Books of the Year 2016, Part One

As usual I’m dividing my Books of the Year into two parts. Part Two, coming tomorrow will be fiction published in 2016. Part One is fiction published pre-2016 and 2016 non-fiction. If you click on the pictures of the books they will take you to my full review.

WL PBK FINALWaking Lions – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (translated by Sondra Silverston)

Doctor Etian Green finishes a nineteen hour shift at Soroka Hospital, six of which he spent helping to stabilise road traffic accident victims. In the time it takes for him to walk from the hospital ward to his car, he goes from exhausted to adrenaline-fueled. He decides to drive to ‘a particularly challenging SUV track’ he’s read about. Sprinting along, he hits a man and leaves him for dead. The next morning, Sirkit, the man’s wife, appears at his door along with Etian’s wallet which he dropped at the scene. Sirkit offers him a deal but it’s one that will have serious consequences for his home life and his job. Everything in Waking Lions is grey area. Sharp, thoughtful and challenging.

7016625Push – Sapphire

Claireece Precious Jones – Precious to her friends, Claireece to ‘mutherfuckers I hate’ – 16-years-old, five feet nine or ten, two hundred pounds, is pregnant for the second time to her father. Suspended from school, she goes to Each One Teach One, located on the nineteenth floor of a local hotel. Precious tells the story of her time attending the group, in which she learns to read and write, intertwined with that of her family situation. Push could be an unbearable read: every time you think it couldn’t get any darker, it does, but it’s balanced by Precious’ determination and Sapphire’s rendering of Precious’ voice which is pitch perfect and authentic.

getimage239-669x1024.aspxOne Night, Markovitch – Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (translated by Sondra Silverston)

Yaacov Markovitch and Zeev Feinberg go on the run after Feinberg is caught having sex with the wife of Avraham Mandelbaum, the slaughterer. The deputy commander of the Irgun, a friend of Feinberg’s, sends the pair to Europe where they will marry ‘a Jewish girl’ and bring them back to Palestine, thus circumventing the closed gates of Europe. Once the men return, they will divorce and the women will be free to remain. But Markovitch refuses to divorce his wife, the stunning but cold, Bella Zeigerman. The backbone of the story is that of three women: Bella; Feinberg’s wife, Sonya, and Mandelbaum’s wife, Rachel. Gundar-Goshen uses them to explore the ups-and-downs of marriage, parenthood, war, death …basically all of life is here.

51-2bjcqwu2l-_sy344_bo1204203200_The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

Maureen kills Robbie O’Donovan when she finds him in her house. As the mother of Cork’s biggest gangster, Jimmy Phelan, she doesn’t need to worry about clearing up her mess. But the mess is bigger than a body and some blood: Robbie’s girlfriend, Georgie, is looking for him and she has problems of her own; Tara Duane, Georgie’s confidant is keen to know everyone’s business and she lives next door to Jimmy’s alcoholic clearer-upper, Tony Cusak. And then there’s Cusak’s son, fifteen-year-old Ryan, who loses his virginity, starts his first long term relationship and begins to step out from the shadow of his alcoholic, violent, widowed father. A bloody entertaining read.

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Ruby – Cynthia Bond

Ruby’s returned to Liberty Township, Texas from New York City. Everyone knows she’s mad: she pees in the street and has sex with many of the men in Liberty, but Ruby’s caught the attention of one man who wants to treat her differently; Ephram Jennings is planning to bring Ruby one of his sister’s white lay angel cakes. Ruby’s tortured by the ghosts which have attached themselves to her. As she gives herself to them, we learn about her childhood and the long-standing relationship she has with Jennings’ family. Bleak but threaded with hope and beautiful writing.

 

9781444775433The Devil in the Marshalsea – Antonia Hodgson

Tom Hawkins, eldest son of a Suffolk gentleman, Oxford graduate, set to join the clergy and inherit his father’s position, finds himself in the Marshalsea for unpaid rent and other debts. He arrives after the widow of Captain Roberts has taken up residence in the debtor’s  prison after Robert’s murder made to look like suicide. Hawkins gets drawn into solving the murder as he deals with his roommate, the despised Samuel Fleet, and the prison’s regime, divided by rich and poor. Intelligent, packed with period detail and plot, bawdy, has a social conscience and some hilarious lines. Entertaining.

 
9781846689499Pleasantville – Attica Locke

Pleasantville is a neighbourhood in Houston, Texas, built in 1949 “specifically for Negro families of means and class”. As a middle class, politically aware area, it also holds political power, a power which has become legendary over four decades. The story takes place in 1996 in the run-up to Houston’s mayoral election, the results of which might bring Alex Hathorne to office as the city’s first black mayor. As the novel begins the situation is quickly complicated by two events: the first is the abduction of a teenage girl, following a stint distributing campaign leaflets door-to-door in Pleasantville; the second is a break-in at Jay Porter’s office.As the story unravels, all the threads become entwined with the mayoral race at the centre. Locke considers who really runs an election campaign: a matter of business and money – who pays for the campaigns, who dictates strategy – but ultimately, how low people are prepared to go in their desperation for power.

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Negroland – Margo Jefferson

Margo Jefferson grew up in Chicago in the 1950s and ’60s. Born to a paediatrician father and a socialite mother, she experienced a particular type of privilege: that of the well-off, educated, black family. Personal experience is interwoven with the history of those Jefferson identifies as belonging to Negroland: Frances Jackson Coppin and Joseph Willson, for example; and cultural commentary on film, television and the media, discussing those black men and women who did appear on and in those mediums and what they came to represent for black communities. Negroland is a superb book which consider the intersections of race, class and gender. It’s a fascinating read and an insight into an underexplored area of society.

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The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson

The Argonauts charts Nelson’s relationship with the artist Harry Dodge, including the conception and birth of their son, Iggy, and Dodge’s decision to begin taking testosterone and have top surgery. The Argonauts is not straightforward memoir, it is intellectual argument illuminated by personal experience and supported by academic rigour. It explores love – constructing and maintaining a relationship outside of heteronormativity and maternal love as stepmother and mother (the latter from the point of view of adult child and parent as well as the expectant mother/mother of a young child) – and the body – sex, gender fluidity, pregnancy and birth. Rigorous and fascinating.

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The Lonely City – Olivia Laing

Laing examines the idea of being lonely in the busiest place on earth – the city, specifically in her case New York City. Part memoir, part mediation on art, Laing looks at a number of artists who’ve dealt with the theme of loneliness – in their work and often in their private lives too – focusing in on Edward Hopper, Andy Warhol, Henry Darger and David Wojnarowicz. The Lonely City is a fascinating exploration of what loneliness is; how we attempt to stave it off; why some people are consumed by it, and what its relationship to artistic creation might be.

 

Pleasantville – Attica Locke

Pleasantville is a neighbourhood in Houston, Texas, built in 1949 “specifically for Negro families of means and class”. But it became much more than that when the middle-class black families marched:

…they marched on city hall, the school board, even the Department of Public Works, holding out the collective votes of a brand-new bloc as a bargaining chip to politicians previously reluctant to consider the needs of a new Negro middle class, and sealing, in the process, the neighbourhood’s political power, which would become legend over the next four decades.

 9781846689499

The story takes place in 1996 in the run-up to Houston’s mayoral election, the results of which might bring Alex Hathorne to office as the city’s first black mayor. As the novel begins the situation is quickly complicated by two events: the first is the abduction of a teenage girl, following a stint distributing campaign leaflets door-to-door in Pleasantville; the second is a break-in at Jay Porter’s office.

Since we last saw Jay in Black Water Rising, he’s taken on a huge civil case against Cole Oil Industries and bought a dilapidated house to use as an office. When he arrives there having been alerted to the break-in, he waits in his car for the cops to arrive. Locke uses the scene to comment upon police treatment of black men.

The officers pulled to a stop at an angle that brought the front end of their cruiser to rest nearly at Jay’s feet at the curb, its headlights hitting him square in the chest. He instinctively raised his hands.

“Porter,” he said, loud and clear. “This is my place.”

Once the police have searched the building, found it empty, filled out an incident report and left, Jay hears someone upstairs. He finds a nineteen or twenty-year-old male in his conference room. After the kid kicks the remaining pieces of glass from the frame of the window he’s broken, Jay has the opportunity – legally – to shoot him. But he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t shoot this kid in the back.

Currently, Jay’s only case is Pleasantville v. ProFerma Labs, a case which has come from two explosions at ProFerma’s chemical plant that threatened to burn Pleasantville to the ground. Jay assumed it would be over quickly but ProFerma still haven’t made a serious settlement offer. Jay’s down to the one case because of his home-life: Bernie’s dead and he has two children, fifteen-year-old Ellie and ten-year-old Ben, to raise alone. Soon though, Jay’s caught up in trying to discover the whereabouts of the missing girl, Alicia Nowell. Two other girls, Deanne Duchon and Tina Wells, also went missing from Pleasantville, one in 1994, the other in 1995. In both cases, the girls were found dead six days after their abductions. While investigating any links to the earlier cases knowing time is against the girl and the community, Jay discovers there’s someone watching him, someone driving a stolen Nissan Z. As the story unravels, all the threads become entwined with the mayoral race at the centre.

In Pleasantville, Locke considers who really runs an election campaign: a matter of business and money – who pays for the campaigns, who dictates strategy – but ultimately, how low people are prepared to go in their desperation for power. She clearly ties some of the strategies used in Pleasantville to win voters to the campaign for the Bush/Gore election in 2000 when it came down to a handful of votes across the country. It’s a scenario that could be bone dry in a less exciting writer’s hands, but Locke knows how to tie the personal with the political and does so both with the Hathorne family and Jay’s own situation.

The novel has real pace to it, twist and turns every few pages none of which are either predictable or implausible and this alone would mark Locke as an excellent political thriller writer. However, the fact that she writes about black communities; that her characters are almost all black or Hispanic; that while her stories couldn’t be transposed to a white community, her characters are every bit as rounded, human, good, bad and changeable as novels peopled with only white characters, makes her work stand out in a block of pale, stereotyped tales.

Pleasantville is an intelligent, rip-roaring insight into the political process and an astute look at the dynamics of family – blood or created – and how they change following significant life events. Attica Locke is a superb writer and fast becoming one of my personal favourites.

 

Thanks to Serpent’s Tail for the review copy.

The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2016

Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016 Longlisted Books1

8th March 2016: The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction announces its 2016 longlist, comprised of 20 books that celebrate the best of fiction written by women

Here they are, the 20 books longlisted for this year’s Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. In alphabetical order (of author’s surname):

A God In Ruins – Kate Atkinson

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Ruby – Cynthia Bond

The Secret Chord – Geraldine Brooks

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet – Becky Chambers

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding – Jackie Copleton

Whispers Through a Megaphone – Rachel Elliott

The Green Road – Anne Enright

The Book of Memory – Petina Gappah

Gorsky – Vesna Goldsworthy

The Anatomist’s Dream – Clio Gray

At Hawthorn Time – Melissa Harrison

Pleasantville – Attica Locke

The Glorious Heresies – Lisa McInerney

The Portable Veblen – Elizabeth McKenzie

Girl at War – Sara Nović

The House at the Edge of the World – Julia Rochester

The Improbability of Love – Hannah Rothschild

My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

My initial reaction is that the three books I thought were certs are all on there – A God in Ruins, My Name Is Lucy Barton and A Little Life. Very pleased to see all three.

I predicted six of the titles, which is my highest success rate ever! Very pleased to see Girl at War on the list as well as The Portable Veblen. I’ve enjoyed all those I’ve already read, which includes The Green Road which I haven’t posted my review for yet.

As for the rest of the list, I’m delighted to see Pleasantville – I loved Black Water Rising and have had the latest on my TBR pile for ages. I’ve also heard good things from people I trust about The Book of Memory, At Hawthorn Time and The Glorious Heresies.

As always with The Bailey’s Prize there are some books I hadn’t heard of before I saw the list. My absolute favourite part of this is reading those titles, there’s always one in there that surprises me with its brilliance. On looking through the blurbs, I can’t believe I hadn’t come across Ruby, it’s had so many fantastic reviews, and The Anatomist’s Dream is perfect for my PhD thesis so I’m very pleased it’s come to my attention.

I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the reading and debating the books with the rest of the shadow panel. I’m hoping you’ll join in the discussion on our blogs and Twitter too. Can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of the chosen titles.

 

 

TBR Book Tag

I don’t often take part in memes but I’m doing this one for three reasons: the first is I was tagged by Leslie at Folklore & Literacy whose blog I highly recommend, so it’s a good reason for me to send you over there for a look if you don’t read it already. The second is by confessing all about my TBR, I might do something about it! The third is so I can tag some of my favourite bloggers and see their terrible habits too!

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?

Pile? Hahahaha. Book case(s). I don’t. I do keep track of the review copies I’m sent by publishers; I have a spreadsheet in which I log publication dates but I’ve been useless with it the second half of this year. I do actually have two priority piles at the moment though – the books that are on my women of colour #TBR20 pile, which I’ll be finishing reading at the end of the month (yes, it’s taken me this long) and the 2016 publications I’ve been sent which I’m reading in anticipation of my preview post around Christmas.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?

It’s probably 75% print. I’ve bought fewer ebooks this year but that’s mostly because it was getting out of hand – it’s easy to pretend you haven’t got a huge stack of unread ebooks when they aren’t physically in front of you!

How do you determine which books from your TBR to read next?

It varies. Sometimes it’s an upcoming publication date, sometimes it’s because a book’s been nominated for a prize, sometimes I just fancy a particular type of read. What’s changed this year though is I’m consciously reading widely so I’m looking at the authors of the books I’m reading and making sure I’m reading more by women of colour and LGBT authors.A book that has been on my TBR the longest?

There are books on my TBR still that I bought in Sixth Form which is 20 years ago now. They’re mostly classics – Middlemarch (which I attempted last year but stalled on) and The Woman in White spring to mind although I’m sure there’s more.

A book you recently added to your TBR?

I bought a copy of Loop of Jade by Sarah Howe which has just been shortlisted for the Young Writer of the Year Award.

A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?

The 4th Estate boxset of Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper and Mislaid. I already had a copy of The Wallcreeper from the Dorothy Project but the boxset is so beautiful I couldn’t resist.

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?

Haha! I think I got rid of all these in the summer. I culled 300 books before moving house and I was very strict about ones I’d held on to that I was never going to read. They were mostly by middle-aged British and American white men!

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?

I’m going to be cheeky and have three: The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon which it seems everyone’s talking about; My Name Is Leon by Kit De Waal which people I trust are telling me is wonderful, and Where Love Begins by Judith Hermann which I’ve had a sneaky read of the opening of and promises to be wonderful.

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?

Middlemarch!

A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?

Beloved by Toni Morrison. I’m going to rectify that before the end of the month.

A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?

So many! If I was choosing one it’d be Pleasantville by Attica Locke. I loved Black Water Rising, I think Jay Porter’s a brilliant, complex character and Locke’s writing about politics is smart, nuanced and creates cracking page-turners.

How many books are on your TBR shelf?

Oh. Ah. Well, earlier this year I calculated it would take me 23 years to read all the books I have. I’ve removed 300 since then but added some too. Let’s just go with a lot!

People I’m tagging:

Susan at A Life in Books
Cathy at 746 Books
Jacqui at JacquiWine’s Journal
Eleanor at Elle Thinks
Janet at From First Page to Last 
Eric at Lonesome Reader
LaChouett at Chouett
Ali at HeavenAli