Tag Archives: We Love This Book

Some Books of 2013

I don’t do my lists of the best books I have read until the last two days of the year, yet I love it when the lists start to appear here, there and everywhere. They can be good for Christmas lists either for your loved ones or for you to add to your own list if you feel you have missed out on any of them.  The Guardian, The Independent, The New York Times and The TLS have all done their lists, or asked authors and/or critics to do them and I always have a gander at them, though I do feel they are always a little samey or a little back patting. For me it is the bloggers Books of the Year that I always find the most interesting and so thought I would share some links you can peruse at your own pleasure. Who knows they may have some classics of the future in them.

First up, the good folk at We Love This Book are clearly of the same mind as me when it comes to wanting to know which books bloggers loved as they have asked several of them (myself included) to come up with their books of the year. The list is marvellous and I can most certainly vouch for Annabel and Gavin’s choices as they are also two more of my favourites with reviews arriving (one almost imminently) soon here. My choice has actually changed a few times since I was asked for the list but it is most likely in my top three for 2013 for sure. There are also lots more books I haven’t read and now want to read on the list, I am particularly keen to read Kim’s as I trust her taste a lot.

Speaking of Kim of Reading Matters, she has a wonderful Christmassy bloggers advent calendar going on in the lead up to Christmas. So far I have only heard of one book (which I have tried and failed to read) from the selection so far but have bookmarked the page, as I am sure you all will, to keep the recommendations coming as it looks like it will be a fantastic list. You may even see a Savidge recommendation on there one day, who can say.

Finally lots of you have been recommending books since I asked for you Books of 2013 so far. A wonderful selection of titles can be found there and I would love it if you kept the recommendations coming below this post to. I can never get enough recommendations can you?

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The Women’s Prize for Fiction Shortlist 2013

So here are the six books that have made the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist 2013…

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Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (Doubleday)
May We Be Forgiven – A.M. Holmes (Granta)
Flight Behaviour – Barbara Kingsolver (Faber and Faber)
Bring Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel (Fourth Estate)
Where’d You Go, Bernadette – Maria Semple (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
NW – Zadie Smith (Hamilton)

Alas this year I couldn’t play ‘guess the shortlist’ as I knew it in advance so that I could do a feature for We Love This Book from ‘the man’s perspective’, along with my initial thoughts on the short listed books which you can see here on the website (not a Mantel bashing in site). You will also learn there that, yes indeed, I am going to read the whole of the shortlist, including re-reading A.M. Holmes and trying again with Zadie Smith, this year.

Obviously not having read them all I am in no real position to say which one I think will win, however I did randomly decide that it would be Kate Atkinson that would win this year, and so far the signs are good. I have decided that will be the last of the shortlist I read. I am going to start with Kingsolver, partly because it is the one I am the most daunted by and also because I am at Gran’s and she has a copy and I don’t, ha.

Who else is thinking of reading the short list? I am not going to suggest an official read-a-long but if anyone is reading them might be nice to have some support and people to swap notes with. Even if you aren’t planning on reading all of them what do you make of the list? Which have you read and which do you fancy reading?

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Gone to the Forest – Katie Kitamura

One of the nice things about being asked to review books elsewhere is that invariably the books that I get sent, or can choose from, are not books I would have initially picked myself. This happened when We Love This Book asked me if I would like to read Katie Kitamura’s latest novel ‘Gone to the Forest’. I hadn’t read any of her previous work and new very little about her, so it seemed an ideal way of trying a completely new to me author which I jumped at the chance of trying.

*** The Clerkenwell Press, hardback, 2013, fiction, 194 pages, kindly sent by We Love This Book

In an unnamed country we meet Tom and his father, the latter who set up a farm on 100,000 acres of bush land and river trying forty years ago to make a living on cattle and the Dorado fish. As the novel opens Tom over hears an announcement on the radio declaring a civil war on this colonial land and while he worries he really thinks nothing of it. His thoughts are otherwise occupied as other domestic and natural disasters threaten as a woman intended for him, yet stolen by his father, becomes a demure threat to the life he knows and then a volcano erupts threatening to end the farming life they have created.

More often than not as the book progresses you almost forget that there could be a civil war on the horizon, but that, it seemed to me, is Kitamura’s plan as suddenly the book takes a much darker and horrifying turn of events as we read on. What I really admired with ‘Gone to the Forest’ is that she uses the natural disasters and events that happen initially both as a separate story, which leads to people acting in an animalistic and rather disturbing way, and a precursor to also almost foreshadow what is to come and add a sense of foreboding to the novel early on.

“They are reading the wrong signs. The right signs have nothing to do with history or culture. Two days before the eruption the snakes fled down the mountain. They slid, then dropped into the river and drowned. Within hours they were washing up on the dirt banks of the river. Stiff and twisted like small branches of wood, their bodies rigid in death.”

Kitamura seems to have two very differing styles of writing which she interestingly combines both in the light and dark shades of the atmosphere, the beauty of the landscape and also the foreboding nature I mentioned. She also does this with characters. For example with Tom, who should be out hero of the piece and yet seems to be rather ineffectual to be honest, he is a character built by everyone else, not just in terms how they seem him but how they treat him and interact with him. He seems to be the target of his father’s bullying and anger of his mother’s death and also the butt of jokes to the staff and even to his intended wife. Subsequently whilst I wanted to feel for him, I also wanted him to grow a pair to be honest.

“Tom is like a blind man. He does not see what is about to hit him in the face and knock him down. It has been shown to him but he has been looking the other way. Jose is not inclined to explain, perhaps believing the task to be insurmountable.”

Kitamura also has a raw and earthy writing style that is filled with energy and almost bristles with an inexplicable heat and anger on occasion. This was when I found the book its most powerful and, after Tom’s father being such a bully, it is when Tom’s intended, or ‘the girl’, arrives into the story that everything takes a much darker and angrier turn, both in the characters actions (one scene is truly shocking) and also in the writing itself.

“She is like a bitch in heat. The same smell comes off the animals during mating season. They run across the land, eyes rolling in the back of their heads, sick and made foul with desire. They have to lock the dogs away when they are like this. There is nothing else for it. They should do the same to the girl only it is too late and the fever has already set in. Into all of them, into the walls of the house.”

For me it was in the latter cases when Kitamura’s prose was at its most wonderfully evocative and I think I would have liked the whole book to have had that spark. Weirdly it was anything around Tom and his thoughts, or lack of them, that made ‘Gone to the Forest’ a little distant; sometimes I couldn’t emotionally connect with him and yet it really was his story overall, I was more interested in everyone else. By the end of the book though I was hooked and harrowed in equal measure.

I certainly won’t forget ‘Gone to the Forest’ and I think really that is what Kitamura wants and maybe why you need the mundane nature of Tom to make what comes have such a stark contrast.   There are some books which very slowly take you by the hand and as they lead you along they grip you tighter and tighter before suddenly letting you go and leaving their mark on you for days to come. This was very much what happened with me and this book. ‘Gone to the Forest’ is a book which starts of very quietly yet taking you by surprise with a cracking great wallop at the end.

I am pondering if this might just be on the Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist next week, it has a certain passion in its prose that really makes it stand out. We will have to see. In the meantime has anyone else read it? Has anyone read Katie’s debut ‘The Longshot’? It is about boxing and whilst that is not by any means a subject I have any interest in I am inclined to seek it out.

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The Man Booker Prize 2012

So today is the big day and we will find out what the judges of the Man Booker Prize 2012 have decided as a collective are their best 12 or 13 books of the past year. I personally love all the waiting and the guessing in the lead up to the announcement as well as all the discussion once the list has been announced; all of the ‘oh I can’t believe that this was on the list when that wasn’t’ etc. The debate it creates about books is fantastic and who can complain at that?

I also really love trying to guess the books that will make the Man Booker longlist each year. I am always way of the mark and look completely inept but who cares, again it is all part of the fun. I was asked by the lovely Katie at We Love This Book, rather in advance as I am away; if I would suggest some titles I would love to see on the list this year. You can see it here (which will open in a new window).

These are not my predictions though, I doubt my tastes will match five judges, I also think that we will see a lot of familiar faces this year (Amis, Carey, Banville etc) with previous listed authors being automatically being entered again. I have been thinking about this recently I can’t decide if I think that this is a good thing or a bad thing to be honest, there are pro’s and con’s.

As I mentioned before I am sadly out of the country while the announcement and all the initial debate is going on (the joys of being able to schedule posts ahead of time) which will be lovely as I will (hopefully) be relaxing in the sun but I am miffed that I will miss it all going on at the time, I will have to wait until I am back. So I thought I would ask you all a little favour…

I am hoping that some of you will please leave your comments (which I have been rubbish at replying at, sorry, I will be better when I am back and have had a proper break) below with your guesses or books you would like to see listed (or links to them), thoughts on the books when they are listed and what you would have liked to have seen appear on the list as well as or instead of. Then I can come and join in with you all when I get back – especially as I don’t have Facebook and the Man Booker website forum pages have vanished in the revamp. Oh and… Are any of you planning on reading the lot?

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The Forrests – Emily Perkins

What I love about reading books you know nothing about is that they can occasionally make you learn something about the reader that you are. I have always thought I have rather eclectic reading tastes with a slight leaning towards ‘literary fiction’ (if I was forced to surmise it that is how I would put it) yet I have recently read a book that I think was too literary for me. It is the second release from new publishing imprint Bloomsbury Circus, who aim to be ‘unashamedly literary’, which is something which excited me, however I think ‘The Forrests’ by Emily Perkins might be one of those novels that is so literary that while its lovely to read in a way, it completely goes over your head. Well it did for me a little sadly.

Bloomsbury Circus, trade paperback, 2012, fiction, 340 pages, sent by the We Love This Book for review

‘The Forrests’ is a clever mixture of family saga and the story of the life of Dorothy Forrest. It’s also a book which seems to celebrate the ordinary and everyday in life, there’s no major story arch, just the snap shot stories of a woman’s life.

As we follow her from her childhood, and the slightly dysfunctional family that she comes from, we are drawn into her life through snapshots. Yet interestingly Dorothy isn’t the omnipresent narrator or even the main protagonist that you might assume, that role often passes onto other characters. These are mainly her siblings like Eve, some who don’t really appear in the book themselves, or like Daniel a boy who her mother ‘took in’. We often learn more about Dorothy when she is described by others or appears in everyone else’s consciousness. It’s one of those books which rely on what is ‘unsaid’ about people and their actions leaving the reader to do a lot of the work.

I am not averse to making an effort with a novel at all, actually sometimes the books where the author allows the reader a freedom to move within the story and almost create some sort of collaboration between writer and reader can be my favourites. You feel trusted. However, my main issue with ‘The Forrests’ is that there was almost too much effort to work out just what the heck was going on. Paragraphs and sections of the novel can shift viewpoint without you realising who is then talking. You also have small situation set pieces which, as the book is so much ‘a celebration of a normal life’ if you will, seems to be in the book for no reason, they are just another event in Dorothy, Eve’s or Daniel’s life. Again some people will adore this, I found myself oddly frustrated and really trying to find out where the plot was, and I am often saying I can really enjoy a book that is has no plot but is simply observations of peoples/characters lives.

Here’s an example of where the writing it utterly beautiful, yet what is going on is rather confusing and, if I am honest, has no integral part to the story…

“The woman leaned down to examine his collar. ‘Where did you find him?’  
 ‘He’s my dad’s.’ She pointed down the road in the direction the woman came from. ‘I don’t know his name.’  
 ‘Blackie?’ The woman was speaking to the dog. ‘Blackie?’  
 The dog barked again, loud over the running car engine.  
 ‘It’s acting like it can talk,’ Evelyn said. ‘Like you’re having a conversation.’  
 The woman laughed.  
 ‘Is he yours? Evelyn asked. ‘Blackie?’
 ‘Yes. He’s grown a bit.’  
 Exhaust fumes coloured the air. The light of early morning had found its way onto everything now, on the dogs conker-coloured eyes and the woman’s sleep deprived face, in the spaces beneath the tree trunks and over the pile of grey stones Evelyn had gathered.  
 Evelyn dug at the stones with her foot, sending one skittering over to the woman. ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘My dad’s really going to miss him.’”

The writing is utterly beautiful, yet sometimes Perkins so wants to fill the book with words – which some people will love – the sentences can become never-ending. The style of the novel and it’s drifting nature make it seem dreamlike, yet also, for me personally, meant I was sometimes unsure who in the Forrest family I was following and slightly unable to connect with any one character, especially Dot who the novel focuses on in particular from a midway point, yet she isn’t developed enough at the start. I felt like I knew everyone else and what they thought about her, rather than me actually having connected with her in any way.

I liked ‘The Forrests’ rather a lot in parts, I also felt equally frustrated by it. It’s left me feeling rather like I am sitting on the fence about a book, which doesn’t happen to me very often. I admired it greatly for its prose and style, even if I never quite fully connected with it.. Some people will love this book because the fact it is so dreamy and meandering, yet for the very same reason I can imagine some people might just loathe it. I guess it depends on how literary you like your novels. Odd analogy warning; but it reminds me of when I drank Cristal champagne, I knew it was special and refined and of exceptional quality, I just wasn’t sure it was for me. One thing is for certain though, Emily Perkins can certainly write and its good that Bloomsbury Circus are trying to find authors who have missed out on some of the success they most likely deserve. Plus I could be in the small minority with this book as there is already some buzz that this could win this year’s Booker prize. Who knows?

Has anyone else read this and if so what did you think? I have seen reviews from all extremes but would love to chat about it. Do you have any books that you have tried and found almost too literary for you? How did you combat that? Did you give up or persevere trying to appreciate how good the writing was?

A shortened version of this review appeared in We Love This Book.

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Books By The Bedside #2

I meant to blog all weekend I really did, alas I just got to busy with other fun stuff. As I had intended to post something about what we are all reading at the moment I thought that I would back date a post, that’s allowed isn’t it? So here we have the return of ‘Books By The Bedside’, a peripheral view of what I am reading at the moment and planning on reading very soon, also a series I planned to make more regular, whoops!

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At the moment my main read, and book of contention if I am being honest, is ‘Mary Barton’ by Elizabeth Gaskell. Yes, I am still reading it. It’s a bit like wading through treacle (we’ve all been there). Despite a murder happening, which I thought might spice it up a bit, Mary has almost instantly worked out who it is so now we know. If it wasn’t the first choice for ‘Manchester Book Club’ I would have given up by now. But, like the characters in the book actually, I have the grim determination to see it through to the end against all obstacles… Like boredom. Shall we move on?

I am combating the above book with a favourite thanks to pure timing. Monday is World Book Night and not only will I be giving away copies of ‘Rebecca’ I will also be reading it at an event at Waterstones Deansgate from 6.30pm. I’ve been dipping into Daphers for some favourite sections! I do bloody love this book.

The two books I am planning to read are ‘Home’ the latest Toni Morrison novel, which will also be my first foray into her work, for a review in We Love This Book, I am intrigued to see how great she is. I know lots of people who love her work. It’s fairly short but I am hoping packs a punch. I will then be reading ‘The Last Werewolf’ by Glen Duncan, described by one of my favourite book lovers Marieke Hardy as a ‘very silly book’ and a ‘cock forest’. It’s also the first of The Readers Summer Book Club choices so I best crack on.

It’s rather a small pile of books for me I admit, but at the moment I am splitting my weeks between Manchester and Liverpool (more on the lovely reason for this soon), so only so many books I can lug about.

Anyway… Which books are you reading and keen to read? Have you read any of the above, or other works by the authors? Do let me know as always.

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August – Bernard Beckett

I first heard about Bernard Beckett’s first novel for adults (though some debate this is also a young adult novel I would disagree), he has written very successful young adult novels in Australia, ‘August’ on that wonderful TV show ‘The First Tuesday Book Club’ where Jennifer Byrne was enthusing about it as ‘one of the other books I have been reading this month’. I liked the sound of the plot, a very unusual thriller of two strangers ending up in a crashed car together, and by the cover. Yes, those two things made it sound like just the read for me and so I begged to review it for We Love This Book.

Quercus Publishing, paperback, 2011, fiction, 208 pages, sent by We Love This Book for review

The premise of ‘August’ sounds an unlikely one. How on earth might two strangers, Tristan and Grace, end up in a car that has crashed together if they didn’t know each other before hand? Well really to give too much away would be to spoil ‘August’ for anyone who is thinking of reading it, and that is part of the joy of this novel. I can say that as the story line develops it seems these two might not be quite the strangers to each other as we the reader, and indeed them as characters, believe.  

You might not think that two people stuck in a car, in agony battered and broken, would make for a thrilling read. This is where Beckett excels. Not only do we have the cleverly plotted slow reveal of their back stories as they try and keep each other awake, in case of death, as they await help, Beckett’s writing has a real pace to it and I was hooked from the opening paragraph as Tristan and Grace’s crash is described to us.  

“For a moment the balance was uncertain. The headlights stabbed at the thick night. A rock loomed, smooth and impassive, then swung out of the frame. A stunted tree rushed at him, gnarled and prickly. The seat pushed hard, resisting his momentum. Road, rock again, grass, gravel. The forces resolved their differences and he was gliding, a dance of sorts, but he was deaf to its rhythm, just as he was deaf to her screams. Instinct fought the wheel, but the future drew them in.”

There is a slight ‘but’ coming though. Again it’s hard not to give anything away but I became slightly disinterested in their past stories as I realised this was going to be one of those slightly philosophical and almost theological novels. Tristan is from ‘The City’ and a closed religious group where ‘The Rector’ has decided he is the perfect person to test his theories on, a human guinea pig if you will. Only these theories are all about things from guessing which direction a ball will roll, and if it as an inanimate object can choose where it goes, to being able to predict how all humans think, do we really have free will?  

Initially this was quite interesting but about a third in, after two pages discussing which way a ball might roll and why, I started to loose interest. The same applied when Tristan becomes embroiled in a real live test of wills the rector has set with two ‘children of the night’ to win their freedom with no rules. It should have been exciting, but it wasn’t quite. Bizarre then that I should say I wished this book was longer, though maybe with less of ‘life’s big questions’ in it. I would have loved to know much more about ‘The City’ and those who inhabited it, where it was and get deeper into the foreboding atmosphere it had that only remained on the periphery.

Beckett makes ‘August’ something more than a ‘self help/deep thought through fiction’ novel with its two protagonists in the car, these moments of fear trapped in their metal wreckage are interspersed between the back stories and add a huge amount of tension. As the novel progresses there are twists and turns in Tristan and Grace’s story which will have you hooked, including one or two shocks. You think you know why and how they got there and what might happen next only to have Beckett twists and turns the plot and you too are thrown off course yourself. It has certainly left me wanting to read much more of Beckett’s work.

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