Man Booker 2017 Shortlist Predictions

The clock is ticking and it won’t be long until the six lucky authors in the running for the UK’s biggest book prize are announced. So who is tipped to get their name on the list?

Newcomers Fridlund and Mozley seem to be longshots alongside Paul Auster’s epic tome 4,3,2,1. Previous winners Zadie Smith and Arundhati Roy, have both released big novels this year but the odds don’t seem to be in their favour. The innovative Solar Bones and Exit West are possibilities and could make exciting editions to the list. But who is at the top of the bookies and critics lists?

The Underground Railroad

A hugely relevant book for 2017, combining the history of slavery with sci-fi elements. With a number of awards already in the bag, is the one to beat?

Home Fire

A rewriting of Antigone brought into the 21st Century to reflect the complexities and tragedies of being a Muslim in 21st Century Britain.

Days Without End 

The Costa Book Award winner about the horrors two Irish men face during the American civil war is certainly a competitor.

Autumn

The first ‘post-brexit’ novel is a huge innovation in the way we consume fiction, published mere months after the fact keeps fiction relevant.

Lincoln in the Bardo

A poignant imagining of Lincoln mourning his 11 year old son, over the course of a night seems to have touched the hearts of readers and critics alike.

Reservoir 13  

A haunting novel about how lives are affected by loss is one of the bookies favourites for the shortlist.

What is your dream shortlist? As my favourite book of 2016, I would love to see Autumn on there, and Home Fire was truly heart-wrenching.

Which ones have you read so far?

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Innovative ways to read

For most of us, the last big innovation in reading was the invention of the e-reader, however it is now ten years since the Kindle was first released. So what other innovations are there in the way we are reading books? Check out some of the most exciting way books are being consumed here!

Kindle in Motion

It seems to have been slow to come to fruition, but we are finally seeing companies starting to make more out of digital formats, with ‘Kindle in Motion’, using animation to enhance the reading experience. There are some great classics on offer which are already making use of this, not to mention enhanced e-books for children, however it could soon be a much bigger phenomenon thanks to a new version of Harry Potter using this technology.

Books and Music

Some people can’t bear the idea of reading to music but apps like ‘Booktrack’ are looking to enhance the reading experience with background music which immerses you in the experience of reading. Some people like to do this with film or TV soundtracks too. And this isn’t the only relationship between books and music – writers are increasingly embracing cross discipline collaborations – for example Laura Barnett who has collaborated with Kathryn Williams to produce an album which goes alongside her latest novel ‘Greatest Hits’.

Serial Reader

Once upon a time, many people read classic books in installments, usually released in magazines. Serial reader replicates this experience to let readers read in chunks. You are only allowed a chapter a day – so no Netflix style binging on these books!

Audiobooks and Narration

Thanks to subscription services, Audiobooks are much more accessible than they once were, and much more interesting too. Celebrity names are becoming narrators and buying narration with a book has so much potential – from helping make books more immersive to helping children as they are learning to read.

Immersive Reads

Whether it is a magazine with tailored content around a book such as The Happy Reader, or one of the many book subscription boxes offering themed gifts or author’s annotations, people are constantly looking for ways to add to the experience of reading a book. Subscriptions can come with anything from tea and candles matched to the book, to recreating objects from the story itself.

Have you found a unique or fun reading experience? Let me know what it is in the comments!

Upcoming Bookish Adaptations – Autumn 2017

As the weather gets colder and we are once again driven indoors, the next best thing to curling up with a good book is watching a great bookish adaptation. Here are the ones you should keep an eye out for this autumn:

The Cuckoo’s Calling 

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JK Rowling’s adult crime novels under the name Robert Gailbraith aren’t as well known as her famous boy wizard, but with a BBC detective series that might soon change.

IT

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This is Stephen King’s year with several of his works hitting big and small screens. Catch Pennywise the clown in cinemas this September.

The Mist 

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What can be found hiding in the mist? Find out in Netflix’s adaptation of Stephen Kings novella.

1922 

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Another Stephen King adaptation just in time for Halloween – and this one is complete with a ghostly haunting.

Murder on the Orient Express

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Kenneth Brannagh brings Agatha Christie’s well-loved mystery to life with an all-star cast in this cinema blockbuster, released in November.

The Snowman
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Jo Nesbo’s thriller stars Michael Fassbender as a detective who must investigate the disappearance of a victim on the first snow of winter.

Alias Grace
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The second Atwood adaptation to come to small screens this year is a historical fiction based on real murders in 1840s Canada.

Which adaptation will you be watching this autumn?

Books for Autumn 2017

Crisp air, cosy blankets, pumpkin spice, orange tones – what is not to love about the Autumn? But the best bit is snuggling up with a new book. Whether you have back-to-school reading to do or are just looking for some recommendations, here are the best books to read this Autumn.

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Autumn

It may have come out last year, but this is just the right time to be picking up the Man Booker nominated response to Brexit. Read it now in time for the next installment coming this November.

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The Secret History
If you are heading back to school, or away to uni, this is the perfect thriller to get you in the mood, or scare you silly.

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If you are grasping onto the last of the summer heat, then pick up this sizzling American Odyssey this September. Just released, this book is already making waves across social media.

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The Catcher in the Rye
Autumn is the season of change, so if the new season has you spiralling into an existential crisis, pick up this cult classic of disenfranchised youth everywhere.

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The Underground Railroad
Another Booker nominated offering, this was also a Pulitzer Prize winner and seems to be the book of the year. It is the wonderfully written American saga we need this year.

Review: Sing, Unburied, Sing

4.5 stars

Sing Unburied Sing has been described as a ‘Southern Odyssey’ and it certainly lives up to this. While it only spans days in real time, it covers years of racial tensions, poverty and struggle in the rural South.

The story is told from multiple perspectives – largely 13 year old Jojo and his mother Leonie – who is addicted to cocaine, and a neglectful mother. Jojo and his sister Kayla, are mixed race, with a black mother and white father, and as such have been disowned by his father’s white family, instead primarily cared for by their ‘Pop’, Leonie’s father. An excursion to pick up Michael, the children’s father, upon his release from prison is a harrowing journey through the lives they live and struggle through. The multiple perspectives, alongside elements of magical realism, captures the lack of communication and understanding between characters, which drives much of the tension and frustration of the narrative.

The story is truly tense, as it feels throughout as though the family is about to implode. Jojo’s narrative is deeply moving, and often difficult, and while Leonie’s is far less sympathetic, it does give insight into her experiences and how she struggles to relate to and connect with her own children. There are stark and horrific moments, in everyday tasks as well as the horrendous injustices the family face. However, there are also, very momentarily, deeply beautiful moments, between Jojo and his sister, or with his Pop. The setting is completely immersive – you can almost feel the oppressive heat and imagine the many smells of the novel filling your nostrils. The magical realism is captured so seamlessly that it doesn’t feel odd or out of place but perfectly fits with the themes the narrative has gradually established.

Ward captures the intensity of human emotion in the smallest of actions and incidences, in the same way that the family becomes a microcosm for Southern society – with the relationships between the black and white families, and the history between them reflecting larger tensions and discrimination. The book is difficult and complex, as well as truly sad, but it is not completely bleak with a sense of hope in the characters of Jojo and Kayla, as well as a pure good-heartedness in Pop.

This book is truly stunning and it will be a big one this year.


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Image from Amazon. 

National Dog Day

It’s National Dog Day so how better to celebrate than looking as our favourite pooches from books!

  1. Nana (Peter and Wendy)
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The adorable Newfoundland is every child’s dream baby-sitter. She is just as adorable in the book Peter and Wendy, as in Disney’s magical adaptation.

  1. Tock (The Phantom Tollbooth)
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This fantastical watchdog is the perfect companion on an adventure quest to a fantasy land.

  1. Toto (The Wizard of Oz)
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Another little pooch who gets to travel to magical places; Toto was brought to life in the technicolour wonder.

  1. Fang (Harry Potter)
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Harry Potter fans will know not to judge a dog by his name, as this lovable drooling pooch is the most cowardly you’ll ever meet.

  1. Pongo (101 Dalmations)
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Before it was a hit cartoon, 101 Dalmations was a children’s book by Dodie Smith, featuring plenty of plucky pups and their father Pongo.

Who is your favourite literary pooch?

Review: The Word is Murder

4-stars
The Word is Murder feels like a classic British murder mystery from one of Britain’s best loved writers.

However it has one unique aspect – it’s central character and narrator is the author himself. In either an odd or highly inventive approach the story is narrated by Anthony Horowitz himself – presumably a fictionally constructed version of him. This could serve to make the events seem more realistic and add an air of the classic murder mystery to the book – think of the way Dr Watson narrates the Sherlock Holmes books.

However, even Conan Doyle created a fictional narrator and the slow start to to the book in which the narrator describes his work in TV and books could feel self indulgent, if not disconcerting. The concept does help us think more critically about the genre, and how we frame what we read. As a murder mystery goes it was clever and engaging – and a challenge, since no-one likes a crime they can solve straight away!

An old woman plans her funeral and is murdered the same day – the initial concept is intriguing and when we find out that ten years ago, she killed a young boy in a hit and run – everything gets much more interesting.

The book is well written – with interesting characters, and all the right elements of the genre. You will be intrigued and hooked by the plot. While there are darker aspects themes to the book it is largely as lighthearted as a murder mystery can be. I recommend curling up with this on a rainy late summer Sunday afternoon with a good old cuppa – its a perfect, easy rainy day read.


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Image from Amazon. 

Review: Home Fire

5 stars

Kamila Shamsie’s latest novel is a modern retelling of the story of the classical story of Antigone, however her contemporary style and current setting make this a truly relevant and accessible story.

The Pasha family are modern British Muslims, struggling to find their place in British and Western society under the legacy of a terrorist father who died on his way to Guantanamo, not to mention the disappearance of a brother. When Isma, the eldest who has cared for younger siblings, befriends British Home Secretary Karamat Lone’s son, the two families become embroiled in a saga which reflects the complexities and turmoil of being Muslim in modern day western society.

For such a sort book, it is incredible how well it covers the nuance of these complexities – from the seemingly contradictory approaches to sexuality and appearance in the headscarf-wearing Pasha sisters, to the hardline immigration stance of a Muslim Home Secretary.

Shamsie’s writing is exquisite – at times slightly surreal and abstract – placing you very much in the shoes of her characters, in their dreams, their chaos. But it is also wonderfully readable and the integration of modern technology, from texts to tweets is woven into the narrative seamlessly, making the book timely and relevant, but in a way that will not necessarily become dated as technology moves forwards.

The story is highly engaging and very readable even if you aren’t aware of its classical influences – it very easily stands in its own right as a novel, independent of its source material. The story is touching, hard-hitting and heart-breaking. Shamsie should be applauded for her ability to create depth of character and such a poignant story in so few pages. One of the best books of the year!

 


I received this book as an advanced reader copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review; all opinions are my own. 

Image from Amazon. 

Rereading His Dark Materials: Northern Lights

In the run up to the release of La Belle Sauvage, Philip Pullman’s first book in The Book of Dust series, I am rereading His Dark Materials with the local Waterstones book group.

Check out what we talked about and thought about the books.

Obviously the first question was who had read this before? Our group had a mix of first-timers, rereaders and those who had dipped in or entirely forgotten the story (yes, that was me).

So is rereading valuable? Other than refreshing my memory we all agreed that it brought something new to the book to read it again at a different point in your life – your understanding and interpretations change.

The things we loved about the book were no surprise at all; Lyra as a heroine, the fantasy world, the daemons. We loved how Lyra is strong and capable but a well-rounded character – she is still a child, and makes mistakes and often doesn’t understand what is going on around her. However, even over the course of the first book she develops so much moving from innocence to experience – clearly Pullman is inspired by Romantic poet William Blake, and this is seen again in his depiction of the church as an all controlling, totalitarian entity that allows children to be stolen for experimentation. We realised that since the release of this book real world events have made the story very relevant and contentious.

The concept of the daemon – this time drawing on biblical and religious connotations – as a physical manifestation for sin is incredibly interesting as before Lyra learns this we see it as natural and witness her close bond to Pantalaimon. In her comparisons of Pan to Iorek’s armour we begin to see Pan as her soul and soon learn that children can’t survive without their daemons.

I particularly love that the book is not black and white in terms of good and evil, or right and wrong. Lyra learns her mother is committing these horrendous experiments under the guise of religion and spends much of the book pursuing her father to rescue him and take him the alethiometer in the belief he will help her fight against this. On the contrary, he is so obsessed with his pursuit of scientific discovery that he commits similar atrocities. Lyra is left confused about the politics and ambitions of her parents and other adults around her, not to mention the fantastical clans of witches and armoured bears.

This world-building is so subtle – mentioned incidentally, as Lyra herself moves around the world and discovers things, rather than pages of dense narrative. this makes it easier to read and all the more realistic and enjoyable as we discover things through Lyra’s eyes. It also has the effect of normalising some aspects such as the daemons which would otherwise seem incredible.

I loved rereading this book and we could have talked about it for hours. I can’t wait to revisit the rest of the series before the release of the new book!

Are you rereading His Dark Materials? Let me know what you think!

You can also check to see if there’s a Pullman book group near you on the Waterstones website.

Judging Books by their Covers

Some bookworms are library borrowers, some minimalistically shed the weight of their books in favour of e-readers. However, many of us still like to do have a good hardback, and just the physical aspect isn’t always enough. Book-lovers often have a certain aesthetic they desire in what they read, from vintage and second hand to elaborate new editions. Here are some of the editions that are definitely on my list:

Vintage Penguins

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Not in print anymore, these iconic old editions are really for book aficionados. They come in a rainbow of colours representing different genres from the classic orange fiction, to red plays and cerise travel writing. I’m currently working on acquiring at least one of every colour for my shelves.
 
Pocket Penguins

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A modern update on the vintage penguin classics, this collection is a colourful compilation of western literature, with different shades signaling the different languages of the original text. This has a bit more of a modern take than other collections, including many 20th Century novels and the block colours and pocket size emulate penguin’s signature style.
 
Penguin in Bloom

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A decorative collection of books targeted at kids, or adults who are just big kids, these beautiful hardbacks are adorned with flowers and simple illustrations, each reflecting the novel. Fans of children’s books will be all over these and rightly so, my only wish is that there were more books in the series!
 
Penguin Drop Caps
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Only penguin would release a collection with such an eclectic mix of novels as this series. The collection consists of 26 novels, each assigned to a letter according to the surname of the author. I won’t be buying the whole collection but I’m pretty sure the book for my initial ‘E’ was made for me, as a gorgeous orange edition of George Eliot’s Middlemarch.
 
Vintage Classics – Austen and Woolf
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These beautiful paperback editions have trumped most hardbacks for me – the intricate design of Emma being my favourite. However, the modernist take on Woolf’s novels is stunning and so fitting. Even the bleaker Bronte collection is beautiful and well-pitched, however, I’ll take my leave when it comes to the Dickens collection, which is just a bit plain and too far removed from the others for my liking.
 
Penguin English Library
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These stunning yet simple paperbacks are a lovely way to fill your shelves without spending a fortune on heavy and expensive hardbacks. They feature a range of vibrant colours with patterns relevant to the novel. As well as being pretty they are easy to carry around and won’t break the bank.
 
Yellow-backs
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W H Smiths have released a series of ‘yellow-backs’ for the 225th Anniversary of company, which started out as a railway stall seller. These editions emulate the yellow-backs they would have sold on the company’s inception and include striking retro images on the bright yellow front along with black-edged pages. As well as being a must for anyone interested in physical books and the history of publishing, they just look incredible!

Collector’s Library
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These stunning little striped hardbacks with gilt edges are perfect for the classic stories that they hold. However, a year ago Pan Macmillan took-over the independent publisher and now these gorgeous books have been rebranded and in my opinion the new versions have lost something of their classic quirk. However, I’ve seen a few second hand bookshops in which these editions are still plentiful, so nab a few while you can!

It’s clear that Penguin is leader of the pack when it comes to nice editions but they aren’t the only ones out there and depending your aesthetic there are a range of wonderful editions. What are your favourite editions?