Saturday, 21 December 2013

Maryom's Christmas picks

 So, it's getting really close to Christmas now and you're still looking for last minute presents? Head to a book shop, you'll find something for everyone. And if you need some pointers, these are what I'd suggest....

Any best of the year list this year seems to be including Kate Atkinson's Life After Life so I'll get that out of the way first. An absolute stunner of a book, the story of Ursula Todd who has an exceptional gift - to be able to re-live her life over and over till she, hopefully, gets things right. A book for anyone who's ever wondered Did I make the right decision? What would have happened if I'd chosen X instead of Y? Emotionally draining at times but the overall feel is of something tremendously life-affirming.

Amy Sackville's second novel, Orkney, is a spell-binding, lyrical book set on a northern island where seals shift shape and take on human form, and women might change into seals. A mismatched newly-wed couple choose this place to spend their honeymoon, but will the pull of the sea prove too much? A story that definitely stretches the imagination.

Another mix of myth and reality, The Drowning of Arthur Braxton  by Caroline Smailes. Set in the old public baths now turned into healing centre, this is a  difficult story to pin down and label. Caroline Smailes takes the figures of Greek myths, mixes them a little with The Water Babies and transposes them into a derelict swimming pool - is it fantasy or a modern fairy tale? maybe an urban legend? However you label it, it's an intriguing, enjoyable read.

If you like your reading short and powerful, try Magda by Meike Ziervogel. In under 120 pages this novel takes the reader behind the public façade of Magda Goebbels, yes wife of that Goebbels, and gets into the mindset of someone who commits the cruellest of acts in the belief that they are doing a kindness.


 All the Little Guns went Bang, Bang, Bang by Neil Mackay, Growing up during Northern Ireland's Troubles, Pearse and May-Belle look for ways to escape the habitual violence of their lives - but end up immersed in it. A disturbing thought-provoking novel about what drives people, or in this case, more chillingly, children, to kill, and of how lives are shattered, in more than physical ways, by violence.

Peggy Riley's debut novel Amity and Sorrow  explores the curious world of American cults, and how good ideals can easily turn into something sinister.

Another debut, this time from Lavanya Sankaran,
The Hope Factory is a sort of Upstairs, Downstairs take on modern India. Business-man Anand and his maid, Kamala, both want to better their lives. The obstacles they face are different but come down in the end to the need to have money before you can make more.

Next, two wonderfully engrossing reads that I could barely put down but more romantic and less gritty than some of my choices.

The State We're In by Adele Parks -  a family drama played out over two generations; it's about falling in love, living a lie, the meaning of family and the sacrifices a woman might make for the sake of her children.

 A coming-of-age story mixed with a whodunnit and set against the backdrop of Lausanne, A Heart Bent Out of Shape is Emylia Hall's second novel, a story of living life to the full even at the risk of being emotionally hurt.

 For crime lovers - there are a couple of new additions to my favourite long-running series; The Long Shadow by Liza Marklund - reporter Annika Bengtzon finds herself uncovering crime and righting wrongs in the Swedish ex-pat community on the Costa del Sol

and Arkady Renko is back in Tatiana by Martin Cruz Smith, trying to prove that a young journalist's death wasn't the suicide that the authorities claim, and uncovering all sorts of dodgy deals between government, gangsters and foreign powers along the way.

A gentler sort of crime novel about bored residents of a Swedish old folks' home. The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules is a great choice for grannies, elderly aunts and anyone who plans on growing old disgracefully.

This is my crime pick of the year though - amazingly complex with very clever plotting, The Unquiet Grave by Steven Dunne is set in my home-town of Derby which adds an extra frisson to the reading. Current cases and ones relegated to the 'unsolved' pile come together to uncover a series of murders of children and teenagers. Despite the time span, could they all be the work of one murderer?

Do you have teen, or adults, who never read but spend all their time playing computer games? Tempt them away from the console with these two game-related thrillers. Both take the concept of an on-line game which requires the player to complete tasks within the real world to progress
For teens, Erebos by Ursula Poznanski  an absolutely compelling story about an absolutely compelling computer game!

and for adults, Game by Anders de la Motte, a book version of all my favourite conspiracy-theory movies.

Classics with a twist  - for adults  - Red Room, a collection of stories inspired by the Brontes and their work, and helping to raise funds for the Bronte Birthplace Trust which is hoping to preserve the house the children were born in at Thornton, Bradford.

or, for fans of Jane Austen, a look behind the scenes of the Bennet family home in Longbourn - not just a reworking of Austen's Pride and Prejudice but the story of the servants

for teens to adults, two collections of stories - Rags and Bones with contributions from Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix and others these are twelve re-workings of old, classic stories, with a little of everything from sci-fi to fantasy to dystopian fiction

The Wilful Eye takes six fairy stories, The Tinderbox, Rumplestiltskin, the Snow Queen, Beauty and the Beast, Babes in the Wood and the Steadfast Tin Soldier, taken away from the cosy nursery setting and back to their darker folk tale roots via sex, drugs and violence.

For younger children - The Dead Men Stood Together by Chris Priestley is a retelling of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, from the point of view of the Mariner's unnamed nephew - sharing his delight at heading off to sea and then his growing horror as events unfold. I was absolutely gripped!

 and for the really young, Little Evie in the Wild Wood, a retelling of Red Riding Hood by Jackie Morris with atmospheric illustrations by Catherine Hyde, but one that shows that the wild places are not always full of danger.

Another classic, this time from Holland, first published 50 years ago but only now available in English, The Letter for the King is a tale of knights and honour, bravery and loyalty that will appeal to children of all ages.

and last but not least two books for teens, both with strong determined heroines intent on finding the truth among a web of lies spread by adults -

contemporary thriller Bloodtracks from Paula Rawsthorne

and sci-fi conspiracy theory, Linked, from Isabel Howson

1 comment:

  1. Great list! I can see Rags & Bones being on mine, too (still got to choose my top picks), it's an absolutely excellent book. Loved Magda too, and whilst I wasn't so keen on Life After Life I can see why so many people liked it. Merry Christmas!