After months of cancelled or delayed launches, there are signs that the publishing industry is ramping up for a mega season of new titles.
This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is on the theme of “Top 10 Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2020” which gives me a chance to talk about some of the books that have caught my attention. I suspect there will be many more temptations coming my way when publication dates get firmed up but for now, here are the books I’m keen to buy and read.
The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott
Arnott’s latest novel is described as “A gorgeous, playful and casually brutal novel about war and ecological precarity, about the endurance of legends and the dark magic to be found in our natural world.” Here we have a tale of two women: one who has chosen to live a secluded life among the mountains of a country turned upside down in a coup. The other is a soldier who comes in search of a legendary creature. Their lives entwine, pushing them both to consider what they love and what they fear.
Publication date: July 2 from Atlantic Books
The Unpassing by Chia-Chia Lin
This debut novel created a buzz when it was published in hardback in the US last year. I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot more about it once the paperback is issued. Chia-Chia Lin has written a tragic tale of a Taiwanese immigrant family struggling to make ends meet on the outskirts of Anchorage, Alaska. Their 10-year-old son contracts meningitis but survives. When he recovers from his near fatal coma, he learns his younger sister died from the same condition. Chia-Chia Lin explores the anguish and repercussions of this and the way that the American dream is undermined by reality.
Publication date: July 2 from LittleBrown
The Liar’s Dictionary by Eley Williams
Lexicographical intrigues form the basis of this debut novel that swings from the nineteenth century compiler of a new Encyclopaedic Dictionary to a present day digital editor. The novel touches on questions of intellectual integrity and the fragility and absurdity of language. I have a feeling this book is going to expand my vocabulary. It’s already introduced me to mountweazel which apparently is a fake entry deliberately inserted into a dictionary or work of reference.
Publication date: July 16 by Cornerstone
A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville
Inspired by a real life story, A Room Made of Leaves takes us to a penal colony in eighteenth century New South Wales. It’s a shock to the system for 21-year old Elizabeth, the newly-arrived wife of the colony’s new Lieutenant. Accustomed to the greenery and peace of her native Devon, she finds Sydney Town a brutal, dusty, hungry place of makeshift shelters, failing crops, plots and rumours. To survive both the place and her reckless husband she has to draw on strengths she never imagined she possessed. The sense of place created in Grenville’s earlier novel The Secret River , was one of the reasons I enjoyed that book so much. I’m hoping the new novel will prove equally atmospheric.
Publication date: August 6 , 2020 from Canongate
The Mission House by Carys Davies
If you haven’t yet sampled the work of this young award-winning Welsh author, I hope you’ll be tempted by The Mission House. It’s set at a British hill station in South India where a man takes refuge in the local mission. He is befriended by the Padre in the adjacent presbytery and begins to form close bonds with the Padre’s adopted daughter. As the relationship develops religious tensions threaten to escalate, putting the mission in danger.
Publication date: August 6 , 2020 by Granta
The Glass Hotel by Emily St John Mandel
It’s six years since Mandel’s last novel Station Eleven, a book which helped me overcome an aversion to dystopian fiction. Now she’s back with a novel that weaves together the stories of a bartender at a five-star glass-and-cedar palace on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island; the New York financier who owns the hotel and a shipping agent who is shaken by a message he sees at the hotel. The publishers describe the novel as a story of “greed and guilt, fantasy and delusion, art and the ghosts of our pasts.” I’m counting the days until this comes out…..
Publication date: August 6 from Pan Macmillan
Summer by Ali Smith
This is the fourth and final book in Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet which began with Autumn in 2017. I’ve been buying each book as it was published but wanted to wait for the quartet to be complete before I started to read them. Summer, like its predecessors, uses an interplay between the recent past and modern day society to examine love, time, art, politics/
Publication date: August 6 by Penguin Books
English Pastoral: An Inheritance by James Rebanks
The only non-fiction title in my list, this is a chronicle of the life of three generations of farmers on a small farm in England’s Lake District. Rebanks, best known as the author of The Shepherd’s Life, uses the book to reflect on the decline of traditional agriculture and the changing nature of rural landscapes around the world.
It’s a topic very close to my heart because of plans to evict a farmer on the edge of our village, rip up all the fields and build yet another business park.
Publication date: September 3 from Penguin
Those Who Know by Alis Hawkins
Originally scheduled for a May launch, this third book in the Teifi Valley Coroner’s series will now be released in September. Those Who Know sees the coroner and squire Harry Probert-Lloyd and his under steward John Davies once more set out on the path of justice when they are called upon to examine the body of a radical and pioneering schoolteacher. I read the first book in this series – None So Blind – a few years ago and loved the chemistry between the two main characters.
Publication date: September 24 by Dome Press
Snow by John Banville
I’ve enjoyed John Banville’s literary fiction, including his Booker Prize winning The Sea, but I’ve never read any of the crime fiction published under his pen name Benjamin Black.
The Snow is his first crime novel to be published under his own name. Until now he has kept his crime and literary output completely separate, evento the extent of writing the former with a pen and typing the latter. I wonder why he’s decided to change course?
The publishers describe The Snow as a “chilling, 1950s-set, murder mystery”. It begins with the discovery of the body of a parish priest in the Library at Ballyglass House, the County Wexford family seat of the aristocratic, secretive Osborne family. Detective Inspector St John Strafford arrives from Dublin to investigate he is met with a conspiracy of silence as the snow continues to fall.
Publication date: October 6 from Faber
Do any of these take your fancy? Or are there some other titles you are eagerly awaiting later this year?
When I embarked on my World of Literature project back in 2013, I began to seek out books by authors from countries I had never experienced previously.
Some were recommended by work colleagues. Luckily I worked for a multinational company so every time we had a face-to-face meeting or I had to visit one of our overseas offices, I would ask for recommendations. It was a great ice-breaker and my colleagues were delighted that someone was taking an interest in their culture. Some of the books I read that came from those recommendations were superb – without my colleagues’ help I wouldn’t have enjoyed Amelie Nothomb (Belgium) or the magnificently named Joachim Maria Machado de Assis (Brazil).
I had more moderate success with books I bought as a result of internet searches – they often turned out to be real duds (like Full Circle by the Congolese author Frederick Yamusangie).
I’m hoping none of the three books featured in today’s Sample Saturday are duds but maybe they are not worth keeping on my shelves. Let’s see if you agree with my thoughts on which to keep and witch to ditch.
The Blood Of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
This is the first of two books by Iran-born Anita Amirrezvani. She left the country to settle in the USA when her parents separated. She returned to Iran during her gap year, her visit coinciding with the 1978 Islamic Revolution. She is now back in USA where she teaches writing and literature to college and master’s degree students.
The Blood Of Flowers follows a young village girl who is cast on the mercy of relatives when her father dies and her hopes of marriage dwindle. Her future improves when she reveals a talent for designing carpets, an invaluable skill in seventeenth century Iran. But a disastrous act causes her downfall.
The setting and cultural context are drawing me towards this book.
The Verdict: Keep
The Hour Of The Star by Clarice Lispector
I opened this slim book to discover a receipt which shows I bought it in the Oxfam shop in Oxford in November 2013. It was one of two purchases in the store that day – now I’m puzzling what the other book could be…
Clarice Lispector is described in this Open University edition as “one of the half-dozen irreplaceable Portuguese-language writers of this century.” She has an interesting multicultural background – born of Jewish descent in the Ukraine, she was raised in Brazil and then travelled extensively with her diplomat husband.
The Hour Of The Star was published in 1977, shortly before the author’s death from cancer. It focuses on a young woman who lives in the slums of Rio de Janeiro where she ekes out a living as a typist. But, according to what I’ve read about this book, the narrative is a lot more complex than that summary indicates.
Just to give you an example, this is how the book begins:
Everything in the world began with a yes. One molecule said yes to another molecule and life was born. But before prehistory there was the prehistory of prehistory and there was the never and there was the yes. It was ever so, I do not know why, but I do know that the universe never began.
Clearly this is not a book to read when I’m feeling sleepy. It needs full attention. It’s a mere 75 pages long so I might give it a whirl
The Verdict: Keep
Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed
Of the three books I’m featuring this week, this is the one that appeals most.
Nadifa Mohamed left her home in Somalia for what was meant to be a temporary stay in the UK. But war broke out in Somalia so they remained in the UK and never returned.
Black Mamba Boy is Mohamed’s debut novel, a semi-autobiographical account of her father’s life in Yemen and his trek through Sudan, Egypt, Palestine and the Mediterranean. In the novel, a ten year old boy who has grown up in the slums of Aden, decides his only chance of survival is to find his father who disappeared years earlier. And so begins his epic journey by foot, camel, lorry and train.
Though it’s a story of one individual, the theme of exile and survival gives it far greater significance at a time when we continue to see images of refugees risking their lives to find a new home.
The book won the 2010 Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the 2010 Guardian First Book Award and long-listed for the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction. Mohamed was chosen as one of Granta magazine’s “Best of Young British Novelists” in 2013.
No doubt about my decision on this one.
The Verdict: Keep!
For the first time since I started the Sample Saturday series, I’m keeping all three featured books. The TBR is thus staying at its current level but that’s ok – the objective of Sample Saturday isn’t to get rid of books, but to make sure my shelves are full only with books I do want to read. What do you think of the decisions I’ve reached – if you’ve read any of these books I’d love to hear from you.
It’s time to talk about an issue that loads of bloggers run into at some point.
We’re talking blogger burnout. It can happen for different reasons and happen in different ways. You might find it’s harder to summon up the enthusiasm to write new content. Or you struggle to think of new topics to share with your readers.
Most book bloggers start out with huge amounts of energy and passion. But somewhere along the way they lose that energy. It might happen within the first year. It might take a few years.
Several bloggers who were very active when I started out just over eight years ago, are no longer around. Either they just weren’t as enthused about writing reviews and chatting about what they were reading or looking forward to read. Or their circumstances had changed and they simply didn’t have enough time to do justice to their blog.
How can you stay fresh and inspired with your blogging?
One way is to share the load of blogging with other people. Instead of struggling all alone, maybe you could find a partner, like the duo behind paperprocastinators blog. Or you could go further and do, as Rosie Amber has done – and recruited a team to help make sure you always have new content to share with readers .
As part of my A2ZBookBlogging series, I asked Rosie to share her experience of running a blog with multiple contributors.
How It Works
I started my book blog eight years ago. For the last six years I’ve successfully run a review team alongside my own reading list.
The team idea came about because I was getting many submissions for books in genres that I was less keen to read. Also, I wanted to encourage more readers to write reviews. I created a book review challenge project, which was a great success; I then asked several of those who had taken part if they would like to join a team. Happily, most of them said yes!
The team consists of an international mix of fellow book bloggers, writers, editors, creative writing tutors and people who just love reading.
We focus on indie and self-published authors and mainly use e-books which can be sent as mobi or e-pub file to us. This involves little or no cost to the author. Once a month or so, I send a list of accepted submissions to the team, and they pick which one(s) they would like to read. I ask that they review the book within 4-6 weeks, but I don’t give deadlines.
The reviewer will post the review on at least two sites; Goodreads and Amazon are where most authors like to see a review, but some also post to other sites like BookBub. Most of the team have their own book blog (though this is not a requirement) where they post any team review; they will also send me a copy to post on my blog at a later date, with full credit to the reviewer.
How do I do it? Lists! I have lots of spreadsheets and a desk diary. I try to answer all book submission requests within 48 hours, either with acceptance or a decline. My team know I will always try to answer their own messages the same day. I enjoy what I do, so it’s never a chore.
The Benefits of Team Blogging
From the author’s point of view, the benefits of submitting to my review team are many. Often, a book will be chosen by more than one reviewer, which saves them having to apply to multiple book blogs. Once read, an author will have the review of their book posted on up to six sites. As for the team, I am delighted to say that we all get on so well, and some of us have met up a few times in real life. I never anticipated that running my book blog would make me some great new friends – this was an unexpected bonus!
I won’t deny that it’s a lot of work, but I enjoy the contact with my team and the reward for all of us is seeing readers discover a new favourite author through our reviews. The positive responses from some of the authors we’ve featured makes it worth while too. When we got this message from Lizzie Lamb, author of romantic comedies, for example, we all went around smiling:
Rosie Amber and her team of reviewers/bloggers are professional, dedicated and fair minded. As an author, I know that I will receive a fair critique of my novels from them. I am happy to use them as go-to reviewers for any new novel I publish. I am also happy to recommend them to other authors.
Professional and fair is exactly what we all try to be.
The team is constantly evolving; over the years members have come and gone; sometimes life gets in the way and a person may not have the time or headspace to review for a while, but obviously I understand this and there is never any pressure. I am lucky to have a core of supportive, reliable reviewers who have read for me month in, month out, over the years.
Have you ever thought about partnering with other people to build content for your book blog? Share your experience and your tips by adding a comment below. Don’t forget to check out the other articles in the A2ZofBookBlogging series page.
When Eve Smith conceived the plot for her debut novel, The Waiting Rooms, the world was blissfully unaware of Covid-19.
Terms like social distancing, the R Rate and viral load hadn’t entered our daily vocabulary and people over 70 weren’t made to feel scared just because of their age. To the average person, death from a pandemic was something that happened far away from their own neighbourhood.
Our new familiarity with the effect of a global health crisis makes the premise of The Waiting Room more believable, more real and definitely more chilling.
A World In Danger
Eve Smith creates a world where antibiotics have been over-used for so long they no longer work. Without effective antibiotics, conditions like pneumonia, tuberculosis, blood poisoning, are becoming more difficult, and sometimes impossible, to treat. Even a simple injury, like a scratch from your cat, or a mouthful of contaminated water at the swimming pool can be lethal.
Countries respond with travel restrictions, strict border controls, trade embargoes and a desperate drive to find vaccines and treatments. Printed books and libraries become a thing of the past because they can spread infection. ‘Declawed’ breeds of cats become popular pets and entire populations become accustomed to body scans and profile checks as part of infection control.
The UK, one of the worst affected countries, takes even more drastic measures. All citizens have to undergo regular health screening and must show their results before entering buildings or taxis. The few antibiotics that do work, are reserved for those under the age of 70. Anyone over that threshold who picks up an infection is sent to hospitals nicknamed ‘The Waiting Rooms.’ Understandably, the encroachment of a 70th birthday is no cause for celebration.
My stomach churns. It’s a Pavlovian response; it happens every time I look at my calendar.
Those white paper squares are like a game of Sudoku. Each day has a number at the bottom written in the same black felt-tip pen: the one with a rubber tube around its middle, like those used by infants who are struggling to write.
Forty-eight days until my birthday. The big seven-o.
This is no childish anticipation. Quite the opposite. Cut-off. That’s the expression they like to use.
Rolls off the tongue a bit quicker than ‘no longer eligible for treatment’.
For those who do end up in a Waiting Room, there is so little chance of recovery, that many prefer to sign a euthanasia directive.
Twenty years after the crisis takes hold, a hospital nurse who works in one of the Waiting Rooms begins a search for her birth mother. Kate discovers disturbing facts about her mother’s involvement in a scandalous programme to find a cure for tuberculosis .
Thought-provoking pacy novel
Switching from the grasslands of South Africa to hospitals and care homes in the UK, and from the present to 27 years earlier, when a new legal strain of tuberculosis began sweeping Africa, The Waiting Rooms, combines the pace of a mystery novel with a meticulously researched issue-based plot.
Eve Smith ambitiously chose a complex narrative structure for the novel. Alongside the alternating settings and time-lines there are three rotating narratives. One features Kate, another her birth mother Mary and the third focuses on an elderly scientist called Lily who is a resident at an upmarket retirement home (it’s becomes clear that Lily and Mary are the same woman).
In between these narratives, we get snippets of media stories based on government announcements about the pandemic and its effect on the country. They often sounds just like the kind of pronouncements we can expect from the current UK government in the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis.
… the slump is set to continue, with the budget deficit at its highest point since the Antibiotic Crisis. The government defended its position arguing that any reductions in healthcare spending or arbitrary policy changes would be “highly irresponsible” and that recovery would be “a long term process.
These sections provide important context for the events of the novel but I found some of them somewhat jarring. As a former journalist I thought the style of the “media reports” often didn’t ring true. At one point for example, Kate is on her way into work when she encounters an anti-euthanasia protest and is accosted by a journalist.
‘Hey! Hey you!’ shouts the reporter. ‘We’d like to hear your thoughts on legalised killing.’
That phrase ‘We’d like to hear your thoughts’ belongs more in a cosy interview with an academic than amid the mayhem of a demonstration and is not a form of words any journalist would use in those circumstances.
Representations of the media in novels is one of my bête noires. I got over it in this novel because in all other respects, Eve Smith has created in The Waiting Rooms, a world so believable it is petrifying.
Chilling Sense of Reality
In case readers are in any doubt that the antibiotic crisis is feasible or that the over 70s will be the most adversely affected, a postscript to the novel should provide food for thought. Writing about the inspiration for her novel and the premise of the over-70s “cut off”, Eve Smith points to the fact that in the UK, a quarter of all antibiotic prescriptions are for people above 75 years-old.
A recent report by the Royal Society for Public Health claims that ageism is the most commonly experienced form of prejudice and discrimination in the UK and Europe. Compounding this, we have social-care systems and health services already in crisis and needs are only going to increase. Put all this together and you have the perfect storm.
The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith: Endnotes
The Waiting Rooms was published by Orenda Books in ebook format on 9 April, 2020 with the paperback to follow on on 9 July. Thanks to Orenda for providing an advance copy of the book in return for an honest review.
Eve Smith was inspired to write the book after she read “some scary facts” about antibiotic resistance. If you want to delve into this and other issues covered in the novel, such as tuberculosis and poaching, take a look at the factual information provided on her website.