Monthly Roundup – December 2018

And so we reach the end of another year and my final monthly roundup. I have decided not to continue with this feature in 2019 as I am unconvinced it adds value. Do let me know if you disagree.

I hope you have enjoyed the festive season and found time to read many good books. I posted reviews for 14 titles in December, thereby bringing my total for the year to 167. This was down on 2017 but I console myself with the thought that I attended more literary events this year and provided detailed write-ups of these alongside my reviews of the titles being promoted.

I publish my books of the year around mid December that anyone interested may purchase them as Christmas presents. 15 books made my books of 2018 list, with Little by Edward Carey coming top by virtue of being a fantastic read and offering wide appeal. By posting my list before the year ends there is a risk that a deserving title will be missed as I do not, of course, cease reading. And lo, this was indeed the case. In the week before Christmas I read an astonishing work of fiction. Ezra Maas is original and compelling – read it and question everything.

The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas by Daniel James, published by dead ink

 

December was a month when I tried to make inroads into my vast TBR pile, particularly the books from small publishers who send me generous quantities of ARCs to review. I found those I picked up a mixed bag.

Fiction

 

Vanish in an Instant by Margaret Millar, published by Pushkin Vertigo
The Teahouse Detective: The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy, published by Pushkin Press

   

Trap by Lilja Sigurðardóttir (translated by Quentin Bates), published by Orenda Books
The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen (translated by David Hackston), published by Orenda Books

   

The Book of Alexander by Mark Carew, published by Salt
Liminal by Bee Lewis, published by Salt

A Small Dark Quiet by Miranda Gold, published by Unbound

Short stories

Quartier Perdu by Sean O’Brien, published by Comma Press

Poetry

Sincerity by Carol Ann Duffy, published by Picador

Non fiction

In the Restaurant by Christoph Ribbat (translated by Jamie Searle Romanelli), published by Pushkin Press

 

I then ended my reading year by starting on my 2019 ARCs, introducing these with a post about the books I have on my New Year pile and those I am looking forward to in the coming year.

I managed to review three upcoming titles over the festive season.

Fiction

   

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, published by Atlantic Books
The Beat of the Pendulum by Catherine Chidgey, published by Lightning Books

Poetry

Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson, published by Jonathan Cape

 

I will be starting the New Year with a short holiday away with my boys and have no reviews scheduled as our destination offers limited internet access. After this brief hiatus expect more reviews and event write-ups, both here and over at Bookmunch where I am pleased to remain a contributor.

As ever I wish to thank the publishers who send me their titles to review – the arrival of a book parcel makes my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. I don’t say it enough but your support is always appreciated. Here’s to a happy and good book filled 2019 for all.

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Monthly Roundup – November 2018

However many times I start a new month thinking I will grant myself more space for other pursuits, I get caught up in reading and my time is gone. I have so many good books impatiently waiting on my TBR pile – this remains such a delicious non-problem. Looking at my stats for November it does at least appear to have been productive. I reviewed twenty books on my blog which means, for the first time this year, I am on track with my Goodreads challenge. I also attended two fabulous author events in Bath, probably my last in 2018 as I eschew the festive season crowds.

Early in the month I noticed some discussion online where bloggers were bemoaning the lack of shares by authors and publishers of their posts. Over the years I have watched a small but steady trickle of bloggers bowing out as the pleasure of the pursuit has waned. This got me thinking about why I devote so much time to producing content that I hope supports those who provide us with books. I process my thoughts by writing them out so put up this post on Writing, reviews and sharing on social mediaIf writers, and that includes book bloggers, wrote for the plaudits many would not persist.

When I say ‘provide us with books’ I don’t mean the free review copies of books that publishers send out to bloggers such as myself – that is another regular accusation from those who do not seem to understand our motivation.

I did go to the library this month as I was eager to read the Booker Prize Winner, Milkman. I enjoyed Anna Burns’ first novel many years ago and was delighted to see an author from my country of birth win this prestigious award.

I also put aside time to read those books on the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist that were languishing on my TBR pile. I would have liked to have seen Murmur win that award.

As you can see from my links to November’s posts below it has been an eclectic reading month – just how I like it to maintain freshness and interest. I have also made a concerted effort to read books that have been on my TBR pile for some time, alongside the newer releases scheduled.

 

Fiction

  

Slip of a Fish by Amy Arnold, published by And Other Stories
Murmur by Will Eaves, published by CB Editions

  

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne, published by Tinder Press
Milkman by Anna Burns, published by Faber & Faber

  

The Blue Salt Road by Joanne M Harris, published by Gollancz
Aftershock by Adam Hamdy, published by Headline

  

The Longbourn Letters: The Correspondence Between Mr Collins and Mr Bennet, by Rose Servitova
The Little Snake by A.L. Kennedy, published by Canongate

 

Translated fiction and short stories

  

And the Wind Sees All by Guðmundur Andri Thorsson (translated by Bjørg Arnadottir and Andrew Cauthery), published by Peirene Press
The Cake Tree In The Ruins by Akiyuki Nosaka (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori), published by Pushkin Press

Shadows on the Tundra by Dalia Grinkevičiutė (translated by Delija Valiukenas), published by Peirene Press

 

Short Stories

  

Our Dreams Might Align by Dana Diehl, published by Splice
Flare and Falter by Michael Conley, published by Splice

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood, published by Bloomsbury

 

Poetry

the uncorrected Billy Childish, published by Tangerine Press

 

Children’s fiction

  

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (20th anniversary edition) by JK Rowling, published by Bloomsbury
Sunny and the Ghosts by Alison Moore, published by Salt

 

Non fiction

  

Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard, published by Profile
Browse: Love Letters to Bookshops Around the World by various authors, published by Pushkin Press

Chicken Unga Fever by Dr Phil Whitaker, published by Salt

 

Literary events

One of my fellow book bloggers commented recently on the number of excellent book events I have had the opportunity to attend. I concur, and these two were special, as you can read in my linked posts.

  

Markus Zusak in Bath
Joanne Harris and Bonnie Hawkins in Bath

 

With the arrival of December we enter into the festive season with its lists of books to buy and best books of the year – more on that from me in due course. I am also compiling a list of those books I am most looking forward to in 2019. Whatever else may be going on in the world, our reading pleasure continues to be well catered for.

If you are considering buying books – they make the best presents and are so easy to wrap – do please support your local independent bookshop. For those like me who dislike crowds remember many bookshops also sell online.

Or you can buy direct from the publisher – for the small presses especially this helps hugely as they struggle to cover costs selling through the mega site that shall not be named. If you click on the covers of the books above you will be offered further information on each book and how to buy it.

As ever I wish to thank the publishers who send me their titles to review – the arrival of a book parcel makes my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. I don’t say it enough but your support is always appreciated.

Random Musings: Writing, reviews and sharing on social media

All writers derive pleasure from their work being read, appreciated and shared. Once published – whether on line or as hard copy – work goes out into the world where it is at the mercy of readers. Responses can be difficult to predict.

As a blogger I can check my stats to see how many people read, like and share my posts. With book reviews this is a long game. Search engines send traffic to my site long after a book’s publication.

I have noticed that some book bloggers complain if their work receives no feedback, especially if neither author nor publisher acknowledges or shares on social media. Whilst I readily admit to the warm, fuzzy feeling such a response generates, I do not consider it either a requirement or a given. When met by on line silence, despite tagging if the post is positive, I do sometimes wonder if my review has not been well received. Have my words not been read as intended? Has the post not been noticed amidst the noise of other activity? Was there better quality content to share on that day?

This got me thinking about why I share other’s writing.

Mostly it is because I happen to spot the piece on my feed, have time to read it and then want to share. This process can be more luck than judgement but the ‘want to share’ aspect is, perhaps, more reasoned.

A pithy or witty review can be a joy to read, whether positive or negative. I have shared reviews of books because I am impressed by the reviewer’s skill.

Certain reviews are better written than others (content, structure, grammar, punctuation). I have chosen not to share Guardian reviews of books I have enjoyed because the review is bland, lacking insight, or contains spoilers – a basic error.

I tend to avoid reviews written for blog tours as so much content created for one title can quickly become repetitive. I prefer social media where content is varied. I may wish to draw attention to the book at another time – a reminder that it still exists.

Everyone is entitled to run their social media accounts as they choose. Nobody is required to share any content – and that includes authors, publishers and publicists.

Reviews say as much about the reviewer as the book and most reviewers acquire a particular style over time. I sometimes share other’s review of a book I have read because the reaction is so different to mine.

Sometimes I spot a review for a book I loved and will share simply to draw attention to the fact that another reader loved it too.

Reading for pleasure does not require the literary deconstruction taught at educational establishments. Being informative in a review may be more broadly useful than admiration from the literati.

At events authors often comment that readers bring to the fore elements of their book that even the author hadn’t been aware of. If a reader doesn’t ‘get’ a book it may simply mean that an element important to the author didn’t resonate with that particular reader. This need not be regarded as a fault of either party.

Following on from this, I am conflicted when authors complain about bad reviews – not the plainly ridiculous such as:

“1*  Didn’t receive my copy, may not have ordered it”

I understand the hurt felt when something that has taken a great deal of time and effort to create is dismissed with what appears lack of basic understanding. Even so, no book is going to be liked by everyone and a review remains a personal opinion.

I should point out that I am always grateful when my posts are liked and shared. There are individuals who I regard fondly as they are particularly supportive of the book blogging community.

I suspect all writers experience moments of doubt when they wonder if the time they devote to creating their words is worthwhile. If writers, and that includes book bloggers, wrote for the plaudits many would not persist.

Monthly Roundup – October 2018

This month’s reading has been a mix of new publications – including several read in preparation for author events – and a few books plucked from my vast TBR pile that I have been eager to get to for ages. I have enjoyed fiction and non fiction, translated works, and even a couple of books aimed at children. In total I posted reviews for 14 titles, including two that I originally wrote for Bookmunch. I also posted write-ups from 8 literary events. It has been a busy bookish month.

If you click on the book covers below you will be taken to publisher information and purchase suggestions. Click on a title and you will be taken to my review.

Translated fiction

  
The White Book by Han Kang (translated by Deborah Smith), published by Portobello Books
Soul of the Border by Matteo Righetto (translated by Howard Curtis), published by Pushkin Press

Fiction

  
Normal People by Sally Rooney, published by Faber & Faber
The Study Circle by Haroun Khan, published by Dead Ink

  
Thin Air by Michelle Paver, published by Orion
Crocodile by Daniel Shand, published by Sandstone Press


Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak, published by Doubleday

Short Stories


Chains: Unheard Voices, published by the MargŌ Collective

Children’s and YA Fiction

  
Captain Pug: The Dog Who Sailed the Seas by Laura James (illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans), published by Bloomsbury
Disbelieved by Beth Webb

Non Fiction

  
For Love & Money by Jonathan Raban, published by Eland
Landfill by Tim Dee, published by Little Toller

  
The 10 Worst of Everything: The Big Book of Bad by Sam Jordison, published by Michael O’Mara Books
The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity by Kwame Anthony Appiah, published by Profile Books

Literary events

  
Rachel Trethewey at Bowood
Adam Kay in Bristol

  
Adelle Stripe and Mick Kitson at the Marlborough Literature Festival
The Corsham Bookshop (for Bookshop Day)

  
Edward Carey in Bath
Tim Dee in Bath

  
Sally Rooney in Bath
Novel Nights in Bristol 
with guest speaker Nikesh Shukla

As ever I wish to thank the publishers who send me their titles to review – the arrival of a book parcel makes my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. I don’t say it enough but your support is always appreciated.

Book Review: For Love and Money

Jonathan Raban is a multi award winning travel writer, critic and novelist. Eland Books has recently released five of his published works including For Love & Money, a memoir of sorts made up of articles and reviews that offer a fascinating insight into the author’s early life and career. First published in 1987 it provides a glimpse of the London literary world before the internet and the subsequent decline of print media.

The book is divided into five sections. The first introduces Raban as a professional writer with close to two decades experience. There is a brief history of his childhood including the burgeoning of his long held desire to become a writer. Although privately schooled he does not describe himself as academic. He attended Hull University rather than Oxbridge. This was in the 1960s when higher education was expanding rapidly. Armed with his newly acquired qualifications Raban secured a salaried job as an assistant lecturer at The University College of Wales at Aberystwyth.

From Aberystwyth he moved to the University of East Anglia where he worked with Malcolm Bradbury. During his time there he encountered students who went on to write best sellers. Raban regarded his tenure as a springboard into what he refers to as Grub Street – the world of literary hacks who write for hire. Bradbury talked to him about the difficulty of freelancing for a living with its need to jump between fiction and journalism, broadcasting and print. Raban was not deterred. The first section of the book finishes with a story accepted by the London Magazine in 1969. On the back of this, the editor invited Raban to review books for the publication. He resigned from his safe, salaried job and moved to London.

The second section opens with details of how a writer could earn a living in literary journalism. Raban wrote book reviews for magazines, took part in arts and book programmes on radio and TV, and wrote pieces for national newspapers. Included is an article he wrote about living in London at this time. It offers a window into the business of reviewing and the importance of the literary editor. As now, the view expressed was that more books were being published yet review space cut. Critics were commissioned to produce a set number of words, often fewer than could do a work serious justice. The remainder of this section is made up of Raban’s reviews of various books about writers, providing a masterclass in the form. Several do end quite abruptly, presumably when the word count had been reached.

The third section is a short history of Raban’s attempts to write plays. He saw this as a gateway to sociability after the solitude of a writer’s life. Television at this time was regarded as the national theatre. Money was available to commission more scripts than would be used, enabling producers to experiment with untried writers. Raban wrote for TV and radio. He is self-deprecating of his efforts.

The fourth section explores the world of the literary magazine where editors value perceived quality over sales figures. This is compared to commercial ventures which could send writers to far flung corners, fully financed, for a commissioned article. The remainder of the section contains several pieces written by Raban for a number of outlets. I was particularly impressed by Christmas In Bournemouth which cuts to the quick – an astute, verging on cruel reportage from a hotel which offers time-tabled entertainments for those whose family’s have inexplicably failed to invite their mostly elderly relatives to join them for the festive season.

The fifth and final section looks at travel writing and, in particular, why people travel. It is mostly made up of reviews of books by other travel writers and articles written on visits to foreign locations. There is also a walk along the banks of the Thames which is a slice of history. Raban came to be known best for his travel writing. His adventures developed from an early enjoyment of fishing to a point where sailing grants him freedom.

Raban has an eye for detail. His use of language is concise and rigorous. Where he writes about his early family life, his relationship with his parents, the insights are piercing. He admits to dramatising facts for effect but suggests all writing does this. Reportage and criticism are still performances for the benefit of the reader.

A prolific American writer of genre fiction tells him:

“It’s a writer’s duty to be an observer, not to show a high profile.”

I suspect there are many authors today who wish this was the case.

Raban’s book is a fascinating history of a freelance writer’s life and methods, personal and professional. It is witty, at times caustic, but always precise and percipient.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Eland.

Monthly Roundup – September 2018

This month I watched as my three children packed their belongings and dispersed, each to a different capital city in the UK. My house feels very quiet. This does mean that I now have plenty of reading time, although I am making a concerted effort to remain active and leave the house each day. Autumn is my favourite season and I wish to wander the fields and watch the leaves turn.

I reviewed fourteen books in September, a good mix of fiction and non fiction including one translated work and a children’s book. I also wrote up one of the literary events I attended.

This was a strong month for fiction.

  

The Life of Almost by Anna Vaught, published by Patrician Press
Francis Plug: Writer in Residence by Paul Ewen, published by Galley Beggar Press

  

The Dominant Animal by Kathryn Scanlan, published by Little Island Press
The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon, published by Virago

  

The Plankton Collector by Cath Barton, published by New Welsh Rarebyte
The Groundsmen by Lynn Buckle, published by époque press

Little by Edward Carey, published by Gallic Books

Buffy is currently my go to TV series for those evenings when I feel the need to switch off my brain. I enjoyed this children’s picture book which takes the key characters and presents them in an appealing form for the next generation.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Kim Smith, published by Quirk Books

My non fiction reads were an eclectic mix.

  

In Search of Lost Books: The forgotten stories of eight mythical volumes by Giorgio van Straten (translated by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre), published by Pushkin Press
Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek and Dave Philpott, published by Unbound

Pearls before Poppies: The Story of the Red Cross Pearls by Rachel Trethewey, published by The History Press

My selection for Bookmunch were all worth reading.

Fiction

Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks, published by Hutchinson Books

Non fiction

  

21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harare, published by Jonathan Cape
The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, published by Profile Books

I attended a party at the aptly named Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights in Bath

Launch Party for The Life of Almost by Anna Vaught

I have quite a few gigs lined up for the coming month and will also be writing up those I attended at the tail end of September but didn’t have time to include here.

As ever I wish to thank the publishers who send me their titles to review – the arrival of a book parcel makes my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. I don’t say it enough but your support is always appreciated.

Monthly Roundup – August 2018

August is my birthday month (I had a lovely day) and also school exam results month (my youngest child attained his place at university) so as a family we have been celebrating. Having reached month’s end this is also the end of summer, although I still have a couple of weeks with all my children home before they disperse, each to a different UK capital city to continue with their studies. I anticipate quieter times ahead.

I was offered a new opportunity early in the month when a producer from my local radio station, BBC Wiltshire, contacted me to ask if I would like to come into their studio in Swindon once a week to recommend a summer read to listeners of the afternoon show. How could I refuse? You may read about, and listen if interested, to my five guest slots by clicking the following links.

Week 1Week 2Week 3Week 4Week 5

The 15 books I read in August proved a mixed success in terms of enjoyment, the smaller presses mostly outperforming the larger houses.

     

Takeaway by Tommy Hazard, published by Morbid Books
Layover by Lisa Zeidner, published by One (Pushkin Press)
Night Driver by Marcelle Perks, published by Urbane

  

Prodigal by Charles Lambert, published by Gallic Books
A Perfect Mother by Katri Skala, published by Hikari Press

A note on this next book…
I had a ticket to a sold out event in Bath, part of Patrick Gale’s latest tour, but offered it back to the bookshop when I realised his latest story wasn’t for me. I hoped that a more appreciative attendee could go along and perhaps buy the book – better for all concerned. In doing this I discovered that the bookshop runs a waiting list – worth knowing if you can’t or no longer wish to attend a popular event.

  

Take Nothing With You by Patrick Gale, published by Tinder Press
Strangers With The Same Dream by Alison Pick, published by Tinder Press

I reviewed two books in the Canongate Myths series for Bookmunch. The latter proved not to be what I had expected, and not in a good way.

  

Weight by Jeanette Winterson
Lion’s Honey by David Grossman (translated by Stuart Schoffman)

I will be attending the Debut Authors event at the Marlborough Literature Festival next month so borrowed (and enjoyed) the books to be discussed from local libraries.

  

Sal by Mick Kitson, published by Canongate
Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe, published by Fleet (Little Brown)

Salt kindly sent me their 2018 short story collection, edited by Nicholas Royle and offering a fine taster of current work in the form. I had only read a couple of these stories previously, in author collections. I do enjoy short stories and must read more of those currently languishing on my TBR mountain.

Best British Short Stories 2018

I also enjoyed three poetry collections. I would happily take more of these.

    

What Are You After? by Josephine Corcoran, published by Nine Arches Press
Certain Manoeuvres by Lydia Unsworth, published by The Knives Forks And Spoons Press
Circling for Gods by Jo Burns, published by Eyewear Publishing

 

I posted two interviews that other sites did with me.

Bookblast: Meet the writer behind my book reading hen avatar
Link Age Southwark:  writing competition judges interview

Judging the writing competition referred to in that second interview will likely keep me busy throughout September, limiting my other reading. My blog may appear unusually quiet.

Finally, as a judge for last year’s Guardian Not the Booker Prize, I and my fellow judges were asked to nominate a wildcard choice to complete their shortlist. We opted for Three Dreams in the Key of G by Marc Nash, published by Dead Ink. If you are following the prize and read the book do let me know your thoughts.

As ever I wish to thank the publishers who send me their titles to review – the arrival of a book parcel makes my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. Your support is always appreciated.