Tag Archives: Amanda Coe

Paperbacks to Look Out For in September 2015

Cover imageThere are some particularly tasty paperback treats to look forward to this September. I’ll start with the ones I’ve reviewed, my favourite of which is Helen Oyeyemi’s fabulous tale of race and identity Boy, Snow, Bird. Where to start with this complex, dazzling book? There are elements of fairy tale – a wicked stepmother, a Prince Charming or two, a girl called Snow – although no apples as I recall, and it’s stuffed with stories. From its very beginning, a richly symbolic mirror motif runs through the novel reflecting, or not reflecting, different images the characters have of themselves. It’s brilliant, and I hope I’ve persuaded you to read it.

Anne Tyler’s Baileys shortlisted, now Man Booker longlisted, A Spool of Blue Thread, is a another favourite. It’s the story of the Whitshanks told through the history of their house lovingly built back in the 1930s by Red’s father for whom it was the epitome of perfection. Now in their seventies, both Red and Abby are showing signs of ageing and Abby’s ‘absences’ – short periods when her ‘brain jumps the track’ – have become a concern. What to do? I’ve heard that this may be Anne Tyler’s last novel and it wouldn’t be a bad one to go out on but I can’t help hoping for more.

Jo Bloom is at the other end of the novelist career spectrum with her first novel Ridley Road. Carnaby Street, mini-skirts, coffee bars and rock n’ roll: these are some of the things that make up the glossy vibrant Swinging Sixties we see portrayed on our TV screens in nostalgic documentaries. Flip that coin over and you’ll find something nasty – racism and fascism alive and kicking almost twenty years after the Second World War. Bloom explores a fascinating slice of British history when a group of Jewish East Enders decided enough was enough, all wrapped up in a thriller and a love story.Cover image

Patrick Gale’s A Place Called Winter carries on the historical theme but in an intensely personal way: it’s based upon family stories of Gale’s ancestor Harry who fled looming disgrace in England to farm a few bleak acres in Canada, knowledge that makes the novel all the more compelling. It’s a glorious piece of storytelling replete with detail anchoring it in time and place as Harry, brought up to be a gentleman rather than a farmer, struggles to establish a smallholding in the frigid Canadian landscape.

Entirely different but also bound up with history, Early Warning is the second instalment of Jane Smiley’s The Hundred Years Trilogy which reflects the twists and turns in America’s fortunes from 1920 until an imagined 2020 through an Iowan farming family. I read the immensely enjoyable Some Luck last year and had been looking forward to seeing what happens to the Langdons next. Early Warning opens with a funeral in 1953 and takes the family through the Cold Wars Years to 1986, ending with a revelation which adds another pleasing turn in their story. Now, of course, I’m impatient for the final instalment, although, like all absorbing reads where you feel on intimate terms with the characters, I suspect I won’t want to reach the end.

Cover imagePhilp Teir’s Helsinki-set debut tells the story of the Paul family over the course of just one winter rather than a century. Max and Katriina have been together for thirty years, apparently happy enough but in reality things are a little scratchy, wearing a bit thin. We know that divorce is on the horizon – Teir tells us that from the start – The Winter War is the story of how they get there, complete with strong characters and wry humour.

I haven’t yet read Amanda Coe’s Getting Colder but I enjoyed What They Do in the Dark very much. It’s one of those taut, domestic thrillers – very dark indeed, and she certainly knows how to ratchet up the tension. In Getting Colder Sara, who deserted her children to be with her lover – once a much-lauded playwright now whiskey-soaked and blocked – has died. Thirty-five years after she left them, her children have sought Patrick out wanting answers. A little less sinister than What They Do in the Dark, apparently, although it sounds pretty unsettling to me.

As does Samantha Harvey’s Dear Thief in which a woman writes a letter night after night to what was once her dear friend about their shared past and the betrayal that blew their friendship apart fifteen years ago. As the letter progresses its tone changes, becoming both more self-revelatory and more defensive. Harvey’s previous books The Wilderness, about a man with Alzheimer’s trying to make sense of his world (that theme again), and All is Song, a novel of brotherhood and ideas, were both intelligent and beautifully expressed so my hopes are high.Cover image

My final choice is Johanna Skibsrud’s Quartet for the End of Time, a very melancholy title for a novel which re-imagines the 1932 American First World War veterans’ march to Washington during the Great Depression to demand the wartime bonus they were promised. It’s written by a Canadian, surprisingly. Skibsrud won the prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2010 for The Sentimentalists about a young woman trying to understand her father through his experiences in the Vietnam War.

That’s it for September paperbacks. A rather lengthy post, I know, but not quite enough to stretch over two. A click on one of the first six titles will take you to my review, the last three will take you to Waterstones for a more detailed synopsis. If you’d like to catch up with my hardback selections, part one is here and part two is here.

Books to look out for in November 2014

Cover imageMuch to my surprise there are more enticing books published this November than in October. It’s usually a rather dull month – all the finest jewels in the box put out on display for Christmas already – but some treats have been held back perhaps the most surprising of which is Jane Smiley’s Some Luck, the first in a trilogy that promises to follow an American family over a century. It opens in 1920 with Walter and Rosanna Langdon beginning their lives together on an isolated Iowan farm. There’s a chapter for each year, apparently, with the next two parts due to be published in 2015. From a writer of Smiley’s calibre this could be a very enjoyable way of exploring the American twentieth century.

Mary Costello’s first novel, Academy Street, also looks at twentieth century American history this time through the eyes of Tess Logan, a shy young woman with a passionate heart. Over four decades, Costello follows Tess from her early years in the west of Ireland to the razzle-dazzle of New York where she makes her home. Costello’s short story collection, The China Factory, was much praised and the quote from the novel on Canongate’s press release looks very promising indeed.

I enjoyed Amanda Coe’s What They Do in the Dark very much. It’s one of those taut, domestic thrillers – very dark indeed, and she certainly knows how to ratchet up the tension. In Getting Colder Sara, who deserted her children to be with her lover – once a much-lauded playwright now whiskey-soaked and blocked – has died. Thirty-five years after she left them, her children have sought Patrick out wanting answers. A little less sinister than What They Do in the Dark, apparently, although it sounds pretty unsettling to me

I know very little about my fourth choice, Favel Parrett’s When the Night Comes, but somehow the juxtaposition of its settings alone – Tasmania and Antarctica – makes it worth checking out. In it a young girl and a crewman on an Antarctic supply ship cross paths, each learning something from the other. Not much, I know, but it’s enough to pique my interest.

This one may seem completely out of character to regular readers of this blog – it’s William Gibson’s The Peripheral – but if there’s one SF writer non-genre readers make an exception for it’s Gibson. The prescience of his near-future set novels – Virtual Light and Pattern Recognition, for instance – is uncanny and his writing is excellent. I’m hoping for more of the same in this ‘tale of drones, murder and time-travelling crime’ set in 2020 where a young woman in a video game witnesses a drone strike kill a young child in the Deep South. At the same moment – but one hundred years into the future – a boy is remotely killed in London. Intriguing!

My final choice is Georges Perec’s Portrait of a Man. Years ago I read and loved what is Cover imageprobably Perec’s best known novel, Life: A User’s Manual, about the inhabitants of an apartment block in Paris. It’s quite some time since I’ve read anything else by him but this one caught my eye. Written in the 1950s, it’s the story of a forger and a killer. It’s only recently been discovered – it’s his first novel – which may well mean that it was tucked away in a drawer somewhere, rejected by a long list of publishers but I think it’s worth a try.

That’s it for November. A click on the title will take you to Waterstones website if you want to know more about a book – and if you’d like to see what I’m looking forward to in October click here for the hardbacks and here for the paperbacks.