Tag Archives: The Outside Lands

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 It’s made up of thirteen stories written over ten years – eight previously unpublished – and ranges far and wide, both in terms of geography and subject.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.

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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.

Books to Look Out For in May 2016: Part 1

Cover imagePole position for May has to go to Maggie O’Farrell’s This Must be the Place. There was a time when I cheerily dismissed O’Farrell’s novels as chick lit, not for me. Pretty snobby, I know, and pretty stupid, too, as I found out when I was finally persuaded to read After You’d Gone. Still, at least it meant I had a  pleasingly lengthy  backlist to enjoy. It’s been a little while since a new O’Farrell so there’s a definite air of impatient anticipation around this one. It’s about Daniel, a New Yorker who lives in a remote part of Ireland, with what sounds like a somewhat complicated life: children he never sees, a father he detests and a trigger-happy, ex-film star wife. News of a woman he knew long ago is about to further spice things up.  The novel ‘crosses continents and time zones, giving voice to a diverse and complex cast of characters. At its heart, it is an extraordinary portrait of a marriage, the forces that hold it together and the pressures that drive it apart’ say the publishers. Sounds unmissable.

Regular readers will know that I find New York backdrops hard to resist. It doesn’t always work – I didn’t get past the first fifty pages of City on Fire – but I have hopes for Molly Prentiss’ debut, Tuesday Nights in 1980. It’s about three people, all trying to make it big in the city: Raul Engales is an Argentinean painter in exile, passing himself off as an art student; James Bennett is the critic with synaesthesia who experiences art as a trippy set of sensations and Lucy is Raul’s young muse, fresh from Idaho and eager for the bright lights. ‘Over the course of one year, these three lives will collide and be transformed. A brand new decade has just begun and New York is a crucible brimming with the energy of a million secret metamorphoses, poised to spill forth art, destruction and life itself into the waiting world’ say the publishers in a synopsis which is a tad overblown it has to be said, but I’m willing to overlook that.

And we’re off to New York again for Cynthia D’Apprix Sweeney’s The Nest which sounds like a pleasingly acerbic outing for the good old dysfunctional family trope. The Plumbs’ dwindling Cover imagefamily trust fund is threatened after Leo’s drunken accident involving a nineteen-year-old waitress. Leo’s rehab costs, Melody’s colossal mortgage and children’s tuition fees, Jack’s secret debts and Beatrice’s inability to finish her novel have all depleted the family fortune but the fallout from the accident may wipe it out altogether. You may think they sound like a bunch of spoilt brats and good riddance to them but we’re promised a novel that’s ‘ferociously astute, warm and funny… …a brilliant debut chronicling the hilarity and savagery of family life.’

Venturing a little further into upstate New York, Elizabeth Brundage’s creepy sounding 1980s-set All Things Cease to Appear sees a professor and his family moving into a farmhouse where things soon become very bumpy indeed. George knows the house’s history but his wife does not although she often feels she’s being watched in the many hours she spends at home with their daughter.  ‘With masterful tension and understanding of human nature, Elizabeth Brundage has crafted a novel that is at once a community’s landscape spanning twenty years and an intimate portrait of a disturbed mind ‘ say the publishers setting us up for a chilling piece of smalltown fiction.

Still in the States, Marc Bojanowski’s Journeyman follows a carpenter who travels where his work takes him. After a dreadful accident at work he leaves his temporary Las Vegas home heading towards the west coast, by way of his brother’s town where he finds himself stranded after the loss of his car and tools, forcing him to think about his life and contemplate building something more meaningful. Set against a backdrop of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars it’s billed as a ‘intimate, honest and exquisitely crafted state-of-the-nation novel’ – another weakness of mine.

Cover imageHannah Kohler’s debut, The Outside Lands, also has war as its backdrop, this time the Vietnam war. Jeannie and Kip’s mother died when she is nineteen and he 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’ which, once again, 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.

That’s it for the first clutch of May goodies, all but one American. The next batch will range a little further. As ever, a click on a title will take you to a fuller synopsis should you be interested. And for anyone interested in that kind of thing there’ll be a little ‘what I got up to on my holidays’ post in a couple of days.