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

The Cellist of Sarajevo is partly based on fact,everyday the cellist goes into the streets of sarojevo, and plays albinoni’s Adagio, to remind the people of Sarajevo that even though they are in danger, there is still some beauty in the world, he plays it for 22 days, at the same time, and at the same place to remember the 22 people who lost their lives.

The story has three main characters, who each relate to the story. There is Arrow, a talented shot, who is recruited to keep the snipers away. Her problems with being a hired killer add a lot to the story, then there is Kenan, who has to cross the city to get water everyday, and has to risk the snipers, and sudden death, and finally there is Dragan, who does not who out of his friends he can trust.

Arrow has to keep the Cellist alive, so she protects him from the snipers, but without him knowing about her, whilst the challenges of every day life are vividly drawn. Crossing the road is a constant danger for pedestrians, as the snipers wait for them to cross, whilst the country is in a state of turmoil, the Cellist continues to play, constantly kept alive by Arrow, but the book does not stay away from the realities of live either, and the ending of the novel is particularly moving.

Although the book is based on fact, a lot of liberties have also been taken, to add to the story of the Cellist (who escaped from Sarajevo,eventually, ending up in Dublin). The book is very well written, it is immediate, and touching, and shows the strength of the human spirit when faced with the adversity that wars bring.

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Book Review – A Kind Man by Susan Hill

Susan Hill is best known for her ghost stories, such as The Woman in Black, but A Kind Man contains the same  level of writing, and haunting pathos. Set in the past, Tommy Carr and his wife Eve have a very happy marriage, but the death of their young daughter changes things between them, and as guilt, and sadness become increasingly etched on Tommy’s face, it is obvious that he is not long for the world.

But it is at this point that Tommy’s luck changes, and he becomes well, and healthy again, but he has more than this, he also has healing powers. Soon, people are coming to him, seeking a cure, he angers the Doctor, and as his fame spreads, he spends more and more time away from Eve. He does not know where his gift has come from, but he feels that he has to use it to the best advantage.

Soon,though he is offered money to cure people, enough to set him up in a new home, and it is at this point that the story takes on even more tragedy, for the healing powers leave him, and soon he himself is ill, and no healing powers can save him.

At just over 200 pages, A Kind Man is an easy read, strong on characters, detail and pathos, as well as humanity. It blends well elements of Magic Realism and tragedy, the supernatural, and humanity, and if you are looking for a very written tale, then this could be the book for you.


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Book Review – All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer

Book Review – All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doeer

All The Light We Cannot see if a novel that is sold as a book about war, but it is a lot more than that. With three main protagonists, it looks at war, at people, at redemption and humanity in its widest sense.

Marie Louise Leblanc has been blind since she was six, and Werner Penning has been an orphan,working in the same mine that killed his father. The final character is an old man, finding a world through his radio. War is never far away, but so too is hope, Marie Louise and Werner find that they have a lot in common, even when he is killed in action, and she survives all that the war has to offer her.

Marie is a woman of invention, not letting the tragedy that she lived through get to her. She looks after a small house that her father has made for her. Even though the Germans would like it, it doesn’t fall into their hands.

At just over four hundred pages, there is a lot in All The Light We Cannot See, but it requires that level of writing to get the many points across to the reader. The book is one of the best written books that has been released lately, looking at a time in our history, that we would much rather forget about.

Ben Macnair


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CD Review – Bare Bones Boogie Band

CD Review – Bare Bones Boogie Band

Bare Bones Boogie Band 7 out of 10

The debut album from the Bare Bones Boogie Band finds the four piece on fine form, as they play through a set of largely original songs. The group, led by Joplinesqe singer Helen Turner is about a good time, the heavy beat and stratospheric blues lick, although they also have a softer side. The rhythm section of bassist Trev Turley and drummer Andy Jones keep things grounded, whilst the kossoff like guitar of Iain Black, who also wrote the vast majority of songs adds a new dimension.Songs such as ‘Baby, Baby be mine’ is a mid tempo rocker, whilst ‘Black Cat Strikes back’ hangs on a more jazz like ambience.’Full Tilt Boogie Man’ and ‘Sister Sunshine’ are chordal rockers. The Janis Joplin song ‘One good Man’ gives full vent to Helen Taylor’s vocal talents, whilst their cover of ‘I’d rather go blind’ shows the band in full ballad mode. From research, I gather this group is best in the live arena, and if the albums anything to go by, they will be well worth seeing live

Ben Macnair

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CD Appreciation – Live at the Regal by BB King

CD Appreciation – Live at the Regal by BB King

Live at the Regal is one of those rare CD’s which is well recorded, finds the performers on very good form, and an appreciative and vocal audience.

BB King’s shows are as much about entertainment as they are about the music, and the monologues between songs finds King in good form, and the musicianship is surprisingly well recorded for a concert that took place on November 21st 1964, when the world was experiencing Beatlemania and the fall out of the 1950’s, and the baby boomers were discovering blues for the first time.The call and answer guitar and vocal interplay that BB King was adept at had an influence over a number of musicians from the following generation, and unlike Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix who were experimenting with volume and thunderously loud guitar riffs, King’s guitar led from the front, but he never felt the need to establish his authority with loud or grandstanding playing.

The band is fully integrated, with the contributions of drummer Sonny Freeman, Pianist Duke Jethro and Bass Player Leo Lauche supporting BB King’s flights as a vocalist and guitarist, and the powerful interjections of the full time brass section of trumpeter Kenneth Sands and saxophonists Johnny Board and Bobby Forte.

The 10 tracks that are contained on the album give an over-view of King’s repertoire at the time, ranging from the upbeat swing jazz of ‘Everyday I have the Blues’ to his own blues classic ‘Sweet Little Angel’.

King has a credit in much of the music on the album, with readings of ‘Please Love me’ with its Elmore James sound a like introduction ‘You Upset me Baby’ and ‘You done lost your good thing now’ giving the ensemble good music to play.

John Lee Hooker’s ‘It’s my own fault’ is a slow blues, which gives full rein to BB King’s vocal prowess, in his armoury, a more important influence than his laidback guitar style which taught many later players the importance of economy, and the power of the cliché of less being more.

Jazz overtones interweave with the blues, giving the music a more sophisticated polish and shine, and the supporting players more of a challenging framework in which to play. Many of the tracks are segued from one to another, with all members able to follow shifts in key changes and tempo. The guitar solo that starts of ‘How Blues can you get’ is a text example of pure electric blues playing, with each note counting to create more than a series of notes. Here, the gaps that are left are just as important.

This album has proven to be influential, and shows one of the most important post-war blues musicians playing at his best in his natural habitat, whilst the audience roars their approval with each twist of string, and each artfully applied vocal tic and vibrato.

Whilst this electric blues, the importance of King’s predecessors can be heard, from the field-work holler of his voice, to the guitar style that borrows heavily from such players as T.Bone Walker and Charlie Christian, in applying more than the pentatonic scale to a blues solo.

Other live blues albums have come along, including some others from King himself, but the warmth of the performance, the quality of the performance of the band, and its leader, and the audience reaction means that this disc still has a lot to offer to anyone who cares to listen.

Ben Macnair

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CD Review – Ben Harper and the Relentless Seven – White Lies for Black Times

CD Review – Ben Harper and the Relentless Seven – White Lies for Black Times

Virgin Records – 6 out of 10Ben Harper’s newest release finds his trademark vocals and Weissenbourn Lap steel guitar playing with a new band – Relentless Seven, more than able replacements for the Innocent Criminals.The album starts with the dirty groove of ‘Number with no name’ and plys the same no-nonsense vocals and musicianship for the albums 11 tracks, which take in a number of genres.

‘Why must you always dress in Black?’ is a song that Robert Randolph could have recorded, whilst ‘Shimmer and Shine’ sounds similar to Lenny Kravitz, whilst a number of slower ballads tackle more serious issues.

Skin thin’ features 12 string baritone guitar, and an almost acoustic Pink Floyd type ambience at the beginning, and a typically American pop chorus. The album closer ‘Faithfully remain’ is a gentle ballad about love and time.

Keep it together (So I can fall apart)’ is a Wah Wah drenched song which at times threatens to become Led Zeppelin, whilst ‘Boots like these’ features a Bo Diddley beat under more modern production techniques.This is a good album, with much to please music fans, but it perhaps strays into too many different genres to properly work as a cohesive whole.

(Ben Macnair)

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