Books to Look Out for February 2017: Part One

Cover image February is my least favourite month – dull, often wet, drained of colour – it’s the fag-end of winter here in the UK but at least it’s short. In terms of books however, this year’s February is looking very bright indeed beginning with Sara Baume’s A Line Made by Walking for which my hopes are extremely high. Finding herself out of step with life in the city, Frankie moves into her grandmother’s bungalow, vacant since her death three years ago. Resisting the ennui that threatens to overcome her, she picks up her camera and uses it to reconnect with nature. The result is ‘a profound meditation on the interconnectedness of wilderness, art and individual experience, and a powerful exploration of human frailty’ according to the publishers. I loved Spill Simmer Falter Wither with its wonderfully poetic, sometimes musical language painting gorgeous word pictures of the natural world and am hoping for more of the same from A Line Made by Walking.

Mhairi is also looking for a refuge in Annalena McAfee’s Hame set on the remote Scottish island of Fascaray where she takes her nine-year-old daughter after the breakup of her relationship in New York. Mhairi has been commissioned to write the biography of renowned poet Grigor McWatt. Her subject seems a little slippery but as she uncovers more detail, Mhairi finds there’s a good deal more to McWatt than his reputation as a Scottish national treasure had suggested. ‘A dazzling, kaleidoscope of a novel, Hame layers extracts from Mhairi’s journal, Grigor’s letters and poems and his evocative writing about the island into a compelling narrative that explores identity, love and the universal quest for home’ say the publishers of what sounds like a very satisfying read. Cover image

A few years ago Hannah Kent’s Icelandic-set Burial Rites was everywhere. It’s one of those rare books that, like Spill Simmer Falter Wither, actually lived up to the hype which surrounded it. Hopes are high for The Good People then, although mine have been a little tempered by Kate’s review over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It’s set in County Kerry in 1825 where newly widowed Nora is caring for her grandson Micheal who can neither speak nor walk. This is a time of superstition – rumour is rife that Micheal is a changeling, a bringer of bad luck. Two women come into Nora’s life who may be able to help her restore him to the health he once enjoyed but not without danger. Kent’s second novel, like her first, is loosely based in fact, apparently.

Set in London a century earlier than The Good People, Jake Arnott’s The Fatal Tree sounds like an entirely different kettle of fish. Jack Sheppard and his lover, Edgeworth Bess, seem to be the only the inhabitants of the city’s underworld to have bested Jonathan Wild, the ‘Thief-Taker General’ determined to get crime under control in the wake of the bursting of the Southsea Bubble. Now in Newgate, condemned to death, Bess dictates their story to Billy Archer, a hack known to Defoe and Swift, and a secret denizen of the city’s molly-houses. Arnott’s first novel, The Long Firm, explored similar territory in 20th-century London blending fact and fiction in a vivid evocation of the times. He’s never quite matched it for me but perhaps The Fatal Tree will buck that trend.

Cover image Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow takes us to Russia in June 1922. Count Alexander Rostov is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square to the Hotel Metropol where an attic room awaits him. Sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal to indefinite house arrest, the Count is forced to reassess his privileged life while Russia endures decades of upheaval. ‘With the assistance of a glamorous actress, a cantankerous chef and a very serious child, Rostov unexpectedly discovers a new understanding of both pleasure and purpose’, according to the publishers. There’s a fair head of steam behind this one already which always makes me sceptical but Towles’ first novel, The Rules of Civility, was a joy and we all need a bit of that at this time of the year.

That’s it for the first batch of February’s treats. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis if you’re interested. The second part of the preview will be along soon…

24 thoughts on “Books to Look Out for February 2017: Part One”

  1. I still haven’t read Spill Simmer but it’s on my (short) list of books to buy this year. And her new one looks just as appealing.

    You know my thought on The Good People but I’ll be keen to hear how it’s received (maybe I’m in the minority!).

    Loved Rules of Civility and I’m keen to read Moscow (it seemed to pop up on a few ‘best of 2016’ lists).

    1. I loved Spill – such a beautifully expressed book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, Kate. I’ll be reading Moscow this week.

  2. I’m quite excited about Hame as well. I’ll be interested to see what you make of A Gentleman in Moscow. I heard such buzz about it from America that I downloaded it from NetGalley and have been reading it on and off over the last few weeks in between lots of other books. It’s pleasant, but I’ve stalled around the one-third point and need to make a big effort if I’m to finish it.

    1. Planning to read it this week, Rebecca. I enjoyed Rules of Civility, a nicely turned out piece of commercially literary fiction – if that makes sense – and I’m hoping for something similar. Does that sound a realistic expectation?

  3. Count me as another who enjoyed The Rules of Civility, so I’ll be interested to see what you make of his new one. Like Rebecca, I’ve already seen some positive reports from Stateside readers, so the signs are looking good.

    1. It popped up on quite a few American lists I noticed. I’ll be posting a review around the pub. date in February, Jacqui. Fingers crossed!

    1. This one seems to be the title that everyone’s picking up on for February. We’ll have to compare notes, Melissa.

    1. Me, too, Annabel and the same goes for The Good People. There must be such intense pressure to deliver the goods again when your first novel has been rapturously received. I’m sure that’s part of the problem.

  4. Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow is on my wishlist but it will need to wait until July before I can buy it – I’m trying to last out that long before buying anything new.

    1. This is the book that seems to have caught everyone’s eye one way and another. I’m looking forward to it, too, but it’s the Baume that I’m most eagerly anticipating. Good luck with the book buying ban, Karen. You’ll have a great deal of respect from me if you manage six months. I take it you’re avoiding bookshops.

  5. It’s an interesting selection of books for the month, quite diverse in theme and tone. Hame sounds like it would be very much up my street, I’ll be keeping an eye on that one.

    1. Publishers do seem to be laying on quite a bit of enticement to get us through the winter months. More to come next week, although I know that you’ll be standing firm with the book buying avoidance, Belinda!

      1. I am trying to hold firm! I’m finding my library list a good outlet for recording but not buying the books I’m interested in. Otherwise I’d have bought 10 by now!

  6. I’ve heard good things about A Gentleman in Moscow. The Fatal Tree sounds interesting… And, I’m hoping Sarah Baume’s new book holds up to her first (not that I’ve read it yet – but I hope to!).

    1. The Baume is the title I’m most eagerly anticipating, Naomi, although the Towles is the one most people seem to have picked up on here. In two minds about Fatal Tree but I do have a copy so we’ll see.

  7. Interesting combination! I’ve heard extreme responses to Amor Towles’ novel, some loving it but not having read RoC and others not loving it but having loved RoC, but I suspect that has more to do with expectations than the book itself. He’s someone I saw on a panel at a lit festival a couple of years back, and the way he approached research intrigued me, so I would definitely like to give one of them a try at some point.

    1. Ah, that’s interesting. I started A Gentleman in Moscow today. I’m 60-odd pages in and felt quite disappointed to begin with but something’s just clicked and I think I may well enjoy it after all. It’s very long, though, which I find a little off-putting. What was so intriguing about his research methods?

    1. That’s very reassuring, Cathy. Always tough to follow a novel as successful as Burial Rights, I think. So much pressure…

  8. Pingback: Books to Look Out for February 2017: Part Two | A Life In Books

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