Tag Archives: Big Sky

Paperbacks to Look Out For in January 2020: Part One

Cover image There’s a satisfying array of January paperback goodies on offer for those lucky enough to get a bookish gift card or two for Christmas, all but one of which I’ve read already.  I’m kicking off with one of my books of 2019, Kate Atkinson’s latest addition to her Jackson Brodie series, Big Sky, which is an absolute treat. 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. If you haven’t yet read the first four in the series, Atkinson neatly fills in Jackson’s backstory, but why not just snap up all five and settle down for the rest of the month.

I had hoped that Delphine de Vigan’s Loyalties would also be one of my books of the year after the wonderful Based on a True Story but, sadly, it missed the mark for me. It tells the story of a young boy, caught up in the fallout from a bitter divorce, and explores the ties of silence that bind society together in a sometimes mistaken loyalty. Perhaps it’s unfair to make the comparison given how very different in style and subject the two novels are but, although the writing is as pinpoint sharp as in her previous novel, this one failed to hold my attention in the same way.Cover image

My expectations for Livia Franchini’s debut, Shelf Life, were also overturned but in a good way. It tells Ruth’s story through the shopping list she made the week her fiancé dropped his bombshell and left her after ten years. Quite a daring structure for a debut novel but Franchini handles it well as Ruth attempts to hide her misery, taken in hand by her friend and antithesis, the extrovert party-girl, Alanna. Somehow, I’d expected a slightly fluffy read but with its poignant depiction of social awkwardness and isolation, Franchini’s novel is far from that.

I’d heard good things about Ayelet Gundar-Goshen’s Waking Lions but had not yet got around to reading it when Liar turned up. Set towards the end of a Tel Aviv summer, it tells the story of a young girl who becomes caught up in a scandal after an exchange between her and a fading reality TV star is misinterpreted then seized upon by a media hungry for sensation leaving seventeen-year-old Nofar trapped in an untruth she’s allowed to take root. A thoroughly enjoyable novel with a clear message: lies tend to lead to a deeper deception that can only end in tears. Rare for a lesson in morality to be delivered with such acuity and style.

The only title I’ve not yet read in this first batch is Józef Wittlin’s The Salt of the Earth which sounds like another lesson in morality. It begins in the remote Carpathian mountains where Piotr’s limited ambitions are fixed on a job with the railway, a cottage and a bride with a dowry until he finds himself drafted into the army to fight in the First World War. ‘In a new translation, authorised by the author’s daughter, The Salt of the Earth is a strongly pacifist novel inspired by the Odyssey, about the consequences of war on ordinary men’ say the publishers.

That’s it for the first selection of January paperbacks. A click on any of the first four titles will take you to my review and to a more detailed synopsis for the fifth should any have taken your fancy. If you’d like to catch up with January’s new title they’re here and here. Second instalment soon…

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.

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson: Jackson, how we’ve missed you.

Cover imageBack from my hols (more of which later in the week) with one I prepared earlier. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, no matter how short, you’ll probably have gathered that Kate Atkinson is one of my favourite writers, not nearly as recognised by awards judges as she should be. Last September we were treated to Transcription and after polishing that off I settled down to wait for the next one unaware that it would be less than a year or that it would be an instalment of the Jackson Brodie series. After a hiatus of nine years, Jackson’s back and installed 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.

Jackson is spending his summer ferrying thirteen-year-old Nathan around, impersonating a young girl online in the hope of snaring a paedophile and providing a cuckolded wife with a seemingly endless stream of evidence of her husband’s infidelity while looking after Julia’s portly, ageing Labrador of whom he’s become increasingly fond. Meanwhile, a trio of golfing buddies make fun of the fourth member of their group. Vince has never felt part of their gang, merely tolerated by Steve whose life he saved when they were schoolkids. In the midst of a divorce, Vince is on his uppers, wondering about stepping over a crumbling cliff when Jackson appears and saves him, the second death he’s prevented that summer. Through a web of coincidence and circumstance, these two will find themselves uncovering a heinous crime whose roots stretch back to the ‘70s and ‘80s. Before Jackson’s latest case draws to its satisfying conclusion, justice will have been done but its legality is quite another thing.

Atkinson neatly fills in Jackson’s backstory for readers who haven’t read the four previous Brodie novels (and have that delight to come). Handy for those of us whose memories, like Jackson’s, have become a little woolly in the nine years since Started Early, Took My Dog.

Wasn’t that called something – a logical fallacy? (Was he just making that up?) His little grey cells put their thinking caps on, but – unsurprisingly – came up with nothing

Many of the familiar Brodie tropes are here: Jackson’s still blaming himself for his failure to save his murdered sister, determined to protect as many vulnerable women and girls as he can; he’s still deeply suspicious of the middle classes; and there are dogs, many of them, the sweetest of which is Julia’s Dido.

He was becoming a walking, talking history lesson, a one-man folk museum except that nobody was interested in learning anything from him  

Atkinson has a knack of getting her readers to inhabit the minds of her characters, not least Jackson, his thoughts commented on by Julia, who has taken up residence in his head. Men don’t come off very well in Jackson’s world, their treatment of women and girls frequently exploitative and brutal, but there’s hope in the form of Vince, who finds an unexpected way to redeem himself, sixteen-year-old Harry, determined to protect his little sister and respect his stepmother, and, of course, Jackson, always on the lookout for injustice. As with the previous four Brodie novels, Big Sky is an intelligent, thoroughly satisfying piece of crime fiction that tackles social issues with a sharp wit and dry humour. Fingers crossed that the BBC have Jason Isaacs lined up for an adaptation.

Books to Look Out for in June 2019: Part One

Cover imageNo prizes for guessing which book tops June’s list of new titles if you’ve had your eye on Transworld’s tweets. Big Sky is Kate Atkinson’s first Jackson Brodie novel in nine years. For those not yet familiar with Jackson, he’s a private investigator with a military background and a career in the Cambridge Constabulary behind him. This new instalment sees him returned from Edinburgh to his native Yorkshire. His current case, an apparently straightforward one of infidelity, draws him into a sinister network and back into his past. ‘Old secrets and new lies intersect in this breathtaking new novel, both sharply funny and achingly sad, by one of the most dazzling and surprising writers at work today’ say the publishers. Regular readers won’t be surprised to hear I’ve already devoured this one. Such a treat, particularly as it’s not even a year since Transcription was published.

Jo Baker’s The Body Lies is also a novel of suspense according to the blurb. A young writer accepts a job at a university deep in the countryside hoping to turn her back on the assault she endured in the city but finds herself involved in a vitriolic debate about violence against women. Tension is ratcheted up when a student sends her sample chapters of his novel whose main protagonist resembles herself. ‘At once a breathless battle-of-wits and a disarming exploration of sexual politics, The Body Lies is an essential book for our times’ according to the publishers.

I’m not entirely sure about Tim Lott’s When We Were Rich but 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 itself 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,Cover image 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.

My reservations about Craig Cliff’s The Mannequin Makers are based largely on the idea that I don’t much enjoy historical novels but I’m beginning to question that having after reading several excellent ones last year. Cliff’s story sees a recently widowed window dresser hatch a plan to scupper a rival whose mannequins are uncannily lifelike. ‘What follows is a gothic tale of art and deception, strength and folly, love and transgression, which ranges from small-town New Zealand to the graving docks of the River Clyde in Scotland. Along the way we meet a Prussian strongman, a family of ship’s carvers with a mysterious affliction, a septuagenarian surf lifesaver and a talking figurehead named Vengeance’ apparently. I’m a little concerned about that talking figurehead but it does sound original

Claire McGlasson’s The Rapture is about The Panacea Society, a religious community made up almost entirely of single ladies who patiently awaited the return of the Lord. A devoted member of the Society, Dilys makes friends with Grace, a new recruit, but becomes wary of their leader’s zealotry. ‘As her feelings for Grace bud and bloom, the Society around her begins to crumble. Faith is supplanted by doubt as both women come to question what is true and fear what is real’ according to the publishers. The Panacea Society was based in a Victoria villa in Bedford, a town I lived in for a couple of years without the slightest knowledge of the cult’s existence. The last member died in 2012, apparently.

Claire Lombardo’s The Most Fun We Ever Had sounds rather more down to earth. Much loved by their parents, the four Sorenson sisters have their lives turned upside down by the reappearance of a teenage boy given up for adoption years earlier. ‘Weaving between past and present, The Most Fun We Ever Had portrays the delights and difficulties of family life and the endlessly complex mixture of affection and abhorrence we feel for those closest to us’ say the publishers which suggests family secrets and a novel to escape into to me, perhaps heralding the beginning of the summer reading season.

That’s it for the first batch of June’s new titles. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to know more. Second instalment soon…