The theme for this year’s World Book Night which took place on 23rd April was Books To Make You Smile, which is something we could all do with after the year we have had. Normally, there would be many public events taking place in libraries and other establishments to get people reading. Of course, these could not take place. My friend and colleague Louise and myself, who both work for Isle Of Wight Libraries decided to produce a Book Chat to discuss books which have made us smile. This can be found here. Just click on the link and Enjoy!
I’m continuing my count-down of the best books I read in 2017.
5. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven – Chris Cleave (Sceptre 2016) (Read and reviewed in April)
It’s been a good year for writers called Chris, as there are two of them in my Top 10. This British novelist’s fourth novel spanned the years 1939-1942 and centred on war-torn London and Malta, gripped by a blockade which threatens starvation for civilians and soldiers. I said “this is an excellent novel from a great story-teller who deserves his position amongst the best of the novelists who have written about this time in our history.”
Current Amazon sales rating: 10,968 in Books (has been much higher!)
4. The Wicked Cometh – Laura Carlin (Hodder & Stoughton 2018) (Read and reviewed in November)
Feel like I’m cheating a bit here as this hasn’t even been published yet (according to latest info the hardback is due on 1st Feb.) I was really drawn into the world of this debut novel set in Victorian London. I said “I think she has got everything more or less spot on here and has written an authentic historical novel and a really good thrilling page-turner.” Still expecting this to achieve very healthy sales in 2018.
Current Amazon sales rating: 68,464 in Books (based on pre-orders).
3. The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead (Fleet 2016) (Read and reviewed in September)
I read this when it appeared on the Man Booker longlist and felt it had to be in with a great chance of scooping the Prize. In the US it had taken both the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize. Here, it shockingly failed to make the shortlist, probably overshadowed by British author Mohsin Hamid’s “Exit West” which touched on similar themes. It was the best American novel I read this year. I felt “it ticks all the boxes for me, an involving, entertaining, well-written, imaginative, educational, unpredictable read.”
Current Amazon sales rating: 81 in Books (this has been a big seller)
2. Owl Song At Dawn – Emma Claire Sweeney (Legend 2016) (Read and reviewed in February)
Pipped at the post by the very last book I read in 2017 this came very close to being the first British novel to be my book of the year since 2012 (also incidentally the last time a female author was at the top). The fact that this is a debut novel makes it all the more outstanding. I first heard of this when it was shortlisted by Nudge and newbooks for the BookHugger book of the year. It went on to win beating a set of books from a very good list which also included my year end Top 10ers by Jodi Picoult and Helen Dunmore. Dull February days were enlivened by this heartwarming novel. An unsentimental, humorous tale of a Morecambe guest house which is being used as a holiday home for guests with disabilities and their carers. Great central character, Maeve who is pushing 80 and has to come to terms with regrets in her past. It wasn’t a typical read for me but it works so well on so many levels.
Current Amazon sales rating: 328, 095 in Books
And the reviewsrevues Book of The Year is………….
1.The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne (Black Swan 2017) (Read and Reviewed in December)
It just had to be this book. It is Irish author John Boyne’s 10th adult novel (and there are 5 for younger readers). I haven’t read him before but I was blown away by the whole thing right from the first few pages. I wrote a lengthy review (click on the title to read it) just to justify why it impressed me so much. “I said It may very well be my favourite books of this decade.” I think this is a book which has a reputation which will grow and grow. Perhaps the only thing I wasn’t totally convinced by is the front cover of the paperback edition, but that’s probably nothing to do with the author.
Current Amazon sales rating: 743 in Books
John Boyne joins a select bunch of authors. Here are my favourites from the last ten years, which probably tells you a considerable amount about me as a reader.
2017 – The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne (2017) (Ireland)
2016- Joe Speedboat – Tommy Wieringa (2016) (Netherlands)
2015- Alone In Berlin- Hans Fallada (2009 translation of a 1947 novel) (Germany)
2014- The Wanderers – Richard Price (1974) (USA)
2013- The Secrets Of The Chess Machine – Robert Lohr (2007) (Germany)
2012 – The Book Of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric (2010) (UK)
2011 – The Help- Kathryn Stockett (2009) (USA)
2010- The Disco Files 1973-78 – Vince Aletti (1998) (USA)
2009- Tokyo – Mo Hayder (2004) (UK)
2008- The Book Thief – Markus Zusak (2007) (Australia)
Happy New Year and let’s hope there’s lots of great reading in 2018!
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…………….
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.
Owl Song At Dawn was published in paperback by Legend in 2016.