Tag Archives: Swansong

Paperbacks to Look Out for in January 2019: Part Two

Cover imageThis second instalment of January’s paperbacks is something of a mixed bag. I’ll begin with Swansong by Kerry Andrew, described by Robert Macfarlane as a writer of ‘frankly alarming talent’. Make of that what you will. Polly Vaughan heads for the Scottish Highlands, fleeing the guilt of a ‘disturbing incident’ in London. She finds escapism in the form of drink, drugs and sex in the local pub but is haunted by visions then fascinated by a man she comes upon in the forest seemingly ripping apart a bird. Andrew ‘comes from a deep understanding of the folk songs, mythologies and oral traditions of these islands. Her powerful metaphoric language gives Swansong a charged, hallucinatory quality that is unique, uncanny and deeply disquieting’ say the publishers, promisingly.

Many of the characters in Mothers, Chris Powers’ short story collection, also find themselves at a crossroads according to the publisher’s blurb. ‘From remote and wild Exmoor to ancient Swedish burial sites and hedonistic Mexican weddings, these stories lay bare the emotional and psychic damage of life and love in a stunning debut collection’ apparently. This one has been popping up in my Twitter timeline intermittently for some time, not always a good thing, but I like the sound of stories which range so far and wide.Cover image

The loss of her mother triggers a crisis in Lucia’s mental health in Mira T. Lee’s Everything Here is Beautiful. Miranda drops everything and comes to her younger sister’s aid but it appears that Lucia may not want to be helped. ‘Told in alternating points of view, Everything Here Is Beautiful is the story of a young woman’s quest to find fulfilment and a life unconstrained by illness’ say the publishers. This sounds like an attractive structure to me, contrasting two very different perspectives.

Stefan Merrill Block’s Oliver Loving explores the aftermath of a high school shooting through the plight of the eponymous Oliver and his family. Ten years after he fell victim to a troubled young man at a high school dance, Oliver remains in a coma while his family try to cope and his teenage crush attempts to put it behind her. ‘Oliver Loving is a brilliant and beautifully told story of family, as heart-breaking as it is profound. It is a novel of the myths we make; the ties that bind us and the forces that keep us apart’ say the publishers which sounds a little overblown but I enjoyed Block’s The Storm at the Door and it’s an interesting premise.

Cover imageI’m rounding off this preview with Tyler Keevil’s No Good Brother which sounds like a nice slice of adventure. Two brothers – one honest, the other not – set off on a journey to settle a debt with a notorious gang which will take them across land and sea dogged by customs officials, freak storms and a distinct sense of luck running out. ‘Quick-witted and beautifully observed, No Good Brother is an exquisite portrait of brotherly love and loyalty, examining the loss of innocence and the ties that bind us’ say the publishers. An uncharacteristic choice for me but the blurb’s put me in mind of Patrick deWitt’s wonderful The Sisters Brothers.

That’s it for January. A click on any title that takes your fancy will take you to a more detailed synopsis, and if you’d like to catch up with the rest of January previews they’re here, here and here.

To those of you 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 passes as painlessly as possible. And for those of you in retail or catering who’ve been working your socks off – I hope you get some rest before you start all over again. I’ll be back at the end of the week.

Books to Look Out for in January 2018: Part Two

Cover imageMy first batch of 2018 titles included a volume of short stories and this second selection is led by another. It seems I really am a reformed character. I’m sure even my if views on the short story hadn’t undergone a transformation I would have been jumping up and down about Jon McGregor’s The Reservoir Tapes, a collection of fifteen pieces which can be read as ‘prequels’ to the stunning Reservoir 13. Still completely bemused as to why that didn’t make it on to the Man Booker shortlist. The stories were commissioned by BBC Radio 4: some of you may have heard them already but if not they’re available on iPlayer.

It sounds as if landscape may be as important in Kerry Andrew’s Swansong as it is in McGregor’s writing. Polly Vaughan heads for the Scottish Highlands, fleeing the guilt of a ‘disturbing incident’ in London. She finds escapism in the form of drink, drugs and sex in the local pub but is haunted by visions then fascinated by a man she comes upon in the forest seemingly ripping apart a bird. Andrew ‘comes from a deep understanding of the folk songs, mythologies and oral traditions of these islands. Her powerful metaphoric language gives Swansong a charged, hallucinatory quality that is unique, uncanny and deeply disquieting’ say the publishers, promisingly.Cover image

Dominic da Silva is also dealing with a crisis, grappling with a diagnosis of terminal cancer in David Hargreaves’ Under the Table. He turns to the diaries he’s kept from his boarding school years to his early thirties and finds a picture emerging of both himself and of Britain through the ‘60s and into the ‘80s, revealing a life which ricochets from grand house parties to arrest and disgrace in what the publishers describe as ‘a powerful homage to truth and friendship – and a recognition of the toughness upon which both depend’. I quite like the sound of that.

There’s a fair amount of unravelling in Jim Powell’s Things We Nearly Knew . Marcie and her husband have been together for thirty years, running a bar at the edge of town. One day Arlene appears expecting to find a man she’d once known. Then Franky returns hoping that his previous mistakes have been forgotten. As Arlene gets closer to the truth things begin to fall apart. ‘Powell invites us to consider how much we know about the ones we love and finally asks: would you want to know the truth?’ says the blurb. Powell’s darkly funny debut, Trading Futures, was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Cover imageRegular readers of this blog may have noticed that I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction although the paradox is that some of my favourite novels are just that: Ingenious Pain, The Crimson Petal and the White, The Essex Serpent and The Observations spring to mind. All are delivered with more than a spark of flair and originality which is what I’m hoping for in Imogen Hermes Gowar’s The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock. In 1785 a ship’s captain takes a wizened little figure, said to be a mermaid, to a merchant in Deptford. Across town, a courtesan sits pondering what to do now her patron has died. These two meet at a society party and embark on a dangerous new course together in a ‘spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession’ according to the publishers. There’s also mention of coffee shops, parlours and brothels which has me hoping for a romp along the lines of The Fatal Tree. We’ll see

That’s it for January’s new books. A click on a title will take you to detailed synopsis should you want to know more, and if you want to catch up with the first part it’s here. Paperbacks to follow shortly…