Tag Archives: Stefan Merrill Block

Evie Wyld & Edward Hogan’s Books of 2011

I always love it when people you know are on a wave length with the books they love that you have read, it means they might know lots of books you haven’t read but really should. You might remember that I mentioned how a short review Evie Wyld did on Open Book led me to reading ‘The Hunger Trace’ by Edward Hogan, which has become one of my favourite reads of the year. Well after I tweeted about it Evie and I were then emailing about other bookish bits and bobs, as she works in an independent bookshop which I am most envious of, at the same time I was also emailing Ed about Derbyshire (as we are both from there and I had just finished his wonderful second novel and wanted to say wow) and we started discussing books of the year and then I thought why not get both of them to tell me their top five books that I could share with all of you? I think they are two of the literary worlds Bright Young Things and, though it makes me feel slightly sick and hate them just a little that they are only two years older than me and such creative geniuses, I thought it would be interesting to see what two authors of the future (and present, but you know what I mean) have read and loved this year. So that is what I am going to do today…

So, ladies first and Evie’s five books of 2011…

The Devil all the Time by Donald Ray Pollock

It’s not often you read a book in which the author has successfully balanced darkness and comedy so cleverly. There’s something compelling about an author who can write about the worst things imaginable, with such an extraordinarily poor and bleak landscape as their backdrop and still manage to get out of it a bouncy and colourful voice which is utterly compelling. Its set in rural Ohio and West Virginia, and it’s drunken and violent and unsettling – a dream.

The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block

There are sentences so beautiful in A Storm at the Door that you reread them over and over wondering how Block’s brain works. It’s a kind of imagined memoir of his American grandparents. His grandfather spent much of his life in an asylum in Boston. It’s tough and manic and extraordinary, dotted with occasional photographs of the couple, which is a touch I love. You could say it’s an interesting examination of truth in memoir, and the thin line between fact and fiction, but more than that it is a beautifully written book.

A Taste of Chlorine by Bastien Vivès

A graphic novel that takes place almost entirely in a swimming pool. There are pages with practically no words but just the acutely observed sensation of being in a public swimming pool – the light and the movement, the strange isolation. It’s a love story about a man who starts swimming to treat his bad back, and who meets a woman in the pool. Not a lot that you can see really happens, but a lot is sensed. I reread this about once a month.

Waterline by Ross Raisin

I’m baffled as to why Waterline hasn’t been on heaps of prize lists. In the book shop when I recommend it to customers, sometimes they’ll say it sounds too sad, but sad things happen in novels, because they’re about life. Rant over, this is a fabulous book and it’s a devastatingly good book to follow God’s Own Country. Waterline is a journey between Glaswegian shipyards, Australia and London, and it’s about death and guilt and sadness, but it’s also written by Ross Raisin, which means the writing is exceptional and darkly funny even in its most crippling sad bits.

The Vintage and the Gleaning by Jeremy Chambers

The story is of an old sheep shearer who has spent his life filled to the gills with alcohol, and who has just been told that if he drinks again, his stomach will rupture and he will kill himself. He works on a vineyard in South Australia now, and the drinking culture there is just as heavy as that of the shearers, the suspicion of non-drinkers just as tough. The dialogue in this book is the thing that stunned me. Chambers gives the voice enough space that seemingly banal conversations become beautifully funny and meaningful. There’s a story repeated over and over about a dog stealing an ice cream that made me happier than any other storyline this year, possibly ever.

So now to the lovely Edward and his five books of 2011…

Irma Voth by Miriam Toews

My book of the year.  It’s about a 19-year-old girl growing up in a Mennonite community in Mexico.  Irma is a brilliant character; she’s funny and forgiving and has a huge capacity for love.  Her hard life is invigorated by the arrival of a Mexican film crew.  Toews herself starred in a film about Mennonites, and she warmly satirises the process here. She’s great at writing about kindness (which is rare), and Irma Voth is funny in that way which makes you laugh, then keel over, then weep with sadness.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd)

A shockingly original and powerful monster story about a boy, Conor, dealing with the impending death of his mother.  It has the ancient power of a parable, but contains all the subtleties and complications of Conor’s grief.  I’ve no idea how Patrick Ness managed it.  The hardback is beautifully illustrated by Jim Kay.

Waterline by Ross Raisin

With the dominant political party and half of the media demonising everyone without a job, the country needs this book!  It charts the fall of Mick Little, a former worker at the Glasgow shipyards, into poverty and homelessness.  Raisin isn’t sentimental about the underworld of the homeless, he shows you how it works in well-researched detail, and presents Mick – with compassion – in all his humanity.

The Virago Book of Ghost Stories

Ghost stories are usually very political, so it’s fascinating to read these tales written by women over the last 150 years or so. Of course, there are the masters of the craft, like May Sinclair, but the contemporary writers hold their own, too. A.S. Byatt’s story is very moving, and Penelope Lively has a subversive story about a middle class woman who is held hostage in her home by a spectral black dog prowling in the garden.

Lazarus is Dead by Richard Beard

I’m only halfway through this sort of fictionalised biography of Jesus’ bezzie mate, but already it’s a remarkable book. Without being patronising or arrogant, Beard shows you how fiction can not only ‘fill in the gaps’ of history, but also revise it, take issue with it. It’s so confident, and also funny. ‘What was Jesus really like?’ one admirer asks Lazarus. ‘Slow at climbing,’ he replies.

So there we have it! What do you think of the selection of books that they have chosen? I haven’t read any of these so in all likelihood the ones I haven’t will now be on my radar. I think I am going to have to read the Ross Raisin book after seeing them both recommending ‘Waterline’, I was told by lots of people I should read that but the boats on the cover put me off. Have you read any of them, or the authors who have made the suggestions novels (my grammar and waffle killer seem to have vanished today sorry)? I would love to hear your thoughts. My top books of 2011 will be appearing on Saturday (when I will be asking to hear what yours are), though if you are gasping for a taster listen to the latest episode of The Readers here.

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Filed under Books of 2011, Edward Hogan, Evie Wyld

June’s Incomings…

Yes yet another month has flown by and it’s that time when I ask for you thoughts on the books that have come through the letterbox, or snuck in hidden in my bag etc. I was thinking that it wasn’t such a bumper month and then remembered that I had been sent the TV book club titles (I’ve had to give up on ‘Moonlight Mile’ it’s just not me) then there are the Penguins I rescued and the Daphne Du Maurier discovery, oops.

So what paperbacks have come through the door?

  • My Michael by Amos Oz – unsolicited copy, but one that I am glad has arrived as I haven’t read any Amos Oz and would like to (I seem to have lots of his books) has anyone any recommendations on Oz?
  • The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago – another unsolicited copy of an author I really should read, any tips with Saramago?
  • Charles Jessold Considered a Murderer by Wesley Stace – an unsolicited copy of a book that looks right up my street with its gothic murderous tones. I once started Stace’s ‘Misfortune’ and really liked it but left it on a train, got another copy but haven’t picked it up again, I must.
  • Butterfly’s Shadow by Lee Langley – unsolicited copy
  • Nimrod’s Shadow by Chris Paling – after reading ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall and loving it so much I have been hankering after more of the ‘Fiction Uncovered’ titles. This is one.
  • Conditions of Faith by Alex Miller – this will learn me the publishers emailed me very nicely about this book, I said yes… thinking it was another book. I thought it was ‘Pure’ by Andrew Miller, oops. Never mind though, I will enjoy it none the less, well I hope I will.
  • The Reckoning by Jane Casey – unsolicited copy, and the second in the series, how annoying as it looks really good, but I like to start at the beginning.
  • The Empty Family by Colm Toibin – I am in the mood for short stories and I love Toibin so this will be read soon, also a GCP submission.
  • Days of Grace by Catherine Hall – Thrilled this has come, it seems Catherine’s publisher, editor and Catherine herself really liked how much I loved ‘The Proof of Love’ (am I stuck record about this book yet) and so her now debut novel has arrived.
  • The Skating Rink by Robert Bolano – another unsolicited copy of an author I really should read, any tips with Bolano?
  • Some Hope/Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn – I asked you all if I should read him, and his publishers spotted this and so sent me all of the books you can see ‘At Last’ below. Very excited about this series, have been dipping into ‘Some Hope’ and its proving emotional and incredible.
  • Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay – I haven’t read any Jackie Kay but have always wanted to, also a GCP submission.
  • The Sacrificial Man by Ruth Dugall – This arrived and with it came guilt because I know so many people who have told me to read ‘The Woman Before Me’ and I have it and still haven’t… I will though.

Next up is those hardback and trade paperbacks lots of which I am very, very excited about…

  • The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – I liked his last young adult book ‘The Shadow in the Mist’ for its creepiness, I am hoping this one has the same feel to it. Ooh, I still havent read ‘The Angels Game’, what am I playing at?
  • The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb – interesting title and stunning cover, I think this is one of the books I am going to be reading next as it seems to have been ‘under the radar’ and I am after more books like that. Plus it’s another GCP submission.
  • Night Waking by Sarah Moss – I have already read this one; it’s another ‘Fiction Uncovered’ title and its one that will be getting lots of praise in due course. Its still got me thinking hence no sooner review.
  • The London Satyr by Robert Edric – I didn’t get on with ‘Salvage’ but this novel based in the Victorian underbelly, well that’s the gist I have got, sounds right up my street and is again part of ‘Fiction Uncovered’.
  • Rory’s Boys by Alan Clark – this comes almost screaming its praise from Sue Townsend, a GCP submission.
  • At Last by Edward St Aubyn – the whole series arrived, see above
  • Five Bells by Gail Jones – I saw Kimbofo’s review of this and so had to get my mitts on a copy. It sounds very much like my sort of book.
  • By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham – this will be my first Cunningham read and I am very much looking forward to it.
  • History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason – another book I know little about, though I think the authors debut was one everyone was talking about, a GCP submission.
  • Gypsy Boy on the Run by Mikey Walsh – unsolicited copy which I don’t know why the publishers sent me, as Hodder generally don’t, maybe it’s because it’s a novel about a gay man? Who knows.
  • Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith – I read Bob Smith’s column/essay collection years ago so am thrilled this arrived, it’s a GCP submission.
  • Fold by Tom Campbell – unsolicited proof, I am going to look into this one a little more as initially its not sounding like my sort of thing.
  • All The Time in the World by E. L. Doctorow – I loved ‘Homer and Langley’ so much when I read it that I am really looking forward to this novel about a stranger coming into someone’s family and relationships and changing everything.
  • The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block – I still haven’t read his debut novel, I saw how much Rachel Booksnob loved this book and so was thrilled when it arrived.
  • The Watchers by Jon Steele – I asked for this one as I am was in the mood for trying something different, I am looking forward to this one a lot as it sounds a bit apocalyptic and supernatural and rather page turning, perfect summer read.
  • The Somnambulist by Essie Fox – set in the Victorian era and rather spooky sounding, how could I not want to read this?
  • Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante – I am wondering if Alice is any relation of Linda? This sounds like it’s a gripping and rather emotionally packed crime, I am loving crime fiction this year so this is an unsolicited copy I am looking forward to.
  • The Hunger Trace by Edward Hogan – Thanks to @Foyles who mentioned to S&S the publishers that I really liked Hogan’s debut ‘Blackmoor’ (reading that review shows how much my attitude to blogging has changed, ha) and Hogan is a fellow lad from Derbyshire so that adds to it.
  • Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman – This has caused some controversy I believe as a book a s a tribute to the authors dead wife, can’t seem to find much more out about it than that, has anyone else heard the furore about this?
  • Ashes by Sergios Gakas – now this will be a first, a crime/thriller by a Greek author. A book I will therefore have to give to my Greece-obsessed mother once I have finished it, not sure how she will react to all the cocaine binges that it has in store though.

Blimey typing all those books up actually makes me realise that there were a lot more than I realised, if that wasn’t enough I also received some gifts from friends and then went and bought myself some treats.

  • Read This Next… And Discover 500 New Favourite Books by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark – I saw this on Chasing Bawa, she has now reviewed it, and thought it sounded right up my street, so what a surprise when it arrived in the post as a gift from the lovely Sakura herself.
  • The Newspaper of Claremont Street by Elizabeth Jolley/BUtterfield 8 by John O’Hara – Kimbofo sent me both of these as she knows I live on a Claremont related road and also I work in the publishing industry, plus I loved the sound of it from her review. She also sent me the Riverside Readers last read, it sounded amazing and I was gutted that I missed out on it (I miss that book group so much – I am wondering if they would let me join in virtually?) and now I can give it a whirl.
  • The Rector’s Daughter by F.M. Mayor – I have wanted this forever and found it for a whopping 50p in Cambridge, Susan Hill raves about this book which makes me want to read it even more, I think it might be out of print now.
  • Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen – Kimbofo has a lot to answer for actually, her review of this crime thriller made me subconsciously pop it in my trolley at the supermarket. It wasn’t my fault honest… and I know, I know supermarket book buying is sent from the devil.
  • Fidelity by Susan Glaspell – I found this Persephone classic in a new very well hidden local charity shop for a whopping 30p, I know a Persephone for 30p. No idea if it’s good or not, but that didn’t matter at the time… it was 30p!

There that’s my loot this month, what lovely stuff have you had of late? Which of the above have you read and loved? Which would you like to see me reading next?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Fiction Uncovered

Should Have Reads 2008

So whilst putting the final touches to the Savidge Dozen (or my version of the best books of 2009 in my humble opinion) I have been going through the books I have read and been sent or bought and of course the ones that I haven’t managed to read. So I thought I would do my own top ten of books that I haven’t managed to read but will be showing their faces in the first few months of 2009. I wonder if any of them will be in the Should Have Reads 2009, what a depressing thought, swiftly moving on…

The Top Ten Should Have Reads 2008

1. The Secret Scripture – Sebastian BarryThe

2. Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
3. Love In A Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford
4. Story Of Forgetting – Stefan Merrill Block
5. The Outcast – Sadie Jones
6. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
7. The Little Friend – Donna Tartt
8. My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier
9. Bonk – Mary Roach
10. Company of Liars – Karen Maitland (as didn’t finish it this year)

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Daphne Du Maurier, Leo Tolstoy, Mary Roach, Nancy Mitford, Sebastian Barry, Tom Rob Smith