A Twitter poll BUT for books? Why not?

It’s that time of the year again where I’m so busy I don’t get a chance to read. It’s a come a bit earlier this year – so in a desperate bid for some content, I thought about what I might be able to cobble together in less than an hour…

 

So, here it is!

 

Taking inspiration from Richard Osman’s ‘World Cup of…’ series of Twitter polls (and now a book!) – here’s a tournament especially for book lovers – to find Twitter’s Best Book of 2017.

 

The Rules? There are always rules!

 

  • Unlike Fight Club… everyone talks about Book Club – share your votes and tell us all why!
  • The 32 titles in contention have all been published in either paperback or hardback since 26th December 2017 and have had some sort of impact on the literary landscape this year.
  • They’ve all been picked by me (with a couple of suggestions from others) – they’re either my favourite books of the last year – or particularly notable titles. If you think I’ve missed something… hey, run your own poll.

 

The list in full (in alphabetical order)

 

  1. The Power by Naomi Alderman
  2. The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne
  3. Origin by Dan Brown
  4. What Happened by Hilary Clinton
  5. The Party by Elizabeth Day
  6. The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne
  7. The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
  8. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
  9. Creakers by Tom Fletcher
  10. Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
  11. How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
  12. Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
  13. Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari
  14. The Dry by Jane Harper
  15. Into the Water by Paula Hawkins
  16. The Sparsholt Affair by Alan Hollinghurst
  17. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  18. Need You Dead by Peter James
  19. This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay
  20. Sirens by Joseph Knox
  21. A Legacy of Spies by John Le Carre
  22. Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
  23. The One by John Marrs
  24. Gather the Daughters by Jennie Melamed
  25. I Am, I Am, I Am by Maggie O’Farrell
  26. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
  27. The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman
  28. The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  29. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
  30. See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
  31. Tin Man by Sarah Winman
  32. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

 

Voting in the first round starts today (now!) over on my Twitter (@alexjcall) – get voting! The top two from each round will go through to the quarter finals!

 

 

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A(nother) Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

 

What even is a guilty pleasure? If we enjoy something… why should we feel guilty about it?

 

It was the phrase guilty pleasure that came to me when I started reading The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly.

 

It is the fourth in a series of books that started with Seven Ancient Wonders back in 2005. They follow the adventures of Captain Jack West who dashes around the world solving riddles and uncovering the earth’s greatest secrets.

 

It was followed by The Six Sacred Stones in 2007 and The Five Greatest Warriors in 2009. Seven years later, and we’re finally halfway through the series.

 

They are thrillers in every sense of the word, they follow the traditional short chapters and lack of exposition and description. But Four Legendary Kingdoms deals with all that by only giving is what is necessary for the plot.

 

The plot is king. There is little time for feeling or for the characters to naval gaze. They are the complete opposite to the books I normally enjoy which focus more on character than plot, which I guess is why I describe them as a guilty pleasure.

 

But despite them being everything I normally don’t enjoy… I love these books. They are actually incredibly creative, taking myths and legends and historical facts that already exist and building a what-if world around them.

 

It takes a lot of skill to do that, and while they might be easy reads, they can’t be easy to write.

 

It’s hard to tell you what The Four Legendary Kingdoms is actually about without revealing too much, but West wakes to find himself, kidnapped, cut off of from his friends, in a cell, facing a minotaur. He escapes only to find himself in an arena with fifteen other men, all of them competing in deadly challenges.

 

The series of books are best described as Dan Brown-esque. I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code along with the rest of the world, but I found I enjoyed Matthew Reilly’s work more.

 

I called The Four Legendary Kingdoms a guilty pleasure but now I feel guilty for saying that. They are wonderful books that I thoroughly enjoy. They are fun romps that make you completely engage with all the characters, even with the limited exploration of their inner selves.

 

I can’t wait for the next book, but with eight years between the last two, I might have to wait a while.

 

At this rate, GRR Martin will have finished his Song of Ice and Fire series before we get to the last in the Jack West series (presumably entitled …And A Partridge in a Pear Tree).

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Every now and then a book comes along that sells and sells and sells. The likes of Grey and Go Set A Watchman come along occasionally and sell – to use a technical term – shitloads in a short space of time.

But some books sell and they consistently sell well and they top the charts week after week.

The Da Vinci Code, The Hunger Games, Gone Girl, Fault in Our Stars, all of these are amongst the bestsellers with some of them still going even now, years after their publication.

After the phenomenon that was Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, the sequel The Lost Symbol was released to great fanfare in 2009 and spent a record breaking nineteen weeks in the number one slot in the Fiction Hardback chart.

To put that into context, there are SO many books published each week, that the average title stays in the charts for around six to seven weeks.

The Lost Symbol spending that long at the top of the chart is the book-world equivalent of a man living to be 250 years old.

Earlier this month, that record was broken by the book that even the most casual of readers will have noticed hanging around in bookshops – The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

Since Before I Go To Sleep and Gone Girl first hit the heights of popularity, a new genre has emerged in fiction – domestic noir. Basically tense thrillers involving a married couple – The Girl on the Train is just the latest in a long line of hit titles in the genre – but it may well be the peak.

I finally got round to reading GotT this week and… I struggled. There is nothing wrong with it. There’s a nice twist – literally – at the end, there are some very tense moments, and it’s well written.

But parts of it are predictable – in fact, that’s the nature of domestic noir novels – not always that the husband did it, but they feature a small cast of characters, and so it is often easy to spot the bad guy (or girl).

Where these books succeed is in the character’s motives and the ‘how do they get through this’ factor.

The Girl on the Train is just not worth the hype. There is no discernible reason why it has had the success it has had, when others that are equally good or even better have not fared as well.

It’s a good read, it’s a quick read, but it’s distinctly average. Perhaps as a gateway drug to the genre, it’s a good book, or even for those desperate to read more of this type of title, but I suspect we are now at the point with any resurgent genre where we will see a huge cascade of copy-cat titles.

Besides, she’s not even on the train that much.

Waiting For Doggo

Waiting For Doggo

By Mark Mills

We have a bit of a game in our office. We try and find the most ridiculous X meets Y descriptors for new books.

Publishers will often try to sell a book into us by telling us it’s the next Gone Girl (which was the next Before I Go To Sleep, by the way) – or the next Fifty Shades. If there’s no obvious comparison they’ll tell us it’s the prodigal child of two other blockbusters.

 

Maeve Binchy meets Dan Brown

Harry Potter meets Queer as Folk

Game of Thrones meets Bridget Jones (Bridget Thrones, anyone?)

 

Ok – so, we’ve never actually had any of those (as far as I know!) but these are the kinds of descriptors we get. It’s sort of ridiculous, for example Gone Girl was bigger, better and completely different to BIGTS, but sort of understandable. I’ve used it myself (Memories of a Murder is Agatha Christie meets LOST, in case you were wondering) – it’s a really quick and simple way of explaining what you’re going to get.

Last week I received a proof copy of the new Mark Mills – Waiting for Doggo. Frankly, I was sold on the title alone – but the inside blurb describes it as appealing to ‘readers of Marley and Me and One Day and fans of It’s A Wonderful Life’

I’ve never seen It’s A Wonderful Life (shock!), I adored One Day, and I’ve never been that enticed by Marley & Me, so I had no idea what to expect when I opened this book.

First of all, it’s nothing like One Day, it has nowhere near the same emotional punch – but that doesn’t mean it’s not as good.

It’s a short book, but it’s almost perfectly constructed. It tells the tale of Dan who’s girlfriend of several years one day, just leaves him, leaving only a letter behind. She takes everything that they bought together over the years, including a wooden salad bowl. The only thing she’s left behind is the most recent addition to their family, an ugly, rescue dog temporarily named Doggo.

Doggo and Dan do not get on, but somehow they start to form a bond as Dan starts his new job at an advertising agency. Amazingly, Doggo is the most well-drawn character in the book, despite actually not getting a huge amount of ‘page-time’ (like screen time, but on paper).

That’s not a put down on the other characters, I actually think the reason the books is because he’s not a character, he’s a real person who springs forth right at the beginning of the book – everyone else – including Doggo – are the characters we see develop through his eyes, some of the minor ones not that well defined, to be honest.

The similarities between Doggo and Dan are not subtle, but they’re not clichéd, it’s this link between them, along with a great sense of humour (the Hatchback of Notre Dame particularly made me chuckle) makes for a great book.

There is a small emotional punch – naturally at the conclusion of Doggo’s arc – which almost elicits a tear or two, but at a mere 208 pages, the book can’t afford to dabble in sentimentality and so avoids dragging it out too long.

Waiting for Doggo is it’s own book – it deserves to stand alone on it’s own merit, so whether you’re a fan of Marley and Me, Game of Thrones or midgets wrestling in jelly (that last one’s not a book, I hope) – give it a go, at most you’ll lose an hour or two of your life, but the chances are you’ll find a little gem.

For me, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

If you can get hold of a proof copy, then do it – otherwise you’ll have to wait until it’s officially published in November of this year.