Shiny New Books is an online book recommendation magazine, published four times a year to highlight the best of fiction, nonfiction, reprinted fiction, and literary news in its Bookbuzz section. I now write reviews for them, and the Spring 2015 edition is up today! First up, Robyn Cadwallader’s historical novel The Anchoress, published by the discerning folks at Faber and Faber. Here’s a snippet of my review:
Imagine: you’re a woman in England in 1255. With a little bit of flexibility, depending on your father’s annual income, you have two life choices. One is to marry and produce children, or die trying. You may achieve some level of financial and spiritual independence if your husband predeceases you, but this is by no means certain. The second is to enter holy orders: to become a nun, or, for the exceptionally devout (and usually well connected, since this option requires life-long patronage from a wealthy individual), an anchoress. In Robyn Cadwallader’s debut novel The Anchoress, seventeen-year-old Sarah chooses the latter option. As the book opens, she is being enclosed in a small rock-walled cell attached to the church of Hartham parish. She cannot leave the room, nor may she speak to any man other than her confessor or the bishop. Conversation with women is limited, and she is discouraged from looking into their faces; she may offer spiritual guidance to the villagers, but only through a curtain. She is to stay there until she dies.
I thought it was a very well-researched debut; you can read the rest here.
Secondly, we have Catherine Chanter’s remarkable The Well, published by the ever-reliable Canongate Books, which for lack of a better pigeonhole might well be shelved under “speculative eco-thriller”. It’s so much more than that, though:
Speculative fiction often works best when it takes one element of our everyday lives and tweaks it, showing us how much we rely on a certain cultural script or set of behaviours in order to function as we do. Sometimes this tweak takes the form of a natural phenomenon. In The Well, Catherine Chanter’s debut novel, it is a drought — a very long one. England has been suffering from a lack of rain for about a year (yes, a highly unlikely scenario, but swallow it, for your own sake. The book requires you to, and the book is good.) We are left to make up our minds about why. A reader can guess at vague climate change-related rationale, but Chanter wisely avoids the details of the situation; instead, she immerses us on the first page in her strange new world, and never hesitates for a moment as she draws us in.
I was enjoyably convinced by Chanter’s dedication to her story; read the rest of the review here.
And please spend some time poking around the rest of the reviews at Shiny New Books; I think it’s a public service, like talking to your favourite librarian or bookseller or friend or mother-in-law, or whoever else recommends your books to you. It’s also edited by some great and dedicated people, whose own work can be found here:
Annabel’s House of Books (Annabel)
Harriet Devine’s Blog (Harriet)
Stuck In A Book (Simon–whom I met last week! He’s very nice.)
Tales From the Reading Room (Victoria–whom I’ve only emailed with, but who is also very nice.)