Tim’s Book Review of 2019

BOOKS OF 2019

Themes of the year:

1. Nature writing
Wilding – Isabella Tree

2. The Law
The Secret Barrister – Anonymous

3. Quiz Books
O/S Quiz book
The British Library quiz book

4. Spies
The Spy and the Traitor – Ben Macintyre
A Foreign Country – Charles Cumming
Secret Service – Tom Bradby
White Hot Silence – Henry Porter
Agent Running in the Field – John Le Carre

5. Holocaust Novels/Non fiction
The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris
The Cut Out Girl – Bart Van Es
The Boy who Followed his father into Auschwitz – Jeremy Dronfield

6. Children’s Environmental books
No one is too small to make a difference – Greta Thunberg
Greta’s Story – Valentina Camerinin
A Planet Full of Plastic – Neal Layton

7. Beautiful Children’s Books
A Wild Child’s guide to endangered Animals – Millie Marotta
The Lost words – Robert MacFarlane

Always In Vogue:

1. Great History writing
Normandy 44 – James Holland
The Anarchy – William Dalrymple

2. Top Autobiography
War Doctor – David Nott

Surprises:
Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell

Disappointments:
Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver
Transcription – Kate Atkinson

But……..
Big Sky (Kate Atkinson’s new one) was GREAT

My longest read of the year:
The Secret Commonwealth – Philip Pullman
(best to read Northern Lights trilogy first)

New Books from Big Authors:
Second Sleep – Robert Harris
Sweet Sorrow – David Nichols

Finally caught up with:
Late in the Day – Tessa Hadley

Big books for NEXT year:
The Flatshare – Beth O’Leary
Saving Missy – Beth Morrey

Great Food Writing:
From the Oven to the Table – Diana Henry
Clodagh’s Suppers – Clodagh McKenna

Best Children’s books:
The Skylark’s War – Hilary Mckay
The Time of Green Magic “

Local Authors:
Unlimited Overs – Roger Morgan-Grenville
The King’s Race – Lionel Beecroft
Legacy – Thomas Harding
A Short History of Falling – Joe Hammond

Prizewinners:
1.Booker
The Testaments – Margaret Attwood
Girl Woman, Other – Bernardine Evaristo

2. Costa
Normal People – Sally Rooney
(plus Cut out Girl and the Skylark’s War)

3. Women’s Prize for Fiction
An American Marriage – Tayari Jones

Top 10 Bestsellers for 2019:

Dear Mrs Bird – AJ Pearce
Take Nothing With You – Patrick Gale
Washington Black – Esi Edugyan
This is Going To Hurt – Adam Kay
All the Light we Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
The Librarian – Salley Vickers
Love Is Blind – William Boyd
The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
The Salt Path – Raynor Winn

Likely Christmas Bestseller:
The Boy the Mole, the Fox and the Horse – Charlie Mackesy

Parliamentary Review

One of the unexpected things about bookselling is the number of people who spend a lot of money getting their book published. In theory if your book is good enough to be in print someone will pay you money to do so. There are however a number of unscrupulous people who are ready to fleece the unwary with demands for “contributions” towards the cost of publishing. Often the results despite the cost are extremely disappointing – the promised marketing evaporates and the author is left with a bad taste.

I received a letter from the Rt Hon The Lord Pickles this week inviting me to contribute a 1000 word piece for The Parliamentary Review. It would be one of a collection of “articles from a range of large organisations, SMEs and small, niche businesses from across the country. The idea is to share knowledge and best practice in an attempt to raise standards”. The foreword would be written by the Prime Minister and I was urged to make a prompt response – which I did.

A well spoken young man assured me of the honour of being selected and the prestige of the publication before quietly muttering that a contribution of £850 would be required to cover costs so that I could see my name online (not unfortunately in print due to the cost…) When I picked my jaw off the floor I thanked him politely and hung up.

Tim’s Best Books of 2018

BOOKS OF 2018

Themes of the year

1.First World War

Where they Kill Captains – Douglas Butler

The General – CS Forrester

The Dust that Falls from Dreams – Louis de Bernieres

So Much Life Left Over – Louis de Bernieres

2.Medical

This is Going to Hurt – Adam Kay

3.Spy Biography

The Spy and the Traitor – Ben Macintyre

4.Nature

Wilding – Isabella Tree

Unexpected Genius of Pigs – Matt Whyman

5.Politics

Yes She Can – Ruth Davidson

Ladybird Book of Brexit

Brexit Cartoons

6.Exotic Travel

In Search of North Africa – Barnaby Rogerson

Travels in a Dervish Cloak – Isambard Wilkinson

7.Surprises

Educated – Tara Westover

Terms and Conditions – Ysenda Maxtone Graham

Fire and the Fury – Michael Wolff

Fear Trump in the White House – Bob Woodward

A Higher Loyalty – James Comey

Red Notice – Bill Browder

8.New Novels by Big Beasts

Love is Blind – William Boyd

Middle England – Jonathan Coe

Warlight – Michael Ondaatje

9.Films

The Children Act – Ian McEwan

The Wife – Meg Wolitzer

Guernsey Literary Potato Peel Pie society -Annie Barrows & Mary Ann Shaffer

10.Local Authors

Blood on the Page – Thomas Harding

Not out of the Woods – Roger Morgan -Grenville

Capitalism in America  – Allan Greenspan & Adrian Woolridge

Bluestreak – Mike Klidjian

Henry Harwood – Peter Hore

World War Two Explained – Michael O’Kelly

11.In Praise of Difficult Books

Milkman – Anna Burns

Lincoln in the Bardo – George Saunders

Missing Fay – Adam Thorpe

12.Other Good Booker Shortlist

Washington Black – Esi Edugyan

The Mars Room – Rachel Kushner

13.Other Prize Winners

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  – Gail Honeyman

Inside the Wave – Helen Dunmore

Reservoir 13 – Jon McGregor

Explorer – Katherine Rundell

In the Days of Rain – Rebecca Stott

Home fire – Kamila Shamsie

14.Two Young Writers

What I Know About Love – Dolly Alderton

Conversations With Friends – Sally Rooney

15.Some Cracking Thrillers

A Legacy of Spies – John Le Carre

Munich – Robert Harris

Ultimatum – Frank Gardner

Memo From Turner – Tim Willocks

16.In a category of its Own

La Belle Sauvage – Philip Pullman

17.Beautiful Gift Books

Hampshire in Photographs

The Garden At West Dean – Sarah Wain & Jim Buckaland

18.The Top Ten Bestelling novels of 2018

The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead

The Sparsholt Affair – Alan Holinghurst

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

This Must be the Place – Maggie O’Farrell

The Muse – Jessie Burton

All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

The Lie of the Land – Amanda Craig

A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Posh Bingo

The Booker was famously derided by Julian Barnes as “posh bingo”.  His beef (until he won it of course) was that the prize had become a lottery. The vagaries of the judging panel, the personality clashes, the cryptic comments made by the Chair, all these had made picking a logical winner all but impossible.  Which is all very well for the pundits – after all a bit of mystery helps fuel speculation and interest which in turn helps sell newspapers. For the humble bookseller bingo presents more of a problem. Given that the sales of the winner multiply ten times plus when the announcement is made, it becomes impossible to get hold of copies the minute afterwards until the reprint comes through a week later. The big shops just order loads of each of the six shortlisted book; the small fry have to be very canny- and lucky. I usually gamble on a couple and cross my fingers. My bets this year? Washington Black by Esi Edugyan and Everything Under by Daisy Johnson.

Books of the Year

Books of the year is a fairly loose description of a talk I gave recently.  At the bottom of this piece is a list of the titles and as you can see they are a fairly idiosyncratic bunch.

I start with some winners of the major prizes, although as this also includes a couple of books shortlisted for next year’s Costa Prize even that is not straightforward.  This is followed by some trends  – the tendency for every thriller to have “The Girl Who” in the title morphs neatly into the fashion for comedians to write children’s fiction.  The “Channel 4” trend of calling books “The Secret Life of” comes next followed by the medical autobiography (confusingly Dr Adam Kay has followed Harry Hill into the Stand up comic world just as Dr Hill has turned to children’s stories…)

The Puzzle genre has been given a fillip by the GCHQ book which has had a number of imitators – Bletchley Park Brain Teasers and Spy School to name a couple.  It will surprise no one that Brexit has spawned a host of titles from the serious Tim Shipman to the less so – Five Escape Brexit Island.  Jane Austen’s bicentenary has resulted in a host of biographies.

Surprising titles come next:  Sarah Perry’s Essex Serpent came out of nowhere – a sprawling  novel with some good bits.  Sue Gee has been writing novels for a while but Trio looks like it might be her breakthrough. The Lost Words written by Robert McFarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris follows no trend and is completely marvellous.  Simon Jenkins could make the telephone book interesting and Ysenda Maxtone-Graham would make it amusing.

Two books I missed and have only just caught up with but which are worth it are the short but perfectly formed A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler and the first in the Jackson Lamb sequence of wry and hugely entertaining spy books by Mick Herron.

Local books  – I was lucky enough to hear nearly all the authors talk about their books and they were all great but none greater than Barnaby Rogerson.

Three very different approaches to History – three excellent books.

Four biographies of which two are actually novels

Two new thrillers and one which just refuses to leave our bestseller list – the good news is that Terry Hayes has a new book out in September – The Year of the Locust.

The top ten fiction bestsellers are next followed by mention of two special authors that we lost in 2017 – Helen Dunmore and Michael Bond.

Three new books of great charm for different reasons.

And Finally….Five books which have been big this Christmas and will be massive in 2017 when they finally arrive in paperback

Happy Christmas!

One Tree Books – Best of 2017

Prizewinners:

Lincoln in the Bardo                         George Saunders

Days Without End                             Sebastian Barry

Reservoir 13                                      Jon McGregor

Fragile Lives                                      Stephen Westaby

The Power                                         Naomi Alderman

 

Trends:

Secret Life of Cows                            Rosamund Young

The Inner Life of Animals                 Peter Wohlleben

The Secret Life of the Owl                 Jon Lewis-Sempel

Girl On the Train                               Paula Hawkins

The Girl with the Lost Smile Miranda Hart

Bad Dad                                                          David Walliams

This Is Going to Hurt                         Adam Kay

When Breath becomes Air               Paul Kalanithi

Bletchley Park Brain Teasers           Sinclair McKay

Spy School

All Out War                                        Tim Shipman

5 Escape Brexit Island

 

Surprises:

The Essex Serpent                             Sarah Perry

Trio                                                   Sue Gee

Lost Words                                        Robert McFarlane

100 Best Railway Stations                Simon Jenkins

Terms and Conditions                      Ysenda Maxtone-Graham

Jane Austen The Secret Radical        Helen Kelly

 

Ones I Missed:

A Whole Life                                      Robert Seethaler

The Slow Horses                               Mick Herron

 

Local:

The Shipwreck Hunter                     David Mearns

In Search of North Africa                  Barnaby Rogerson

The Road to Little Dribbling Bill Bryson

Tree Survey

Petersfield at Work                           David Jeffery

Hampshire Through Writers Eyes  Ed. Alastiar Langlands

 

History:

The  Silk Roads                                Peter Frankopan

Sapiens/ Homo Deus                        Yuval Noah Hariri

Prisoners of Geography                   Tim Marshall

 

 

Biography:

Everyone Brave is Forgiven Chris Cleeve

Sweet Caress                                     William Boyd

Keep on Keeping On                          Alan Bennett

Pour Me                                            AA Gill

 

Thrillers:

I am Pilgrim                                        Terry Hayes

The Dry                                             Jane Harper

The River at Night                             Erica Ferencik

 

Top Ten Fiction Bestsellers at OTB:

The Dark Flood Rises                        Margaret Drabble

Lie With Me                                        Sabine Durrant

This Must Be the Place                      Maggie O’Farrell

The Noise of Time                             Julian Barnes

How to Measure a Cow                     Margaret Forster

Conclave                                                         Robert Harris

All the Light We Cannot See Anthony Doerr

Exposure                                                        Helen Dunmore

 

Departed:

Paddington Pop up                            Michael Bond

 

2 Books for Younger Readers:

Survivors                                           David Long & Kerry Hyndman

Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls    Elena Favilli

 

3 Charming new books:

Poetry Pharmacy                               William Sieghart

Another  Year of Plumdog                Emma Chichester Clark

Year of Wonder                                             Clemency Burton-Hill

 

Sure to be Bestsellers in Paperback in 2018:

My Absolute Darling                         Gabriel Tallent

The Sparsholt Affair                          Alan Holinghurst

Munich                                                           Robert Harris

A Legacy of Spies                               John Le Carre

 

Book of the year!

The Book of Dust                               Philip Pullman

January resolutions

It is coming to that time of year when the earnest declarations of New Year resolutions start to fade.  For most people it is the intention to eat and drink less and exercise more that hits the buffers but for the bookish it may be the desire to read more and spend less time looking at screens. So how?

The addicted smartphone user needs to switch off those news and facebook alerts and the box set  bingers to disengage from Netflix.  But there is still the question of what to read:

  1. Don’t read the back of the book – it will both give the plot away and tell you that some reviewer thought it was the best book ever
  2. Use reviewers like friends – only take advice from the most discerning who share your taste and be wary of hyperbole.
  3. Ask your local bookshop for advice (obviously)
  4. Stop reading a book you are not enjoying and start one you will – you wouldn’t carry on watching a dull TV programme would you?

There are some really good books just out in paperback – here are two contrasting ones: Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave is based on the authors grandparents’ experience in World War II, one a teacher in London during the Blitz the other a soldier fighting overseas.  It is a powerful read with humour and a lightness of touch  you would expect from the author of The Other Hand.

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford has just won the Best First Novel Costa prize although he is an an established non-fiction writer.  Mr. Smith arrives on Manhattan Island in 1746 with a money order for £1000.  Is he who he says he is or is he a crook – and what does he intend to do with the money anyway?  Part historical novel, part literary thriller, he gives us a great sense of place and time and a really satisfying read.

When an author dies..

When an author dies, publishers are quick to republish their backlist – with no one to promote their books this may be the last chance to get their writer to the attention of potential readers.  For the book buyer it is a reminder about that author you always meant to read but never quite got round to.

Margaret Forster, the prolific Cumbrian writer, died in February just days before the publication of her last book, How to Measure a Cow.  The arresting title (which bears no relation to the story) is actually about a woman relocating under a false name to a drab northern town.  It is a delicious slow reveal of a story as we gradually find out why, aided by a nosy neighbour just as keen as we are to know.  The book also explores friendship and the complex relationship between women – a really satisfying read and a writer I wish I had come to earlier.

Bernard Cornwell (Warriors of the Storm) and Michael Arnold (Marston Moor) bring out their latest installments in paperback this month as does Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling with her third Cormorant Strike novel.

The thriller of 2015, Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews, arrives in lightweight form on 21st April – definitely one to pack for the summer holidays for those who like their spy stories with plenty of pace.

World Book Day 2016

Recent pictures in the press of World Book Day in schools have majored on pupils dressed up as book characters for obvious reasons – children wearing funny colourful outfits make for good photographs.  The reality in a lot of schools is quite different who see it as an opportunity to focus on the written word and not fancy dress.

For the second year I went to Hollycombe primary school to judge their poetry reading competition.  The standard was high but what was most impressive was the ability of those sitting on the floor to concentrate quietly and listen patiently.

We also operated book fairs at two other schools with visiting author Tim Bowler as well as welcoming a year 2 class from Froxfield Primary to the bookshop. A further five schools took part in our WBD bookmark colouring competition held in the shop.

A couple of short novels by top authors have appeared in the last fortnight.  Mothering Sunday by Graham swift is set on that day in 1924.  Servants are allowed the day off to visit their mothers but orphan maid Jane Fairchild chooses to meet her illicit upper class lover in a house conveniently empty of staff.  It is a brilliant description of a different time and place, a sunny lazy afternoon with a shocking twist – an insistent narrative drive that demands your attention to the last page.

Julian Barnes’ The Noise Of Time is a novel about a real person, Dimitri Shostakovich. Barnes gives us the breadth of a whole life within the pages of a slim book, written in an intimately close third person.  His particular skill is to open up questions of universal significance: the relationship between power and art, the limits of courage and the intolerable demands of personal integrity and conscience.  This is writing of the highest caliber – thought provoking and compelling.

Off Work Pt.2

Historical fiction varies just as widely in quality as any other genre. It swings from the brilliance of Hilary Mantel or Patrick O’Brian to the most banal of romances. At their best they offer a view into another world but even the straightforward ones give a glimpse into the past. Devil is the first in a projected series by David Churchill called The Leopards of Normandy. It tells the story of the Duchy and how it came to change England so dramatically. Churchill is the pseudonym for journalist David Thomas and he writes a decent yarn in solid prose. Writing about a period of which not much is written means that there are quite a few gaps to fill, and he manages to drive the story along with gusto.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is set in the years preceding and during the Second World War. Written in very short chapters (usually only a page or two) it alternates between the story of orphan Werner, a teenage genius at radios, and Marie –Laure, the blind daughter of a museum locksmith. It’s a gripping page turner and despite at times rather overripe prose it is moving without too much sentimentality. My favourite was Dictator by Robert Harris. This is the concluding part of the trilogy that begins with Imperium which charts the political life of Cicero. Though set over 2000 years ago we actually have far better sources than 11th century Normandy and Harris uses the device of Tiro, his slave secretary, to tell the story. It is a story that every aspiring politician should read and anyone interested in the Roman Republic – both hugely illuminating and entertaining.

Off Work Part 1..

Being off work is a great excuse to catch up with the reading.  Unfortunately hospital is not a brilliant place for concentrating on serious fiction but it is a good test for thrillers – can they distract and entertain?

The new Lee Child, Make Me, is some way off his best.  Jack Reacher is as tough and clever as ever but it may be that now in his twentieth outing the plots have got a bit threadbare.  The much lauded I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is at nearly 900 pages something of a heavyweight.  While some of its plot twists are (a little) preposterous, the narrative drive is good, and the inside view of the Saudi state is pretty shocking.  Tim Weaver is an author much lauded by his publisher (Penguin) who has yet to make it big.  His latest, What Remains is a long complex London crime novel with plenty of twists and much violence.  The best of the lot was a by a new writer, Jason Matthews called Palace of Treason.  It’s a tense tightly plotted spy thriller – fiercely anti-Putin and his kleptocratic oligarchy.  It is published in January and is definitely one to look forward to.

Next week  historical fiction (and other easy convalescent reads….)