A(nother) Rambling – Big Books of 2018?

A few weeks ago, I talked about my favourite books of 2017… but we’re two days shy of 2018, so now, so I’m calling time on looking back and I’m looking forward instead.

 

November and December are always a funny time for me, I never get to read as much as I’d like partly because I’m so busy at work, partly because I’ve spent most of the year reading and need a break.

 

The last ten weeks or so as well, I’ve been crazily busy writing as well so books have definitely taken a break. But not any more, I’m back with a vengeance, a pile of books that reach almost to the moon and back and five books that I’m particularly looking forward to in 2018.

 

Here they are, in release date order…

 

  1. Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon – published 11th January 2018

 

This first one’s a bit of a cheat, because I’ve already read it, but I loved it. You can read my full spoiler-free review by clicking the link above if you fancy a bit of a digression, but in short, this book isn’t about Elsie, it’s about Florence. She’s in a care home when we meet her, struggling with her memory – the kind of unreliable narrator who believes everything they say.

 

When a man from her past turns up in the care home, she and best friend Elsie start investigating a long forgotten crime. How much of what happens is true? How much of it is simply misremembered?

 

This, Cannon’s second book, a follow-up (but not a sequel) to 2016’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is a lovely exploration of old-age and friendship. I can’t wait for it to be released into the wild and for everyone else to read it, too!

 

  1. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton – published 8th February 2018

 

Sometimes as a bookseller you get a good feeling about a book before you’ve even read it. Since I first saw this one pop up on Twitter, I wanted a copy.

 

Aidan is stuck in a time-loop, repeating the same day, over and over again, inhabiting the body of a different person each time. The day ends with the death of Evelyn Hardcastle each time, and the only way for Aidan to break out is to identify the killer.

 

I already have a copy, ready and waiting to be read, and it will be one of my first of the new year.

 

  1. The Last Romeo by Justin Myers – published 31st May 2018

 

Justin Myers came out of his alter ego’s shadow earlier this year to reveal he was publishing his first book. Writing as The Guyliner for many years now, his was one of the most famous eyes on social media. His writing veers between insightful to the downright hilarious while sometimes skimming across being a little bit shady.

 

The Last Romeo will follow an online journalist who starts a blog reviewing each and every date he goes on as he tries to find love. If this sounds familiar, it may be because The Guyliner started out in much the same way – though now he just settles for writing the often hilarious weekly reviews of the Guardian’s Blind Dates column.

 

If The Last Romeo is only a tenth as funny and well written as those blogs we’re definitely in for a treat.

 

  1. Studies for Resilience by Patrick Gale – published September 2018

 

Regular readers will know that when I read A Place Called Winter back in 2015, I fell a little bit in love with Patrick. This year’s critically acclaimed drama The Man In The Orange Shirt written by Gale was a bit of a fix for the lovers of his books, but we’re finally getting a full hit this Autumn with a new releases.

 

Not much is known about it at the moment – so I’ll just give you the official blurb:

 

1970s Weston-Super-Mare and ten-year-old oddball Eustace, an only child, has life transformed by his mother’s quixotic decision to sign him up for cello lessons. Music-making brings release for a boy who is discovering he is an emotional volcano. He laps up lessons from his young teacher, not noticing how her brand of glamour is casting a damaging spell over his frustrated and controlling mother.

When he is enrolled in holiday courses in the Scottish borders, lessons in love, rejection and humility are added to daily practice.

 

I can’t wait to read it!

 

  1. Transcription by Kate Atkinson – published September 2018

 

I’ve never really mentioned Kate Atkinson on this blog before, but years ago, I went through a spate of reading everything she’d ever written. Behind the Scenes at the Museum and Case Histories are both on my bookcase which holds only my most favourite reads.

 

Case Histories particularly is one of my favourites – that rare beast a crime novel that wasn’t afraid to slow the pace down and dive into its characters. Always an inspiration for me, the mere mention of her name is enough to make me excited for a new novel. Here’s the official synopsis:

 

Transcription is a bravura novel of extraordinary power and substance. Juliet Armstrong is recruited as a young woman by an obscure wartime department of the Secret Service. In the aftermath of war she joins the BBC, where her life begins to unravel, and she finally has to come to terms with the consequences of idealism.

 

Of course, there are hundreds of books published each year and I didn’t even know that my favourite book of 2017 – Tin Man, seriously, if you’ve still not read it, please do – existed at this point last year, so what I’m really waiting for are ALL the books.

 

I can’t wait to stumble upon my next favourite read.

A(nother) Review: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon #ThreeThings

I once had a conversation with someone who was absolutely furious when – in their view – someone on Twitter had spoiled a book for them, by revealing there was a twist. They hadn’t said what the twist was, just that a twist existed.

 

I’ve struggled with this concept ever since – I often expect there to be twists in most books I read – and finding out that one I was reading had one wouldn’t make me feel the book was spoilt. More of a teaser really.

 

Twists and turns are surely the components that drive the plot forward, something unexpected happening to keep the reader interested.

 

If I opened a book and it was utterly predictable, I knew exactly what was going to happen, would I enjoy it still? Maybe – after all, I do enjoy re-reading some books…

 

Anyway, I’m going off on a tangent. The reason I started talking about twists in the first place was because as something of a self-appointed expert of books, I can often see the twists coming.

 

The last time I was truly surprised by a twist was in I See You by Claire Mackintosh – I was so surprised, I had to put the book down for half an hour.

 

My difficulty is that I’m now not sure what is supposed to be a twist and what isn’t – and it is with all this preamble, that I finally come to this week’s book Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon – author of the massive The Trouble with Goats and Sheep.

 

Florence Claybourne has a flat in the grounds of the Cherry Tree Home for the elderly, and it is in this flat and this Home that the story is set. The eponymous Elsie is Florence’s best friend and as the title suggests, there are three things you need to know about her.

 

We don’t learn all three things at once, but we learn them as we go through the book, as Florence becomes spooked by the arrival of a new resident, a man who should be dead. A man who died over fifty years previously.

 

In Florence’s corner are Elsie and another resident, Jack, but working against Elsie is – seemingly – the man himself, and Florence’s own muddled memories.

 

I worked out the third thing about Elsie pretty early on. So early on, in fact, that I couldn’t work out if it was meant to be an obvious ‘twist’ or not. It made me constantly question myself as this ‘third thing’ became a bigger and bigger unspoken thing among all the characters. Perhaps I was wrong? Perhaps the twist was that this obvious thing was actually not as it seemed?

 

I decided to stop second guessing myself. And I’m so glad I did.

 

In this novel, Cannon deftly weaves together multiple strands and multiple layers of story to reach a climax that will leave even the most experienced reader surprised, even if only a little it. Even if you do predict the big twist about Elsie – if in fact there actually is one – there are so many more connections both subtle and obvious that you won’t see coming, that will keep you guessing right to the end.

 

Three Things About Elsie is a charming novel, exploring not just aging and dementia, but also the way our lives and our actions impact on others.

 

The obvious comparison is to Elizabeth is Missing, but Three Things About Elsie goes further than that. You feel you know Florence’s whole life, not just the diminished later stages of it. And ultimately, it becomes a story not amount dementia, but about the way we treat others around us. The aged, the bereaved and those passing acquaintances.

 

Events that are important to us, secrets we keep that become huge burdens, they’re nothing to other people. But some of our smallest interactions with someone can have a lasting effect that we may never truly understand.

 

So while I may not see it is important if I know about a twist in a book or not, there are clearly people out there who do care. So I’m not going to tell you any of the three things about Elsie, you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

 

And you’ll be glad you did. In January 2018, when it’s published by Borough Press.

Grief is the Thing With Feathers – Max Porter

Back in November, I got the chance to present an award at the ‘Books are My Bag Reader’s Awards’. Like a nominee at the Oscars, it was an honour, just to be asked, but I also got to present the first award at the very awards.

 

I can already feel the blue plaque heading my way.

 

The award was for best fiction book of 2016 and the shortlist, selected by booksellers, was a strong one. Among the heavyweights of Maggie O’Farrell, Jessie Burton and Anne Enright were debut authors Joanna Cannon, Andrew Michael Hurley and Max Porter.

 

I’d read three of them and Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep was already in my reading pile. When I spotted Porter’s Grief Is The Thing With Feathers in my local WHSmith, I grabbed it so that I could add a fourth tick to my list (and it’s not often I actually buy books, so this marks it out as special right away).

 

It is not a long book, I could read it under an hour, but it’s not meant to be read in one sitting. It’s to be savoured, dipped into.

 

When I revealed it as winner up on that stage I said “and the winner is… on my bedside table, so no spoilers please.”

 

In reality, that’s a stupid thing to say about this book – it’s not the type of book that has spoilers, in fact, the spoiler is right there on the front cover. Grief is the thing with feathers. The metaphor of crow is spelled out for you right there.

 

(As an aside, the reason I ended up speaking such nonsense was because I was concentrating on not saying what was actually in my head which was namely “What are you doing, Alex? Get off the fucking stage.”)

 

So, what is it about? Dad. Boys. Crow.

 

A woman has died leaving behind three men. Dad and her boys. Dad, a Ted Hughes fan, introduces Crow into their lives. Crow is the thing with feathers. Crow is grief.

 

At first crow seems quite ominous, an imposing force on the small family’s life, however as we progress through the snapshots of their lives we learn that the the crow, their grief, is there to protect them from something worse: despair.

 

This book is more poetry than prose, each snapshot of their lives presented in short form, a small anecdote, or even just a sentence or two, capturing a moment or feeling as the boys deal with their grief.

 

The type of book you will be able to dip in and out of and find different meanings each time in the same sentences.

 

I’m not sure it would have been the title I would have picked to win the award for best Fiction 2016 – it feels different to fiction somehow, a category of it’s own, an outpouring of emotion, and not the sort of book I would normally read.

 

But I’m glad I did – and I’m pleased I got to present Porter with his award, because it certainly deserves recognition.