Monday 4 January 2021

Reading ahead - New Year anticipation, part 3

Here's the third and final part of our Reading Ahead feature, and again we take the chance to thank all our contributors for supplying us with great reviews and recommendations all year round. This last part includes a number of titles due for publication this year, so - whatever tier we're in - none of us will be short of tempting books to read. Several of the titles mentioned here will feature on the blog in the coming months. 

Happy New Year reading!

Paul Dowswell: I’ve enjoyed retreating into music non-fiction during the pandemic. It’s a perfect comfort read for an anxious time. Rock writer and music magazine creator, David Hepworth, has been churning out a book a year since 2016’s 1971 – Never a Dull Moment. It’s a particular pleasure to read his work because his brilliant but defunct monthly music magazine The Word is greatly missed. From its marvellous title and fabulous cover shot of the Rolling Stones dressed in drag onwards, Overpaid, Oversexed and Over There - How a Few Brits with Bad Teeth Rocked America promises a fascinating journey through an era (1960s to 80s) when British bands dominated American popular music. His previous books have shown that Hepworth excels in the quirky anecdote, and being a publishing entrepreneur as well as a music fan, he is always able to present a perceptive insight into the business side of ‘show business’. I’m snapping this up as soon as it comes out in paperback.

Pippa Goodhart:
I bought a book for my daughter Mary that I’m longing to read myself. It’s The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow. Hadlow has taken middle Bennet daughter, Mary, from Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice, and imagined what happened to her after Austen’s novel finishes. Mary is the plain and serious sister amongst lively beauties, and she fails to find a man to marry within P&P, but this novel promises to see her ‘grow into herself’, and, yes, find love. Perfect, I hope, for some escapism during cold Brexit January.

​Talking of ‘hope’, a treat I’m very much looking forward to in March is Hope Adams (a.k.a. Adèle Geras)’s novel set in 1841 on a ship bound for Australia with 180 women convicts on board. I know that the seed of this story was planted by a quilt in the V&A Quilt Exhibition from a few years ago that I saw. I love real history woven into rich story! Reading Dangerous Women, I look forward to jumping aboard that convict ship!

Michelle Lovric
: I read up to my thighs during lockdown 1: when I put them in a pile, that’s where the books reached. I wasn’t surprised to hear Bloomsbury are doing well: my literature consumption definitely increased with Covid. Books on my looking-forward-to list: Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi, Dangerous Women by Hope Adams, a.k.a Adèle Geras of this parish; Casanoviana, including an account of 2019’s symposium – in a real room, with touchable international scholars – on the World’s Most Misunderstood Venetian. I discovered Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart recently, so now the rest of his oeuvre’s beside the bed. What else to do when you run out of Niall Williams and Sebastian Barry? (Hint, gentlemen!) For three wonderful years, I attended a poetry masterclass with Robert Vas Dias. Just arrived: his The Poetics of Still Life. For my own work, lately much taken up with puffins and millinery, I’m about to start Denise Dreher’s From the Neck Up.

Jane Rogers:
 This year I have been on the lookout for fiction about the Climate Emergency. Because it’s such a vital and overwhelming topic, I’m curious to see how other writers are dealing with it. And I should admit I’m hoping to write a climate novel myself.

In the interests of this research I’ve read Chris Beckett’s America City (recommended) and Jenny Offill’s Weather (well written, but doesn’t live up to the hype). I was delighted to hear a recent Open Book on Radio 4 devote a full programme to climate change fiction, or Cli-fi, as they are now calling it. It has become a sub-genre all of its own! Apparently there is lots in the pipe-line; I want to start with Carys Bray’s new novel, When the Lights Go Out, which is set in the near future, with floods outdoors and a collapsing marriage indoors. Carys writes beautifully - I loved her short story collection Sweet Home. And Diana McCaulay’s Daylight, Come, set in a fictional island closely resembling Jamaica, where she lives, in a future where the days are so hot everyone has to sleep in the day and work at night, sounds fascinating.

Adèle Geras
There’s much to look forward to in 2021, and these are the books I’m longing to read. First is Marika Cobbold’s On Hampstead Heath. I’m a big fan of this writer, and this will be published in April by Arcadia Books. It’s set in one of my favourite parts of London and concerns a journalist who invents a story, for the best possible reasons. Enticing.

Then there’s Caroline Lea’s The Metal Heart, which has a very striking cover. It’s a wartime love story set in a camp for Italian prisoners of war in Scotland. I suspect I will need tissues. Coming in April from Michael Joseph.

My last choice is Atomic Love, by US author Jennie Fields. (Michael Joseph) This is about a woman scientist working on the Manhattan project. I’ve read the first couple of pages and am drawn in already....

It’s going to be another good year for fiction.

Patricia Elliott
: I'm intrigued to read Stuart Turton's new second novel, The Devil and the Dark Water, set on board a cursed ship sailing to Amsterdam in the seventeenth century, a dangerous voyage even without the murder and mayhem I'm promised. His first, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle, was an artful, twisty riff on a detective story, with a fiendishly complicated plot: a game he played with the reader. Turton is not a beautiful stylist but his writing is energetic and vivid, with startling similes. Also recently published, I think I shall enjoy Edward Parnell's Ghostland, in which the author goes on a cathartic journey after family tragedy, revisiting books and places in Britain's most haunted countryside. To reread? Among other books and inspired by the magnificent television adaptation of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials, now finishing its second series, The Subtle Knife, my favourite of the trilogy, last read 25 years ago. Jon Appleton: Echoes of adored, established writers have lured me to some recent independent publishing.

Jon Appleton: 
Echoes of adored, established writers have lured me to some recent independent publishing.

The Continuity Girl by Patrick Kincaid (Unbound) promises ‘A lost movie. An elusive monster. One last chance…’ It’s billed as a novel for fans of Jonathan Coe (whose work I adore). There’s a fanatical fan and an old film retrieved and the stage is set for a glorious homage and reckoning with the world today. I can’t wait!

 Penelope Lively’s clashes of the mores of past and present (Treasures of Time, Judgement Day) remain reading highlights. (They’re funny, too.) I predict Simon Edge’s historical fiction will be equally beguiling. Anyone for Edmund (Lightning Books) pokes fun at Westminster culture and celebrates the cult of a medieval saint. I’ve also ordered his A Right Royal Face-off, which contrasts Gainsborough’s high art with celebrity TV.

Another indie publisher whose work impresses me is Louise Walters Books. I love novellas and The Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton evokes the brilliant film 45 Years. Louise has just released Helen Kitson’s Old Bones ­– I can’t resist a quarry-found corpse and the repressed secrets of spinsters. Could we have another Ruth Rendell in the making?

Sue Purkiss:
In the last few years, like many of us, I’ve become more and more concerned about our environment and what we’re doing to it. So in the New Year I shall look forward to reading more books about nature. One will be The Running Hare, by John Lewis-Stempel, which has been strongly recommended to me by my brother-in-law, who has a smallholding in Ireland. I’ve also heard good things about James Rebanks’ new book, English Pastoral: and I have my eye on Surfacing, by Kathleen Jamie, who writes about wild places with a poet’s perception, though this, like an earlier book, Sightlines, is prose. (Of the most elegant, spare and focused kind.)

I still have some excellent birthday books to look forward to as well – The Lying Life of Adults, by Elena Ferrante, and The Diary of a Young Naturalist, by Dara McAnulty.

Dara McAnulty's Diary of a Young Naturalist is reviewed here by Gill Lewis.

Susanna Clarke's Piranesi is reviewed here by Adèle Geras.

We will feature a Question and Answer with Hope Adams (Adèle Geras) to mark the publication of Dangerous Women.

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