Nudge-Book issue 92- Now Available

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The latest edition of the magazine I am delighted to be a contributor for has its latest issue available now.  And it has had a name change!  It’s still nb but that now stands for nudge-book to tie it in with its associated website (www.nudge-book.com) where I am the “Community Voice” for the Book Hugger section.

You may think, oh here he goes, pushing a magazine he is writing for and okay, I hold my hands up, but I was reading nb long before I was a contributor and it is the only UK magazine out there for readers and reading groups so it is well worth supporting.  In this issue we say goodbyes to our editor and publisher, Guy Pringle, who has done a fantastic job in ensuring such a magazine can survive in this digital age and after 17 years at the helm has decided to start his well-earned retirement.  We are all sure that it will continue to go from strength to strength under Mel Mitchell who has also worked tirelessly on the publication for a number of years.

If you head over to the nudge bookshop you can purchase a copy (or take out a subscription).  This edition has features a Crime Fiction Supplement and much else besides.  There’s an interview with Graeme Macrae Burnet whose Man Booker shortlisted “His Bloody Project” I so loved.  There’s an interview with Clare Mackintosh who became the fastest selling new crime writer in 2015 with “I Let You Go”.  Her latest, “I See You” is available as a Recommended Read and is available free for nb readers from the nudge website (you just pay p&p).

There’s a couple of exclusives from me as well.  You can find my interview with Charlie Lovett whose “Lost Book Of The Grail” and “The Bookman’s Tale” both delighted me this year and there is a feature on TV adaptations.  You can also find out the NB books of the year as voted for by readers.  Just one spoiler here as I am so delighted that my five star rated “Owl Song At Dawn” by Emma Claire Sweeney was voted the Book Hugger Book of The Year.

There does seem to be more content in each edition of nb, so if you haven’t seen it for a while give it a go.  The directory at the back of the magazine features reviews of a whole range of books which might have escaped your notice.  If your “To Be Read” list is looking a little lacklustre and out of date then let nudge books give you a nudge…………….

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100 Essential Books-Owl Song At Dawn – Emma Claire Sweeney (Legend 2016)

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In one (hyphenated) word I’ll sum up this debut novel – heart-warming.  Now this is not an easy accolade to achieve, especially from a cold, cynical, middle-aged man like myself.  Get this slighty wrong and the end result can be mawkish, sentimental, whimsical- all things which do not grab me as a reader.  Emma Claire Sweeney has got this just right and the result is a first-class novel that is a joy to read.

Main character Maeve Maloney is approaching 8o having lived most of her life in a Morecambe Guest House, inherited from her parents.  In recent years it has become a holiday home for guests with disabilities and their carers.  Maeve has very much given her whole adult life to Sea View Lodge (as a former guest house owner I can appreciate how necessary this total devotion is to make your place successful) but this hides a great sadness from her past.

The story alternates between the present with Maeve as honorary grandmother to two of her staff members with Downs Syndrome who have fallen in love. This opens a whole can of worms for families, social workers etc and running alongside this is  a narrative strand from the mid 1950’s when her family’s life was centred on the care of her severely disabled twin sister at a time when institutionalisation was the recommended option.  Maeve’s life pretty much grinds to a halt in her mid 20’s when a chain of events sees her planned future pulled away from her.  The past and present combine when old friend Vince seeks  her out.

This book is rich in detail and characterisation and the past and present switch without much sign-posting and with very little of the jarring this technique can engender.  There’s also official correspondence and snatches of twin sister’s Edie’s sayings and phrases.  I know how readers can complain when time-frames switch around yet this has been done so intelligently and so well that it is a smooth, highly-involving read throughout.  It does show how the attitudes towards disability have improved in the last sixty or so years yet acknowledges the tremendous uphill challenges still faced.  First and foremost this is a tale about love and friendship, of making the best of what you’ve got and how regretting the past can stop you moving on.  It’s a bittersweet lesson as Maeve learns to cope with past incidents that have set the pattern of her life.

At no point is it sentimental, however.  It focuses on the small details of life that realistically searches for humour in difficult situations.  I actually really did not want to leave these people and their Morecambe home.  I believed in them totally (although the relentless grind of working in such an establishment, the cooking, cleaning and dealing with the public was a little glossed over perhaps).

The author’s inspiration for her book is her autistic sister. In an interview in newbooks magazine she states;

“I have chosen to celebrate the kind of families who fought – sometimes against the odds- to bring up their disabled and non-disabled children together – the kind of families who sought to care for each other with tenderness, humour and love.”

Goal achieved! I don’t know exactly what’s coming over me.  I’m notoriously stingy with my five star ratings.  I would expect to read only a couple of five star books a year but this is my third maximum award so far in 2017 and it’s still only February.  Testament to the number of great books out there.  I hope you seek this one out.

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Owl Song At Dawn was published in paperback by Legend in 2016.

Newbooks 91- Now available

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I am aware that I’ve been a little slow off the mark here telling you about the latest newbooks magazine.  I can only put it down to wanting to tell you about some of the books shortlisted for the Nudge/newbooks Bookhugger book of the year.  There is now just one day to cast your vote- as a reminder here are the selections.

Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult.  My five star review for this is here.

Exposure – Helen Dunmore – My five star review for this is here.

The Wonder – Emma Donoghue – My four star review is here.

The Song Collector – Natasha Simons – My four star review is here.

How To Measure A Cow – Margaret Forster – My three star review is here.

Waking Lions – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Father’s Day – Simon Van Booy

Hide – Matthew Griffin

The Good Guy- Susan Beale

Owl Song At Midnight – Emma Claire Sweeney (I am currently reading this and enjoying it very much, my review will follow shortly).

If you have read any of these books and think they are worthy of the title of Bookhugger Book Of The Year you have now just a few hours (voting closing on 10th Feb) to head on over to the Nudge site (here) to register your vote.

Bookhugger Book Of Year nominees that have already featured on reviewsrevues.com

I must confess that for this issue of newbooks I did not contribute as much as I have done in the past.  That was because of moving home (twice in a short period of time) and losing contact with the rest of the world with no phone line, mobile phone signal or internet (something which I have griped about before on here, and which I have now just about got over).

There is a lot of great stuff to read in this latest edition of newbooks which can be purchased as an individual copy or as a subscription over on the nudge site (just click here).  There’s a great feature on authors’ new years resolutions (I wonder how many of them have already been broken).  Those contributing include reviewsrevues favourite Chris Whitaker (good to see that sense of humour still going strong, Chris), Sara Baume and Natasha Solomons.  The big interview and cover author is Claire Fuller, who is interviewed by Mel Mitchell, who also does a great job with author Magdalena McGuire.  A section on debut authors focuses on Joseph Knox, Katie Khan and Ross Armstrong as well as rounding up the debut novels that are going to be appearing over the next couple of months. There is also an extract from the book I am currently reading “Owl Song At Dawn”  and interview with author Emma Claire Sweeney.  There are loads of books reviewed in the Directory for those of us looking for the next great discovery.

There’s also the Recommended reads which can be picked up from the Nudge website for free (you just pay P&P).  These are subject to availability and include the aforementioned Emma Claire Sweeney (this is where my copy came from), Foxlowe by Eleanor Wasserberg, The Bones Of Grace by Tahmima Anam and Life In A Fishbowl by Len Vlahos.

If your to be read list is looking a little depleted (as if!) or you just want to experience one of the only print magazines about books still available in the UK check out Newbooks 91.

 

 

 

 

The Song Collector – Natasha Solomons (Sceptre 2015)

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Natasha Solomon’s fourth novel provides my introduction to her work.  It is a novel about music, which can be a hit or miss affair in fiction but here it works extremely well.  Central to the plot is Hartgrove Hall, a country house, which at the earliest chronological spot of the story, November 1946, is being reclaimed by the Fox-Talbot family after being requisitioned by the military during the war.  This has left it neglected, beginning a decline which will see the next generation striving to turn back.

The youngest of the three Fox-Talbot sons, Harry, is a “song collector”, a music fanatic determined to catalogue every folk song he encounters.  The house becomes a springboard for his musical achievements when he composes a symphony in tribute to it which establishes his career.  The narrative follows two timeframes, the second being Harry’s attempts to get his life back on track following the death of his wife, Edie, a wartime singer of great repute, who we first meet as his older brother’s girlfriend.  The earlier strand is a love story as to how Harry and Edie got together and their attempts to save Hartgrove Hall. It is also very much a love-song to music itself.  This provides Harry’s redemption, his means of keeping hopes of retaining his home alive and also with his musically-gifted grandson it provides his chance to celebrate Edie and to pick up some of the pieces following her demise.

Solomons is a gifted writer.  This is a confident, mature piece with both music and the old house conjuring up an air of yearning which is strong throughout.  There was a point when I noted the unusual occurrence for me of favouring the modern narrative strand rather than the post-war years. (Normally with this type of book I relish the earlier years and tolerate the more modern strand).  I did become engrossed in the relationship between grandfather and grandson and felt a little disappointed when it switched back to Harry and Edie’s earlier love triangle.  Having said this all aspects of the novel are highly satisfactory.  It is very close to a five star read, but it does look like in 2017 I’m going to be just as stingy at giving them out.  A five star book is assured of a permanent place on my bookshelves so with space limited has to really blow me away.  I do sense that Natasha Solomons has a five star book within her (perhaps in her back catalogue, “Mr Rosenblaum’s List” seems highly appraised) or with her next work but for me it just misses out on the ultimate accolade this time round.

“The Song Collector” has been shortlisted for the Bookhugger Book Of The Year over at Nudge books.  Take a look to see the other nominations and if this is your favourite read of the year vote for Natasha Solomons You have until  10th February to register your vote.

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The Song Collector was published in hardback in 2015 and in paperback by Sceptre in March 2016.