Category Archives: Random thoughts

Books to Look Out For in January 2020: Part One

Cover imageTime to look forward to another year of literary exploration with lots goodies in the offing for January by the look of it. I’m beginning with a title that’s been popping up in my Twitter feed for so long it feels as if it was published last summer and which I’ve already read. Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt is about the experience of immigrants attempting to cross the US-Mexico border, a theme explored in Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive, although Cummins’ novel is much more raw and immediate. ‘Vivid, visceral, utterly compelling, AMERICAN DIRT is both a page turner and a literary achievement: a novel that will leave you utterly changed’ say the publishers. Suffice to say it made me cry. Review to follow next month.

Tim Murphy’s Correspondents continues the immigrant theme, spanning the twentieth-century and on into the twenty-first, through the story of Rita Khoury, an Irish-Lebanese woman whose parents immigrated to the US. Rita studies Arabic, becoming a journalist, and is posted to Iraq to cover the 2003 American invasion. It’s described by the publishers as ‘a powerful story about the legacy of immigration, the present-day world of refugeehood, the violence that America causes both abroad and at home, and the power of the individual and the family to bring good into a world that is often brutal’ which sounds excellent. I loved Christodora, Murphy’s previous novel.

Two families living in Los Angeles are linked by an event in their collective past in Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, apparently. Grace Park is the child of Korean immigrant parents, struggling with her elder sister’s increasing estrangement, while Shawn Mathews is helping his cousin Cover imageadjust to life outside prison. Both are from different backgrounds and generations but their paths are set to cross as violence threatens to engulf the city. ‘Beautifully written and marked by its aching humanity as much as its growing sense of dread, Your House Will Pay is a powerful and urgent novel for today’ say the publishers.

Sarah Blake’s The Guest Book is about a very different kind of family, old money sure of its own entitlement rather than immigrants making their way in a new country. The Miltons are the epitome of privilege in 1935 but even they’re not immune from tragedy, consoling themselves by buying a small island off the coast of Maine. By the beginning of the twenty-first century the island is up for sale causing their granddaughter to uncover some disturbing evidence about the source of the family wealth. Dark secret territory, then, and spread across New York and Maine, too. Irresistible for me.

Thomas Martin seems to be a decent version of privilege in Ani Katz’ A Good Man. Comfortably off, happily married with a loving daughter and his feet some way up the advertising career ladder, he appears set for a happy and successful future but things go horribly wrong when tragedy hits his family, the people he knows it’s his duty to protect. ‘A Good Man is a dark and gripping novel of psychological suspense about a family man, in the wake of a horrifying act, trying to work out where he went wrong. It is the debut of a bold and brilliant new talent’ say the publishers, and it does sound promising.

Cover imageI really should have read Emma Jane Unsworth’s Animals by now but I’m jumping in with Adults, her new novel, whose blurb puts me a little in mind of Fleabag. Thirty-five-year-old Jenny’s real life is pretty much the opposite of what she portrays on social media. Unloved and unemployable, even her friends are sick of her. Then her mum turns up unexpectedly. ‘A misadventure of maturity, a satire on our age of self-promotion, a tender look at the impossibility of womanhood, a love story, a riot.’ say the publishers ending this preview on an entirely different note from how it started.

That’s it for the first instalment of January’s new novels. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that takes your fancy. More soon…

Books of the Year 2019: Part Four

We’re on the home stretch, now, heading towards the end of 2019, and already anticipating the shiny and new in 2020. September, which I like to call late summer stretching that in to October weather permitting, began with Etgar Keret’s Fly Already a collection of twenty punchy, inventive short stories, some no longer than a page or two. A few of Keret’s pieces are disconcerting – more than a little wacky – others are pure comedy, often using humour to make a point, but all are memorable. The complications of humanity are sweetly satirised and even the rich, who come in for some thoroughly justified lampooning, are treated with a sympathetic understanding. It’s a hugely enjoyable collection, full of surprises. I’d not heard of Keret before although I gather he’s acquired an international reputation. Richly deserved, if Fly Already is anything to go by.

October saw two novels that exemplified beautifully crafted, immersive storytelling, the first of which was Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House. It’s the story of an unusual house, almost a work of art, and the obsessions it sparks. It’s also the story of the Conroys, the family whose history is indelibly marked by this house whose huge glass windows leave them exposed to the world. Patchett’s writing is smoothly polished but it’s her storytelling, laced with an elegant wit, that kept me gripped, wondering what would happen to these characters whose lives are hedged around with secrets and silence, who seem to fall under the influence of this house even when trying to resist it. Altogether a treat: a book to curl up with, well turned out, absorbing and satisfying. I would love to have seen it on the Booker longlist, at the very least.

I’m sure the Conroys’ house was as important to them as the eponymous work in Neil Hegarty’s The Jewel was to its creator. Ostensibly the story of an art heist, Hegarty’s novel explores a multitude of themes through the stories of the theft’s three principle players – the thief, the art historian charged with displaying the piece and the specialist called in to help solve the crime. The result is a richly textured novel whose astutely observed characters have all endured tragedy and misfortune. This is Hegarty’s second novel and it did that rare thing: exceeded theCover image high expectations raised by his fine debut, Inch Levels. I’m already looking forward to his third.

November’s favourites were heralded by a book for which I had even higher expectations, and once again they were fulfilled. This year saw the return of the irascible yet essentially warm-hearted Olive Kitteridge, familiar to fans of Elizabeth Strout’s eponymous Pulitzer Prize-winning book published in 2008. Olive, Again takes the same form, comprising thirteen closely-knit short stories in which Olive is often the central character, sometimes a co-star and occasionally a bit-player. Ordinary everyday day life is filled with events unremarkable to others but extraordinary to those who live through them. Epiphanies are had. Time passes. Olive grows old but not always alone. It’s a triumph. I’m deeply suspicious of sequels but delighted that Strout took me back to Crosby to meet Olive again. My hope is that Frances Mcdormand, who was such a thoroughly convincing Olive in HBO’s miniseries, is already practicing her lines.

Karina Sainz Borgo’s It Would Be Night in Caracas tells the story of a woman in a very different set of circumstances. Now middle-aged, Adelaida grew up against a backdrop of the Bolivarian Revolution. Food shortages have become starvation for many and a source of wealth for others. Abductions are commonplace, gunshot frequent, medicine hard to come by and expensive. When an opportunity presents itself, Adelaida finds herself engaged in the unthinkable in a determined effort to escape the city’s mayhem. Borgo’s novel effectively humanises the horrors taking place on the streets of Caracas through the story of one woman. Publishers’ lists are full of dystopian fiction, often depicting post-apocalyptic events, but if you want to see what a real dystopia looks like, this is it. In the here and now

Rather fittingly, given that I’ve read so many of them over the past few years, I’m bringing 2019’s favourites to a close with a novella. Written in clean bright prose Hanne Ørstavik’s Love tells the Cover imagestory of a mother and her son on the eve of his ninth birthday, a milestone she’s forgotten and he’s convinced she’s secretly planning to celebrate. Over the course of a frigid Norwegian night – each of them outdoors, unbeknownst to the other – their paths will almost cross several times, both returning home to a day which will be far from what either of them might have anticipated. Altogether a very polished, powerful piece of writing, beautifully expressed.

And if I had to choose? That would be a challenge I’d rather not take, but if push comes to shove I’d have to plump for The Dutch House, The Jewel and Olive, Again, although don’t ask me to rank them. As ever, the trimming down to just twenty-four was a painful process, particularly dropping Faces on the Tip of my Tongue, Lot and Echoes of the City, all of which are superb. I hope your year has been as filled with literary excellence as mine.

Just one more review to come before devoting the rest of my posting year to looking forward, previewing some of the delights publishers have in store for us in January 2020. In the meantime, all the above titles link to a full review on this blog should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with the first three instalments of 2019’s favourites they’re here, here and here.

Books of the Year 2019: Part Three

Cover image This third instalment covers two months of what was a passably good summer here in the UK beginning with an unexpected treat in July. If you’ve been following this blog for a while you’ll have gathered that Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite writers. In September 2018 we were treated to Transcription then less than a year later Big Sky saw the return of Jackson Brodie after a hiatus of nine years. Jackson’s living in a cottage in his native Yorkshire looking after his teenage son while Julia, Nathan’s mother, finishes off the latest in the TV police procedural series in which she stars. It’s not long before Jackson becomes embroiled in a case that encompasses historical sex abuse, modern day slavery and people trafficking. As with the previous four Brodie novels, Big Sky tackles social issues with a sharp wit and dry humour. Fingers crossed that the BBC have Jason Isaacs lined up for an adaptation.

Rowan Hisayo Buchanan’s debut, Harmless Like You, was one of my books of 2016. I loved it for its poignancy leavened with wry humour, and for the striking images shining brightly from its pages. That same deft writing is evident in Starling Days which follows Mina and Oscar from New York to London where Oscar is hoping Mina will find some distraction from what ails her. Buchanan’s compassionate, empathetic novel explores the effects of mental illness from both sides of a relationship, switching perspectives between Mina and Oscar. It lays bare both the sheer exhaustion of living with the constant worry of what a beloved partner might do to themselves and the relentless debilitation of a disordered mind. Achingly sad at times, it’s an affecting, clearly heartfelt piece of fiction. Fingers crossed it will win the Costa Novel Award for which its been shortlisted.

Four August favourites, the first of which is set against the backdrop of the Bauhaus, the German art school whose designs I’ve long admired and whose centenary year this was. Naomi Wood’s The Hiding Game begins in 1922 with the admission of six students whose lives will become inextricably bound, telling theirCover image story through Paul whose memories are brought vividly into focus by the death of Walter, both friend and enemy. Written in the form of a confessional, it’s a story fraught with betrayal, jealousy and a tortured form of love, a tragedy in which the appalling events of Nazi Germany are personalised. It’s a smart, accomplished piece of fiction, through which Wood lightly weaves her meticulous research.

The next three novels are all published by small publishers although Paul Lynch’s Beyond the Sea is from Oneworld who’ve  bagged not one but two Booker Prizes in the last few years. Written in that spare, pared-back style which I so admire, this intense novella explores themes of faith, madness, survival and existential crisis through the story of two fishermen cast adrift after a dreadful storm. Hector and Bolivar are thrown upon themselves and each other in order to survive. As a bond forms between them, each begins to tell the other about their lives, their secrets and their fears but while Hector sees faith as their saviour, Bolivar puts his trust in resourcefulness.

My second small publisher, Charco Press, is a comparatively new kid on the block, set up to champion Latin American literature in the English-speaking world. Argentinian writer Selva Almada’s The Wind That Lays Waste is the tale of an encounter between a charismatic evangelist and the mechanic who spends much of a long hot day mending his car. Pearson and Gringo are each other’s antithesis: one a passionate believer in God and himself as God’s instrument; the other an atheist, dismissive of religion. As the day wears on, Pearson spots an opportunity resulting in a confrontation which reaches its climax as the skies crack open and the storm breaks. Almada unfolds her story in short chapters written in plain yet evocative often poetic prose, anchoring it in the parched Argentinean outback. The result is a striking, thought-provoking piece of fiction

High summer finished with a collection of short stories whose lovely jacket caught my eye on Cover imageTwitter. Comprising seventeen pieces, Chloe Turner’s Witches Sail in Eggshells is about relationships – with partners, exs and partners of exs, rivals and even old schoolmates – some with disturbing undercurrents, all delivered in nicely polished, insightful prose. There’s not one dud amongst them but you don’t have to take my word for it: the tiny Reflex Press have cleverly put one of Turner’s stories, ‘The Hagstone’, on their website for all to read.

Sadly, the end of my literary summer’s on the horizon and with it the advent of winter although autumn offered some gorgeous colours to distract me from the inevitable. The last quarter of 2019 turned up some of the best titles of the year for me including the story of a family told through the history of their house, the welcome return of Olive Kitteridge and an art heist which is very much more than that. All the above titles link to a full review on this blog should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with the first two quarters they’re here and here.

Books of the Year 2019: Part Two

Cover imageEarly summer, which seems so very long ago now, was packed with literary goodies for me, particularly May which began with A Stranger City, Linda Grant’s portrayal of a post-referendum London through a set of disparate characters brought together by their connection with a woman whose body has been pulled from the Thames. Each character’s story is subtly woven through the others’ into a bright tapestry – some of it ragged and frayed – of a city Grant clearly loves but about which she’s deeply concerned. Her book reveals a London which is always in flux, shaping and reshaping itself to fit the constant flow of people drawn to it – a Brexit novel if ever there was one. I ended Part One by saying I’d try to avoid politics in the next instalment but as you can see, I’ve already failed.

Flotsam, May’s second favourite, is by Meike Ziervogel, the founder of Peirene Press. Set on the German coast in the 1950s, this strange, unsettling book is a beautifully expressed exploration of the legacy of war and the grief it brings through the story of a young girl and her mother. Told in often lyrical yet spare, clean prose, first from Trine’s perspective then Anna’s, it’s the briefest of novellas yet it provokes more thought than many books three times its length. Far from an easy read but certainly a rewarding one, Ziervogel’s book leaves much for readers to deduce and is all the better for it.

Vesna Main’s Good Day? sported the second jacket I fell in love with this year, fitting its book as perfectly as the gloriously pink cover of Aylet Gundar-Goshen’s Liar, which popped up in Part One. Always a joy when publishers use an image which is both strikingly original and appropriate. Main’s Good Day? recounts a daily conversation between a Writer and her Reader, who is also her husband, describing the progress of her novel about a couple whose marriage is strained to breaking point. It’s such a clever piece of writing and a daring one, too. To write a novel almost entirely in dialogue and carry it off as well as Main does requires quite a degree of chutzpah. Thoroughly deserving of its place on this year’s Goldsmiths Prize shortlist.

May’s last choice is much more straightforward, a piece of fictionalised biography which introduced me to a someone I’d never come across but who turned out to be an internationally popular figure. Eva Meijer’s Bird Cottage is based on the life of Len Howard who, aged forty, threw up her life as a violinist in London and took herself off to Sussex to pursue her lifelong passion for birds, determined to devote herself to researching their habits. Using simple, clean prose, Meijer lets her subject tell own story, weaving through it observations of Star, one of Howard’s favourites. A delightful book, the story of a true English eccentric.

June began with another piece of fictionalised biography by Jill Dawson who often chooses that form for her work. When I read that The Language of Birds was based on the notorious Lord Lucan affair my heart sank but far from being a rehash of the infamous murder replete with the usual speculation as to Lucan’s fate, Dawson’s book reimagines the story from the nanny’s perspective. Her careful, compassionate and compelling novel honours Sandra Rivett’s memory, tipping the balance away from a media which reduced her to ‘the lovely young nanny’ rather than a vibrant young woman with a life of her own. For me, it’s one of Dawson’s best, and that’s saying something after The Crime Writer, a wonderful piece of literary fan fiction starring Patricia Highsmith.

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The first half of 2019’s books of the year ends with Craig Cliff’s The Mannequin Makers, an inventive and imaginative piece of storytelling which takes its readers from 1902 to 1974 with a tale of castaways and mannequins, the like of which had never been seen before. Not just one story but several nested within each other, this is a novel haunted by madness and grief with more than a touch of the gothic brightened with moments of humour. Absolutely gripping – I loved it.

All of the above are linked to my reviews here if you’d like to know more. Part Three takes us into high summer with the return of Jackson Brodie after a nine-year hiatus, a tale of love, jealousy and betrayal in the Bauhaus and another beautiful jacket, perfect for its book’s contents. If you missed the first quarter on 2019’s favourites and would like to catch up, it’s here.

Paperbacks to Look Out For in December 2019

Cover imageJust about enough paperbacks for a December post starting with a book I wasn’t entirely sure I’d read and ended up loving. I thought Meet Me at the Museum might be a little too sentimental for my cynical literary heart but Anne Youngson’s novella proved me wrong. It’s made up of letters between Tina, who is mourning her best friend, and, Anders, the Danish museum curator she contacts about an Iron Age man preserved in peat whose discovery captivated the two friends when they were schoolgirls. Tina and Anders’ characters are beautifully drawn. Each is enduring a quiet loneliness, each is dealing with grief yet there are unexpected joys to share. Rather than the schmaltzy piece of fiction I’d feared, it’s a quiet contemplation of the power of love and a reminder that change is possible at any stage of life.

Given that it’s billed as a thriller, I’d probably not have included Delia Owens’ Where the Crawdads Sing had it not been popping up on various blogs I’ve read for what feels like years. It’s set in a small, North Carolina coastal town in 1969 where the discovery of a man’s corpse sees a beautiful young woman, living alone out on the marshes, coming under suspicion. Described as ‘a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder’ by the publishers, it doesn’t sound entirely up my alley but I know I’ve read some excellent reviews of it. If only I could remember where, I might be able to explain what it was about the novel that snared my interest.

Nuruddin Farah’s North of Dawn sounds much more my kind of thing. A Somali couple have lived quietly for years in Oslo until their jihadi son’s widow arrives from Somalia with her two children. ‘A nuanced quietly devastating family soap opera’ according to the New York Times which sounds just the ticket for this time of the year.Cover image

I’m rounding off this tiny handful of paperbacks with Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Crossing Borders. The title alone would have been enough for me to take notice but apparently, it’s a collection of essays and short stories about translation from a wide range of authors including Primo Levi, Joyce Carol Oates and Lydia Davis. Sounds excellent.

A click on a title will take you to my review for Meet Me at the Museum and to a longer synopsis for the others. If you’d like to catch up with December’s new novels they’re here. Next stop January. Hard to believe we’re almost at the end of another year…

Books to Look Out For in December 2019

Cover imageJust enough new novels in December to fill a post, two of them in translation beginning with Annette Hess’ The German House, set against a backdrop of the 1963 Frankfurt war crimes trials. The war’s a dim memory for 24-year-old Eva, keen to start her new life with her wealthy fiancé. When an American investigator offers her a job as a translator, she finds herself questioning both her family’s role in the horrors of the past and her own future. Hess’ novel is one of three published to launch, HarperVia, a new literature in translation imprint from HarperCollins. Always happy to see more of that and if It Would Be Night in Caracas is anything to go by it’s a list to keep an eye on. That’s a stylish jacket, too.

Anne Catherine Bomann’s Agatha was a bestseller in Germany, apparently, but was originally published in Denmark. A 71-year-old psychiatrist with no family or friends is eagerly awaiting retirement when a young German woman walks into his clinic and demands an appointment. He finds her fascinating, beginning a joint course of therapy with her which forces him to confront his fear of intimacy according to the blurb which sounds very promising to me.

Angela Meyer’s Joan Smokes is a mere 76 pages, apparently, more a short story than a novella although it won this year’s Mslexia Novella Award. Set in the ‘60s, it’s about a woman who arrives in Las Vegas determined to reinvent herself. Calling herself Joan, she gets to work on her appearance – choosing red lipstick and dying her hair – but turning her back on her past may not be so easy. ‘This city of flashing neon, casinos and shows is full of distractions. Finding a job will be quick and easy. Things to do. New people to meet. A clean sheet. She’s certainly not thinking about Jack, or … No. Not any more. Her new life starts right here, right now’ says the blurb. I rather like the sound of this one.

I’m finishing the last new title post for 2019 with Etaf Rum’s A Woman is No Man. Eighteen years Cover imageafter her mother left Palestine, betrothed within a week, Deva finds herself facing a string of suitors in Brooklyn, arranged by her formidable grandmother whose care she has been in since her parents were killed in a car crash. Shocking truths are revealed, apparently, forcing Deva to question everything she thought she knew about her family. ‘Three generations of Palestinian-American women living in Brooklyn are torn between individual desire and the strict mores of Arab culture in this heart-wrenching story of love, intrigue and courage’ say the publishers. The New York Times described it as ‘a love letter to storytelling’.

As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Paperbacks soon…

The Sunday Times/ University of Warwick Young Writer Award 2019 Shortlist

Sunday Times Young Writer Award 2019Last year I was lucky enough to be asked to shadow judge the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award along with Amanda, Lizzi, Paul and Lucy. It was such an enjoyable experience, both reading the shortlisted titles – all very different, all more than worthy of the award – and meeting other bloggers plus, of course, the authors. This year another five bloggers will be taking a turn and I hope their experience is as rewarding as ours. Announced yesterday, this year’s shortlist looks just as enticing, made up of two novels, one short story collection and one book of poetry. Here they are:

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The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus

Salt Slow by Julia Armfield

Stubborn Archivist by Yara Rodrigues Fowler

Testament by Kim Sherwood

It’ll be a tough choice for both the sets of judges, I suspect. If you’d like to keep up with what the shadow judges are up to you can follow their posts via the links below or on Twitter using  #YoungWriterAwardShadow.

Anne Cater at Random Things Through My Letter Box

David Harris at Blue Book Balloon

Linda Hill at Linda’s Book Bag

Clare Reynolds at Years of Reading Selfishly

Phoebe Williams at The Brixton Bookworm

The shadow judges will annouce their winner on 28th November followed by the judges a week later. The prize will be awarded at the London Library on Thursday, December 6th. Good luck to all and have fun!

Paperbacks to Look Out For in November 2019

A mere handful of November paperbacks after a very satisfying two-part new title preview, but all four look pretty enticing to me beginning with Walter Kempowski’s Homeland which opens in 1988, the year before the fall of the Berlin Wall. A journalist living in West Berlin is commissioned to write a piece about the former East Prussia where he was born in 1945 as refugees fled the Russian advance. ‘Homeland is a nuanced work from one of the great modern European storytellers, in which an everyday German comes face to face with his painful family history, and devastating questions about ordinary Germans’ complicity in the war’ say the publishers.

Marie Benedict’s The Only Woman in the Room is about a woman whose fate was also decided by the Second World War. Hedy Lamarr, as she came to be known, fled the Hitler regime and landed up in Hollywood where her beauty secured her future. A scientist by training, Lamarr had learnt secrets about the Nazis at the side of her Austrian arms dealer husband and had devised an idea to help defeat them. ‘A powerful novel based on the incredible true story of the glamour icon and scientist whose groundbreaking invention revolutionised modern communication, The Only Woman in the Room is a masterpiece’ according to the publishers. It sounds a little improbable but intriguing nevertheless.

Poverty is the enemy in Alessandro D’Avenia’s What Hell is Not, set in Sicily where seventeen-year-old Federico is asked to help at a youth club in a destitute neighbourhood controlled by the Mafia. While the children of Brancaccio lack Federico’s privilege, their spirit and will change his life forever, apparently. ‘Written in intensely passionate and lyrical prose, What Hell Is Not is the phenomenal Italian bestseller about a man who brought light to one of the darkest corners of Sicily, and who refused to give up on the future of its children’ says the blurb which sounds distinctly cheering.

One man looks set to make a difference in a negative way in Jeffrey Lewis’ Bealport which sees a financier buying the New England factory where his favourite shoes are made. The sale will have a profound effect on the people of Bealport for whom the factory provides both livelihood and community. ‘Bealport is a portrait of a place, at once sympathetic, mordant, unsparing, comic, tragic and universal, and of a way of life that is passing. It is a novel of a town, and to no small degree of every town in America and beyond’ according to the blurb which sounds right up my street.

That’s it for November’s paperbacks. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that have taken your fancy, and if you’d like to catch up with new titles, they’re here and here. If past performance is anything to go by there will be very few books to look out for in December, but you never know…

Books to Look Out For in November 2019: Part Two

Cover imageBack from Portugal – more of which next week – with part two of November’s preview which has its feet firmly placed in Europe with one novel set in Norway, two in Germany, one in France and two in the UK. Let’s work our way south, starting in a remote small town in northern Norway where a single mother has forgotten her young son’s birthday. Hanne Orstavik’s Love follows the separate journeys of Jon, as he sets off to sell lottery tickets for his sports club, and Vibeke, who heads off to the local library and a fairground, in what the publishers are calling ‘an acknowledged masterpiece of Norwegian literature’, and they’re quite right. Gorgeous jacket, too. Review to follow.

Nana Oforiatta Ayim’s  The God Child takes us to Germany where Taiye Selasi Maya grows up aware of her parents’ difference. One Christmas her cousin arrives, spinning stories about Ghana, colonialism and its fallout, awakening Maya to the reasons why her parents might be the way they are. When, as a young woman, Maya is reunited with her cousin in Ghana, she finds him troubled. ‘Her homecoming will set off an exorcism of their family and country’s strangest, darkest demons. It is in this destruction’s wake that Maya realises her own purpose: to tell the story of her mother, her cousin, their land and their loss, on her own terms, in her own voice’ say the publishers of what they’re calling ‘a brave reinvention of the immigrant narrative’ which sounds right up my alley.

We’re staying in Germany for Amanda Lee Koe’s Delayed Rays of a Star in which a photographer captures Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong and Leni Riefenstahl in a single photograph at a Berlin party in 1928. Koe’s novel follows the three women through their careers and private lives. ‘In the murky world these women navigate, their choices will be held up to the test of time. And the real question is, how much has anything changed? This fierce and exquisite debut Cover imageabout womanhood, ambition, and art, played out against the shifting political tides of the twentieth century, introduces a mesmerizing new literary talent for our times’ according to the publishers which sounds very tempting to me.

Heading across the border to France for Marie NDiaye’s The Cheffe about the daughter of a  poor family in Sainte-Bazeille who displays a remarkable talent for cooking when she grows up, even dreaming in recipes. An acknowledged genius in the kitchen, the Cheffe is intensely private, refusing to reveal the name of her daughter’s father when she gives birth.  Despite the sucess of her restaurant, her relationship with her daughter becomes so fraught it threatens to destroy her career, apparently. I have a weakness for novels set in restaurants and about food hence the appeal of this one.

Off to London for Jane Rogers’ Body Tourists set in a small private clinic. The bodies of the teenage poor are being used to rejuvenate the old and rich willing to pay the price. ‘It’s an opportunity for wrongs to be righted, for fathers to meet grandsons, for scientists to see their work completed. Old wine in new bottles’ according to the publishers. Not entirely convinced about this one. I usually avoid dystopian fiction but Jane Rogers is a writer whose work I’ve enjoyed in the past, not least her last novel, Conrad and Eleanor back in 2016.

Cover imageI’m finishing this second part of November’s preview with Scarlett Thomas’ welcome return to adult fiction, Oligarchy, set in an English boarding school where the daughter of a Russian oligarch is finding it hard to fit in. Then her friend disappears plunging her into a dark world. It seems a very long time since The Seed Collectors so hopes are high for what the publishers are calling a ‘fierce new novel about power, privilege and peer pressure’.

That’s it for November’s new titles. A click on any that take your fancy will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with the first batch, it’s here. Paperbacks soon…

Books to Look Out for in October 2019: Part Two

Cover imageOctober’s first batch of new titles began with several novels bound up with art. This second instalment kicks off with a couple of cinematic connections starting with The Crossed-Out Notebook by Nicolás Giacobone who co-wrote the screenplay for Birdman. An Argentinean screenwriter is imprisoned in a basement by a director determined that his captive will produce a world-changing screenplay. Every evening, the writer crosses out his writing from the previous night. ‘The clash between the two men and their different approaches leads to a movie being made, a gun going off, an unlikely escape, and a final confrontation. In the end, The Crossed-Out Notebook is a darkly funny novel full of intrigue and surprise about the essence of the creative process; a short, crazy ode to any artist whose brilliance shines through strangeness and adversity’ say the publishers which sounds promising to me.

I’m sure Werner Herzog has never indulged in a spot of kidnapping or coerced his screenwriting son, Rudolf, whose short story collection Ghosts of Berlin is my next choice. Herzog’s stories are all set in Kreuzberg, the city’s gentrified hipster district, which formed the border between the old East and West. They offer what the publishers are calling a ‘macabre and madcap vision of Berlin… … conjuring tech bros, acid-tripping artists, and forsaken migrants, each encountering the ghosts of the city’s complicated past’. Intriguing.

We’re staying in Berlin with Adrian Duncan’s Love Notes from a German Building Site which tells the story of Paul, a young Irish engineer who has followed Evelyn to the city and begins work on Cover imagerenovating a building in Alexanderplatz. ‘Set against the structural evolution of a sprawling city, this meditation on language, memory and yearning is underpinned by the site’s physical reality’ according to the publisher. I rather like the sound of that, and Berlin is an irresistible setting for me since visiting the city.

Mahir Guven’s Older Brother takes us over the border to France with its story of a Franco-Syrian family trying to find a way to integrate. The taxi-driving father and his eldest son are pitted against each other when the son takes up work with an app-based car service. Meanwhile the youngest son joins a Muslim humanitarian organization, helping wounded civilians in Syria and returning a changed man.Guven alternates between an ironic take on contemporary society and the gravity of terrorist threats. He explores with equal poignancy the lives of “Uberized” workers and actors in the global jihad’ say the publishers of a book much acclaimed in France, apparently.

We’re moving on to London and back to the ‘80s with Emma Forrest’s Royals. Unsure of his sexuality, eighteen-year-old Steven ends up in hospital after being beaten up by his father. There he meets the glamourous, anarchic Jasmine, an heiress from a very different background to his own. Their mutual love of fashion leads to friendship, opening up a hedonistic life of glittering parties for Steven. ‘Devastating, dazzling, queer and radical, Royals is a love story between unlikely friends from completely different worlds. It’s about the power of art to transform lives and the power of families to destroy them. It’s about working out who you are and what you want’ according to the publishers which sounds like a good read to me.

Cover imageI’m rounding off October with Pursuit, a collection of short stories compiled by Alex Preston with contributions from the likes of Max Porter, Kamila Shamsie Daisy Johnson, Michael Donker and David Szalay to name but a few. These are stories that ‘tell of determination, endeavour and perseverance against the odds. They range across wildly different contexts and cultures, from the epic to the intimate, in fiction and non-fiction, illustrating and illuminating the outer limits of human character and achievement’ say the publishers which sounds enticing enough even without that roll call of literary names.

That’s it for October’s new fiction. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more, and if you’d like to catch up with the first instalment it’s here. Paperbacks soon…