Don’t Give Up

… Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush implored us in 1986. Or Winston Churchill did in 1941. They weren’t talking about books but had they been, I would have ignored all three of them.

Recently, a colleague said ‘You’re ruthless’. She was referring, I think and hope, not to my professional behaviour and general manner in the office, but to the number of books it struck her that I give up reading. So I have been thinking a bit more about this.

I do give up reading, and have in my life given up reading, an awful lot of books. Before I started writing this, I googled ‘giving up books’ and the top result was this piece here, the headline of which is ‘It’s Okay to Give Up on Mediocre Books Because We’re All Going to Die’. I would recommend a bigger and more all-encompassing rule which says: it’s okay to give up on good books too, and not just because we’re all going to die.

I don’t have hard data on how many books I have stopped reading in my life, but my sense is that it’s quite a lot, and it’s definitely more than most other people I know. I would argue, though, that because most people I know spend so long ploughing through the books they are clearly finding quite dull but still aren’t giving up, my method still equals more books read overall. I have kept a list of all the (non-work) books I’ve read in 2018 so far, and there are 20 of them. Just looking through this year on my Kindle, I can count a further 13 books that I have started reading and not finished – some of these after reading the Kindle free sample, and others after buying the actual book and reading a bit further. I can think of a further two hard copy printed books I started reading and gave up, so assuming that is the total it would mean I’ve given up 15 books for the 20 I’ve completed.

Is that a lot? Maybe. I’ve given up classics, literary prize winners and shortlistees and I’ve given up massive commercial bestsellers. I’ve given up books that trusted friends have told me I would love, books by authors I have previously loved, books that ‘everyone’ is talking about, and books for which 7 or 9 or 13 publishers offered six figure sums in hotly-contested auctions. In one case, I gave up a thriller because I guessed the twist on page 3. I gave up two books last weekend alone.

This may be a lot and it may show that I am ruthless and intolerant reader. But I have a proposition I like more, and it is this: I have (as Lola might say) a really very extremely incredibly strong sense of the sort of book I will like and I am able recognise it very quickly. What this means is that nearly all the books I finish I enjoy very much indeed. If you’re interested, here is the list of the lucky 20 that have been completed in 2018 and I would recommend almost all of them in one way or another.

2018 reads

And the book I am reading right now is this, The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. It is brilliant, I will most certainly finish it, I knew this within a few pages, and the friend who recommended it to me did so saying ‘it’s OSOT’. This means ‘our sort of thing’, which it undoubtedly is, and that’s a neat summary of what the 15 books I gave up were not, great though they may have been in other ways. They were not OSOT. Or at least (not wanting to speak for her) they were not MSOT. I would suggest that being able to recognise your own sort of thing within a book’s opening pages is a vital life skill that will save you many potentially wasted hours. You’re welcome!

(Footnote: if anyone is curious, it’s a total coincidence – admittedly quite an odd one – that I read The Wonder by Emma Donoghue just after Wonder by R.J. Palacio.)

Advertisements

Books of the year – all of them

boty1boty3boty4black widowthis is going to hurt

I’m doing it slightly differently this year. This is in no way a lazy cop-out because I can’t face choosing the best ones. But I went to all the effort this year of writing down every single (non-work) book I read, and so I thought I might as well write them all down here, along with some brief notes and hints about which would have been my books of the year, had I done them properly. This means more recommendations, which is always a good thing, and it relieves some of the pressure of having to pick favourites.

To be clear, this list does not include: books I’ve edited, published, or that Bookouture have published, or that I read on submission. That’s quite a lot of books, but here is the list of all the others:

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon – Brad Stone. The story of how Amazon went from being one guy with a good idea to the people who now deliver twelve items a day to my house.

Homecoming – Susie Steiner. Author of the more famous Manon Bradshaw thrillers. I loved this novel about a farming family.

Hillbilly Elegy – J. D. Vance. I feel like I should have a controversial view about what this says about Trump’s America. I don’t, but I liked it a lot.

The Girl Before – J. P. Delaney. First one to get a special award. There were several thousand massively hyped domestic psychological thrillers published in January/February 2017. This was, in my opinion, the best, and coincidentally (or not) it was also the most successful. So this wins my ‘best psychological thriller of early 2017’ award.

Silent Child – Sarah A. Denzil. Hugely gripping and hugely successful ebook bestseller. Kept one of my authors off the number 1 Kindle spot for several weeks so I wanted to hate it, but didn’t. Minor quibble: I guessed the ending early on.

Into the Water – Paula Hawkins. You all know what this one is or where have you been?

My Not-So-Perfect Life – Sophie Kinsella. This is Kinsella on top form. Properly hilarious, particularly on the topic of urban people going to the country, which is what I was/where I was when I read it.

The Fact of a Body – Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. As the subtitle says, this is both a ‘true crime story’ of a murder and a memoir of the author’s family life. My one criticism was that the two strands didn’t fuse together/connect in a clear enough way for me, but each one separately was fascinating.

City of Friends – Joanna Trollope. Embarrassing admission that this was the first JT I ever read. I knew this was ridiculous beforehand, and reading it confirmed how ridiculous it was. Very much liked the book.

How Google Works – Eric Schmidt. What it sounds like – an interesting and inspirational book about how Google works. (The company, that is, not the actual search engine.)

Option B – Sheryl Sandberg. Have written about this one in detail here.

Daughters-in-Law – Joanna Trollope. See above – second Joanna Trollope I read!

The Night Visitor – Lucy Atkins. Brilliantly creepy thriller about female friendship, careers, jealousy and beetles.

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini. Honestly, this was my book of the year. You could argue that I’ve done this whole ‘listing all the books’ exercise to disguise the fact that my book of the year, shamefully, is a book that literally everyone else read nearly a decade ago. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. This is my perfect ‘type’ of book, and it is pretty close to being a perfect book. I didn’t read it for years because I was underwhelmed by The Kite Runner, but this was far better.

Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell. I always drop everything for the new Lisa Jewell, and this is a very good one. Both a gripping thriller and a heartbreaking family drama.

Since We Fell – Dennis Lehane. My first Dennis Lehane. An unusual book and tricky to pitch in a line. Loved the first half, didn’t think the second half worked, but still found it gripping and engaging.

The Seven Days of Us – Francesca Hornak. This is the book you want to read this week, as it’s all about being trapped in a house with difficult family members over the festive season. Great fun and also set in North Norfolk – always a plus.

His Bloody Project – Graeme MacRae Burnet. I was seriously put off reading this book for a long time by the title, which tries as hard as it can to sound like something I don’t want to read. But I loved it. So let that be a lesson to you, publishers. Make your book sound like something that doesn’t turn off the people who will want to read it.

Together – Julie Cohen. This one gets a special mention. Would probably make my ‘of the year’ list if I was doing a proper one. It has a mega twist that you either feel works, or ruins the whole thing, but I thought it *just* pulled it off.

The Party – Elizabeth Day. Very much liked this, but liked it less than Day’s Paradise City, which I read later on in the year. See below.

The Couple Next Door – Shari Lapena. Read this on my summer hols. Incredibly gripping but flawed. Undoubtedly the book of my summer holiday house however. Another person in our holiday party read it too and there were two copies already in the holiday villa. That’s how you know you’ve made it big.

Mrs Fletcher – Tom Perrotta. Not his best, but even not his best is better than most other people’s best. He is ace.

Persons Unknown – Susie Steiner. Manon number 2. Love her, and loved this.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman. I had the same view on this as I had on Tin Man below. I liked both of them a lot, but I still liked them a bit less than most other people you’ve spoken to.

Tin Man – Sarah Winman. See above! As an editor I often read books and think they’re too long and need cutting. I thought this book was too short and needed lengthening. There was so much in it that was excellent and moving – but it felt to me like there wasn’t quite enough of it.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock – Imogen Hermes Gowar. This will undoubtedly be one of the big books of 2018. It was an incredibly impressive debut and *almost* brilliant. It gets a few points unfairly deducted because I wanted it to be The Crimson Petal and the White and it wasn’t. But still a good read.

Where Love Lies – Julie Cohen. Second Julie Cohen, following my enthusiasm for Together. Liked this one too, but not as much.

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Another book I read loads of years after everyone else. I was scared that it wouldn’t be as good as Half of a Yellow Sun and it wasn’t, but it was still very good.

This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay. Nothing to add to what the world has said on this. Hilarious, important etc. Very glad I read it after I was done having kids.

Paradise City – Elizabeth Day. See above. This is the sort of book I love, and I preferred it to The Party. London lives, intersecting characters you really care about. Humane and believable. That sort of thing!

The Power – Naomi Alderman. Again, you all know what this is. A clever idea indeed and the exciting thing about this one is that after 40 years of life, and almost as many years of being a reader, I finally this year became part of a book club and in it we read this. It is also notable for being sort-of science fiction, and yet I read it anyway. An unusual event.

I Am, I Am, I Am – Maggie O’Farrell. I always love Maggie O’Farrell and some of these were extremely moving and/or frightening – the very first chapter was the one that has most stayed in my mind.

Black Widow – Chris Brookmyre*Award klaxon*. This is without a doubt the best thriller I read this year. If you know me, I have most likely either recommended it to you or bought it for you already. If you don’t, then I have now.

Need to Know – Karen Cleveland. Out next year, and much hyped. This is psychological suspense meets espionage thriller. i.e. ‘What if you can’t trust your husband… and he’s also a spy?’ You never know – it could be the case.

Surprise Me – Sophie Kinsella. This is next year’s Kinsella. Not quite as good as this year’s, in my view, but I still tore through it.

Pachinko – Min Jin LeeFinal award winner. It gets a special mention not only for being very good but also because, when a friend recommended it to me, I hadn’t heard of it. This happens so rarely (that someone recommends a book I’ve literally never heard of at all) that I read it out of curiosity. But, as luck would have it, it is an outstanding novel about a Korean family living in Japan during the twentieth century. Highly recommended.

Force of Nature – Jane Harper. Second thriller by the author of The Dry which I liked just as much. It combines many of my interests in one place – it is a thriller which is also about workplace politics and also about why going camping is a terrible idea. Or going on any sort of trip where people take your phone away from you and/or you can’t get a decent phone signal. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

And my final – as yet unfinished – book of 2017 is Close to Home by Cara HunterRecommended to me by someone whose recommendations are almost always correct, and now also selected by Richard and Judy.

So it’s been a very good year. But, looking back to my last year’s resolutions, I still haven’t read The Goldfinch. One for next year…

 

 

 

Holiday reading: the books

So here it is. The final selection, and I must say I’m feeling pretty confident about them all. The eagle-eyed among you may notice that I have broken one of my own rules. Yes there are a couple of over-hyped debuts in this list, but they have been so wholeheartedly recommended to me by everyone I trust that I believe they will prove to be not over-hyped, but rather justly hyped. 

Only one of these books is an actual print book, so in the absence of the ‘towering pile of holiday books’ photo, here is a collage of my holiday books on a variety of devices, most of which I still have to locate and pack chargers for in the next 48 hours.

Holiday 7holiday 6holiday 3holiday 2

holiday 1holiday 5holiday 8

The other fairly crucial rule I’ve broken is that I’ve actually read one and a half of these ‘holiday’ books already. I’ve read the Lisa Jewell in its entirety and I started the Julie Cohen last night, a full three days before my plane takes off. I’m confident that with small children taken into account, the remainder of this lot will still last me a fortnight. 

I’ll report back on my hit rate in due course. 

On The Gruffalo and deserved success

We in publishing are fond of discussing how book history could and should have gone differently. Why some publisher spent too much on book x; why book y should have sold more copies; it’s a mystery why book z sold as many copies as it did. And so on. We love a good moan about a bit of publishing injustice. Our success as publishers is contingent upon our ability to predict what will work and what will sell. Sometimes we get this wrong. But sometimes, the industry, and the reading public, gets it brilliantly, spectacularly right.

gruffalo

The finest example of this justice at work in the publishing world is The Gruffalo. It is the best-selling picture book of my parenting years. It is also the best. At the risk of sounding dogmatic, it is not one of the best, or among the best, it is objectively, in all senses, the very very best. And I believe its exceptional quality has in every way been the reason for its success.

The Gruffalo walks a line that seriously few children’s books and films manage, in its genuine dual appeal to children and adults alike. The majority of its intended readership does not 100% ‘get it’. Right now, my 2-year-old thinks it’s just a book about a big scary monster and a load of animals larking about in a wood. Perhaps as he gets closer to 4 or 5 he will understand it a bit more. But even then, he won’t understand what adults understand, i.e. the reasons why reading The Gruffalo every night for years is so much more tolerable than doing the same with its many competitors. Its total perfection. Its words, illustrations, rhyming and cadence. The not one but two clever confidence tricks pulled off by the mouse – first on the hungry animals of the wood, and then the same trick reversed, and played back on the Gruffalo himself. The way in which the end so brilliantly echoes the beginning – from ‘a fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good’ to ‘the mouse found a nut and the nut was good’. In just a few pages, the mouse goes from being potential food himself, to enjoying a peaceful meal having vanquished all the other animals, as well as the fearsome Gruffalo. It is the ultimate story of success against the odds. The Gruffalo’s perfect name and his perfect appearance – theoretically scary whilst still being charming enough to appear on stages and at shopping centres throughout the land without terrifying the toddler population.

Why mention this now, given that I’ve been reading The Gruffalo and thinking all of these things about it pretty much non-stop for the last 7 years? Because, in the last few weeks, I’ve had a rare spell (mainly on the holiday from which I’ve just returned) of feeling a similar sense of publishing justice about my other most recent reads.

First: The Girl Before by J. P. Delaney and Silent Child by Sarah A. Denzil. The bestselling psychological thrillers of recent months in physical and digital respectively. Neither is anywhere near as close to perfection as The Gruffalo, and The Gruffalo has better twists than both (sorry J. P. Delaney and Sarah A. Denzil) but with each of these books, I finished them thinking ‘yes, I can absolutely see why that is such a massive bestseller, phew’. From the titles, to the pitches, to the page-turning unputdownability of the books themselves, reading them was reassuring as well as massively enjoyable.

Then I read My Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella. I’ve written at more length about my love of Sophie Kinsella, and my thoughts on the belittling of her type of commercial women’s fiction here. So I won’t repeat myself, except to say that this latest is everything that all of her books are: witty, clever, and effortlessly of-the-moment. Brilliant for its piss-takes of the word ‘bespoke’ and of how city people behave in the countryside (that was me last week), as well as for its insights into the assumptions that working women make about one another.

And finally … on the topic of working women, I read City of Friends, my first ever (I know, I know) Joanna Trollope, and thought ‘oh good, everything everyone has been telling me about why I should read Joanna Trollope for the last 20 years turned out to be right’. In a world where people give you so much bad advice so often, this is pleasing, plus it takes care of my holiday reading potentially for the next 20 years. Am off to book a few more holidays in which to read her backlist now.

How much is Miller’s Valley worth?

This is the book blog equivalent of that game where you have to guess how many sweets are in the big jar. Although in this case, you win nothing except the opportunity to discuss Anna Quindlen with me. What a prize.

Background: I rarely read print books anymore, I even more rarely read hardbacks, and I even more rarely than that read hardbacks from the library. So it was a perfect storm of circumstances, involving me having a brief period off work in December and seeing this book (which I’ve wanted to read for a while) in the library whilst there with a child, and mistakenly believing that I would have time to read it, that made me get it out, on my child’s library card:

img_0019

I am a big fan of Anna Quindlen’s already and have heard good things about this one. It also has this quote on the back, which would have pretty much sold it to me alone, were I not already sold:

img_0020

However, despite best new year’s resolutions to the contrary, I have read nothing so far in January that is not work-related, and so I have not yet read Miller’s Valley, which was due back to the library in late December. And since I got it out of the library two things have happened:

  1. The library has closed for refurbishment until 11 February, and
  2. The library has introduced a new policy that even books taken out on a child’s card incur fines.

So, if anyone can use those two pieces of information to calculate how much it is going to eventually end up costing me to read Miller’s Valley (assuming I ever have time), I will record your answers and announce the winner at some future date. I’m guessing that whatever the answer is, it’s more than the book’s Kindle price of £7.99. Money I will happily give to my local library to protect its future, but given that this could end up being one of my most expensive reads ever, I am intrigued to know from those who have read Miller’s Valley whether they consider it worth this high price?

A literary history of the radiator

Those of you who know me in real life know that, family and friends aside, there’s nothing I love more than a radiator. Between the months of October and March I’m often found standing next to one in my house whilst having a conversation. I once went on holiday (a British holiday in December, I hasten to add) with two portable radiators in the boot of our car. I was mocked on arrival, but the enormous old house we were staying in turned out to be freezing with no central heating (I was young, it’s not a mistake I would ever make now) and we all ended up fighting over those two radiators like hungry animals with a scrap of meat.

I am wary of attempts to undermine and belittle the radiator. These come in many forms. ‘Don’t you just love a real fireplace?’ No, it makes one room unbearably hot, it makes my cheeks go red and scratchy, and then when you leave the room where the fireplace is, you’re freezing again. ‘Central heating dries out your skin.’ A necessary price. ‘Doesn’t the Aga create a lovely warmth in the room?’ Sadly, not as much warmth as a radiator, although I will settle for standing next to an Aga in a serious lack-of-radiators situation.

I am going to shoehorn something about books into this post soon don’t worry, it’s coming up…

Where is your favourite place to read? In bed, on the sofa, in the bath, on the train, on a sun lounger? I will read in all of these places, though if you’ve got your holiday booking right, you should really be on a holiday that is so hot, you can’t bear to read sitting on a sun lounger, and you will need to read like this, my favourite holiday reading position. Here I am reading I Am Pilgrim in Greece with my feet in a swimming pool.

img_0012

But my first ‘place to read’ love was on the floor next to the radiator. It’s where I always used to read books as a child. I had a beanbag when I was younger. I can remember many specific books I read on this beanbag, from Flowers in the Attic to Zola’s Germinal (#range). And then when I was a teenager, my parents bought me a lovely second hand green rocking chair, and I abandoned my beanbag. I’m fairly confident I didn’t read sitting next to the radiator again until my children were babies, and when they had a night of bad sleep, I used to sit outside their rooms waiting to make sure they were properly asleep before I went back to bed. I read The Help during the night sat next to a radiator like this with my older child, and I read Beautiful Ruins during the night sat next to a radiator with my younger child. Happy days!

But in this freezing cold week when everyone else is talking about the magic of snow, and I’m complaining about how bloody freezing it is, it occurred to me that reading next to the radiator need not just be an emergency scenario for lack of furniture or awkward children, it could be a planned location. And it’s still pretty good. It’s been my first week in my new job at Bookouture this week, and this is where I plan to do my Bookouture weekend reading:

img_0013

I have a significant birthday coming up later this year, and I’m hoping someone might take pity on me and buy me a beanbag whilst I’m still young enough to stand up easily from the floor.

 

What I did in my holidays

Tomorrow ends my extended holiday, my hiatus between jobs at Arrow and Bookouture, and I’m very much looking forward to rejoining the working world, remembering how to publish books and use my oyster card, and eating lunch and dinner later than noon and 6pm.

In the interests of keeping my 2017 reading-record resolution, I thought I’d end my time off with a list of everything I read during it, so here it is:

1. Lots of Bookouture reading, too much to list here, and I’m trying my best to keep the blog extra-curricular. But if you’re in search of something good to pre-order on ebook for the next few months, you can’t go wrong with this, this or this. (And you surely can’t have failed to spot this – still riding high at number 1, where it’s been throughout most of the festive season.)

2. Miss Jane by Brad Watson. An utterly beautiful book, both inside and out.

3. The Breakdown by B. A. Paris, which I’ve written about at more length here.

4. The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F**k by Sarah Knight. More here. And as well as reading the book, I spent much of my holiday not bothering to do a load of the things that the book had convinced me were a waste of my time.

4. Let Go My Hand by Edward Docx. I’m a longtime fan of Docx’s, and have been eagerly awaiting this one. It’s about three brothers who are taking their father to (possibly) end his life at Dignitas. It is funny and moving and sad about family relationships and life and death, but when I finished it, I tweeted this highlight about camping, which entirely chimes in with my own holiday world view:

img_0010

5. Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner. More here.

6.  The Survivor’s Guide to Family Happiness by Maddie Dawson. More here.

7. Some reading on digital publishing, and most recently The Everything Store by Brad Stone, about Jeff Bezos and Amazon. This is great story for all the reasons you already know, about the ways in which Bezos fulfilled his ambition for Amazon to be ‘the everything store’ and the perfect customer experience. But in addition to all of this, you get some fabulous stories of Bezos’ childhood which may help to reassure you about the oddities of your own children. Apparently when he was three he dismantled his cot with a screwdriver, because he wanted to sleep in a bed. So if your toddler does this, you no longer have to think ‘how extremely annoying’ but can instead think ‘excellent, perhaps this shows the dedication and drive that means s/he will grow up to be one of the world’s most successful business people. Hooray’.

I have also, with my 7-year-old, read parts of/watched parts of/ discussed at *great* length all things Harry Potter. I have never previously done the Harry Potter thing, magic and stuff being of zero interest to me personally. But despite my own muggleish reading tendencies, my exposure over the last few months has forced me to acknowledge what I already knew about J.K. Rowling from her adult books, i.e. that she is a fantastic storyteller. I may not know my wizards, but I do know my first chapters, and the one we have just read, The Riddle House from Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire is everything that a first chapter should be.

img_0009

 

2017 reading resolutions

I’ve seen a lot of people writing and heard a lot of people talking in the last few days about how they are not making any new year’s resolutions this year. Well, I am making loads, possibly more than any year in living memory. I was given a lovely engraved notebook at the end of last year:

notebook

… and so have even gone to the effort of writing them all down in it, and they add up to an impressive nine. Ten would obviously be rounder, and I’ve tried hard to think of a realistic tenth one, but I can’t and I don’t want to overreach.

But now, time for some reading-specific ones. In the interests of this post not seeming too ‘me, me, me’, I’m also going to selflessly include some books that *you* should all read during 2017.

But first, the resolutions:

1. More non-work reading. This is every editor’s equivalent of ‘lose weight’ as resolutions go, i.e. we resolve to do it each year, and the whole enterprise has collapsed by halfway through January. Nonetheless, it’s an important goal. We all know how lucky we are to read for a living, but it’s hard (yet important) to read beyond the books we are publishing and considering for publication.

2. Keep a list of all the books I read this year. Those who know me will be astonished to know that I don’t already keep such a list, but I don’t, and it makes things tricky when people ask for recommendations (as they usually do around holidays and Christmas) and all you can think of are the books that you yourself have published. I used to keep a list as a youngster, complete with a 5-star rating system, and am planning to start again for the coming year.

3. Read more non-fiction. Fiction is what I love to read most, so with the limited time I have for extra-curricular reading, it’s what tends to get read. But whenever I do read some non-fiction I think: oh this is good, I should do it more often. The list of non-fiction I’ve read in the last few years is random and faintly ridiculous, tending to be made up of things I’m interested in (a bit of history and biography, a few books about if, how and when women can ‘have it all’, latterly some stuff about digital publishing) combined with ‘those non-fiction books that literally everyone has read’ – Being Mortal, Do No Harm and so on. So, if you have any surprising yet essential suggestions, do send them my way.

4. Bit more of a niche one, this: seek out more legal thrillers. A friend kindly sent me The Plea by Steve Cavanagh just before Christmas and told me I had to read him, so I shall. But beyond this, why aren’t there more legal thrillers being published and why aren’t more people talking about when and how they are going to make a serious comeback? I know of two excellent ones due for publication in 2018, but beyond this: I must hunt them down. Three of my favourites here, here, and of course here, for anyone else who may be looking.

5. Read The Goldfinch. Why haven’t I done this yet? I have no idea. I know I would love it, so think I have just been being contrary. Also it’s very long of course, which relates back to the point about non-work reading. It may have to be done in August or December, but it shall be done.

So there are my five, and five being a rounder number than nine, I will stop there and move on to what you should be reading in the early months of 2017:

little-deaths

Little Deaths by Emma Flint. I have banged on about this relentlessly on twitter, so here is my final shout-out as it publishes next week. What everyone raving about it says is that it is ‘more than a thriller’, which is undoubtedly true, although at the same time vaguely insulting to books that are ‘just’ good thrillers. However, what everyone means is that it is simultaneously a mystery with a strong one-line pitch – you wake up one morning and your children are gone, and you are accused of their murder – and a brilliant literary novel about much more than just its mystery.

the-breakdown

The Breakdown by B. A. Paris. I have mentioned briefly already, but this is a must-read for everyone who loved her Behind Closed Doors last year. Someone on a blog somewhere said (sorry, blogger who I have forgotten – if you can identify yourself I will link to you!) that it reminded them of those old black and white ‘woman in peril’ Hollywood movies, which is exactly what I thought too, and it very specifically reminded me of Sorry, Wrong Number, one of my faves in that genre. It is gripping and great.

persons-unknown

Persons Unknown by Susie Steiner. Not out until June but my final read of 2016 was Missing, Presumed, which again, is ‘more than a thriller’ but also introduces DC Manon Bradshaw, possibly my favourite new fictional detective since I met Jackson Brodie. I thoroughly recommend the first to anyone who hasn’t yet read it, and Persons Unknown is thankfully going to be published in time for my summer holiday.

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.