Your new favourite writer

Having failed to provide you with any undiscovered gems in my books of the year list, I’m going to do so now. This is a post in which I recommend a great author that you have quite possibly not heard of (especially if you’re reading this from the UK), you go and buy books by said author, and come back and tell me that she’s brilliant and I was right. Easy.

And that writer is Maddie Dawson. I have struggled to describe exactly what her books are for some time, but luckily Dawson herself has managed to do it pretty eloquently on her twitter biog, where she says: ‘Writer of novels with crazy families, secrets, and reasonably happy endings. Like life.’ I would query only the ‘crazy’ part, as her families are only crazy to the extent that all of our families are. These are books about love, family, relationships, parents and children, siblings etc. They are acutely observed but also well plotted. They are my dream type of book. To give my own view on this, without consulting the Amazon ‘also bought’ links, I would say they would appeal to you if you like writers such as Emily Giffin, Jennifer Weiner, Kristin Hannah. They are a type of book that the US have always been better at selling than we have here in the UK.

The first of Dawson’s books that I read was The Stuff that Never Happened. A US colleague gave me a copy on a work trip in 2014, and I stayed up to read the whole thing on a night flight home. It’s a book about ‘the one that got away’, essentially, but if you feel you’ve read a version of that before – you haven’t read many as good as this.

dawson

Having loved this one, I tracked down all the others, and here they are: The Opposite of Maybe and The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness (her latest, about adoption, which I have just finished reading and which is available as an ebook, including in the UK). And there are also two written by the same author under another name, Sandi Kahn Shelton: Kissing Games of the World and A Piece of Normal.

I loved them all and hope you will too. If you’re in the UK, you may have to order copies of some of them from the US or a third party seller on Amazon, but I promise you it will be worth it.

Taking pictures of books

When I was a teenager, I had a little notebook in which I’d write down bits of books and poems (and, let’s be frank, Doors lyrics) that I particularly liked or meant something to me. Thank goodness I no longer have this notebook as I’m sure it would make horrifying reading. But perhaps I have not advanced that far since. Because now, despite being about to embark upon a role as a digital publisher, and despite all the technology available to me, my means of recording bits of books I like is: taking photos of them with my iPhone and never storing them properly or labelling them in any way, and then just coming across them later and thinking ‘oh, that’s good’ and then trying to remember what they are.

But. What is accidentally brilliant about this non-method is that when I flick through my phone, I see something, and am reminded of why I took a photo of it just then and why it meant so much to me. So, I thought I would share a few iPhone highlights from recent months.

First, from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, which I read on my summer holiday this year:

gilead

Not bad hey? It speaks for itself really. It’s like a distilled version of everything that is brilliant about this book and Robinson’s writing, which I came to shamefully late. But its essential truth is always worth keeping in mind if you’ve just spent hours wrestling with a toddler car seat in Barcelona airport on the way to said summer holiday. Helps to keep things in perspective.

Next up! Belinda Bauer – one of my favourite crime writers. This is from her new novel, The Beautiful Dead. I think I was having an especially bad day when I read this back in September. Although I should clarify that even my worst, most stressful publishing days have thankfully never involved blood.

bauer

Fortunately both Eve Singer, the heroine of the book, and I lived to fight another day. But this is an excellent description of a terrible one.

Next, something more cheerful. This is from Johnny Marr’s autobiography, Set the Boy Free. With apologies for the bad light and for the poor formatting – I was reading a converted PDF on my kindle before the book came out.

marr

I love this because a. I’m a sucker for these ‘pivotal moments that changed everything’, and this one describes Marr’s first encounter with Morrissey, which became the incredible songwriting partnership that those two were; and b. I read it when I was on my way to first meeting my new employers, and I thought ‘oh, I’m reading about a significant moment in someone’s life at what may be a significant moment in my own’. (And I say this with all due humility – I don’t believe I can ever achieve anything in any job I will hold that will come close to ‘What Difference Does it Make?’)

And finally this, from Stephenie Meyer’s The Chemist, which is basically my philosophy of life.

meyer

The way Meyer writes it suggests that perhaps it isn’t a fail-safe approach, which is alarming news because I’ve been relying on it for quite a while now.

Books of the year 2016

Obviously mine is the most anticipated literary list of the year so I’ve left it especially late, leaving you almost not enough time to buy my recommendations for your loved ones for Christmas.

But before the lists, some rules and qualifications:

First, a reminder that what I have spent 99% of my year reading is either submissions – as yet unpublished books that have been sent to me by agents – or books I am actually editing and publishing. So if you feel that the list below is somewhat lacking in undiscovered gems, this is the reason why. Often I’ve read these books because they have shouted quite loud to get my attention. ‘My book may have gone undiscovered if Jenny hadn’t recommended it as one of her books of the year’ said absolutely no-one in the list below.

Second, this is a list of books I have read this year, and not necessarily books that have been published this year, although some of them also have been.

Third, this list excludes all the books I was involved with publishing at Arrow, and all the books I have read in anticipation of starting at Bookouture. Obviously both lists contain a huge number of excellent books, but they are sadly not allowed here. I have spent and will spend enough time telling you all how brilliant they are in other contexts, mainly on twitter.

So, rules over. Here they come:

little-life

First, A Little Life. This was the first book I read this year and as soon as I finished it, I knew it was likely to be the best book I read all year. I was right and it was. In order to keep us moving swiftly through the list, I won’t linger on the reasons why I thought most criticism of it was misguided and unfair (though I may linger on that some other time – something to look forward to… ) but I did think it was. It isn’t a perfect book, but as a friend of mine said when she recommended it to me ‘I have a very high tolerance for the sort of thing that is wrong with it’. And I shared this feeling exactly. Yes it could have been shorter, but I loved every word of it.

.behind

Behind Closed Doors is my thriller of the year, in a year during which I read approximately 3 million thrillers (so, no mean feat). Publishers have spent a lot of time discussing why exactly this book worked so well, and much of that discussion has focused on publication model and pricing. Useful discussions to have, and the book was brilliantly published by  HQ (then Mira) but it is also literally unputdownable and it is hard to imagine someone reading it without telling all their friends this vital fact. My one small quibble with it is that one of the ways in which the psychopath husband demonstrates his awfulness in the book is by arriving at the airport 3 hours before his flight leaves. Which as any fool knows is entirely normal behaviour. I have just been lucky enough to read an advance copy of B. A. Paris’ second novel The Breakdown, out in February 2017, and it is every bit as gripping as her first.

gustav

The Gustav Sonata was the best of an excellent bunch of books I read on a holiday in North Norfolk in May. (The other two were This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell and Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty, both of which I also loved. A 100% holiday hit rate is always satisfying.) As with so many of Tremain’s novels, it is perfect. Moving, intelligent, gripping, not a word out of place. So it won ‘The Book of my  Norfolk holiday’, that much-coveted literary award.

olive

Elizabeth Strout was my author discovery of 2016, and I read three of her novels this year: Olive Kitteridge, Amy and Isabelle and My Name is Lucy Barton. Any of them could have had a place on this list but I’ve gone for Olive. It’s an unshowy book but that’s not another way of saying ‘it’s a bit slow and has no plot’. Strout is an outstanding observer of human behaviour and also of the ways in which people can get each other wrong, with devastating consequences.

small

I have been reading Jodi Picoult for years, and have always enjoyed her, but with her last three – The Storyteller, Leaving Time, and this one, Small Great Things – she has moved up a notch. All three have made me cry, and Leaving Time I loved despite its containing a supernatural element, which is an almost automatic strike against a book for me. When Hodder sent out proofs of Small Great Things, they did so ‘blind’, as it were – with no author and title on it, so readers did not know what they were reading. As you’ll see if you read the book, this ties into its themes but also I imagine they wanted readers who had never read Picoult before, and who had a set idea of the ‘sort of thing’ she is, to read this book without prejudice. If you never have read her, this is a good place to start.

miss-you

The last novel on my list is the one I most wanted to publish this year, but sadly missed out on. (‘All in the game, yo’ as Omar from The Wire would say, were he an acquiring editor.) And that book is Miss You by Kate Eberlen. Sleepless in Seattle meets One Day is my best publisher-speak one line hook, but that doesn’t do it justice. It’s upmarket commercial fiction at its best. I laughed, I cried, I lost the auction, and now I’m showing how not-bitter I am by suggesting you buy someone a copy for Christmas.

And finally – an honourable mention for something a bit different, which is this, The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k.

If you have anyone in your family who has inclinations towards control freakery, perfectionism and anxiety (I can’t imagine why someone told me I should read it), then this is the perfect Christmas gift. The title gets across the core message, but it is engagingly written and genuinely helpful on the topic of how to spend less time doing the things that are wasting your time and holding you back, and more time doing the important things that you love. I have absorbed its key message so successfully that I am not bothering to send Christmas cards this year. And hopefully any of my friends reading this will now realise ‘it’s not because she’s selfish and doesn’t want us to have a nice Christmas’ (which of course I am not/do want) but rather that’s it’s part of a vital life change. I will be equally understanding if you can’t be bothered to send me a card, and you can spend your time on more worthwhile activities like reading one of the wonderful books on this list.

Happy Christmas everyone!

Beginning

About a decade ago, when I worked in digital marketing – though it was a decade ago, so it was called ‘online’ back then – I used to blog, mainly for Pan Macmillan, which was where I then worked. I moved across to editorial, where I have been ever since (first at Pan Macmillan and then at Arrow) and where I’ve been busy editing, publishing, reading and not blogging for over 8 years.

And now, about to move to a new role as Publishing Director of digital fiction publisher Bookouture, I suddenly decided to begin again.

When I used to blog back in 2008, it was still a new-ish thing. I read a few book blogs, I knew of a few more that I didn’t follow quite as closely, but book blogs did not play the critical part in the publishing landscape that they now do. Broadsheet newspapers have always focused on literary fiction and non-fiction and what has been interesting, watching the rise of book bloggers, is seeing how far they’ve gone towards filling a gap as a recommendation engine for readers of commercial fiction, both physical and digital.

Publishers spend a lot of time talking about the books we are publishing, but I hope that this blog might be an opportunity for me to talk about books and bookish stuff that isn’t just my own. I’ll kick off shortly with my own books of 2016, which for the last 8 years, I’ve very much struggled to cram into tweets.

Hopefully I won’t wait another decade to post again. Although you never know.