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Highly Anticipated Books

I made a blog post quite some time ago, stating that I was going to stop adding books to my ridiculously long TBR list.  As is perhaps predictable, this didn’t last that long, particularly when the ‘best of’ lists started to emerge last year.  I thought, therefore, that I would make a list of books which I am particularly looking forward to, and which I hope to get to sooner rather than later.  Not all of them were published in 2018; indeed, some of them are much earlier.  I have collected together ten titles here, in no particular order, and have included their official blurbs alongside them.

 

1. Census by Jesse Ball 35068746
‘A powerful and moving new novel from an award-winning, acclaimed author: in the wake of a devastating revelation, a father and son journey north across a tapestry of town.  When a widower receives notice from a doctor that he doesn’t have long left to live, he is struck by the question of who will care for his adult son–a son whom he fiercely loves, a boy with Down syndrome. With no recourse in mind, and with a desire to see the country on one last trip, the man signs up as a census taker for a mysterious governmental bureau and leaves town with his son.  Traveling into the country, through towns named only by ascending letters of the alphabet, the man and his son encounter a wide range of human experience. While some townspeople welcome them into their homes, others who bear the physical brand of past censuses on their ribs are wary of their presence. When they press toward the edges of civilization, the landscape grows wilder, and the towns grow farther apart and more blighted by industrial decay. As they approach “Z,” the man must confront a series of questions: What is the purpose of the census? Is he complicit in its mission? And just how will he learn to say good-bye to his son?  Mysterious and evocative, Census is a novel about free will, grief, the power of memory, and the ferocity of parental love, from one of our most captivating young writers.’

 

367110262. The Wildlands by Abby Geni
‘Mercy, Oklahoma became infamous when a Category Five tornado ravaged the small town. No family was more devastated than the McClouds: four siblings left orphaned, their home and farm gone. Darlene, Jane, and Cora became the media focus of the tornado’s aftermath, causing great tension with Tucker, who soon abandoned his sisters to their grief and disappeared.  On the three-year anniversary of the tornado, a cosmetics factory outside of Mercy is bombed, and the lab animals trapped within are released. This violent act appears at first to have nothing to do with “the saddest family in Mercy.” Then Tucker reappears, injured in the blast, and seeks the help of nine-year-old Cora. Caught up in the thrall of her brilliant, charismatic brother, whom she has desperately missed, Cora agrees to accompany Tucker on his cross-country mission to save animals and make war on human civilisation.  Soon Cora is not just Tucker’s companion but his accomplice. Learning at his knee, she takes on a new identity, engaging in escalating acts of violence and testing the limits of her humanity. Darlene works with Mercy police to find her siblings, leading to an unexpected showdown at the San Diego Zoo, as Tucker erases the boundaries between the human and animal world.’

 

3. Heat Wave by Penelope Lively 40655312
‘Pauline is spending the summer at World’s End, a cottage somewhere in the middle of England. This year the adjoining cottage is occupied by her daughter Teresa and baby grandson Luke; and, of course, Maurice, the man Teresa married. As the hot months unfold, Maurice grows ever more involved in the book he is writing – and with his female copy editor – and Pauline can only watch in dismay and anger as her daughter repeats her own mistakes in love. The heat and tension will lead to a violent, startling climax.  In Heat Wave, Penelope Lively gives us a moving portrayal of a fragile family damaged and defined by adultery, and the lengths to which a mother will go to protect the ones she loves.’

 

320766784. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
‘Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working to help defend men accused of murder, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti-death penalty. But the moment convicted murderer Ricky Langley’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes–the moment she hears him speak of his crimes — she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case. Despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar.  Crime, even the darkest and most unsayable acts, can happen to any one of us. As Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining the details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, and reckon with a past that colors her view of Ricky’s crime.  But another surprise awaits: She wasn’t the only one who saw her life in Ricky’s.  An intellectual and emotional thriller that is also a different kind of murder mystery, The Fact of a Body is a book not only about how the story of one crime was constructed — but about how we grapple with our own personal histories. Along the way it tackles questions about the nature of forgiveness, and if a single narrative can ever really contain something as definitive as the truth. This groundbreaking, heart-stopping work, ten years in the making, shows how the law is more personal than we would like to believe — and the truth more complicated, and powerful, than we could ever imagine.’

 

5. All Our Worldly Goods by Irene Nemirovsky 9568575
‘In haunting ways, this gorgeous novel prefigures Irène Némirovsky’s masterpiece Suite Française. Set in France between 1910 and 1940 and first published in France in 1947, five years after the author’s death, All Our Worldly Goods is a gripping story of war, family life and star-crossed lovers. Pierre and Agnes marry for love against the wishes of his parents and his grandfather, the tyrannical family patriarch. Their marriage provokes a family feud that cascades down the generations. This brilliant novel is full of drama, heartbreak, and the telling observations that have made Némirovsky’s work so beloved and admired.’

 

5995506. Death in Summer by William Trevor
There were three deaths that summer. The first was Letitia’s, sudden and quite unexpected, leaving her husband, Thaddeus, haunted by the details of her last afternoon. 
The next death came some weeks later, after Thaddeus’s mother-in-law helped him to interview for a nanny to bring up their baby. None of the applicants were suitable–least of all the last one, with her sharp features, her shabby clothes that reeked of cigarettes, her badly typed references–so Letitia’s mother moved herself in. But then, just as the household was beginning to settle down, the last of the nannies surprisingly returned, her unwelcome arrival heralding the third of the summer tragedies.

 

7. The Shrimp and the Anemone by L.P. Hartley 39358010
‘An evocative account of a childhood summer spent beside the sea in Norfolk by brother and sister, Eustace and Hilda.’

 

8. After the Eclipse: A Mother’s Murder, a Daughter’s Search by Sarah Perry
‘When Sarah Perry was twelve, she saw a partial eclipse of the sun, an event she took as a sign of good fortune for her and her mother, Crystal. But that brief moment of darkness ultimately foreshadowed a much 33413878larger one: two days later, Crystal was murdered in their home in rural Maine, just a few feet from Sarah’s bedroom.  The killer escaped unseen; it would take the police twelve years to find him, time in which Sarah grew into adulthood, struggling with abandonment, police interrogations, and the effort of rebuilding her life when so much had been lost. Through it all she would dream of the eventual trial, a conviction—all her questions finally answered. But after the trial, Sarah’s questions only grew. She wanted to understand her mother’s life, not just her final hours, and so she began a personal investigation, one that drew her back to Maine, taking her deep into the abiding darkness of a small American town.  Told in searing prose, After the Eclipse is a luminous memoir of uncomfortable truth and terrible beauty, an exquisite memorial for a mother stolen from her daughter, and a blazingly successful attempt to cast light on her life once more.’

 

9. The Gipsy’s Baby by Rosamond Lehmann 6106404
‘In these captivating short stories, we find perfect miniatures of Rosamond Lehmann’s fictional world. The themes that permeate her novels are echoed here—delicate portrayals of the world of adults as seen through the eyes of childhood, and fascination with other families—their otherness and the romance of their separate worlds. These beautifully crafted stories wonderfully demonstrate the genius of Rosamond Lehmann.’

 

185367310. Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel
‘Imaginative and intelligent, Alberta is a misfit trapped in a stiflingly provincial town in the far north of Norway whose only affinity is for her extrovert brother Jacob.’

 

 

 

Which books are on your highly anticipated list?  Have you read any of these?

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The Book Trail: The Short Story Edition

Another set of wonderful books now, starting with a collection which I very much enjoyed.  All of the tomes collected in this post are filled with intriguing short stories, all of which are high on my TBR list.

1. The Last Animal by Abby Geni 9781619024373
‘The Last Animal by Abby Geni is that rare literary find — a remarkable series of stories unified around one theme: people who use the interface between the human and the natural world to contend with their modern challenges in love, loss, and family life. These are vibrant, weighty stories that herald the arrival of a young writer of surprising feeling and depth.

“Terror Birds” tracks the dissolution of a marriage set against an ostrich farm in the sweltering Arizona desert; “Dharma at the Gate” features the tempest of young love as a teenaged girl must choose between man’s best friend, her damaged boyfriend, and a beckoning future; “Captivity” follows an octopus handler at an aquarium still haunted by the disappearance of her brother years ago; “The Girls of Apache Bryn Mawr” details a Greek chorus of Jewish girls at a summer camp whose favorite counselor goes missing under suspicious circumstances; “In the Spirit Room” centers on a scientist suffering the heartbreaking loss of a parent from Alzheimer’s while living in the natural history museum where they both worked; in “Fire Blight” a father grieving over his wife’s recent miscarriage finds an outlet for comfort in their backyard garden and makes a surprising discovery on how to cherish living things; and in the title story, a retired woman traces the steps of the husband who left her thirty years ago, burning the letters he had sent along the way, while the luminous and exotic wildlife of the Pacific Ocean opens up to receive her.

Unflinching, exciting, ambitious and yet heartfelt, The Last Animal will guide readers through a menagerie of settings and landscapes as it underscores the connection among all living things.’

 

From nature to a collection which explores similar themes, and which I’m coveting…

97819368736232. By Light We Knew Our Names by Anne Valente
‘From ghosts to pink dolphins to a fight club of young women who practice beneath the Alaskan aurora borealis, By Light We Knew Our Names examines the beauty and heartbreak of the world we live in. Across thirteen stories, this collection explores the thin border between magic and grief.’

 

We move to a book which has been incredibly highly praised…

3. Antarctica by Claire Keegan 9780802139016
‘Published to great critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic, the iridescent stories in Claire Keegan’s debut collection, Antarctica, have been acclaimed by The Observer to be “among the finest contemporary stories written recently in English.” In “Antarctica,” a married woman travels out of town to see what it’s like to sleep with a man other than her husband. “Love in the Tall Grass” takes Cordelia down a coastal road on the last day of the twentieth century to keep a date with her lover that has been nine years in the waiting. “Stay Close to the Water’s Edge” tells of a young Harvard student who is pitilessly humiliated by his homophobic stepfather on his birthday. Keegan’s writing has a clear vision of unaffected truths and boldly explores a world where dreams, memory, and chance have crippling consequences for those involved. The stories are often dark and enveloped in a palpable atmosphere, and the reader feels that something “big” is going on in each of these carefully sculpted tales.’

 

The next tales have a very focused Irish setting…

97809550152984. There Are Little Kingdoms: Stories by Kevin Barry
‘Kevin Barry received widespread critical acclaim and the Rooney prize for Irish Literature following the publication of this first book of stories in 2007. His stories have since appeared in The New Yorker and in the Granta Book of the Irish Short Story. His debut novel, City Of Bohane, was published by Jonathan Cape in April 2011. Could easily have been titled These Are Little Masterpieces. Barry gathers all the bewildered exasperation that Irish playwrights from Tom Murphy to Marina Carr and Enda Walsh have identified, and brings it, most brilliantly, to his dark, blackly hilarious and horrifically realistic narratives.’

 

We move from Ireland to Switzerland with this intriguing collection of translated tales…

5. We’re Flying by Peter Stamm 9781590513248
‘Following the publication of the widely acclaimed novel Seven Years comes a trove of stories from the Swiss master Peter Stamm. They all possess the traits that have built Stamm’s reputation: the directness of the prose, the deceptive surface simplicity of the narratives, and deep psychological insight into the existential dilemmas of contemporary life. Stamm does not waste a word, nor does he spare the reader’s feelings. These stories are a superb introduction to his work and a gift for all those who have come to regard his fiction as a precise rendering of the contemporary human psyche.’

 

Next stop on the Book Trail: humans in all of their weird and wondrous forms…

97800620692216. Further Interpretations of Real Life Events: Stories by Kevin Moffett
‘A dazzling new story collection from brilliant, young, award-winning writer Kevin Moffett, Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events illuminates the intimate experiences of characters caught between aspiration and achievement, uncertainty and illumination, inertia and discovery, the past and the future. Channeling unexpected, eclectic voices in a collection perfectly suited to readers of Daniyal Mueenuddin, Alice Sebold, and Dave Eggers, Moffett delivers a nuanced, powerful, humorous, and moving meditation on the trials of transitions and liminal living in today’s modern world.’

 

Darkness saturates the next collection…

7. Ladies and Gentlemen by Adam Ross 9780224087742
‘After his widely celebrated debut, Mr. Peanut, Adam Ross now presents a darkly compelling collection of stories about brothers, loners, lovers, and lives full of good intentions, misunderstandings, and obscured motives.

A hotshot lawyer, burdened by years of guilt and resentment, comes to the rescue of his irresponsible, irresistible younger brother. An unsettling story resonates between the dysfunctional couple telling it and their listening friends as well. A lonely professor, frequently regaled with unbelievably entertaining tales by the office handyman, suddenly fears he’s being asked to abet a murderous fugitive. An awkward but nervy adolescent uses his brief career as a child actor to further his designs on a WASPy friend’s seemingly untouchable sister. A man down on his luck closes in on a mysterious, much-needed job offer while doing a good turn for his fragile neighbor, with results at once surreal and hilarious. And when two college kids goad each other on in an escalating series of breathtaking dares, the outcome is as tragic as it is ambiguous.’

 

Our final book is all about women, and the many dramas they face…

97819325119188. This Is Not Your City by Caitlin Horrocks
‘Eleven women confront dramas both everyday and outlandish in Caitlin Horrocks’ This Is Not Your City. In stories as darkly comic as they are unflinching, people isolated by geography, emotion, or circumstance cut imperfect paths to peace—they have no other choice. A Russian mail-order bride in Finland is rendered silent by her dislocation and loss of language, the mother of a severely disabled boy writes him postcards he’ll never read on a cruise ship held hostage by pirates, and an Iowa actuary wanders among the reincarnations of those she’s known in her 127 lives. Horrocks’ women find no simple escapes, and their acts of faith and acts of imagination in making do are as shrewd as they are surprising.’

 

That’s it for today’s Book Trail; another one will hit your screens soon.

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Mini Reviews: ‘Fantastic Night’ and ‘The Lightkeepers’

Fantastic Night by Stefan Zweig ****
9781782271482I purchased Fantastic Night as part of Oxfam’s wonderful 2016 Scorching Summer Reads campaign.  I was already familiar with Zweig’s work, and remember how enraptured I was when reading the excellent The Post Office Girl some years ago.  Fantastic Night provides a mixture of novellas and short stories, many of which I hadn’t come across before.

As with all of the Pushkin Press titles which I have had the pleasure of reading thus far, the translation here is seamless. There were a couple of tales I wasn’t that enamoured with, but those which I loved or very much admired greatly outweighed these. Zweig is a masterfully perceptive author, and there was such a difference to every one of the stories here. ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’ is stunning. Fantastic Night is a real joy to read.

 

The Lightkeepers by Abby Geni ***** 9781619026001
Before gushing uncontrollably about Abby Geni’s masterful The Lightkeepers, I shall just copy the blurb so that you get some context about the story: ‘In The Lightkeepers, we follow Miranda, a nature photographer who travels to the Farallon Islands, an exotic and dangerous archipelago off the coast of California, for a one-year residency capturing the landscape. Her only companions are the scientists studying there, odd and quirky refugees from the mainland living in rustic conditions; they document the fish populations around the island, the bold trio of sharks called the Sisters that hunt the surrounding waters, and the overwhelming bird population who, at times, create the need to wear hard hats as protection from their attacks. Shortly after her arrival, Miranda is assaulted by one of the inhabitants of the islands. A few days later, her assailant is found dead, perhaps the result of an accident. As the novel unfolds, Miranda gives witness to the natural wonders of this special place as she grapples with what has happened to her and deepens her connection (and her suspicions) to her companions, while falling under the thrall of the legends of the place nicknamed “the Islands of the Dead.” And when more violence occurs, each member of this strange community falls under suspicion. The Lightkeepers upends the traditional structure of a mystery novel –an isolated environment, a limited group of characters who might not be trustworthy, a death that may or may not have been accidental, a balance of discovery and action –while also exploring wider themes of the natural world, the power of loss, and the nature of recovery.’

I very much enjoyed Geni’s short story collection, The Last Animal, and couldn’t wait to read her debut novel.  My parents scoured The Strand for me on a recent trip to New York, and I couldn’t have been happier when they presented me with it (and three other equally wonderful tomes).  Geni’s novel explores similar themes to those in her story collection – nature, humans, and the effects of one upon the other.

Geni’s writing is electric.  Such emphasis has been placed upon every single sense that the whole springs to life immediately.  You can almost smell the salt on the breeze, taste the stale crackers and tuna macaroni, and, despite living on an isolated island with just a few others, feel their eyes on you as you read.  Geni uses both the first and third person perspectives effortlessly, and even the more simplistic or mundane elements of life on the Farallon Islands feel extremely creative due to the way in which she presents them.  Everything here feels original.  The Lightkeepers has been so well researched, particularly with regard to the nature around Miranda, and the photography techniques which she utilises.  The Lightkeepers is exquisite.

 

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