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!

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. 

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. 

Austen200

Austen novels are typically seen as being full of parties, parlours and proposals. Yet her novels have an enduring appeal and for good reason. Far from being simple romances, Austen depicts nuanced analysis and explorations of English society, relationships and even life as a young woman.

There’s more to Austen than meets the eye so here are some of the things you can find in her novels:

Politics
Whether it is the largely unspoken of sugar plantations which support Mansfield Park, or a sympathy towards social mobility seen through the Navy and trade, Austen’s novels are astutely political and are engaging with the social issues of her day. Austen is often seen as a conservative, though many have pointed out that she is far from it – critiquing inherited wealth, slavery and the superfluity of ‘polite’ society.

Feminism
Lizzie Bennett may not be burning bras but like Austen’s other heroines she is a strong female lead, who knows her own mind. All of Austen’s books are about women and women’s lives, something that was radical for the Regency era. Women are not perfect heroines either, Emma Woodhouse and Catherine Moreland have important lessons to learn throughout the course of their novels, meaning that they aren’t just two-dimensional characters. And as a bonus, Austen is pretty good at passing the Bechdel Test, more than some books and films today achieve.

Life Lessons
We have already noted that some of our favourite heroines have some learning curves to go on, but Austen is full of wonderful snippets of wisdom that are especially important for growing up. From being open-minded and holding strong convictions, to knowing when to question your thoughts and feelings, Austen is here to teach us that life, and people, are complicated and no-one is perfect.

Satire
Life, particularly the stiff, polite life of the Regency period, is no fun if you can’t have a laugh. At the expense of some of her characters she mocks extravagance and polite society. Even her heroines are not safe with poor Catherine Moreland’s wild imagination the means of parody for the gothic novel. Far from the politeness of the parlour, Austen’s narration is witty, from Pride and Prejudice‘s acerbic first line, to the one-liners of Mansfield Park.


So what are you waiting for? Pick up a novel, or watch one of the many wonderful adaptations to commemorate 200 years since Austen’s death. Let me know what you’ll be reading or watching in the comments or on twitter @ellenorange94

Review: Final Girls

3 stars

A Final Girl is the last woman standing at the end of a slasher movie.

Quincy is a real-life Final Girl, along with two others who have each survived massacres. She has been living a normal life for over 20 years but when something happens in the present, her past catches up with her.

There’s not much more that can be revealed without spoilers but this book has been billed the thriller of the year and it is certainly a pacy, page turning read. Hats off to Sager for not being predictable – the book is so full of twists and turns and constantly has you guessing but it was clever enough to fool me right ’til the end.

However, while it was set to be potentially brilliant, another ‘next Gone Girl’, it did fall short for me. Quincy can’t name the man who attacked and murdered her friends so she refers to him constantly as ‘Him’ – with the use of the capital feeling overworked and bringing to mind a sense of ‘he who must not be named’ which jars. While the plot does twist and keep you guessing, the main reason I didn’t guess was because the clues weren’t there. The actions and motives didn’t really fit with the characters.

The most frustrating part though was that I hoped the book might follow in its’ predecessors’ footsteps and revise the archetypal roles that women are pigeon-holed into. However, the book continues to perpetuate tired stereotypes with the dichotomy of women as ‘victims’ or ‘perpetrators’ and ‘virgins’ or ‘sluts’. The only complication is the idea that the women are ‘survivors’ but it adds little to the established roles.

Equally the perpetuation of the myth that sex is both pain and pleasure was frustrating for a book that seemed to be focused on women’s experiences. The framing of grown women as ‘girls’ only compounds these issues further.

Final Girls was nothing on Gone Girl but it was a fun thriller with a shocking twist and it was certainly entertaining if not gripping.

 


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: How to Stop Time

4-stars

Matt Haig’s latest novel is about a man who has lived for over 400 years but only looks 40, because he has a condition in which he only ages one human year every 15.

Naturally, Tom Hazard, is concerned about how social intolerance means his condition could be a danger to him and those around him. He eventually joins a secret society designed to protect those like him and the rules are that he must change his life every 8 years and he can never fall in love.

However, after 400 years Tom has his own agenda – looking for his daughter who has the same condition. Like anyone else Tom must overcome his fear of the future, of wearing his heart on his sleeve and of all the things that make him human. While he may have met Shakespeare and F Scott Fitzgerald, making this book a Literature lover’s dream, he still has to learn the very human lesson of what it means to live. The story is well told, flashing back to moments from Hazard’s life as the memories affect him.

Haig could have told a linear story but the book is all about memory, Tom’s memories and how they intersect with history. As a modern day history teacher, he brings history to life – pointing out that history was lived experience not just facts from text books. While some moments pulled from the past have potential to be cringe-worthy, for example, the depictions of Shakespeare, they are executed well – clearly well researched and written with the perfect balance of sincerity and frivolity to make the book light-hearted but also incredibly meaningful.

How to Stop Time is sci-fi for people who love romance, and historical fiction for those who love the present. It doesn’t fall neatly into any of these genres but pulls bits from each. The book is funny, framing the present of smartphones and selfies from the view of a man who lived in Tudor London. It is also heartwarming – exploring themes of love and life which affect all of us, even when we don’t live for hundreds of years.

It is also profoundly sad as books of this nature often are but it carries so much meaning and joy that in some way this is ok. We know that Tom will outlive anyone he falls in love with, we know he may be persecuted, or else have to live in secrecy and we know that the future is still as scary as ever. However, How to Stop Time shows us that just living in the present and filling our lives with love and happiness, despite what the future may hold, could make even 400 years worth living.


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. 

Books to read about Ireland

Recent news in the UK has brought Irish and Northern Irish politics to the forefront of British politics and front pages of our newspapers. For many people, the recent history of Irish politics will still be lived experience, but for those of us too young to recall, it may be something that school history hadn’t yet caught up with.

If, like me, you know little about the Troubles, IRA terrorism and how this has influenced the current political situations in Ireland and Northern Ireland then now is the perfect time to be reading up on this, in light of the Conservatives striking a deal with the DUP to establish their majority.

Here are a few fiction books that I will be looking at to get a better understanding of the history which is influencing the present:

Cal by Bernard Maclaverty

Cal is a young Irish Catholic, involved with the IRA, living in a Protestant area. He must come to terms with the acts he has committed in the political violence of the Troubles and his guilt, but he must also make decisions about how to, or whether to, move forwards with his life.

A Star Called Henry (The Last Round up Series) by Roddy Doyle

Set between the 1916 Easter Rising and the Truce of 1921, this story features Henry, as a member of the Irish Citizen Army, who meets several historical characters, and engages in the fight against the British. The full series spans most of the 20th Century, covering the reach of Irish politics in the Western world.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

A view into modern day Ireland and its underworld, this book dramatises the legacies of Ireland’s attitudes to sex and family and the effects they have. A Bailey’s Prize winner this book has been described both as darkly moving and funny.

Troubles by J G Farrell

Beginning at the end of the First World War this book is set against the context in which the violence of the Troubles begins, and the political upheaval of the Irish War of Independence. The book is focalised through a confused observer – a position many modern readers are likely to relate to as we see events unfold.

The Last September by Elizabeth Bowen

This novel from the ‘modernist’ period treats the changing situation as a signalling of ‘the end’ as British rule in southern Ireland and the end of an aristocratic era comes to a demise. In the midst of this Lois Farquar is attempting to break free from this very way of life, which her relatives are fiercely defending.


These books span the 20th Century, right up to the present day. They cover a range of perspectives, Catholic and Protestant, Unionist and Nationalist, and those on the outside and in between. They capture the complexity of Ireland’s politics and are a great starting point for those who love to explore history through fiction.

Review: Do Not Say We Have Nothing

baileys-logo
 4-stars
Madeline Thien’s epic about the story of a Chinese refugee, Ai-Ming in the 1980s and their history in revolutionary China is expansive and wide-ranging, covering decades of Chinese social issues and politics up to the Beijing demonstrations of 1989, and the consequences this has on Ai-Ming, and 10 year old Canadian Marie who she stays with on her escape to the US.

The book is not only a revolutionary saga but a beautiful exploration of Chinese culture, language and identity, with Marie constantly exploring the roots of words, their visual symbols and their meanings, which beautify connects non-Chinese speaking readers to the language and the ways of naming and speaking that the novel immerses us in.

At the centre of the novel is a musicality – not only in the importance of music to the characters, but in the way it is literally depicted on the pages, like the Chinese symbols, and in the patterns of speech and text. It is a long book reaching nearly 500 pages, and covers complex Chinese history, unfamiliar to many in the West, but it is incredibly accessible and easy to read, engaging us with characters from another time, place and culture the way that books should make us experience the things we don’t know or understand.

However, as the novel progresses we truly do start to learn about the horrors of China’s revolutions, we become involved in an epic story, spanning 60 years, focused around three important periods – life after the first revolution of 1949, the student protests of 1989, and finally the present day where Marie goes looking for Ai-Ming.

Thien’s context building is incredible, and her scenes depicting the real events of revolution are heart-wrenching. She frames the story through Marie, uncovering a mystery in her search for Ai-Ming. People disappearing and searches are a recurring theme, and so hidden communications, in an effort to find these people, also become a theme, through the copies made of the Book of Records, with the different meanings behind Chinese characters becoming code. Music serves the same purpose for Marie in the present day, and ultimately the book of records becomes an important metaphor for history – a lived, experienced history.

The book was insightful in terms of its Chinese roots but it also carries an important message for the world right now – that extremism in any form, even populist revolution is dangerous, harmful and spreads hate.

Thien’s book is beautifully written, highly literary but well grounded enough for the reader to connect with at the same time. It is a truly stunning work of art and an appreciation of art itself.