A(nother) Review: The Party by Elizabeth Day

Back at the end of November, some of you will remember I ran a little twitter tournament to find Twitter’s book of 2017.


The list was compiled from my favourite books of the year, some notable prize winners that I hadn’t read, and then rounded off with a couple of suggestions from Ginge and The Scottish One (names changed to protect the guilty)


The tournament was won by Matt Haig and How to Stop Time after a close battle with Adam Kay’s This Is Going to Hurt in the final, but I was ashamed to say that a book I hadn’t read had made the semi-finals.


I immediately sought out a copy of The Party by Elizabeth Day to rectify the fact (after telling Ginge off for not recommending it to me earlier) – and I’m glad I did. Had I read it earlier in the year, it would have easily made my 2017 Top Ten.


So, what’s it about?


Martin Gilmour is being interviewed by the police, they’re keen to find out more about what happened at the party he’d spent the evening at. The party was held by his best friend Ben Fitzmaurice and his wife Serena, while Martin attended with his wife Lucy. It wasn’t just an average house party, it was a big sumptuous occasion one that even the Prime Minister was rumoured to show up to.


And something went down.


We don’t know what, though. Instead we learn about the events of the party and the relationship between Martin and Ben in four ways – Martin’s police interview, flashbacks to Martin’s POV at the party, Lucy’s diary entries some time after the event and flashbacks to Martin and Ben’s school days.


With no real family of his own, Martin grew to see Ben as a brother, but is that view reciprocated or is it a classic case of the popular kid surrounding himself with yes men? Martin is known as LS – Little Shadow – so perhaps that gives you some clue, but as a reader, it was hard to know where this book was going to go. It kept you guessing, not just about what happened at the party, but about the true nature of the relationship between the two men.


Last week, I wrote about ‘writing about what you know’ – the opposite is true with reading, you should always try to read what you don’t.


I don’t have any real straight male friends, most of them that I socialise with are colleagues or partners of my close female friends. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why books about male friendships have always been some of my favourites (Tin Man, A Little Life), but here that was just one aspect of a very good book.


The book also explores through both Martin and Lucy, the nature of their marriage, her desire for kids, his desire for none, and ultimately that plays an important part. All of this takes place against the backdrop of the party. The party, the house, the school the boys went to, are all richly described, the bit players, the supporting characters are all solidly built, they seem real, but they don’t pull focus from our main trio.


If I had one criticism it would be that we don’t delve into the emotional side of things as much as I’d like to. A lot of stuff happens to Martin and Lucy, and I feel that we were kept apart from some of that – but at the same time, that is the nature of Martin’s character, a little bit detached, a little bit cold. This was likely done intentionally to put the reader into Matin’s mindset.


This makes for a great read, the type you’ll want to devour in one sitting, and a lot of people probably will when the paperback is released in April.


The Party is published by Fourth Estate and is available now in Hardback


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.

My Top 10 Books of 2017

It has become tradition at this time of year – well, I did it last year, and I’m doing it again this – for me to tell you my top 10 favourite books of the year.


There are literally hundreds of books published every week, and that’s just those from James Patterson, so the thirty or so books I’ve ready this year don’t even cut a small dent in that pile.


I like to think that I have some expertise at picking out good books, the cream of that large crop, so this stuff here really should be the creamiest cream at the top of the croppiest crop. I’ve possibly let that analogy run away with me.


In November, I ran a tournament on Twitter to find the best book of 2017 – Now, Twitter wouldn’t let me vote in my own poll, so this is where I get my say.


Matt Haig won with How to Stop Time while Adam Kay came second with This is Going to Hurt – will they appear in my Top 10 (Spoiler: They do) and if so, where will they appear?


There’s only one way to find out.


=10. Sputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth – Frank Cottrell Boyce


Each time I read a book, I record a score out of ten across various categories – at the end of the year, I sort that list and present it in reverse order here. The list is as much a mystery to me as it is to you.


Sputnik – a book for kids – is a slightly surprising entry to the list, but the truth is, this story is a fun romp (I got to use the word “romp” in my original review and dammit, I’m using it again now), it’s a little cartoonish in place, but it tells a nice tale with more than a hint of pathos.


=10. Animal – Sara Pascoe


Coming in in joint tenth position, and therefore making this year’s list a Top 11, is Sara Pascoe with her autobiography of what it means to be a woman. Not only did I learn more about the female body than I ever cared to, but her powerful chapter on consent takes on a new relevance following recent news stories…


9. Uncommon Type – Tom Hanks


Who knew the man could write as well as everything else he can do? This anthology of short stories from THE Tom Hanks is a great collection of tales all loosely connected by, of all things, typewriters. Crossing genres and time periods, these are nice bursts of fiction for everyone.


8. See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt


I read this one late last December, and it immediately jumped to the top of my ‘one to watch’ list for 2017, staying there for some time. Schmidt takes the familiar – or indeed, not so familiar – tale of Lizzie Borden and transplants the reader right into that creep house in Massachusetts. The writing is so vivid, so visceral you can actually feel the thickness of the air as you read. Definitely one of the best books of recent times.


=5. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman


This one stays with you. And not just me – it made it to the semi finals of the twitter tournament. The character of Eleanor Oliphant is bizarre, unique. She stands out for being a one-off, but in a way, she is so easily identifiable. We are all outsiders looking to connect, but Eleanor’s tale quickly veers from quirky to tragic, and takes the unsuspecting reader along with it.


Despite that, I will remember this book mostly because every time I try to write about it, every autocorrect known to man wants to call it Eleanor Elephant.


=5. This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay


The second of three books in joint fifth position is the runner up of our twitter vote. This often hilarious insight into the life of a junior doctor gives the reader a fresh perspective of a job coloured by what we see on the news and on Holby City. Like many of the other books on the list, the serious turn at the end packs a real punch.


There’s also a fucking fuckload of swearing in it.


=5. How to Stop Time – Matt Haig


One of the books I’ve not stopped banging on about this year, and the winner of our twitter poll makes it to (joint) fifth in my personal top 10. I said during the poll that I couldn’t pick between this and Adam Kay, so I’m mildly amused to discover I scored them exactly the same.


How To Stop Time takes a corker of a concept – a man who ages at a much slower rate than the rest of us – he’s four hundred, looks forty – and runs with it, using the man’s condition as a metaphor for depression.


He also calls the American President a motherfucker.


4. The Sparsholt Affair – Alan Hollinghurst


So what on earth could beat Matt Haig? I’m a sucker for a gay love saga and Alan Hollinghurst doesn’t disappoint with his latest. The opening half of the book, exploring the viewpoints of Freddie Green and a young Johnny Sparsholt are worth the entrance fee alone. The ending doesn’t quite hold up compared to the first half, but that’s a little like saying Romeo and Juliet isn’t as good as Macbeth.


3. The One – John Marrs


Proving that it’s not all about the heavy literary scene, this thriller from John Marrs was a bit of a surprise to me at the beginning of the year. I like a thriller as much as the next person, but they can be a little throwaway at times. Not this one. A unique concept linking five separate stories that forces us to question the true nature of love.


2. The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne


Similar in a way to the Alan Hollinghurst, Boyne charts the history of gay rights through Ireland through the history of one man. By investing in the one character, though, it just heightens the emotional impact, and the ending hits just the right note, managing to bring a year or to the eye.




So the winner.



If you’ve been paying attention throughout this year, this will come as no surprise to you.




1. Tin Man – Sarah Winman


Heartbreaking. Joyous. Triumphant. An exploration of life and love and grief. This book has become part of me since I read it in one sitting earlier this year. I still occasionally hug my copy of it, just to make myself feel better.


If you haven’t read it… well, I shan’t talk to you until you do.




All of these books are available now – and I’ve managed to cross quite a broad list this year. Christmas is coming – so consider this your wish list – or a gift guide for the literary lover in your life.


I’ll be back at the end of December with a short round-up of the books I’m most excited about for 2018…

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!



A(nother) Review: Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks (yes, THAT Tom Hanks)

This is going to be a short review.


With the new collection of short stories from Tom Hanks, I have learned that short can sometimes be sweet.


Uncommon Type features a range of stories set all across America and a span of times. They are all connected by – of all things – typewriters.


Hanks is famous for collecting different types of typewriters. Well, that’s a lie – he’s famous for many, many films, but he is known by some to be a collector of different typewriters, and it’s through these machines that we view the different strands of Hanks’ collection.


This isn’t a book about typewriters though, it is – as I suspect most short story collections are – about the human condition. Perhaps most books are about that, but I think it’s more prevalent, more obvious in short stories.


There are some that are clear – like the one that is about a woman moving to a new neighbourhood and learning to look past her pre-conceptions – while there are others that take a little more thought, where their meaning is more subjective.


Some are thought-provoking, some are funny, but all of them are nice, distracting little vignettes.


When I wrote about Tin Man – I cited it as a short book, a mere two hundred pages – but the stories in here average about twenty pages, just a tenth of the size.


Short stories are not something you’re going to lose yourself in, it would be hard to lose yourself in their worlds for an extended period of time, but for those of us who don’t have much time, or want to fall in love with reading again this might be the place to start.


Uncommon Type is a beautiful collection of tales from a surprising – yet unsurprising – source. After all, is anyone truly astonished to discover that Hanks can write as well as everything else he can do?


Uncommon Type is published on 17th October by William Heinemann