Tag Archives: Paperbacks published in January 2017

Paperbacks to Look Out for January 2017: Part Two

Cover imageWith luck you’ll be awash with book tokens by now and if you haven’t managed to spend them all already, here are a few paperbacks worth keeping an eye out for, starting with one I wasn’t at all drawn to when it was first published but I’ve seen so many good reviews I think it’s time to take a look. Beginning in 1968, Chinelo Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees is set against the backdrop of the Biafran civil war and its fallout. Ijeoma is effectively orphaned after her father is killed and she’s separated from her mother, taking solace in her friendship with Amina, a relationship which will ‘will shake the foundations of Ijeoma’s faith, test her resolve and flood her heart’ according to the publishers.

Hannah Kohler’s debut, The Outside Lands, also has war as its backdrop, this time the Vietnam war. Jeannie and Kip’s mother died when Jeanie was nineteen and Kip fourteen. Jeannie’s marriage takes her into the unfamiliar world of wealth and politics while Kip turns to petty crime, then volunteers for the Marines. Both are caught up in events leaving them ‘driven by disillusionment to commit unforgivable acts of betrayal that will leave permanent scars’ in a ‘story of people caught in the slipstream of history, how we struggle in the face of loss to build our world, and how easily and with sudden violence it can be swept away’ say the publishers which sounds a little overblown to me but I’m attracted by the idea of a debut that takes its readers from 1960s California to Vietnam.

Fiona McFarlane’s The High Places is a somewhat uncharacteristic choice for me given that it’s a collection of short stories, few of which are reviewed on this blog, although I have been getting a little better at that recently. It’s made up of thirteen stories written over ten years – eight previously unpublished – and ranges far and wide, both in terms of geography and subject. Some tend towards the slightly surreal while others are more conventional but all are inventive and served up with an appealing wry humour. Those who enjoyed McFarlane’s first novel, The Night Guest, should find lots to enjoy here. Still hoping for a novel, though.

Cover image

Ending with a third yet to-be-read book, this time Sunil Yapa’s debut, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, which is set in Seattle against the backdrop of the 1999 World Trade Organization protest. Victor, the estranged son of Seattle’s police chief, finds himself homeless after a family tragedy. On a day that will see the city under siege from protesters, Victor and his father are set on a collision course. This one could go either way but it has an unusual setting and that’s an eye-catching title which you could also say for the cover, I suppose, but not in a good way.

That’s it for January paperbacks. Several treats to help see off the miseries of a UK winter. If you’d like more detail, a click on  The High Places will take you to my review and to a more detailed synopsis for the other three. If you missed the first part of January’s paperbacks, it’s here, while the hardback previews are here and here.

Paperbacks to Look Out for January 2017: Part One

Cover imageLots of lip-smacking paperbacks piled up on bookshop tables to tempt you this January, all ready and waiting for those Christmas book tokens we’ve been given, or hope we’ll have been given. Top of the list is a book I took some persuading to read when it was first published but Harry Parker’s Anatomy of a Soldier turned out to be extraordinarily inventive and assured, particularly for a debut. Parker is a veteran of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars and his novel is the story of Captain Tom Barnes who steps on an improvised explosive device – just as Parker did – told from the point of view of forty-five objects. You may share my initial scepticism about this structure but it works beautifully and continues to work through all forty-five objects which range from Tom’s boot to his mother’s handbag, his occupational service medal to the IED’s detonator. Hard to imagine quite why the publisher has abandoned the entirely suitable hardback jacket for the rather odd pink number they’ve chosen to adorn the paperback edition.

I’ve not read Paraic O’Donnell’s The Maker of Swans, much talked about on Twitter when it was first published – not always a good thing – but a striking jacket and an intriguing synopsis has piqued my interest. Once a man of note with extraordinary gifts, Mr Crowe has given himself over to earthly pleasures, living in faded grandeur with his ward, Clara, and his manservant. When he commits a crime of passion he draws the attention of the head of the secret society to which he belongs, attention that’s soon diverted to Clara who, it seems, may be able to save them all. Sounds like it might be just the ticket for long dark evenings, if done well.Cover image

Alaa Al Aswany’s The Automobile Club of Egypt takes us to a very different time and place. Set in post-war Egypt, Aswany’s novel views the social and political change engulfing the country through the shenanigans at Cairo’s automobile club. Its European members are attended by a squabbling band of servants ruled by the tyrannical Alku. When one of them rebels, his family finds themselves drawn into both public and private politics: ‘Egyptians both inside and outside the Automobile Club will all face a stark choice: to live safely without dignity, or to fight for their rights and risk everything’ according to the publishers. Aswany’s much-acclaimed The Yacoubian Building offered a microcosm of Egypt around the time of the first Gulf War and it sounds as if The Automobile Club of Egypt takes a similar tack with the end of Ottoman rule.

Cover imageMy last choice for this batch is without doubt a Marmite book: you’ll either love it or hate it. Nicola Barker’s The Cauliflower® is born of her fascination with Sri Ramakrishna – an avatar, widely regarded as having played a leading role in reviving Hinduism, influencing both Gandhi and Nehru. Her novel is her extraordinarily inventive, idiosyncratic interpretation of the avatar’s sketchy story and defies a simple synopsis. Perhaps it’s best to quote Barker herself who sees her novel as ‘a painstakingly constructed, slightly mischievous and occasionally provocative/chaotic mosaic of many other people’s thoughts, memories and experiences’. I loved it, otherwise it wouldn’t be here.

A click on the title will take you to my reviews for both Parker and Barker’s novels, and to a fuller synopsis for the other two. A second batch of paperbacks will follow after Christmas and if you’d like to catch up with the hardback previews, part one is here and part two here.

To those of you who are looking forward to Christmas, I hope you have a lovely time. If, as it is for many, it’s a more complicated time of the year for you, I hope it will pass as painlessly as possible,