Category Archives: Top Ten Tuesday

A Feast For Your Eyes: New Books Coming Our Way Soon

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?

10 One Word Book Titles

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is Books With Single-Word Titles.

I’m giving my list an international flavour because this week marks the start of two reading months celebrating the literature of Celtic nations. Wales Reading Month 2020 (otherwise known as Dewithon2020) and Irish Reading Month are highlights of the year. We’re also in the midst of the Japanese Literature Challenge.

So I’m going to build my list entirely from books by Welsh and Irish authors. that I’ve either read or have on my “to read” shelves.

Books

From Wales

Pigeon by Alys Conran: A debut novel from an author who is a talent to watch. Alys swept the boards at the  Literature Wales Book of the Year Awards 2017 with this tale of a prank by two children from broken homes. It goes disastrously wrong, with consequences for the rest of their lives.

Cove by Cynan Jones: A stunningly atmospheric novella about a man who is incapacitated while kayaking in the midst of a storm. All he hopes is to make it back to land, to the woman and unborn child who need him.

Resistance by Owen Sheers: a highly regarded novel which imagines what might have unfolded if wartime German troops had occupied a remote Welsh community.

Blacklands by Belinda Bauer: I had to include Belinda because she lives very close to my home! This is her award-winning debut work that is part one of a crime trilogy set on and around Exmoor national park in South West England. 

Ghostbird by Carol Lovekin : Lovekin’s novel draws on Welsh folklore, in particular the fables found in the collection of medieval Welsh folk tales known as The Mabinogion. 

From Ireland

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin: a quietly understated but no less effective novel set partly in a provincial Irish town in the early 1950s. The central character has to make a choice between remaining in the town with its limited opportunities or seeking a new life in New York.

Troubles by J G Farrell. This is the first title in Farrell’s Empire Trilogy. The plot concerns the dilapidation of a once grand Irish hotel (symbolic of the declining British Empire), in the midst of the political upheaval during the Irish War of Independence. Though it’s a commentary on the state of Ireland, the novel is very funny at time because the set is is rather bizarre with the frayed-around=the edges guests forced to share their accommodation with a large number of feral cats.

Milkman by Anna Burns: one of the most well-deserved winners of the Booker Prize in recent years. It takes patience to tune into the digressive, stream of consciousness narration where no character is given a name. But this novel set in Belfast, Northern Ireland during the 1970s Troubles is incredibly powerful.

Slammerkin by Emma Donaghue. This is one I bought several years ago (but have not yet read) after I read her hugely successful novel Room. Slammerkin is also a story of survival, this time set in the 1760s. It focuses on Mary Saunders, a teenage girl forced to make her own way in the world after being put out on to the streets by her callous mother.

Girl by Edna O’Brien: At the age of 88, Edna O’Brien, is showing no sign of losing her capacity to write thought-provoking novels that tackle contemporary issues. Girl is a story set in an unnamed country but is recognisably Nigeria and imagines the lives of the girls abducted by Boko Haram. This is high on my “to read’ list.

Do any of these appeal to you? What would you have put on your own version of this Top 10?

10 Novels To Generate Hangovers

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is The Last Ten Books That Gave Me a Book Hangover .

Though its many, many years since I experienced a hangover, I can still remember the symptoms. The disturbed sleep; the thudding headache and the feeling of nausea.

No-one really goes out drinking with the intention of getting a hangover do they? No more than I ever deliberately choose books that I think will give me a hangover feeling. But some of them do provoke those unwelcome reactions.

Headache Generators

I’m thinking here of books that have complex plots or complicated structures or are written in a very dense style.

How Late it Was How Late by James Kelman

Appropriately this Booker Prize winner begins with the protagonist Sammy waking up in a lane after a two-day drinking binge. It would have been challenging enough to understand because everything that happens to this guy is told in stream of consciousness style. But its made even more challenging because the story is rendered in a working class Scottish dialect. (Imagine a drunken rant by Billy Connolly and you might get the picture). I struggled my way through just over 100 pages but then decided I’d had enough.

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

This was a clever novel of two characters and three versions of their lives. The chapters switch between the different versions of the couple but at the exact same point in time. It was a fascinating approach to narration but I did find it confusing initially and had to take notes to keep each couple and each version clear in my head.  

Midnights Children by Salman Rushdie

Rushdie’s much-lauded novel falls into the category for me of “impressive rather than enjoyable.” It had such a dazzling array of allusion and digressions plus political references I didn’t understand that reading it felt like wading through mud. I could read only a couple of pages a night.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A beautifully contrived novel with two time zones and two settings that incorporates several themes. One of them considers the elusive nature of time:

In the time it takes to say now, now is already over. It’s already then. Then is the opposite of now. So saying now obliterates its meaning, turning it into exactly what it isn’t. It’s like the word is committing suicide or something.

Maybe not the best thing to read late at night when the brain wants to shut down. But worse was to come – a section that baffled me was an explanation of a thought experiment called Schrödinger’s Cat which tries to explain how a being may be simultaneously both alive and dead.

Sleep Disturbers

The books in this group are all books that were so engrossing I had to keep reading, even though it was far beyond lights out time.

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Boy am I glad I’m not reading this right now. It’s premise of a flu virus that is so virulent it wipes out 99% of the world’s population would be rather too close for comfort to the current Coronovirus outbreak. It does make you worry about how you’d cope in a world where everything you know no longer exists.

The North Water by McGuire, Ian

Long listed for the  Man Booker 2016, this is a fast-paced novel that pulls no punches about the brutal and bloody business of whaling in the 1840s. It leaves no doubt that this is a business in which only the most nimble, selfish and ruthless men will survive.

The Hours by Michael Cunningham

I imagine there are English lit students beavering away even now on comparative essays involving The Hours and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway. That wasn’t what kept me awake however. The Hours is simply a brilliant novel of three generations of women who all, in different ways, suffer issues of mental health and alienation.

Nausea Inducers

Horror stories or tales with graphic violence are absolutely not to my taste. Sometimes however you can’t avoid an element of violence or passages which are not for the faint-hearted.

Alex by Pierre LeMaitre

The opening chapters of Alex are gruesome; definitely not for the squeamish. But just when you think you can’t bear to read any more, Lemaitre masterfully brings us some relief in the form of the police hunt for a girl who’s been abducted. If it hadn’t switched gear I couldn’t have continued reading.

Lullaby by Leïla Slimani

The beauty of Lullaby is that it contains the suspense of violence without forcing us to confront its reality. We know right from the beginning that a nanny kills two children in her care. The interest isn’t what she did but why.

Pure by Andrew Miller

 The smell of stench and decay is impossible to avoid when you read this book. Set in Paris the book introduces us to an engineer charged with removing the graves from a cemetery in the city. But the stench of corruption and evil presages what happens a few years later when the Revolution is in full flood (or should that be full blood?)


10 Novels On The Theme Of Love

I fell out of the habit of doing the Top Ten Tuesday posts but let’s see if this week’s topic re-ignites my enthusiasm.

In a week that includes St Valentine’s Day, it’s appropriate that the topic is is: a Love Freebie. I’ve chosen books with the word love in the title. or a word associated with that emotion. The first group are books I’ve read (links are to my reviews) and the rest are ones that are on my shelves waiting to be read.

Nina Bawden, A Little Love, a Little Learning 

By far the best of the three books I’ve read by Nina Bawden. It’s about a family whose unremarkable life is disturbed by the arrival of an old friend with an insatiable appetite for gossip.

William Boyd, Love is Blind

Not one of Boyd’s best unfortunately. It’s a tale of the obsessive love of a Scottish piano tuner for a Russian singer. But it moves at a very slow pace and it quite repetitive. It was hard to get enthused about whether the piano tuner gets his girl in the end.

Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate

This is meant to be a very witty novel about the daughter of a wealthy family who wants to marry a very unsuitable man. Her mother wants her to marry someone wealthy. I’d say its more slightly amusing than sparkling with wit.

Since I have only three books that strictly speaking contain the word love, I’m going to exercise some creativity with my next two choices.

Andrew  Taylor, Bleeding Heart Square

The heart is meant to be the organ of love isn’t it? This isn’t really a hearts and roses kind of tale however, it’s set in a grubby corner of London where Oswald Mosely blackshirts roam the streets.

Brian MooreThe Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne

A terrific novel about a lonely down at heel spinster in Ireland who desperately wants to find love and a husband. Her lets her imagination run away with her with a desperately sad consequence.

Let’s see what I have on my TBR that fits the brief.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

I know this is highly regarded. I know Marquez is a Nobel prize winning author. But I have tried three times to read this book and have failed every time. I’m going to give it one more go but if the experience is repeated, it’s going in the bag of donations to a charity second hand bookshop.

Nadeem Aslam, Maps for Lost lovers

I can’t even remember buying this book let alone recall anything about it. Goodreads came to my rescue and told me that ostensibly it’s about the murder of a pair of lovers. But in fact its a dissection of working-class Pakistani immigrant communities that have settled in the north of England over the last 40 years. Anyone read this? If so, is it worth reading?

Toni Morrison, Beloved

One that it seems ‘everyone’ has read. I’ll get to it – sometime…..

Thorne Moore, Mother Love

The second novel by this Welsh author. I bought it after enjoying her debut A Time For Silence. It’s a psychological thriller involving three women. One horrified to be pregnant again, one who is desperate to adopt and the third who is terrified her baby will be taken from her.

Hanne Ørstavik, Love

This is the shortest book I have on my shelves. It was chosen as part of my subscription to the Asymptote Book Club. I have high hopes for this based on my experience of another of Ørstavik’s books – The Blue Room – which was also a Asymptote Book Club choice. According to The Guardian, Love, is “an eerie, devastating little book about a mother and son in the far north of Norway.” Maybe not the kind of book associated with romance but then love doesn’t always turn out happily does it?

Love in fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. To join in, just visit her blog.

In review: Ten winners of the Booker Prize

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The first book I ever reviewed was so dreadful that I have obliterated its title from my memory.

It was by Maeve Binchey and though I know she is extremely popular among some readers, I vowed never to read anything by her again. Ever. I only got to the end because it formed part of a book review column that was being introduced on the newspaper where I was a rather junior reporter.

Maybe it was that experience that destroyed my interest in reviewing. It wasn’t until I started this blog that I began in earnest. I’m re-interpreting the brief for  this week’s Top 10 topic.

Instead of listing the first 10 reviews to appear on this blog (which would be dull) I’m opting for the first 10 reviews of Booker Prize winners. It is after all my project to read all the prize winners that prompted me to begin the blog in 2012.

Here’s my list. All links take you to my review

  1. The Elected Member by Bernice Rubens. The very first review to appear on this blog, was this 1970 winner. It’s embarrassing to look back at this review – I clearly had a lot to learn…
  2. Something to Answer For by P H Newby. This review appeared in April 2012. My attempt was slightly – but only slightly – better than the first effort.
  3. Saville by David Storey. This appeared in the same month as the Newby review. Not a book I cared for at all as my review indicates all too clearly.
  4. Staying On by Paul Scott. This is a follow up to his superb series called The Raj Quartet. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy this book, I’m also happier with the quality of the review.
  5. White Tiger by Arvind Adiga  I remember enjoying this novel which won the 2008 Booker Prize but I see from my review that I wasn’t that keen on the ending.
  6. Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. A wonderful book and one of my favourite Booker winners.
  7. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. Definitely not one of my favourite Booker winners. Though I admired the technical virtuosity and the brilliance of the imagination, I struggled to finish the book – and also, I seem to remember, struggled to write a review.
  8. Possession by A S Byatt. These reviews do seem to be getting more coherent (at last)
  9. The Sea by John Banville  My review from 2013 may not have done full justice to this book but at least it’s no longer embarrassing to read after all these years.
  10. Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner. And so we reach July 2013 and a novel that was a re-read.

It’s been interesting to look back at these blog posts and to see the progress I made in just over a year of writing reviews. When I decided to begin blogging I had no concerns about my ability to write: I had after all trained as a journalist and had worked for years in a communications role. But it didn’t take long for me to appreciate that writing reviews of books is an art that requires a completely different skill set.

There is still a long, long way to go before I reach the point where I find it easier to write these reviews and am more satisfied with the result. I wonder if I ever will reach that day or whether I’m too too much of a perfectionist to ever be satisfied….


Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. .

Top 10 books around the world

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It’s been a long time since I joined in with the Top Ten Tuesday meme but this week’s topic gives me a chance to talk about a topic of particular interest to me.

I realised a few years ago that my reading was rather limited geographically so I made a conscious decision to look for novels written by authors outside of USA and Uk. Since starting my World of Literature project I’ve read books in 36 countries. Though the Top Ten Tuesday topic is strictly speaking about books that take place in another country, I’m taking a liberal approach and going for novels written by authors from 10 different parts of the world.

 

Belgium: Fear and Trembling by Amelie Nothomb. This slim work from one of Belgium’s leading authors is set in Japan. It gives a fascinating glimpse into the difficulties of navigating the work culture in Japan.

Finland: White  Hunger by Aki Ollikainen. I never realised that Finland had suffered a horrendous famine in the 1860s. This is a grim account of a woman walking mile after mile through waist-high snow to prevent her children starving to death.

India: The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. A Booker prize-winning novel that will make you laugh and make you think.

Japan: After the Banquet  by  Yukio Mishima. This was my first venture into Japanese literature. It was enigmatic at times but also a fascinating portrait of a marriage between two people whose interests and perspectives seem diametrically opposed.

Kenya: Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o. A savage indictment of the political and government regime in the country post independence.

Nigeria:  Americanah  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Two young people dream of leaving their country to find a new life in America. Only one of them makes it. But it’s not what she expects.

Norway: The Blue Room  by Hanne Ørstavik  A short psychological novel about a naive young girl and the troubling relationship she as with her mother.

Republic of the Congo:   Broken Glass by  Alain Mabanckou. A lively novel set in a seedy bar where a rag bag of odd characters hang out.

South Korea: The Vegetarian by Hang Kang. A disturbing novel about a troubled girl who decides to stop eating meat.

Zimbabwe: We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. A country in the middle of a crisis. Aid workers turn up in their white vans and dish out sweets and toys, take a few photos and then disappear. Some people are lucky enough to leave. But is life elsewhere necessarily better?

 

 

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