Thursday, July 30, 2020

Six of the best, by Catriona

Reading: Please recommend an author who may not be widely known to readers and tell us about them and their book(s). In addition, what books are on your bedside table for July and why did you select them for summer reading?

I miss bookshops this year. So I'm trying to make this blog post into a random browse for you, with the jackets, some blurbs, the first line or so. And me walking on as the bookseller pressing things into your hands and guaranteeing you'll love them.

PINE, by Francine Toon, is obscure of you're in the US (Book Depository!) but hardly if you're in the UK, where it's longlisted for the MacIlvanney award at Bloody Scotland.

It's the debut novel by my Dandy Gilver editor but even if it wasn't I would be all in. A small village surrounded by forests? Locked doors and stone circles? A missing child? I could not be more all in

Mick Herron said "a moving study of memory and loss ... both spooky and tender, drenched in a sense of place".

I read the first line "They are driving out for guising when they see her" but I'm going to try to save it for the Christmas holidays and read it curled up on a couch while the rain drums on my roof.

No way could I have saved IN THE DREAM HOUSE by Carmen Maria Machado. I devoured it. 

It's not crime fiction, but it's about crime. This memoir traces the course of a relationship from the giddy days of new love, down through obsession, manipulation, gaslighting, and into full-on abuse. It's painfully honest and beautifully written. And it's got a plot twist! 

I'm not going to lie to you; there's a Derrida quote on the first page of the prologue, but keep going, fellow Philistines. It's worth it. "I daresay you have heard of the Dream House" is how chapter one begins, setting the real house where Machado's abuse took place in a fairytale setting of forest and clearing. (Another book I finished recently - Silvia Moreno Garcia's MEXICAN GOTHIC - had a socialite leaving the city for a country house stay and realising that she had never considered "the forest" as a real place before. How lovely is that?)

On to fiction but with maximum realism. John Copenhaver's DODGING AND BURNING comes trailing starred reviews from LJ - "a powerful debut" and PW - "the consequences of war - and prejudice - in small town America", and offers letters, photographs and chapters from classic pulp, as well as irresistible voice characters, to build a puzzle box of a plot.

And even though that title would be wasted on me, because I don't know enough about photography to deserve it, that doesn't dent my envy one little bit.

Next up is what I'm reading right now. When I was ordering some titles from Once a Upon a Crime in Minneapolis a couple of weeks back, I asked Devin to add naother title and surprise me. (I thought booksellers were probably missing hand-selling as much as customers were missing browsing. Also, the last time I asked Devin to surprise me, she put Kristen Lepionka's debut in my hands.) This time, the wildcard book was THE LAST by Hanna Jameson

Billed as "Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None collides with Stephen King's The Shining" - by NPR, no less (who also mention Nevil Shute and who ever mentions Nevil Shute???) this is a postapocalytpic thriller to make the real word seem not so bad, in spite of everything. It opens with Jon Keller finding out that the world is ending via text alert. And his first feeling is embarrassment about the banality. 43 pages in as of this morning and Jon's hero credentials are no less complicated. But the plot is off and running like a snowball on a steep roof. 

The opening line of Claire Askew's ALL THE HIDDEN TRUTHS speaks to anyone from Edinburgh. "Moira Summers was on the top deck of the number 23 bus". The 23 is Edinburgh's poshest bus. (Yes, there's a social stratification of buses; I've never lived on the route of the 23. And for a while I lived on the route of the 44. My dear!) The skewering of Edinburgh snobberies, the shade thrown on systemic sexism in the police force, and the heartbreak of mothers trying to keep their children safe while they're forced to let them go . . . all of this is added to a tight and propulsive thriller plot. God, it's good. Again, huge in the UK maybe less so here. So . . . Book Depository again.

Finally - and my last attempt to replicate a visit to a bookshop - here's Bernadine Evaristo's GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER. Yes, I know it won the Booker prize and this blog is supposed to be a head's up about stuff you might have missed, but that's the point. Sometimes, if you're anything like me, you keep on hearing about a book, until you think it must be over-hyped, so you pass it by. Then one day you pick it up and it's not over-hyped! It's utterly fantastic!

This is one of those books. Structured in four sections, with three narrators per section, it's a solid, perfect, natty whole. All the voices start to make chords; all the stories weave together. I lost count of the number of times I said "Oh, riiiight!" out loud as I feasted on this wonderful novel It's not crime fiction, but it's got a lot to teach crime-fiction writers about knitting a plot and springing surprises.

Happy reading whether you pick up one of these or go for something completely different.

Stay safe,



Susan C Shea said...

I love the idea of having the bookseller add a book they think you'll like. you're right - hand selling is one their pleasures and one of ours to receive. Think I'll do that soon. Thanks, and thanks for the book reviews.

Laura Jensen Walker said...

Six new titles to add to my TBR stack. Thanks, Catriona.