Monday, 19 January 2015

Reads For Early '15

Before I got an e-reader, I was - to say the least - an erratic book-buyer. Whatever I saw in a shop, if I liked it, I bought it. I didn't follow any book blogs or columns, and whilst I was always aware of the big summer hits, I can honestly say that I didn't have much of a clue about up-and-coming books, or the must-reads. I just read whatever I happened across. But since browsing on the e-reader isn't exactly as easy as browsing in a shop (which I still do, by the way), I've had to find new ways to get my book fix, and Twitter - with it's myriad of fellow bloggers, authors and book-pluggers - has become that source. I'm now far more aware of what books are getting people talking, what ones are coming out this year, and which ones I've missed but should really get on to. To this end, I now present the books I'm hoping to read in the first half of 2015 - some published already, some still to come:

Rooms by Lauren Oliver
I'm not entirely sure why I want to read this, because it sounds like a slightly less hammy version of the Nicole Kidman film The Others, which gives me the heebie-jeebies (I'm an absolute coward when it comes to ghost stories or anything remotely paranormal). In it, a wealthy man dies, and his estranged family descend on his home to tie up the ends of his life. What they don't realise is, the house is inhabited by ghosts of former residents, who witness the bitter family exchanges and sometimes try to intervene. I'm hoping this will be a ghost story more along the lines of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger, which I really enjoyed, and less The Turn of the Screw by Henry James, a book that I can't sleep in the same room of.

A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson (publishing May 2015)
I discovered Kate Atkinson last year, when I read - and really enjoyed - her time-lapsing novel, Life After Life, which follows Ursula Todd through the many possible lives she could have had, all results of various decisions made by herself and others along the way. I've not read any other books of Atkinson's yet, but when I heard there was to be a companion novel about Ursula's brother, Teddy, it was only natural I should want to read it. I am a bit wary, however: I don't want to suggest Atkinson is cashing in on the success of Life After Life, but I really hope that A God in Ruins will be as entertaining as its sister, and also readable as a standalone novel. Whilst I love revisiting an established world as much as anyone, there has to be some added value to it, not just a recognition of that world - or novel's - popularity. Also, a bit of a stronger ending than Life After Life's would go down quite well, too.

A Million Years In A Day by Greg Jenner (publishing January 2015)
Greg Jenner, if you don't know him, is the historical consultant - and occasional extra/writer - of one of my favourite TV shows, Horrible Histories, based on the inimitable Terry Deary series: so obviously I am quite excited about this, his first book. The main attraction is that it focuses less on the major historical events throughout time, and more on the parts that get overlooked - the day-to-day bits and bobs that aren't considered as important as the dissolution of the monasteries, or the Restoration, but are nevertheless huge parts of history - essentially, how people like us lived throughout time, 'from stone age to phone age'. I'm really looking forward to this one in particular - plus, I get to meet the author in February, so doubleplusgood.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J Maas (publishing May 2015)
If you haven't heard of S. J. Maas, and you're a fan of fantasy novels, then WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! She's an up-and-coming author in the YA-wing of the genre, penning the excellent Throne of Glass series, which began as a twist on the Cinderella fairytale (as Sarah described it herself: what if Cinderella was at the ball to assassinate the prince?). This, her second series, is of a slightly more romantic and adult nature, and this time turns the tale of Beauty and the Beast on its head. Here, the Beast is Fae, and Beauty is a hunter who shoots (with a bow and arrow, of course) a Fae whilst in it's wolf form. Cue brooding, flirting and yes, a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome.

Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb is a machine. She churns out fantasy novels like you wouldn't believe, and - making her a rarity in writing - she not only keeps returning to her readers' favourite characters, but does so well, without compromising her previous novels. Now concentrate, because this bit is tricky: Fool's Assassin is the first book in a new trilogy about the characters Fitz and the Fool, who together have already featured in two other trilogies (The Farseer Trilogy and The Tawny Man), although there is a third already finished that takes place in the same world, called The Liveships Trilogy, which only features the Fool. Keeping up? So basically, she's starting her FOURTH trilogy set in one world, and her THIRD featuring the two same protagonists. Oh, and they're all at least 500 pages long. See? A MACHINE.

Tampa by Alissa Nutting
I've been wanting to read this for ages but been a bit scared to: the main character is a sexual predator who abuses their position as a teacher by embarking on an affair with a pupil, and doesn't appear to shy on some of the more unpleasant details. It's told in much the same way as You by Caroline Kepnes, or A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, in that you are forced to see the story through the predator's eyes. Now I've read both and have felt uncomfortably sympathetic with the narrator in each at times, so I'm reluctantly anticipating much of the same. Oh, and did I mention? The sexual predator of Tampa is a beautiful young woman with a particular penchant for 14 year old boys. Yeah, I know.

Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman (Publishing March 2015)
This is the sequel to 2012's Seraphina, and quite frankly, it's been a bloody long time coming: I read Seraphina in 2013, I think, so I've been waiting for nearly two years for this. For those of you who don't know this series, it is set in a world where humans and dragons (who can assume humanoid forms) uneasily co-exist, until some traditionalist dragons decide to try reasserting their dominance over the humans, despite a peace treaty. Seraphina is refreshing in so many ways: for starters, the main character is a musician and teacher with a skin condition, so she's not your usual perfectly-formed, athletic heroine with an uncanny ability for ninja-techniques and martial arts. Secondly, there is a love story, but it is sensibly in proportion to the rest of the plot (i.e. not a big deal), so it somehow means more than the burning gazes and brushing hands one usually encounters in romantic storylines. Finally, the most interesting aspect of it is that it is very political: there are factions disrupting the fragile peace, persecutions, prejudice, delicate dances performed by those in power to maintain equilibrium, etc, which makes for a fascinating, tense read. In short, I loved Seraphina, and I cannot wait for Shadow Scale. I could pretend I'm a bit nervous it won't live up to my expectations, but truthfully, I think this is going to be great. Also: BEAUTIFUL COVER ALERT, amiright?!

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
I get trains. I use the tube. Therefore, I can RELATE to this book, and isn't relating to a book - be it geographically, socially, personally - the main attraction? Well, okay, I haven't developed any obsessive relationships with people I observe from my train or tube - but I did once see a woman walking her dog through an otherwise empty field, and found myself imagining, 'What if I saw a crime, like a murder, being committed from this train, and it was only a fleeting glimpse, and it seemed like I was the only one who saw it?' Well thankfully nothing like that has ever happened to me, but this book sounds a bit like that, with bonus stalking, so that's why I want to read it - because it's a mix of my imagination and You by Caroline Kepnes (actually, that's a bad - and concerning - combination. Never mind.).

The Catcher in The Rye by J. D. Salinger
I've always felt like I missed the boat with this one: I never read it as a teenager, and by the time people started incredulously asking me how I'd got so far without reading it, I kind of felt that I was too old for it. Actually, that's not right: I felt that I was beyond the age where I'd find Holden Caulfield to be anything but a whiny teenager, because I am no longer a whiny teenager (not to say all teenagers are whiny, of course). I suppose I just didn't think I'd be able to relate to the narrator in the same way as I would've done say, ten years ago, and knowing that may cloud my impression of it. However, there are only so many excuses one can make, and when I read My Salinger Year by Joanne Rakoff last year (the autobiographical tale of Rakoff's time working for literary agency, replying to Salinger fan mail), I started to reassess my accidental no-Salinger policy, and now I'm actually looking very forward to finding out more about Holden Caulfield.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
The only other non-fiction title on the list, this is the account and analysis of the brutal murder of the Clutter family in 1959. Penned by the childhood friend of Harper Lee, and the inspiration for the character Dill in To Kill A Mockingbird, this is the rare true-crime story that I'm actually interested in reading - I don't think I'll ever understand the morbid fascination people have with those real-life-murder mysteries and true-abuse books. I can't say it's the grisly details that particularly draw me in - it's more the connection between the author and Harper Lee, and my new-found appreciation for Agatha Christie, which has lead to a new-found love of crime novels.

A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro
I've read two and a half of Ishiguro's novels: Never Let Me Go, which I love and frequently re-read; The Remains of the Day, which I enjoyed and will read again, I'm sure; and The Unconsoled, which I never finished and can't say I ever will. It's a mixed bag so far, which is why - rather than getting all excited about The Buried Giant, his first novel in a decade that's out later this year - I'm going back to the beginning, to his first-ever novel, A Pale View of Hills. It's the story of a Japanese woman in England, reflecting on the aftermath of the Nagasaki bomb when she was a young woman, and her relationship with her daughters. I think it's a bit darker than I've made it sound, but I'm hoping it will rekindle my interest in Ishiguro's novels.

Are there any books you're looking forward to, or any that you've put off for ages but now intend to read, in 2015?

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