This Little Bag of Dreams

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?

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The Man Who Loved Islands by David F. Ross – Blog Tour

‘Come on, man,’ says Bobby.  ‘Let’s fuckin’ go for it.’

‘How dae ye know this is whit he would’ve wanted?’ says Joseph. 

Max gets up and walks through into the main house, leaving the two other men on the stage. Darkness is descending outside, but not in Bobby Cassidy’s heart.

‘The words…his story, it’s aw there, man.  It wis you that showed me them!’

‘But they last sentences…the ones about killin’ somebody.  That doesn’t indicate happiness.’

‘The Man Who Loved Islands…it’s right there in the title.  He’s the man.  It’s him!  We’ve got tae dae it there!’ says Bobby.


I’ve always loved the parts of novels when you discover why they have that particular title: there’s something so satisfying about that mental click, that last piece of the jigsaw slotting into place.  I experienced a similar feeling when I finished the novel itself – The Man Who Loved Islands, that is – largely because it is the last in David F. Ross’s Disco Days Trilogy, which began, fittingly enough, with The Last Days of the Disco, which I reviewed here, and continued with The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas, which I also reviewed here.

When I started the Disco Days trilogy, I struggled with the Scots dialect, to be honest (which is basically why I’ve never read Trainspotting – sorry, Irvine).  I remember having a similar issue with the second novel, but for some reason, I had no problem with the dialogue in The Man Who Loved Islands (TMWLI).  I don’t know if that’s because I had got used to the Scots by this final novel, was familiar with the characters’ ways of speaking or Ross’s writing had reached peak excellence by TMWLI.  Perhaps it was a combination of all three. Anyway, dear reader, if you know what ‘ken’ means, you’re sorted (clue: the answer is in this sentence).

For those unfamiliar with the trilogy, or wanting to read the book independently, let me give you a bit of background.  Bobby Cassidy and Hamish May have spent 25 or so years living it up in Ibiza; Bobby as a DJ, and ‘Hammy’ as his ‘PA’.  However, Bobby is now bloated, out of work and basically an alcoholic, Hammy is in a wheelchair and they spend their days fighting.  Meanwhile, Joey Miller, Bobby’s lifelong best buddy, is in China writing and trying to escape his albatross of an architecture practice.  Bobby misses Joey, Joey misses Bobby, but both men are too stubborn to do anything about it.  It takes a woman on the run, Bobby’s dead brother, Gary, and a crazy idea to reunite them.

Like the trilogy’s previous books, TMWLI flits back and forth between decades – the 80s, 90s and ’00s, in this instance – and characters.  We have Bobby Cassidy, Lizzie King and Hamish ‘Hammy’ May in various parts of Spain, Joey Miller in China and then everyone reunited back in Kilmarnock at the end of the novel.  What I loved so much about TMWLI was Ross’s ability to marry absurdity and tragedy: to have middle-aged men’s ridiculous antics be such great bedfellows with deep human emotion is not an easy achievement, but achieve it he does.  Witness the two main male friendships in the novel, Bobby and Hammy, and Bobby and Joey.  Both sets of men fight frequently, sometimes over small things, sometimes over massive things, but they remain fiercely loyal throughout the book, and indeed their lives.  TMWLI is essentially a love letter to Gary, and as such, the novel culminates in an event dedicated to his memory.  But don’t get out your hankies yet, folks: Max Mojo is here to do some truly embarrassing television interviews, and ol’ dark horse Hammy has a Spanish mistress with some pretty inventive sex games up her sleeve……

Many thanks to Anne Cater for organising this blog tour and Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the review copy.

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller


Fittingly, for a book about trying to better oneself by reading more great books, The Year of Reading Dangerously started as a reading marathon, rather than a sprint. I approached the book, given my busy lifestyle, determined to read fifty pages a day. But reader, I failed. I read far more. Congratulations, Mr Miller – you have written a highly entertaining book.

The premise for The Year of Reading Dangerously is two-fold: Miller not only constructs The List of Betterment in order to improve his reading, but in this quest for reading betterment, he discovers that he seeks to change his life for the better also.  As he tells us himself, the books on the List of Betterment ‘whispered the promise of escape from the 6.44 to London’.  What I liked the most  about TYoRD was the way it reminded me of the two huge untruths in my own life: 1) I’m too busy to read; and 2) I’ve read [insert name of classic book which any self-respecting English Lit grad ought to have read].

But it is as a fellow former bookseller, and the preferences which that vocation suggests, that Miller really speaks to me.  Many have the argument, and it is one I have used myself, that any reading is good reading, be it comic, magazine, ebook or hardback, on paper or on screen.  However, having worked for a certain chain bookstore which famously (some might say infamously) partnered with Amazon to sell the Kindle, whilst I can see the economics behind that decision, I cannot see the joy in it.  Miller’s argument, whilst it speaks of the potential loss of books’ ‘value’ in the same spirit as this one, differs somewhat from my own: I am not convinced that selling books in supermarkets is intrinsically bad (perhaps he does not think that either.  One to discuss on Twitter?).  Plus, I am certain that as an author, he would rather his books were read in any form, whereas I, a humble reader, fail entirely to see the appeal of ereaders.

But I digress.  What else do I love about this book?  Well, I’ve just read the beginning, and the similarity to my own life is frightening (the 5am wake up courtesy of Miller’s three year old son is shockingly familiar, although admittedly, in my four year old, this foul behaviour is gradually being displaced by general rudeness and a total lack of road awareness.  Kids don’t improve, they just exchange bad behaviour for different  bad behaviour.)  And the tiredness……if anyone can tell me how to stop feeling tired all the time, please feel free to do so.  FYI broody people – parenthood is hugely rewarding, but also constant.  There is no let up.  Do not pass go, do not collect £200, go straight to being asked ‘Why?’ ad infinitum and attempting to stop your son from talking to strangers about poo.  I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten should be my mantra.

What, then, of the books themselves?  There is much on here which is unsurprising, but that is not to say that Miller has not made some good choices.  I am transported back to the wooden, inkwell-sporting desks of my education when I read about Pride and Prejudice, and Lord of the Flies, to the 60s campus of Warwick Uni when I read about Anna Karenina and The Odyssey.  On a low note, Absolute Beginners reminds me of the idiot ex with the vitamin D deficiency, and Krautrocksampler, Germanist that I am, is not a book I’m eager to read (sorry, Andy).  But there is much to celebrate in these choices: The Sea, The Sea was the first Iris Murdoch I read, and Miller has encouraged me to reread it, purely to rediscover just how hilarious it is.  And why no one has published The Charles Arrowby Cookbook is beyond my understanding.

So go forth, read TYoRD and create your own List of Betterment.  I leave you, or rather Mr Miller, with some advice: read White Teeth now and don’t bother with The Woman in White (dull as Coventry).

The List – Joanna Bolouri

Hilarious review! Def putting The List on my TBR pile.

Having Read The Book


This is SO far and away NOT a book I would usually have picked up: there is pink swirly writing and a cartoon woman winking on the cover. But Bolouri is hella funny on twitter, so I thought, what the hell! I CAN read a book with pink swirly writing and a cartoon woman winking on the cover. So I paid my electronic money and downloaded it.

Ever since I discovered Adrian Mole I have been a sucker for calendar based writing, so once I saw “Saturday January 1st” introducing the first page, I was in.

Phoebe Henderson is a woman scorned, still reeling from discovering her ex in bed with another women she is seeing in a new year in a mess. Stuck in a job she hates, with no new relationship, and nothing else on the horizon to keep her chin up (other than being totally happy for…

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Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly


Are you living in the moment?

Me neither. I’m trying to. Really, I am. Periodically, throughout the day, I stop what I’m doing and say to myself, This is it. This moment is all you have. Enjoy it. Feel it. Embrace the Now.

You know the drill: house, work, 2.4 children. Barely enough time to eat, let alone romance your husband or practise mindfulness. So when your daughter’s teacher phones to tell you she’s in A & E, you don’t think twice about making the trip to France alone. After all, there is your other daughter to look after, the hotel to run, your mother in law to entertain. And look, here is your friend from university, ready to step in and take your place in your absence. Hold the fort, I mean. Of course I mean hold the fort.

For, barely two weeks later, the overworked and undersexed Natty returns from France, with her seriously ill daughter, to find that her husband Sean has shacked up with her so-called friend, Eve, who is evidently oversexed. So much for the sisterhood.

Soon, however, we realise that Eve is not the superwoman, domestic/sex goddess she purports to be. Her crimes, despite the obvious sin of husband stealing, range from the casually cruel (trashing Natty’s make-up) to injuring herself, making it look like GBH, with Natty the perpetrator. Natty struggles to convince the police, and even her own family, just how psychotic Eve is. But then an anonymous note arrives, telling her that Eve has wrecked homes before. Is everyone else convinced by this evidence? And can Eve be stopped before it’s too late?

Daly writes as grippingly as she did in her début, Just What Kind of Mother Are You?. I especially enjoyed her further exploration of today’s harried mothers in the form of Natty, and thought that her characterisation of überbitch Eve was spot on.

What I love perhaps the most about Daly’s writing is that it is set firmly in the luscious landscapes of her home, the Lake District, contrary to the idea that all modern novels are set in North London. I do hope she continues in this fashion.

Zenith Hotel by Oscar Coop Phane


When I wake up, my teeth feel furry. There’s a foul taste in my mouth – a nasty sort of animal taste. Still, it’s better than at night, when I have the taste of other people and their filth.

Fans of Lou Reed and the Velvets will recognise the seedier side of life portrayed in Zenith Hotel. The novel is told from several viewpoints: we hear from a prostitute, Nanou, the highly sexed Robért, the psychotic ‘jailbird’ Dominic, the suicidal misanthrope, Victor, the moped-repairing, newly separated Luc and the heartbroken widow, Pio. Despite their differences, they are all connected by one thing : they sleep with Nanou.

What I loved the most about Zenith Hotel, despite its bleakness, was its absolute honesty and its refusal to bow to the reader’s demands. For example, Nanou only lets the reader so far into her rough existence, unwilling to discuss any of the seedier aspects:

I don’t intend to go into detail and tell you about my childhood, my love life and all my woes. I’m not going to tell you how I ended up like this – you’d get too much of a kick out of it. All you’re going to get is my day. If you were expecting me to talk about rape , being abandoned, HIV and heroin, you can fuck off, pervert.HIV

Zenith Hotel is refreshingly honest about how, in the most literal sense, we are absolutely alone as human beings, just as it is frank about our sexual fantasies. Emmanuel fantasises about other women when he sleeps with Estelle, when ironically, despite partaking in the closest human contact possible, Nanou maintains that we are alone even during sex:

Go on, try, get married, fuck old whores, have kids, read novels, you’ll always be alone.

Given this honesty, Zenith Hotel can be quite challenging to read at times, and some characters occasionally descend into a rant. But despite that, I found it a most engaging début .