Monthly Roundup – May 2018

As expected, May was a busy month in my off-line life which limited available reading time. I managed to review 13 books and attend one literary event. What was lacking in quantity was more than made up for in quality. This month’s books included some outstanding reads.

In fiction I read four books from small independent publishers and two from the bigger houses. These included a psychological thriller which I read in preparation for the event I attended. Although I now read far fewer genre books than I once did, this title reminded me why they remain popular with so many.

El Hacho by Luis Carrasco, published by époque press
Old Baggage by Lissa Evans, published by Doubleday

What Happened To Us by Ian Holding, published by Little Island Press
My Mother’s Secret by Sanjida Kay, published by Corvus Books

Missing by Alison Moore, published by Salt
Ironopolis by Glen James Brown, published by Parthian Books

 

I managed just the one book of translated fiction this month.

My Cat Yugoslavia by Pajtim Statovci (translated by David Hackston), published by Pushkin Press

 

And three books of short stories, all enjoyed.

The Book of Riga, published by Comma Press
Dazzling the Gods by Tom Vowler, published by Unbound

Bristol, published by Dostoyevsky Wannabe

 

From my non fiction pile I plucked this – fabulous and recommended.

Under the Rock by Benjamin Myers, Published by Elliot & Thompson

 

I posted two reviews originally written for Bookmunch – fiction from the Women’s Prize shortlist, and an excellent if somewhat involved non fiction book.

Sight by Jessie Greengrass, published by John Murray
Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst by Robert Sapolsky, published by Vintage

 

I travelled to Bristol to attend a friendly event for writers.

Novel Nights in Bristol, with guest speaker Sanjida Kay

 

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.

I am hoping that June will offer more time to read, although with my older children home from university and my younger sitting exams this may prove a challenge. I do, however, have a literary event that I am very excited about attending – the Greenwich Book Festival. With tickets booked for five of their planned panels I expect to have plenty to write about next month alongside my reviews.

 

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Monthly Roundup – April 2018

April has been a busy month for family related activities. As my children grow older I see less of them so prioritise in their favour when we can be together. A local road closure and the ongoing engineering work on the GWR affected my ability to travel so I did not attend any literary events. Added to these issues I was working my way through an 800 page non fiction book which, although fascinating, proved more technical than expected and would not be rushed.

I posted reviews for 16 books in April and interviewed one author – links are below. However, the month opened with a random opinion piece that was inspired by some negative debates on social media around book blogging and negative reviews. You may read it here: Random Musings: Book love and negative reviews

On then to the books. As long time readers will know I have a particular fondness for the small presses and am always happy to discover a new one. Ampersand Publishing sent me four titles which I devoured. These included two poetry collections:

Recipe for being a Woman by Hermione Cameron
Echoing by Elliot Koubis

and two works of fiction:

Tumours by Chay Collins (nominated for the Saboteur Award for Best Novella)
The Goldberg Variations by Robert Hainault

I also reviewed a translated poetry collection from the fabulous Little Island Press:

Shortening the Candle’s Wick by Andres Ehin and Ly Seppel (translated by Ilmar Lehtpere)

Unusually for me there was only one book of translated fiction this month, although I did get to interview the author:

The Gradual Disappearance of Jane Ashland by Nicolai Houm (translated by Anna Paterson), published by Pushkin Press
Author Interview: Nicolai Houm

I posted a couple of reviews originally written for Bookmunch

The Trick to Time by Kit de Waal
The One Who Wrote Destiny by Nikesh Shukla

In non fiction I posted reviews of a nature monograph that made me want to return to Ireland and revisit the places described, and a best selling memoir.

Eagle Country by Seán Lysaght, published by Little Toller
Educated by Tara Westover, published by Hutchinson

I also posted a review of the latest non fiction offering from Galley Beggar Press:

Wrestliana by Toby Litt

Other fiction reviews posted included the following:

The Sound of My Voice by Ron Butlin, published by Polygon
Claudia by Anthony Trevelyan, published by Sceptre

You by Phil Whitaker, published by Salt
Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill, published by Lightning Books

Mayhem and Death by Helen McClory, published by 404 Ink

Finally, I acquired a new hen enclosure this month which got me so excited I had to write about it: Constructing the Perfect Walk-in Run

 

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.

Next month I have two short breaks planned with my family. It is therefore likely to be a quieter month on social media and on my blog, although there may be pictures of my adventures.

Jx

Random Musings: Book love and negative reviews

It has been a while since I posted a random opinion piece. This one percolated following a number of discussion threads on social media last week about book bloggers who post negative reviews. Some of the threads became quite heated and even personal at times. Umbrage was taken and participants were blamed for not behaving in a way others desired. It was all very unfortunate – at one stage a publisher became involved. My experience of book bloggers is of a supportive community. As numbers have grown I wonder if it has factionalised. Individual’s views will inevitably differ but infighting and its corollary, taking sides, is never good PR. We are, after all, trying to draw attention to the books, not to ourselves. At least that is where I am coming from.

I post a review for every book I read so, unavoidably, some will detail negative aspects. Whatever my thoughts I try to maintain balance. Few books are perfect and some flaws grate more than others. I will always try to explain why. The purpose of my writing is to inform readers. Even a book that I adore will not appeal to everyone.

I don’t have a problem with those who choose to post only positive reviews – their blog, their decision. What I object to is any attempt to force others to follow suit. The start point for last week’s discussion was the increasingly ubiquitous blog tour. As these are used as marketing tools – the organiser, although not the participants, is paid by the author or publisher – I can understand why there is pressure, even when not explicitly stated, to create positive posts. Most book bloggers will not have had a chance to read the book being promoted when participation is agreed. Suitable alternative content is not always readily available. Once again I felt relief at my decision to withdrew myself from blog tours at the end of last year.

Most of the books I now read are sent to me by publishers. Book post delights me and I am grateful for every parcel I receive. It can take some time to get to a title so when I post my review I will tag the publisher on social media. I do this that they may be aware that a book they have sent has been reviewed as requested. What they do with my words is up to them.

I only tag the author if the gist of my review is positive – few are entirely so because perfection is rare. If I have enjoyed a book I hope that knowing this will please its creator.

No reader, and book bloggers are first and foremost readers, wishes to spend time reading a book that leaves them dissatisfied. This is why I have a review policy – to try to limit books sent to me to those I will be happy to endorse. I derive pleasure from working with publishers to spread the book love but I am not in their employ. I neither ask for nor receive payment. My reviews and recommendations are willingly and freely provided.

Once I have reviewed a book I like to check out other readers’ opinions on a variety of sites. Whether or not we agree I will share many of these on my own social media timelines (although only rarely if part of a blog tour due to repetition – my choice). I enjoy reading reviews that are well written and reasoned; I want to know why the reader thought as they did. I will also share author interviews or related articles. Having read a book I maintain an interest and do my small part to increase visibility of the title.

The book blogging community has grown and its power is being recognised and harnessed. On this site, my site, I am more than happy to participate but I will not be shackled. I hope that the camaraderie amongst bloggers, and friendly relationships with publishers, can be maintained even if we do choose to run our blogs in different ways. Books are my passion, but I will not love them all.

Monthly Roundup – March 2018

March has been an unusually busy month for travelling, with literary gigs attended in London, Bath, Bristol and Manchester. Along the way I reviewed sixteen books, many of them translated fiction. I also posted one interview, with an independent publisher I have only recently discovered. First though, the books.

Reviews of translated fiction:

Reviews of British fiction:

Anthology of  non fiction and fiction:

Reviews originally posted on other sites

Interview with an independent publisher

Gigs attended:

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.

Monthly Roundup – February 2018

January on my blog focused on the Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, with just a few reviews of the books I was reading thrown in for good measure. This month saw a return to a more familiar format with a focus on new book reviews, although not all recent releases as I kept my New Year promise to myself and also plucked titles from further down my TBR pile.

These included a number of medical themed books. The announcement of the Wellcome Book Prize longlist reminded me that I still had several titles unread that I was eager to get to.

Click on the cover to find out more about the book from the publisher’s website – the links below will take you to my reviews.

  

  

 

I posted four book reviews originally written for other sites.

  

  

 

There were also original reviews of several new releases and books from my TBR pile.

Non-Fiction:

Fiction:

Poetry

 

I attended one book event, travelling to Manchester for

I will be posting more about the author and publisher panels and talks next week.

I posted one interview this month, with

Next month I have a number of literary outings to look forward to, including the winners event for the Republic of Consciousness Prize on the 20th. I also have more excellent books to read – thank you to the publishers who send me their titles for review.

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

Monthly Roundup – January 2018

We made it through January. I know illness has dogged a lot of us this month – if you are still suffering I wish you a speedy recovery.

I started the month with a few thoughts on the year just past. I have now been blogging for over five years and my site continues to evolve as I work out the ongoing direction I wish to take.

My first review of the year was for Alison Weir’s Six Tudor Queens: Jane Seymour – The Haunted Queen which is to be published by Headline in May. I had intended to include this as one of my end of year books to look forward to in 2018 but ran out of reading time over the festive season. My new Fitbit encouraged me to get out walking which was probably a good thing.

I then took a week’s break as I had a family holiday to enjoy and a big feature planned for the remainder of the month. These things take time to organise and prepare.

Those who follow my blog regularly will be aware that this month has mostly been about The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses, who last summer invited me to join their reader panel and help judge submissions for the prize. After the longlist was announced in November I contacted the longlisted publishers inviting them and their authors to answer a few questions or write a guest post for my blog. The before Christmas period is just about the busiest time of year for those who provide us with books so I am grateful for the positive responses received.

As part of this feature I posted author interviews with:

I included publisher interviews with:

I received guest posts from:

I am also grateful to my fellow judges, Graham and Paul Fulcher, who offered their carefully considered and detailed reviews to run alongside the content I received from authors and publishers. As I had already posted my reviews of the longlisted books I felt that these alternative thoughts added to the feature.

My bookish adventures took me along a new path when I participated in my first ever podcast, adding a few thoughts on one of the longlisted books – We that are young by Preti Taneja – alongside interesting interviews with the author and with the publisher. You may find out more about the podcast, created by The YYY Books Podcast, by clicking here.

As well as my Republic Of Consciousness Prize posts, I published a few reviews of other books I managed to read this month:

I attended two bookish events in January. The first was in Bristol, a stop on the New Voices of 2018 roadshow organised by Headline. The second was the Judges Dinner for the Republic of Consciousness Prize. Held in London this gave me the opportunity to meet my fellow judges offline, and to discuss the longlist with a view to whittling it down to the five or six titles that will go forward from here. I will be writing more about this event next month after the shortlist is announced in Manchester on 19th February.

I was privileged to receive a number of new titles from publishers which have been added to my TBR pile. For those interested, I post pictures of my book post on my Instagram feed. Thank you to all the publishers who send me books to review. Like most book bloggers my TBR pile is vast and enticing. If I have received your book I assure you I am doing my best to find time to read it.

Thank you also to the many readers, bloggers and publishers who share my words on their social media feeds. I very much appreciate your support. February will see a return to more personal book reviews. I hope you enjoy reading my thoughts.

Looking back and looking forward

My little family and I have raised our glasses to the old year and welcomed in the new. There was discussion about how worrying the world has become with extremism on the rise and compassionate leaders apparently in short supply. There was concern expressed over upcoming exams. There was also much to share and look forward to. I recognise how fortunate I am in the people I know from my small corner of rural Wiltshire and among my wider online friends, from whom I have received much encouragement and generosity in the past twelve months. I go forward into 2018 aiming to share this kindness and support.

I reviewed 187 books last year, putting myself under pressure at times to meet deadlines. To enable proper appreciation of a book, which is the least the author deserves, I believe it should be read for pleasure; despite the quality of prescribed texts I did not enjoy the books I was required to read at school. My desire to read in a positive frame of mind was one of the reasons that led me to withdraw from participation in blog tours at the end of last year, a decision that affected the number of titles I received from certain publishers. Despite this, it is not a decision I regret.

Also last year I created a review policy page for my blog although it still needs some work to achieve its aim. I find it a challenge to succinctly describe the books I wish to read, or not read – I have enjoyed so many titles that would not fit within the parameters I have attempted to set down. I may also remove my email address from this policy page as, despite what I have stated, I have been approached by self-publishing authors and feel uncomfortable declining their creations. I have no doubt that many of their books could be worth reading but without the filter of a publishing house that does not charge its authors to put out their work I am reluctant to add them to my vast TBR pile. My refusal to read ebooks (remember what I said about reading for pleasure?) results in the authors incurring a cost sending me their book and I feel guilt if I do not manage to read in a timely manner. So many books, so little time.

I have much to look forward to in the coming year. As well as reading new books to come and unread books from my pile, I will be revisiting the Republic of Consciousness Prize longlist in preparation for the judges meeting. Prior to this gathering I plan to post interviews with several of the authors and publishers whose work is being considered along with guest posts and other content. I am very excited about this prize and am delighted to be involved.

A highlight of 2017 was my participation in the Guardian newspaper’s Not the Booker Prize process which culminated in me being invited to join the judging panel. Reading for the RofC prize and the Not the Booker prize introduced me to many books that I would not otherwise have discovered and included some true gems.

Another endeavour that I have derived satisfaction from in 2017 has been contributing to Bookmunch. This site focuses on the sorts of books I particularly enjoy and I am delighted to be on the team. If you are unfamiliar with their work, do check it out.

I ended the year on my blog with a series of reviews for books to be published in the months to come. Of these I particularly recommend The Stone Tide by Gareth E. Rees, Come and Find Me by Sarah Hilary, On The Bright Side by Hendrik Groen (translated by Hester Velmans) and Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon. There are, of course, many more new books to be read and I look forward to sharing my thoughts.

Those who follow my Instagram may have noticed a decrease in bookish posts over the festive season. I have been enjoying some down time with my family, taking walks and recharging my batteries. This will continue through to next weekend when we have some time away planned. In the coming year it is my aim to find a better balance between my book blogging and other pursuits.

For me, book blogging is about more than just reading and writing reviews. I have literary events to look forward to, guest spots on various media arranged, and hope to meet many more authors, publishers, event organisers and bloggers as the year progresses. I am grateful to have found the bookish world to be a friendly and supportive place thus far. It is my fervent wish to make a positive contribution.

A huge thank you to the publishers who provide me with many of the books I review, and to the publicists who have kept me on their lists. Thank you also to all who have read, commented and shared my words. Although I may not say so directly each time, I always appreciate your support. I hope that you have found books that inspired, gave you pleasure, and facilitated a better understanding of different cultures and points of view. I wish you all much good reading, and a Happy New Year.