Sunday, 25 January 2015

A week in books.... Margate, E.M. Forster, short stories from Tom Barbash and surprise new twitter followers!

Reading: Stay up with Me by Tom Barbash
Reviewing: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Bought: Where Angels Fear to tread by E.M. Forster
On the book shelfStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Bookshops Visited: The Book House, Thame

The week kicked off with a fresh delivery of new reads including Stay up with Me by Tom Barbash, thank you HarperCollins. Look out for my review of this book, shortlisted for the Folio Prize, next month.

Midweek I was dispatched to the Kent Coast and Margate on a work assignment. Work aside the highlight was meeting up with lovely bibliophile Bee's Bookshare (check out @beesbookshare). Can't wait to attend one of Bee's inspiring book share events later this year!

I'm a sucker for a second hand bookstore and found myself mid-week picking up a well thumbed copy of E.M. Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread. Both Room with a View and Maurice would be fighting for a place on my bookshelf best reads so looking forward to getting stuck in.

Caught up with the new TV adaptation of Wolf Hall this week. The jury is out for me but if this sends viewers in to bookshops to buy the source Mantel novels (which it should) then its a winner for reading which is fine with me.

A quick check of my most read blog posts this week revealed a surprise. Two older reviews from last year seem to have been picked up....

Highrise by JG Ballard - must be the forthcoming film

Terms and Conditions by Robert Glancy - now out in paperback

Some nice new followers joining the Word's Shortlist cause this week. So, how big is the Word's Shortlist community? 

452 Facebook likes and 272 followers - that's 724 people committed to reading more in 2015!!! Let's reach 1k

Follow @wordsshortlist, share and, above all else, READ

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Harrowing and lyrical in equal measure

Title: The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Author: Richard Flanagan

Tags: #pow #bookerprize #australia

Discovered: Man Booker Prize winner 2014

Where read: (In part) 

The Word's Shortlist view:

"A good book, he had concluded, leaves you wanting to reread the book. A great book compels you to reread your soul"

My one regret with this book is that I didn't pick it up when it was first shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Much of the reviews for the novel, although gushing, focused primarily on the explicit descriptions of life as a POW on the railway in Burma. The truth is that the real genius of this book lies in the way these sections are  told with a clever narrator switch that a lesser author just couldn't pull off.

This is the story of Dorrigo Evans, an young Australian surgeon who finds himself propelled into war and ultimately into incarceration by the Japanese on the infamous Siam to Burma railroad which was so key to Japan's aggressive empire building. Flanagan doesn't hold back on intimate and forensic detail

The novel takes us on the full journey from Dorrigo's youth and a passionate pre-War affair right through the horror of War and beyond. Flanagan plays with pace effectively, the hellish mundanity of life on the railroad unfolding slowly and methodically in a numb nightmare.

Truth be told the prose in the novel is both harrowing and lyrical in equal measure. Graphic descriptions of disease torn inmates and cruel torture by Korean guards are balanced by heart breakingly beautiful passages which keep you wanting to read on and on. Really, you need to read this book. 

Watch Richard Flanagan discuss the book in an interview here:

Twitter: @wordsshortlist
Instagram: your_next_read

Thursday, 15 January 2015

This is a story about secrets, jealousy and a family in very deep water

Title: Everything I Never Told You

Author: Celest Ng

Tags: #debut #americanfiction #stylistmagazine

Discovered: Stylist Magazine

Where read: (In part) Over 5 days on the Jubilee Line

The Word's Shortlist view:

"Before that she hadn't realised how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it"

I came across this debut novel from Celeste Ng (pronounced 'ing') in the briefest of mentions in Stylist Magazine over Christmas. Instinct rather than research told me to a buy a copy after all there's nothing like the anticipation of reading a new novel by a first time novelist.

The novel tells the story of the Lee family whose lives implode when their teenage daughter, Lydia, is found drowned in a lake. The story takes place in mid-seventies small town Ohio which is key to the way the story develops around themes of alienation and suspicion. Lydia's father is an American born to Chinese immigrants and, as such, the Lee family is amongst only a handful of mixed race families in town.

Whist Lydia's death sets the narrative spiralling this really is an ensemble piece with Ng perfectly weaving the individual family members stories around their response to the death. This is a story about secrets, jealousy and and family in very deep water. 

Parents Marilyn and James deal with an frightening case of deja vu but its the other children, Nathan and Hannah, who are the most interesting characters. Their experiences, as children growing up amongst other's who look so different to themselves, exposes much about the pressure Lydia was under.

How much do you really know about your siblings' lives? 

Ng's unique framing of the story through the eyes of a mixed race family in small town America lifts this novel beyond the normal family drama. That said, this is sort of novel that will leave you with questions family life - at what point does love, support and aspiration become an unbearable pressure.

Watch a clip of Celeste Ng talking about here novel here:

Twitter: @wordsshortlist
Instagram: your_next_read

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Tender, sincere and beautifully understated.

Title: Brooklyn

Author: Colm Toibin

Tags: #ireland #norawebster #nickhornby

Discovered: Imagine. Colm Toibin: His Mother's Son (BBC)

Where read: (In part) Shoreditch Grind, Old Street 

The Word's Shortlist view:

"Some people are nice and if you talk to them properly they can be even nicer"

I've picked this book up any number of times over the last few years but never got around to actually reading it until watching Alan Yentob's brilliant film about Colm Toibin for Imagine. Plus with his new book Nora Webster receiving rave reviews this seemed like the right time to finally commit. 

Colm Toibin's Costa Novel Award winning book tells the story of Eilis Lacy, a young girl who escapes the hardship of 1950s Ireland in search of a new life in the USA. The dredge of colourless Enniscorthy in Southern Ireland is brilliantly portrayed as a cage trapped with family commitment and few job prospects. On the other hand, Brooklyn is a dream of bright lights, colour and hope. 

As the story develops, and Eilis settles in to a new life of work and study in Brooklyn, there is a foreboding sense that she won't fully shake off her former life in Ireland. Before long Eilis meets a young Italian plumber, Tony, and begins a romance played out over a beautiful Summer on Coney Island. Local priest Father Flood is protective and caring but didn't expect girls like Eilis to find their own independence in Brooklyn, having brought them over for one purpose only. 

Colm Toibin's depiction of this new girl coming of age on the other side of world is tender, sincere and beautifully understated. Elias makes choices that her mothers generation in Ireland could never have conceived.  

Out of the blue Eilis receives some tragic news from home and must return to Ireland to be with her family. This is the major plot point that goes on to define the novel and the duality which all emigres face. For most the journey across the Atlantic was one way leaving a bereaved family at home. For Eilis she must make the return journey to make a decision about her new life with Tony and her family commitments in Eniscorthy. 

Many Irish families will have an Eilis in their family which makes this book personal and intimate - the decision she must make is about more than her own family, this is a decision about a generation and about a time. This is a great read that explores the schizophrenic life of emigres forced to return home. 

With a film in the making we can expect renewed interest in this novel. Read the novel now and enjoy the movie later in the year.

Watch a clip of Colm Toibin reading from Brooklyn here:
Read about the movie adaptation of the book here:

Twitter: @wordsshortlist
Instagram: your_next_read

Thursday, 1 January 2015


On the bookshelf this January....

1. Brooklyn - Colm Toibin

Winner of the 2009 'Costa Novel Award' and on its way to the big screen in 2015 with a screenplay penned by Nick Hornby

2. Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng

Stylish debut novel that has sold by the bucket-load in the US

3. The Narrow Road to the North - Richard Flanagan

Winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize.

Look our for reviews and book chatter throughout January.


Twitter: @wordsshortlist
Instagram: your_next_read