Only Here, Only Now, Tom Newlands, Phoenix, £18.99, published June 13

A new voice. That’s the most exciting thing in fiction. When someone you’ve not heard of before announces him or herself with their first book. Think Shuggie Bain. Think Trainspotting. Think The Cutting Room. 

You can now add Tom Newlands to that list. Only Here, Only Now is the Scottish writer’s debut novel and it’s a brammer. Set - mostly - in Fife, it is a coming-of-age story of a working-class girl called Cora who lives with her wheelchair-bound mum and a revolving retinue of feckless men. It’s a vivid, synesthetic piece of writing. Reading it you can smell the fast food and cheap perfume.  

But what’s thrilling is that the book goes in the directions you are not expecting. And at its heart there is the unmistakable voice of this flawed, messy, anxious, kind of heroic teenage girl. The Scottish book of the summer.

The Herald:



Hip-Hop is History, Questlove, White Rabbit, £25, June 11

Searching for Dexys Midnight Runners, Nige Tassell, Nine Eight Books, £22, June 6

Two very different music books, both hugely readable. In Hip-Hop is History, Grammy-winning musician and film-maker Questlove offers up an encyclopaedic and idiosyncratic personal history of rap music now that it is more than 50 years old. Funny, and opinionated, the Roots’ co-founder doesn’t shy away from the tougher questions around hip-hop’s misogyny and endorsement of gun culture (and the deaths that resulted), but he’s also great at catching the sonic thrill and originality of the music. Nearly every page will have you jumping onto YouTube just to listen to the tunes he’s talking about.

Meanwhile, closer to home, Nige Tassell has traced nearly every ex-member of Dexys Midnight Runners to talk to them about life before, during and after the band. The result is a fine primer on why Dexys were (are) so special, but also a rather sweet portrait of the British music scene over the last 40 or so years. You’ll discover who played the violin solo on The Proclaimers’ Sunshine on Leith, who went on to work with Ice Cube and Aretha Franklin and which member of Dexys would end up being the head of Island Records. All musical life is here. The result is funny, sometimes sad and lovingly humane.

The Herald:



Comics 1964-2024, various authors, Thames & Hudson, £40, June 6

Published to coincide with a major exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, this sumptuous illustrated survey of comics over the last 60 years unapologetically takes the position that it is dealing with an art form. Looking at the work of cartoonists from Europe, Japan and America, it takes in the rise of the countercultural comics of the 1960s, Japanese horror comics of the 1970s and 1980s and the autobiographical work and comic book journalism of Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco and Majrane Satrapi. 

Given that it’s trying to take the temperature of six decades of cartooning it invariably takes a broad brush approach. One could argue with some of the inclusions and there are certainly some notable omissions. (With the exception of Posy Simmonds, the UK doesn’t show up much.)

But, along with an embrace of the familiar (Asterix, Calvin and Hobbes and Barbarella all make an appearance), the book’s internationalist scope means there is plenty here that will be fresh to even the most ardent comic fan. The result is the best kind of coffee table book. One you won’t want to put back down no matter how fancy the coffee table.



Deliver Me, Elle Nash, Verve Books, £9.99, June 27

Out at the end of June this is very, very much not for the squeamish. The British-American author Elle Nash - now based in Glasgow - takes no prisoners in this visceral slice of body horror that mixes up pregnancy, poverty and Pentecostalism. It’s a hot mess of a novel coolly rendered. Which just makes the horror of it cut even deeper. NB, not for anyone even slightly entomophobic.

The Herald:



The Eagle in the Mirror, Jesse Fink, Black & White Publishing, £9.99, June 6

“Like a lot of people whose lives come to sticky or ignominious ends, Dick Ellis’s time on Earth was ruined by the butterfly effect. All it took was the bodies of two Russian secret agents to be discovered - one machine-gunned to death at point-blank range and dumped on a lonely road in Lausanne, Switzerland, the other a supposed suicide by self-inflicted gunshot in a Washington DC hotel room - for his reputation to begin to unravel completely.”

So begins Jesse Fink’s biography of MI6 spy and alleged traitor Dick Ellis. Fink weighs up the evidence in this account of post-war spycraft.



Voices of the Dead, Ambrose Parry, Canongate, £9.99, June 6

Chris Brookmyre returns in July with The Cracked Mirror, a new high-concept thriller that fuses Agatha Christie country village thrills with hardboiled LA urban crime. But while you’re waiting for that you could do worse than pick up the latest in the Raven and Fisher series he writes with his wife Marisa Haetzman under the pseudonym Ambrose Parry. Now coming out in paperback, Voices of the Dead combines mesmerism and body parts in 19th-century Edinburgh. This is the capital at its grimiest, determined to hold onto its secrets despite Raven and Fisher’s best efforts.

The Herald:



Murder Ballad, Lucy Ribchester, Black & White Publishing, £16.99, June 20

And whilst we are getting our hands (and minds) dirty in Edinburgh’s hidden past … Lucy Ribchester’s latest historical novel takes us back to 1791 and the city’s theatres. A story that encompasses opera, puritanism and the Old Tolbooth gallows, Murder Ballad tells of Isobel Duguid, who sells oranges and sings old Scottish songs that, Isobel knows, may have more than an ounce of truth to them.


The Burial Plot, Elizabeth Macneal, Picador, £18.99, June 6

Another shout for Elizabeth Macneal’s new novel The Burial Plot (as already mentioned by Rosemary Goring in these pages). The Scottish-born writer, whose previous novel The Doll Factory, is now a major TV series, returns to Victorian London in this Gothic thriller which is both immersive and compelling. Its shivery spell might best be enjoyed on a sunny day.



O Brother, John Niven, Canongate, £10.99, June 6

The Herald: Author John Niven

John Niven’s latest book, now coming out in paperback, is a memoir of its author and the author’s brother Gary who, at the age of 42, tried to take his own life and died a few days later. It is a painful, wounded book at grief and loss and yet it’s also thrillingly alive in the telling, full of hard-won grace and good humour. It may be the best thing Niven has ever written and that’s saying something.