I’ve committed to a lot of reviews lately, either by accepting books offered directly from publishing houses or by seeing things in catalogues that look promising, and requesting them. This list is, at least partially, designed in order to help me keep them straight in my own head. Herewith, all of the books that I’ll review over at Quadrapheme and Shiny New Books, for the next two months or so, and the two books that I’ve absolutely committed to reviewing for this blog.
In Elle Thinks:
- Girl At War, Sara Nović (Little, Brown, 12 May—review scheduled for 24 May)
This is Little, Brown’s lead debut fiction title this season, and they’re really pushing it hard. Here’s the back cover copy:
Growing up in Zagreb in the summer of 1991, 10-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy; she runs the streets with her best friend, Luka, helps take care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But when civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, football games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills.
The brutal ethnic cleansing of Croats and Bosnians tragically changes Ana’s life, and she is lost to a world of genocide and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival. Ten years later she returns to Croatia, a young woman struggling to belong to either country, forced to confront the trauma of her past and rediscover the place that was once her home.
Nović is also only twenty-six, so it’s no wonder she’s being pronounced a bit of a wunderkind. Quadrapheme will also be reviewing this, and I’ll be interested to see how our reviewer’s opinion compares with mine.
- The Beginning of the End, Ian Parkinson (Salt, 15 May)
Salt’s marvelous publicist originally sent me the press release for this with the caveat “I won’t pretend this is a remotely cosy read.” Excellent! said I. Send it my way.
Visiting Thailand to marry a sex worker, Raymond is informed that his father’s body has been discovered in an isolated villa on the Belgian coast. While his bride embarks on a career in the Dutch and German porn industries, Raymond moves into the villa with the intention of renovating the property. Life by the sea, however, does not go according to plan.
- Strange Fruit vol. 1: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, Joel Christian Gill (Fulcrum Group, 3 June)
This is precisely the sort of thing I want to be promoting; it’s a comic book and, I think, being marketed primarily to schoolchildren, but if independent reviews like Quadrapheme don’t help to spread the word about it, who will?
Strange Fruit vol. 1 is a collection of stories from African American history that exemplifies success in the face of great adversity. This unique graphic anthology offers historical and cultural commentary on nine uncelebrated heroes whose stories are not often found in history books. Among the stories included are: Henry ‘Box’ Brown, who escaped from slavery by mailing himself to Philadelphia; Alexander Crummel and the Noyes Academy, the first integrated school in America, established in the 1830s; Marshall ‘Major’ Taylor, a.k.a. the Black Cyclone, the first black champion in any sport; and Bass Reeves, the most successful lawman in the Old West. Written and illustrated by Joel Christian Gill, the diverse art beautifully captures the spirit of each remarkable individual and opens a window into an important part of American history.
- Tender, Belinda McKeon (Picador, 4 June)
The description for this pushes so many buttons for me: young confused people, friendships, personal crises. Yupyupyup.
Catherine and James are as close as two friends could ever be. They meet in Dublin in the late 1990s, she a college student, he a fledgling artist – both recent arrivals from rural communities, coming of age in a city which is teeming—or so they are told—with new freedoms, new possibilities. Catherine has never met anyone quite like James. Talented, quick-witted, adventurous and charismatic, he helps Catherine to open her eyes, to take on life with more gusto than she has ever before known how to do. But while Catherine’s horizons are expanding, James’s own life is becoming a prison: as changed as the new Ireland may be, it is still not a place in which he feels able to be himself. Catherine desperately wants to help, but as life begins to take the friends in different directions, she discovers that there is a perilously fine line between helping someone and hurting them further. And when crisis hits, Catherine must face difficult truths, not just about her closest bond, but about herself.
- Tightrope, by Simon Mawer (Little, Brown, 4 June)
I’m hoping this will be a cross between Graham Greene and John Le Carré, and ideal summer reading.
Marian Sutro has survived Ravensbruck and is back in dreary 1950s London trying to pick up the pieces of her pre-war life. Returned to an England she barely knows and a post-war world she doesn’t understand, Marian searches for something on which to ground the rest of her life. Family and friends surround her and a young RAF officer attempts to bring her the normalities of love and affection, but she is haunted by her experiences and by the guilt of knowing that her contribution to the war effort helped lead to the development of the Atom Bomb. Where, in the complexities of peacetime, does her loyalty lie? When a mysterious Russian diplomat emerges from the shadows to draw her into the ambiguities and uncertainties of the Cold War she sees a way to make amends for the past and to renew the excitement of her double life.
In Shiny New Books:
- Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, Caitlin Doughty (Canongate, 16 April—review scheduled for end of June)
Canongate was offering a sneak preview of this on their website a couple of weeks ago: the first ten pages or so available for free. I read them and was immediately hooked, and that doesn’t happen often.
From her very first day at Westwind Cremation & Burial, twenty-three-year-old Caitlin Doughty threw herself into the gruesome daily tasks of her curious new profession. From caring for bodies of all shapes and sizes, picking up corpses from the hospital morgue, sweeping ashes from the cremation machines (sometimes onto her clothes) and learning to deal with mourning families, Caitlin comes face-to-face with the very thing we go to great lengths to avoid thinking about: death. But as she started to wonder about the lives of those she cremated, and found herself confounded by people’s erratic reactions to death, Caitlin’s feelings began to evolve in unexpected ways. Now a licensed mortician, Caitlin tells the story of her fumbling apprenticeship with the dead. Exploring our death rituals—and those of other cultures—she pleads the case for healthier attitudes around death and dying. Full of bizarre encounters, gallows humour and vivid characters (both living and very dead), this illuminating account makes this otherwise terrifying subject urgent and fascinating.
- The Honours, Tim Clare (Canongate, 2 April—review scheduled for end of June)
Not sure what to make of this one—a kind of classic-Doctor-Who-episode meets Neil Gaiman, perhaps? Chris Riddell has also compared it to Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, and the thirteen-year-old heroine Delphine has gotten some very good press. Also, I suspect, a cracking summer read.
1935. Norfolk. War is looming in Great Britain and the sprawling country estate of Alderberen Hall is shadowed by suspicion and paranoia. Thirteen-year-old Delphine Venner is determined to uncover the secrets of the Hall’s elite society, which has taken in her gullible mother and unstable father. As she explores the house and discovers the secret network of hidden passages that thread through the estate, Delphine uncovers a world more dark and threatening than she ever imagined. With the help of head gamekeeper Mr Garforth, Delphine must learn the bloody lessons of war and find the soldier within herself in time to battle the deadly forces amassing in the woods…