Reading the Republic of Consciousness Prize Shortlist

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In mid January I wrote of my plans to read the Republic of Consciousness Prize shortlist (you may read my post here). Between now and the announcement of the prize winner on 9th March I will be posting my thoughts on each book along with guest posts from those of their publishers who chose to take part in this feature. I am grateful to all who found the time to provide me with content.

I had previously read two of the books from the prize longlist which did not make it onto the shortlist. I have since read one other. If you click on a title below the photograph you may read my reviews.

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I had also previously read one of the shortlisted books:

Given the quality of the writing in all of these books I was eager to tackle the remaining shortlist and have not been disappointed. All credit to the prize judges for curating such an impressive selection.

On Friday I will post the first of my remaining reviews – Solar Bones by Mike McCormack (Tramp Press). This has already won the Goldsmith Prize and the Irish Book Award Novel of the Year. It was the only other book from the Republic of Consciousness Prize long and short lists that I already had on my TBR pile. All other shortlisted books have been generously provided by the publishers for this feature – a big thank you to them.

Next week I will post my thoughts on: Fine Fine Fine Fine Fine by Diane Williams (CB Editions – who went into semi-retirement just before the shortlist was announced); Martin John by Anakana Schofield (And Other Stories) which was also shortlisted for the 2015 Giller Prize and the 2016 Ethel Wilson Prize for Fiction; Treats by Lara Williams (Freight Books).

My reviews for the remaining three books on the shortlist – Born on a Tuesday by Elnathan John (Cassava Republic) which was shortlisted for the 2016 Nigeria Prize for Literature and longlisted for the 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature, Counter Narratives by John Keene (Fitzcarraldo Editions), and Light Box by KJ Orr (Daunt Books) – will follow along with the promised publisher guest posts.

Naturally I am not the only person reading these books. I recommend you check out the reviews being posted by the contemporary small press – A site for small presses, writers, poets & readers as they are excellent.

As a footnote to this introduction I will add one other thing that this exercise has taught me – how to spell consciousness. I have been hashtagging it on Twitter incorrectly for over a month. If you spot me doing this sort of thing again? Please let me know.

Reading the Galley Beggar Press backlist

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Today I should have been travelling to London to attend a book launch and party for Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge, the latest offering from Galley Beggar Press and currently on the shortlist for the Republic of Conciousness Prize. Due to engineering works I had to pull out as my planned train home will not be running. This is disappointing, especially as I have been preparing for the event for some time. My preparation involved reading so actually no great hardship there.

For Christmas in 2015 I was gifted a Galley Buddy subscription along with copies of every full length paperback I did not already own from the publisher’s backlist. When no bookish shaped gifts appeared in my stocking last year it was pointed out by my not-a-reader husband that I had not yet read all of the previous year’s much wanted titles. When I was invited to this party I decided to pick up my neglected books. Galley Beggar Press publish ‘hardcore literary fiction and gorgeous prose’, just the sort of stories I enjoy. There will be no Gig Review this weekend as I had planned, but you may now read my reviews of all the books by clicking on the covers below.

forbidden-line   Adam-Biles--Feeding-Time

Alex-Pheby--Playthings   Anthony-Trevelyan--The-Weightless-World

wroteforluck    francisplug

randall--paperback   andrew-lovett-everlasting-lane-ebook

eimear-mcbride-a-girl-is-a-half-formed-thing-paperback   simon-gough-the-white-goddess-paperback-v2

Should you wish to order any of these please consider doing so direct from Galley Beggar. Even a few extra sales can make a difference to the viability of small presses.

The Republic of Consciousness Prize

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I write regularly of my enthusiasm for books published by the small, independent presses. I am therefore following with interest a new literary prize set up to generate wider awareness of their work.

The Republic of Consciousness Prize was created by novelist Neil Griffiths to celebrate the “small presses producing brilliant and brave literary fiction” in the UK and Ireland. Griffiths, whose novel Betrayal in Naples won the Writers’ Club first novel award and whose Saving Caravaggio was shortlisted for the Costa best novel award, said he decided to found the new prize after realising that works from small presses represented the best fiction he had read in the last year. He explains in more detail here.

Unlike many larger awards, publishers are not charged an entry fee. The prize pot, to be divided between publisher and author, was raised by raffling £10 tickets online which gave donors a chance to win a bundle of books by British and Irish presses. Publishers with a maximum of five full-time paid people working for them may submit one novel or single author collection of short stories per year.

The winner will be chosen based on two criteria, lifted from the Galley Beggar website, ‘hardcore literary fiction and gorgeous prose’. These sound like my sort of books.

The Longlist, announced at the end of November 2016, contained the following titles:

  • And Other Stories for Martin John by Anakana Schofield
  • Cassava Republic for Born on A Tuesday by Elnathan John
  • CB Editions for Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams
  • Daunt Books for Light Box by KJ Orr
  • Dodo Ink for Dodge and Burn by Seraphina Madsen
  • EROS for Crude by Sally O’Reilly
  • Fitzcarraldo Editions for Counternarratives by John Keene
  • Istros for Quiet Flows the Una by Faruk Šehić
  • Freight for Treats by Lara Williams
  • Galley Beggar for Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge
  • Holland House for The Storyteller by Kate Armstrong
  • New Island for Beautiful Pictures of a Lost Homeland by Mia Gallagher
  • Peepal Tree Press for The Marvellous Equations of the Dread by Marcia Douglas
  • Peirene Press for The Empress and the Cake by Linda Stift
  • Tangerine Press for The Glue Ponys by Chris Wilson
  • Tramp Press for Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

Yesterday evening, at an event held in Waterstones, Piccadilly, this was whittled down to the following shortlist, decided by a small group of independent booksellers, chaired by Neil Griffiths:

  • And Other Stories for Martin John by Anakana Schofield
  • Cassava Republic for Born on A Tuesday by Elnathan John
  • CB Editions for Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams
  • Daunt Books for Light Box by KJ Orr
  • Fitzcarraldo Editions for Counternarratives by John Keene
  • Freight for Treats by Lara Williams
  • Galley Beggar for Forbidden Line by Paul Stanbridge
  • Tramp Press for Solar Bones by Mike McCormack

The winner will be announced in March and, if I can get hold of the first six of these books (the final two I already own) I will be reading along with the judges. Anybody care to join me?

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My Books of 2016

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First off may I express my gratitude to those who support my endeavours to spread the book love. Thank you to the publishers who provide me with the majority of books I review. Thank you to the wider book community, particularly my fellow bloggers, who so generously and enthusiastically share and retweet my posts. Thank you to my readers – some 30,000 of you this year – I hope that you have enjoyed and found value in my words. Thank you to the authors who enrich our lives with their art.

I write my reviews immediately after finishing each book that I may capture how it made me feel. In selecting this list of favourites from the 170 or so titles that I read and reviewed in 2016 I am choosing based on lingering impressions – the books that stayed in my head. I have not provided summaries here but if you click on the title you may open my review.

It has been a good year for readers, which is perhaps just as well given all that has gone down in the wider world. I felt somewhat ruthless whittling my list down to just these few when there were so many others that I enjoyed. Each of these titles went deeper than simple pleasure, valuable though this is. The writing and stories burrowed inside and have remained.

In no particular order, my fiction Top 11:

Non Fiction:

  • Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari  (Harvill Secker)

And just for fun, what every coffee table needs…

Please remember, should you choose to buy any of their books, it helps the small publishers if you order from them direct.

I wish you all a peaceful and happy 2017 enhanced by much good reading – sláinte.

 

Rounding off the Urbane Book Blast with a Giveaway

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I hope that you have enjoyed reading the reviews, interviews and guest posts from Urbane Publications and their authors over the past couple of weeks. You now have a chance to win one of the books featured, and you may choose which one you would like to receive. If you would like a reminder about my thoughts on each, click on the titles below.

Once you have decided on your choice of book, this is what you have to do to enter the giveaway:

  1. Follow me on Twitter: Jackie Law (@followthehens)
  2. Tweet me the title of the Urbane book you would most like to receive from those reviewed this month (pictured above) using the hashtag #UrbaneBlast
  3. Do this before 8am GMT on Wednesday 21st December 2016, after which I will randomly draw a winner.

The giveaway is open internationally.

Thank you to Matthew at Urbane for providing the prize.

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You may wish to consider joining the Urbane Book Club. For £99.99 you’ll receive a print and ebook edition of every new Urbane title published from the date you join for an entire year – Urbane currently publishes around 5 books a month. You’ll receive a 75% discount on any further purchases of Urbane titles through the Urbane website, including the entire backlist – all with free p&p in the UK. There are other benefits to joining, including opportunities to meet the authors. Check out the details by clicking here.

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Ordinary words made extraordinary

Ten Random Book Blogger Dilemmas

A ramble through the crowded mind of a book blogger…

1. Book post arrives

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Hark! Is that the thud of a parcel landing on my doormat? Rushes excitedly to door and spots book shaped padded envelope. Does joyful dance. Rips open parcel in eager anticipation.

Looks at shiny new book. Strokes cover of shiny new book. Feels ecstatic about receiving this beautiful creation. Publishers love me. Can’t wait to read.

Realisation that am going to have to wait. Have publication dates approaching for many books on my TBR mountain. Have had some of those must read books on my TBR mountain for months.

Rearranges TBR mountain. Adds new book. Wonders how many books can read this week. Cancels all social plans.

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2. No book post arrives

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Hears postman at door. No satisfying thud on doormat. Stares diconsolately at non book post. Feels dark, empty sadness.

Publishers hate me. My reviews are no good.

Distracts self by browsing twitter. Wonders why have not been sent book everyone I follow is tweeting about receiving.

Brief moment of relief that my TBR mountain has not grown. Determines to read faster. Reminds self of every positive comment ever received about reviews.

Wonders if publisher would send book if asked. Stalks publicist on twitter.

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3. Publishes new book review

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Wonders if review does book justice. Agonises over star rating on popular sites. Wonders if review explains star rating. Hates star rating system.

Worries about tagging author in tweet. Wonders if author will read review and consider point of book missed.

Why has author not retweeted review? Author hates review.

Author tweets thanks for review. Joy! Realises author says same lovely thing to every reviewer.

Why has publisher not retweeted my link? Publisher hates review. Wonders if publisher will ever send books again.

So many people have retweeted my link! Feels love for the book blogging community. Feels guilt for not personally thanking everyone. Wonders if will ever be retweeted again.

Rereads review. Spots error / clunky phrase / repeated words. Wonders why considers self writer.

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4. Reads review of  book by other blogger

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Did we read the same book? Wishes I had thought of that turn of phrase. Spots publisher retweeting and quoting review. Worries my reviews are no good.

Reminds self of every positive comment ever received about reviews. Retweets other blogger’s review.

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5. Asked to take part in blog tour

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Requests guest post. Asked for ideas for guest post. Active and imaginative mind goes entirely blank.

Submits idea for guest post. Worries that author will hate idea. Worries that readers will not see funny / perceptive / thought-provoking side of author because of dull idea.

Reads other guest posts on blog tour. Why did I not think of that idea?

Wonders if publisher will ever send books again.

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6. Visits bookshop

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Shiny new books! Selects a dozen must reads. Reminds self of size of TBR mountain. Reminds self that haven’t read last dozen books bought. Puts all books back. Feels sad.

Selects just one book to buy and feels virtuous. Adds book to TBR mountain, non priority pile. Wonders if life will be long enough to find time to read new book.

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7. Friend asks for book recommendation

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Momentarily speechless with excitement. Provides list of awesome, must read books that would last slow reading friend a decade.

Remembers to ask what sort of books previously enjoyed. Offers smaller selection.

Feels guilty for not including amazing book from indie press / lesser known author / publisher who sends me all the best books.

Wonders why friend not telling me how much they enjoyed books recommended. Discovers they have not yet got around to buying them all. Tries to understand.

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8. Choosing a birthday present for a friend

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Has excuse to buy books! Spends hours checking back on every book read in past year. Selects a dozen that friend will absolutely adore.

Checks bank balance. Removes most of the books. Feels sad.

Spends next year wondering why friend is not raving about awesome books received. Remembers not everyone wants to talk books at every opportunity.

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9. Asked to produce Christmas gift list

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Sits down with favourite pen and notebook bought at great expense from lovely bookshop. Writes down titles of all books not received in book post. Adds all books recommended by friends. Adds book leant to former friend and never returned.

Ignores pointed comments from nearest and dearest on already tottering TBR mountain. Ignores request for non book related items.

Tries to be stoical about books not received.

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10. Runs out of bookshelf space

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Decides to cull books. Looks at titles where multiple copies owned. Recognises importance of keeping both ARCs and final copies. Admires paperback edition containing quote from my review.

Gives away books didn’t enjoy or am never likely to read again.

Thinks of books given away and regrets loss.

Comforts self by buying more books. Feels happy with no furniture in house other than bed, bookshelves, and chair in which to read.

Book Recommendations 2015

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Reading enjoyment is such a personal thing and books shine for a plethora of reasons. When I was asked to name a favourite, or even a top three from my recent reads, I struggled. This has been an outstanding year for new releases, plus I have delved deep into my TBR pile.

What I list here are the contenders for my own personal top slot. I have grouped them under headings to enable readers who like or dislike particular genres to add their own filter. Sometimes it is good to be challenged, other times more gently entertained.

Of the 118 books that I have read so far in 2015, plus the 8 that I read after compiling my recommendations list last year, these are the ones that particularly stood out. If interested you may click on the title to read my review.

Beautiful stories:

After the Bombing by Clare Morrall

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Shtum by Jem Lester

Yellow Room by Shelan Rodger

Thrilling thrillers:

Hotel Arcadia by Sunny Singh

Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton

Rebound by Aga Lesiewicz

The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul E. Hardisty

The Widow by Fiona Barton

Deliciously chilling:

The Blackheath Séance Parlour by Alan Williams

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

Compelling crime fiction:

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary

Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson

Retelling history:

Into the Fire by Manda Scott

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Stories that linger:

Being Someone by Adrian Harvey

Leaves by John Simmons

Light From Other Windows by Chris Chalmers

Lillian on Life by Alison Jean Lester

Feel good, with that something extra: 

A Man Called Ove  by Fredrik Backman (translated by Henning Koch)

A Robot in the Garden by Deborah Install

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Genre defying but fabulous:

Beauty Tips for Girls by Margaret Montgomery

Playthings by Alex Pheby

The Weightless World by Anthony Trevelyan

Short story collections:

Wrote for Luck by D.J. Taylor

Honeydew by Edith Pearlman

For the children, and the child in us all:

A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig

Fleabag and the Fire Cat by Beth Webb

Young adult fiction:

Asking For It by Louise O’Neill

Outstanding non fiction:

Imaginary Cities by Darran Anderson

Place Waste Dissent by Paul Hawkins

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And finally, a book that I am reluctant to recommend because I know that it will not appeal to large swathes of my reading friends, but which I cannot leave out because it is, quite possibly, the best work of fiction I have ever read:

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara