IN ASSOCIATION WITH
2017’s BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS
magazine for readers and reading groups
meets her biggest fan! What resolutions do authors have for 2017? WHAT’S YOUR BOOK OF THE YEAR?
ISSUE 91 WINTER 2016 £6
recommended readsthis issue … Our nb
ISSN 1742−3821 04 9 771742 382013
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VIEW HERE from
Why online only? Because they’re smaller quantities which means we need to manage stock but otherwise the deal is the same you can have them all – all we ask is you cover our p&p costs.
STOP PRESS: Coming soon – Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age and The Good Muslim
ast night was our Christmas meeting – a sumptuous American supper at Caroline’s fabulous house. The book was Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See - a personal favourite - with one member’s intransigence (yes, that’s you, Jean) creating the grit in the oyster that gave us a pearl of a discussion. And then we tried to decide on next year’s programme – all 12 of our books. And alcohol had been taken. As a designated driver I could convey with equanimity the sequence of events but to protect the innocent no names will be divulged (other than that Jean proceeded to give All the Light 8 out of 10, go figure!). Suffice to say this is a passionate bunch of lively minds (and one bloke) lobbying for faves or raking through their grey cells for what we’ve read recently. (Most of us now deploy small journals as aides memoire.) Anyway, in the cold light of next day’s emails with Jean I was able to articulate what it is about being in the group that makes it so important in my life (and I’m not talking professionally here). Perversely, it was the cart before horse way we approached matters that helped refine my thinking. Firstly, we can’t help going back to tried and tested
favourites - I did it myself throwing in Julian Barnes but the Tremain’s, McEwan’s, Toibin’s, Smiths various. You know them, the staples of the prize long lists which we all find our way to individually anyway. But what I particularly love about the group dynamic is when it broadens my horizons – implicitly one of the founding principles of the group – and I’m able to hear their opinions of a book that challenged me. We can do cut and thrust in our exchanges but there’s a safety net of care about reaching a consensus in our discussions. And if push comes to shove, then agreeing to disagree is an honourable outcome without any residual tension. Secondly we have a tendency to accept third party reviews as kosher at our peril. I heard it last night: ‘you just can’t trust reviews, can you’. A good message to take on board and the reason for another founding principle: to make it onto our list requires a personal recommendation, not just because Amazon or a broadsheet has given it a thumbs up. [NB: nb is exempt from this caution.] So it was heartening when the list of 2015’s books was read out there were several ‘new to us’ authors some of which I had personally recommended or enthusiastically seconded.
So there you have it: the rationale of being in a reading group. In the life span of this magazine reading groups have been exposed to the glare of the media spotlight and, it has to be said, publishers have courted them assiduously. But that circus has moved on to things digital: is there an app? How many hits? Site visitors? But all over the country this female equivalent of freemasonry continues. Groups – predominantly – of women gathering to share their reading and related issues in order to expand their understanding and appreciation of life in all its forms. You won’t find them outside the town halls lobbying for special treatment, petitioning parliament or their local MP – unless it’s to save a library. They will be meeting in coffee shops, pubs, restaurants and each other’s houses. Long may it continue.
NUDGE AND NB PUBLISHER
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newbooks FROM US TO YOU Features GUY PRINGLE
Publisher, nudge and newbooks ALASTAIR GILES
Managing Director, AMS Digital Publishing BERT WRIGHT
Nudge List Editor MELANIE MITCHELL
Publisher Relationship Manager DANIELLE BOWERS
Production Manager CATHERINE TURNER
Project Production Manager Community Voices
THE VIEW FROM HERE
WHAT WE'RE READING
THE ORIGINAL MORIARTY Erin Britton tracks down the "Napoleon of the criminal world".
12 300,000 BOOKS! Linda Hepworth recommends a visit to Bookends in Carlisle. 13 HAVE YOU HYGGE’D? Karen Weatherly investigates this new Scandinavian movement. 36 ‘SCRIPT Alastair Giles says it’s time for trophies!
PAUL CHENEY JADE CRADDOCK SHEILA A GRANT PHIL RAMAGE REG SEWARD MIKE STAFFORD
40 RESOLUTIONS FOR 2017? Jade Craddock asked a few of her favourite authors. 70 IRISH BOOK AWARDS 2016 Margaret Madden was there!
IN ASSOCIATION WITH
71 BEST BOOKS OF THE 21ST CENTURY Sheila A Grant surveys her shelves. 74 AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 BOOKS Jade’s reached ITALY!
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All raw materials used in the production of this magazine are harvested from sustainable managed forests. Every effort has been made to trace ownership of copyright material, but in a few cases this has proved impossible. Should any question arise about the use of any material, do please let us know.
10 QUIRKY Q&A Will Schwalbe makes some binary life choices. 20 ADVENTURES IN BOOKSELLING Peter Snell on seasonal trends. 29 A MONSTER CALLS BY PATRICK NESS – THE VERDICT Read On reading group on Royal Deeside agreed to read and discuss this book (and now ﬁlm) - Anna MacKay reports. 32 WHAT DOES YOUR LIVING ROOM BOOKSHELF SAY ABOUT YOU AS A PERSON? We asked a couple of our favourite bloggers that leading question. 33 SHORT BOOK AND SCRIBES - THE NEW BLOG ON THE BLOCK! nb reviewer Nicola Smith recently set up her own blog - we asked her how it went. 34 PHAEDRA PATRICK'S MY 5 FAVES Quirky links and coincidences prove fertile ground.
BOOK OF THE RECOMMENDED READS YEAR 2017
22 SIRENS BY JOSEPH KNOX He's going down, says the author of his own hero!
66 READING GROUP BOOK OF THE YEAR 68 COMMUNITY BOOKS OF THE YEAR
48 Extract: Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg 23 HOLD BACK THE STARS BY KATIE KHAN A daydream leads to an antigravity love story.
big interviews 14
24 THE WATCHER BY ROSS ARMSTRONG What's going on behind your neighbours windows?
Claire Fuller meets her biggest fan, our Mel Mitchell.
25 IMPRESSED BY IMPRESS nb Publisher, Guy Pringle shares his admiration for all concerned. 28 NEXT BIG THINGS? Mel's round up of new talent.
75 THE DIRECTORY e reviewers have their say. 76 THE COSTA SHORTLISTS 98 WHAT WE ARE THINKING Film and TV Tie-Ins by Gill Chedgey.
46 COMING OF AGE IN A CULT Mel Mitchell loved Foxlowe so who better to put our questions to Eleanor Wasserberg?
51 A LONG DISTANCE LOVE AFFAIR? Guy Pringle admires the courage and advocacy of Tahmima Anam 52 Extract: e Bones of Grace - Tahmima Anam 56 A TUMOUR CALLED GLIO Once again a YA novel addresses serious subjects Jade Craddock wanted to know more. 59 Extract: Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos
61 THE PORTRAYAL OF DISABILITY IN LITERATURE Emma Claire Sweeney had a good reason for writing Owl Song at Dawn and our reviewers loved the result. 63 Extract: Owl Song at Dawn - Emma Claire Sweeney
ISSUE 91 WINTER 2016
Having previously presented ourselves as film stars, animals and from our childhoods, this time our choices of ‘pop star’ give you a fair idea of our respective ages!
DANIELLE BOWERS The Outrun by Amy Liptrot Canongate
Papay (a small island where Amy spends a winter) on Rightmove while reading and I had never heard of a Corncrake (Amy spends some time tracking them) and I really want to visit Orkney as soon as I can.
We join Amy in Orkney, she has returned to her childhood home - Amy is an alcoholic and after her life became out of control in London and some time in rehab she arrives in Orkney and tries to come to terms with what has happened to her. Nature and working out her place in the natural world helps
What we are reading
language, or his truly authentic tone, but Ryan is very close to being the perfect storyteller in my eyes. This new novel set in the same Irish backwater, trips and tricks its way back and forth in time to showcase a redemptive and moving tale of a wife grieving for a broken marriage, a broken friendship and harbouring some dark thoughts. I’ve been lucky enough to meet Ryan in his native Ireland a few times. He has a wonderful Limerick accent and a hatful of sales and praise there. However, he has yet to break through here in the UK. Of the many scribes I’ve met, I truly believe Donal Ryan’s name will be remembered long after most others, so I don’t think it will be long before bestsellerdom beckons.
Amy to recover, although I am sure it is a battle that is ongoing. This is my favourite book I have read this year, it is beautiful and what I like most of all are the juxtapositions of Amy’s city life with the natural world around her in Orkney. Looking up at the sky, watching wildlife, swimming in the freezing sea, studying the history of the islands - you can feel Amy getting stronger with all these experiences. The book left me with a peaceful bright feeling and reminded me to make more time to look at the sky and the stars. I had to check houses on 6
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ALASTAIR GILES All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan Doubleday
I’m certainly no expert literary scout, but, having been around the publishing block for a few decades, when someone genuinely talented turns up, I sit up. Structurally, The Spinning Heart, his debut novel, stunned. All We Shall Know intrigues and captivates. It could be his beguiling use of
age tale, about a serious and intelligent young woman called Olive with a passion for books as she makes her way through university and into her first job. She discovers that she is not prepared to compromise where her heart is concerned but is a commitment to true love the path to happiness? This is a novel of longing and regret and is a stark reminder of how far we’ve come in terms of the choices we make and the control women have over their lives.
BERT WRIGHT His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet Contraband
When the 2016 Booker shortlist was announced I was amazed to discover a Scottish From the Heart novelist I’d never heard of. by Susan Hill Although I left Scotland three Chatto & decades ago I prided myself on Windus keeping up but Graeme Macrae Burnet had somehow eluded my radar. Dubbed a literary Susan Hill is one of those thriller, His Bloody Project, is so authors whose new novels much more than that because always spark my interest but it this story of a nineteenth wasn’t until From the Heart, due century Highland murder is in March 2017, that I felt wonderfully astute on Victorian intrigued enough to make space attitudes to poverty, the at the top of my tbr pile. I “savagism” of Highland life, on associate her with ghost stories criminal psychology, and the and crime but suspected from nature of good and evil. the title that this one might be a Ingeniously plotted and highly bit different. It’s a short and original, it would have made a deceptively simple coming of worthy Booker Prize winner.
GUY PRINGLE The Angels of Paul Klee by Boris Friedewald
An oddity from me, this time – I find Klee’s work endlessly fascinating and this tactile hardback pursues a small but important detail that regularly appears in his pictures. I am actually in search of the book which explains With Two Dromedaries and a Donkey, painted in 1919. I have a personal theory but have yet to find an art expert who concurs or even differs. Much has been written about his techniques, locations and associations but interpretations seem thin on the ground. In Foyles the other day they had nearly 10 different books on Klee (what a bookshop that still is!) and I browsed as much as I could but still felt adrift. I’ll not bore you with my theory but if you have your own do send it in and let’s see if we are kindred souls?
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THE ORIGINAL MORIARTY Erin Britton tracks down the "Napoleon of the criminal world".
hen Sherlock Holmes met his apparent death at the Reichenbach Falls, he did so with his hands around the throat of Professor James Moriarty, the greatest criminal strategist to ever stalk the streets of London. Due to the vast network of thieves, murderers and other ne’er-dowells at Moriarty’s command, as well as his almost preternatural ability to plot villainous deeds, Holmes referred to his nemesis as “the Napoleon of Crime”. However, while Moriarty is today recognised as one of the greatest villains to ever grace the pages of a book, the man who inspired the dastardly professor is far less well known.
Fredericka “Marm’ Mandelbaum
Adam Worth was born in Germany in 1848, although his family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, when he was five. He began his criminal career as a “bounty jumper”, joining up with various army regiments and then doing a runner/faking his own death after receiving the bounty for enlisting. After the end of the American Civil War, Worth moved to New York to continue his criminal career. He spent some time acting as the muscle for prominent fence Fredericka “Marm” Mandelbaum, before starting to plan and pull off his own heists. He went on to become the
most successful safecracker, jewel thief and bank robber in New York, eschewing violence the entire time, which is saying a lot in a city that was the setting for 53,000 violent crimes in 1865 alone. With the local notoriety came the attention of the Pinkerton Detective Agency and so Worth set sail for England in 1869. Adopting the identity of Henry J. Raymond, he settled in London and started to enjoy the champagne lifestyle of an English gentleman. That’s not to say he curtailed his criminal enterprises though, since Worth still found time to run his
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international network of robbers and forgers. Indeed, Worth was such a thorn in the side of law and order that Scotland Yard detective Robert Anderson (himself said to have inspired Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes) dubbed him “the Napoleon of the criminal world”. Worth issued all his orders through intermediaries so that very few of those involved in his schemes actually knew about him. The reason he was able to stay in “business” for so long was that his meticulous planning meant there was no evidence linking him to the crimes he masterminded. For instance, there was no evidence to link Worth to the theft of Gainsborough’s portrait of Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, which was stolen from a London art gallery in
Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire by Thomas Gainsborough
1876. Worth kept the portrait with him for 25 years, hiding it in the false bottom of his suitcase or sleeping with it under his mattress, until he sold it back to the gallery for an undisclosed sum. Oddly enough, the deal was brokered by William Pinkerton, who had spent much of his detective career pursuing Worth around the world.
Although his downfall was not as spectacular as his literary counterpart’s, not even Adam Worth could outrun the law forever. In 1892, Worth was arrested in Belgium during a botched robbery. He refused to confess to the crime or even to identify himself, but Belgian police circulated his photograph and details to other forces, and he was soon identified by detectives in London and New York. Despite the fact that Worth was known to treat his subordinates fairly and not be averse to busting them out of jail when the need arose, several of his former associates also gave evidence against him, proving once again that there is no honour among thieves. Worth was sentenced to seven
William A. Pinkerton
years imprisonment for the robbery. While Worth never scaled the heights of criminal enterprise again, his jail time did not quite set him on the straight and narrow either. After being released early for good behaviour, he decided to return to the United States and reunite with his children funding the trip by robbing a diamond exchange. The family then returned to London, where Worth lived out the remainder of his days in relative obscurity (or was that just a well-executed ruse?). Adam Worth died in 1902 and he was buried in a pauper’s grave in Highgate Cemetery.
ADAM WORTH 1844-1902
And on nudge Erin unearths the true story behind one of Arthur Conan Doyle's favourite Sherlock Holmes stories, The Red-Headed League.
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Quirky Q+A Will Schwalbe makes some binary life choices. That piece of advice cost me $200 (it’s America, after all, no National Health). But I had to admit the logic was pretty sound. So I stopped and all the symptoms went away. Now it’s tea. Gallons and gallons (litres and litres) of tea. TEA OR COFFEE? I’m exclusively a tea person. Here’s why: I used to drink gallons and gallons (which converts to litres and litres) of coffee. Two cups in the morning. One on the way to work. Mugs throughout the workday. Double espresso after lunch. Pick me up coffee in the afternoon. But after a while I noticed all sorts of disturbing minor medical problems, which always seemed to start right after I had my first morning cup, and which got worse with each successive cup throughout the day. Finally, the symptoms got so bad that I went to my doctor and told him all the things that went wrong with my body when I drank coffee. I asked him what I should do. He paused and then said, “Why don’t you stop drinking coffee?” 10
CITY FLAT OR RURAL HIDEWAY No question about this one: City Flat. Movies, museums, take-out food, a deli that is open twenty-four hours a day: all of these come with my city flat. In the country there is… what? Country. Also, the silence in the country is deafening. In the city, there’s a constant thrum that I find very reassuring: I need a little white noise to drown out the noises in my head. Plus, in the city there is all the culture I could ever want a stone’s throw away from
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my front door. This doesn’t mean I take advantage of all that culture – it’s more that it makes me feel wonderfully indolent and self-indulgent when I choose to ignore it all, order in some food, brew some tea, and spend the entire weekend in bed reading a great book. (I should mention that in the city there are also bookstores, lots of bookstores). When I’m in the country, I always feel like I should be doing something other than lying in bed reading, something like chores: chopping wood, weeding, repairing screen doors. That’s because you really need to do chores in the country or the whole thing soon falls apart.
STARTER OR DESSERT It’s all about the starter. This is where true deliciousness lies: oysters or foie gras or a little smoked salmon or deviled eggs or prawn cocktail. The most delicious foods on earth. When you begin your starter you have the whole meal ahead of you; it’s the optimistic phase of the evening. Everything is possible. The conversation could turn out to be sparkling. The wines might be delicious. You aren’t bloated when you start your starter: you’re hungry, so every bite is delicious. Not so with dessert. By the time that comes, someone has already spilled something. There has, perhaps, been an argument about religion or politics. You are probably too full but order one anyway. Or still ravenous, and then quite grumpy. If it’s been a long meal you might wonder if you are ever going to be allowed to go home.
ÉCLAIR OR SAUSAGE An éclair is just an éclair. Delicious, sure. And there can be slight variations. But it’s always still just an éclair. But a sausage can be duck or beef or blood or turkey. It can be smoky or spicy. It can be German or Moroccan
or Greek or Chinese. It can have fennel or cumin or hundreds of other spices. It can be firm or ooze blood. You can eat a sausage for breakfast, lunch, and/or dinner, and never get bored of them. In Berlin, there’s almost an entire floor of the famous Ka Da We department store devoted to sausages. You just couldn’t devote more than a counter to éclairs. Therefore, it’s sausages hands down. Oh, and in case anyone followed last year’s great American hotdog debate: A hotdog is not a sandwich, no matter what the people at the Merriam Webster Dictionary say. It’s a hot dog, a category to itself.
PLANE OR BOAT Again, it’s a question of indolence. On a plane I’m left alone to drink and read. No one ever asks me to do anything other than buckle up, stay in my seat when the seatbelt light is illuminated, pay some attention to the safety instruction, and store my luggage in the overhead rack or under the seat in front of me. Other than those simple rules, I’m left entirely on my own. In fact, my natural urge just to sit quietly and read is the behavior the flight crew encourages: congregating in the aisles is
discouraged and anything more vigorous than that is strictly against the rules. Not so on a boat, small or large. On a small boat, you are constantly being put to work: hoist this, stow that. On a really small boat, a sailboat, you are constantly being told to duck or risk getting whacked upside your head by the boom. And big boats are hazards too: on cruise ships they are always trying to get you to take part in some activity. They want you to run around and do things. In fact, they bully you into it. I suppose if I had a nice-sized yacht (with a crew and only a few guests) or a friend with a yacht then I might feel differently. I imagine on a yacht they let you read.
Books for Living by Will Schwalbe is published by Two Roads as a £16.99 hbk on 12th January.
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OUR INTREPID REPORTER
OUR INTREPID REPORTER
Have you Hygge’d?
Linda Hepworth recommends a visit to Bookends in Carlisle
Karen Weatherly investigates this new Scandinavian movement.
ny keen reader visiting Carlisle should be sure to seek out Bookcase, one of the country’s largest independent bookshops, selling antiquarian and modern second-hand books, as well as its sister shop, Bookends, located in the same building and selling a wide range of modern fiction and non-fiction. However, this advice comes with a warning: be sure to allow lots of time for your visit because this is a wonderfully labyrinthine emporium in which to become very satisfyingly lost! Fortunately, as there is now a café you will be able to restore your energy levels for more exploration. Situated on Castle Street, in the city’s cultural and historic centre, the shops occupy two elegant Georgian houses with Bookcase stock being located over four floors and between thirty rooms! The shop’s collection of books of Cumbrian and Scottish interest is unrivalled. In addition to the three hundred thousand plus books, the shop has one of the country’s largest selections of classical CDs, new and secondhand, as well as collections of jazz, folk, world music and nostalgia and four rooms 12
dedicated to sheet music. Attracting visitors and mailorder requests from customers all over the world, one man recently travelled from Eastbourne to buy CDs, before returning home later that same day! In November 2015 the family established Cakes and Ale, a café at the rear furnished in a comfortable and
Surviving when all too many independent booksellers have had to close, is down to the Matthews’ responding to changing circumstances - when the Net Book Agreement began to collapse in 1991, leading to chain-store bookshops discounts and paving the way for Amazon, this was one of the first independent bookshop to establish a website with a
eclectic vintage style; an ideal place to meet friends, or sit and relax including in the walled garden. Back in 1978 Steve Matthews taught full time, and his wife Gwenda ran a secondhand bookstall at the Saturday market in Whitehaven. A year later they opened Bookcase, and in 1984 bought their current premises. Bookends opened in 1987 but moved to Castle Street in May 2016, retaining its separate identity and stock. The Keswick branch (1991) runs the book stall for the Words by the Water Festival.
unique selling point - books on Cumbria and the Lake District. So, be sure to set aside plenty of time to browse and enjoy all that Cakes and Ale has to offer – as well as being spoilt for choice, you will be sure of a very friendly welcome from everyone you meet. It is a wonderful space in which to spend time.
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Bookends, 19 Castle Street, Carlisle CA3 8SY http://bookendscarlisle.tbpcontrol.co.uk
t last October’s Guildford Book Festival I was particularly intrigued by a session entitled “How to Hygge” which was being held in a local restaurant. One of my friends was keen to go and was looking for company so I volunteered although not very sure as to what I would hear. But they were serving cake and coffee so that had to be an incentive! For those of you who don’t know - hygge (pronounced hoo-gah) is a Nordic term that loosely means cosiness and conviviality but it’s not just about jolly thick woolly jumpers and candles everywhere! It’s actually all about a way of life and covers such elements as health, employment , home and design, outdoor activities and of course food and drink. In Scandanavia, a work/life balance is especially important and employees are expected to finish their working day at 4pm otherwise they can be considered inefficient and in Sweden in particular the workers in many companies are brought together regularly for a “coffee and cakes moment” known as a fika. This has been shown to be
must have and books are also a plus which I was pleased to hear. Food and drink are important as a way of bringing people together and the Nordic way is to live as part of a community, supporting each other in times of need. Indeed whilst we were sitting listening to the speaker we were served with coffee and the most delicious Nordic style cakes so in a way we had our own fika. Of course the long dark winters How to Hygge: The Secrets of Nordic are a way of life but this does Living by Signe Johansen is not stop them from pursuing published by Bluebird as a £14.99 outdoor activities such as skihbk and is available now. ing, skating and walking to name but a few. They celebrate midsummer of course but also of benefit to both the apparently tend to celebrate the business (happy employees are whole of December rather than more productive) and to social focus just on Christmas. bonding. It all seemed to make sense to In the home everything should me and I came away with a few look clean and light and design ideas of “how to hygge” in my should be simple. Grey is appar- own life. Signe Johansen has of ently a colour that is favoured in course written a book - How to decorating. The Nordic philos- Hygge - which having heard her ophy has an aversion to carpets speak I decided to buy. on the floor (thought to be unhygienic!) and the preference is for wooden, tile or stone flooring with the occasional rug. Plants and candles are a definite
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Claire Fuller Claire Fuller meets her biggest fan, our Mel Mitchell.
er spotting Our Endless Numbered Days at proof stage a couple of years ago and having a ‘feeling’ about it before I’d even read it I was thrilled to see it published to such acclaim, by readers and critics alike. It went on to win the 2015 Desmond Elliott Prize for ﬁrst-time novelists and we invited Claire to speak at our nb Readers’ Day to introduce her to our readers, which is where I ﬁrst met her. As Claire prepares for the publication of her second novel, Swimming Lessons, which I can conﬁrm to be just as compelling as her ﬁrst, she kindly invited me to her home in Winchester where we sat in her pleasantly sunny conservatory to chat about her startling success as a new writer in a tough market and her aspirations for the future. I remembered Claire telling us at the Readers’ Day that Our Endless Numbered Days had been inspired by a story she’d 14
read in a newspaper – did she use a similar prompt for Swimming Lessons? “It started with – well, one main thing. My husband Tim and I, before we were married or living together, were following Miranda July’s book called Learning to Love You More which speciﬁed lots of arts-related things you could do which would put you outside of your comfort zone. Tim and I were working through them together and we ﬁnished that and we were coming up with some other ideas and one of them was to write notes to each other. I guess we hadn’t long met (laughs). So we’d write notes to each other and hide them in each other’s houses. We wrote ﬁve each. He lived in a very small ﬂat – eventually he sold his ﬂat and moved in here. In the process of packing up his stuﬀ he found all my ﬁve notes – there weren’t many places to hide them! is was seven years ago or so and I’ve found three
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of his. ere are still two in this house and he won’t tell me where they are. But do I want to ﬁnd them? I’m not sure. Maybe I’m not looking very hard anymore! It’s quite nice that they’re still there. So there was that idea, about hiding things in books or hiding things. And then I write a lot of ﬂash ﬁction, 100 word stories. I’m part of an online group called Friday Fictioneers, and every Wednesday – I don’t know why we’re called Friday Fictioneers – but every
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller is published by Fig Tree as a £14.99 hbk on 26th Jan 2017.
Review of Swimming Lessons They say nobody really knows what goes on inside a marriage and that is certainly true of Gil and Ingrid Coleman’s, the couple at the centre of Claire Fuller’s second novel. When Gil thinks he sees his wife from the window of a bookshop many years after her disappearance and presumed death flighty daughter Flora hurries back to the family home. She has never quite given up hope of seeing her mother again but immediately locks horns with sister Nan as old resentments surface and the pressure of managing their father’s expectations becomes a burden neither of them are emotionally prepared for. Letters from Ingrid to Gil, written before her disappearance and hidden between the pages of his collection of thousands of books in their home, are interspersed creating a dual narrative of past and present, gradually unveiling the heartbreaking truth of their relationship. I found this to be a really thoughtful
exploration of a marriage between two fundamentally unsuited people and the impact this had on them, their daughters and their friends. Despite the time slip to the 70s when, as Claire reminded me when I spoke to her, it was still very unusual for a woman to walk away from a marriage, this is less social commentary and more a devastating revelation of the perils of passion. Ingrid’s letters are so well written – I was in agony for her – but they are counterbalanced perfectly by the present day consequences of her vanishing for her husband and children. As Flora, Gil and Nan first flounder then gradually make their peace in their own ways the ever-present coastal landscape makes its enticing presence felt throughout the delicately wrought prose. It’s a kind of mystery – but you’ll find yourself caring more about why Ingrid went than where she went. Haunting and memorable. Mel Mitchell
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Wednesday they post a picture and lots of writers around the world write 100 word stories based on the photograph. So I do that most weeks and put them on my website and a long time ago there was one of a beach scene and I wrote about a man who ﬁnds various things on this beach and that man became Gil. He seemed quite real to me. So those two things came together really.” I also remembered that she’d said she hates writing ﬁrst dras – did she struggle with this as much with the second novel as the ﬁrst? “Writing it wasn’t straightforward, particularly. ere were lots of dead ends and all sorts of things that changed as I was writing. I usually start roughly at the beginning, although with OEND I started in the middle and then went back to the beginning. With Swimming Lessons I more or less started at the beginning but it was written from Gil’s point of view for quite a few thousand words. And then I thought – no, I want to hear from his wife and his daughter rather than him. So that got changed. By the time the ﬁrst dra had ﬁnished I wasn’t happy at all with the second half and that all got completely changed. My agent reads it ﬁrst and I said to her I’m not sure about the second half and she said she wasn’t sure 16
“Yes, it’s based on Studland, in Dorset. Spanish Green in the book is Studland but I have messed around with all the lanes and the houses and the I found Swimming Lessons quite pub. e Swimming Pavilion in diﬀerent in tone and style from the novel is a National Trust OEND – was that deliberate? cottage that you can stay in - I stayed there for a few weeks. It’s “It wasn’t really deliberate – I an old tennis pavilion which is started out on that story and right by the sea, opposite the that’s the way it went. ere are pub. Hadley in the book is some similarities, there’s a Swanage and the Agglestone is disappearance (in both) but (in really there. e heathland, Swimming Lessons) it’s about where the Agglestone is, is the people le behind rather really spectacular. Very than the person who goes. I beautiful. I go there quite a bit, knew I wanted a lot of nature just to walk along the beach and writing in it still – this one swim.” focuses on the sea so that was very deliberate. I do really like writing and reading description in ﬁction, of nature. So I was clairefuller.co.uk thinking, I’ve done a forest so I can’t do a forest again. I really love the sea so that made sense. Location is incredibly important to how I write. I’m still writing books that I would Worth checking out not like to read, hopefully. I try not just for Claire's blogs but to think there’s an audience out also examples of her art there now. It’s a little bit scary. I and, intriguingly, her know people are waiting for the interviews with a crossnext book but Swimming section of publishing Lessons is diﬀerent. I’m the professionals: same, as a reader - when I want the next book (from an author) - a reader in a literary I kind of want it to be like the agency one I’ve just read. But of course it’s never going to be.” - a literary agent either and perhaps I could think about this or that. She steered me really and that helped enormously.”
I had a vivid sense of the location when reading Swimming Lessons – was it based on a real place?
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- an art director - a publishing director
And did she have a soundtrack to writing it, as she did with OEND? “Yes, I did. I did – Townes Van Zandt. I think I put it in the acknowledgements. When I put it on now it all comes back. It’s kind of nostalgic to listen to it now. So yeah, that played and there is one track that is mentioned in the book, although I couldn’t quote the lyrics because they’re copyrighted so I just had to describe it, where he’s singing about a woman with yellow hair and that is a real song. It’s kind of country stuﬀ, American. I wanted the lyrics to that song at the front of the book but – too expensive! (looks downcast but laughs). I loved that music. For the third book it’s been Leonard Cohen and he’s just died so it’s been quite hard to listen to that now. But it does put me back in the zone for the book.” We at nb know that OEND has been popular with reading groups and I know that Claire speaks to reading groups about it quite a bit – has anything surprised her about their feedback? “ere are things that people see that I didn’t see. Peggy in the book loves e Railway Children and that’s because I love e Railway Children and know it very well, particularly
the ﬁlm – and somebody pointed out that it has very similar themes (to OEND). I hadn’t thought about that at all. e other thing I got from readers is that they thought the ending was slightly rushed. I did think about that and take it on board for Swimming Lessons, where I tried to slow down the ending very deliberately. Most of the feedback from book clubs has been very positive. Oen they’re just interested in having the author come to speak to them about how the book came to be published – which I can understand because I didn’t know until I did it. Lots of the feedback for OEND was – I couldn’t wait to ﬁnd out what happened. at’s great but it was a side-eﬀect and not necessarily something I’m aiming for. I like a book that asks questions or makes a reader form questions in their mind but doesn’t necessarily answer them – so the reader has to answer them. e reader has to do some of the heavy liing.” What does she anticipate reading groups will be drawn to in Swimming Lessons? “at’s a good question. Maybe that thing about which is better – imagination or truth? Flora wants to know what happened to her mother but is it better never to know because you can always imagine what you want? e same goes for the reader –
is it better to know the ending or to use your imagination? I think people will ﬁnd Gil quite a diﬃcult character – how much do you forgive him for what he’s done? You have to remember that at that time, in the 70s, it was still quite diﬃcult to walk away from a marriage. It was still quite unusual.” Does she feel that once a book has been published it becomes the readers’ book? “Yes, very much so. at’s one of the main themes of Swimming Lessons – that a
Claire’s New Year Reading Resolution
I read more books in 2016 than I’ve ever read in a year: many debuts (I’m lucky in that I’m sent lots of proofs from publishers), new releases from authors I know I like, and others that were a conscious stretch for me – poetry and fiction in translation. In 2017 I want to keep up with the numbers, but catch up with books that might be classed as modern classics, which somehow in all my years of being a reader I’ve missed. Books like Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey. I already own them – they’ve been sitting on my shelves for years. But, in 2017, I’ll stop and listen when I hear them call, ‘Read me! Read me!’. For other Author New Year Reading Resolutions see page 40.
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book becomes something else when a reader reads it. Each reader will visualise the text diﬀerently, what it all looks like, what the characters look like and so on. So then it clearly becomes something else in every reader’s head. I love that, that it becomes something else and that the author needs to let it go. All that I am is another reader. If people ask me (for my opinion) I would say but I would always qualify that with your opinion is just as valid as mine. Did anything surprise her about the characters as she wrote them? I loved the girls, the daughters – Flora and Nan – and the dynamic between them. “How tricky they were with each other, yes – how they reverted back to their teenage roles. I enjoyed writing that, really enjoyed it. eir bickering and how it seemed like the kind of bickering they’d been doing for years. Nan’s sexuality surprised me. I wasn’t expecting that until I actually wrote it. In fact, Viv, who she has her relationship with, was a much bigger character in my ﬁrst dra. She became less relevant to the plot so she became more of a minor character – but I’d quite like to explore that a bit more, those two.” Would she consider re-visiting any of her characters? 18
“I hadn’t ever thought about it – until I just said I’m quite interested in Nan and Viv’s relationship! e thing is I have so many ideas for other books and other characters...would I want to go back? I’m not sure. Loads of people ask me all the time and book clubs especially, are you going to write a sequel to OEND...people really want to know how Peggy’s life pans out because I do leave her at a particular point in time when there are lots of unanswered things going forward for her. But I think if I went back and answered those things in terms of how I think they worked out...there are so many people who have read it now and they would probably think – no, that didn’t happen! I think it’s better to leave it and let people imagine.” Claire has been running interviews with people she has become involved with in the publishing industry on her website, which give a real insight into the process of what goes into publishing a book. Does she also think helping to promote your book is now a crucial part of being a writer? “Yes, I think it is – I think it’s rare to have an author that is very successful and reclusive these days. I mean it does still happen but I think most of the time it helps if you’re out there, helping the book along. And I genuinely enjoy it. Most of the
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time you’re meeting readers, whether that’s talking at a literature festival or to a small book group, and that’s so delightful. I am so privileged to have written something that people want to read and talk about. Why would I not want to go and meet them and discuss it? When I ﬁrst started doing it, it was absolutely petrifying...(but) everybody’s always so lovely. As a writer I’ve never come across anybody trying to make me look silly or trip me up. Probably the fact that I worked and ran a marketing company for twenty three years prepared me. I didn’t do any public speaking or anything like that before – I was much more behind the scenes – but perhaps I understood how important it is to get out there and promote something. I quite enjoy ﬁnding out how business works and publishing is a business.” What if OEND hadn’t been picked up – what might she have done? “It’s really hard to say. I deﬁnitely wouldn’t have selfpublished...because I don’t think literary ﬁction works particularly well in selfpublishing. I’m not sure I would have started something new immediately. I might have had to tend to my wounds a bit! I haven’t done a huge amount of sculpting since I started writing and I do need a
creative outlet so perhaps I would have started sculpting again. I would be making something. Now, my ambition is only to keep on writing full-time. Not to have to go and get another day job. To do that I have to keep writing and I have to keep selling books. I suppose in order to do those things the previous book has to be successful in some way. e success of OEND took some pressure oﬀ but it’s not as if I never have to write another book and sell it. I want to carry on writing now. And it’s not just writing another book, it’s helping the books that are out there so that my publisher wants to buy my next book.” It’s been quite a journey –
OEND has continued to perform well and just been longlisted for the International Dublin Award and early reviews for Swimming Lessons have been consistently good. What has been the most thrilling moment so far? “I think it was – well, it was amazing getting an agent because I knew how diﬃcult it was but then aer she submitted we got three oﬀers from UK publishers and it went to auction. at was...not in my wildest dreams had I ever thought that would happen. Ever. at was an amazing moment. And it was right around the time that I was getting married to Tim. So two days aer we got married – we
had the reception in the woods, by coincidence! – I heard that Penguin had won. And winning the Desmond Elliott Prize – that was amazing too. So unexpected. It was up against Elizabeth is Missing and A Song for Issy Bradley which are both fantastic books. We were at the awards ceremony - for the longlist and the shortlist they told us in advance but for the winner they didn’t so you had to stand there thinking, oh God...I almost don’t want to win! ey made me go up to the podium and they gave me a bottle of champagne and an envelope with a large cheque in it and I was - oh, thank you, thank you. Flustered! And then I walked oﬀ with the champagne and forgot the cheque!”
Review of Our Endless Numbered Days It’s only because my colleague Mel Mitchell was so keen . . . otherwise I might never have read this remarkable book. Slightly crazy father, James, takes his 8 year old daughter off to die Hütte for some undeclared reason. There is a back story about wanting to be prepared for catastrophic world events but this is Highgate, London in ’76 and I can’t remember much international posturing of that magnitude back then. Only that it was that incredibly hot summer that went on and on. No matter, for 9 years mother and daughter each think the other is dead. I’m wary of trying to summarise the plot more in case I give too much away but the writing is lyrical without being too airy fairy, in fact it’s gruesome at times. And it has a big psychological climax as good as many thrillers I’ve read. Highly recommended. Guy Pringle
Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller is published by Fig Tree as a £7.99 pbk and is available now.
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ADVENTURE S I N BOOKS ELL ING Peter Snell on seasonal trends
am writing this in the shop on Sunday 13th November. The annual Remembrance Day parade has just come back from the war memorial and filed past my front door. So that means that the poppy tray and collecting tin will go away on Monday as part of the inexorable cycle of the year. Advent calendars are selling well as are diaries and calendars. Christmas card sales are just starting to take off and every customer gets a copy of our Christmas Books catalogue. The shop is a local hub and we advertise local concerts, talks and plays. We also act as a box office for many events. If anybody wants local information or tickets then they know where to come. We know so many of our customers so well that their visits are more like friends coming round than opportunities to sell books. I am amazed every time I enter a new name on the customer database. There seems to be a constant stream of fresh people wanting to use our services. I have overseas visitors coming to visit relatives who make a point of popping in every year for gossip, recommendations and books. With the sad reduction in independent bookshops we are
becoming a destination in our own right with regular visits from many folks within a fifteen mile radius of Leatherhead. It is reassuring that they see the value in a physical shop and the expertise and knowledge of all those who work here. Here is a current photograph of me, I am getting ready for a late December rush. Promise me this will remain our secret. No one must know my secret identity.
By the time you read this piece our Christmas decorations will probably have gone up and come down again and we will be preparing for Valentine's Day, Easter, Mothering Sunday, St George's Day and Father's Day. In January and February I will be ordering diaries and calendars for 2018. Should I ever seem out of phase with the seasons when writing these pieces now you know why. I would like to mention some books that you probably won't be aware of. They are all children's books and in very
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different ways help establish the idea of caring for others. One old favourite of mine and two are brand new first time offerings from some really exciting new authors. The Bog Baby by Jeanne Willis illustrated by Gwen Millward
James and the Amazing Gift by Nicola J Rowley
SugarLilly's Woodland Adventure An adventure of friendship and kindness by Wendy Strohm with illustrations from Shannon Patterson
If you visit Barton's Bookshop in Leatherhead do say Hi to Peter and checkout bartonsbookshop.co.uk if you can't.
Debuts The debut novel is a magical time in any writerâ€™s life and here we present some new names to investigate and, hopefully, cherish in years to come.
Hold Back the Stars
Sirens by Joseph Knox
by Katie Khan
He's going down, says the author of his own hero!
S Isabelle Rossiter has run away again. When Aidan Waits, a troubled junior detective, is summoned to her father’s penthouse home – he finds a manipulative man, with powerful friends. But retracing Isabelle’s steps through a dark, nocturnal world, Waits finds something else. An intelligent seventeen-year-old girl who’s scared to death of something. As he investigates her story, and the unsolved disappearance of a young woman just like her, he realises Isabelle was right to run away. Soon Waits is cut loose by his superiors, stalked by an unseen killer and dangerously attracted to the wrong woman. He’s out of his depth and out of time. How can he save the girl, when he can’t even save himself?
irens introduces Aidan Waits, a disgraced young detective living in a sprawling northern city. After he’s caught stealing drugs from evidence, Waits is blackmailed into an undercover operation which sends him from the upper echelons of the super-rich to the low-life squalor of the drug scene. He spends his nights tailing The Franchise, a sophisticated drugs gang operating out of Manchester’s booming bar culture, impressed by their charismatic leader, Zain Carver. But when James Rossiter, a powerful member of parliament, discovers that his teenage daughter has run away to join The Franchise – everything changes, Isabelle Rossiter has a history of mental illness and has already survived one suicide attempt. She joins the dangerous world of the sirens, the young women, each compromised in their own way, who go from bar-to-bar collecting drug money for The Franchise. He meets Catherine, a con woman
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who moves from personality to personality, and Sarah Jane, Zain Carver’s lover. Each lives in the shadow of Joanna Greenlaw, Carver’s first partner, a woman who agreed to testify against him but vanished without a trace. As Franchise members begin to die, and a toxic strain of their designer drug hits the market, it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want Joanna Greenlaw to be forgotten. His loyalties divided between the police, The Franchise, the sirens and himself, Waits forgets about saving his reputation and tries desperately to save his own life. The central theme of corruption and compromise is examined through legal, illegal and transactional, interpersonal relationships. For me, the novel has more in common with American detective fiction than a British police procedural. Joseph Knox Sirens by Joseph Knox is published by Doubleday as a £12.99 hbk on 12th January.
A daydream leads to an anti-gravity love story. Soon after, during the London 2012 Olympic Games, the country took on an electric atmosphere with people staying out all evening in the warmth, I’ve always had a fascination cheering on athletes across all with the stars. I first came up disciplines, from all backgrounds, and I thought it with the idea of a couple would be amazing to write a falling in space one afternoon in 2012, when I had a version of Europe which had that feeling all the time. And so lovely nap and daydreamed a futuristic European utopia about a couple treading water, Europia - emerged, that was as they talked through their multicultural and accepting, relationship. I went outside and I just knew it was the later that evening to watch the counterpart to the space novel, International Space Station and that the story would move passing overhead (a hobby in between space and Earth, my family!) and realised the vast darkness around the couple showing them trying to survive could easily be space, instead of in space, and falling in love for the first time down on Earth. the sea. I wanted to explore Carys is a pilot. She’s what people would do, facing ambitious in her career, almost the end - whether they would an over-achiever, and pushes panic and give up, or talk to slightly against the rules of the their loved one; whether they utopia, struggling to stay as would struggle and fight to independent and individual as survive. I knew at the time I Europia demands. Max comes didn’t have quite enough beats for a whole novel, but I mulled from a much more traditional background; he’s a chef, who is over the setting and began to fiercely pro-utopian. I’d like to know the characters.
say Max and Carys meet, and the rest is history - but, like most real-life love stories, the course of true love really doesn’t run smooth and I wanted to write a novel that reflects how first love and heartbreak can change everything about you. Did I mention they only have ninety minutes of air remaining? I’m sorry. I really hope you enjoy the novel, and root for Max and Carys as they navigate the perils of space and Earth, their families and backgrounds, and all the trappings of a perfect world like I did while I was writing it. Thank you so much for reading.’ Katie Khan
Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan is published by Doubleday as a £9.99 hbk on 26th January.
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The Watcher by Ross Armstrong
nb Publisher, Guy Pringle shares his admiration for all concerned
What's going on behind those windows? But the view didn’t stop there. If I turned my head further to the right I could see ’ve never felt closer to my not one, but possibly seventy neighbours, and I’ve never windows in my panorama, felt further apart. We’re lights all coming on as the more insatiably curious evening drew in, mostly filled about one another than we ever with people going about their have been. Following each diverse, extraordinary, private other, literally, through lives. What secrets did they cyberspace, hoovering up hold? I wondered. How nice to endless photos of friends of catch a glimpse of them from friends and devouring content time to time, going about their and hashtags to help us to build daily lives. How thrilling that accurate images of people who, they don’t know I’m there. in real life, we may flee to the ‘No’ I told myself. ‘These are other end of the Tube platform strange thoughts. And also, stop to avoid, lest we accidentally talking to yourself.’ What if catch their gaze and both feel a someone’s watching. bit uncomfortable about it. It was like I was looking at a When I moved into a new cross-section of a doll’s house, build flat, which I soon everyone was on show, from the discovered was part of a twenty- people in the million pound five-year regeneration project, penthouses to the middle the view was astounding. A classes below, and further away view is important. The view was still, were half empty buildings of a beautiful body of water, of the previous residents who which the sun rose over in the were either to be moved into morning, setting somewhere the new builds, or dispatched to else in the evening and casting another corner of England they the sky into stunning yellows, knew nothing of. Which purples and darkening blues, brought my gaze back around the crescent moon rising over to to myself. And made me the right, while the water wonder why I got to live in this rippled in front of me, very particular place while reflecting the colours from others were being cast out of it. above. For the most part here, as in
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Impressed by Impress
the online world, I try to avert my eyes as best I can. But I wanted to create a character who didn’t. To find a Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window for our very particular time. And that’s when Lily arrived, to give me some answers to various questions I had, and she hasn’t stopped talking since. She is an avidly curious birding enthusiast, daughter, wife and unreliable narrator. And when her attempts to connect with people on the other side of the estate go awry, she is launched into a situation which leaves her fearing for her sanity, watching out for the local neighbourhood murderer and running for her life. To watch, you see, is a subtle pleasure. To be watched is a violation. The politics of watching are complex, powerful, sexual, debatable and all about perception. Lily finds herself at the centre of an ever twisting psychological thriller. Meanwhile, I am trying to talk to more people around the neighbourhood. All either of us really want, is to connect. The Watcher by Ross Armstrong is published by HQ as a £12.99 hbk on 29th December.
sking writers for a small fee when submitting work for the prize of publication isn’t a completely original idea. Having been a judge in such a process previously, I know the costs and time involved in reading all those entries and then publishing the winner. But small independent publishing house Impress Books is going from strength to strength and publishing new authors with ﬂair and encouragement. Founded in 2004 and based at the University of Exeter, Impress launched their ﬁrst winner in 2007 Consider the Lilies by Carol
Fenlon. And they continue to introduce us to writers who have not previously been traditionally published. Indeed, Annabel Abbs, last year’s winner with My Perfect Mind, scored a 5/5 in nb90 with her latest, e Joyce Girl.
The panel of judges.
So, fast forward then to Magdalena McGuire, author of e Shape of Your Song, winner
of the Impress Prize for New Writers 2016, a work of historical ﬁction set in communist Poland in the 1980s. e decision was made by an interestingly mixed panel: author Michael Jecks, author and contributing editor at e Bookseller Cathy Rentzenbrink, Chair of the Historical Novel Society Devon Chapter Richard Lee, Digital Director at Unbound Xander Cansell, and Editorial Assistant at Impress Books Julian Webb. And for those of you who have ever wondered ‘How would I go about winning such a competition?’ we present some of Magdalena’s entry.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY How much is enough? Too much? How 'forthright' should you be about yourself and your achievements? Magdalena McGuire was born in Poland, grew up in Darwin, and lives in Melbourne. She has a background in law and human rights and is now undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University. Magdalena’s short stories have been published in Australia and internationally by The Big Issue, The Bristol Prize, and Margaret River Press. Magdalena’s writing has been described as ‘incredibly powerful’ (Rowan Lawton, Furniss Lawton) and she has been called ‘one of the country’s freshest, sharpest, and to date most underrated voices in contemporary fiction’ (Laurie Steed, Margaret River Press). Her first novel, The Shape of Your Song, is set in Poland, Australia and the United Kingdom in the eventful period of the 1980s. She is also working on a collection of short stories that focus on questions of place, identity and unbelonging, particularly in cross-cultural contexts.
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The Impress-ive Mel Mitchell wanted to know . . . Mel Mitchell: I was interested to read that while you were born in Poland you grew up and still live in Australia – two more diﬀerent places I couldn’t imagine! Do you have any memories of Poland? How have you gone about getting to know the country of your birth and why is it important to you to explore it in a novel? Magdalena McGuire: You’re right, they are two totally diﬀerent places – particularly as I spent most of my childhood in the humidity of the Darwin tropics! I think the fact that Poland is so diﬀerent to Australia is precisely what appeals to me. Growing up, I was very nostalgic about my birthplace, and had vivid memories of visits I’d made to see my Polish family. I remembered the bees my uncle kept in wooden hives in the garden, the factory that breathed black smoke next to my grandmother’s cottage, listening to tapes of Michael Jackson with my cousins and trying to translate the English lyrics for them, and the train 26
station in Wrocław that looked like a castle. is remembered version of Poland took on almost a mythic quality, so it was perhaps inevitable that I’d start writing about it. Since then, I’ve been back to Poland as an adult. My most recent trip was in summer last year, when I went there to see my family and do research for my novel. On this trip, I was struck by how much Poland has changed: the country seems quite prosperous now. Or, as my mother’s friend put it, ‘We could be in any city in Europe.’
Magdalena demonstrates the strength of Polish cars.
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It was a sunny day and we were sitting in a restaurant overlooking the River Odra, drinking beer. She’s an ex-pat Pole, and her comment was tinged with both pride and regret: pride that Poland could now hold its own against other European countries, and regret that the country she le behind no longer exists. I guess part of my impetus in writing my novel is that I wanted to explore this lost Poland, the country I could’ve grown up in, but didn’t. In particular, I wanted to explore what life could have been like for a young woman living under communism and making art. Nineteen-eighties Poland provides a dramatic and underexplored setting to examine the types of questions I’m interested in. What was it like to live through a turbulent period in history, when your civil liberties were taken away? How was it that artists managed to make such exciting work when, oﬃcially, they were
Magdalena McGuire stripped of artistic freedom? And what might happen if love and politics came into conﬂict? Although communist Poland provides the context for exploring these questions, they are, of course, questions that have universal signiﬁcance. Mel: Is it important to you to present Poland and Polish people favourably in your novel? Is there a sense of redressing a balance? Magdalena: I think that, rather than seeking to represent Poland and Polish people favourably, I wanted to present them in nuanced terms. I particularly wanted to get beyond the two-dimensional stereo-
types that some people continue to hold in relation to communist Poland: the persistent images of grey buildings, queues for food, and – one stereotype that particularly surprised me when I learnt of it – the idea that Poles are uneducated and backwards. is stereotype came as a surprise to me because Polish culture places such a high value on the life of the mind. In Polish, there’s a speciﬁc word for this: duchowe. ere’s no English equivalent, but essentially duchowe refers to matters that are at once spiritual, intellectual, moral, emotional and reli-
PUBLISHING RATIONALE Tricky, you’re telling a publisher why your book deserves to be published instead of all the other entries. Of course you believe in it but how do you convince them? The Shape of Your Song is a work of historical fiction set in communist Poland in the 1980s. While many novels deal with Poland in the context of World War II, very few examine the aftermath of the war: when communist rule was violently imposed by the Soviets, and when thousands of Poles fled the country for political and economic reasons. Yet there is a real hunger for stories from this time and place. On a recent trip to Poland, I witnessed Westerners flocking to guided tours that focused on the country’s communist past. The main attraction of these tours was that they told the stories, not of governments and famous men, but of the struggles and triumphs of ordinary people. It was clear that Westerners were looking for stories that went beyond the familiar tropes of long queues for a loaf of bread and secret police listening in the walls; they wanted to know what life was really like under communism. My novel, The Shape of
gious. e central importance of duchowe in Polish culture means that art and literature and history and politics aren’t just esoteric concerns: in Poland, these things really matter in people’s everyday lives. is is something I wanted to capture in my book; the idea that a person’s inner life – their love of art, in particular – can sustain them through diﬃcult times. See nudge for the full Q&A.
The Shape of Your Song by Magdalena McGuire is to be published in 2017 by Impress Books. www.impressbooks.wordpress.com for further details.
Your Song, tells just the sort of story people are eager to hear: a story of art, life, and love under communism, and of one woman’s escape from Poland in search of a better future. As well as appealing to a Western readership, this novel will, of course, resonate with people of Polish background. The Polish diaspora, at around 20 million people, is one of the largest in the world. To date, our stories haven’t been adequately told. My novel will address this gap in the market. Although my novel is set in the 1980s, the questions I explore relating to the migratory experience could not be more relevant now, coming at a time when public fear of refugees and migrants is stoked by populist politicians. And the theme of freedom – freedom of expression and movement – will hold wide appeal at a time when public fears are being used as a premise to curtail civil liberties in the West. Other key selling points of this novel are its dramatic and underexplored setting, its memorable characters and its compelling narrative. For these reasons my novel is, I believe, a work of literary fiction that will have broader commercial appeal.
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Next Big Things? Mel's round up of new talent.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
Read On reading group on Royal Deeside agreed to read and discuss this book (and now film) - Anna MacKay reports.
s enjoyable as it is to reflect on all the great books I’ve read over the previous year and to look impatiently forward to new releases from favourite authors there is something particularly thrilling about debuts. Here at nb we’ve made a name for ourselves by getting behind new writers at the beginning of their careers and we’re always on the look-out for the ‘next big thing’ – and we know our reviewers are too. So here are some that have caught my eye that you might like to add to your wish lists. First I have to tell you about Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic from our friends at Pushkin Press – and we know how reliable they are. Described as a ‘brilliantly zeitgeisty tale of online obsession’ it’s not out until May but is already generating a lot of interest and I’m dying to get my hands on a copy. In March, from another of our favourite small publishers, Scribe UK, comes a highly original novel 28
called The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy about grief and repression. I’m reading it now and every time I pick it up it’s like entering a mysterious other world where nothing is quite as it seems. Perhaps you’d prefer a literary crime thriller? Little Deaths by Emma Flint is set in 1960s New York and challenges the accepted notions of motherhood – you might wonder if things have really changed that much. You won’t have to wait for this one as it’s out on 12th January from Picador. The Hodder family of imprints always has a strong list and they’re spoiling us in 2017 – Caraval by Stephanie Garber (out Jan) is a fantasy that I think will work on many different levels and is the kind of magical/literary crossover I always get excited about. For the more traditional among you I think The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan from Two Roads (also Jan) sounds
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life-affirming and joyous and I suspect Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar from Sceptre in March will be funny, edgy...and possibly divide opinion. Spanning three continents and seven generations, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi from Viking sounds an astoundingly ambitious novel for a debut but early reviews have been very favourable and it’s out now. And last but not least are a couple from W&N which I can see being very popular – author Claire Messud has called Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry ‘Broadchurch written by Elena Ferrante’ which was enough to secure its place on my TBR list and History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund is a coming of age novel that will break your heart. Of course there are many others - we’d love to hear about any debuts you discover and would like to introduce to us and all our other readers. Get in touch! Mel Mitchell
elcome to our book group! Nine of us attended on a dark and windy night and when we found out everyone had read the book we already sensed that this was going to be 'special' and give us lots to talk about. 13 year old Conor O'Malley lives with his mother who is receiving treatment for cancer which this time doesn't seem to be working as well. Connor dreams the same dream at the same time every night but one night the nightmare takes the shape of the yew tree in the graveyard seen from his bedroom window. The tree grows to monstrous proportions as it appears and offers to tell Connor three stories in exchange for Conor's – true - story.
Conor's father arrives from America with his partner and baby and Conor's Grandmother comes to stay while her daughter is in hospital but Conor increasingly feels alone and invisible as the adults around him seem incapable of putting Conor's needs first. Even at school the bullies stop tormenting and shun him instead. As his sense of physical and emotional isolation increases Conor turns to the monster - instead of fearing it he doesn't want it to leave. We felt that Conor's emotions were well described and his character, on the cusp of adulthood, was developed well. The harsh reality of his life is weaved amongst the fantasy of the fairy tales which the tree tells; Connor learns to accept that life is full of hope and despair; the stories' themes of princes and castles change to ones with more serious and sinister undertones. Conor’s father and grandmother and, to some extent his mother, were less well developed and some felt the book failed here as we are not even told their first names. [But] on reflection we decided perhaps this was intentional - this was Conor's story. Superficially, this is a 'simple' read which is part of
its charm [but] Conor's relationship with the monster is gripping, taking unexpected turns. We waited each night for the tree to arrive. The tree’s stories start to show Conor life is not black and white or good and bad but if you look closely you will understand why people behave the way they do even if you do not agree with their actions. Life is not always kind to those who live it. Conor tries to explain the tree’s visits to his father, the most remote character in Conor's life, while his father in turn explains that his mother's treatment may not have the result he wants. However boy and father falter in their attempts coming close to telling the truth but neither having the courage to do so. It is the monster who takes on this role climaxing with Conor's evocative and heartbreaking story it is by his side leading him through denial, anger, bargaining, grief and finally, the most traumatic of all, acceptance. [Fortunately,] the book is not without its lighter moments Conor's sarcastic remarks to his Grandmother and the tree; his father's use of Americanisms and new accent lighten the mood. Although this is a young
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VER DIC T
Anna MacKay 10/10
Individual comments from group members:
Read on reading group
adult book it also connected with our adults. The inability of the adults in the story to talk to Conor about his mother's deteriorating health resonated with some, evoking memories of their 'rite of passage' and how they and those around them coped with death and family member's grief. It is as if death, which was 'part of life' years ago has become a taboo subject especially when talking to children. This led to a long and interesting discussion about how to help children cope with grief and how the book group members dealt with their experiences and are still trying to process and deal with them today. We felt it really did not matter whether the monstrous yew tree was a figment of Conor's imagination or 'real' as it was such a central and believable character in the story. Its power and wisdom and undercurrents of menace emanated throughout. [We debated] the yew tree’s association with graveyards and death - an inspired choice of monster – going on to talk
about the folk lore of yew trees and its medicinal uses throughout the centuries and many of the group sought out more information online. The use of illustrations in the 'Special Collector's Edition' we’d read did not detract from the story line. Instead the black and white illustrations enhanced our imagination pulling us into the story - quite intense, we agreed. The lack of facial details allowed the reader's imagination to conjure up their own pictures of the unfolding events and characters. Although a YA book we could not stop talking about the range of feelings the story triggered. A couple of us gave the book to our children and they too found the novel compelling, sad and wonderful! It is not often a novel can transcend the age barriers and be relevant to all. Many of the group admitted to crying at the end of the story which, in our opinion, is the best endorsement any book can have and we gave it a resounding ten out of ten as both book group and personal read.
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Something I found very true to life . . . adults don't have all the answers and the realisation of this is hard for children. Similarly, adults don't always handle things well. The monster I think represents real fear and emotional turmoil - it is real to Conor. The loneliness and isolation is so hard felt because he believes no-one can understand how he feels and the one person who has been there for him all his life he knows deep down he is losing. The guilt Conor felt at not wanting his mum to die but equally wanting her to die just so there was an end is understandable and rational to an adult but confusing to a child. I felt the stories were perhaps relating to Conor's frustration and anger no one was talking to him so his mind was in overdrive. Pat Turner As I have no contact with teenagers I read this book from an adult perspective and it resonated sharply. It triggers memories of loss and anticipated loss. The monster and black rages illustrated so well the frustration, anger, fear and at the same time a longing for the worst to happen so it can be over. It was realistic in the portrayal of the father son relationship, now complicated by a second marriage -- divided loyalties and the feeling of abandonment by the boy. Teenage years are difficult,
emotional and confused. This book would help anyone in a similar situation to feel such emotions are ok. Other people have them too. Doreen Cameron I really enjoyed the book it was a quick and compelling read. I really felt for Conor as he had so many issues to deal with in his life and nobody to support him. A lot to deal with on young shoulders. The illustrations in the book were amazing. Nancy Montgomery I enjoyed this book but unlike some I was disappointed with the ending. I could not understand what was so poignant about this - surely this is what we all have thought and experienced about pain and dying? Perhaps if I had been a young adult reading this it would have resonated more with me but as an adult I accepted long ago that life can be cruel and unfair and there are some thoughts which are better kept to yourself as you cope with life. Despite this the idea of the monster as a guide and mentor was ingenious and the stories told were interesting but instead of empathy towards Conor's mother and his family I was frustrated and angry with them for putting their needs first. Anna MacKay I thought that this was a great book . . . taking the reader on an emotional rollercoaster with Conor as he tries to cope with his mother's illness. One of the things that struck me
was the need for adults to be open and honest with children. Often we are trying to protect them by shielding them from the truth. However children are capable of reading lots of the signs and nuances of a situation and will often know what is happening despite not being told. Conor therefore had to deal with what he correctly deduced without anybody giving him the opportunity to discuss in full or express his feelings probably a major reason why he had such angry outbursts one with devastating consequences for the boy he beat up. Emily Paton When I started the book I almost instantly knew that his mum was going to die from cancer. I really like the fact that Conor was not at all scared of the monster at 12:07 every night it came. Every time I started reading this book I got stuck to it and that means that it is a really good book. One of the best parts of the book is the pictures. It has lot of detail and emotions in the pictures. I really like the first story the monster tells, the one about the prince and his Step Grandmother who was a witch... and at the end when Conor went back to the yew tree and got angry because he let his mother go. When he went to hospital he told the truth. I think overall this is one of the best books I've ever read. Sophie Patton Aged 10 A monster arrives in a sick boy's garden and tells him three tales
in which to heal the boy. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness involves several phases of emotional grief. Conor experiences depression during his life and feels the sad need for punishment and pain from the bully Harry, and his teachers at school. Conor battles against the acceptance of his mother’s death using denial to make himself believe she will live. Ness paints a continuous story of pain and emotion to try and emulate its likeness to a real life story. This book also shows how an illness can hurt and take away surrounding people's lives. Half of the story was about Conor's nightmare of deliberately letting his mother go just to end both of their pain. Conor's mum was so ill it hurt Conor and he was grieving before she died. It was a very emotional book to read and conveyed many concepts. Paton age 14
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is published by Walker Books in an illustrated edition £9.99, a £7.99 paperback and an £11.99 hardback. See also the film website www.amonstercalls.co.uk
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What Does Your Living Room Bookshelf Say About You as a Person? We asked a couple of our favourite bloggers that leading question.
Nothing, there’s not enough space for a bookshelf in my living room!! My bookshelves are in what should be the master bedroom because it’s the largest room in the house. There are numerous shelves and I guess each shelf has something to say about me as a person. They’ll tell you I have an insatiable curiosity about a great
many things. They’ll say I’m a completist. Once I discover a writer I’ll seek out all their work. They’ll tell you I care. Books are precious, all respected, treated properly, all given a place. They’ll show you books are my world; my childhood books rest comfortably amongst my adolescent tomes overseen by my adult almanacs. They’ll tell you I’m a liberal thinker, devoid of prejudice. They’ll tell you that I laugh and I cry but I won't voluntarily be frightened. They’ll show I can have fleeting obsessions. They’ll say I am a traveller within worlds of words. And they’ll tell you I’m just me, uncategorised, undefined. Gill Chedgey
After a recent trip to the fairly new Ikea store in Reading, I have three bookcases in my living room. What you would primarily learn from perusing them is that my reading covers a wide variety of subjects. One whole bookcase is devoted to science/nature and field guides; another houses priority fiction paperbacks (two shelves) and science fiction (two shelves, mostly thanks to my husband’s nearly complete Terry Pratchett collection); and a third is split between travel (one shelf), general nonfiction, music and cats (together a partial shelf), and religion and poetry (two shelves). This is, of course, not counting the upstairs shelves – filled with classics, biographies and memoirs, literary reference books, and lots more fiction.
You might also notice that within each category, everything is organised alphabetically by author; and within author, the book titles are arranged either alphabetically or chronologically if I know the output quite well. Is it any surprise to learn that I was once a librarian? Interspersed with books on some of the shelves are family photos, knick-knacks and recent birthday cards, many of them featuring cats, llamas and birds – you can tell we’re big animal lovers here, whether that’s house pets or wildlife.
Our house has several libraries of books with different foci: children’s books in the guest room, professional books in the office, a sewing library in my quilting room, and of course a collection of cookbooks in the kitchen. There’s mostly fiction on a built-in staircase shelf which houses dogeared favourites as well as new books I’m longing to get to. Since we’ve moved many times, the books we have are the survivors. Many of the fiction books we’ve read have been passed on and the non-fiction keepers are kept more for perspective than information. The absence of a set of encyclopedias is notable in this computer age.
The living room bookshelf pictured here, has the most variety and says the most about us as a family. There are books on countries and cultures where we have lived or travelled to, hobbies like motorcycling and hiking, humour, selfhelp, faith, biography, and family photo albums. As far as fiction goes, there’s a first edition Harry Potter, and plenty of volumes that I haven’t read yet because the TBR pile beside my bed was getting tall enough to be lethal! Most needed book companion item perched on the wooden nose—the now necessary pair of reading glasses. Joanne Booy
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Short Book and Scribes the new blog on the block! nb reviewer Nicola Smith recently set up her own blog we asked her how it went. features that Wordpress-hosted blogs get as a matter of course. Oh, and image sizing has caused me all kinds of problems - what works on the blog doesn't always work for Facebook and Twitter preview images and vice versa. Aside from that I am loving having a place for all my reviews espite having reviewed books for and book-related articles. I've come across lots of lovely years, I have never people - authors, readers and really felt the pull other bloggers - since starting of starting up a blog of my own my blog. The blogging until very recently when I thought the time might just be community in particular is so supportive. In fact, due to my right. After much deliberation problems with images, over what name to choose, I sometimes they've shared my came up with Short Book and posts before I have! Social Scribes, a play on words of media is key when you have a course, but also a nod to the fact blog so I have to get better at that my reviews are generally on that, but for someone who is the shorter side. I launched my essentially quite a private person blog on 25th October this year. self-promotion doesn't come Given that there are so many naturally. blogs out there I thought it My most viewed review is of would be simple to set one up, The Mountain in my Shoe by but there have been quite a few Louise Beech [Ed: which we are teething troubles along the way. delighted to have on the nudge I've gone for a self-hosted site as well!], a beautifully Wordpress blog which means I written story and one which I don't have 'wordpress' in the found hard to do justice to in name of my site but it also my review. A popular post is my means that I have to work a Seven Day Spotlight which I little harder to get some of the
post every Sunday. I recap what I have reviewed during the week and give a rundown of all the books that I have acquired in that time, which is usually of a ratio of five or six times as many in as out! I'll certainly never be short of reading matter. I've got my first blog tour booked in for March 2017 and am really excited about it. Interacting with publishers and authors was a big draw for me in setting up a blog. I just love every bit of the book process and I'm looking forward to building up the site over the coming months.
PS I would love it if people signed up to receive notifications of new posts. I can also be found on Facebook and Twitter as Short Book and Scribes and @shortbookscribe respectively.
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Quirky links and coincidences prove fertile ground for Phaedra Patrick's reading and writing.
Q&A BY VIKAS SWARUP If I could have written any novel, it would be this one. Readers may know it better from its adaption into the Oscar-winning film Slumdog Millionaire. It tells the story of an impoverished young waiter who is arrested for winning the Indian equivalent of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Each chapter shows us how the young hero knows the answer to the questions in the quiz, one by one. I think it’s a genius idea and the book propels you right into the heart, sights and sounds of modern day India. The construction of Q & A provided great inspiration for my novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper. When I first set out to write about Arthur’s journey to discover the stories behind the charms on his late wife’s bracelet, my aspiration was to write the Yorkshire equivalent of Slumdog! Q&A was a Recommended Read in nb31 in January 2006.
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THIS IS LIFE BY DAN RHODES For me, this book offers a masterclass in characterisation. In Paris, a young female art student throws a stone which hits a baby, triggering a series of events that have major repercussions for an oddball mix of characters. Dan Rhodes writes with great verve and insight into the intricacies of human nature, and I never thought I’d end up sympathising with a down-on-his-luck erotic cinema owner. But, as with all the cast here, you’re sucked into their eccentric world. The book is sometimes dark and rather odd but is always entertaining, and I think Dan Rhodes is a brave and trueto-himself writer. Whenever I’m feeling a little stuck on character motivation and development, I take this book off my shelf and dip into it.
THE PRESIDENT’S HAT BY ANTOINE LAURAIN This charming book is translated from French into English and tells of a Parisian accountant who discovers President Mitterrand’s hat in a restaurant. As he takes and wears it, he finds that it changes his life, and also the lives of the other people it then passes onto. I relish stories about unusual and interesting characters who go on personal journeys of discovery, so this is perfect. My favourite character is Pierre Aslan, a perfumer who has lost his gift for creating fine fragrances until he finds inspiration from the scent of the hat. On my pre-publication tour of America, earlier this year, I told a bookseller in Milwaukee that The President’s Hat was one of my favourite books. He was a personal friend of Antoine Laurain’s and passed on my details, so we’re now in contact. I love to explore and embrace life’s unexpected circumstances in my writing, and I think this is a great real life example.
EAST OF THE SUN AND WEST OF THE MOON BY KAY NIELSON When I was around seven or eight years old, my parents paid for a book club subscription for my birthday. Every two months a small catalogue landed on the doormat and I could choose and order a book. It was one of the most exciting things in the world, to sit and look at the beautiful covers and to read the descriptions. East of the Sun and West of the Moon was the first book I chose and I remember my mum remarking that, even though it’s full of Danish fairy stories and gorgeous illustrations, it wasn’t really a children’s book. It was around this time that I decided that I wanted to be a writer too, but it took me almost twenty years before I dared to set pen to paper. I think my copy of East of the Sun and West of the Moon is probably a collector’s item by now, but it’s too special for me to ever let it go.
"my aspiration was to write the Yorkshire equivalent of Slumdog Millionaire!
GARDEN SPELLS BY SARAH ADDISONALLEN I feel that we all need a bit of magic in our lives at times and this warmhearted book welcomes you to the whimsical world of Waverley sisters, Claire and Sydney, in North Carolina. Each resident of the small town of Bascom has a peculiar gift, including Claire’s talent for creating delicious dishes which have a mesmerising effect on anyone who eats them. If ever a book attracted me by its cover, it’s this one, with its matt black background, white moths and shiny green leaves. It’s a book full of humour and intrigue and written with total conviction that this small town and its unusual inhabitants exist. If you’re looking for a warm hug of a book for the winter months, and enjoy a sprinkle of makebelieve, this is a good one to try.
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick is published by MIRA as a £7.99 pbk, available now.
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Alastair Giles ushers you into your specially reserved seat. A Monster Calls Patrick Ness – 1st Jan
The Spanish director of The Impossible, J.A. Bayona now brings this modern children’s classic to the screen with the help of a screenplay direct from the author. Newcomer Lewis McDougal plays the boy who builds an alliance with the tree near his house. The now near ubiquitous Felicity Jones is his mum and Liam Neeson voices the monster. Very good early vibes on this has earned it a New Year’s Day release. (And of course it was a Recommended Read in nb86 back in Autumn 2015 and you can read Read On’s Verdict on page 29.)
DO FILMS SELL BOOKS?
Last year, several of the Best Picture Oscars were based on adaptations and the winner, Spotlight, was based on a brilliant piece of exposure journalism. There are more and more films taken straight from bestselling books. You can see why - there’s a ready-made audience waiting. However, not all of them act as a promotional tool for the book. Yes, there is an extra hit of publicity, but very few films actually manage to turn the books into bestsellers. 2016’s bestselling adaptations were Me Before You and Girl On A Train - both of them already bestsellers (and neither likely to win any Oscars).
Lewis MacDougall stars as Conor and Liam Neeson as the voice of The Monster. © Entertainment One UK
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Silence Shusaku Endo
– 1st Jan
Liam Neeson as Father Cristóvão Ferreira - © Studio Canal UK
Yet another Dennis Lehane thriller burns itself onto the screen in January starring and directed by Ben Affleck and a fantastic collection of character actors. On the back of Argo and Gone Girl, the star can do no wrong of late and with film treatments of Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone and Shutter Island Lehane already has a great pedigree for adaptations. Looking forward to this one.
Deborah Lipstadt wrote a memoir and Mick Jackson has directed a film about it. The name you’ll have heard in this is David Irving, the historian and infamous Holocaust denier. This is the telling of the court case Irving (Timothy Spall) brought against Lipstadt (Rachel Weisz) a fellow historian who he felt had been defaming him. It was a four year trial in the 90s and has now been packed into a two hour film of great importance and even greater relevance today, given the rise of far right movements in Europe. Deflating conspiracy theories or defining historical truth from opinion? Or both? Who would have thought it would be this difficult - and still required.
© Warner Bros. UK
t’s the New Year, so it must be awards season. Before we know it, we’ll be bombarded with messages everywhere about the greatest films we’ve never heard of nominated for Oscars or Baftas. We’ll be assaulted with ads making us feel guilty about films that we don’t know or haven’t yet heard of. Well, stick with us and stay ahead of the pack. We’ll give you the front row seat for what’s coming out in the next few weeks and what you really DO need to see. I’m not promising that these will all be Oscar winners, but they are adaptations of note coming to a multiplex or arthouse theatre of your choice in the next few weeks.
Denial Deborah Lipstadt -
T2 -Trainspotting Irvine Welsh – 27th Jan Ben Affleck as Joe Coughlin.
Also released at the beginning of the year and no doubt awards bound is the new film from Martin Scorsese based on a little known Japanese novel about Jesuit priests voyaging to Japan to propagate Christianity and find their mentor. Meaty stuff, which, I think will have people seeking out the novel. Daniel Day Lewis and Benicio Del Toro were originally cast in this, only to be replaced finally (and you have to say, disappointingly) by Adam Driver and Andrew Garfield. Like they say about policemen, they seem to get younger every day, as these new brooms usurp their now middle aged peers.
Whatever happened to Begbie, Renton et al from the mid 90s? Irvine Welsh penned his sequel, Porno, a couple of years ago and now Danny Boyle has caught up and brought Ewan McGregor and Johnny Lee Miller back to the screen to play it out. Teenagers experimenting with drugs on a povertystricken Edinburgh estate may not have been your cup of tea, but it was an undeniably addictive piece of cinema. Boyle has since achieved national treasure status after his 2012 Olympic opening ceremony exploits, but can even he mess with a classic?
Rachel Weisz and Timothy Spall © GEM Entertainment
50 Shades Darker E L James – 10th Feb More of the same. In every sense. Hard to believe that the author made a trilogy out of telling pretty much the same story 3 times, but there you go. So, now, we’re ‘treated’ to the second instalment on film with the same actors: Jamie Dornan and Dakota Fanning.
The Handmaiden Sarah Waters - 17th Feb You may not recognise this as one of Sarah’s titles and that’s because it’s based on Fingersmith. Directed by Park Chan-wook it is now a South Korean erotic psychological thriller with the setting changed from the Victorian era to Korea under Japanese colonial rule!
Alone in Berlin Hans Fallada - 10th March One of my favourite books of recent years, I’m really looking forward to seeing this played out on the big screen. It’s a fictionalised story of an actual German couple, Otto and Elise Hampel played by Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson who have lost their son on a WWII battlefield. They create small acts of resistance at home in Berlin to strike out against the Nazis. Daniel Bruhl plays the officer hunting them down. The novel was gripping and propulsive in equal measure. No trailer released as yet, but I have high hopes for the film. (And of course this was also a Recommended Read, in nb54 back in November 2009.)
Emma Thompson and Brendan Gleeson
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© Altitude Film Entertainment
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RESOLUTIONS FOR 2017?
Jade Craddock asked some of her favourite authors.
SARA BAUME In the past couple of years, I’ve really enjoyed reading fiction in translation, but just recently, I realised I repeatedly choose novels from France, Germany, the Netherlands and the Nordic countries. In November, I spent a few days in Singapore for a writer’s festival and hauled home a bonanza of books by Korean and Japanese authors, as well as local Singaporeans. In 2017, I’m going to make a concerted effort to cast my book-net beyond Europe, and in an easterly direction. As for writing, I’ve just finished my second novel, and so I’m looking forward to turning away from the screen and never-ending editing, and back to the notebook, to nuggets of potential. On a lurid-green post-it note stuck to the wall above my desk, I have written: “Less… better”
1. Read more. I read quite a bit but not nearly as much as I should and it bothers me. With my tbr pile constantly expanding, I will make a concerted effort next year to make a considerable dent in it. If everyone could stop writing amazing books until then, that would be great.
Like many people, I didn't enjoy 2016. I kept a journal, but didn't write very much fiction; the quiet space of imagination was occupied by a restless sadness - I often took 10,000 steps a day without leaving the house. I recently read that the repetitive action of needlework can induce a relaxed state similar to yoga or meditation. I started knitting, and my resolution is to continue working on my (somewhat ropey) blanket. I’m hoping the wool will act like Ariadne’s thread, a homing device that will lead me back to the quiet of imagination.
2. Explore other genres. I mainly read horror novels which as a rom-com author is perhaps a little unusual. In 2017 I intend to stop being such a ghoul and embrace all tales which do not go bump in the night. 3. Try the Pomodoro technique. Time management something I’m useless at. A few authors I admire use this technique and find it to be very successful. I could use a little writing discipline in my life. 4.Write something completely out of my comfort zone. I don’t take myself seriously. At all. There aren’t many things in life that I don’t find absurd or amusing in some way, therefore writing comedy feels very natural. My challenge next year will be to work on something that takes me out of my comfort zone.
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KIT DE WAAL My writing resolutions for 2017 are to finish my second novel and enjoy the paperback release of my first, My Name is Leon, in April. I’ll be writing short stories and flash fiction every moment I can, as usual. I’m also looking forward to reading lots of short fiction, as I’m excited to be judging a
couple of competitions next year. I’ll be gearing up for the next round of my creative writing scholarship, which I set up to help writers who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to study for a Master’s. And when there’s time left over, I’ll be tackling the wonderful pile of novels by my bed, including Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Not Working by Lisa Owens, and The A to Z of You and Me by the brilliantly funny James Hannah.
Admin! I need to set aside a day for admin. I loathe admin and tend to put it off and off and then forget things. I’m horribly disorganised and dreadfully scatty – my mind is usually occupied with plot points and surprise twists. I basically live in my own fantasy land. Organisation! I need to keep a check on how many notebooks I use. I have a problem! So, maybe my resolution needs to be to actually fill some notebooks before buying any more!
differently. The ideas and characters have been sketched out for a few months, and, come January, I plan to draw a full set of blueprints. There may even be a spreadsheet. Like all good resolutions, this will either revolutionise my year or crash and burn sometime around January 15th. I’m looking forward to finding out which.
KAT DIAMOND Argh, resolutions! Making rules for myself never works because I love to rebel - but there are several things I need to get in order next year before my head explodes. Reading! I need to read more. I love to read and I love stories. Books are the reason I wanted to be a writer. So my New Year’s resolution with regards to reading is to read for 30 minutes before bed every night. Writing! My resolution is in fact to be nicer to myself when I am writing; I need to ignore that inner voice that makes me feel like I can’t write because it makes things so much harder.
GAVIN EXTENCE Here’s the thing. I’ve never attempted to plot out a novel before. It’s not that I’ve been planless , just that I’ve always started from character, voice and situation rather than the ABC of what happens when. At the most, I’ve had a beginning, an ending, and a scattering of tentpole moments in between – the big events that prop up the whole. Well, it’s perfectly feasible to write a novel like that. I’ve managed three, and the birthing pains were never too traumatic. But long-term writing is often about finding ways to keep yourself fresh. So with novel four I’ve decided to do things
2016 was a tough year in many ways, for many people. My resolution therefore is to take one day at a time with the diet, exercise and drinking less, and to be kind to myself if I fall down on the way. But having fallen off my good lifestyle (I’m blaming helping my daughter and son in law hand rear a litter of puppies – and will be for several years to come, no doubt!) I am keen to feel good about myself again. Writing-wise, I just want to get the next book written. I am very excited about it. It’s going to be fun.
This year it’ll be mostly about the words - and the sentences, too. It’s also going to be about clamping my head in my hands when I hit a difficult bit in my new book, and bouncing off the walls when I get past it. I’ll feel remorse when I kill off a favourite character – and that terrible feeling will last five, maybe six, minutes. I’ll definitely be overcaffeinating at my desk and eating too many pastries. I’ll run out of printer ink every twenty days and printer paper every twenty minutes. I’ll grab four, five pens or more to put in my bag because not all of them will work – that’s totally nailed on. I’ll start a writing diary and update it for a whole three days. I’ll jot down ideas in fifty-three notebooks, and lose every single one. I won’t go on the internet when I should be working, not at all - you have my solemn word on that. But I’ll read lots – good novels, bad novels – and I’ll learn something from each and every one of them. I’ll do all those things. But, yeah, mostly it’ll be about the words - and the sentences, too.
I am coming towards the end of a first draft of a novel that has taken me longer than usual to complete, and through it I have learned that better planning is sometimes desirable, so this is my main resolution for my writing in 2017. Of course, a great deal of writing fiction is by its very nature intuitive and exploratory, but I’ve discovered that unless I have a fairly well worked out idea of significant stages of the storyline and the likely resolution, it can be difficult to know how much effort to invest in developing different characters and aspects of the plot and more revision is necessary. I am also resolved to relax and enjoy the process of writing more. Having contractual deadlines can be extremely useful to bring discipline to one’s work schedule, but they can also be stressful. I think taking more breaks would therefore be desirable and these could be used fruitfully - to do research or simply to think about what I’ve written so far. Reading is something I do all the time anyway, but better planning and self-discipline would help here too. Background reading for a future writing project is something that I should do whilst polishing the final drafts of my current novel,
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though, again, rests between creative projects are important or else I’ll wear myself out. I also intend to write reflectively about the books I read for a deeper and richer reading experience and in order to share thoughts with others.
LOUISE JENSEN My New Year's writing resolution is to stop setting myself targets. I have learned that working around a family and a chronic health condition means that there will be days I get lots of words down, and days that I don't get any words down and that's okay. I have been quite hard on myself, aiming for a daily word count, and this isn't always achievable or realistic. This year, I am also determined to read in as many different genres as I can. I have fallen into reading within my own genre, with a critical eye, and I can't remember the last book I read for pleasure. There is nothing quite like curling up with a book, and I shall make a conscious divide by reading on the Kindle for work, and buying paperbacks from my local bookshop to read for fun. I also want to donate some time to mentoring fledgling writers this year. At the early stages of writing The Sister I was mentored and it really did make an enormous difference to me. I am a great believer in paying it forward.
1. Keep my writing hours sacred. The flexibility within a writer’s day is both a curse and a blessing. The lovely invitations for long lunches and coffees; the thousand and one things to do in the house (oh how domesticated I can become when avoiding my desk); a fun new recipe to try out. And most tempting of all: that good book to snuggle up with – perhaps the most dangerous distraction of all because reading can always be defended as work. But my writing hours are sacred and so, Monday-Friday, 9-5pm, I’m going to be strong and keep company only with my characters. 2. Love the process. I am a deeply goal oriented person. A consequence of my impatient nature, perhaps. I want to know how many pages and words I’ve written, how many hours I’ve put in, how many novels I’ve managed to write this year – and, of course, I want them to do well, to capture the hearts of my readers. But I am reminded, time and again, that the reward is in the doing. That the end point, once reached, is often hollow compared to the magic of the process. 3. Write every day, even when my second daughter is born. I’m pregnant. Due on the 7th of April. Another little girl.
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And I’m terrified. The novelist Maria Semple put it well in an interview with BBC Radio 4’s Front Row when she said that being a mother, putting another human being first, creates a huge tension in the life of a creative person. I know that those first weeks are going to be a huge challenge – especially with a toddler to love and give attention to as well. But writing every day doesn’t mean keeping up the schedule that I would usually have: hours at my desk, thousands of words on the screen, notebooks filling with ideas. Writing every day means scribbling down even one sentence on the back of an envelope, jotting down a creative thought, thinking up a character. I won’t be able to do much in those early days, I know, but I promise myself to keep writing, always.
fourth book started and finished as soon as possible. 4. Get hold of some new notebooks. I use a particular type of notebook for all of my research and notes. They’re quite hard to come by so I’d like to re-stock. I love the look of them on my shelves waiting to be used for future books. Reading resolutions: 1. Read as widely as possible. 2. Not be too internet or publisher-led when buying books. I used to spend a lot of time in independent bookshops choosing my purchases carefully, so I’d like to find more time to do that. 3. Try to find time to read more non-fiction. I really enjoy it and don’t read nearly enough of it. 4. Read more YA fiction. It’s such a rich genre and full of wonderful and adventurous stories. It’s also a space where writers can produce work that’s not bound so tightly to traditional genres and that can be very inspiring.
SUE MOORCROFT I resolve to research only subjects I actually want to write about. I currently spend too much time researching some subject that makes me uncomfortable or unhappy. I know I won't use it because I don't like being unhappy... but I'm too fascinated to stop reading about it. Likewise I go off on tangents. It's no use to me but it's just too interesting to leave. A much better idea is to hit on something I want to do, like learn about hat making, then put it in a book so I have good reason to do it!
so that when your muse has sneaked off with somebody else for the day, routine will keep you at the keyboard, adding word on top of word until you type "The End". This has worked really well for me up to now. I have a favourite chair. I have a time of day when I can say “no” to the internet, even during elections. There's a word target too that sneers at me, that calls me all kinds of names when I fail to reach it. However, since the publication of The Call, my routine has become a prison. I'm spending more and more time sitting in airports or wrestling with the showers in strange hotel rooms. All very nice, you might say, but the random nature of travel and all its attendant stresses have left me producing nothing but blank pages. So, my resolution this year, is to develop a separate routine, a word-count for travel days. Either that, or I'll just have to stay home!
GILLY MACMILLAN Writing resolutions: 1. Plan more! I would love to get better at knowing where my book is going before I dive in and write, because it might make the editing process easier and the whole process less terrifying. 2. Get distracted by social media less. I’m sure I’m not the only writer to be an expert at procrastination, and social media is one of the greatest temptations. 3. Get the first draft of my
PEADAR O’GUILIN "Develop a routine!" we tell struggling writers. Find the coffee shop your muse likes to visit, then go there every day. Or rise an hour early so the quiet can inspire you. Above all, make a habit of it,
Not so much a resolution as a requirement, I will be working on the eighth Inspector McLean novel in the new year. I have a few other writing projects calling me, including a ghost story set in Wales and the first book of an epic Science Fiction series that needs a rewrite. Just like the last three, I predict next year’s going to be a busy one.
On the reading front I resolve, as I do every year, to read more. Running a farm and writing two novels a year leaves little time for anything else, but I mean to carve out some time in the hectic schedule to make room for Emma Newman (After Atlas), Sarah Pinborough (Behind Her Eyes), Steve Mosby (You Can Run), Eva Dolan (Watch Her Disappear), Ali Land (Good Me, Bad Me) and many, many more.
(Note to self: do not buy books over 400 pages.) It’s brilliantly written and I must finish it. I’m late coming to the Elena Ferrante novels, but am poised to read My Brilliant Friend. Can’t wait to start Ann Patchett’s Commonweath. And have promised my son to read Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything.
NATASHA SOLOMONS SASKIA SARGINSON My working life has been interrupted this year. One of my dogs had a terrible accident and it took nine months to get her better. I couldn’t write at all during this period, instead spending the time reflecting and researching while sitting with her. The result is the novel I’m currently writing. The Wonderful is set on an American airbase in 1950s England in the midst of the Cold War. I’ve mixed up genres with elements of family drama, love story and thriller. There’s even a dash of science fiction. But no dogs! Next year, my resolution is to finish it. I live with four grown-up children, a partner, and five animals, so am in need of a garden shed with a strong lock. I have a confession: Annie Proulx’s Barkskins is still sitting beside my bed months after buying it.
I shall banish the writer mother’s guilt I’m often asked at festivals or book groups whether I have any writerly rituals. The answer is no, not anymore. I used to find my fingerless gloves (it was very cold in our old summer house, belying the name) and I’d search for just the right playlist. Now, if the children are at nursery/ school/ asleep for half an hour, then the muse had better find me at my desk. Yet, it is still not that easy. I agonise about not writing my new book quickly enough and quietly, guiltily, put the baby into nursery for an extra half day here and there. Then, I have a surge of a week and I’m dreaming of Paris and Vienna and I hear my characters chatter in my dreams. But the pleasure is short lived. I’ve put the baby in nursery too much. She follows me from room to room (even into the loo, where she strokes my leg and offers me loo roll). I cancel
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next week’s extra nursery days. I play dinosaurs. We puddle jump. She sleeps. Somehow, the book still gets written, if a little more slowly…
CHRIS WHITAKER • I will finally read some of the classics I keep claiming are my favourites. (I’ve always wondered just how little those women were.) •I will finish writing my YA book. I’ve been working on it for three years and it’s still only half finished. I need to make some time between my day job, my adult books, and parenting. I’ll sleep when I’m dead.
C L TAYLOR My new year's resolution is to read fewer psychological thrillers. That may sound strange as I write them myself but I receive so many proofs there just isn't time to read the books I've bought myself, or the classics I've been meaning to re-read. I think it's important to read widely, no matter what genre you write, and I'll be doing more of that in 2017.
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my book, then get an agent, then a publishing deal, then see my book on the shelves, then sell foreign rights, then be a bestseller, then sell movie rights, then star in the movie, then sing the song that accompanies the movie. Just having people actually read my work is more than I ever dreamed of so I’ll try and remember just how lucky I am.
• I’ll stop reading crime when I’m writing crime, it can be a bit distracting and I worry about crossover. Generally I prefer the term ‘tribute’ to ‘plagiarism’ but I worry Grisham won’t see it the same way. • I will stop wishing death on all those that give me bad reviews. Perhaps they could just meet with a minor accident. • I will stop moving the goalposts. First it was finish
Actually my reading and writing resolutions are the same. To read MORE. I’m always amazed when I meet people who say they want to write, but then gleefully announce that they don’t read. It’s like wanting to be a chef and never eating anything. Reading is the lifeblood of writing, because nothing fires the imagination more effectively. It goes without saying that I love crime fiction, but immersing myself in a great book by one of my colleagues when I’m trying to write one of my own can be problematic. I can easily read fifty pages in bed, drift off to sleep, then wake up in the morning convinced that I’ve had a great idea! So perhaps I should be specific and resolve to read more non-crime. More biographies. More books about music and comedy. More literary fiction. OK, maybe that’s going a bit far. So…more reading. Much more. Oh, and if someone could pop an idea for my next book into my Christmas stocking, that would be fantastic…
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I’m generally against New Year resolutions, feeling they set us up for failure. All that looking ahead to what a different person we might be if we were thinner/fitter/an improved version of ourselves. Novels often fall foul of the same impatience – looking towards the finished product or towards publication, instead of enjoying the slow labour of each day. Do not hurry, do not rest, would be my advice (though it was said by Goethe). Write daily – small steps, inching forward without word counts or looking too much at the whole. Reading is utterly essential to learning to be a writer. I have been studying two books recently: Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, and Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, by Elizabeth Taylor. I love them for their quiet, piercing perceptiveness, their refusal to resort to melodrama, and the atmosphere of intelligent melancholy which is such a pleasure to be immersed in. I would recommend both to all writers.
My New Year writing resolution this year is to create an environment where writing is actually fun. I often find myself writing in really uncomfortable places like perched on the end of our sofa, where the kids always hide Lego bricks and pointy plastic toys for me to sit on, and everything is chaotic and messy. I think it's really important to have somewhere that's peaceful and comfortable, where you can play music, and put little post-it notes up that you know won't get ripped down or scribbled on. So yes, instead of a 'man cave' I'm going to construct a prose cave. A nice desk, nice pens, a good sound system. And also somewhere to hide chocolate digestives.
My writing resolution is to repeat the mantra 'this is normal' at every stage of the publishing process - pre publication anxiety, the sheer terror when the first week's sales figures email arrives and the 'end of the world' feeling that comes with the first one star review. I kept a diary when The Missing came out in April in the hope that next year, when The Escape comes out, I'll be able to reassure myself that everything I feel is 'normal'. Fingers crossed!
Settling down with a good read is one of life’s outstanding pleasures. We present these cracking reads for your delectation – and you can have all of them FREE. All we ask is you cover our p&p costs.
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I found reading Foxlowe from the point of view of Green incredibly effective – her ‘innocence’, her acceptance and what she doesn’t understand about her way of life become more and more sinister as the novel progresses – how did you decide whose story to tell? Was it always Green’s story? Yes, it was always intended to be Green’s voice and story. I do have sketches of other voices in first person as exploratory exercises, especially Freya and Blue, but they were never intended for the final version. It
was this more about Green finding a way to justify her existence and place in the group or was it simply her lack of education and ability to express herself in any other way? That’s a great way to describe it! The impulse to pass stories on is one way I tried to explore her trauma. She insists on the stories because they are her link to Freya’s version of the world and the structures around which Foxlowe has been built. The Time of the Crisis, for example, can be understood as Freya’s
Coming of Mel Mitchell loved Foxlowe so who
had to be Green because she is in a unique position- as she says herself, she was the only one born at Foxlowe. Even Blue has the ghost of a ‘real’ life, a past. Green is the only one for whom Freya’s experiment truly works; she is absolutely Freya’s creature. That makes her the most interesting character for me, especially in the second part of the book. Green speaks frequently about passing stories on, which often seemed like a very dark version of Chinese whispers! – for you
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post-natal psychosis, which is expressed through the idea of the Bad. Green would never be able to express it that way, but she tries to pass it on to explain the world as she has been taught to see it. The moment when Green begins telling her own version of the stories, rather than trying to remember Freya’s or one of the others’ voices, is both a coming of age for her and a red flag that she is struggling to escape that way of understanding her experiences and memories.
There is a real nature/nurture debate running through the novel and there are clear contrasts in behaviour and character between Green and Blue but also with Toby – do you think Green’s behaviour was straightforwardly influenced by Freya or would the dark side of her character have manifested itself anyway? I don’t believe, as Freya does, that there is an evil seed in Green at all. She suffers in a different way to the others because she is Freya’s natural daughter and so, despite Freya’s claim not to recognise natural bonds, she is subject to a more intense focus of Freya’s
Green is too afraid to acknowledge in herself and so suppresses. I always thought of the story as in part being about the consequences of the choices of adults visited on the children they are responsible for, and the three children are failed in different ways. So I suppose I come down on the nurture side of the debate, at least for this set of characters! The novel challenges notions of good and bad, implying (perhaps) that there can be a motivation or justification for either – was this something you deliberately wanted to explore or was it led by the characters?
n your introduction to Foxlowe back in our Summer issue you spoke about the novel being a love letter to the Staffordshire moorlands – was it the location and its ancient history that inspired the novel or did you think of the idea of the cult first? I wish I was the kind of organised writer who could answer this more coherently, but I think what happened was a coming together of a few elements at once. I had Freya’s character forming quite clearly in a few short pieces—she always appeared with two daughters. I knew I wanted to write about the Moorlands and in particular the pagan sites and double sunset optical illusion. Then when I placed Freya and her girls there, the idea of a strange community grew around that, and became more and more cult-like the closer I knitted Freya and the landscape together. So it’s probably true to say that the cult element was the last one to come into focus for me, but looking back I think Freya’s character was always destined to be a cult leader; she didn’t really work in any other setting.
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I imagine their lives are very much blighted by what happens; none of them ever escape it. Full Q&A on nudge-book.com
age in a cult
better to put our questions to Eleanor Wasserberg? damaging influence. There is a great deal of natural love and warmth in Green—for Freya, her home, and the other two children, which in another environment might have led to a balanced, secure, happy child. Toby has the more benign neglect of Charlotte/Valentina to cope with (which isn’t to downplay the abuse he suffers) and Blue is always somehow apart, an outsider from the beginning. There is a natural impulse to learn and understand in Blue, which leads her to question and explore, and which
I don’t think I consciously tried to explore it, no, but it is true that Freya’s depiction of the world as being divided into The Good and The Bad is intended to be glaringly reductive and weak. Even the very worst things that characters do in the novel, objectively horrifying and immoral, can be traced back to a motivation and justification much deeper than “they’re just a bad person.” They are all the heroes of their own stories, and if you asked them they could give you plenty of explanations for their behaviour. Nevertheless
Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg is published by Fourth Estate as a £8.99 pbk on 12th January.
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Foxlowe - Eleanor Wasserberg
t Foxlowe everyone has two names. One is a secret, meant to be lost. For most, it worked like this: first they had the one they came to Foxlowe with peeled away like sunburnt skin. Then a new name, for a new life. I used to get jealous of the Family with their secret outside names, while I only had the one, like half a person. Sometimes an old name would slip, strangled at a syllable with a blush. This was a sign to watch for, in case someone might wish to become a Leaver. Now I am doubled that way, named twice, but for me, it’s worked in reverse: my new name came later, on the outside, like putting on that crusty old skin that should be lying on the floor. My one name was Green, but no one calls me that any more. I had no old name to peel away, because I was born at Foxlowe. Freya named me first, of course. She named all of us, except for one. There’s a power in naming. Green was strange even for home — most of the women had flowers, or pretty ideas, like Liberty. If I could speak to Freya, I’d tell her not to worry, because I hold my new name ever so lightly, ready to shrug it off , if ever Foxlowe could start up again. Of course I wasn’t Green all the time. With Toby, it was the ungrown; once Blue came, it was the girls, too. Since this is a story for Blue, first here is the little bit I remember of the world before Blue was in it. I knew that it’s not only names that double: time was split in two, between two Solstices. The winter one falls when the year is dying and you have to be careful then, because the Bad is strong in the dark. The summer one is when the sun sets twice at the Standing Stones, and the Bad is weakest. I don’t remember when I learned these things, only that I knew them by the time Blue existed. I knew Freya and Richard and Libby were the Founders and that the others were the Family and I even remembered that there was a time when I was the only ungrown, before Toby came. I knew that when I was born, it brought the Time of the Crisis, and that everything Freya did, even the things that hurt, were to keep the Family together and safe ever afterwards. I am meant to tell Blue’s story, but it doesn’t flow as it should: there are broken and jagged edges to it, and some pieces are too sharp for the tongue to tell. I could begin with Blue’s naming, the first little thing I did to love and to hurt Blue all at once. Or I could tell the moment Foxlowe began crumbling all around us, with the front doorbell ringing. But wherever I begin, it all leads to the same place. To the sweet rotting smells, and the warm, slick blood. We have copies to give away FREE. See page 39 to claim yours.
Foxlowe - Eleanor Wasserberg
Part One: Green Tiny red beads came from the lines on my arm. Those soft scars give way like wet paper. There’s a game that helps: footsteps in the dust, twisting to match the old strides without taking the skin away from the Spike Walk. Another: name steps all the way to the yellow room end of the Spike Walk. Freya, Toby, Green, Egg , Pet, the Bad. I made it to the final nail and squinted at the arm. Red tears and the lines swollen hot; a crying face. I turned to Freya, her long arms wrapped around herself at the ballroom end of the Walk. She nodded, so I breathed deeper and licked some of the salt and coins taste to make it clean. Freya spoke. —And back again, Green. Her voice was low, but even softened there was broken glass in it. I lifted my other arm to the nails that had once hung pictures on these walls in Foxlowe’s old life. —No, same arm, Freya said, smothering a smile. — Until it bleeds, is the rule. —It is bleeding. I held up my arm for her to see. Freya gave a slow blink. —And back again, Green. I put the torn skin back to the first nail. By the time I stumbled into Freya’s embrace there were flames under my skin, and I knew the Bad was burning away. I pleaded silently into the wood smoke scent of Freya’s dress. She twined her fingers in my hair, tight at the roots, pulled to search my face. I tried to look pure and good, fixed on her dark eyes and sharp, veined cheeks. Freya nodded, uncurled to her full height, and led me out to the ballroom, where Libby knelt on the huge red rug. Libby wrapped me in the cardigan with the daisy shaped buttons and left me for the kitchen. The curve of a broken button fitted snug around the tip of my little finger. It wasn’t Freya who returned but Libby with the poultice of lavender and honey. —Why’re you doing it? I asked, as Libby wrapped the warm cloth below my elbow. Freya did this for me, while telling the story of the Crisis, then she’d bring her forehead to mine, and pour her thick, black hair around us, making a little world for us away from the rest of the Family. This was her way of forgiving me. A little ritual of our own, an always. We have copies to give away FREE. See page 39 to claim yours.
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We have copies to give away FREE. See page 39 to claim yours.
ooking back over the first 40 years of Tahmima Anam’s life and career it seems inevitable that she would become both an author of note and an advocate for her home country of Bangladesh. The Guardian seems to use her as their conscience for the country, commissioning intermittent ‘state of the nation’ pieces where she reflects on a world of which most of us know little. In May 2016’s article ‘Is Bangladesh turning fundamentalist? – and other questions I no longer wish to answer’ she posits her view on ‘Were Bangladesh and Pakistan once the same country?’
a Muslim-majority country meant.” And yes, I do indeed remember that concert and still have the 3 disk album that followed but my grasp of the politics is better enlightened by her journalism and, just as importantly, her books. Indeed, the first – The Golden Age – of what turned into a loosely themed trilogy, we were fortunate enough to have as a Recommended Read in nb44, back in March 2008. Born four years after that concert, to parents with strong political views meant her childhood involved a kind of exile to Paris, New York and
Photo: Abeer Y Hogue
—What did you do for the Spike Walk? Libby asked. She liked to answer questions with questions. Her full name was Liberty, but only Freya ever called her that. Her hair was greasy with egg yolk, ready to wash out when the water came on after sunset. I shrugged. It was between Freya and me. That morning I’d tried to pierce my ears with a needle and ice snapped from the attic window frame. It wasn’t for that I was punished, but because Freya, who could read all my secrets just by looking at my face or the way I moved my hands, knew it was because I wanted to look like Libby. Libby’s earrings were blue hoops with little gold birds perched on them. They were special. Richard had brought them for her from the outside, and they never went into Jumble. She let me play with them now that my arm was bandaged, pressing one against my ear, while she held up the back of a spoon for me to see the blurry image. My hair didn’t move like her curls but like the knotted hair of a wet dog left out in the rain. After a while the Family came in from the gardens, their arms full of holly, or branches of white and red berries. I looked for Toby, but only the grown had been outside collecting for the Solstice decorations. They were flushed from the cold and the carrying, but it was almost festival time, and they filled the huge room with whistles and snatches of song and bits of stories. I threw my head back to see if the sounds bouncing around the ceiling beams were visible. Richard dragged a crate of wine and raised his eyebrows at Libby as he passed. She gave him a wide smile and shifted her hips on the floor, touched her sticky yolked hair. His eyes slid to my arm, then away, and he left towards the kitchen. The Family started to pull out vine and branch, strangling them into wreaths. I was finding deeper breaths now, my heart settling. —That’s it, breathe into it, Libby soothed. —Imagine the pain like a ball that’s moving to your hands. I always tried but my pain ran in lines, so I made it into a track to be walked across the moor, leading to my fingers. Libby had me make a fist and release it. She told me I could watch the ball float up and away like a bubble. Instead, behind my eyelids were threads spooling out from the new cuts, unravelling, unpicked bad stitches.
Foxlowe - Eleanor Wasserberg
A Long Distance Love Affair? Guy Pringle admires the courage and advocacy of Tahmima Anam “Ah, the knotty question of Where We Came From. Perhaps you have heard of the Concert for Bangladesh, when Ravi Shankar played for an audience of thousands in Madison Square Gardens, New York. It was 1971, and the Bangladesh war of independence had been raging for six months. Before that, Bangladesh was part of Pakistan – it was called East Pakistan, though the two wings of the country were divided by 1,000 miles of India and the citizens of the two wings spoke different languages and had vastly different concepts of what citizenship in
Bangkok as a result of her father’s career with UNICEF. Home life was lived as if it were still in Bangladesh, the food the language, the intention throughout being to return. For Anam this hasn’t quite come true – she visits but her degree is from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, her PhD (in Anthropology) from Harvard and her MA in Creative Writing is from Royal Holloway, University of London. Married to an American she now lives in Kilburn. And the literary career? Well, Golden Age won the Best First Book of the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.
2011 saw her follow up – The Good Muslim – nominated for the Man Asian Literary Prize and in 2013 she was included in the Granta list of ‘Best Young Novelists’. Which brings us to The Bones of Grace – an idea lifted from her younger sister, who at 13 began telling people she was adopted. “It wasn’t true, but I thought, isn’t it interesting that you can be the beloved daughter of this family and still feel like an outsider?” An interesting proposition for a fascinating tale.
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The Bones of Grace - Tahmima Anam
saw you today, Elijah. You were crossing the road. There is a building on the corner of Mass Ave and Harvard Street that looks like a miniature version of the Flatiron Building in New York. You had your back to the building, and when the little white man began to blink, you stepped off the sidewalk and onto the street – that’s when I saw you. You made a little gesture with your hand that made me think you had seen me too, that you were waving, but it was a small motion of your wrist that meant nothing – you were just bruising the cold November air, and before you caught my eye, I bolted. I knew it would only be a matter of time before we ran into each other. Cambridge is a small town and the orbits are modest. I’ve been back three months, and every day I’ve swept the corners of my vision, hoping and not hoping, as the warm days turned to ice, that it might be you in that charcoal coat, your legs in that pair of loose-fitting trousers. Your voice ordering the coffee before mine. Diana has brought me back. She is here – or, at least, a very small part of her is here – in my hand. Her ankle bone is paler and lighter than I had imagined – time has robbed it of its weight – but her presence is nothing short of a miracle, here in this lab, in this town where my dreaming of her and my dreaming of you began. When we left her behind in Dera Bugti, I never thought I would see her again. I thought the mystery of the walking whale would remain in the ground forever, one of the secrets we were never meant to unearth. But earlier this year I received a message, written in Urdu and translated, reluctantly, by my mother:
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The Bones of Grace - Tahmima Anam
Dear Miss Zubaida Hague, Here is a gift from our departed friend. I do not understand why a man would give his life for such a thing, but perhaps you will. He got a letter out, asking me to recover his treasure and send it to you.I have no choice but to dispatch my duty to a brother and comrade. We scoured the desert for your Diana, and now I am sending her to you, piece by piece. I do not know what these bones mean, but if you are reading this, you will know that our friend had a parting wish, and that I have endeavoured to fulfil it. I didn’t want to believe the message was real – after years of silence, could it be that Zamzam was helping to finish what we had started? But there was no other explanation, no other possible reason for this stranger’s message, and he had used her name, Diana. I replied, listing the department’s details, offering assistance to cover the transportation costs, the formalities that would have to be completed in order for ancient fossils to cross borders. Then I boarded a plane, I came here, and I waited. When the box arrived, it was wrapped in several layers of duct tape, and inside, within folds of newspaper, encased in a layer of red matrix, was Diana’s double-hinged ankle. I closed my fingers around the padding and felt the sting of tears in my eyes. I knew immediately that this wasn’t just the fulfilment of a dream I have so long desired yet had taught myself to renounce; it was also a way for me to make a final plea for you. Diana is the reason I left this town, and Diana is why I have returned. I think of her as a spirit of comings and goings, a beacon that leads me across continents and through time. I live in hope that she will lead me back to you. We have copies to give away FREE. See page 39 to claim yours.
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The Bones of Grace - Tahmima Anam
The Bones of Grace is an nb Recommended Read and you can have it free from this issue all we ask is you cover our p&p costs.
I suppose I must have been composing this story in my head for some time, but as I held Diana’s bone in my hand that day, a flood of words came to my mind, and I rushed home and wrote them down. I have been living in a state of waiting, Elijah, for this moment, this opportunity for reckoning, and Zamzam, from beyond his grave, has granted me my wish. Diana is here, and I have seen you, and now I can take account of the whole thing – not just of you, the great love of my life, and not just of Ambulocetus, but also of Anwar, the man who led me to my mother, and of Grace, the ship that was ground to dust before our eyes. There is a whale, a woman who gave up her child, a piano, and a man who searched so long and hard for his beloved that he found me. But you have interrupted me too soon. I am not finished yet, and until I do there will be no way for us to wend our way back together. You were ahead of yourself, Elijah, standing in that intersection before you were meant to.
The Bones of Grace by Tahmima Anam is published by Canongate as a £8.99 pbk on 2nd February.
JADE’S REVIEW OF THE BONES OF GRACE Tahmima Anam’s The Bones of Grace is a truly allencompassing novel. Part love story, part family drama, part social commentary, part tragedy – amongst other things – it is a modern-day epic, and mightily impressive in its scope. At its centre is protagonist Zubaida, her thwarted relationship with Elijah and her search for her biological mother, all set against a complex marital and familial backdrop and the uncompromising realities of life in Dhaka and Chittagong. The narrative moves from the search for a prehistoric whale to the world of shipbreaking and back again and it is these seemingly disparate threads and the way Anam manipulates and weaves them into a whole that is so distinctive in the book. Indeed, each of the nine sections of which the novel is comprised gradually pieces together the various elements of the story until the final piece of the jigsaw is revealed in the last section and the narrative merges to form a perfect whole. It is an incredibly complex and intricate structure that Anam uses, showing both ambition and skill, but for the reader it does require some patience to get to that final satisfying conclusion. I did find some of
the middle sections drifted a little but the ending does make it worthwhile and I liked that Anam opts for a finale that feels authentic yet promising. As well as Anam’s distinctive structuring of the story, the novel is also notable for being written in large part as a sort of extended letter from Zubaida to Elijah. This is not an epistolary novel, but instead one long missive that explains Zubaida’s story to Elijah, and again, as with the novel’s ending, Anam handles Zubaida’s characterisation in particular with credibility. She is a character who is flawed but is aware of her flaws and striving to right her wrongs. Whilst the majority of the novel is written from Zubaida’s perspective, the fifth section – the very centrepiece of the story – is written from the perspective of Anwar, and this section gives a really startlingly different landscape in which to understand the narrative and is a key piece of the entire plot. Overall, Anam’s novel is both a great read and a skilful feat that makes it easy to understand why she was named as Granta’s Best Young British Novelist in 2013. Jade Craddock Personal 4 Group 4 See p.39 to order your copy.
The trilogy is yours . . .
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Our latest nudge Recommended Reads - only available from nudge-book.com (so we can manage stock). A Golden Age - Spring, 1971, East Pakistan. Rehana Haque is throwing a party for her beloved children, Sohail and Maya. Her young family is growing up fast, and Rehana wants to remember this day forever. But out on the hot city streets, something violent is brewing. As the civil war develops, a war which will eventually see the birth of Bangladesh, Rehana struggles to keep her children safe and finds herself facing a heartbreaking dilemma. The Good Muslim - After years away from her family, Maya Haque is on the journey home to Dhaka. But what if, as Maya discovers, everything you once knew has changed beyond recognition? What if you must relearn what it means to be a good daughter? And how do you begin to understand a brother who has taken a path so different from your own? Maya faces these questions and many more in The Good Muslim, an extraordinary novel about faith, family and the long shadow of war. Available from 13th January. But hurry, when they’re gone, they’re gone – nudge-book.com
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om rec m strong part of the narrative, but it is, I think, secondary to the ideas of questioning authority, familial love, and the power of old media vs. new. Truth is, this book took me in a whole lot of unexpected places. Jade: You offer a really refreshing take on dealing with cancer in the novel, including by shifting the focus so that it’s not entirely on Jared and doesn’t focus exclusively on his demise, what made you decide to take this approach? Len: I wanted the book to have a sense of humour. In fact, as the
I had just read The Book Thief when I started work on Fishbowl, and was captivated with the idea of giving life to something inanimate, but something unusual. That was in the back of my head. Then, as I started to write Jared, I found it a challenge because he was disintegrating before our eyes. Glio, the tumour, gave us a way in. Fun side note. There was a book out in 2015 called Delicious Foods. It's an adult novel about modern day slavery in the American south by a writer named James Hannaham. In the book, crack cocaine is
A tumour called Glio. Once again a YA novel addresses serious subjects - Jade Craddock wanted to know more from author Len Vlahos. story developed, I started to think of it as more of a dark comedy than a drama. If I focused entirely on Jared, I think it would have been too heavy. By providing multiple Len: When I set out to write the points of view, I was able to avoid falling into that trap. book, it started as an exploration of physician assisted suicide. The cancer was really an Jade: Similarly entry point for that exploration. anthropomorphising the However, the more I wrote, the tumour is a unique approach, less central euthanasia became. I how and why did you decide to do so? didn't want to write an issue book, and that's what it was Len: It was two different things. becoming. Euthanasia is still a
Jade: Life in a Fishbowl tackles a lot of big issues, not least cancer and assisted suicide, is it daunting as an author to try and manage these issues?
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anthropomorphized. The book is brilliant, and the character, "Scotty," is handled perfectly. I had already written Fishbowl when I read Delicious Foods, but here's the kicker, James Hannaham and I went to high school together. There must have been something in the water in our home town (Yonkers, NY). Jade: I found the whole anthropomorphism incredibly original but did you ever worry about how to pitch the
voice? And did this voice come ‘naturally’ or did it work through different iterations? Len: It's a bit disturbing to admit, but the voice of Glio did come naturally. I gave myself a writing challenge: "See if you can make a brain tumour a sympathetic character." While this is very much Jackie's story. Glio's story arc is very compelling to me. He goes from having no knowledge of the terror he inflicts to fully comprehending the enormity of his theft. As for Glio's voice specifically, I wanted it to be a mixture of a child learning its way in the world, and a cold blooded killer operating on base instinct. I have no idea if I succeeded, but I had fun trying. :-)
complications from Alzheimer's when I was a little boy, and my mom has dementia now. Watching her brain scramble memories and lose context is heart wrenching. The thought that it might one day happen to me, that I could lose that memory of my son being born, is terrifying. Writing is a way to help preserve those memories. Jade: You manage to balance any grief in the novel by continually moving the narrative forward and never dwelling on a scene too long, was it important to you that you didn’t make the novel too morose?
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Len: Honestly, no. I wanted Jackie to be isolated, and I wanted to show Jared in decline. Adding moments of family grieving or rationalization would have subverted those two goals; honestly. I worry that it would have made it a bit too much like an after school television special. And again, I was focused on pacing throughout and didn't want to slow the story down.
Jade: The idea of someone selling their life on eBay; turning death into a reality TV Len: Pacing is something I think show is worryingly rather about a lot when I'm writing. believable, do you think your Jade: The novel tackles the I'm always asking myself while narrative is safely confined to issue of memory really I'm drafting (and my beta fiction? beautifully but there’s also a readers when the first draft is real poignancy to it as Jared’s done), where does the story slow Len: Another great question, memories are ‘lost’, and I down? At what point is and this is one that scares the wondered if you had one someone not going to want to heck out of me. Part of what memory that you would save turn the page? drew me to the story was how above all else, what would it With Fishbowl the ensemble plausible the idea actually is. I be? cast allows me to jump from live in fear of some nefarious perspective to perspective and TV exec using my book as a sort Len: Oooh... good question! It to develop, even on just a of blueprint. might be cliché to say so, but the surface level, other story lines. It Between the Internet and reality moment of the birth of my first also allows me to move quickly. TV, we have become a society son in June of 2008. I have a of voyeurs. With distance and longish blog post about it on my Jade: We don’t see many anonymity, I fear that our darker website. moments just between Jared angels lead us down dark and This was the inspiration for the and his family, was this part of dangerous paths. ( Just look at first of Jared's memories that the the intent to show how the the character of Sherman. Heck, Glio eats. personal becomes lost in the just look at Twitter.) I think about memory a lot. My public? The full Q&A can be found on nudge. paternal grandfather died of
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ded en There have been quite a few narratives that have dealt with illness – specifically cancer – but Len Vlahos’s novel stands out amongst them. In a genre that is, naturally, overwhelmed by grief, Vlahos has turned the subject on its head – literally – to create a surprisingly animated and original tale shot through with glimpses of poignancy and heartache. But it is originality that is the keyword of this title, as he transforms the way not only cancer is dealt with in his narrative but even the way it is expressed. Indeed, Vlahos takes the unusual, even radical, step of anthropomorphising his character, Jared’s, brain tumour, giving it a name – Glio, short for glioblastoma – and a voice. It is certainly an unconventional move, and I did wonder about the sensitivity of such an approach for some readers, but I think Vlahos manages to handle a very precarious concept with deftness and wistfulness and it is a really powerful and central element of the narrative. Another unconventional move by Vlahos is in his approach towards Jared, who as the one struck by the brain tumour, traditionally would fulfil the role of lead character. Not so in Life in a Fishbowl, in which Jared becomes rather a bit-part player in his own life, not least because he offers himself up firstly to the highest bidder on eBay and then as the pawn in the game of
JADE’S REVIEW OF LIFE IN A FISHBOWL BY LEN VLAHOS reality TV. As such, Jared’s life is largely taken from him, particularly by the TV juggernaut. And Vlahos uses a multi-character perspective, which includes Jared’s eldest daughter, Jackie, a TV exec, and several other outsiders, that recreates this sense of Jared’s loss of autonomy and subsumes his story of illness. Again it is an intriguing and unusual concept. Taking the focus off Jared means taking the focus off his illness which allows the narrative to have an emotional breather as it were, not getting too lost in the melancholy of Jared’s situation, but Vlahos’s approach also serves to highlight the deficiencies of a world in which the personal plays second fiddle to the public, and nothing is sacred. Admittedly, by pushing Jared out of the frame somewhat, it disrupts the emotional intensity and connection that narratives of this kind usually thrive on, and in large part, arguably, depend on, but this story has been done many times before and Vlahos offers something different by injecting humour and lightness as well as cynicism and sarcasm into a narrative that is about much more than illness. But he also manages to deliver that sentimentality in short, meaningful glimpses. Personally, I would have liked more of these and specifically more moments between Jared and his family to really give this authentic emotional experience to the novel, but the novel is so rich in many other ways, not least in terms of the range of voices and themes explored, and it depends on this originality for its power. And in
large part it succeeds. I have no doubt that readers will be talking about this novel a lot, and it is one that I would recommend to reading groups in particular for the wealth of material worth discussing. Although the book is packaged as YA, it doesn’t feel like a typical YA read and I would encourage all readers, adults and teens alike, to give it a go. In many ways I think it’s actually more suited to an adult audience. Without question, Vlahos has created something really unique and distinctive and whether you love it or not, it will be unlike anything you’ve read, and I suspect it will find many fans. Jade Craddock Personal 4 Group 5
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Life in a Fishbowl - Len Vlahos Jackie Stone loved her father. She loved him a lot. She kept a photo of her dad, Jared, taped to the inside of her locker at school. It was a recent selfie of the two of them on a ski lift. Wisps of Jackie’s blond hair poked out from beneath her hat but did nothing to obscure the smile stretching from one side of her face to the other. Whenever the day got rough, which for Jackie was more often than not, she would sneak a peek at that photo. It had become a kind of visual security blanket. On the days Jackie’s father wasn’t in Salem, where he served in the Oregon state legislature, she would find him barricaded in his study. Jackie suspected he was just as likely playing games on his Wii as he was working. The joy her dad took in beating Tiger Woods at his own game, even on a virtual golf course, made her love him even more. Either way, she knew better than to interrupt her father when that door was closed. But Thursdays were different. It was her father’s day to run errands for the household—the grocery store, the post office, the dry cleaner’s—and then head to the gym. On returning home, he’d drop his bag of sweaty workout clothes just inside the front door, take the stairs two at a time, and squeeze in next to Jackie on the top step. They would talk for a bit, eat a family dinner with Jackie’s mother and sister, and then snuggle on the couch and channel surf the TV. She and her dad called it “father-daughter date night,” and it was Jackie’s favorite time of the week. Even at fifteen, curling into the warmth and safety of her father’s shoulder gave Jackie a feeling of peace and comfort that she found nowhere else in the world. She knew he felt the same. But the wait for her father to come home on this Thursday was interminable. He was late. Jared Stone liked his brain. He liked it a lot.
Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos is published by Bloomsbury Books as a £7.99 pbk on 12th January.
Sure, there were times—the monotony of the evening commute, the late innings of a lopsided baseball game, the comforting repetition of the weekly church service—when it would seem to shut down, switch to some kind of autopilot. But for the most part, Jared’s brain was hard at work. It helped him navigate the halls of the state capitol, where he was serving his fourth two-year term representing the good people of Portland. It told him how to read the inscrutable faces of his wife, Deirdre, and his two teenage daughters, Jackie and Megan; to know when they needed him or when he should give them a wide berth. It knew which foods tasted good, which women were attractive, and which colleagues had a problem with body odor. And it seemed, generally speaking, to know right from wrong. Jared’s brain, you could say, was his best friend.
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Which is what made it so hard to hear that his brain had a high-grade glioblastoma multiforme—or would have made it hard had Jared known what a high-grade glioblastoma multiforme was. “A glio what?” he asked. The doctor, a gray-haired woman with a square jaw and white sandals like Jared’s aunt Eva used to wear, looked at him for a long moment. “I’m sorry, Jared. It’s a brain tumor.” He let the words roll around his brain: I’m sorry, Jared. It’s a brain tumor. Was she sorry that it was a tumor, or sorry that she hadn’t made herself clear when she used the term “high-grade glioblastoma multiforme”? Was the part of his brain that he was using at that very moment the part with the tumor? “And?” he asked. “And it’s not good news,” the doctor answered. “Not good news?” Jared heard the words but was having trouble following the conversation. He knew he needed to focus, knew it was more important now than ever that he focus, but he just couldn’t seem to do it. It was this intermittent lack of focus, these spells of confusion and memory loss, along with the persistent pain in his right temple, that had brought him to the neurologist in the first place. “No,” the doctor said. She waited for Jared to catch up. “Not good news,” he said, now understanding. “It’s inoperable.” “Inoperable,” Jared repeated, this time understanding immediately. “The only course of therapy I can prescribe is palliative.” “I’m sorry, Doctor. I don’t know that word.” Though he didn’t know if that had always been true, or if he had once known the word and had forgotten it. “It means we can try to alleviate your suffering, but we can’t do anything about the growth. It’s going to stay.” “The growth is going to stay?” “Yes.” He let this roll around his brain, too, and again wondered if the thought was rolling over, under, around, or through the tumor itself. “Can I live with a tumor?” he asked. The doctor let out a sigh. She hadn’t meant to and stopped herself mid-breath, so it came out as an “ahh” and sounded more like a noise of agreement than sorrow. Then she said, “No.” “No,” Jared repeated. “No,” the doctor said.
Life in a Fishbowl - Len Vlahos
The Portrayal of Disability in Literature Emma Claire Sweeney had a good reason for writing Owl Song at Dawn and our reviewers loved the result.
have yet to come across a novel that offers a place for the kind of relationship I share with my sister. Lou was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when she was a toddler, and a name was put to her autism far later. Sociological research shows that most siblings lovingly accommodate disability, overwhelmingly seeing their relationships as positive. Yet the sisters and brothers of a child with special needs, if they are raised together, are still often cast in literature as neglected and inevitably resentful or repressed. When I mention Lou’s cerebral palsy and autism, I am usually offered sympathy on the assumption that her life must be miserable and my childhood must have been tough. This is hardly surprising given that, as recently as 1983, the doctor told my parents to focus their love on her twin, Sarah, and on their eldest daughter, me; put Lou in
an institution; forget there’d ever been three. Far from a miserable existence, Lou has an infectious zest for life. She’s always the first on the dance floor and the last off. Her capacity for happiness likely stems from her appreciation of daily triumph:
after years of watching Sarah and I crawl and then walk, she eventually managed her first steps at six. Lou’s frustration does sometimes erupt physically: we have to coax her from hitting her head at times, and help to calm her when she slams her
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Owl Song at Dawn - Emma Claire Sweeney characters and devaluing their relationships. Much as when we meet people off the page, we might want to get to know their minds before we see them on the loo! And, even at the height of institutionalisation, the UK has never incarcerated more than one third of those with learning disabilities. Yet, ironically, we’ve been given greater access to accounts of asylums and broken homes, while stories of parents who resisted segregationist pressures have remained locked behind closed doors. In Owl Song at Dawn, therefore, I have chosen to celebrate the kind of families who fought – sometimes against the odds – to bring up their disabled and non-disabled children together; the kind of families who sought to care for each other with tenderness, humour and love.
I Owl Song At Dawn by Emma Claire Sweeney is published by Legend Press as a £8.99 pbk and is available now.
Emma Claire Sweeney This article was first published on nudge.
About the author Emma Claire Sweeney has won Arts Council, Royal Literary Fund and Escalator Awards, and has been shortlisted for several others, including the Asham, Wasafiri and Fish. She publishes features and pieces on disability for the likes of The Guardian, The Independent on Sunday and The Times; teaches creative writing at New York University in London; and co-runs SomethingRhymed.com – a website on female literary friendship.
was in the Honeysuckle Room, doling out extra bedding, the day Vincent Roper returned. The most familiar of details seem so important now: the barbershop band rehearsing in our lounge; the pale yellow of the blanket; the airing cupboard scents of lavender bags, copper pipes, that smell of warm wool like a pint of milk about to turn; the toll the task had taken on my back. Perhaps I was getting too old for all this. Maybe Zenka had a point when she mithered me about leaving all the housework to her. But, as usual, she’d shown up to clean Sea View Lodge in stilettos and a miniskirt so I’d set her to work in the kitchen, out of sight of our guests. I allowed myself a breather since the Honeysuckle Room afforded a magnificent view of Morecambe Bay: the pigeon-grey sands stretching out for miles until they reached the charcoal waves; the sky the shade of smalls gone through the dark cycle by mistake. When I spotted an elderly gentleman heading up our front path, I thought at first that he might be a Frenchman: something about the cut of his jacket, the loose coil of his scarf, the rectangular shape of his glasses. But the high polish of his cane and the way he bowed his head to the wind with an air in between defiance and defeat – these things were unmistakably English. He paused for a long while, taking in Sea View Lodge, his hand on our front gate. Perhaps he’d noticed that our masonry could do with a lick of paint or that the gutters needed repairing. When the man looked straight up at the Honeysuckle Room, a memory broke into my mind: a girl holding her sister above the waves, letting the water lap at the little one’s toes; the child’s elfin face all wonder as a wave-froth caught in her curls. I froze, there at the window, Vincent Roper staring up at me, his blue eyes appearing even brighter now that his hair had turned white as a gull. ‘Steph!’ I called out. ‘Len!’ And then, shaking my head to rid myself of the memory, and trying to quell the panic in my voice, I added: ‘Would one of you come in here?’ Steph arrived at the doorway, panting – the mauve quilt for the Lilac Room folded across her chest. ‘Problem?’ she asked, her hand clenching and flexing as it always did when she was distracted or distressed. ‘I’m sorry, love,’ I said, as she gazed up at me – her face full of concern. ‘I didn’t mean to scare you.’ Len bounded into the room, just as our doorbell rang. ‘Would you tell our visitor that I’m not in?’ ‘You are in, Maeve!’ she insisted. ‘Remember how we run through it in front of the mirror, my love?’ I said, trying to hide my panic. Steph nodded and stood up tall. ‘Welcome to Sea View Lodge. How may I help you?’ ‘That’s right, my love. Hop to it.’ Len beamed at her. ‘You are the best receptionist in the whole wide world!’ ‘You are indeed, my dear,’ I put in. ‘If the gentleman asks to see me, you’re to tell him I’m out.’
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‘You’re out?’ ‘That’s right.’ ‘Oh no, you’re not!’ she exclaimed, as if we were rehearsing for a panto. ‘Now’s no time for honesty,’ I snapped. Folk with Down’s syndrome – the term of choice nowadays – don’t tend to go in for white lies. Len studied his reflection in the mirror, pulling up the sleeve of his garish Christmas jumper to reveal his flexed muscle. ‘I can carry the suitcases!’ he proclaimed. ‘I’m a fine figure of a man!’ ‘You’re not to let the gentleman stick around, do you hear me? He’s not to darken the door.’ Steph’s chubby hand began clenching and flexing again, making me feel shabby for having snapped. The doorbell rang for a second time. Vincent Roper had obviously become impatient in his old age. ‘You’d be doing me a good turn,’ I said, trying to sound calm, ‘if you’d tell him that I’m not to be disturbed.’ As Steph and Len toddled off, I had to sit down. The barbershop band started up an impromptu rehearsal in our lounge, so I waited there in the Honeysuckle Room for what felt like an age, unable to make out a word from downstairs. I kept my eyes trained on our front path, jumping each time the bass’s voice rang out the high notes in their rendition of ‘Auld Lang Syne’. And I girded myself all the while for Vincent Roper’s knock on the bedroom door. That memory crashed over me again: it was your elfin face that I saw, Edie – a face that, God forgive me, I’d managed to block out for some time. The suitcase out in the shed contained a photograph of me dangling you over the sea, capturing a time before you grew fearful of water. You looked about five in that picture but, judging from my height, we must have been at least ten. When I saw Vincent Roper heading out of Sea View Lodge, his body braced against the storm, my own body seemed to collapse – sweat springing to my palms, my pulse rushing to my ears, a sigh escaping from my lungs – as if everything had held itself taut until I was sure that Vincent Roper had left Sea View Lodge once more. Dear Maeve, Forgive me for showing up unannounced but, ever since I learnt of Frank’s death, you’ve been very much on my mind. How wonderful to find Sea View Lodge unchanged and still going strong with you still at the helm. I returned, I must admit, with some trepidation. I’ve taken the liberty of booking in for a week. Steph has kindly allowed me to leave my case, although she tells me that check-in isn’t until four. I’ll head into town for a mosey around, and perhaps catch Mass at St Mary’s. I’ll keep out of your way until early evening, but I look forward to seeing you later. With all good wishes from your old friend, Vince
Owl Song at Dawn - Emma Claire Sweeney Not one but two of our reviewers gave Owl Song at Dawn their highest ratings: Maeve Maloney is a force to be reckoned with. Despite nearing eighty, she keeps Sea View Lodge just as her parents did during Morecambe’s 1950s heyday. Only her employees and regular guests recognise the tenderness and heartbreak beneath her spikiness. Until, that is, Vincent shows up . . . I was willing Maeve and Vince to get together after such a long time, a myriad of wrong decisions and much wasted time. The story follows Maeve and her twin sister Edie, who is disabled. Maeve always felt a little guilty that she was ‘normal’ and her sister wasn’t. Did she rob her sister of oxygen whilst in the womb? The story examines the treatment of ‘subnormal’ children in the 1950s. Invariably they were put into asylums. It depicted how such a child can respond to life in a loving home at the centre of a loving family. It also showed how caring for such a child can impact on the carers and Maeve and Edie’s parents have their own struggles. The book is interspersed with some of Edie’s favourite songs and sayings, which I loved and these made her very real. In her latter years, Maeve turns her family home into a boarding house for disabled guests, holidaymakers and performers. Her relationship with Steph and Len, two young volunteers working at the boarding house, both of whom have Down’s Syndrome, is a delight. The two
young people have fallen in love and want to marry. Even though the world is now more accepting of disability, Maeve still suffers from a minority who paint graffiti on her walls. Maeve’s twin haunts the novel as indeed she has haunted Maeve’s life. Maeve’s past is gradually disclosed and the reader begins to understand where Vince fits in with her story. It would be easy to think that Maeve is an embittered 80 year old, resentful of lost opportunities. However, what we see is a brave lady who sees that she can enjoy whatever time she has left with the person who means the most to her. The book is poignant, sad but uplifting. As we age, it is natural to look back on life’s pleasures and regrets. This looking back is at the heart of the book. A brilliant, brilliant book. I strongly recommend this as a personal read and also for book groups. Dorothy Flaxman 5/5 This is a remarkable book, original, intelligent, heartbreaking, funny at times, acerbic at others, compassionate and tender; reviewing it tends to lead to a list of adjectives – all of them positive. It’s the story of Maeve Maloney, proprietor of a rather unusual boarding house, Sea View Lodge, where she specialises in offering hospitality to mentally disabled guests. Even two of her staff are
disabled. She’s a woman of compassion and empathy whose own experience of disability through her much loved sister makes her determined to give a voice to the voiceless. When an old flame turns up, Maeve is forced to look back and think again about the lost opportunities and wasted chances, the mistakes and regrets of her long life. It’s a haunting read, but nevertheless a life-affirming one. There’s nothing sentimental about the writing, or the plot. Expertly paced, with beautifully delineated characters and a sometime nail-biting plot, the book is a case study of how to write about a difficult subject and make it real and relevant. The author has a keen eye for the telling detail, and her observation of social services and the way they work is spot on. Maeve is an unforgettable character, witty, wise and never daunted by her losses and griefs, and always ready to do battle for those who need her. The reader longs for a welldeserved happy ending for everyone in the book. Legend Press have done it again – this is a book I can’t recommend highly enough. Mandy Jenkinson 5/5
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READING GROUP Laura Barnett’s Versions of Us was one of our first otwofs, there was a nudge Verdict, a Q&A with the author and it became one of he parameters for our nb our first nudge Recommended Reading Group Book of Reads. Yes, this was all on the Year have changed very nudge but you can’t say we little over the years – we didn’t get behind this book! have always been interested in the book which has most OK, Jessie Burton’s The Muse is engaged groups during the still in hardback but as a course of the previous twelve Recommended Read (nb89) months. It’s true that latterly we the speed with which copies have moved proceedings to left the social media to reach a wider building caucus (but you can still vote left me in on page 39).And for the sake of no doubt as focus, in recent years we have to how introduced longlists to remind much you you of the great books that had enjoyed (might?) have slipped from The memory (a problem we all Miniaturist encounter more these days). - and how However, this year we have much you would like this one. taken the brave step of introducing some books we Ditto Joanna Cannon’s Trouble think you will love or that we with Goats and Sheep which have been crusading for in our was published in paperback on pages. In light of which please Boxing Day forgive our self-aggrandisement for those and see how this year’s selection desperate to could/might/will (delete as redeem appropriate) broaden your those group’s horizons in the coming Christmas months. book So without further ado I give tokens. Met you this year’s delightful dozen her at - and all you have to do is vote. Guildford
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Readers Day – quiet and thoughtful if a little tired given a 5am start to her day. Ah, third hardback in a row and Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven isn’t due in paperback until mid-January 2017 but he is such a nice man and I have crusaded for all of his books so far so wasn’t about to step away from this one. The quietly impressive Anne Enright writes quietly impressive books and The Green Road is no exception. Alastair loved it plus there’s quite a back catalogue to explore – I feel a Retrospective coming on. Claire Fuller is Mel’s new BFF (see front cover, interview and review!); so there’s Swimming
BOOK OF THE YEAR 2017 Lessons to savour this year but if you haven’t already devoured Our Endless Numbered Days then you have a treat in store, says Mel and me. As another Recommended Read (nb88) Julia Heaberlin’s Black Eyed Susans shot up the bestseller charts. Our Mr BookNoir, Mike Stafford, has to shoulder some of the blame here as he brought Julia’s book to our attention. As parents we all thank whichever god we pray to for the safety and health of our children but Jem Lester’s Shtum was a moving testimony to just what depths of love we have when circumstances conspire against ‘normality’. An emotional high.
I whinged about timeshifts in the narrative of Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must Be the Place but with a legion of fans – just search nudge for our retrospective – there is no way this isn’t going to be a staple of reading groups throughout the land. Phaedra Patrick must be fed up with comparisons of her Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper with The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry. To which I would say, enjoy and see the sales roll in; and who knows, perhaps it will do even better than Harold? (Sorry, Phaedra, partly our fault for championing it as one of our Recommended Reads!
Another Recommended Read, Holly Seddon’s Try Not to Breathe is only the second Noir title on this list and one with enough meat to make for a gory discussion. That man Stafford is to blame yet again! When God Was a Rabbit launched Sarah Winman into an unsuspecting world and A Year of Marvellous Ways took things to another level including Richard & Judy-dom. We tried to make contact but couldn’t pull the right strings – didn’t stop us (and you?) loving it.
Go to nudge-book.com or see page 39 to vote! VOTING CLOSES ON 10TH FEBRUARY, 2017 AND THE RESULTS WILL BE SHARED ON 10TH MARCH
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Go to nudge-book.com to vote!
VOTING CLOSES ON 10TH FEBRUARY, 2017 AND THE RESULTS WILL BE SHARED ON 10TH MARCH
Bookhugger Boonoir Bookgeek BOOK OF THE YEAR 2017
BOOK OF THE YEAR 2017
And all you have to do is vote (see below).
Bookchap Bookdiva Booklife
Here are the nudge Books of the Month from the last year - the perfect compilation for the respective nudge community Books of the Year.
Irish Book Awards 2016 - Margaret Madden was there! For the past eleven years the Irish writing community has gathered to recognise and celebrate the talent that has emerged from our little island. Authors, publishers, book-sellers, journalists and reviewers all get together, annually, for the Bord Gais Energy Ireland Book Awards. The tuxedos and ballgowns are collected from the drycleaners, the good shoes are polished up and the preening begins in earnest. As a book reviewer, I have been fortunate to attend this event for many years and still feel like a child at Christmas as the night approaches. The hotel’s impressive lobby is always transformed with a red carpet guiding everyone to the media area, where RTÉ television cameras capture the simmering excitement and glitzy atmosphere. Photographers are strategically positioned to snap the nominees and guests in all their finery, as they enter the ballroom for the evening.
The hotel is awash with literary talent and no matter where you look there is a famous and friendly face. The first people I encounter are Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin (aka Sam Blake) and Jane Casey, who are both nominated for awards and are full of excitement. I spot Sebastian Barry sitting patiently on a corner chair and I have to stop myself from declaring my adoration of his work. With a glass of bubbly in hand, I move through the crowd to congratulate Donal Ryan on his two nominations and end up chin-wagging with his beautiful wife, Anne Marie. We are joined by children’s author, Dave Rudden, also nominated and the giddiness begins. Guests are guided to the ballroom, and the award ceremony begins. It is a televised event, so everything runs like clockwork, although it never loses its spontaneity. There are sixteen awards up for grabs and we all have our favourites, which we hope will be recipients of an iconic blue glass trophy.
Photos from top left: Graham Norton, Tana French, Mike McCormack, Jilly Cooper and Marian Keyes, John Montague.
See all of the winners at www.irishbookawards.ie
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Photos: Patrick Bolger
Although we are only sixteen years into the new century we thought it was a good time to take stock. You will find full reviews of previous nominations (above) on nudge. Use BB21C to find them all.
Sheila A Grant on her stand outs - so far! could read when studying for her finals. They demanded nothing of her. But she and others enjoy such lighthearted books and no one has any right to criticise the taste of others. Personally I am not that keen on romantic novels. I would like to say it is because there is so much romance in my own life but in reality I find them a early 16 years of tad predictable. I do enjoy a this momentous right good murder mystery but century have I am not sure that I would class passed, a time of any as ‘best’ despite often unexpected events happening reading whole series of several globally. Am I qualified to say well known writers of the what are the best books of the genre. century so far? And how do My choice of ‘best’ books you give a book a ‘best’ title? would come from novels, Often a book has that elusive preferably thought provoking ‘staying power’ and it lingers in and with a new approach or the mind long after the reader twist. For me, non-fiction has moved on to a few more varies in quality. I am not books. This could be for several interested in the biographies of reasons. The story could be so so called stars and popular gripping and absorbing that it entertainers but I do enjoy was impossible to put aside for reading about the lives of any time. On the other hand people who have experienced the reason for being unable to the extremes of this world put it out of mind could be whether in travel, battle, life or because it was such a horrible challenge. and disturbing tale that it With that in mind there are unsettled you as a reader two books I read recently that causing sleepless nights and are examples of courage in flashbacks to the worst part of extreme danger. Alastair the book. Urquhart never spoke of his Mills and Boon books do suffering at the hands of the nothing for me but a doctor Japanese until his book The friend told me it was all she Forgotten Highlander was
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published in 2009, the year he celebrated his 90th birthday. His forbearance and courage under privation and torture was not unique and was responsible for too many deaths. After reading this book I was left wondering how this man survived to nearly 100 years old (he died in October this year). Alistair’s philosophy? “Remember while it always seems darkest before the dawn, perseverance pays off and the good times will return”. Alistair Urquhart July 2009.
Another tale of heroics is Behind Enemy Lines, the autobiography of Sir Tommy MacPherson, who in 2010 when the book was published was Britain’s most decorated living war hero. This is a most entertaining story of a man
who lived like James Bond, playing tricks against the Germans, dodging being caught despite having a price on his head and always wearing a kilt. Hiding in plain sight it seems. Like a cat he had nine lives, and rather than being a depressing book it is full of fun as the reader is dumbstruck by the almost careless approach this man had to his own safety. Stalin's Englishman by Andrew Lownie, who had access to previously hidden files, reveals the ease with which Guy Burgess was able to copy files and betray the secrets of this country to the Russians. Stranger than fiction!
I also enjoyed The Couple Next Door a disturbing story regarding leaving a baby alone and asleep, and The Girl on the Train. I was swept away by Peter May’s Raven Black, Ann Cleeves’ series set in Shetland,
I read many novels and find it impossible to name one favourite. But of the ones that stand out I found Linda Grant’s The Dark Circle was absorbing and informative being set in a sanatorium for TB sufferers just as the NHS was formed - and a good story to boot.
new kid on the block Claire Mackintosh, Charity Norman and Sharon Guskin. But there are many others worth mentioning and even more on my wish list that maybe one day... But the big discovery for me is the recently translated books by
Jan-Philipp Sendker especially the two set in China, Whispering Shadows and Dragon Games. Always exciting to discover a hitherto unfamiliar author. He is an amazing writer of novels with all the ingredients that make them stand out from the crowd. Beautiful flowing prose, scintillating dialogue, varied and interesting characters, and a rattling good story that takes you in to new territories. If pressed I think I would say these two books are my choice for Best Books of the 21st Century so far.
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Jade’s reached ITALY! job working for one of Paris’s most prestigious perfume houses, Narcissus. With very little in the way of an alternative, Elena leaves behind Florence and enters the world of perfume she has long removed herself from. Commercial fiction is by its very nature comfortable and easy reading. So there are no great plot surprises in this one The Secret Ways and the story follows a typically predictable arc, but in a sense of Perfume that is what you expect, even by Cristina Caboni rely on, in this type of fiction. However, the plot did feel a little too smooth, with the ristina Caboni’s The potential drama of a couple of Secret Ways of Perfume the storylines never was published in materialising, making for a very translation in August straightforward and painless 2016 and is very much in journey for Elena to her happy keeping with popular British ever after. It was a shame too writers like Santa Montefiore that more was not made of the and Tasmina Perry. The story Rossini family history and the focuses on Elena Rossini, who generations of Rossini comes from a long line of female perfumiers, dating back perfumiers. There is a brief sideline in this, which is dipped centuries. Although Elena into now and then, somewhat herself has the gift of being a sporadically, but I couldn’t help ‘nose’, she decided to turn her but feel that a dual timeline, back on perfume to set up a with more of a focus on this restaurant with her boyfriend Matteo, but as the novel opens past story, would have made the novel much more compelling. I Elena’s relationship and felt a little disappointed too business have reached a rocky end and Elena is having to start that rather than Florence where over. Cue best friend and fellow the story begins, the majority of perfumier Monique coming to the novel is set in Paris. However, I enjoy books that the rescue, with the offer of a
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are built around an idea or a theme and I loved the way that this novel takes perfume as its central motif and spins the story out from this. Perhaps more so than the literary fiction that I’ve read so far in this project, this novel felt much more universal and generic, as if it could have been written by a British author, but in part I suspect that that is a feature of the commercial genre. In many ways reading something of a more commercial nature was a pleasant break and it was nice to be able to slip into a book so easily, but on the other hand, the novel certainly lacked the sense of place, identity and individuality that has defined some of the literary fiction I’ve read from the other countries. All in all, whilst I’m a huge advocate of there being more done in the way of translating all genres of fiction, I felt as if I missed out on a uniquely Italian experience. As commercial fiction it’s solid, but as ‘Italian fiction’ it’s lacking. Jade Craddock Personal read ....................★★★ Group read.............................★★
The Secret Ways of Perfume by Cristina Caboni, is published by Black Swan as a £7.99 pbk and is available now.
directory The reviewers have their say
For reasons of space some reviews have been edited but you will find them in full on nudge. Tip: simply use dir91 as your search. Jade Craddock has come up with 17 ways to freshen up your reading in 2017 - if any of them work for you we'd love to hear.
A cross-section of what our reviewers thought of this year’s selection - full versions can be found on nudge.
book. Goodness me I loved it. Can you tell? Delicious. Simon Savidge See Simon's blog Savidge Reads for the full review
2016 Costa Novel Days Without End by Sebastian Barry This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain 2016 Costa First Novel The Good Guy by Susan Beale My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal The Words in My Hand by Guinevere Glasfurd Golden Hill by Francis Spufford 2016 Costa Biography Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory by Keggie Carew Elizabeth: The Forgotten Years by John Guy The Return: Fathers, Sons and the Land In Between by Hisham Matar The Invention of Nature: I’m Not With the Band: A Writer’s Life Lost in Music by Sylvia Patterson 2016 Costa Poetry Sunshine by Melissa Lee-Houghton Falling Awake by Alice Oswald Say Something Back by Denise Riley Let Them Eat Chaos by Kate Tempest 2016 Costa Children’s Book The Bombs That Brought Us Together by Brian Conaghan Orangeboy by Patrice Lawrence The Monstrous Child by Francesca Simon Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford
THIS MUST BE THE PLACE Maggie O'Farrell
THE ESSEX SERPENT Sarah Perry Serpent’s Tail
As with many of her novels, the story is narrated nonchronologically, by a variety of characters. Mainly set in Donegal, it also visits London, New York, India, Stockholm and Surrey. This multi-layered approach is very effective as it gradually builds up into a solid picture. It's a bit like getting to know a new friend; you don't usually get their whole life history in one go. The (flawed) hero is Daniel . . . very likeable but also exasperating. His French mother-in-law, Pascaline, describes him as 'different on the inside from how he is on the outside', 'charismatic . . . but underneath self destructive.' The other main character is the reclusive, slightly mysterious Claudette, Daniel's wife. I liked her but I think she could be difficult to live with. I've liked all of Maggie O'Farrell's novels and this is as good as the others and gives plenty of material for a good book group discussion. Maddy Broome 5/5
I am a fan of books with multiple storylines and chapters which alternate between them, but this one didn’t work for me. Dorothy Flaxman 2/2
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Perry pushes the boundaries of what we expect, she is all about the deeper layers, rather like the estuaries we visit in the story, and the cheeky winks and nods in this book. Why simply have a mysterious tale of a possible monster and the rector and female amateur scientist who try to hunt it down, with a hint of potential illicit romance and shenanigans thrown in for good measure (though that is a perfect book right there) when you can do more? Why not throw in the question of platonic love vs. sexual attraction and see what can be weaved and unravelled out of that? [Plus] questions about feminism, class, science vs. religion? Sarah Perry hasn’t just made Cora’s love interests be a rector and a doctor for your reading pleasure, although it adds to it hugely so of course she has, there is more going on here. In doing so certain questions and dynamics make the book brim all the further . . . there is a communication going on between author and reader that is rare and wonderful when it happens. Suffice to say all these additional layers, elements and nods are what takes The Essex Serpent from being a brilliant book to being a stand out fantastic
The fact that I have an MA in Victorian literature means I’m drawn to Victorian-set novels but also highly critical about their authenticity. While reading this, though, I thoroughly believed that I was in 1890 . . . mightily impressed. Rebecca Foster See Rebecca’s blog Bookish Beck for the full review
THE GOOD GUY Susan Beale John Murray
I can confirm that this is not only the perfect summer read but is also well worth pitching this as a book club pick when it comes out in paperback in early 2017. What makes it particularly interesting is how it presents the points of view of all three main characters in such a carefully balanced way. You'll find it's not quite so easy to dismiss Ted as a heartless cheat and sometimes your, perhaps automatic, sympathy for Abigail will be tested. The kind of moral ambiguity at work here is sure to inspire some heated discussions... However much we might think we've moved on I suspect there will be an uncomfortable number of parallels to be found. An
enjoyable and thoughtprovoking read, without getting too dark or heavy.
endless uncertainty. A truly memorable novel, to be read by anyone with a heart...
Margaret Madden See Margaret's blog Bleach House Library for the full review
As you can probably tell I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it wholeheartedly as a personal read and as a choice for book groups. Berwyn Peet 5/5
nineteen. He was never to see or speak to him again. This is an eloquent but painful and emotional memoir; you feel his anguish every step of his journey. But it is fascinating too; there is as much about the humanity of some and the shocking indifference of others. Well worth reading. Paul Cheney 4/5
MY NAME IS LEON Kit de Waal Viking
I certainly fell in love with [Leon]. As he’s only 9 years’ old the world that Kit De Waal creates around him seems, at first, very innocent, but as his life continues and he realises the unfairness of life, you notice how he becomes disillusioned and angry – and I don’t blame him! The story takes the reader on so many highs and lows, but always with plenty of humour (some of which goes over Leon’s head) which stops it being too glum. You’re always very aware of what a hard life Leon has, and probably will always have, to be honest. It really makes you think about how your start in life can affect so much. I really enjoyed this novel; it could be suited for a slightly younger audience too, really, as it’s written from Leon’s point of view… though there is some bad language. It’s all written so wonderfully that I found it a delight to read, despite being sad at times. Highly recommended. Laura Nazmdeh 5/5
This is not 'misery-lit'. It's not fantastical fiction. It is the very real voice of a child in care. The frustration, the anger, the insecurity and the
GOLDEN HILL Francis Spufford
THE RETURN Hisham Matar
Faber & Faber
Golden Hill is everything a good historical novel should be. It really captures the atmosphere of the period, the historical research is obviously meticulous and yet never obtrusive and all aspects - plot, characters, language - work together to enhance the experience of being transported to eighteenth century New York. The novel is set in 1746 when a handsome young man, Mr Smith, arrives from England with an order for one thousand pounds in his pocket. The New York merchants don't know what to make of him and we are kept guessing till the end about whether the order is real or a forgery and what Mr Smith's purpose is. This makes for a terrific page turner and you do want to find out what happens but the rich language and engrossing twists in the plot make you want to slow down and savour it. It is written in the style of a story of the period and yet it has a freshness and energy that is rare in historical novels.
In 1969 The Free Officers Movement, a revolutionary group headed by a 27-yearold army officer called Muammar Qaddafi, deposed King Idris, Libya’s monarch. So began a 42 year reign of terror in the iron grip of Qaddafi and his family and supporters, where anyone who dared oppose the regime would be removed and imprisoned. Hisham Matar was born in the United States as his father was working there at the time with the Libyan delegation to the UN. At the age of three, he first set foot in his home country [but] Jaballa Matar was accused of being opposed to the regime. The family fled the country and Hisham and his brother spent the rest of their childhood in Cairo. University beckoned, and Hisham headed to London to study. Whilst he was in London, his father was kidnapped by the Egyptian secret police, and handed over to the Libyan authorities. Hisham Matar last saw his father when he was
SUNSHINE Melissa Lee-Houghton Penned in the Margins
Despite its seemingly joyous title, Melissa LeeHoughton’s Sunshine is a dark, confrontational and provocative collection. Rather than easing readers in gently, the poet immerses readers straight into the raw, visceral world that the poems inhabit. Indeed, there is nothing gentle about this collection, dealing as it does with issues of mental health, suicide and drug abuse. It is more like being privy to the poet’s inner life than anything that I’ve read in a while and sits amongst the likes of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton in laying one’s soul completely bare. It transpires that this collection was written after a suicide attempt, which instills the words with even more meaning and poignancy. Often, poetry can be said to be lifeaffirming but never has that description felt so real and so powerful as in this
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reviews collection. And whilst the collection offers up the poems for public consumption and judgement, it is a bit like casting scrutiny over an individual’s diary. These poems literally helped the writer to survive and nothing I can judge the book on is as important as that.
reviews needs to connect to feeling less alone, to those needing to feel some honesty in the modern world and to comfort anyone after someone close to them is gone. I will certainly follow her work as it becomes published and take note, as should you. Helen Corton 5/5
Tempest is a great place to start, her words are accessible, and the meaning is easy to understand but at the same time not simplistic. In fact it’s a joy and as suggested in the beginning of the book, it should be read aloud. As it is one long poem it’s best read in one sitting, so set aside an hour and find somewhere you can read this aloud. Jane Cowley
Will Marlon stay on the yellow brick road, or go the way of his brother, Andre? Read on and see if you find this portrayal of lifestyle today as horrifying as I did. Deirdre Spendlove 3/3
. . . this book could be enjoyed by adults of all ages. The story is well paced and definitely keeps the reader enthralled and wanting more. I really enjoyed reading the book and would recommend it particularly to a young adult readership. Eileen Webb 4/2
SAY SOMETHING BACK Denise Riley
LET THEM EAT CHAOS Kate Tempest Picador
ORANGEBOY Patrice Lawrence
Seven strangers awake in the early hours of the morning and contemplate their situation in life while others in the city sleep. A storm is brewing in this frozen moment in time and as the clock moves forward again it starts to rain. Kate Tempest’s new long poem calls for its readers to also wake up and see what is happening around them, to join together to change things rather than remaining isolated and ignoring the problems in the world. It’s a powerful message but not one that feels alienating or too pushy. Tempest blends contemporary issues with the people they affect. The individual voices within the poem are linked to the wider problems she wants her readers to address and wake up to. She asks us to not ‘dismiss all its victims [of war] as strangers’ but to love, ‘wake up and love more.’ If you don’t read poetry then
Hodder & Stoughton
. . . perfect for anyone who enjoys reading and thinking, this contains themes as dark as death, how we talk about death as a society, and therefore how we reflect on life. It also focuses on absence more generally, away from the people we love and the related loss and emptiness, as well as ideas about war, Keats and Wordsworth. These poems are gorgeous – really readable, accessible and if you let them they stay with you for hours. I found the sentiments on missing a lost loved one particularly moving and relatable, providing words which I knew inside me but couldn’t find to say. I’ll definitely be revisiting this collection, as I’m sure the philosophy and empathy will keep on inspiring me the more I read them. I’d thoroughly recommend these poems to anyone interested in ideas, who
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When I requested Orangeboy to review, I didn't realise it was a children's book - but what an eyeopener! Marlon, 16 year old black boy living in London, has an older brother, Andre, who got mixed up with a bad crowd, crashed his car when chased by another gang, and his best friend, Sharkie, was killed. Andre was badly brain-damaged and now has very little memory. The boys' mother, Jenny, really encourages Marlon in his daily life, schooling, etc. not to get involved in the gang warfare. This book covers everything and it's certainly not the Famous Five - gangs with young boys maybe 11 years old, drugs, guns, callously beating up others, terrorising and setting fire to the houses of gang members' families, car chases, total disregard for any sort of law and order.
THE MONSTROUS CHILD Francesa Simon Faber & Faber
. . . a fantasy novel [for] teenagers, based on the story of the 'monstrous child' Hel, a female teenager who becomes stuck in the underworld. I found the descriptive passages excellent and Hel herself was a great teenager trying to make the best of her predicament surrounding herself with beautiful things. She speaks and thinks with wit and clarity, experiencing teenage tantrums, but gradually growing up as the story progresses and becoming more mature. Glenda Worth 4/5
THE EASY WAY OUT Steven Amsterdam riverrun Nov 2016 hbk ISBN - 9781786480835
One of the most emotive subjects an author can take on must surely be that of 'the right to die' or 'assisted suicide'. It is a subject that can cause strong feelings and emotions whichever side you may fall in the debate, and indeed has been a cause of many a family argument. So Steven Amsterdam must have been feeling pretty brave the day he sat down to write his new novel, The Easy Way Out, about a gay male nurse, Evan, who finds himself working as a dying assistant in a hospital as part of a pilot project. His job entails being present at the suicide of terminally ill patients, making it clear that they understand what they are doing, and handing them their last drink containing a suicide drug. Standing by to ensure all goes smoothly, and answering the questions of family members who may be present during their loved one's last moments. Evan has a complicated work life. But he also has a complicated personal life. His mother has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and the prognosis is not good. Evan's father committed suicide when he was a small boy, which may explain his fascination with death and assisted suicide.
And his sex life is also complex involving a tangled relationship with a male couple. But things are about to get even more complicated when his mother Viv goes missing. I found this book difficult to read, and to be honest I couldn't wait to finish it. I found the subject of assisted suicide heavy going, and somewhat disturbing. A light read this isn't. However, Steven Amsterdam handles this controversial topic sensitively, and the main character Evan comes across as a likeable guy, his mother Viv is more complex and I found her more difficult to figure out. There are some quite detailed sex scenes between Evan and this male couple that I could have done without reading in such detail, and I found it hard to get my head around a nurse who assists in the deliberate ending of life instead of trying to do everything possible to preserve life. However, I did find myself warming more towards Evan in the final chapters of the book. I went into this book with a particular opinion on assisted suicide and this book did nothing to change my opinion. As a book group read this book will make for many a heated discussion around the table I'm sure. Teresa O'Halloran Personal read ....................★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
17 for 17 Read outside your comfort zone – whatever it may be – if you like fiction, why not try a non-fiction title? If your penchant is for mystery, why not try sci-fi? And it doesn’t just have to be genre - if you tend to read only English authors, or male authors, or white authors . . . whatever your tendency, try something different.
THE BEAR AND THE NIGHTINGALE Katherine Arden Del Rey Jan 2017 hbk ISBN - 9781785031045
It is hard to believe that this is Arden's first novel, but having studied both French and Russian literature in Moscow, she has drawn upon folklore from preunification Russia to create a beautifully written novel immersed in Slavic pagan mythology and deep Eastern Orthodox religion. It tells of a hard life in a cold and unforgiving climate, where food easily becomes scarce and hardship is part and parcel of life. Pyotr Vladmiriovich is a great lord with rich lands and men to do his bidding. He has four children. The youngest stands apart from her siblings, being like her mother, or more so her grandmother, who was rumoured to be a forest witch. Her name is Vasya. Their mother dies giving birth to Vasya, knowing that there would be something very special about her. This leads to Dunya, the wise, elder lady of the house, also a storyteller of folk law, acting as a mother figure for the children. She has a particular soft spot for Vasya, who is the least pretty, least gainly, but most connected to nature. She often slinks off to the woods, learning every patch of the area, so much so
that nobody bats an eyelid when she disappears. They do not readily realise that she sees and communicates with mystical creatures. Pyotr, in an attempt to offer stability to Vasya and her wild ways, remarries a young woman barely older than her. She also sees mystical creatures, which she considers to be demons, and she wants them gone. The only solace she finds is in the church and thus she forms a firm alliance with an arrogant priest who comes to the village, determined to make the people fearful of God and to dispense with their old ways of leaving food gifts for the mystical creatures that protect them. What transpires is a quest for Vasya to protect her village folk from the evil that wishes to consume them. It is a beautiful, immersive, fantastical fairy tale, full of enigmatic prose. The cold and unrelenting Rus woodland is depicted with crystal clarity, so that you have a clear vision of the setting, the homes and the harshness of the world. Vasya is a particularly likeable character, supported by a memorable cast who are principled and quickly established. It is easy to read and you can canter through the story at a satisfying pace. The mystical happenings pique the reader's curiosity and the threat to Vasya (as much from the people as from anything else) is sustained and ever present. It is grounded as much in historical family life as in fantasy. This books offers a very different read, much as the quirky title seems to suggest. Sara Garland Personal read ............★★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
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THE GOLDEN LEGEND Nadeem Aslam
A COUNTRY ROAD, A TREE Jo Baker
Faber & Faber Jan 2017 pbk ISBN - 9780571330744
Black Swan Feb 2017 pbk ISBN - 9780552779524
In India close to the border with Pakistan, Muslims and Christians live side by side, but recently an unknown person has been broadcasting from the city Mosques, exposing people's secrets and causing unrest. Nargis has a secret which she has kept hidden most of her life, even from her husband. She wants to tell him but before she is able to he is killed in crossfire during an assassination attempt on a visiting American. As the police try to insist she pardons her husband's killer, Nargis fears her secret will still come to light. In the meantime Helen, a young Christian girl and Imran, a young Muslim boy from Kashmir begin to fall in love. Can their love survive? I really enjoyed this book which as well as being a love story gives great insight into the religious conflicts of the region and also contains colourful descriptions of everyday life in this divided country. Plenty for discussion for reading groups.
I really enjoyed Jo Baker’s earlier novel, Longbourne, which is soon to be made into a film, and this is possibly one of the best books I’ve read this year. It gives us a fictionalised version of Samuel Beckett’s time in France during the Occupation in WWII and his work for the resistance. Although fictional, it is obviously well researched. The quality of the writing is superb. Baker manages to convey a sense of Beckett’s own writing without actually imitating it, for instance, “He said to wait by the willow tree and that fellow would meet us and bring us along” and “he bends, cuts, ties, straightens . . . . . he bends, cuts, ties, straightens . . .” She shows how Beckett emerged as a writer and what influenced him. He worked as a secretary to James Joyce and until Joyce’s death was very much in his shadow. During this time in his life, he had to endure hunger, isolation and uncertainty. He was constantly waiting – to be captured or to move secretly to another place when they are forced to go on the run. He craved silence and to be alone so that he could think and
Val James Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
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write, but this was virtually impossible in the circumstances. He also felt unsure of his skill as a writer and was haunted by his mother’s parting words: “And what possible use do you imagine you will be?” We are also shown another side of Beckett through the thoughts and comments of his lifelong companion, Suzanne. His rashness often puts them into danger and she is often exasperated by his inability to see consequences to these actions. Suzanne knows Beckett to be a flawed man “… he also needs to be taken care of, since he can’t be trusted to do it himself.” The time in France obviously affected his writing – it provided a catalyst – he felt his mind expanding and opening to new possibilities. His writing after the war finished was very different to his work before this time. Although this is not a biography, it does provide a real insight into this period of Beckett’s life. I knew little about Beckett’s life before reading this, although I’ve seen some of his plays. I now feel that I understand him and the plays much more. I’ve also gained more knowledge and understanding of Paris and the rest of France under the Occupation. Highly recommended. Maddy Broome Personal read ............★★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
17 for 17 Read a book that was published in a year that is important in your life – the year you married, the year you had your first child (or your second, or your third etc – lest there be any cries of favouritism), the year you graduated or the year you lost someone special. It might just be a nice reminder of times gone by.
excellent descriptions of the country, the tiredness and fear of the young gang and their plight make this a stand out novel. Lots to talk about here, too, from the breakdown of family life to the redemption of these no-hopers. Please read it! Dorothy Anderson
DODGERS Bill Beverley No Exit Press Jan 2017 pbk ISBN - 9781843447788
This is an amazing book! I couldn't put it down. I have no experience of American teenagers, drugs, gangland crime or the geography of the USA, but this does not matter at all in the hands of a great storyteller. East is a guard at a crack house in LA which is raided. To get him out of the way he is sent on a mission to asassinate a judge in Wisconsin which necessitates a road trip with three other young AfricanAmericans and they are an ill assorted bunch. Michael is a graduate of UCLA who has great charm and will do the talking while Walter, the brains of the group, is very overweight - 4XL. East's brother Ty is thirteen years old and a loose cannon, carrying a gun. The road trip is not without problems and gradually the group splits up and the plan unravels. The language is spare , terse even, and the tension is tight throughout. When East drops out of sight for a while, working on a paintball range, the reader feels relief that he can make a go of life, but not for long. At times shocking, with casual brutality which does not spare the reader but with a strong narrative and
Personal read ............★★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★ Winner of the CWA Goldsboro Gold Dagger Award 2016 Winner of the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award 2016
ALL THINGS CEASE TO APPEAR Elizabeth Brundage riverrun Feb 2017 pbk ISBN - 9781784296896
When you begin reading a book set in Upstate New York and there is a mention of a woodpile on the first page you know something isn't right.... Superficially (and that is definitely the wrong word to use in most contexts to do with this book) it is not a difficult book to read; a page-turner because you want to know more. More of why and what will they do now rather than whodunnit. It is a very classy psychological thriller that has you thinking about all sorts of things - what you believe in, what would you have done in that situation,
why people do what they do or why they don't do what they should do....the story is packed with much to ponder but is never turgid. When the first chapter's title is your birthday you look twice and wonder if you're going to have a special connection to this book, the role of fate and coincidence, and eerily there were lots of questions in that vein. I enjoy a book that teaches me something (ideally without effort) and now I know something of Swedenborg, of angels and demons, heaven and hell, and his belief system. This book is predominantly set in the 1970s, far enough away to be a different era and close enough to be recognisable. Likewise the small town the action is set in is in New York State but outside the cosmopolitan and fashionable areas that we are more familiar with. Nothing is quite what you expect but is nearly there. The novel focuses on women squaring up to life differently, but not so differently, recognisable but not quite. Each is a product of her time in both negative and positive ways, as are the various male characters, too. Something just resonates with this book - it is a great solitary read, leaving the reader with plenty to mull over; however there is also so much within for a book group to discuss. I will be looking to read her previous three novels, I consider this book a find! Cate Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
17 for 17 Read a book based entirely on its cover – forget all about the proscription not to judge a book by its cover and pick a cover, any cover.
BOOKSHOPS Jorge Carrión MacLehose Press Oct 2016 hbk ISBN - 9780857054449
Bookshops by Jorge Carrión is a truly exceptional book. It is both a love letter to bookselling and book buying and a fascinating literary travelogue. Carrión takes readers on a journey around the world by way of copious visits to bookshops large and small, serious and frivolous, famous and infamous. He clearly feels passionate about books and bookselling, and he has numerous intriguing stories, observations and anecdotes to offer about his visits to bookshops worldwide. It really is a book for booklovers, particularly those who believe that a visit to a new place isn’t complete without the discovery of at least one new bookshop. Carrión has visited so many bookshops that it is impractical to list all those featured in the book, but some of the particularly notable shops include Shakespeare & Co in Paris, City Lights in San Francisco, Livraria Bertrand in Lisbon and Librarie des Colonnes in Tangier. In his trek along the world’s bookshelves, Carrión has met intellectuals, entrepreneurs, dreamers, revolutionaries and readers, all of whom have insights to offer into humanity’s relationship with books. It is
also interesting to hear about the various mementoes he has collected from the bookshops he visited, whether they be bookmarks, postcards, business cards or some other tangible reminder. Carrión also looks deeper into the history of bookshops in general, examines the contemporary state and status of bookselling, and speculates on what the future might hold for such institutions. Bookshops was written in the midst of the global financial crisis and so Carrión has much to say about the impact of both the worldwide recession and increasing globalisation. Other threats to traditional bookselling are likewise discussed, perhaps most notably the impact of Amazon and the introduction of e-readers. Fortunately, his conclusions regarding the future of physical bookshops are decidedly upbeat. Bookshops is an insightful and eminently readable tribute to books, bookselling and the people who devote their lives to the printed page. It should prove an excellent read for those who are drawn to bookshops and who are in constant danger of being engulfed by their “to be read” pile. Erin Britton Personal read ............★★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
17 for 17 Read your best friend’s/sibling’s/parent’s/grand parent’s/significant other’s favourite book – sharing a book with someone close to you can be a magical experience; a book recommended to me by my grandfather is still, and will always be, my favourite book.
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AT THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD Tracy Chevalier The Borough Press Feb 2017 pbk ISBN - 9780007350407
Trees and family ties are linking themes in Chevalier’s latest work of historical fiction. Spanning 1838 to 1856 and reaching from Ohio to the California coast, this is the story of the Goodenough family. James and Sadie Goodenough left the East Coast to settle in Ohio’s formidable Black Swamp, where they have been trying to nurse a set of apple trees into life. In that same time, ironically, they have buried many of their children. In these early chapters, thirdperson omniscient narration alternates with sections giving Sadie’s first-person voice. It’s not a happy life, and not just because of the difficulty of raising healthy trees or children. Sadie and James are always at each other’s throats, and she is too fond of hard cider and applejack. James brings an artist’s devotion to the work of cultivating Golden Pippins – eating apples said to have the flavour of pineapples – while all Sadie wants is for James to grow more “spitters” she can ferment into alcohol. It’s an uncomfortable atmosphere for the siblings to grow up in, and as soon as eldest son
reviews Robert gets the chance to leave he eagerly heads west. Over the years, which we learn about through halfliterate letters, he writes home at a usual rate of one per year, he tries his hand at dodgy medicine sales and gold mining before settling to work he’s well suited for: collecting redwood and sequoia seeds in California, a place “where you get to start over.” I like how Chevalier has woven in historical figures here, particularly William Lobb, the English seed agent Robert works for, and John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed), a real-life American folk hero whom the Goodenoughs encounter from time to time in Ohio. All the same, I had a few major problems with the novel. Especially in the early parts, there is too much detail about tree planting and grafting. It’s clear that Chevalier did a huge amount of research, but sometimes she doesn’t incorporate the results very naturally. There are also some melodramatic plot twists that can seem pretty far-fetched. Moreover, the complicated structure, moving from 1838 through 1856, then from 1838 to 1856 once again, feels fragmentary and almost like cheating. Having now read seven out of Chevalier’s eight historical novels, I’d rank At the Edge of the Orchard among the bottom few. It’s not one of the better examples of how she illuminates a little-known aspect of history. Rebecca Foster Personal read ....................★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
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THE LEOPARDS OF NORMANDY: DUKE David Churchill Headline Apr 2016 pbk ISBN - 9781472219237
This is the second in David Churchill's proposed trilogy about the Duke of Normandy who would go on to be known as William the Conqueror (although I wouldn't be surprised if three books stretched to four). This picks up from the first in the series Devil and details the years 10371051, a period which covers William's development from aged nine to twenty-three. At the beginning we hear the reading of Archbishop Robert of Rouen's will in which he sought to ensure that William would have a group of loyal advisors and guardians around him who would vouchsafe for his safety and protection until he came of age. Cue the next four hundred pages of intrigue, treachery, alliances forged and broken, the machinations of powerful and wealthy families, betrayal, murder, rivalries between different interests, deals and counter deals, plotting what is, in effect, a medieval game of thrones. Churchill has now added his voice to what is already a crowded market in historical fiction, but he compares well with the likes of Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, Ben Kane, Douglas Jackson
and others. Like them he peoples his novels with a huge cast of colourful characters, most of whom really lived but also with a few fictional ones to help the plot along. The skill is in the blend of factual and fictional. There is a helpful list of characters supplied just in case the reader is wondering whether someone was real or not. There is also an informative Author's Note and Timeline with further information about the novel's historicity. All this adds to the feeling that this is quite a meaty book in terms of its authenticity and attention to historical detail. Churchill has obviously done his research but wears his knowledge lightly. This is to be highly recommended and fans will look forward eagerly to the climax of the series. Here we get glimpses of the man Duke William will become: a leader of men, a fierce fighter, an astute tactician, a ruthless adversary, a loyal friend, a survivor - a future King and Conqueror. Ray Taylor Personal read ............★★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
17 for 17 Read/reread the very first book of an author you love – it may just be that you came across your favourite author part way through their career? So going back to their debut could make you fall in love with them all over again or alternatively prove that writing matures with age!
17 for 17 Read a book you heard about in nb magazine – this is not glorified self-promotion but a genuine tip. nb readers and contributors are a fine and wise bunch, obviously, and also very modest too, so if you like the sound of something you find within these pages, chances are you’ll like it for real.
SEARCHING FOR A SILVER LINING Miranda Dickinson Pan Oct 2016 pbk ISBN - 9781447276074
Although recent novels by the likes of Jonas Jonasson and Catharina IngelmanSundberg have brought the older generation front and centre in fiction, arguably this age group tend to be largely absent from general fiction. But Miranda Dickinson rights this anomaly in her new novel Searching for a Silver Lining, which has elements of the Jonas Jonasson school of humorous tales of older people getting into mischief but is more a heart-warming, pragmatic look at the twilight years. After the death of her beloved grandad, thirty-twoyear-old Mattie Bell makes it her mission to help eightyfour-year-old Reenie Silver reunite her band, The Silver Five, for one last performance, sixty years after she ran out on their headline show. What ensues is a road trip covering the length and breadth of the British Isles as Reenie attempts to reconnect with each member of the band and make amends. Dickinson hits on a lovely format by bringing together the two generations and the interaction and relationship between them is central to the spirit of the novel.
Although Mattie is a perfectly likable character, it is naturally Reenie who steals the limelight, and I appreciated the fact that Dickinson doesn’t simply canonise Reenie as the ‘sweet little old lady’ but develops her into a real character, with flaws and insecurities. Mattie’s story runs alongside Reenie’s but for me felt slightly undercooked: her love story occurs on fastforward and the relationship with her grandfather didn’t perhaps have the impetus that was anticipated at the beginning of the novel. Indeed, as much as I loved the grandfathergranddaughter subplot, I felt uneasy with the resolution and would have liked the story to have been given more focus. Similarly, it would have been nice to see more of each of Reenie’s band members and further glimpses of their individual stories. However, the novel is strong enough as it is, and the focus on the older generation and their lives is a really lovely and admirable pursuit that makes for a genuinely heartwarming read. In addition, Dickinson gives each of her thirty-seven chapters a song from the fifties – the era of The Silver Five – which is a wonderful touch and creates a soundtrack for the novel. It also offers a nice opportunity for reading groups to complement their discussions with music. Jade Craddock Personal read ................★★★★ Group read.........................★★★
17 for 17 Re-read a book from your childhood – it’s probably many moons since you last picked up anything you read as a child or teenager, so take a walk down memory lane and see whether the book stands the test of time.
THE DARK CIRCLE Linda Grant Virago Nov 2016 hbk ISBN - 9780349006758
Lenny, a Jewish cockney is delighted to be exempted from army service until he discovers he has TB and has probably infected his beloved twin sister, Miriam. They are shipped off to a sanatorium in the Kent countryside where their arrival creates a stir in a community drawn mostly from the upper echelons of society plus officers from the forces, professionals and even a member of the aristocracy. Miriam is isolated in a room with Valerie, a highly educated girl from a well off family. They spend days and often nights in bed rest out in the verandah in all weathers, warmly clad, as the clean country air is considered part of the cure for the disease. Lenny is downstairs, sticking out like a sore thumb, distressed at being separated from Miriam for the first time in their 20 years. Their initial determination to escape from The Gwendo diminishes as they begin to enjoy the restful atmosphere, the fresh air, the peace, and especially the rich and unfamiliar quality of food they have not previously enjoyed. The characterisation is superb as is the interaction
between the varying social levels. Dialogue is amusing, absorbing and entertaining. Illness is a great leveller and unexpected bonds are formed between patients. The rumours of the arrival of a wonder drug, streptomycin, gives hope especially to many in the home who have been there so long they are strangers to their own children. If the clean air, bed rest and rich food shows no sign of healing the sick, the last resort is a series of horrific invasive procedures. Little did I realise how fortunate I was receiving the BCG injection. Only a few years before sufferers of TB endured horrific attempts at cures. Air was removed by vacuum from a diseased lung ‘to rest it’, while in the most severe cases a thoracoplasty was performed, removing a rib or two plus the infected lung. After this procedure patients lay facing a mirror to make certain they did not lie to one side. Rumours abound and the atmosphere of the house changes. Disappointment and bitterness spread among the patients, calmness vanishes, people become agitated and disruptive. Emotional, compassionate, harrowing but also revealing and touching at times this is a really good book that I heartily recommend. Often finishing a book I am left with the 'want to know what happens next’ feeling. I was delighted to find two final chapters that round off this story with skill and tremendous satisfaction. Sheila A. Grant 5/5 AND ON NUDGE PHIL RAMAGE Personal read ............★★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
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REDEMPTION ROAD John Hart Hodder Paperbacks Feb 2017 pbk ISBN - 9781848541832
Ex-police officer Adrian Wall is released from prison having served thirteen years for a murder he claims he didn’t commit. The victim’s teenage son, Gideon, is intent on revenge. Elizabeth Black is a detective who chose to become a police officer following an incident when Adrian saved her life. She has always retained her belief in his innocence and, as this story begins, she herself is under investigation following her rescue of eighteen year old Channing Shore, when the two men who had kidnapped and raped the young woman were killed in circumstances which haven’t been fully explained. Shortly after Wall’s release another young woman is murdered by exactly the same method as the killing of the first victim and, unsurprisingly, suspicion falls on him. The story focuses on these four main characters, all of whom have been traumatised either by past events or by more recent experiences – and sometimes a combination of the two. This theme of the ongoing ripple-effect of the consequences of choices made is one which runs throughout the story and is
reviews explored with most of the characters, even quite minor ones. An additional narrative thread comes from the voice of the murderer; although this person isn’t identified until almost the end of the story, I found that there were enough clues within this part of the narrative to enable me to guess “whodunit” very early on! This is the first novel I have read by this author and I found his writing very powerful and affective. So much so that there were moments during some of his descriptions of what one human being can inflict on another, either physically or mentally, which I found so disturbing that I just had to have a break from continuing with the story. However, the need to know what happened always ensured that it wasn’t long before I felt compelled to start again! The plot development was complex, full of twists and turns and with one redherring after another and, for most of the story felt only slightly exaggerated. I was particularly impressed by his interesting exploration of the nature of the search for redemption. John Hart is able to create very vivid images of people, emotion and landscape and this made it easy to feel almost viscerally drawn into the developing story – as mentioned earlier, not always a comfortable experience. Although I wanted the “goodies” to win and the “baddies” to get their comeuppance, I was left feeling that there was a little too much of a fairytale ending to the story. Linda Hepworth Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
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LORD OF THE DARKWOOD Lian Hearn Picador Jan 2017 hbk ISBN - 9781509812813
This book was always going to be difficult to review for the simple reason that it is the second and final volume of a series and I haven’t read the first. Unfortunately, there was no summary of the first volume and I debated for a while whether it was worth reading the book at all or whether I should buy the first one. Eventually, I decided that it was a review project and I should get on and read what I’d been sent. I’m glad I did because I managed to enjoy the story, although there is no denying I would have enjoyed it much more if I hadn’t spent the first half of the book trying to work out what had happened previously and why characters were acting the way they were. This is a fantasy novel, set in a fictionalised medieval Japan and based on the Japanese ‘Warrior tales’ tradition. When this second novel opens, the Eight Islands are in disarray, drought stalks the land, the true Emperor has disappeared and the great hero Shikanako is in exile in the Darkwood. Prophecies and wise men say that order can only be restored through one who loves Shikanako above all others.
And so the scene is set for an epic tale of courage, betrayal, suffering and sacrifice played out against a background of snow-tipped mountains, vibrant cities and the solemn silence of the Darkwood itself. There are many characters – the list at the start of the book runs to four pages – and it’s not always easy to remember who is who. As befits an epic adventure, the characters are not fully developed and speak through their actions rather than any deep analysis of their motivation. But they are largely engaging and I was rooting for good to win out through them. If you don’t like fantasy then this book, even with the first volume, won’t be for you. But I am a fan of the fantasy genre and very much enjoyed the unusual Japanese setting and the flowing plot. The writing is smooth and drew me in, persuading me to stick with it despite the difficulties inherent in joining the story halfway through. The writer has written other Japan-based series and I will definitely seek them out – making sure I begin with volume 1 this time! Rebecca Kershaw Personal read ................★★★★ Group read.............................★★
17 for 17 Read a book by an author under 30 – yes, it may make you feel old, very old, and wondering just where you went wrong, but it may just also introduce you to some very talented writers. And you can bask in the fact they won’t always be 30!
17 for 17 Read a book that’s older than you – no one likes to think about their age so reading a book that’s got a few years on you can make you feel a little younger, if nothing else.
RUN Mandasue Heller Macmillan Jan 2017 pbk ISBN - 9781447288329
Well, I won’t lie. I read Mandasue Heller’s first book years ago and I was underwhelmed. Unkindly I thought she should just stick to singing. However in that fourteen odd years she has developed and grown as a writer which brings us to her latest work, Run. In common with many crime and thriller novels the book begins with a tantalising prologue suggestive of a dark, sinister ride ahead. Then the main body of the novel begins. It seems to be no more than a fairly average chick lit tale. The dialogue and events are relatively prosaic - ordinary people doing and saying ordinary things, with some exceptions. So much so that I wondered if I had dreamed the prologue, a mis-print from another book maybe? But gradually an undercurrent that all is not quite as it seems begins to slither insidiously into the narrative creating the unease that some of the characters themselves must have been feeling. Then it is as if the floodgates of thrillerdom are unleashed! The pace picks up and the story unravels as anything but prosaic. Hints and dangling carrot suggestions that had been carefully thrust at the reader appear to be unfounded
until the crescendo reaches its peak. Then when you think you can exhale with relief that an equilibrium has been achieved for the time being the epilogue grabs you roughly by the collar and demands you think again. I did not see the final denouement coming. And I love it when that happens!! The characters are a mixed bunch, functional for the purpose of the fiction in many cases. But perhaps some stereotypes we can identify from the real world and feel some sorrow for their unhappy, damaged lives. Others we can loathe for their devious, self aggrandising, thug behaviour. Through them all there’s a vague suggestion of social comment maybe? It’s there for the reader to digest if they choose. At the risk of sounding like Miranda’s Mum (from the TV show) this is what I like to call ‘genre fusion’ . On the one hand you have a credible thriller and on the other you have a chick lit tale. Personally I am not a great fan of chick lit but I do love the crime/thriller genre so I’m pretty happy. And I imagine that a chick lit lover who isn’t that keen on crime/thrillers might also be happy. And so I can safely say I’m glad Mandasue Heller didn’t just stick to singing! Gill Chedgey Personal read ................★★★★ Group read.........................★★★
17 for 17 Read a book from an author from another country – an author that appeals to you or choose a book from a country you love or always wanted to visit; the world can very much be your oyster when it comes to reading. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, dig out an atlas and take a blind pick.
NO WAY BUT GENTLENESSE: A MEMOIR OF HOW KES, MY KESTREL, CHANGED MY LIFE Richard Hines Bloomsbury Mar 2017 pbk ISBN - 9781408868027
Richard Hines is a Yorkshire man through and through. Raised in Hoyland Common, mining was the chosen career of his father and grandfather and many of the men in the village. He remembers sliding down heaps of waste, hearing of accidents in the pit; knowing that his father would open the door the same time after a shift; there was that dread in the stomach that came when he was late. Sitting the eleven plus exam, it was hoped that he would pass and follow his brother Barry to grammar school. He failed and entered the local secondary modern school; a place that sought to crush the spirit and hopes of all children it was supposed to be teaching. Despondent because of the cruel antics of the teachers and the system, Richard spent time walking the fields beyond the slag heaps. It was whilst walking the grounds of a ruin he saw a kestrel fly into its nest. Spellbound by the sight, it motivated him to head to the library to discover more on the ancient sport of falconry. They wouldn’t lend him the book,
so he ended up buying that and many others as he devoured every piece of information he could about raptors. Having read everything it was time to find a hawk, and a friend of his came up trumps bringing him his first kestrel; Kes. Just from the information in these books he trained his bird, from the very first stages to flying it with lures. If the name Kes is familiar, there was a film of the same name about a boy learning to love nature and training his kestrel. The film was based on the book, A Kestrel for a Knave written by one Barry Hines, Richard's brother. Richard was employed on the film to train the actor and the three kestrels required for all the filming. This is a fine quality memoir, full of gentle, lyrical prose. It is a sad book to read too; he didn’t have that educational opportunity that his brother did, ending up at the secondary modern, future potentially dashed. Life as the son of a miner was tough too, you never knew if you would see your father again when he left for work in the morning. The descriptions of the natural world that surrounded the man made waste from the mine make for good reading too. Mostly this is about the birds; that you can take a creature that is so very wild, and with persuasion and gentle coercion make it respond to your commands. Paul Cheney Personal read ................★★★★ Group read.........................★★★
17 for 17 Read a book by an author you’ve always wanted to read but never got round to – we all have them, authors we want to read but for some reason just haven’t. So, no more excuses.
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MODUS Anne Holt Atlantic Books Nov 2016 pbk ISBN - 9781782398707
I have read a number of Anne Holt's mystery novels before but all have featured Hanne Wilhelmsen - her paraplegic ex-cop detective this book is in the Vik/Stubo series. Vik is Johanne Vik, a criminal profiler married to Adam Stubo, a NCIS Detective Inspector. I liked this couple who each bring their different perspectives to the book; Johanne is writing a scholarly paper on hatecrime and a murder uncovered appears to be linked. Adam is crisscrossing the country to solve the murder of a well-loved and well-respected female Bishop. There are several murders (linked or not linked?) and parallel investigations - Adam's, the academic Johanne and the Oslo cop Silje Synnove (who came recommended to Johanne by Hanne Wilhelmsen......knit together like a Norwegian jumper pattern!) To my mind a satisfying meld of police procedural and amateur sleuth. The setting of Norway adds an extra dimension too, as if it is another character: her liberalism and idealism play a role. The Norwegian Christmas traditions adds
reviews required Scandinavian flavour to this story. Unlike some of the Nordic Noir on the scene at the moment this novel isn't graphic which suits my tastes. As does the social commentary which makes this a well-rounded book. For a novel first published in 2009 it considers a number of issues and themes that are still very current: autism, terrorise, fanaticism and other -isms too. I look forward to reading more Anne Holt, especially in this series and as this is a TV-tie in issue, to the TV programme also. Cath Sell Personal read ................★★★★ Group read.........................★★★
GILDED CAGE Vic James Del Rey Jan 2017 pbk ISBN - 9780425284155
A disturbing look at a Britain with only two social classes, sharply divided into the haves and the have nots. The Equals have the power and rule tyrannically over the commoners who must serve 10 years of slave days. The Equals have magical powers, the Skill which enables them to build, destroy buildings and corrupt and wound minds and bodies with the merest glance or wave of a finger. The book centres on two contrasting families. The Jardines of Kyneston are one
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of the wealthiest families in Britain with a vast estate enclosed behind an unbroken brick wall devoid of any form of entrance. Without the Skill you cannot escape. The opening chapter sees Leah attempting to flee from the estate with her illegitimate baby Libby. The Hadleys are celebrating 10 year old Daisy’s birthday. Luke is still at school and Abi is hoping to go to university to do medicine. Suddenly they are ordered to serve their slave days starting immediately. The parents and the two girls are under the impression that it will not be too bad when they are sent to Kyneston. On arrival at the estate the appearance belies the evil that lies within and they have to tread carefully especially where Gavar and Silyen, (two of the Jardine sons) are concerned and who do not hesitate to use Skill for their own evil ends. Luke is roughly tossed into the back of a van and driven to Millmoor, a bleak smoky industrial town of factories and chimneys releasing foul chemicals into the atmosphere. The novel is deftly constructed and there are many links to books such as 1984 and the harsh scenes reminded me of Dickens while the magic is reminiscent of children’s books such as Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty. Many of the cameos are amusing and lighten what is a very intense read.There is a nod at history especially the Industrial Revolution and the treatment meted out by the Nazis. A difficult book to categorise with hints of science fiction, horror, friendship and bravery. It is a
gripping and exciting read with wonderful characters who fall into two categories, good or evil. I am full of admiration for this writer’s talent and imagination constructing such an intricate tale with varied but vivid characters many of whom are bizarre but believable. There is so much crammed into this book which moves on at a pace with many strands that are gradually woven together in to a disturbing tale. I don’t usually enjoy science fiction, horror or fantasy but I loved this book. Definitely a thought provoking read. Sheila A. Grant Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
such as some of the names. Crepolius Snushall and Dorolius Lacrissimus are mortuary attendants and two chapter headings are ‘The Vertex of Vacuity’ and ‘Pernicious Distillations’ Molly, the maid is a comic character. She makes many mistakes in her speech…‘I don’t not think .. you ain’t not dead, are you?’ ..hikketyhups. And Mr G, one of the detectives, is a pompous character, very well portrayed. When the hansom driver says, ‘Fanks for nuffink’, he replies ‘Nothing is a strange thing for which to express gratitude. But it is always something I am happy to give’. It is a complicated plot full of eccentric characters such as these, strange happenings, dreams and skulduggery. I occasionally got lost in the plot with all the twists and turns, but the end revealed all. I would recommend it as pure amusing enjoyment. Little depth, but great fun. Jan Jeffery
THE SECRETS OF GASLIGHT LANE MRC Kasasian
Personal read ................★★★★ Group read.........................★★★
Head of Zeus Dec 2016 pbk ISBN - 9781781859773
Set in London in 1883, Book 4 of the Gower Street Detective series stands alone as crime fiction. The 2 detectives are described by a reviewer on the back cover as a ‘duo to rival Holmes and Watson’, only in this book, one is a woman, called March, a secret cigarette smoker and gin drinker and owner of a strange cat called Spirit. The other is her guardian, Mr Sidney Grice. I would describe this as comic fantasy, with some Dickensian characteristics,
THE GOOD PEOPLE Hannah Kent Picador Feb 2017 hbk ISBN - 9781447233350
Hannah Kent is an Australian author but not a writer of Australia. Her debut novel, Burial Rites,
was set in 1820s Iceland, while her new novel, The Good People, is set in Ireland at about the same time. In both books, she brings to life a society, an age and a mythology through a fictionalised account of real events. The Good People of the title are the fairies of Irish myth or a superstition, depending on one's point of view. To the people of a small mountainside village near Killarney, they are real and ever present in their lives. As long as they observe the proper rituals and show respect, they can live alongside them. However, when things start to go wrong with their animals and their crops and themselves, then the villagers look for someone to blame. Is it Michael, the mute, crippled grandson of Nora Leahy; Mary, her new redhaired maid of all work; or is it old Nance, herbalist and midwife - and possibly an intermediary between the two worlds? The villagers are living a hand-to-mouth existence; their homes are earthfloored huts,; their main food is potatoes, and most of them are uneducated. The new priest, Father Healy, wants an end to the superstition - for religious reasons but also for political ones. He wants Ireland to be able to take its place in the world. Hannah Kent has cleverly used the priest to show the contrast between poor, isolated rural Ireland and the emerging modern Irish nationalism. She has a talent for getting into the minds of people living in a different time and with different beliefs. She does her research well, which
lends authenticity to the voices of her characters. In this novel, Nora's grief and despair are shown through her words and actions as she tries to understand how her world has changed so quickly. Mary is homesick but valiantly trying to do her best for the poor sick boy, Michael. But the character who comes to life most is Nance Roche, who truly believes in her abilities and powers to cure and help people. These three women will be brought together to commit a deed that has deep consequences for themselves and their community. Hannah Kent has done that often difficult task of writing an excellent second novel. It will be interesting to see what she does next. There is certainly much for a book group to discuss in this novel. Maddy Broome Personal read ............★★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
THE BONE FIELD Simon Kernick Century Jan 2017 hbk ISBN - 9781780894539
No, no, no, no, no, no. How dare you write this book, Simon Kernick? It really shouldn’t be allowed. There should be a law against it. There was I, minding my own business, thinking to myself that I’ve never read a book by Simon Kernick and
that ought to change. Now look what’s happened? In one fell swoop I have been ensnared by another crime writer. And I cannot escape. I now have to seek out and find every book Simon Kernick has ever written and devour them! All. This book was a joy to read. It’s all a good thriller should be. Edge of the seat stuff, a white knuckle ride of a read. Exquisitely paced, unbelievably gripping, there is no let up in the action and the unfolding of the plot. Yep, there’s some grisly bits and some uncomfortable passages but it seldom borders on the gratuitous and just makes you, along with the protagonists, all the more desirous of the perpetrator’s demise. My understanding is that this book features two characters from previous Kernick novels; DI Ray Mason and PI Tina Boyd, previously with the Met, ( I will read them!), and brings them together in this book and hopefully more in the future. The ending certainly suggests that. A brilliant idea and I’m not sure it has been done before. The story opens with the disappearance of a girl in Thailand in 1990. A crime never solved. But this is more than a cold case thriller. The missing girl is just part of the jigsaw puzzle of corruption and violence. It’s never been my style to offer lengthy summaries or précis of books. And I think it’s a tricky thing to do with a crime novel because there is danger of giving too much away, not spoilers exactly but taking a little of the impact away by offering an expectation. I will say that the characters are believable. It has almost
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reviews become stereotypical in today’s crime writing to offer police persons and detectives with flawed and quirky personalities. Ray Mason doesn’t disappoint in that department. Tina Boyd is the perfect female foil for Mason. An atypical private eye she seems to be made of rubber as she bounces her way out of some hazardous states. The nasties are suitably evil and we wish them as much harm as they inflict on others. I commend this book to you. If you are already a Simon Kernick fan you may have a certain amount of contempt for me because you must already know how good a writer he is. But if like me you’ve never read his work before I can only suggest you do. But be warned it may place unexpected demands on your time. Gill Chedgey Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
THE OUTSIDE LANDS Hannah Kohler Picador Jan 2017 pbk ISBN - 9781509802128
In November 1963, on Kip’s fourteenth birthday, his mother, as she had done for every one of his birthdays since he was eight, took him downtown to Sears Fine Food for his annual treat of a stack of eighteen pancakes. When they left the store she
reviews absent-mindedly stepped into the road and was killed by a cable car. Her sudden death left him and his nineteen year old sister Jeannie feeling bereft and rudderless. The fact that on the following day President Kennedy was assassinated made them feel that in many ways their loss was diminished. Feeling adrift in an unimagined world, Jeannie gives up her place at secretarial school and becomes a waitress in a diner. She meets a doctor there and when she becomes pregnant, this being the 1960s, there seems no alternative but to marry, even though his parents feel she isn’t good enough for their son. She finds it hard to adjust to the life she finds herself in and forms relationships which will, ultimately, change her life yet again. Set in California, against the background of the massive social and political changes of the 1960s and the horrors of the Vietnam War, this story follows the two siblings as they attempt to find meaning in their lives. The narrative is told from alternating perspectives and, because of the skill with which the author handled these shifts in focus, this enabled the story to alternate between events in America and in Vietnam in a way which inexorably added depth to all the characters and to the development of the story. She created flawed, complex and entirely credible characters and set them in the context of an equally believable social and political background – not one of her characters felt superfluous to the developing story. I think that her handling of the
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build up of tension as the story progressed was pitchperfect; I could hardly bear to put the book down and, throughout my reading, often felt compelled to reread passages because of the powerful impact of her character development as well as her elegant turns of phrase. Her ability to make her characters and their dilemmas come alive is impressive; I feel I will be haunted by Jeannie and Kit for a long time. I think this is an outstanding debut novel, one which should attract literary acclaim and one which is certainly deserving of awards. I am already eagerly anticipating this author’s next book! Linda Hepworth Personal read ................★★★★ Group read.........................★★★
SCARLET WIDOW Graham Masterton Head of Zeus Nov 2016 pbk ISBN - 9781784976316
I have mixed feelings about Scarlet Widow. I had no idea what to expect, with it being the first in a new Beatrice Scarlet series, which seems to be completely different to Graham Masterton's other work. It's certainly an entertaining, very wellwritten historical mystery, but something about the storyline stopped me from getting completely lost in Beatrice's world.
The characters are very well crafted, with Beatrice emerging as a fantastic new female protagonist. She's smart, strong and independent and I really liked her throughout the novel. The characters around her are suitably idiotic or naive, particularly her husband Francis, though at heart he is a good person. The book makes you think about what a tricky era the late 18th century was to be a woman, or slightly different, in that society-people accused you of witchery at the drop of a hat or blamed you for everything that could possibly go wrong. I really despised some of the village people for their narrow minded views, and had to often remind myself that this is a novel set in the 18th century. It's lucky there were level-headed members of the community such as Beatrice to (attempt to) stop everyone sliding into complete hysteria! The storyline is, overall, quite entertaining. I felt that it ebbed and flowed, with some chapters really drawing me in and making me want to find out more, whilst other parts seemed a little superfluous and uninteresting. At these points I felt my interest waning. However I love any element of a 'whodunnit' and there was enough of this, mixed with plenty of twists and turns, to keep me suitably intrigued! Certain parts of the story made me feel so angry I could happily have stopped reading, but this is more of a testament to Graham Masterton's writing. There are certainly parts which are very uncomfortable to read, but no more so than a particularly gritty crime
novel, which I devour in droves! I think what makes some parts of this novel so shocking are the details behind some of the scenes; they really got to me. Overall I did enjoy Scarlet Widow, feeling that it's really well written with a fantastic female lead and a good dose of mystery. Though in my opinion some parts could be cut down, this is still a promising new series and well worth a read. Laura Nazmdeh Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
THE SILVER EYE: UNLOCKING THE PYRAMID TEXTS Susan Brind Morrow Head of Zeus Jan 2017 pbk ISBN - 9781784972387
When the Royal Saqqara Pyramids were opened in the late 1800s it was discovered that the walls of the burial chambers were covered in hieroglyphics that were 4000 years old. The deciphering of the Rosetta Stone enabled historians and Egyptologists to read the text on the walls, but no one could understand the collection of myths, incantations and ritualistic texts. To us in our modern age, they reveal a culture and religion with a worldview and understanding of the natural world that is completely alien. In this book, Brind Morrow argues that they are actually
a coherent and intelligent work of art and literature. She suggests that what we are reading is poetic and not mythology, and taking a more literal view of it might answer some of the questions it raises. The entire middle section of the book is her full translation of the text from the walls of the entrance chamber, antechamber and sarcophagus and at nearly 100 pages of the book it is pretty comprehensive. In the final section she picks up on details from the texts, and expands her theory of what it all means. There were parts of this I really liked, the translation is quite magnificent for example; you get a sense of just how the ritual elements would be performed and spoken. But it is not a light and easy read as she goes into much detailed explanation of meaning and significance of particular hieroglyphics. There are a number of photos and diagrams scattered throughout the book, which does bring a sense of the scale of the place. At times I did get a little out of my depth, but then I haven’t read huge amounts about the Egyptian period to fill in the context. This would be an ideal book for anyone with a fascination in the Egyptian period. Paul Cheney Personal read ....................★★★ Group read.........................★★★
17 for 17 Read a book on a shortlist/longlist – as with the prize-winners, awards lists can be quite off-putting but there are loads of prizes to choose from with most genres covered. So choose one that appeals to you and take a punt. If you want more choice opt for the long list.
THE DOLL-MASTER AND OTHER TALES OF TERROR Joyce Carol Oates Head of Zeus Dec 2016 pbk ISBN - 9781784971038
A prolific, well respected American writer, Joyce Carol Oates every now and then tries her hand at dark fiction (either mystery or psychological terror). The present collection includes six longish stories belonging to those genres, [having] previously appeared in print in various venues. All in all the book is a mixed bag, assembling under the same cover both top notch tales and minor, weaker stuff. A standing example of the latter is Soldier, an overlong piece where a guy is accused of (accidentally?) murdering a black youngster in an act of self defense. Not a bad story, but too "diluted" to elicit a lasting sense of dread. Big Momma, describing how a lonely, fat teenager gets tragically involved with the family of a schoolmate, is a bit on the surrealistic side but not quite accomplished. Mystery, Inc. is a mocking tale depicting a sort of psychological chess game between two booksellers, ending up in a quite unexpected fashion. The Doll-Master, a rather predictable, yet very effective piece, features a weird young man obsessed with dolls,
hiding a terrible secret. The two best stories, both of superior quality, are alone worth the price of the book. A superb example of psychological horror, Equatorial, set in the exotic venue of the Galapagos Isles and featuring a vacationing couple, portrays in detail the wife's growing fear that the husband is planning to kill her. The final paragraphs, ambiguous but terrifying, are breathtaking. Finally the outstanding Gun Accident provides the tense report of a small town tragedy involving a teenager who, addressing a task too big for her age, discovers the true character of her favourite cousin during a terrible, unforgettable night. At her best Oates is simply incredible, at her worst she's still well worth reading. Mario Guslandi Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
THE LAST ONE Alexandra Oliva Penguin Dec 2016 pbk ISBN - 9781405923187
With strong connotations to the likes of the Truman Show and Hunger Games, Last One offers a fast paced, adventure suspense story that is written in part using commentary style narration of larger than life individuals depicted by their strongest stereotypical characteristics to give them an indelible
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reviews image. This was a clever approach as it meant less time was needed describing the characters, allowing the story to be kept at the fast pace it needed. Essentially it follows 12 contestants that enter a high budget, outdoor televised contest, where the winner needs to ‘be better than the others’. To begin with they need teamwork to undertake the challenges but also need to remember they are still competitors who they will go up against in latter individual tasks – this to be able to win the million dollar top prize. Drones, cameramen and hidden woodland cameras catch their every move, which test the contestants’ skill and fortitude. It is not clear how long the show will last as the only way out is to quit, until just one person remains. It is a book of recreational survival that transforms into dystopian true survival. The chapters alternate between the latter part of the contest, told in the first person and the contest progresses from the beginning when relationships form or not as the case may be. Zoe is the main protagonist and voice in the book. Through the trials and tribulations that play with her mind, she captures [that feeling] “That's how they do it; they blur the line between reality and nightmare. They give me bad dreams, and then they make them come true.” As it would be very easy to reveal spoilers I am going to keep this review briefer than usual. Suffice to say that this debut has a fresh and savvy appeal. It is easy and quick to read. It is satirical, allowing a balance of humour amidst dark, trying
reviews situations. Survival skills are interestingly explained, violence is kept to a minimum and the ending infuses some heart-warming hope. Enjoy! Sara Garland Personal read ................★★★★ Group read.........................★★★
WELCOME TO LAGOS Chibundu Onuzo Faber & Faber Jan 2017 pbk ISBN - 9780571268948
The basic story concerns Chike, a young lieutenant in the Nigerian army, based in the Delta region, who is ordered to kill civilians. He abandons his military career and goes on the run, heading for Lagos in the hope of finding anonymity and safety in the city. En route, he “acquires” a group of men and women, displaced by various circumstances, with nowhere else to go. In the city, they find a hidden basement flat, squatting together and trying to rebuild their lives. The flat co-incidentally turns out to belong to the Education Minister Chief Sandayo, who has scandalously “disappeared” with millions of dollars of government money – part of an international aid package. The local then the international media get involved. The rest is detail. And in that are the gems of the story.
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It is a very simple story line; not even really a story but rather a string of happenstance, which might require some to set aside their scepticism about coincidences. Real life does carry on. But the journey to Lagos, and the attempts to build new lives, allows Onuzo to explore the realities of Nigerian life. The integration, or not, of the various tribes and indeed the movement of the rich (and their assets) out of Nigeria into other countries. This is a very busy novel. So why would one want to read it? Well, the depth of detail regarding life in Nigeria is always interesting – melding themes about that country that you might have been aware of into a seamless whole. But this is fiction, so we have to come back to the people, all represent a theme, or an issue and there is no room to develop any of them fully, although the overall approach is sympathetic. Of course, the struggle to cope in a harsh environment when old links break down is a universal one with more than Nigerian implications. Seeing a diverse group of individuals trying to live together with little time to build loyalties and trust, but needing the group to survive is also memorable. Ultimately, this is a novel about choices – large and small – and then living with the results day after day. I enjoyed this novel, but felt it lacked a little something that would have made it exceptional. But I am sure it would appeal to most book groups as there is plenty to mull over and discuss. Hilary White Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
ANATOMY OF A SOLDIER Harry Parker Faber & Faber Jan 2017 pbk ISBN - 9780571325832
I heard former soldier and double amputee, Harry Parker, talking about his book on Radio Four and marked it down as one I should read. It sounded like an interesting take on the war in Afghanistan and I thought it was probably time I stopped avoiding books on the subject. So I was pleased when this arrived as a review copy. And then I delayed picking it up because I really didn’t want to read about the war. Now I have finally read Anatomy of a Soldier I can thoroughly recommend it, even to those who like me would rather not read about the war. It is compelling, moving and often funny and has opened my eyes and my mind to life in Afghanistan during the war – for both soldiers and civilians. The structure of the book is highly original – each chapter is narrated by a different object. So we hear from a bicycle, a tourniquet, a fertiliser bomb among many, many more. At first I found the approach distracting and had to struggle to adjust to the rapidly changing viewpoints. But then I remembered the interview with the author in which he gave his reasons for
the structure. He is narrating his own story, of being catastrophically injured by stepping on an IED and the slow and painful recovery which followed. It is an intensely personal story which Harry Parker found it hard to write in his own voice. So he used the objects to tell the story in order to distance himself. That makes sense – and it works. The detailed descriptions of the fight to save the soldier's life, the surgery to amputate his remaining leg and the efforts of his family to support him and come to terms with his injuries at the same time would be almost too painful to read in the author’s voice. But through the impersonal objects which surround him it becomes bearable and very moving. I was impressed by the sense of balance in the book. There is no sense of bitterness as the author recounts the planting of the device that injured him and there is real compassion for the Afghans trying to make sense of the struggle being played out in their fields and villages. At one point in the story the soldier feels unable to comprehend the grief of an Afghan father. In his book it is clear he comprehends it all too well. This is a deeply compassionate book, which makes no judgements, either of war or those who fight it, on either side, and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to read it. I would recommend it to individuals and book groups alike. Rebecca Kershaw Personal read ............★★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
THE WHITE CITY Karolina Ramqvist Grove Press Feb 2017 pbk ISBN - 9780802125958
Slender but no less powerful for it, the story is centred around Karin, who has a very young child who she is trying to care for in a filthy, cold house. She plummeted down to earth in a hard and thoroughly unforgiving manner after the highs of the drugs world and all its excess left her bereft. Seemingly, she had led the good life as the girlfriend of a successful drug dealer, Johnny. A flash home, cars and a rock and roll party life allowed her to experience gross excess. But Johnny has left her. All she has is the home he gave her and her daughter, Dream. Now penniless and friendless, she is entirely alone. She has hit the very depths of despair, but for the sake of her daughter, despite a sensation of total isolation and emptiness, she soldiers on. When it becomes apparent that she is to be evicted from her own home in order for enforcement officers to claw back money obtained from the drugs trade, she decides to approach those who she thinks owe her. This reexposes her to the reality of self-centred drug-using individuals who care nothing of her plight. She has been discarded, but she is not to be deterred.
The book is written in a very soporific manner, capturing Karin as she tends to Dream. She loses track of time and often sleeps, so you are unsure if drug addiction is a current reality or whether she is just struggling through the deepest depths of depression. Part of you feels cross with Karin and frustrated by her episodes of apathy, while part of you is willing her on to rise above all this and prosper. In some ways she is fiercely independent, not wishing to seek social housing in the face of eviction. But she also seems naive in thinking any of her old 'friends' are likely to be bothered about her and come to her rescue. Knowing Ramqvist to also be a feminist writer arguably also offers you pause for thought concerning Karin's situation and how she allowed herself to become a pawn at the behest of Johnny. How did she behave when she was with him? How did she let herself become so dependent? What do the behaviours and relationships of the other women with their drug dealing partners say about them and women in such circumstances in general? What is there for both men and women to take from relationships that co-exist in such situations? It is one of those books worthy of a second read, since you will no doubt draw out more from it. It would be absolutely perfect for a reading group. Sara Garland Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
17 for 17 Read a book set in a time/place you’re not familiar with – and yes that includes the future!
RATHER BE THE DEVIL Ian Rankin Orion Nov 2016 hbk ISBN - 9781409159407
Rebus is surely one of the most loved of detectives having been the focus of most of this author’s thrillers. He never changes from book to book and I have a long standing vision of what he looks like. He is cantankerous and difficult, often dour, with a wry humour that raises a smile in the darkest of times. Dining with Deborah, his lady friend, he compares her skill in dissecting a steak with her treatment of the corpses in the morgue. But he is also tenacious and determined to solve any crime even if it means sailing near legality himself with little respect for authority and no patience with rules. Rebus never gives up. In this book he is retired, not in the best of health, attempting to cut back on the alcohol and the cigarettes, and he is lonely. I believe this is the first book in which he appears vulnerable and almost endearing. Rebus has always had a tenuous relationship with Cafferty, the local crime boss, a situation that has often brought him into conflict with his superiors, but has on occasion been of benefit to both men. They
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reviews have one another’s measure. But Cafferty claims to be retired now, having moved to a flat in a quiet area of Edinburgh keeping a low profile. But he is the man Rebus goes to in an attempt to glean information on Edinburgh’s crime underbelly. And it is to Cafferty that Rebus goes when he hears from Siobhan, his former colleague that Darryl Christie, the cocky young thug who has assumed the title of crime boss in Edinburgh, has suffered a beating in the driveway of his home. Ian Rankin is an experienced and talented writer who leads the reader down a multitude of routes. This plot is very complicated with threads linked to past cases, dodgy bankers, bookies, local hoods, money laundering, and shell companies (five hundred of which are registered at an address that consists of one grubby room above a boxing club). The story of a suspicious drowning in a pool in Grand Cayman a few years previous is dropped in with seemingly no connection to what is going on in Edinburgh. The reader does not have a clue as to what the outcome is likely to be, surely the essence of the best of mysteries. The many characters are vivid and believable regardless of their leanings and all are interesting. Purists will probably be sceptical at Rebus’s involvement in the case and his ‘lone wolf ’ adventures as he pursues a lead, often supported by a snaffled id card of Fox’s, all contributing to a terrific tale that still reads like reality. But I do wonder how long the writer
reviews can continue to use a retired detective in this way despite a popularity and style that fairly spices up the story. And at the end of the day it is unlikely the ends in this intricate tale would tie up neatly without his presence. However, the mix does all come together in a superb unexpected finale that satisfies the reader. A most gripping and delightful book. I loved it. Sheila A. Grant Personal read ............★★★★★ Group read.........................★★★
CAUGHT IN THE REVOLUTION Helen Rappaport Windmill Books Feb 2017 pbk ISBN - 9780099592426
This is the story of what happened in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) in 1917, but it is far more gripping than might be expected. For a start, it is not simply a history of the events of the Russian Revolution, but rather shows them from the perspective of the many different foreign nationals who were living in the city at that time. So we see the progress of the revolution as described by a whole cast of interesting characters from the diplomats and reporters to the wives of attaches, nurses, the American ambassador's black valet and many more. Then, there is the skill of Helen Rappaport in knitting together these
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eyewitness accounts to give a feeling of immediacy and actually being there. I had no idea that Emmeline Pankhurst had visited then she went to rally Russian women's support for World War I - and other people you may have heard of include Arthur Ransome, later to become famous for his books for children, and Somerset Maugham, who was sent as a British agent to subvert German propaganda for Russia to withdraw from the war. The book is very well set out, with a list of the eyewitnesses at the start for handy reference and with an interesting postscript telling us what happened to the main characters after 1917. The depth of the research and the excellent mixing of reportage with more informal sources such as diaries and letters home is admirable. If you are interested in the Russian Revolution and want a vivid and compelling portrait of life in Petrograd during 1917 then this book is unmissable. Berwyn Peet Personal read ................★★★★ Group read.............................★★
17 for 17 Read a banned book – there’s a whole range of books that have been banned across history, some more surprising than others but all of which offer food for thought today
17 for 17 Read a prize-winner – the literary award scene can seem quite daunting; for many years I turned a blind eye, but reading 2014 Man Booker winner A Narrow Road to the Deep North, and I discovered one of my favourite novels of all time. If you don’t want to read one of this year’s winners, why not delve into the annals of the literary prizes where there’s a wealth of great writers to read.
THE FRENCH LESSON Hallie Rubenhold
THE TOBACCONIST Robert Seethaler & Charlotte Collins
Black Swan Dec 2016 pbk ISBN - 9781784162153
Picador Oct 2016 hbk ISBN - 97815098-06584
The French Lesson is, it seems, the second novel in a series about an 18th Century "lady of pleasure", Henrietta Lightfoot. There are enough references to her story so far for the reader to be able to enjoy this latest episode as a stand alone book. Henrietta, herself an aristocrat, fleeing from her parental home, journeys to France with her new lover, Baron Allenham, the love of her life. They arrive on the eve of the Revolution and Allenham disappears, apparently having deserted her. Henrietta is forced to fend for herself, and finds her only option, being, of course, very beautiful, is to become the new mistress of the Duc D'Orleans, who espouses the aims of the Revolution, and of course is to condemn his cousin, Louis XVI, to death. Hallie Rubenhold is at pains to give the novel the "voice" of an 18th century work. I thoroughly enjoyed this as a good read and a page turner, and would recommend it to a reading group, perhaps for the summer, as something lighter, but not too light.
This is a beautiful translation of a lovely novel showing WW2 through different eyes. The novel follows Franz, a young man from rural Austria who is forced to move to Vienna to work when his benefactor dies. He is thrown into a world which is a stark contrast to the world he is used to and experiences love, loss and the start of war. Throughout all of this, he works in a small tobacco shop as an apprentice and develops a friendship with Sigmund Freud who acts as his guide as he uncovers the big wide world. There are lots of really lovely things about this novel. The character of Franz is really great. Seethaler brilliantly portrays him as an innocent young man who is sheltered from the world and this makes his growth through the novel something which really thrills you as a reader. It was an interesting idea to have Freud act as the moral guide throughout this novel as it shows a different side to the regular portrayal of Freud and shows him as the frail old man and friend that he must have been. It's a really strange but lovely relationship which Seethaler
Ruth Ginarlis Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
develops and explores so well. Franz also has some relationships with the old tobacconist who teaches him everything he knows, and the young Bohemian woman who steals his heart. Both of these relationships are also wonderfully created to show Franz the world but also to show how he develops and discovers city living. The plot itself is based just before the start of WW2 when Hitler was just coming to power within Europe. The Gestapo begin to rule within Vienna and we see life change through the eyes of Franz. I really liked this perspective as I haven't read a novel which looks at the impact of Hitler pre-War and so this was really well considered. I also like that this feeds through the story right to the end, and although there are no dramatic twists, it is the impact of the war which defines the outcome. Overall this is a really nice read. It's not a stereotypical page turner with twists and turns on every page, but it is wonderfully constructed and this draws the reader into the world of Franz. I found myself feeling really sorry for him at points and just wanting him to return to his mother's cottage and seeing how his life turned out was what kept me reading. I'd really recommend this and it will make a great winter read for the long dreary nights. Ruth Ginarlis Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
17 for 17 Read a book by an author you’ve never heard of – whether it’s a debut author or just an author you’re not familiar with, giving an unfamiliar author a chance is a great way to find a new favourite.
SWING TIME Zadie Smith Hamish Hamilton Nov 2016 hbk ISBN - 9780241144152
I can still vividly recall how blown away I was with Zadie Smith’s debut White Teeth (2000) and yet I have not got around to reading anything else by her since then. From the moment I read the blurb for this I knew that I was going to put that right. Central to the novel is a tale of friendship and rivalry between the unnamed narrator and Tracey, two girls who lived near to one another and attended the same dance class in the early 80s. This leads to an obsession with Hollywood musicals and the glamour of dance. These unlikely Astaire fans charm you into the story in what is an outstanding first third. The girls take different directions with Tracey heading to the West End and the narrator as PA for a Madonna-esque pop star who becomes involved in charitable work (building a school for girls) in rural West Africa. In these years the narrator loses her spark, there is the connection between charity and celebrity which feels right to be explored and is a very contemporary theme but pop star Aimee does not really come alive for me, and you do feel that perhaps this is Smith’s intention. I
particularly liked the times when the narrator’s life crosses with Tracey rather than the regular visits to Africa on Aimee’s behalf becoming more involved in the life of the school. At home the narrator’s mother is an issue-driven politician who adds much to the richness of the novel. Throughout the book runs the undercurrent of the thrill of dance and that was something I very much appreciated and felt that Smith could have made even more explicit. The book works very well - it doesn’t scale the dizzy heights of White Teeth but it will be great to have Zadie Smith in the bestseller lists once again. Phil Ramage Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
BEYOND THE HIGH BLUE AIR Lu Spinney Atlantic Books Jan 2017 pbk ISBN - 9781782398899
A mother recounts the five years following an accident that left her son in a minimally conscious state. In March 2006 Lu Spinney’s 29-year-old son, Miles King, was on a snowboarding holiday in Austria with friends. On the final morning of the trip they’d planned the most challenging jump of all. Miles purchased a crash
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reviews helmet specifically for the purpose. What irony: the first time he wore it he took the fall that would leave this athlete, intellectual and entrepreneur with a traumatic brain injury. Back in London, Spinney was planning a special meal; when Miles arrived she’d have all four of her grown children back with her and their stepfather, her second husband Ron. She got the call as she was preparing dessert. The family rushed to Innsbruck, where the beauty of the quaint town in springtime contrasted cruelly with their torment as they waited to learn what Miles’s future held, Miles was in top physical condition, yet received the lowest score on the Glasgow Coma Scale. They brought Miles back to London via an airlift, and over the next five years he would be passed between various brain injury units and care homes. Eight weeks after the accident he opened his eyes and seemed to be attempting to speak, but given his minimally conscious state his only communication would ever be facial expressions and roars of frustration. Despite Spinney’s unfailing role as advocate and cheerleader, the family gradually came to realise that Miles would not make any more progress. More than that, they could discern that he was miserable and no longer wished to continue. But when the UK’s legal system only allows those in a vegetative state to die, what choice did they have? Flashbacks to Miles’s childhood and adult life give glimpses into his character. Although she pays faithful,
reviews nearly daily visits to his care home and brings him home every weekend, Spinney recognises that post-accident Miles “is a myth of my making, necessarily” – based on memory rather than on his present life. Pointless to mention just how sad this book is – and Miles’s condition isn’t all there is to it. In the midst of all this struggle Ron was diagnosed with cancer and died at home roughly two years after Miles’s accident. You might say Spinney’s experience is unimaginably hard, except that readers don’t have to imagine: she has lived to tell the tale and tells it remarkably well, in a consciously literary style. With no speech marks and present-tense narration, thought and action flow lucidly into dialogue and daydream. Spinney always chooses just the right metaphors, too, as when describing how people treat the bereaved: “I could be a foul black crow. Limping with my scabbed feet, dragging a broken wing behind me, eyes glittering, my wound an open gash; I leave a trail.” It’s hard to believe this is her first book. This is a book about life and death, but it’s also mostly about love. How much can love achieve? How far does it go and when does it ever stop? I would highly recommend this to readers of other illness and bereavement memoirs written in a literary style, such as Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air or Marion Coutts’s The Iceberg. Rebecca Foster Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
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THE LONGEST WINTER Kevin Sullivan Twenty7 Books Oct 2016 pbk ISBN - 9781785770333
The Longest Winter is beautifully written and incredibly moving. Kevin Sullivan is an ex-journalist who experienced the Bosnian war first hand and that understanding and experience is evident in his writing. This is not a book that could have been written by somebody without that experience. There are three main characters: Terry a British doctor who has come to Bosnia to escort a sick child back to London for urgent treatment, Brad, an American journalist dealing with his own demons from past conflict zones and Milena, a Bosnian woman who turned her back on the hatred and brutality that had taken over her own town. When Terry’s flight lands in Sarajevo, her arrival has not been well organised and she is left to fend for herself. It is easy to have sympathy for her, however, like Terry herself, the reader gradually begins to see that her trials pale into insignificance in comparison with the real problems that those in Sarajevo, particularly the hospital, face every day. This is the most thought provoking book I have read in a long time. The speed
with which ordinary towns like those we live in descended into chaos and death is shocking, as is the nature of combat in civil war. The story takes place in the centre of Sarajevo, where civilians live only 500 yards from the front line with gun fire and shells exploding around them. Despite this the people try to carry on living a normal life. The televised annual song contest goes ahead, even though hardly anywhere has electricity, and friends still gather for parties. And when the prewar normal is no longer possible, a new kind of normal is created, there is an acceptance. Another striking feature for me was the merging of civilian and military: the geeky, bohemian Zlatko, a university student just months earlier was now a translator and escort for foreign journalists, helping government and military officials, while government soldiers are dressed in jeans and trainers. The only difference between them is that the soldiers carry guns. The Longest Winter would make a great book for a reading group as there are so many potential talking points: the recurring theme of difficulty with communication, the parallels that Sullivan draws between the individual relationships and the war, and how the simplicity of the language he uses emphasises the awfulness of the events. Mary Moore Personal read ............★★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
THE WICKED BOY Kate Summerscale Bloomsbury Mar 2017 ISBN - 9781408851166
Subtitled The Mystery of A Victorian Child Murderer this is the first Kate Summerscale I have read since Suspicions of Mr Whicher. I really enjoyed her examination of detective work in its infancy. In that book the author took a case from 1860 and provided us with a leisurely trawl through the facts and all the relevant documents. It was well-detailed and thoroughly researched and very readable. Her latest book is just as good. I began this book with no idea as to what was to happen. It is 1895 and thirteen year old Robert Coombes and his twelve year old brother Nattie seem to be having a whale of a time - changing coins of large value, going off to Lords to see the cricket and going to the theatre. These boys have a secret and a plan. They tell neighbours that their mother is away and get a naive adult male friend of their father’s to come and stay with them. The revelation of their secret is as much a shock to him as it is to the local Plaistow residents. All three are initially arrested for the crime and its aftermath and the trial makes fascinating reading.
The press latch onto Robert’s treasured collection of “penny dreadful” comics and the simmering debate as to what is suitable material for children to read explodes. I found this theme one of the most absorbing features of Summerscale’s analysis. The book becomes a study of “suitable” punishment for a child. Although it looks like the jury advocated clemency it actually made the punishment initially seem more severe but this is also a story of retribution and it is far from over at the end of the trial. The adult lives of those who committed terrible crimes in childhood does hold a morbid fascination for me and in researching this Summerscale stumbled upon information which led her story into a completely different direction taking her to some of the most notorious battlefields of the First World War. The motive for Robert’s crime was never clear but so much else has been found out about him. It is a sobering, grisly but ultimately quite lifeenhancing tale. I’m aware that by jumping to this book I’ve missed out a couple of Summerscale works, (The Queen Of Whale Cay and Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace) and normally I’m a great one for reading books in publication order but I was drawn to the author returning to murder and just couldn’t wait to read this. I think she is excellent at bringing old crimes alive and at making her accounts of cases both highly readable and relevant to today. Phil Ramage Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
you remember that these are places that have no basis in reality, so inevitably the tangible facts are scarce. Paul Cheney Personal read ....................★★★ Group read.........................★★★
THE UNDISCOVERED ISLANDS Malachy Tallack, Katie Scott Polygon Oct 2016 hbk ISBN - 9781846973505
Deserts have been known for mirages for millennia; the oasis that appears in the distance offering shade and water that vanishes as approached. Strangely enough, the same happens at sea, islands are glimpsed through fog and rough seas, navigation errors mean that sailors find places that exist elsewhere and others are purely figments of imagination. Tallack has brought together the myths and legends of two dozen islands that were thought to exist, and now no longer do. There are sections on sunken islands, un-discovered islands and mythical islands. Some are well known, Atlantis probably and the Isles of the Blessed being some of them. Others are obscure and unheard of, until now. There are two or three pages of stories and background on each island, with some speculation as to the why’s and wherefore's of their appearance and disappearance. Throughout the book are delightful and colourful illustrations by Katie Scott adding so much to the narrative. But sadly there doesn’t seem to be much depth to the stories, understandable when
THERE MUST BE EVIL: THE LIFE AND MURDEROUS CAREER OF ELIZABETH BERRY Bernard Taylor Duckworth Overlook Nov 2016 pbk ISBN - 9780715651209
Life was certainly very different back in the 1880s, especially for those who belonged to humble backgrounds. Precious few strove to better themselves by schooling, such as was available. This particular female, who began by working in a textile mill, tried hard to better herself. Unfortunately, as a result, she became somewhat aloof to others and thought herself of a higher station than her co-workers. She eventually married, had children, moved around a bit, took a nursing course and became a mid-wife at the same time. Once qualified, she took work in Workhouses and the like. There she became almost unbearably dictatorial and unapproachable. Even by today’s standards, Berry’s crimes are morally unforgivable. As a mother,
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reviews she did heinous harm to relatives and children, more to free herself, in order to make a better status for herself, or better able to remarry unencumbered by children and dependants. Today, we have much more available to us from a forensic and pathological basis, we could quite easily prove or disprove cases such as hers, but back in the mid 1880s such things were more or less unknown. However, she little realized that she left a trail that could be followed despite her attempting to shift blame onto others if she could. This book was quite a rapid read for me, it shifts along at a cracking pace, keeps you informed without resorting to a lot of padding, although a fair bit of repetitive detail is included, as court cases often do as a matter of course. I have read any number of true crime stories over the years, the subject fascinates the ghoulish voyeur in me, but this one I personally had not heard of at all making it that much more interesting. Based around the Oldham area where working class people struggled in their bleak lives, this case became a cause celebre. Well worth the read to my mind if this sort of subject interests you. Fairly graphic in detail, perhaps a little supposition here and there to better fill in gaps, but largely a decently written book about a crime during an era, long gone now. A few sketches and contemporary photographs accompany the narrative, better to paint a fuller picture of life in those days, although the descriptive text is more than adequate. Reginald Seward Personal read ................★★★★ Group read.........................★★★
THE GOOD LIEUTENANT Whitney Terrell Picador June 2016 pbk ISBN - 9781509837441
This gripping story, set in Iraq, begins as Lieutenant Emma Fowler is leading her platoon to recover the body of a member of her team. She is accompanied by signals officer Lieutenant Dixon Pulowski, who is installing security cameras at this strategic location. It is a mission fraught with danger, especially because Emma has concerns about the interrogation methods that were used to gain the intelligence necessary to locate the body. Is it information she can rely on? A further concern arises from the fact that she and Dixon have been lovers since they met at Fort Riley in Kansas, so she feels an increased pressure to ensure his safety in the field. It very quickly becomes clear that she is driven by a need to do things right and to keep her platoon members safe – in other words, to be a good lieutenant. As the mission progresses, things suddenly go catastrophically wrong: men are killed, including a young Iraqi shot by her. It becomes clear that she faces another dilemma – is it possible to combine being a good army officer with being a "good" human being? The literal and figurative
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explosion is a powerful start to a story that then moves backwards in time, gradually revealing what previous experiences led to the characters finding themselves caught up in this crisis. However, one strength of the story is that many of these dilemmas are ones that often occur in everyday life, not just in war zones. The reverse timeline took a short while to adjust to, but I then found that it added a powerful extra dimension to the psychological credibility of the story. I thought that the author captured this journey from an instance of raw brutality back to a time of more hopeful innocence in a convincing and sensitive way. Each and every one of the characters, on both sides of the conflict, was portrayed so vividly that, more than a week after finishing the book, I still feel almost inhabited by them and by the dilemmas they faced. The fact that the author has experience as a war reporter during the Iraq war adds authority to his writing. The only slight irritation was that he used a lot of military acronyms but often didn’t explain them. Full of raw emotion, as well as a profound sense of humanity, this is a novel that will, I am sure, stand the test of time because it captures so sensitively both the frailty and the inherent strength of its characters. It would make a good choice for reading groups because of the complexities and conflicts that are explored throughout the story. Linda Hepworth Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
THE FIRE CHILD S.K. Tremayne
CITY OF FRIENDS Joanna Trollope
Harper Feb 2017 pbk ISBN - 9780008105860
Mantle Feb 2017 hbk ISBN - 9781509823475
I'm not sure The Fire Child quite lives up to The Ice Twins, a book I loved, but I did enjoy it. It is the story of Rachel Kerthen, newly married to the older and widowed David Kerthen. For 1000 years his family have lived in Carnhallow House in Cornwall. He has an eight year old son, Jamie, who is still grieving for his mother. Jamie starts behaving strangely and Rachel starts to doubt what happened to his mother. The book has a sinister feel to it and reminded me of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. The house is a big part of the story and adds to the underlying sense of malice that plays throughout it all. Rachel is an unreliable narrator. I never knew whether I trusted her or not, similarly with David and Jamie. The author kept me guessing. It that has the requisite twists and turns, but sometimes doesn't quite ring true, no matter as it all came together to make a very good psychological thriller with an excellent sense of place.
The perfect book with which to curl up with a cuppa or a glass and become immersed in a superb tale with Joanna Trollope at her absolute best producing a well crafted story. Her characters are finely drawn, clearly defined women of today. I doubt if she has an equal in the portrayal of women’s ambitions, conflicts, emotions and reactions. The story is realistic drawing the reader into this absorbing tale. Gaby, Beth, Melissa and Stacey, friends since their student days are now all high achievers in their respective fields leading successful and normal lives. Multiple viewpoints can prove tricky risking breaking the flow. But not in this book as Joanna Trollope releases little cameos of back story which, rather than being tedious, add to the depth of the story illustrating skilfully what makes these women tick. From the first chapter I was totally engrossed as the plot built slowly, brick by brick, stressing the loyalty and comradeship shared by the friends. Each chapter added dimensions to the characters and to the tale. The women are pin sharp and endearing and I so wanted things to be
Nicola Smith Personal read ................★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
right for them all. Stacey’s sudden dismissal from her job is the catalyst that affects them all. This confident and successful woman with the world at her feet is left stunned and bereft. Rather than turning to her friends, anxiously trying to be strong for her, she retreats into herself, shunning everyone. Her family and friends' attempts to reach out to her and help are rejected. Fractures appear in her relationships and friendships are put under pressure. The women in this book are clear examples of successful women juggling work and family in various forms and the struggle to stay strong and not fail. A familiar scenario in the present and bang up to date. I think it is fair to say that this is primarily a woman’s book and one to which they can identify. Especially the display of guilt that women endure when they cannot make everything fall into their perfect scenario. A book about relationships that ebb and flow and a depiction of the reality of life. Most women will identify with the people depicted and also with their various predicaments so vividly shown in the excellent characterisation we have come to expect from this writer. I was totally involved in their lives, in their homes, relationships, work places, and even their hearts and could not put the book down. Sheila A. Grant Personal read ............★★★★★ Group read .................★★★★★
THE FARM AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD Sarah Vaughan Hodder Jan 2017 pbk ISBN - 9781444792324
I was a big fan of Sarah Vaughan's first book, The Art of Baking Blind, so I was looking forward to The Farm at the Edge of the World, but also approached it with trepidation. What if I didn't love it? What if it didn't live up to my expectations? Well, I'm happy to report that it more than exceeded my expectations and I absolutely loved it. For a relatively short book, it took me a little longer to read because I wanted to savour every word. Usually, when I get towards the end of a book, I can speed up but with this one I felt like I didn't want to rush it. The Farm, the one at the edge of the world, is in north Cornwall. In 1944, Maggie is a teenager on the cusp of womanhood, living on her family's farm. Will and Alice are evacuees who go to live there. Something momentous and terrible happens in Maggie's life and in 2014, 70 years later, things finally come to a head. At the same time, Maggie's granddaughter, Lucy, returns to her childhood home after being desperate to leave years earlier. Her marriage may be
over and her career is floundering and maybe her old home isn't so bad after all. Firstly I'd like to say how much I enjoyed Sarah Vaughan's writing. There is a love story and the descriptions of the depth of feeling are exquisite. Often with time slip novels I find I enjoy the more contemporary story more than the one set in the past but in this book I enjoyed both equally and found both to be moving, full of emotion and intensity. Farming is hard and that comes across here, particularly in the 2014 storyline. There are some quite harsh scenes but in portraying a working farm you can't make it all about cute animals and scenery. The remote, sometimes beautiful, sometimes brutal setting is very atmospheric. I love the device of flitting back and forward between two different periods, but I know some struggle with a non-linear style. I think it helps it all to unfold and it worked very well for me and kept me turning the pages to find out what happened, sometimes with a sense of foreboding as I could see how the story was going. This is a really lovely story with interesting and welldrawn characters. I'd highly recommend it. Nicola Smith Personal read ............★★★★★ Group read .....................★★★★
Reading challenges for 2017 Read a book that you pick at random – this is quite a daring challenge but randomly picking a book could prove to be an utterly brilliant move or an utterly foolhardy move. What’s the worst that can happen?
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WHAT WE ARE THINKING
Film and TV Tie-Ins by Gill Chedgey
eeling somewhat bombarded by adverts and trailers for The Girl on the Train got me thinking about why there is such a compelling need to make a film/TV drama out of a successful, best selling, book. My fear is that it is all money motivated. If the book was successful then maybe so will the film/drama be? And there’s no doubt that there’s something in that. Look at the Harry Potter series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and, of course, Game of Thrones! Who goes to see such films, watches these dramas? If you’ve never read the book then it saves you the trouble and you maybe get to see what all the 98
fuss is about. But if you read the book and enjoyed it, is there a need to see a film/drama? Sometimes it is a curiosity to see if the film/drama can in any way match the book that you loved. On The Road? Appalling, Kerouac must have turned in his grave. The Hunger Games, wonderful – but then Suzanne Collins was involved in the scripts. There seems to have been an unprecedented wealth of such films/dramas in recent years Carol, Brooklyn, Room, Wolf Hall, War and Peace to name a few. I saw them and enjoyed them but nowhere near as much as I enjoyed the books. I hunger for original screen plays like The Lobster, Bridge of Spies, Ex Machina.
written don’t the descriptions do that anyway? I wonder too how publishers feel. On the one hand they have to go rushing about to publish a new edition with a cover that depicts scenes from the film or members of the cast. On the other it could boost further sales of the book. We’re back to money. But there is another side to this conundrum. Sometimes a film is made of a little known book. Or a writer who has slipped through your own radar. I remember seeing the film Shipping News and being blown away - not having previously read anything by Annie Proulx. Since then I think I’ve read everything by her! One film did that for me, opened a wealth of words that I was delighted to discover. I saw the film Serena, I’d never heard of Ron Rash but I sought the book out and loved it. Winter’s Bone is another example. And years ago I watched I, Claudius and subsequently read the books. Those are just a few examples. These adaptations have enriched my library and my mind. And I’m so grateful. Hopefully I’m not alone.
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It’s a collision of media in some ways. It may be argued that the film, or TV drama, offers a visualisation of the book, but if the book is well
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Published on Jan 12, 2017
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