Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Man Booker Prize 2015 Longlist Announced

Today the Man Booker Prize announced their longlist of thirteen titles for the £50,000 prize up for grabs this year. These thirteen titles were selected by five judges, chaired by Michael Wood, from 156 books.

Until 2014, the Man Booker Prize was only open to original English-language fiction from a Commonwealth citizen, but in 2014 it opened up to all original English-language fiction no matter the origin of the author.
The number of titles each imprint at a publishing house is entitled to submit is determined by the number of their books that have featured on the longlist in the previous five years. Publishers with 5 or more longlisted titles can submit 4 titles, those with 3 or 4 can submit 3; 1 or 2 longlisted titles allows 2 entries. Those without longlisted titles may only submit one. Self-published works are not eligible. 
In addition to these, any previous winner or any author shortlisted in the previous five years gains automatic entry. Judges may also call in eight to twelve further books that they feel should be considered. Each judge reads every entry, usually around 140 books. (Foyles)
Below are the books longlisted for this year:

A Brief History of Seven KillingsDid You Ever Have a Family - Bill Clegg, Jonathan Cape (US)
The stunning debut novel from bestselling author Bill Clegg is a magnificently powerful story about a circle of people who find solace in the least likely of places as they cope with a horrific tragedy.
The Green Road - Anne Enright, Jonathan Cape (Ireland)
Spanning thirty years and three continents, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigan family, and her four children.
A Brief History of Seven Killings - Marlon James, Oneworld Publications (Jamaica)
From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a masterfuly written novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.
The Moor's Account - Laila Lalami, Periscope/Garnet Publishing (US)
In this stunning work of historical fiction, Laila Lalami brings us the imagined memoirs of the first black explorer of America - a Moroccan slave whose testimony was left out of the official record.
The FishermenSatin Island - Tom McCarthy, Jonathan Cape (UK)
From the author of Remainder and C, a novel that promises to give us the first and last word on the world -- modern, postmodern, whatever world you think you are living in.
The Fishermen - Chigozie Obioma, ONE/ Pushkin Press (Nigeria)
In a Nigerian town in the mid 1990's, four brothers enounter a madman whose mystic prophecy of violence threatens the core of their close-knit family.
The Illuminations - Andrew O'Hagan, Faber & Faber (UK)
How much do we keep from the people we love? Why is the truth so often buried in secrets? Can we learn from the past or must we forget it? The Illuminations, Andrew O'Hagan's fifth work of fiction, is a powerful, nuances and deeply affecting novel about love and memory, about modern war and the complications of fact.
Sleeping on JupiterLila - Marilynne Robinson, Virago (US)
Marilynne Robinson, one of the greatest novelists of our time, returns to the town of Gilead in an unforgettable story of a girlhood lived on the fringes of society in fear, awe, and wonder.
Sleeping on Jupiter - Anuradha Roy, MacLehose Press/ Quercus (India)
This is a stark and unflinching novel by a spellbinding storyteller, about religion, love, and violence in the modern world.
The Year of the Runaways - Sunjeev Sahota/ Picador (UK)
The Year of the Runaways tells of the bold dreams and daily struggles of an unlikely family thrown together by circumstance.
A Spool of Blue ThreadThe Chimes - Anna Smaill, Sceptre (New Zealand)
The Chimes is set in a reimagined London, in a world where people cannot form new memories, and the written word has been forbidden and destroyed.
A Spool of Blue Thread - Anne Tyler, Chatto & Windus (US)
Brimming with the luminous insight, humor, and compassion that are Anne Tyler's hallmarks, this capacious novel takes us across three generations of the Whitshanks, their shared stories and long-held secrets, all the unguarded and richly lived moments that combine to define who and what they are as a family.
A Little Life - Hanya Yanagihara, Picador (US)
Brace yourself for the most astonishing, challenging, upsetting, and profoundly moving book in many a season. An epic about love and friendship in the twenty-first century that goes into some of the darkest places fiction has ever traveled and yet somehow improbably breaks through into the light.
Those are the books longlisted for this year! Although they're still pretty much from Commonwealth countries, I really like the selection. There seems to be an even mix between male and female authors as well. I myself have a review copy of Sleeping on Jupiter which I'm really enjoying so I may be rooting for that one.

Are you or have you read one of these books, all released this year? Do you have a favourite?

Friday, 24 July 2015

Friday Memes and Bushnell's 'Killing Monica'

Alison Can Read Feature & FollowIt's Friday and it is my last ever Friday in Nottingham, which is slightly sad! The three years I spent here doing a Bachelor, working, meeting people etc. are over and, although I'm excited to start a new part of my life in St. Andrews, it's bittersweet to go. But let's leave my emotions behind for a second and focus on the memes!

Follow Friday is hosted by Alison Can Read and Parajunkee. This week's question was suggested by A Kernel of Nonsense:

What is your favourite movie?

Good question! I really love watching films, almost as much as I love reading books. I am incredibly picky when it comes to films as well though. When you ask me what my favourite one is I will always start thinking because, for me, there are a few films which are simply outside of choice. I will always, I repeat, always, choose Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter saga over anything else. That doesn't mean I don't like other films, I will just always love them the most. But below is a list of films I absolutely love which everyone should watch:
  • Pan's Labyrinth - Guillermo del Toro
  • Das Leben der Anderen - Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (great name, no?)
  • The Bridge to Terabithia - Gabor Csupo
  • Beauty & the Beast - Gary Trousdale
  • Spirited Away - Hayao Miyazaki
  • Pacific Rim - Guillermo del Toro (see a pattern here?)
  • Imitation of Life - Douglas Sirk
I'm going to leave it at that because I have a feeling this list could go on for a very long time!

Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader and Freda at Freda's Voice respectively. This week I'm using Killing Monica by Candace Bushnell. I haven't read anything else by her so I'm excited to see how this one will work out for me! I definitely know I love the cover though, just look at it!

Pub. Date: 23/06/2015
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
In KILLING MONICA Bushnell spoofs and skewers her way through pop culture, celebrity worship, fame, and even the meaning of life itself, when a famous writer must resort to faking her own death in order to get her life back from her most infamous creation--Monica. With her trademark wit and style, KILLING MONICA is Bushnell's sharpest, funniest book to date.
The quotes below are from the ARC copy so may appear different, or at different places, in the final version.

'IT WAS SUMMER, and Monica was everywhere again.
She was there, in the supermarket, on the rack of tabloids between displays of candy and sugarless gum at the checkout counter. And there, on the side of the bus kiosk. And there, on the cover of the fashion magazines in the salon. She was all over the morning shows, recommending what to wear, store, or toss from your summer wardrobe. She was with you in the backseat of the taxi, on the screen in front of your knees, telling you where to go, what to see, and what to buy. Selling, always selling. But mostly, what she was selling was happiness.' p.1
I really like the beginning, the way Bushnell drops you straight into the main character's mindset. I do wonder when she created Monica and why?

'They laughed the whole way through the long, long drive up the coast, stopping for fried clams and Bloody Marys, screaming profanities out the window at other drivers—“Asshat!” “Asswipe!”—and even talking their way out of a speeding ticket.' p.56
This is the kind of road trip I want to have! Hours in a car, an amazing view at the same time, completely letting go and just driving. However, I'm not a bit fan of drinking and driving, so I think the Bloody Mary's would have to wait until we got to a motel or something. But talking my way out of a speeding ticket is definitely something I want to do one day.

So, what are your favourite films? Do you have any set favourites like I do? And have you read a Candance Bushnell book?

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Review: 'Pretty Is' by Maggie Mitchell

There are some amazing books coming from Orion and all of them manage to fascinate me. Pretty Is was the first book I found after deciding it was time for me to start reading more thrillers. The fact that this novel sounded like a psychological thriller was enough to get me involved. And I am very happy to have picked it up. Thanks to Netgalley and Orion Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Pub. Date: 02/07/2015
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
An enthralling portrait of two haunted young women, this dark, cleaver debut explores the very nature of survival. 
Lois and Carly-May are just twelve years old when they're abducted, driven across the country, and imprisoned in a remote, isolated hunting lodge for two months. That summer, under the watchful gaze of their kidnapper, they form a bond which will never be broken . . .
Decades later, both Lois and Carly-May have built new lives and identities for themselves. Lois, a professor of literature, is shaken when an obsessive student reminds her of the man who kidnapped her, a man she saw shoot himself on the porch twenty years before. 
Out in LA, Carly-May is drinking too much and watching her beauty-queen looks fade, clinging to the last remnants of a once-promising career as an actress. When she reads a shockingly familiar screenplay, she warily takes a role she knows is based on events from her own life. 
Increasingly haunted by the devastating experience that shaped both their lives, Lois and Carly-May are drawn together again in a world that both echoes and falsifies their beautiful, terrible story. 
Considering the two main characters' professions, it is no wonder that Pretty Is feels dramatic. Lois is a literature professor and is also  a secret author, whereas Carly-May is an actress. Their lives are constructed, consciously built up around the lie that they are fine, good even. That was the first thing that drew me in about Pretty Is, this sense of de-constructing the humanity of its characters, stripping away their artifice and exposing the bare bones of their being. Pretty Is doesn't go quite that deep although it definitely takes some trips down there. As the novel progresses the reader finds out more and more about Lois and Carly-May, almost against their will. This slow trickle of information is really what keeps the momentum of the novel going since the reader knows that there is more information hidden on the pages to come. Pretty Is is a novel that is largely carried by its characters, which is not a bad thing.

There are a number of different plot lines in this novel, which Mitchell braids together into one narrative which moves on relentlessly. The reader is as much caught up in the happenings of the plot as the two main characters are. Written from the perspective of Lois and Carly-May, it is no surprise that the narration is unreliable. They are narrow-mindedly focused on their own thoughts and assumptions and therefore miss crucial clues which the reader only slowly gathers themselves. It is really fun to read a book which plays with the reader while playing with its characters.At times some of the side-plots become more interesting than where the actual plot is going but Mitchell manages to bring all of them together quite easily. The only downside is that the end is maybe almost too easy. The end comes quite suddenly and maybe feels a bit rushed considering how long Mitchell allows herself to take to get there.

Having to split her narrative between two narrators required Mitchell to give her characters their own distinctive voice. Although there were no big marked differences, there was a distinct feel to both which made separating them quite easy. The characters surrounding the two protagonists are also really interesting. Some of them at times seem a bit like caricatures, but most of them are relatively well-formed. What helps is that Mitchell's writing style is really enjoyable. It is easy and quick, in the best way. If your plot could be potentially confusing, it is important to make sure your writing doesn't throw people off. Mitchell plays with her words and does so in a fun way. She allows Pretty Is move between being a thriller, being a suspense novel and, almost, a coming-of-age novel as the protagonists deal with their change childhood.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

Pretty Is is a really fun read, gripping, thrilling and relatively quick. There are twists, a number of gripping moments and some great character analysis. Mitchell's main characters are interesting and you won't be able to help finishing this novel within days. I'd recommend this to fans of thrillers and suspense novels.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Intros and Teasers - Barker's 'The Incarnations'

The IncarnationsTuesday again and another amazing book! Once again I've managed to pick a read that is China-based but I can't help it that so many great books are being written about its history at the moment. And to be fair, with the kind of mythology and history that all of Asia has to offer I am always surprised that there isn't more literature about them in the West.
Hailed as “China’s Midnight’s Children” (The Independent) this “brilliant, mind-expanding, and wildly original novel” (Chris Cleave) about a Beijing taxi driver whose past incarnations over one thousand years haunt him through searing letters sent by his mysterious soulmate.
Who are you? you must be wondering. I am your soulmate, your old friend, and I have come back to this city of sixteen million in search of you.
So begins the first letter that falls into Wang’s lap as he flips down the visor in his taxi. The letters that follow are filled with the stories of Wang’s previous lives—from escaping a marriage to a spirit bride, to being a slave on the run from Genghis Khan, to living as a fisherman during the Opium Wars, and being a teenager on the Red Guard during the cultural revolution—bound to his mysterious “soulmate,” spanning one thousand years of betrayal and intrigue.
As the letters continue to appear seemingly out of thin air, Wang becomes convinced that someone is watching him—someone who claims to have known him for over one thousand years. And with each letter, Wang feels the watcher growing closer and closer…
Seamlessly weaving Chinese folklore, history, and literary classics, The Incarnations is a taut and gripping novel that sheds light on the cyclical nature of history as it hints that the past is never truly settled.
Tuesday Intros is hosted by Diane over at Bibliophile by the Sea and Teaser Tuesdays is hosted by A Daily Rhythm.

'Every night I wake from dreaming. Memory squeezing the trigger of my heart and blood surging through my veins.The dreams go into a journal. Cold swear on my skin, adrenaline in my blood, I illuminate my cement room with the 40 watt bulb hanging overhead and, huddled under blankets, flip open my notebook and spill ink across the feint-ruled page. Capturing the ephemera of dreams, before they fade from memory.' 1%
Any beginning to a book that uses the word 'ephemera' has my interest. I am, somehow, reading a lot of first-person narrative novels although I have often said I dislike it. But I guess my choosing skills are improving since I have enjoyed almost all of them.

'"Do you think we'd be friends, if we hadn't met in hospital?" Zeng asked, "Why would someone like you, who goes to Beijing University, be friends with someone like me?"' 42%
I looked ahead in the book for this one and couldn't help but read on afterwards and oh God are there exciting things waiting for me! But let's get back to this teaser. I'm a sucker for characters meeting in interesting places because it always hints at interesting background stories and potentially hilarious adventures. I have a feeling this read isn't exactly hilarious though, but I am definitely excited to read more of it!

Does The Incarnations sound like your kind of book? Or have you already read it? Leave a link to your post in the comments below!

Monday, 20 July 2015

Review: 'Precocious' by Joanna Barnard

There are books which remind you how important and crucial blurbs are. The blurb for Precocious was what drew me in and intrigued me because it seemed to question how people remember their own lives, how they reinterpret and arrange memories and how our past affects our future. Thanks to Netgalley and Random House UK for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

Pub. Date: 02/07/2015
Publisher: Random House UK, Ebury Press
There are some lessons you shouldn’t learn in school… 
Fiona Palmer is (un)happily married when a chance meeting with her former teacher plunges her headlong into an affair. 
Intercut with the realities of their adult relationship, Fiona remembers first meeting the enigmatic Henry Morgan as a precocious and lonely fourteen-year-old. Her schoolgirl crush developed into an intense relationship, but it was always one which she controlled.Or did she? 
A controversial, compelling debut novel from an award-winning writer
Sometimes it is said of books that their plot unravels and this can be meant both in a good and a bad way. Precocious is a novel that unravels, on many different levels. The initial plot is an interesting one, if potentially cliché. Many people will remember having crushes on teachers in high school or having friends who nurtured a crush. But what happens when that develops into a relationship and the tension is never resolved? What makes Precocious more adventurous than what its plot might suggest is the way Barnard has layered her narrative. The reader starts with Fiona and follows her as she unravels the layers of her own life. Barnard doesn't back away from describing difficult issues but does so in a starkly honest way. There is no typical black-and-white, good vs. bad in Precocious. Rather, Barnard's word is cast in shades of grey, varying in darkness. There are characters who consciously do wrong and those who do so accidentally. Only one character seems to be an angel, but much of this, I believe, is down to Fiona's unreliable narration rather than a slip-up on Barnard's side.

My only true fault with the book is that it takes some time to really get started. Although the plot takes off pretty much from the end of the first chapter, it could take the reader quite a while to get in touch with Fiona. Partially this is because Barnard, quite consciously, never truly sets the reader in Fiona's shoes. Her inability to find clarity, emotionally and otherwise, means that she feels like an unreliable narrator to the reader, keeping them constantly distant. This is really interesting once the crux of the novel really comes into view and many things stat unravelling, but before then it can feel as if Precocious is simply dragging you along without getting you involved.

As I mentioned above, Barnard's writing is great to read. As frequent readers of this blog will know, I'm not a bit fan of first-person narration because it so often doesn't manage to draw the reader in but rather create such an ever-present main character that it becomes annoying. However, Barnard finds a way to use her first-person narration in a very clipped way. Fiona's thoughts actually feel like thoughts, short, clipped and sometimes confused. The lines below are a great example:
'Can't move for ... stuff. Just want silence, and space. I long for a white canvas, a blank page. Close my eyes and wish that when I open them again it will be the same, smooth blank space as behind my eyelids.'
Barnard puts the reader in Fiona's shoes while also allowing Fiona to be separate from the reader. Throughout the novel there are some beautiful passages and great twists, some of which are more predictable than others. It makes for great and enjoyable reading. In my case I found it hard to put the book down once I'd gotten into it.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Precocious is a great read which touches on a number of very interesting topics. Barnard approaches her characters sensitively but honestly, showing them for all they re but never making caricatures of them. I'd recommend this novel to fans of literary and women's fiction. However, fans of thrillers will also find aspects of this novel very enjoyable.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Weekly Overview

Somehow I keep apologizing for being so MIA from this blog but there is a lot of stuff happening. Aside from that, I am missing the regularity and structure of university life which translates in my daily life being a bit of a mess as well. I have read some amazing books though and I can't wait to share those with you, hopefully next week!

In this post I'll be summarising the last few weeks, rather than just last week since I haven't posted enough this week to warrant an independent post!

This post is linked up with the Sunday Post over at Caffeinated Book Reviewer.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Beginnings and Teasers - Voltaire's 'Candide'

CandideSoo, it's a Friday and guess what's happening tomorrow? I'm going to the Harry Potter Studios! My amazing sister has bought us both tickets and I'm really excited to go! Ooh and also, I graduated last week around this time, which is why I was MIA then. It's been ridiculously busy in my life but in the next few weeks it will probably calm down! But let's move on to the memes!

This week I'm sharing Candide by Voltaire, which I've been reading for my 100 Classics Club list.
Brought up in the household of a powerful Baron, Candide is an open-minded young man, whose tutor, Pangloss, has instilled in him the belief that 'all is for the best'. But when his love for the Baron's rosy-cheeked daughter is discovered, Candide is cast out to make his own way in the world. 
And so he and his various companions begin a breathless tour of Europe, South America and Asia, as an outrageous series of disasters befall them - earthquakes, syphilis, a brush with the Inquisition, murder - sorely testing the young hero's optimism.
Book Beginnings and Friday 56 are hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader and Freda at Freda's Voice respectively.

'In the country of Westphalia, in the castle of the most noble Baron of Thunder–ten–tronckh, lived a youth whom Nature had endowed with a most sweet disposition. His face was the true index of his mind. He had a solid judgment joined to the most unaffected simplicity; and hence, I presume, he had his name of Candide. The old servants of the house suspected him to have been the son of the Baron’s sister, by a very good sort of a gentleman of the neighborhood, whom that young lady refused to marry, because he could produce no more than threescore and eleven quarterings in his arms; the rest of the genealogical tree belonging to the family having been lost through the injuries of time.'
I loved this beginning because Voltaire is so sharp in his assessments of people throughout the book but the beginning eases into it so simply that you'd never expect it!

'The villainy of mankind presented itself to his mind in all its deformity, and his soul was a prey to the most gloomy ideas.' 
I have to admit that I love Voltaire's writing style. It's all wit and sarcasm until he gets to his punchline which is delivered with incredibly severity and soberness!

What are you reading at the moment? Does Candide sound like something you'd enjoy?