Category Archives: Random thoughts

Paperbacks to Look Out For in June 2020

Cover image for Royals by Emma ForrestJune’s paperback publishing schedules are in a rather sorry state, thanks to the cuts and postponements brought about by Covid-19. I’m left with just four in my sights, the first of which I’ve already read. Emma Forrest’s Royals is about a working-class Jewish boy drawn into the orbit of a poor little rich girl, set against the backdrop of London caught up in royal wedding fever in 1981. Eighteen-year-old Steven’s violent father lands his son in hospital as he takes a punch for his mother. He wakes up to find himself alongside Jasmine, a fabulous creature who charms everyone with her dazzling attention, and the two instantly click. Forrest knows how to turn a striking phrase, telling her story with wit, humour and insight.

Since posting this, Emma Forrest has contacted me to let me know that, sadly, the paperback edition of Royals has been postponed until next summer. Apologies to anyone who was looking forward to bagging a copy. I dithered about deleting it but it’s such an enjoyable read I decided to leave it in for any eager ereader fans who should be able to buy a reasonably priced copy here.

Friendship – or the lack of it – crops up again in Jessica Francis Kane’s Rules for Visiting which sees a forty-year-old woman successful in her work but keeping family and neighbours at a distance. Feeling a lack in her life, she decides to set about rekindling old friendships. ‘May sets off on a journey to visit four neglected friends one-by-one, she holds herself (and them) to humorously high standards, while at home she begins to confront the pain of her past and imagine for herself a different kind of future. May’s quest becomes an exploration of the power, and perhaps limits, of modern friendship’ say the publishers which sounds very promising although that ‘humorously’ is a little worrying.

At first glance, Joanne Ramos’ The Farm apears some way outside my usual literary territory but it comes garlanded with praise from all and sundry including Sophie Mackintosh and Gary Shteyngart. A young Filipina immigrant hopes to improve her life and her child’s, taking a job at Golden Oaks a luxury fertility clinic run by an ambitious businesswoman who’s spotted a gap in the market. Described by the publishers as ‘a brilliant, darkly funny novel that explores the role of luck and merit, class, ambition and sacrifice, The Farm is an unforgettable story about how we live and who truly holds power’ which reminds me a little of David Bergen’s Stranger. It’s the dark humour and class theme that attracts me to this one.Cover image for The Parting Gift by Evan Fallenberg

Evan Fallenberg’s The Parting Gift comes billed as an ‘erotic tale of jealousy, obsession, and revenge suffused with the rich flavours and intoxicating scents of Israel’s Mediterranean coast’. The novel’s unnamed narrator tells the story of his all-consuming relationship with a man he met by chance on a visit to Israel and the sinister turn it takes as he becomes increasingly entangled in his lover’s life. Fallenberg’s style bears comparison to Patricia Highsmith’s work according to the publishers; an ambitious claim but it does sound worth investigating.

That’s it for June’s paperback preview. As ever a click on a title will take you either to my review or to a more detailed synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with June’s new titles they’re here.

Books to Look Out For in June 2020

Cover imageJune is usually the month when publishers present us with a plethora of summer reading designed to keep us entertained by the pool, although there’s not much chance of that this year unless you have your own. Not my kind of novel, on the whole, but Rebecca Kauffman’s The House on Fripp Island might be this year’s exception. The eponymous island is a luxury resort in South Carolina where Lisa Daly and her family are holidaying with friends, all of whom have secrets to keep, apparently. ‘While revelations from the past and present unfold, the book builds to a shocking event that will shake your sense of justice and leave you wanting to talk about crime and retribution’ say the publishers which may sound a step too far into summer reading territory  but given that I enjoyed Kaufmann’s The Gunners, I may give it a try.

I’d happily pack anything by Joanna Briscoe in my suitcase should I be lucky enough to get away this year. Her new novel, The Seduction, follows Beth, who lives a quiet life in north London, hoping that her uncertainty can be settled by going into therapy but finds herself even more disturbed than before, apparently. ‘What if the very person who is meant to be the solution becomes the most dangerous problem of all? And why is what’s bad for us so enticing?’ asks the blurb suggesting a thread of suspense. I was a huge fan of Briscoe’s Sleep with Me, published over fifteen years ago but I still remember it well.

Niamh Campbell’s This Happy has been quietly popping up in my Twitter timeline for a few months, much lauded by people whose opinions I trust. Twenty-three-year-old Alannah and her married Cover imageolder lover spend three weeks in cottage in the Irish countryside. Six years later, recently married to another man, Alannah spots the cottage’s landlady triggering memories of bliss followed by utter misery. An interesting enough premise but it’s the quote that comes with the blurb that’s sold this one to me: I have taken apart every panel of this, like an ornamental fan. But we stayed in the cottage for three weeks only, just three weeks, because it was cut short you see – cut short after just three weeks, when I’d left my entire life behind. Hoping for some fine writing if that’s a sample.

I wasn’t at all sure about Jean-Baptiste Andrea’s A Hundred Million Years and A Day with its rather wordy title, either, but the enthusiasm of the small indie publisher who pitched it won me over. Baptiste’s novella was a huge literary hit in France where it was published last year. It’s about a palaeontologist who thinks he may have found a clue to the discovery which will enshrine his legacy, hidden deep in the mountains of Southern France, and the expedition that takes him there. His novel comes complete with a puff from Carys Davies who dubbed it ‘A sublime and beautiful book’ and I’d have to agree. Review shortly…

I’m a little wary of comparisons between authors made in press releases. I’ve noticed Elizabeth Strout’s name appearing more and more frequently as it does in the advance information for Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut, Valentine. Set in Texas, it’s about the shockwaves running through a small town in the wake of a violent crime, following three women including the fourteen-year-old survivor of the crime, apparently. ‘When justice is as slippery as oil, and kindness becomes a hazardous act, sometimes courage is all we have to keep us alive’ say the publishers. An interesting premise, if handled well as well as that mention of Strout suggests.

Cover imageAnother starry name pops up in the blurb for my last June choice, this time in a quote from Alex Preston, the Observer critic, who compares Stuart Evers’ The Blind Light to a British Don DeLillo. I’m not a DeLillo fan but I liked the sound of this novel which explores Britain’s history from the ‘50s onwards through two families from opposite ends of the social specturm, first from the parents’ perspective then from their children’s. ‘The Blind Light is a powerful, ambitious, big yet intimate story of our national past and a brilliant evocation of a family and a country. It will remind you how complicated human history is – and how hard it is to do the right thing for the right reasons’ say the publishers which, having read it already, I can tell you is spot on. Review to follow.

That’s it for June’s new titles. As ever, a click on any that snag you attention will take you to a more detailed synopsis. Paperbacks soon…

Paperbacks to Look Out For in May 2020

Cover image for The Electric Hotel by Dominc SmithJust as May’s new title schedules suffered a wave of cuts and postponements so, too, have its paperback publications. I’ve read only one of those that have survived the chop, some of which look more enticing than others. I’ll begin with  Dominic Smith’s The Electric Hotel  which takes its readers to Paris, New Jersey and First World War Belgium, telling the story of the rise and fall of a film studio through a French pioneer of silent movies tracked down by a film history student decades after the disappearance of the film that bankrupted him. ‘The Electric Hotel is a portrait of a man entranced by the magic of movie-making, a luminous romance and a whirlwind trip through the heady, endlessly inventive days of early cinema’ according to the publishers. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos was one of my books of 2017 so hopes are high for this one.

I’m not so sure about Season Butler’s Cygnet, in which a young girl is stranded on an island, seemingly abandoned by her parents. Swan Island is home to an ageing separatist community who have turned their back on the mainland to create their own haven and have no wish to have their carefully constructed idyll shattered by an incomer, let alone a young one. ‘Cygnet is the story of a young woman battling against the thrashing waves of loneliness and depression, and how she learns to find hope, laughter and her own voice in a world that’s crumbling around her’ according to the publishers. This one could go either way but it’s an interesting premise.

Weighing in at just over 1,000 pages, Lewis Shiner’s Outside the Gates of Eden is another title I’m not at all sure about. It begins in the ‘60s and takes us all the way to the twenty-first century as it traces the rise and fall of counterculture through Alex and Cole who meet in high school. Alex would prefer to be an artist rather than join the family business while Cole’s future is decided at a Bob Dylan conference in 1965. ‘Using the music business as a window into the history of half a century, Outside the Gates of Eden is both epic and intimate, starkly realistic and ultimately hopeful, a War and Peace for the Woodstock generation’ say the publishers somewhat ambitiously. I’m very attracted to this one but somewhat intimidated by its length.

I’ll end with a title I can happily vouch for. Xuan Juliana Wang’s Cover image for Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wagdebut collection, Home Remedies, came garlanded with praise from Lauren Groff, herself no slouch when it comes to crafting short stories. Wang explores the second-generation immigrant experience in twelve lengthy pieces told mostly from the perspective of young Chinese. Both poignant and sharply observed, her stories are often undercut with a dark humour and her writing is plain yet striking. Not all the stories worked for me but it’s an interesting collection which explores a culture I know far less about than I should.

That’s it for May’s much depleted paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to my review for Home Remedies or to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more about the others, and if you’d like to catch up with May’s handful of new titles, they’re here. Fingers crossed that both we and the publishing world will be in better shape in June.

Books to Look Out For in May 2020

Cover imageSpare a thought for poor publishers who’ve been wrestling with the nightmare of rejigging their schedules to give their books the best possible exposure now that bookshops are shut thanks to the corona virus. Poor authors, too, left in limbo with all that nervous excitement at the prospect of the longed-for publication day now delayed. The result of all that is a much-depleted new title post, more like a December preview than May.

Unusually for me, I’ve already read three of the four remaining May novels beginning with Rebecca Dinnerstein Knight’s Hex, a six-cornered love story with a botanical twist. It takes the form of three notebooks written over six months by Nell Barber addressed to her advisor, Dr Joan Kallas, for whom she’s conceived a passion without entirely recognising its nature. Five years ago, I reviewed The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinerstein, as she was known then, describing it as ‘a quirky bit of escapism’, a description which fits Hex nicely, too.

I’ve also already read Lily King’s Writers & Lovers, unable to resist Elizabeth Strout’s description of it as ‘Gorgeous’. This warm, witty novel is about a young woman, lost in grief and mired in debt, with one sure thing in her life: the novel she’s been working on for six years. I thoroughly enjoyed it – one of those satisfyingly absorbing books you can wrap yourself up in and forget about the world, much needed right now.

I’ve yet to read Catherine Lacey’s Pew in which the eponymous character wakes up in a church unsure of their identity, gender or otherwise. Pew won’t speak, unable or unwilling to answer the many increasingly strident questions put to them by the town’s people. ‘As the days pass, their insistent clamour will build from a murmur to a roar, as both the innocent and the guilty come undone in the face of Pew’s silence’ says the blurb of what sounds rather like a fable. I’m not at all sure about this one but I’ve enjoyed Lacey’s previous novels, Nobody is ever Missing and The Answers.

I’m finishing with the book which will launch what looks like an interesting collaboration between Walter Presents, All Cover image4’s excellent subtitled TV stream, and Pushkin Press, publishers of very fine foreign fiction. David Foenkinos’ The Mystery of Henri Pick is set in a small Brittany town whose library is full of rejected manuscripts one of which is published by a young editor to great acclaim but it seems its author is dead causing a great deal of suspicion. ‘By turns farcical and moving, The Mystery of Henri Pick is a fast-paced comic mystery enriched by a deep love of books – and of the authors who write them’ says the blurb. Having read it, I’d say it’s the perfect choice for the Walter Presents/Pushkin Press partnership.

That’s it for May’s new novels. The smallest handful, I’m afraid. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Reviews of Hex, Writers & Lovers, and The Mystery of Henri Pick to follow shortly. Paperbacks soon, and let’s hope there are more of them…

Ten More Small But Perfectly Formed Publishers Who Will Send Books to Your Home

Last week’s small publisher post attracted so many hits I thought I’d do another in the hope that Cover imagesome of that interest might have led to a few sales. This time I’ve included a few whose lists I like the look of but have not yet got around to exploring despite having my interest snagged by other bloggers’ reviews. Now’s my chance to put that right. At the time of writing, the ten publishers below are valiantly continuing to mail books to customers – some also sell ebooks. I’ve included links to them plus reviews, either on this blog or to recommendations from blogger pals.

Charco Press published one of my books of 2019. They’re run by translators, keen to bring Latin American literature to the English-speaking world. They sell both paper and ebooks.

My recommendation: The Wind That Lays Waste

Scribe  has one of those lists I’ve been meaning to explore properly for some time, ranging from contemporary fiction to interesting looking non-fiction. They’re currently running a promotion on parenting books with 50% off if you use the STAYATHOME discount code.

Rebecca at Bookish Beck‘s recommendations: The Animators, In Love with George Eliot and Heartland

Little Toller Books specialise in nature writing which might offer some solace now that we can’t get out much. I don’t read nearly enough non-fiction but books from Little Toller often catch my eye on Twitter.

Paul at Half Man Half Book‘s recomendations: Arboreal, Cornerstones

Gallic Books and Aardvark Bureau are one of my favourite publishers and would have Cover imageappeared on last week’s list but I was a little confused by the message on their website and thought they were no longer mailing out books. It turns out they are but through the publishing section of the site.

My recommendations: The President’s Hat, All Day at the Movies, Little

Vagabond Voices have what looks like a nicely varied list promising ‘literary novels, translated literature, poems and polemics penned at home and abroad’.

Annabel at Annabookbel‘s recommendation: 18

Lizzy at Lizzy’s Literary Life‘s recommendation: Stillness of the Sea

Fitzcarraldo Editions have a wide-ranging literary fiction list, both in translation and English-language, plus interesting non-fiction. You may recognise their distinctive cobalt blue jackets from those halcyon days of bookshop browsing

My recommendation: Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Galley Beggar Press publish literary fiction recognised by the judges of all manner of literary Cover imageawards including the Women’s Prize for Fiction, The Wellcome Book Prize, The Goldsmiths Prize and The Desmond Elliott Prize. Last year, Lucy Ellman’s doorstopper, Ducks, Newburyport, bagged them a place on the Booker Prize shortlist

Eric at Lonesome Reader‘s recommendations: Ducks, Newburyport, A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, The Weightless World

Seren Books are a Welsh publisher whose list includes fiction, poetry and non-fiction. They’re currently offering a 20% discount if you join their book club.

My recommendation: Significance

Honno Press call themselves the Welsh Women’s Press which does what it says on the tin, to quote an ancient advertising strapline

Karen at Booker Talk‘s recommendations: White Camellia, Ghostbird

Handheld Press are based a couple of stones’ throw away from me. They publish what they Cover imagecall ‘forgotten fiction’ as well as some contemporary novels and non-fiction, and tell me they’re using their permitted one bout of exercise to bike orders to the local Post Office which will be including one from me, shortly.

Ali at Heavenali’s recommendations: Blitz Writing, The Caravaners

Jacqui at Jacqui Wine’s Journals recommendation:  Business as Usual

I hope you find something there that takes your fancy, and remember many independent bookshops are happy to mail out books to you. There was a short wobble in supply thanks to wholesalers being hit by coronavirus-related problems but that seems to have been steadied for now.

Six Degrees of Separation – From Stasiland to The A B C Murders

Six Degrees of Separation is a meme hosted by Kate over at Books Are My Favourite and Best. It works like this: each month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six others to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the titles on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Cover images

This month, in what feels like an entirely different world from the one we were living in last month, we’re starting with Stasiland, Anna Funder’s clear-eyed, empathetic testament to the dreadful consequences of totalitarianism in which people tell their stories of life in the GDR and the opening of the Stasi’s files.

Which leads me to Red Love, Maxim Leo’s memoir of his years growing up in East Berlin. A fascinating portrait of a privileged family, well-connected within the GDR establishment.

Kapka Kassakova’s riveting Border explores the border zone between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece, rumoured to be an easier crossing point into the West than the Berlin Wall in the Cold War years.

Set in the same area Miroslav Penkov’s sprawling Stork Mountain is narrated by a young man who left Bulgaria, aged eight, a couple of years after the Wall fell, returning to Klisura whose roofs are home to many storks’ nests.

Plenty of birds, although no storks, in Eva Meijer’s delightful Bird Cottage, a fictionalised biography of Len Howard who threw up her life as a violinist in London and took herself off to Sussex to pursue her lifelong passion for birds.

Jill Dawson’s novels often take the form of fictionalised biography, including The Crime Writer about Patricia Highsmith’s sojourn in a Suffolk cottage, hoping her lover will join her.

John Malkovich played a suitably chilling Ripley in the film adaptation of Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game. He turned up, slightly disconcertingly, as Poirot in the BBC’s 2018 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s The A B C Murders which features a murderer whose victims’ names follow an alphabetic sequence, an early outing for contemporary crime fiction’s staple character – the serial killer.

This month’s Six Degrees of Separation has taken me from an investigation of the Stasi’s files after they were opened to the public to a crime fiction classic set in the South East of England. Part of the fun of this meme is comparing the very different routes other bloggers take from each month’s starting point. If you’re interested, you can follow it on Twitter with the hashtag #6Degrees, check out the links over at Kate’s blog or perhaps even join in.

Ten Small But Perfectly Formed Publishers Who Will Post Books to Your Home

One of the very few silver linings to the coronavirus is a reported upsurge in book sales. We have booksellers, publishers, warehouse staff and posties to thank for getting hard copies to us, despite risks to themselves. You’re probably in the habit of browsing your local bookshop or maybe buying from online booksellers but small publishers are currently struggling to keep their heads above water and many of them sell books direct to the public. Below is a list of ten Cover imagewho, at the time of writing, will mail books to you – some also sell ebooks – together with links both to them and to reviews of a few reviews of their titles on this blog. They’re all publishers with interesting lists to explore. I hope it goes without saying that I’ve nothing to gain financially from this post. Just trying to do what little I can to help some excellent publishers in extraordinarily difficult times.

Eye/Lightning Books not only have a great list of both fiction and non-fiction but they’re offering 30% off plus free shipping to UK customers who use the discount code THANKS. They’re also offering bundles of books that will help see you through the long haul plus ebooks of their six bestselling titles at less than £1 a shot.

My recommendations: Good Riddance, An Isolated Incident

Myriad Editions are another favourite of mine and they, too, have an offer to tempt you – 25% off together with free shipping in the UK if you use the MYREADATHOME discount code.

My recommendations: Magnetism, North Facing, To the Volcano

Pushkin Press offer a wonderfully varied list to peruse: lots of interesting fiction, classics andCover image non-fiction together with children’s and YA books.

My recommendations: Liar, Bird Cottage, Browse

Peirene Press specialise in translated novellas, an excellent way to explore other cultures without leaving the house, and they donate 50p to charity for every book sold.

My recommendations: And the Wind Sees All, Faces on the Tip of My Tongue, Her Father’s Daughter

Salt Publishing hail from Norfolk, a place dear to my holiday heart. They publish excellent contemporary fiction, well worth a look.

My recommendations: Good Day?, Flotsam, The Museum of Cathy

The Indigo Press published one of my books of last year. Their list is short but what I’ve read Cov er imagefrom it has impressed me.

My recommendations: Silence is My Mother Tongue, An Act of Defiance

Reflex Press also have a tiny list which includes one of my books of last year, the beautifully jacketed, Witches Sail in Eggshells

Époque Press publish a handful of titles, two of which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. They’re currently taking pre-orders for their new title to be published later in the year

My recommendations: El Hacho, The Wooden Hill

Influx Press have a longer list which I’ve yet to explore in depth but I’ve included them because they’reCover image the UK publishers of the brilliant Percival Everett’s I Am Not Sidney Poitier which has me in tears of laughter last week. Review to follow soon.

And Other Stories are last on my list but only because they’re currently selling only ebooks and subscriptions. They offer a varied list of mostly translated fiction with a few English language novels and some non-fiction.

My Recommendations: Theft, Love,

Janet over at From First Page to Last has a useful list of independent booksellers still posting books which also includes a few publishers. Happy to hear of any favourite small publishers you’d like to help keep afloat, and remember, no matter how grim things seem, there will always be books. Keep washing your hands…

Paperbacks to Look Out For in April 2020: Part Two

Cover imageUnlike the first part of April’s paperback preview, I’ve read none of the following six titles. I’ll begin with the one that tempts me most – Matias Faldbakken’s The Waiter set in Oslo where the eponymous waiter works at the city’s grandest restaurant. Our waiter knows his clientele well, tending to their every whim while watching their various shenanigans. ‘Exquisitely observed and wickedly playful, The Waiter is a novel for lovers of food, wine, and of European sensibilities, but also for anyone who spends time in restaurants, on either side of the service’ say the publishers which sounds just great A vicarious dining experience to enjoy until we can all go back to the real thing.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman in Trouble is one of those books of which I’m a little wary. It was all over my neck of the Twitter woods last summer which could well mean just a literary flash in the pan but its premise is an appealing one. Toby Fleishmann is about to launch himself into his longed-for single life when his ex-wife disappears leaving him in sole charge of his familial responsibilities and impelled to solve the mystery of what has happened to her, while wondering if their marriage was not quite how he saw it. ‘A blistering satirical novel about marriage, divorce and modern relationships, by one of the most exciting new voices in American fiction’ say the publishers.

I’m not entirely sure about Tim Lott’s  When We Were Rich either but, once again, its premise is an appealing one. Six people gather on a London rooftop on Millennium Eve to watch the fireworks on the Thames. All seems rosy as the economy booms but mass immigration from Eastern Europe is causing rumbles of discontent and religious fundamentalism is making itselfCover image known. How will these six weather the challenges ahead? ‘Sad, shocking and often hilarious, it is an acutely observed novel of all our lives, set during what was for some a golden time – and for others a nightmare from which we are yet to wake up’ say the publishers. Apparently, this new novel sees the return of characters who first appeared in White City Blue, a novel I read but about which I can remember nothing.

I’m also a little doubtful about Mary Loudon’s My House is Falling Down which sees a marriage under strain when Lucy falls in love with Angus. Lucy is determined not to deceive her husband but is shocked by his reaction to her affair. ‘Infused with her trademark precision, clarity and dark humour, Mary Loudon’s searing, highly-charged novel My House is Falling Down is a fearless exploration of what infidelity means when no one is lying, and how brutal honesty may yet prove the biggest taboo in our relationships’ say the publishers which suggests an original take on the somewhat hackneyed theme of middle-aged infidelity.

A multitude of bloggers whose opinions I trust sang the praises of Ray Robinson’s The Mating Habits of Stags when it was first published last year although it hadn’t appealed to me at first sight. After a violent act, widower Jake is evading capture on the wintery Yorkshire moors musing about his beloved wife and the child that is not his. His actions will change the friend who is devasted by the news of what he’s done forever. ‘As beauty and tenderness blend with violence, this story transports us to a different world, subtly exploring love and loss in a language that both bruises and heals’ according to the publishers.

After all those doubts, I’m ending on a more positive note with the winner of this year’s Portico Cover imageprize – Jessica Andrews’ debut, Saltwater which follows a young woman from her Sunderland working-class home to the seductive delights of London where she’s won a university place. Lucy finds the transition from one life to another overwhelming, never quite losing her feelings of being an outsider and eventually fleeing to her late grandfather’s cottage in Ireland. ‘Lyrical and boundary-breaking, Saltwater explores the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, the challenges of shifting class identity and the way that the strongest feelings of love can be the hardest to define’ according to the publishers. I do like the sound of this one which puts me in mind a little of Sara Baume’s A Line Made by Walking.

 That’s it for April’s new novels. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that have snagged your attentions and if you’d like to catch up with the first batch it’s here, new titles are here and here. Lots to keep us all entertained and take our minds of things a little this month. Stay safe, and keep washing your hands.

Books to Look Out For in April 2020: Part Two

Cover imageThis second instalment of potential April goodies begins with Kirstin Innes’ Scabby Queen which spans over half a century following the career of Clio Campbell who kills herself three days after her fifty-first birthday whereupon she becomes a posthumous heroine for our age. Taking in the miners’ strike, an anarchist squat, the Genoa G8 protests, the poll tax riots and Brexit ‘Scabby Queen is a portrait of a woman who refuses to compromise, told by her friends and lovers, enemies and fans’ according to the publishers which sounds very promising to me.

Set in Japan, Stephanie Scott’s What’s Left of Me is Yours has an intriguing premise: the employment of an agent to seduce a spouse in order to provide grounds for divorce in the employer’s favour. Based on a real case, Scott’s debut tells the story of one such agent who falls in love with his target. She moves in with him after her divorce, unaware of what he’s done. Truth will out, though, as it so often does. Wakaresaseya, as it’s known, is a thriving industry in the Japanese underworld, apparently.

Gangsters are feature in Juan Pablo Villalobos’ I Don’t Expect Anyone to Believe Me narrated by a Mexican student with the same name as its author. He’s about to take up a scholarship in Spain when he’s kidnapped in a bookshop and tasked with inducing the daughter of a corrupt politician to fall in love with him in order to save his cousin’s life. ‘Exuberantly foul-mouthed and intellectually agile, this hugely entertaining novel finds the light side of difficult subjects – immigration, corruption, family loyalty and love – in a world where the difference between comedy and tragedy depends entirely on who’s telling the joke’ says the blurb which sounds splendid to me.

Souvankham Thammavongsa’s debut collection How to Pronounce Knife is about the daily lives of refugees and immigrants, from an ex-boxer turned Cover imagenail salon worker to a mother and daughter harvesting earthworms by night. ‘Uncannily and intimately observed, written with prose of exceptional precision, the stories in How to Pronounce Knife speak of modern location and dislocation, revealing lives lived in the embrace of isolation and severed history – but not without joy, humour, resilience, and constant wonder at the workings of the world’ promise the publishers of what sounds like an excellent set of short stories. That title, alone, is enough to make me want to read this one.

C. Pam Zhang’s debut, How Much of These Hills Is Gold, is one of those debuts garlanded with so much praise from literary household names it must feel like a mixed blessing for a new author. So much to live up to. In this case Sebastian Barry, Emma Donoghue and Daisy Johnson are just three of the writers who love Zhang’s book. The story of two orphans carrying their father’s body on their backs as they walk through a bleak landscape looking for somewhere to bury him, it’s described asa sweeping adventure tale, an unforgettable sibling story and a remarkable novel about a family bound and divided by its memories’. I have to confess, it’s that catalogue of starry names that’s swung this one for me.

Which may also be the case with Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks in the Time of Saviours, much praised by Sarah Moss, one of my favourite authors. Seven-year-old Nainora Flores is saved from drowning by sharks prompting his impoverished family to see it as a sign from the Hawaiian gods but as he and his siblings grow up, economic reality bites and they’re forced to look for work on the US mainland. ‘With a profound command of language, Washburn’s powerful debut novel examines what it means to be both of a place, and a stranger in it’ according to the publishers.

Cover ImageI first came across Dorthe Nors when I read her novella, Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2017. Her crisp, plain style coupled with an undercurrent of humour hit the spot for me. I’m hoping for more of that with her short story collection, Wild Swims, which seems to be all about not quite connecting or choosing not to connect by the sound of it. ‘Dorthe Nors shines a light into forgotten corners and conjures darkness where it’s least expected. Her characteristic sharpness and sense of humour is ever-present, catching us when the melancholy threatens to come too close. Love, cruelty, friendship, and loneliness are all here, in these stories that brim with life’ promise the publishers whetting my appetite further.

That’s it for April’s new novels. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that have snagged your attention and if you’d like to catch up with the first batch it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

 

Books to Look Out For in April 2020: Part One

Cover imageI’m beginning to sound like a broken record, although in a good way, introducing yet another preview as full to bursting with potential goodies beginning with Anne Tyler’s Redhead By the Side of the Road billed as ‘an offbeat love story’. Micah sounds a bit of an eccentric. Odd yet fondly regarded by family and friends, he’s quite content with his life until his partner tells him she’s to be evicted because of a cat. Then a teenager knocks on his door claiming to be his son further discombobulating him. ‘Redhead by the Side of the Road is an intimate look into the heart and mind of a man who sometimes finds those around him just out of reach – and a love story about the differences that make us all unique’ say the publishers. A new Tyler is always cause for celebration for me.

Haleh Agar’s debut, Out of Touch is also about ambivalent family reunions by the sound of it. A woman is knocked down by a man who visits her in hospital, bringing her flowers in apology together with the letter she dropped when she fell. Her brother has received the same letter in New York telling him that their estranged father is dying and wants to see them both. ‘With sharp wit and sensitivity, Out of Touch is a deeply absorbing story about love and vulnerability, sex and power, and the unbreakable bonds of family’ say the publishers promisingly. Quite a lot of brouhaha in my neck of the Twitter woods over this one and it does sound intriguing.Cover image

There’s a good deal of that surrounding Naoise Dolan’s debut, Exciting Times, which is about Ava, fresh from Dublin and teaching rich children English in Hong Kong, Julian, a banker who pays Ava a good deal of sexual attention but little of any other kind, and Edith, a lawyer who likes to take Ava to the theatre and listens to what she says. ‘Politically alert, heartbreakingly raw, and dryly funny, Exciting Times is thrillingly attuned to the great freedoms and greater uncertainties of modern love. In stylish, uncluttered prose, Naoise Dolan dissects the personal and financial transactions that make up a life and announces herself as a singular new voice’ say the publishers. I do like the sound of stylish, uncluttered prose.

Nicolas Mattieu’s And Their Children After Them follows a young boy over four summers, beginning in 1992 when fourteen-year-old Anthony steals a canoe, an act which will lead him to his first love, apparently. He and his friends are desperate to escape their small town which is caught in nostalgia and decline. ‘Winner of the Goncourt Prize and praised for its portrayal of people living on the margins of French society, Nicolas Mathieu’s eloquent novel Cover imagebecomes a mirror for the struggles of society today’ according to the blurb.

Elizabeth Ames’ The Other’s Gold follows a set of friends from young adulthood into later life, a catnip structure for me. Four students, all with childhood demons to face down, become roommates in their first year. Each of the four will make a dreadful mistake as they move from their wild student days into motherhood. ‘The Other’s Gold reveals the achingly familiar ways our life-defining turning points prompt our relationships to unravel and re-knit, as the women discover what they and their loved ones are capable of, and capable of forgiving’ say the publishers whetting my appetite further.

Ilaria Bernardini’s The Portrait narrows the focus to just two people. A well-known author is horrified when her prominent lover is struck down with a massive stroke, finding a way into his family home by commissioning his wife to paint her portrait. These two women become entranced with each other, apparently, sharing the stories of their lives while one sits and the other paints. ‘…as the portrait takes shape, we watch these complex and extraordinary women struggle while the love of their lives departs, in an unforgettable, breathless tale of deception and mystery that captivates until the very end’ according to the publishers which sounds excellent to me.Cover image

Grief is also a theme for my last choice, Conor O’Callaghan’s We Are Not in the World about a man trying to escape the pain of a long drawn out affair by taking a job driving a truck through France in the company of his twentysomething daughter, unkempt and disturbed. ‘As the pair journey down the motorways and through the service stations of France, a devastating picture reveals itself: a story of grief, of shame, and of love in all its complex, dark and glorious manifestations’ according to the blurb. Given that it was praised to the skies by the likes of Donal Ryan and John Banville, I’ve no idea how I managed to miss O’Callaghan’s debut, Nothing on Earth, but I did.

That’s it for April’s first instalment of new novels. Quite a promising selection, I hope you’ll agree. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that take you fancy. More soon…