Books of the year … so far

As we’re just past halfway through the year, I thought I’d take a quick look back at my favourites so far – all books getting 10/10 from me…

tigermanI’ll start at the top – my book of the year, so far, is one I’ve recently reviewed for issue two of Shiny New Books. Tigerman was the first novel I’ve read by the amazing Nick Harkaway. I loved this book, and I became a complete fangirl (if you can say that of a 54-year-old woman – Ed) when I met him at a recent event (see here). Tigerman is an eco-thriller about an post-empire island paradise and features superheroes and romance in a style Graham Greene would have been proud of. And, I’ve got Nick’s first two novels still to read – Yay!

hangover squareBack in January, I experienced the beautiful prose of Patrick Hamilton for the first time when I read Hangover Square. This story of unrequited love in darkest Earls Court just before the war was simply stunning. Very dark though… See my review here.

Life-After-LifeI’d been put off reading Kate Atkinson by not liking her debut when I tried it many years ago. I’m so glad our book group chose Life after Life – for I loved it. It’s sheer cleverness won me over within pages and then I started to appreciate the writing. See my review here.

It’s back to Shiny New Books for two last favourites – well it is a book recommendations site after all:

bedsit disco queenBedsit Disco Queen is Tracey Thorn’s autobiography of her life in the world of pop and it is such fun and so brilliantly written all the way through (unlike a certain other popstar’s memoir!). You don’t need to be a fan of Everything But the Girl, the band which formed the major part of her musical career, but after reading this you’ll want to be one.

into the treesAnd lastly, Into the Trees by Robert Williams. Everything that forests stand for, both good and bad, is used to great effect in this understated contemporary novel about the effects a forest has on a family living in it. It deserves a wider readership – see my review here.

So that’s my top five so far out of over sixty books read. It’ll be interesting to see if they’re still in my books of the year by the end of December.  There’s some big names coming up for autumn – McEwan, Waters, Amis, and John Cleese’s memoir to mention just a few that I’ll be reading…

What has been your best read of the year so far? Do share …

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To explore any of these titles further on Amazon, click on the author name below:
Harkaway, Hamilton, Atinson, Thorn, Williams.

 

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A’s HoBks Q&A

Mostly BookbrainsI blame Simon for this!  😀

Just over a week ago, my pal and co-editor of Shiny New Books decided to ask his readers if there were any questions that they wanted to ask him in a post here. A few days later, he published his answers here. It was fascinating reading, and Simon’s answers were really thoughtful.

Now for the catch… He suggested he’d like to see other people have a go too!

DSCF1910So here is my invitation to you.

Ask me anything you want … it doesn’t have to be about books, book groups or blogging – cats, science, working in a school, the Oxford environs – anything.

In a few days time, I’ll post my answers.  (I reserve the right not to answer any rude or over-prying questions!)

Two *Five* Star Books for you …

One of the greatest pleasures of reading and blogging is to discover books that I adore, that few will have heard of, and then to bring them to a wider audience. Recently I read and reviewed two such novels for Shiny New Books. Below are tasters of my reviews with links to the full thing…

American Sycamore by Karen Fielding

american sycamore
It is lovely to be able to heartily recommend a début novel published by a smaller independent publisher – American Sycamore is exactly that and it deserves a wide readership.

Set in the 1970s, it’s a coming of age story of two siblings, Alice and Billy Sycamore who grow up in a small town by the Susquehanna River in north-eastern USA. I know that coming of age novels aren’t to everyone’s taste, but this one is very special. The descriptions of character, landscape and the river which runs through it are amazing and the meandering story is told by a narrator you warm to instantly. (10/10)

Click here to read the full review.

Into the Trees by Robert Williams

into the trees

Imagine a house in the middle of the forest, somewhere you feel safe, at home; somewhere to hide away perhaps? What springs to mind? One such place I instantly thought of was the seven dwarves’ cottage in Snow White. Then I thought of the gingerbread cottage in Hansel and Gretel – except that wasn’t exactly a safe house until they’d disposed of the wicked witch.

I hasten to add that Into the Trees is no fairy-tale. It is a thoroughly contemporary novel, not even a reworking of a fairy-tale and yet, you can’t help thinking of them all the time when reading it. Forests in themselves are potent symbols of nature, spirits and earth-magic, remember the forest of Fangorn, home of the Ents, and Tom Bombadil in the Old Forest in Lord of the Rings for instance. Add a house in a clearing and you’re back in Grimm territory, or is it more like the Cullen’s modern glass sanctuary in the Twilight film? Whichever, you know that something bad happened when someone came knocking at the door looking for Snow White …

This novel isn’t a thriller – you encounter the key event in the prologue.  Instead it explores the effect of living in the forest before and after this event on a family.  Deep, complex and superb writing – dare one hope for a happy ending?  (10/10)

Click here to read the full review.

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Source: Both courtesy of the publishers – Thank you.
To explore further on Amazon UK (affiliate link), please click below:

American Sycamore by Karen Fielding. Published February 2014 by Seren Books, paperback original 200 pages.

Into the Trees by Robert Williams. Published April 2014 by Faber & Faber, Hardback 352 pages.

Getting back to Banks…

The Quarry by Iain Banks

 

SNB logo tinyI was saddened at Iain Banks’s untimely death last year, and although I added his last novel The Quarry to my collection, I couldn’t read it straight away. Nine months later, it was an opportune time to read it – coinciding nicely with the paperback issue and the launch of Shiny New Books.

QuarrySo, you can read my review here.  It’s not his best novel but it is made all the more poignant in the fact that at its heart is a man dying of cancer and Banks himself didn’t know he was in the same predicament when he started writing it.
I shall be linking my review to my Banksread tab at the top of the page. I also hope that having read The Quarry will kickstart my (re)reading project.

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
The Quarryby Iain Banks. Pub 2013. Abacus paperback 384 pages.

Annabel elsewhere – The Gospel of Loki

For the past couple of months, book reviews have been a bit thinner on the ground because I’ve been reading a lot for the first issue of Shiny New Books. In subsequent issues, we hope to spread out the reviewing a bit more amongst a whole host of wonderful bloggers who are also writing for us. (If you’d like to join the gang, do send an email to info@shinynewbooks.co.uk).

gospel-of-lokiBut I can now do some linky posts … Today I’d love to direct you to my review of The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M Harris (yes there is an ‘M’, and yes it’s the same Joanne Harris as Chocolat). Click here to read the review and feel free to leave comments here or there or both.

The Gospel of Loki is a really fun take on the Norse Myths and I loved it. It is totally different to A.S.Byatt’s Ragnarok which I recently read and reviewed here.  For all it’s lightness in the way Harris tells the story of Loki, Odin, all the other Norse Gods and Ragnarok, the underpinning myth is all there though.  It also has the most gorgeous cover with a myriad of little gold leaf highlights which don’t show up on the picture. (8.5/10)

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Source: Own bought copy. To explore more about this book on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris, pub Feb 2014 by Gollancz, 320 pages, hardback.

 

It’s a ‘twofer’ – today you get 2 milestones for the price of 1

Firstly – I’ve reached a blogging milestone.

THIS IS MY 1000th POST!!!

I’ve been blogging since September 2008, which means I’ve managed on average 181.818 recurring posts per year, or a post almost every other day. Bloomin’ ‘eck! How did that happen?  But – forget all about that!

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Secondly, today is the first day that I can officially tell you about my new project.  The website SHINY NEW BOOKS will go live at approximately 9am (BST) on Monday 7th April, i.e. in a week’s time.  Please click through NOW and subscribe to our email newsletter, so you don’t miss a thing!  

Together with three of my best blog-friends: Victoria, Simon and Harriet, we are proudly launching SHINY NEW BOOKS – a new online book recommendations magazine.  I hope you’re a little bit curious about how this came about?

Well … Victoria had posted on her blog about her ideal online books magazine. I’d been commenting elsewhere about the lack of trusted reviews in the press these days and that most of the reviews seemed to be non-fiction, and that I thought there was room for a blogger-led review magazine. Victoria spotted this, and bless her, contacted me (thank you 🙂  ). We thought we’d give it a go and see what happened.  One of the first things we realised was that we needed more people on the editorial team. We said ‘Simon T’ simultaneously and luckily for us he said, ‘Yes’.  Then the three of us said, we need a fourth editor – and we all said ‘Harriet’ and she said yes too!   A couple of Skype calls later, and Shiny New Books was born.

Our intent from the start has been to harness the expertise of our blogging contacts to bring you well-written reviews of a great selection of books you might want to read, be it fiction or non-fiction, contemporary or reprinted.  A lot of wonderful UK bloggers have contributed towards our first issue, and we thank them sincerely – we couldn’t do it without them.

The main thrust of SNB will be quarterly, following UK publishers’ catalogues, so the first issue features reviews of books published from Jan 2014 through to early April. However, we’ll have a mini-issue in May with additional reviews, and the email newsletter will be monthly-ish and with competitions and discussion threads and links to additional reviews.

One of the areas that we are proudest of is our ‘BookBuzz‘ section. We’ve been talking to authors, publishers and other specialists and commissioning a whole load of articles about authors’ processes, influences and stories; how books come about; and background articles and information to books featured in our main review sections.

The four of us are, of course, terribly excited about Shiny New Books and we hope we can rely on you to visit, join in, and spread the word.

Please also visit our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/shinynewbooks and twitter: https://twitter.com/shinynewbooks and follow/like us.

THANK YOU!

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