BookendsWriting Wales

Bookends #1 February 2018

It’s been a long time since I last did one of my Bookend posts. Not sure why I stopped doing them. Maybe I was travelling and didn’t get the time to write them for a few weekends and just got out of the habit. Or maybe I just ran out of steam.

But Simon’s weekend miscellany posts at Stuck in a Book have given me the motivation to give Bookends another go. In its original incarnation, Bookends was a round up of miscellaneous bookish news. I’m going to streamline this a bit and in future each post will consist of just three things that have caught my attention, aroused my curiosity; stimulated my interest

  • a book
  • a blog post and
  • an article

Book: May by Naomi Krüger


Here in Wales we will be celebrating our patron saint’s day (St David) next week. So it seems very appropriate to highlight a new title from Seren, one of the independent publishers in Wales. May is the debut novel of Naomi Krüger, creative co-director of the North West Literary Salon and a lecturer in creative writing. It caught my attention because it’s written from the perspective of a woman with dementia who is trying to piece together the fragments of her memory. I’m currently reading and loving Three Things About Elsie  by Joanna Cannon which is also about an elderly woman and her past. I also enjoyed Emma Healey’s debut novel Elizabeth is Missing, which had an octogenarian narrator. Maybe Naomi Krüger’s novel will complete my hat trick? May is published by Seren on March 12. Details are on their website here

To whet your appetite, here is the blurb:

The door to the past has been locked to May but fragments of memories still remain: a boy running on the green, his fiery hair, a letter without a stamp, a secret she promised not to tell. She can’t piece together the past or even make sense of the present, but she revisits what she knows again and again. The boy, the letter, the secret. She can’t grasp what they mean, but maybe the people she’s loved and lost can uncover the mystery of the red-headed boy and his connection to May.

Blog post: Anticipating the Man Booker International Prize List

The longlist for the Man Booker International Prize will be announced on March 12. Tony Messenger has put together his own wishlist; titles that he thinks will be on the judges’ list; or should be. Do you agree with his predictions?

Article: In Praise of Negative Book Reviews

In the journal The Baffler, author and columnist Rafia Zakaria argues the case for more  negative book reviews. “The general tone and tenor of the contemporary book review is an advertisement-style frippery”, she claims, consisting of “vapid and overblown praise”.  She doesn’t give any examples unfortunately or cite the offending publications but I can’t say I’ve noticed a preponderance of “forced and foppish praise” in the newspaper review sections I read. Have you?



What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

31 thoughts on “Bookends #1 February 2018

  • I haven’t noticed too many flippant reviews, but I do feel like in general there are fewer and fewer negative reviews. I feel like I rarely read negative reviews on blogs it’s just DNF this and DNF that.

    I also know I’m too nice when it comes to negative book reviews – I try to find at least one good thing about a book.

    • likewise I try to make my reviews as balanced as possible – it’s rare I come across a book that is 100% a dud. When I do, it means its so bad I can’t even finish it. But yes, most blog reviews do tend to the positive.

  • Pingback: Books to mark Wales’ special day | BookerTalk

  • I must admit, I quite like reading a negative review, although I don’t often post them because I try to read books I actually like. Having said that, I don’t like it when a review tends to sound just like promotional blurb for a book. It’s a fine line sometimes.

    • Negative reviews often (and I know this is a generalisation) tend to be more considered than positive ones. It seems that we find it harder to explain clearly why we don’t think a book works….

  • Good post. I shy away from Alzheimer’s stories because my first mother-in-law (whom I loved longer than I did her son) and my father both died of complications related to that affliction. It was very hard to go through.
    I don’t have a problem slamming bad books on my blog. Or in my reading groups! But I agree that one has to read between the lines of book marketing. Also there are different books for different readers.

    • Sometimes the subject is too close for comfort. This one is treated very sensitively though… As for negative book reviews, I try to be balanced always – if I don’t like it I’ll say why but also try to find something I did think worked.

  • Have never heard of the book May, but I’m always eager to check out more independent publishers. It seems like a very interesting novel!

    • Seren is worth keeping an eye on. They’re small so don’t bring out that many books each year but that does mean they can give the authors more attention

  • I haven’t seen fulsome praise in newspapers, but on book blogs – yes and yes and yes.

    • often the really positive ones are the result of being involved in a book tour or getting a copy direct from the author

  • I like the concept of Bookends. On the topic of fulsome book reviews: there have been occasions when I’ve chosen not to review a book because I don’t have one good word to say about it. My booksmith blog review my reading and offers a monthly summary of my reads, which has a star rating system, so when you see a 1* or zero* against a title, draw your own conclusions! Maybe I shouldn’t be so hesitant to give negative reviews. Thing is, as a writer, I know how much work goes into producing a novel, so …
    Goodreads reviewers don’t suffer from my scruples and will tell it as they see it. So if you’re looking for unvarnished reviews, visit Goodreads.

    • Its always a tricky question isn’t it. If you really hated the book should you do a review? If you do and all you can say is what you didn’t like, then it can come over as very harsh. On the other hand if you don’t do a review then is that really being fair and honest with your readers.

  • I agree with Fiction Fan – I hardly ever see negative reviews by book bloggers. I don’t often get a dud – maybe because I’m choosing better in my ‘old age’ based on past experience – but when I do, I try to portray that book fairly.

    Maybe other bloggers just skip posting comments about a particular book if they didn’t think it was worth glowing comments?

    • I’m sure there are some reviewers who feel uncomfortable about doing ‘negative reviews’. But if I follow a person and all I ever see is what they like/love, I wonder about their judgement….

      • But perhaps their judgement is to be careful about what they choose! I rarely, if ever, write negative reviews. My reading time is so precious that I couldn’t bear to spend time read a book that I don’t think is good. However, I was told the other day by my brother, that my daughter told him she can tell when I haven’t loved a book – and I had one such recently. There was nothing wrong with it but it just didn’t zing. When I looked back at it to write my review, I couldn’t spot what it was that didn’t work. So, my review was positive but not enthusiastic. I think the thing for me is that the only book I really don’t like are books with poor writing (ie cliched, nothing exciting), predictable plots, stereotypical characters, and nothing to say. I don’t read books like this. I don’t dislike books because I don’t like the characters or don’t like the subjects or even don’t agree with the ideas (unless they are clearly cruel ideas). I might think some things don’t work well, and I’ll say that, but that doesn’t make a negative review.

        However, I don’t believe I ever write gushing reviews – ie this is “masterful” or a “tour de force” etc – but when a book excites or inspires me I think I make it clear.

        As for GoodReads, I’m afraid I pay little attention to the “unvarnished” reviews there. I rarely see one that explains their negativity in a rational way.

        Anyhow, I like your Bookends plan.

        • I doubt that anyone really sets out to write a negative review – or maybe if they do, then they are trying to let loose with frustration. But my thinking is that if the book is really that bad, how could you even bear to finish it?

        • Exactly so you don’t write the negative review, particularly if you’re a blogger and can read what you want. If you write reviews for a living and an editor says review this, then you are expected to read it whether you like it or not.

        • I think the person who wrote the article was suggesting that the professional reviewers come under pressure to be positive

        • Interesting. The issue discussed here in Australia is that the literary world is so small everyone knows each other and they don’t want to “bag” their friends . And also that they want to promote Aus lit because foreign books still hold biggest sway. But, you don’t promote literature by praising poor holk do you?

        • Absolutely not – doing that would surely be a disservice to Aus lit in general and to the authors who ‘are’ good writers. Dont want them all tarred with the same brush.

  • I enjoy a Bookends post and follow Simon’s regularly. I have read several modern books where the publishers information (excitement) on the cover blurbs have not lived up to the story at all. One example was “falling in love, drinking coffee in a bookshop owned by the protagonist”. I bought it bc I love stories around bookshops. Turned out her husband died first chapter, she moved to Ireland, left bookshop behind and only returned to it on last three pages. I wasn’t expecting an Irish tale completely unconnected. Not the first time this has happened. Lovely post.

    • Hm, I would put that into the category of misleading marketing. You were persuaded to buy the book on a false premise. A bit like buying a cake that says it’s chocolate and orange but when you taste it, there’s no orange at all

  • buriedinprint

    It’s funny how quickly we can fall out of habits, isn’t it? And, yet, conversely, it can take ages and ages to get them into place to start with!

    • Somewhere or other I read that you have to do something 25 times before it becomes a habit

  • I don’t often read newspaper book reviews but I do get a little tired of overly fulsome praise on the blogosphere for every newly hyped identikit domestic thriller on a blog tour. They really can’t all be the best book of the year/decade/century/millennium…

    • I’m still not sure about book tours – about to do my very first one though so will have a better idea then. But yes sometimes you do wonder if the blogger has felt pressured to do a positive review because they know the author/publisher etc

  • Bookends sounds like an interesting weekly tag. I come across book-related articles all the time that I know I should share with others.

    • Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning in info about what books to read, who is publishing what etc.

  • I loved Elizabeth is Missing…and want to read Three Things About Elsie. I have realized how much I enjoy books written from the perspective of characters with dementia. Thanks for sharing…I will check out May.

    • I know, its odd isn’t it that we would enjoy these books because the condition is such a sad one


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