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Anticipated Books (Summer-Fall) 2014: Fiction & Thrillers

2014Welcome to the fourth post in my Anticipated Books series for the summer and fall of 2014. Today it’s time for my mainstream fiction and thriller picks. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them!  Continue reading »

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Sue Monk Kidd – The Secret Life of Bees

suemonkkidd-thesecretlifeofbeesLily has grown up believing she accidentally killed her mother when she was just four years old. Now at fourteen, she yearns for forgiveness and a mother’s love. Living on a peach farm in South Carolina with her harsh and unyielding father, she has only one friend: Rosaleen, a black servant.

When racial tension explodes one summer afternoon, and Rosaleen is arrested and beaten, Lily is compelled to act. Fugitives from justice, the pair follow a trail left by the woman who died ten years before. Finding sanctuary in the home of three beekeeping sisters, Lily starts a journey as much about her understanding of the world, as about the mystery surrounding her mother.

When The Secret Life of Bees was first published in 2002, the book grabbed my attention but I was still a penurious student, so I didn’t buy the book and I rather lost sight of it. So when I received a package with both The Secret Life of Bees and Sue Monk Kidd’s newest novel The Invention of Wings I was really stoked to get the chance to finally read it. This week I finally sat down with The Secret Life of Bees and it was an interesting read.  Continue reading »

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Anticipated Books (Winter-Spring) 2014: Fiction & Thrillers

2014Welcome to the fourth post in my Anticipated Books series for the winter and spring of 2014. Today it’s time for my mainstream fiction and thriller picks. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them! Continue reading »

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Anticipated Reads (Summer-Fall) 2013


2013After my Anticipated Books for Summer/Fall 2013 posts of the past few weeks, today I bring you the fifteen books I anticipate reading the most in the coming six months. As usual it’s a list of fifteen, as there are just too many good books to choose from and I always have a hard time getting the list down to the more usual ten books. There are a lot of books I’m really anticipating reading that I excluded right off the bat, such as all the next books in series I’ve been reading. If I loved a book last year, you can bet that I’ll want to read the next instalment. Examples of these are Lou Morgan’s Blood and Feathers: Rebellion, Mark Lawrence’s Emperor of Thorns, Elspeth Cooper’s The Raven’s Shadow, Emma Newman’s All is Fair, and Chris F. Holm’s The Big Reap. I’ve also left off any duh-factors, such as Scott Lynch’s The Republic of Thieves, because honestly, who isn’t looking forward to that one? So below in alphabetical order by author is my list, with a little explanation of why I really can’t wait to read these books. Do you agree or would you have chosen differently from the lists I posted recently?   Continue reading »

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Anticipated Books (Summer-Fall) 2013: Fiction

2013Welcome to the fourth post in my Anticipated Books series for the second half of 2013. Today it’s time for my mainstream fiction picks. For some of these I already have an (e)ARC or review copy, so they’ll definitely be read and reviewed. And for the rest, I’ll have to see whether I get the chance to get my hands on them!

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Jack Wolf – The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones [Blog Tour]

jackwolf-rawheadbloodybonesThe year is 1750.

Tristan Hart, precociously talented student of medicine practising under the legendary Dr William Hunter. His obsession is the nature of pain and preventing it; the relationship between mind and matter and the existence of God. A product of the Age of Enlightenment, he is a rational man on a quest to cut through darkness and superstition with the brilliant blade of science.

Tristan Hart, madman and deviant. His obsession is the nature of pain, and causing it. A product of an age of faeries and goblins, gnomes and shape-shifting gypsies, he is on a quest to arouse the perfect scream and slay the daemon Raw Head who torments his dark days and long nights.

Troubled visionary, twisted genius, loving sadist. What is real and what imagined in Tristan Hart’s brutal, beautiful, complex world?

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones is definitely something different. It’s a dark and twisted tale that leaves the reader both uncomfortable and fascinated. Wolf makes some interesting stylistic choices that might be hard for people to overlook, as they can be quite alienating if one isn’t prepared for them. However, I hope that people do look past these challenges, because beyond the presentation there is a tale worth reading and some interesting questions to ponder.

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Sam Thompson – Communion Town

samthompson-communiontownA city in ten chapters.

Every city is made of stories: stories that intersect and diverge, stories of the commonplace and the strange, of love and crime, of ghosts and monsters.

In this city an asylum seeker struggles to begin a new life, while a folk musician pays with a broken heart for a song and a butcher learns the secrets of the slaughterhouse. A tourist strays into a baffling ritual and a child commits an incalculable crime; private detectives search the streets for their archenemies and soulmates and, somewhere in the shadows, a figure which might once have been human waits to tell its tale.

Communion Town is a city in ten chapters: a place imagined differently by each citizen, mixing the everyday with the gothic and the uncanny; a place of voices half-heard, sights half-glimpsed and desires half-acknowledged.

It’s been a while time since I’ve read a contemporary, mainstream work, that could be categorised as ‘literary fiction’, the last one was in August last year, and that one had a strong genre slant, as it was a post-apocalyptic tale. And while Communion Town certainly has genre elements, for me it falls squarely in the literary fiction section—and yes, I agree, literary fiction is as much a genre as speculative fiction, but that’s a wholly different discussion and an entirely different post. This collection of ten stories is difficult to describe in one adjective. Interesting doesn’t do it justice, because it’s more than that, it was a thought-provoking read. At the same time, I found reading it really hard work, having to reread passages quite often and generally reading at a slower pace than I usually do. But while at times a bit of a slog, it was never boring. So I find myself at a bit of a loss as to how to judge this book. Taken separately, I’d say many of these stories are quite good, while those that don’t stand as well alone are enhanced by the whole. However, I don’t know whether I’d say that the collection as such worked for me, mostly because despite all being set in the same city, I kept looking for a further cohesion between the tales, a theme if you will, which they all shared. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find it, but I’m not sure whether that’s a failing of the text or me failing as a reader.

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Rosie Garland – The Palace of Curiosities

rosiegarland-thepalaceofcuriousitiesBefore Eve is born, her mother goes to the circus. The star attraction is a raging lion, straight from the heart of Africa. Mama swears she hears the lion sigh, just before it leaps… and when Eve is porn, the story goes, she doesn’t cry – she meows and licks her paws.

When Abel is pulled from the stinking Thames, the mudlarks are sure he is long dead. But as they search his pockets, his eyes crack open. A lucky escape or an act of black magic?

Cast out of Victorian society, Eve and Abel become The Lion Faced Girl and The Flayed Man, star performers in the Palace of Curiosities. And there begins a journey that will entwine their fates forever…

Hot on the heels of another book with a Victorian circus-esque flavour, I got to read an early ARC for The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland. While it is a debut novel, Garland is an award-winning author in other disciplines and it definitely shows in her first long-form offering. It’s a stunning piece of work, with strong themes of identity, acceptance of the Other, and a touchingly unique love story between two fabulous main characters. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the benchmark against which the rest of this year’s debuts will have to measure itself and it’s only the first Monday of the year. 2013 is certainly off to an amazing start.

Told in alternating chapters from the viewpoints of Eve and Abel, The Palace of Curiosities goes a step further to differentiate between the two narrative strands: both are told in first person, but Eve’s chapters are in the past tense, while Abel’s are in the present. This is not just a way to differentiate between the two; it also reflects Abel’s condition. While Abel’s otherness is left largely unexplained, one of its features is that he wakes up every day as a blank slate; he’s literally forgotten who he is, where he is, and what he is supposed to do. Only holding on to a strict routine and the fact that his best friend Alfred looks after him and tells him what he needs to know when he wakes, allows him to move through his days and slowly regain his memories, as if jogging them awake, only to lose them again when he goes to sleep. As a result, Abel lives in a continuous now, with no past and mostly no thoughts of the future, as such, his story can only be told in the present tense.

Due to his strange memory state, his continual present, Abel remains a mystery for much of the book. He’s a kind man, with sometimes surprising skills, since his body remembers what he can do – even if he can’t – but is also rather childlike in his innocence and helplessness. This makes him appealing, as he’s a sweet, vulnerable character in the harsh lower class world of Victorian London. The only times the reader is given glimpses of Abel’s past is through his dreams, which of course are more than just dreams. Through these we see his quest to discover the reason behind his endless resurrections and his numerous attempts to end his existence. They lend this strange, fathomless man some darker edges and only deepen his mystery. Abel’s continual struggle to regain – and keep – his memories is very much connected to a search for identity, to understand who he is, where he came from, and what his raison d’être is. If one doesn’t know their past, how can they know who they are? When Abel finds a way to anchor his memories, through writing them down or through Eve or Alfred, he becomes more distinct and stronger in his sense of self.

Eve on the other hand starts off strong and confident in her otherness. She refuses to shave her pelt and to conform; she regards herself as beautiful as she is, thanks to her imaginary companion Donkey-Skin. But during the novel, Eve slowly seems to lose herself, seems to be whittled down and robbed of her confidence by her husband, Mr Arroner. She loses Eve in being Mrs Arroner and in her desire to be loved and its only once she meets Abel that she starts to find Eve again. Once she starts to assert herself again, with the help of Lizzie, one of Arroner’s other Curiosities, and Abel, she frees herself and instead of being the Other that needs to be feared, creates an environment for herself where she is the celebrated Other; the neighbourhood mascot, instead of a freak.

Abel and Eve find each other when Abel is recruited by George to be part of Mr Arroner’s collection of human curiosities. In each other they slowly find their way back to themselves; in each other’s eyes they see the truth of themselves, not that which makes them different. It is a sweet romance, though due to Eve’s married state their feelings go unacknowledged for much of the narrative. I loved their slow dance and the air of danger that hangs around their gradual attraction. This unlikely courtship takes place under the scrutiny of the other freaks to be either helped, used to their own advantage or be ignored. The others in the household, mountainous, matronly Lizzie, the painted man George, who is covered in tattoos that tell the stories of Scheherazade and rubber boy Bill, are all fascinating in their own right, especially the first two who have larger role than young Bill. They are all outcasts, either by choice or by fate, and they all have different ways of coping with it. Within the household however, the one ‘normal’ person, Eve’s avaricious and cruel husband, Mr Arroner, is the outcast, disliked by all, except Eve; in this strange house, he is the odd one out.

Garland’s writing is exquisite, feeling both contemporary to its setting, without feeling dated and incredibly atmospheric. The sights, sounds, and smells of the Victorian streets are evoked in full measure, through both a keen ear for speech and dialogue and wonderful descriptive passages. My one complaint here would be that it didn’t feel set beyond Victorian Britain. The story is ostensibly set in London, but it could have been set in another large British town as easily, as it didn’t seem firmly rooted in its London environment.

The Palace of Curiosities is a curious beast; part fantasy, part historical fiction, part magical (sur)realism, it’s all parts amazing. For such a slim book, it contains a big story, with deep themes and wonderful characters. It was an enchanting read, which deeply impressed me. I think this will be one of the must-read books on 2013, though not everyone might be as taken with it as I am. The book will be released in the UK at the end of March. Be sure to pick a copy and discover the delights of The Palace of Curiosities for yourself.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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Anticipated Books (Winter/Spring) 2013: Fiction

2013Literary fiction, modern fiction, contemporary fiction, mainstream fiction. I always struggle with what to call the books not shelved in one of the genres in the bookstore, so I decided to go with just fiction. I know it’s silly because everything on my other lists is fiction as well, but hey, I have to call it something! So in today’s Anticipated Books post we take a look at non-genre fiction. Don’t forget to check back tomorrow for the round-up with my most Anticipated Reads!

Sophie Divry – The Library of Unrequited Love (Maclehose Press)sophiedivry-thelibraryofunrequitedlove
One morning a librarian finds a reader who was locked in overnight. She starts to talk to him, a one-way conversation that soon gathers pace as an outpouring of frustrations, observations and anguishes.

Two things shine through above all: her shy, unrequited passion for a quiet researcher named Martin, and an ardent and absolute love of books.


ronlyndominique-themapmakerswarRonlyn Dominique – The Mapmaker’s War (Atria)
In an ancient time, in a far away land, a young woman named Aoife is allowed a rare apprenticeship to become her kingdom’s mapmaker, tasked with charting the entire domain. Traveling beyond its borders, she finds a secretive people who live in peace, among great wealth. They claim to protect a mythic treasure, one connected to the creation of the world. When Aoife reports their existence to her kingdom, the community is targeted as a threat. Attempting to warn them of imminent danger, Aoife is exiled for treason and finds refuge among the very people who had been declared her enemy. With them, she begins a new life surrounded by kindness, equality, and cooperation. But within herself, Aoife has no peace. She cannot share the grief she feels for the home and children she left behind. She cannot bear the warrior scars of the man she comes to love. and when she gives birth to their gifted daughter, Aoife cannot avoid what the child forces her to confront about her past and its truth.

Michael Marshall – The Forgotten (Orion)michaelmarshall-theforgotten
It should have been the greatest day of David’s life. A trip to New York, wife by his side, to visit his new publisher. Finally, after years of lonely struggle it looks as though the gods of fate are on his side. But on the way back to Penn station, a chance encounter changes all of that. David bumps into a man who covertly follows him and, just before he boards the train, passes by him close enough to whisper: ‘Remember me.’

When the stranger turns up in his home town, David begins to understand that this man wants something from him…something very personal that he may have no choice but to surrender.

Meanwhile, back in New York, ex-lawyer John Henderson does his girlfriend Kristina a favour and agrees to talk to Catherine Warren, an acquaintance of hers who believes she’s being stalked by an ex-lover. But soon John realises that Catherine’s problem is far more complex and terrifying than he could ever have imagined…

There are people out there in the shadows, watching, waiting. They are the forgotten. And they’re about to turn.

peggyriley-amityandsorrowPeggy Riley – Amity & Sorrow (Tinder Press)
In the wake of a suspicious fire, Amaranth gathers her children and flees from the cult where her children were born and raised. Now she is on the run with no one but her barely-teenage daughters, Amity and Sorrow, neither of whom have ever seen the outside world, to help her. After four days of driving without sleep, Amaranth crashes the car, leaving the family stranded at a gas station, unsure of what to do next. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of a downtrodden farmer, a man who offers sanctuary when the women need it most.

Patrick Ness – The Crane Wife (Canongate)patrickness-thecranewife
One night George Duncan is woken by a noise in his garden. Impossibly, a great white crane has tumbled to earth, shot through its wing by a giant arrow. Unexpectedly moved, he helps the crane, and from the moment he watches it fly off, George’s life is transformed. The next day, he meets and falls in love with the enigmatic Kumiko. It is a passion that burns hot as a volcano. But this passion comes at a terrible price.

Wise, magical, romantic and funny, The Crane Wife is hugely entertaining. A celebration of the disruptive and redemptive power of love and a hymn to the creative imagination, it is a completely enchanting novel.

briankimberling-snapperBrian Kimberling – Snapper (Tinder Press)
“Told with precise and memorable prose in beautifully rendered, time-shifted vignettes, Snapper richly evokes the emotions of coming to adulthood. Nathan’s fascination with the physical world and with living an authentic and meaningful life, his disdain for jingoistic environmentalism, and his struggle to find balance between the cloistered liberalism of college towns and the conservatism of small towns are thoughtfully explored. All this and it’s funny, too. Whether it’s a snapping turtle biting off a friend’s finger or a borrowed dog finding a human thigh bone in a cemetery, Kimberling writes gracefully about absurdity, showing a rich feeling for the whole range of human tragicomedy. A delightful debut.”

So says US publishing bible Booklist about Snapper by Brian Kimberling, a debut novel published under Headline’s new literary imprint Tinder Press in May 2013. With shades of David Vann and Annie Proulx, Snapper is a coming-of-age story, loosely based on the author’s teenage years as a bird watcher in backwater Indiana. The novel started as a collection of short stories, but Brian’s course tutor on the Bath Spa Creative Writing Course, Tessa Hadley, saw a glimmer of something special and Snapper the novel was formed. Set in a brilliantly observed rural Indiana, ‘the bastard son of the Midwest ‘, it is a book about birdwatching, being in love with the wrong woman, and about a man’s relationship with the town he loves to hate. 

Anton Di Sclafani – The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Tinder Press)antondisclafani-theyonahlosseeridingcampforgirls
1930s America, southern high society: Part love story, part coming-of-age novel, this is the moving, raw and exquisitely vivid story of an uncommon girl navigating a treacherous road to womanhood.

Thea Atwell is fifteen years old in 1930, when, following a scandal for which she has been held responsible, she is ‘exiled’ from her wealthy and isolated Florida family to a debutante boarding school in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. As Thea grapples with the truth about her role in the tragic events of 1929, she finds herself enmeshed in the world of the Yonahlossee Riding Camp, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty and equestrienne prowess; where young women are indoctrinated in the importance of ‘female education’ yet expected to be married by twenty-one; a world so rarified as to be rendered immune (at least on the surface) to the Depression looming at the periphery, all overseen by a young headmaster who has paid a high price for abandoning his own privileged roots…

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Peter Heller – The Dog Stars

Hig is a survivor. He has survived the sickness that claimed his wife and family, and the trout he loved to fish. He is coping, just, in the new wilderness of post-apocalyptic America, because he has three things to live for – his beloved dog Jasper, his aggressive but resourceful neighbour, Bangley, and his Cessna aeroplane. Thanks to the plane, he has a lifeline: he can search for food with Jasper, while Bangley keeps watch for feral fellow-outlaws. The problem is that not much fuel is left.

But Hig’s loneliness is becoming unbearable. When he picks up the distorted voice of another human on his radio, he is unable to shake the thought that there might be someone else out there. He knows he must resist looking because the journey is too risky, and there will not be enough fuel to fly back. He must resist, but he can’t. And so, one bleak day, he flies over the horizon, in search of the truth.

What follows is scarier and more life-affirming than he could have imagined.

This might be a somewhat unexpected title to appear as one of my reviews, as its connection to the speculative is tenuous at best – it’s set in a post-apocalyptic America – and it’s not historical or crime fiction either. In fact, I think this falls firmly in the mainstream fiction category. Nevertheless, when a review copy for this title came in the post I was intrigued and added it to my TBR-pile meaning to get to it sooner rather than later. Of course, it did become later rather than sooner, but I’m glad I got to it before the end of the year, as it was an interesting read. I have my share of issues with the story and the writing, but in the end I had to keep reading, just to discover how it ended.

What troubled me the most about this book and what will probably be the biggest issue for most readers is the structure and the writing. Told in a first person narrative voice, this is a voice I’ve never encountered before. Though it not a stream-of-consciousness form, it isn’t far off and at times Hig goes off on tangents and reminiscences that make for confusing sequences. In addition, Heller has Hig add random but’s and and’s into his narration, which for me where highly annoying most of the time. On top of the strange narrative structure, the book is also typographically different; it uses no quotation marks to indicate speech and when in dialogue it sometimes places alternating lines in one paragraph, so that it’s hard to distinguish between the speakers. There is also a distinct scarcity of comma’s and lots of short paragraphs with blank lines in between. While all of this makes for a unique reading experience, it doesn’t necessarily make it a smooth one.

What bothered me story wise is the fact that some elements of the story seemed illogical. I couldn’t fathom why in the nine years since the Flu there haven’t appeared any non-combative groups of survivors, other than the arguably not-so-non-combative Bangley. Similarly, would you really wait nine years to go and explore on the other side of the mountain and look for other survivors? Heller doesn’t really answer these questions, in fact he never really posits them, which I found rather strange.

Where The Dog Stars definitely succeeds however is in emotionally engaging the reader. It’s impossible not to come to care for Hig and even his grouchy companion Bangley. Their interactions and grudging friendship are beautifully addressed with surprising flashes of humour. Hig’s deep and abiding love for his dog Jasper felt genuine and at one point in the novel had me sniffling aloud. When Hig finally goes out to look for the voice behind the crackly transmission he heard and he encounters Pops and Cima we get treated to a soulful exploration of what it means to have to move on after the loss of a spouse, how terrifying and enchanting that sensation of falling in love can be and how hard it is to move beyond the memories.

The Dog Stars has left me with very mixed feelings. I was very much taken with the story and the ultimate message of hope Heller presents the reader with, but with all my issues with the structure and the writing I can’t recommend it whole-heartedly. In the end, I think, how you’ll like this book is very much dependent on the emotional connection you make with both Hig and the narrative. For me that connection wasn’t sufficient to overlook my objections, but if the premise of the story appeals, I’d recommend you give it a try as the story might work far better for you than it did for me.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.

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