5 Big Books for 2019

I love reading – I am what they call a voracious reader, typically reading thirty-plus books a year. I think I would have read more had it not been for the typical end-of-year malaise.

 

There’s about 2-3 months where I traditionally don’t read very much at all. But then comes the countdown to the end of the year where everyone starts talking about their favourite books.

 

(Shameless plug: In case you missed it, did mine here)

 

Seeing everyone talk so passionately about books, talking about my own favourite books always starts to reignite my own passion. And then I think about all the brilliant books still to come next year.

 

One of the best things about working in the publishing industry is that I get my grubby paws on all the best books a little bit early. I’ve spoken about some of them already, but here are five books to look out for in 2019 – some of them I’ve read, some of them I haven’t:

 

Starting – in alphabetical order – with:

 

Big Sky by Kate Atkinson – published in June by Doubleday

 

You might remember that last January I chose Atkinson’s Transcription as one of my ones to look out for in 2018. It received much critical acclaim when it was published, and while I enjoyed it, there was something missing. The writing was there, the research was clearly there, but for the most part I didn’t connect with it in the same way I have with previous Atkinson novels.

 

However, 2019 brings not just a new Kate Atkinson – but a new Jackson Brodie novel. I love these books, but we haven’t seen a new one since 2010. These are crime novels that I wish I could write. They are more character-led than the traditional police procedural, but that’s not to say they’re gentle.

 

Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams – published in in April by Trapeze

 

This is an incredible novel – It’s funny, but feels heartbreakingly real. Queenie is a young black woman trying to navigate her way through a mini-crisis of self. Who is she? Where does she belong in this world? Does she even like herself?

 

In short, she’s suffering from all the things we all suffer from, but for me it was the insights into her views on race that really made this book for me. It’s not the big moments, but the small ones, ones where I’m offended on her behalf but Queenie simply shrugs them off as normal.

 

It helped me see our society in a new way, and helped make Queenie feel so vivid and real that I was rooting for her all the way through.

 

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides – published in February by Orion

 

Completely different to the first two selections, this sees Theo Faber trying to treat a patient who hasn’t spoken a word since she shot her husband dead. This is a fast-moving thriller that kept me guessing all the way to the end.

 

It’s due to be turned into a movie, which intrigues me as I’m not sure how they’ll do it, but I can’t say any more. This is a tired old cliché that nobody in books uses any more… but it could be the next Gone Girl

 

Daisy Jones and The Six by Tyler Jenkins Reid – published in March by Hutchinson

 

This book is brilliant. It’s the transcript of a documentary that explores the rise, peak and subsequent fall of rock band The Six. They’re a fictional band but you could be forgiven for googling them to double check. It all feels so real.

 

Its structure is unusual, but it’s so effective and easy to get into that I wouldn’t be surprised if we started seeing a lot more stories told in this way. There has got to be a film of this one and I can’t wait to hear the music that comes from it.

 

Blood Orange by Harriet Tyce – published in February by Wildfire

 

LOVED this. For me, this felt like the perfect balance of psychological and legal thriller. Alison is a QC on her first case, a murder case where – typically – all is not necessarily as it seems.

 

However, the case merely serves as a backdrop to Alison’s crumbling relationship with her husband and an illicit, destructive affair with a colleague. I know I’ve just said this about Daisy, but this could become one of my favourite books of 2019.

 

 

 

I’m excited for all of these, the ones I’ve read to see them land in everyone else’s hands, and the ones that I’m yet to read. Most of all, though, I’m excited to read all the books I don’t yet know about (I think I said this last year!).

 

Happy reading!

A(nother) Review: If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

I would imagine that being Hannah Beckerman is hard.

That’s not meant as a personal slight at all, I’ve met her a couple of times and let me assure you she’s lovely.

She has a ridiculously enviable job – she’s a freelance journalist and gets paid to review books for papers. When you see things like “Astounding – The Times” that’s usually a quote from Hannah.

She’s been judges on book prizes and chairs lots of panel discussions – as well as one on one Author interviews.

On top of all this she gets to go to cocktail parties and hang around with the likes of me.

As well as all these amazing jobs, which seem to largely be composed of reading books and telling people whether she liked them or not, Hannah is an author, her second novel is published next year.

And that’s the rub.

We all have insecurities. We all believe any criticisms levelled at us 100% and disregard any compliments, anyway.

Now imagine getting nice things said about your book by an author whose book you’re about to review. Are they genuinely saying nice things because they’re true, or because they want a nice review.

And what if someone says nice things, but you hated their book?

Anyone who follows books on twitter will have seen a lot of love for Beckerman’s new novel If Only I Could Tell You and maybe you’re also wondering if it’s genuine praise or if there are ulterior motives.

Fortunately, I don’t have a book waiting to be reviewed or an author to be interviewed so you can trust me for an objective review.

The truth is, the reviews you’ve already seen are right, it really is as good as everyone says.

If Only I Could Tell You is about two sisters, estranged from each other for decades. We meet them when they both have teenage daughters of their own, while their Mum is secretly battling a terminal illness.

Audrey wants to reconcile her two daughters but an untold secret from the past is threatening to keep them apart.

Thanks to ALL her other jobs, Beckerman knows good characters, good plots and good storytelling and that is evident in this, her second novel.

The reader is kept in suspense throughout, never completely sure of what is the truth and what is the misconceptions of a young girl. And that’s what keeps you turning the page, all the way to the end.

You want these women to sort themselves out, you’re almost shouting at the book telling them to stop being stupid and just blooming well talk to each other. We all know people like that in real life so it really works.

In summary;

Hannah = lovely

If Only I Could Tell You = brilliant

Everyone = completely correct to heap praise on it

If Only I Could Tell You will be published by Orion on 21st February 2019

A(nother) Review: Guess Who by Chris McGeorge

There are so many different reasons why we pick up books – word of mouth, an exciting jacket or intriguing title, even a special offer, but sometimes the marketing does its job and the slug on the front of the book, explaining the concept manages to sell it in just ten words.

 

That was the case with Guess Who by Chris McGeorge for me:

 

One room.

Five suspects.

Three hours to find a killer…

 

That said it all for me, I wanted to read this book and I wanted to love it.

 

If you need more than that to whet your appetite, there’s not much I can say without ruining the plot too much, but I’ll try. TV personality Morgan Sheppard (think Jeremy Kyle but a detective version) wakes up in a hotel room, chained to a bed and slowly comes to realise that there are other people in the room with him, all starting to wake up as well.

 

He is the only one locked up and when the TV turns on with a message for them all, it seems to be directed straight at him. Their captor challenges him to solve a mystery within three hours, or they will all die.

 

Does it live up to its premise? Did I love it?

 

Well… not quite. It’s still very good, and McGeorge is a great writer, but the narrative jumps out of the hotel room into Sheppard’s past quite regularly and so doesn’t quite maintain its feeling of mystery and claustrophobia.

 

But, that’s a big challenge anyway. It’s difficult to wring tension and drama out of that situation and the exposition was necessary for the pay-off… I just wish the author had found a way to keep all the action in the room.

 

I wondered as I reached the end, whether the concept would work better as a play. Tense silences, suspicious glances and a restrained location can work wonders on the stage, but are very hard to convey in writing. Hard, but not impossible.

 

It’s still definitely worth a read, and I’d highly recommend for a summer read, but it doesn’t quite live up to its marketing.

 

Guess Who is published by Orion and is available now as part of WHSmith’s Thumping Good Read Award. It is half price in High Street stores until next Wednesday.

 

 

A(nother) Review: The Lido by Libby Page

Community.

 

It can be a bit of a dirty word.

 

It is often a word viewed as a bit hippy-ish. WI groups, PTA’s, the Christian groups that go litter-picking on a weekend. It’s all very wholesome.

 

I know as I sit at my desk looking out of my window that the community I live in is not exactly one I want to be part of. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just not me. I like my community with a little bit more bite, more GIFs

 

But it is one I’m part of, if only passively. If I wanted to be an active part of it, I could. It’s my choice.

 

Fortunately, I belong to many communities, not just the one I live in. There’s my work community, my friends, and my online communities.

 

One of my communities – the book-loving community, which if you’re reading this, you’re a part of! – has been going crazy for a particular book over the last few months. If you’re bright (it says it up at the top of the blog there ^) , you’ll have worked out I’m talking about The Lido by Libby Page.

 

The Lido is the story of what happens when a young journalist – Kate – is sent to cover the potential closure of Brockwell Lido, and while there she meets Rosemary – an eighty-something stalwart of Brixton.

 

They are at either end of their lives, but they have something in common. They’re both lonely – Kate, particularly – but their joined efforts to save the lido bring them – and many others together.

 

This is a really sweet book, and you get to know Kate and Rosemary both really well – but as well Page does a good job of making you care about the other members of the community, and the lido as well.

 

You really do feel part of the community and you begin to care. I started getting angry about the potential closure of the lido, reality started to blur with the fiction – which has to be the ultimate goal of any writer.

 

I enjoyed seeing the community build around Kate, lifting her from her depression. At the same time, the book raises some very pertinent concerns about the nature of public services, how often their value is higher than the money which they bring in.

 

The Lido is a feel-good novel, the kind that makes you feel better about the world we live in. It should be on everyone’s summer-reading list.

 

The Lido is available now, published by Orion

A(nother) Rambling: Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit #GrippedByFear

Never judge a book by it’s cover.

 

I’ve probably started a blog post with that phrase before. Over the last couple of years, I feel I’ve covered every last literary cliché in the book (that there might have been the last one), but bear with me. After all, like books, you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover.

 

Having said that, in my job you do have to judge a book by it’s cover, sometimes that’s all there’s time for. I personally get around 200 books pass across my desk a year that pique my interest. At the rate of one a week, I can only actually read a quarter of those.

 

I have to use something to tell them apart. Often, it is the recommendation of someone I trust, someone who knows my reading style.

 

Sometimes, it’s the cover.

 

In the case of Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit, it was a little of both.

 

Posted by a colleague (who reads this blog and will get a kick out of seeing her name, therefore I won’t mention it… let’s just call her “Ginger Spice”), the back cover which simply promises ‘Become an accessory to murder’ – pulled me in, coupled with, what is a striking, unique cover.

 

Ginger Spice usually has the same taste in books as me, so I went with it and managed to get hold of a copy.

 

Sitting down to read it, and it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I was expecting a pacy thriller, maybe a psychological thriller that became commonplace after Girl on the Train was released.

 

At the very beginning we know that our ‘hero’ has assisted in the murder of his neighbour. His father shot him. We even know the motive.

 

This is something Ginger Spice pointed out to me – there seems to be no mystery, no reason to read on, and yet… we do. This book is compelling. The hashtag the publicists are using is #GrippedByFear

 

I agree with the first part, gripped. As we explore Randolph’s history with his father, his family… with Dieter, their downstairs neighbour. There’s something here pulling us on. Just what was it that finally pushed Randolph over the edge to contract his father to kill.

 

I’m not sure ‘Fear’ is the right word, though. The book is translated from German, and I can’t help but wonder if it was originally one of those German words that doesn’t have a direct English translation.

 

Sure, there is an element of fear that Randolph experiences, both as a young boy in the presence of his father, and for his young family. But it’s not something the reader experiences.

 

The bad guy is dead at the beginning of the book, there’s no fear that he will win, because we know that he doesn’t. Whatever he does do, it doesn’t lead to the total destruction of Randolph’s life.

 

So, what is the feeling the reader is left with?

 

That famous German word for which there’s no direct translation – Schadenfreude – the feeling of pleasure when some misfortune befalls someone else, it’s not that. But maybe it’s something similar?

 

Some kind of pre-schadenfreude. The anticipation of something bad happening to someone else? The idea that Dieter is going to earn his comeuppance that we’ve been promised in the opening pages.

 

As I said at the beginning, you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover – or it’s title, or even it’s hashtag – sometimes it delivers more than it promises. Having said that Fear is a better title than Pre-schadenfreude.

 

Fear will be published by Orion in January 2018 (Sorry – perk of the job… look out for it then, it will make a wonderful January read!)