Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Looking Forward To - Books

There are quite a few books I'm looking forward to in 2009.


5th : The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is released in paperback. I've heard great things about this book and it's been difficult to resist the hype. The hardback edition was released in October, it seems to me that books come out in paperback about a year after but I guess we're lucky ! A few places included it in their lists of best fiction of 2008.

Katniss Everdeen is a survivor. She has to be; she's representing her District, number 12, in the 74th Hunger Games in the Capitol, the heart of Panem, a new land that rose from the ruins of a post-apocalyptic North America. To punish citizens for an early rebellion, the rulers require each district to provide one girl and one boy, 24 in all, to fight like gladiators in a futuristic arena. The event is broadcast like reality TV, and the winner returns with wealth for his or her district. With clear inspiration from Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery" and the Greek tale of Theseus, Collins has created a brilliantly imagined dystopia, where the Capitol is rich and the rest of the country is kept in abject poverty, where the poor battle to the death for the amusement of the rich. Impressive world-building, breathtaking action and clear philosophical concerns make this volume, the beginning of a planned trilogy, as good as The Giver and more exciting.

22nd : Graceling by Kristin Cashore is released in paperback. Again, I've ever excellent things about it on YA forums (if you're looking for a good YA forum, I strongly recommend the one on LibraryThing). I heard it was a book Tamora Pierce fans would really like. I've never read Tamora Pierce but I WILL in 2009 so I want to read this one too. Isn't the cover sexy ?

In a world where people born with an exceptional skill, known as a Grace, are feared and exploited, Katsa carries the burden of a skill even she despises: the Grace of killing. She lives under the command of her Uncle Randa, King of the Middluns, and is expected to carry out his dirty work, punnishing and torturing anyone who displeases him. Breaking arms and cutting off fingers are her stock-in-trade. Finding life under his rule increasingly unbearable Katsa forms an underground Council, whose purpose is to combat the destructive behavior of the seven kings - after all, the Middluns is only one of the seven kingdoms, and each of them is ruled its own king with his own personal agenda for power. When the Council hears that the King of Liend's father has been kidnapped Katsa investigates . . . and stumbles across a mystery. Who would want to kidnap him, and why? And who was the extraordinary Graced fighter who challenged her fighting skills, for the first time, as she and the Council rushed the old man to safety? Something dark and deadly is rising in the north and creeping across the continent, and behind it all lurks the shadowy figure of a one eyed king . . .


5th : The Bolter by Frances Osborne is released in paperback. It's a biography of the woman who inspired Nancy Mitford when she wrote The Pursuit of Love. The subtitle is The Bolter: Idina Sackville - The Woman Who Scandalised 1920s Society and Became White Mischief's Infamous Seductress. I'm very interested in the 20s and this sounds like a biography I'd like. Great reviews on Amazon from different newspapers and magazines, but I like this customer's review in particular :

I cannot help thinking that Idina "The Bolter" was not very interesting as a person. Her actions often seem so mindless, ill-thought through or simply horrible - like leaving her two young children behind to run off with some chap. Also, she doesn't really come through as a proper person, the occasional soundbites ("Simply heaven, darling") are hardly the sort of stuff to make her real and complex. But despite all that, I still enjoyed the book very much. It provides a unique insight into an era where people were totally and utterly different from today. Their daring, their irresponsibility, their disregard for their own well-being often leaves one gasping. I think Frances Osborne managed to paint a vivid picture of an era, even though the main character, Idina, remains opaque. And maybe that's not such a bad thing.

28th : I've realised just how carefully Neil Gaiman planned his releases of The Graveyard Book : the hardcover edition was released on Oct. 31 and the paperback on February 28th. Playing with superstition, well done, Neil ! This is perhaps the book I want the most. It's got amazing reviews and I've been wanting to read Neil Gaiman for so long !

Bod is an unusual boy who inhabits an unusual place-he's the only living resident of a graveyard. Raised from infancy by the ghosts, werewolves, and other cemetery denizens, Bod has learned the antiquated customs of his guardians' time as well as their timely ghostly teachings-like the ability to Fade. Can a boy raised by ghosts face the wonders and terrors of the worlds of both the living and the dead? And then there are things like ghouls that aren't really one thing or the other. This chilling tale is Neil Gaiman's first full-length novel for middle-grade readers since the internationally bestselling and universally acclaimed Coraline. Like Coraline, this book is sure to enchant and surprise young readers as well as Neil Gaiman's legion of adult fans.


Sometime in March : The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie is released in paperback with an attractive cover (because it was released before but I don't like the cover). Won the National Book Award, recommended by everyone. Plus, I've been wanting to read him for the longest time.

Arnold Spirit, a goofy-looking dork with a decent jumpshot, spends his time lamenting life on the "poor-ass" Spokane Indian reservation, drawing cartoons (which accompany, and often provide more insight than, the narrative), and, along with his aptly named pal Rowdy, laughing those laughs over anything and nothing that affix best friends so intricately together. When a teacher pleads with Arnold to want more, to escape the hopelessness of the rez, Arnold switches to a rich white school and immediately becomes as much an outcast in his own community as he is a curiosity in his new one. He weathers the typical teenage indignations and triumphs like a champ but soon faces far more trying ordeals as his home life begins to crumble and decay amidst the suffocating mire of alcoholism on the reservation. Alexie's humor and prose are easygoing and well suited to his young audience, and he doesn't pull many punches as he levels his eye at stereotypes both warranted and inapt. A few of the plotlines fade to gray by the end, but this ultimately affirms the incredible power of best friends to hurt and heal in equal measure.

19th : Other People's Daughters by Ruth Brandon is released in paperback. I've been wanting to get this book ever since it was released in hardback. It really sounds like something I would enjoy as I've always been interested in women's history.

If a nineteenth century lady had neither a husband to support her nor money of her own, almost her only recourse was to live in someone else's household and educate their children - in particular, their daughters. Marooned within the confines of other people's lives, neither servants nor family members, governesses occupied an uncomfortable social limbo. And being poor and insignificant, their papers were mostly lost. But a few journals and letters have come down to us, giving a vivid record of what it was to be a lone professional woman at a time when such a creature officially did not exist.

24th : City of Glass by Cassandra Clare is released. I will NOT buy this one as I've already said on this blog that I was very disappointed with the series and thought it was full of clichés. However, I'll be looking for a summary of the plot (including the ending) on the Internet to see what happens in the book, nonetheless. Tamora Pierce wrote the blurb. Oh dear. DO NOT GIVE IN, SIBYLLE ! Have you seen the cover ? My favourite is still the one for Ashes, though, but I admit the model for Bones is really handsome (at least his chest is).


2nd : Both The Gentle Art of Domesticity and Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer by Jane Brocket are released in paperback. I'm still not sure about these two as they sound more like books I'd like to look at rather than read, if you know what I mean. The first one is basically a book of pretty pictures when the second one is a cookery book. I don't think I'll have much use of either one but we'll see. Also, quite appropriately, The Wonderful Weekend Book : Reclaim Life's Simple Pleasures by Elspeth Thompson is also released in paperback the same day. Sounds sweet although much of what is described I seem to already know : "From watching the sunset and the stars, making marmalade and writing proper letters to borrowing a dog, going to dance classes and using the internet creatively, she reminds us of the fun and satisfaction to be had from creative, social and relaxing pursuits." I must admit the covers are really really gorgeous. Must.not.buy.a.book.because.of.the.cover.Okay. I'm not sure at all about these three. Well, moving on.

2nd : Same date but I had to make a special entry for (at least for me) one of the most anticipated books of 2009. Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons is being reprinted by Virago. Wooooohooooo ! I absolutely love Cold Comfort Farm and I've been waiting for more of her books for ages. It doesn't have a cover yet so I can't tempt you with that but doesn't the summary make it sound just as crazy as Farm ?

Life is not quite a fairytale for poor Viola. Left penniless, the young widow is forced to live with her late husband's family in a joyless old house. There's Mr Wither, a tyrannical old miser, Mrs Wither, who thinks Viola is just a common shop girl, and two unlovely sisters-in-law, one of whom is in love with the chauffeur. Only the prospect of the charity ball can raise Viola's spirits ? especially as Victor Spring, the local prince charming, will be there. But Victor's intentions towards our Cinderella are, in short, not quite honourable ...

7th : Two books by Elaine Showalter are released that day. One of them is a reprint, it's a new edition of her groundbreaking A Literature of Their Own : British Women Novelists from Bronte to Lessing. The second one is a new book, the American counterpart of Own, A Jury of her Peers : American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx.

19th : The World that was Ours by Hilda Bernstein is released as a Persephone Classic and therefore in a cheaper edition. I sort of collect Persephone books. It sounds most interesting :

This has survived as a South African classic not just because it's beautifully written,' wrote Anthony Sampson in the Spectator, 'but because it conveys the combination of ordinariness and danger which is implicit in any totalitarian state.' The World that was Ours is about the events leading up to the 1964 Rivonia Trial when Hilda Bernstein's husband was acquitted but Mandela and the 'men of Rivonia' received life sentences. 'This passionately political memoir,' observed The Times, 'is vibrant with the dilemmas of everyday family life, quick-witted dialogue, fast-paced adventure and novelistic detail.' Yet the political background is not dwelt on: it is simply taken for granted that civilised South Africans fought apartheid and the uncivilised propped it up. The main strength of the book is as an outstanding personal memoir; in this respect it bears comparison with autobiographies by Nadezhda Mandelstam and Christabel Bielenberg. 'It reads like a thriller page after page... The loveliest of Hilda Bernstein's works about the ugliest of her times' said Albie Sachs in the Independent.


1st : The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is released in paperback. It looks like I'm the only one left who hasn't read the book ! It sounds really charming and I've only read good reviews. Reminds me that I need to read 84 Charing Cross Road...

The letters comprising this small charming novel begin in 1946, when single, 30-something author Juliet Ashton (nom de plume Izzy Bickerstaff) writes to her publisher to say she is tired of covering the sunny side of war and its aftermath. When Guernsey farmer Dawsey Adams finds Juliet's name in a used book and invites articulate—and not-so-articulate—neighbors to write Juliet with their stories, the book's epistolary circle widens, putting Juliet back in the path of war stories. The occasionally contrived letters jump from incident to incident—including the formation of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society while Guernsey was under German occupation—and person to person in a manner that feels disjointed. But Juliet's quips are so clever, the Guernsey inhabitants so enchanting and the small acts of heroism so vivid and moving that one forgives the authors (Shaffer died earlier this year) for not being able to settle on a single person or plot. Juliet finds in the letters not just inspiration for her next work, but also for her life—as will readers.

1st : The Great Western Beach by Emma Smith is released in paperback. I read The Far Cry by this author earlier this year, which wasn't spectacular but good enough. Although it's definitely not a priority, I still want to read this book because of the good reviews :

'I've rarely come across a more gripping childhood memoir' Diana Athill 'Such a delicate mixture of understanding and condemnation, and a lot of it funny it's the sort of memoir that will be an antidote to the current misery ones - that rare thing, a "nice" book.' Margaret Forster 'How honest she is, and what a loving memoir this is of an ominous decade.' Jane Gardam 'I identified very closely with her memories, being about the same age, and having spent my childhood in very much the same circumstances. I was filled with admiration for her honesty and her total recall. I am sure the book will do very well for you.' Rosamunde Pilcher

1st : The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Brontë by Syrie James is released. I still have to read The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by this author (which I won in a contest, ironically, but apparently it got lost in the mail as I've never received it) before deciding if I want to buy that one. I've never been a fan of Charlotte so we'll see. This one's a maybe as well.

4th : Much more interesting (to me) is the release in June of A Mercy by Toni Morrison, in paperback. I've been a fan of this author for five years and a new book by her never fails to amaze me. She has a gift for questioning what's right and wrong and her characters are extremely layered. Love her.

Abandonment, betrayal and loss are the somber themes of this latest exploration of America's morally compromised history from Morrison (Love, 2003, etc.).All the characters she sets down in the colonial landscape circa 1690 are bereft, none more evidently so than Florens, 16-year-old slave of Jacob Vaark and his wife Rebekka. Eight years earlier, Anglo-Dutch farmer and trader Jacob reluctantly took Florens in settlement of a debt from a Maryland landowner. Her own mother offered her - so as not to be traded with Florens' infant brother, the girl thinks. (The searing final monologue reveals it was not so simple.) Florens joined a household of misfits somewhere in the North. Jacob was a poor orphan who came to America to make a new start; Rebekka's parents essentially sold her to him to spare themselves her upkeep. The couple has shared love, but also sadness; all four of their offspring died in childhood. They take in others similarly devastated. Lina, raped by a "Europe," has been cast out by her Native American tribe. Mixed-race Sorrow survived a shipwreck only to be made pregnant by her rescuer, who handed her over to Jacob. Willard and Scully are indentured servants, farmed out to labor for Jacob by their contract holders, who keep fraudulently extending their time. Only the free African blacksmith who helps Jacob construct his fancy new house - and who catches Florens' love-starved eye - seems whole and self-sufficient, though he eventually falls prey to Florens' raging fear of abandonment. Morrison's point, made in a variety of often-melodramatic plot developments, is that America was founded on the involuntary servitude of blacks and whites, that the colonies are rife with people who belong nowhere else and anxiously strive to find something to hold onto in the New World. Gorgeous language and powerful understanding of the darkest regions in the human heart compensate for the slightly schematic nature of the characters and the plot.Better seen as a lengthy prose poem than a novel, this allusive, elusive little gem adds its own shadowy luster to the Nobel laureate's shimmering body of work.

4th : The same day is released another book by a favourite author I've already talked about here, Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger. It doesn't have a cover yet, but the summary is excellent and let's face it, I'd buy any cookery book if she was the one writing it.

After her award-winning trilogy of Victorian novels, Sarah Waters turned to the 1940s and wrote THE NIGHT WATCH, a tender and tragic novel set against the backdrop of wartime Britain. Shortlisted for both the Orange and the Man Booker, it went straight to number one in the bestseller chart. In a dusty post-war summer in rural Warwickshire, a doctor is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall. Home to the Ayres family for over two centuries, the Georgian house, once grand and handsome, is now in decline, its masonry crumbling, its gardens choked with weeds, the clock in its stable yard permanently fixed at twenty to nine. But are the Ayreses haunted by something more sinister than a dying way of life? Little does Dr Faraday know how closely, and how terrifyingly, their story is about to become entwined with his. Prepare yourself. From this wonderful writer who continues to astonish us, now comes a chilling ghost story.


25th : The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart is released in paperback. I started with YA and I'm closing this list with YA. Great review by the New York Times (no, I don't choose my YA books totally randomly based on a few teens' recommendations) :

It would be a mistake to underestimate this novel — or its protagonist…[Frankie] will challenge girls’ images of themselves, who they are in relation to boys and why…The novel holds out the hope that a girl like Frankie — who has above all an unwillingness to settle —could grow up to change the world. “The Disreputable History” not only delivers the line, but somehow makes you believe it is true. –The New York Times

Sometime next year (I don't have dates yet) will be released For the King, Catherine Delors' new novel. Her Mistress of the Revolution was among my favourite reads of 2008 : strong heroine, great prose and plot and made me fall in love with a historical novel for the first time. Also, I think Paper Towns by John Green will be released in paperback next year. I have so much to buy that I don't feel like reading the expensive hardback edition of the book just yet but the hype is hard to resist. Luckily I have An Abundance of Katherines by the same author if I can't wait anymore. I hope that Jill Roe's biography of Miles Franklin will be released in paperback in 2009 as well. Her Brilliant Career is one of the best books I've ever read. Also hoping for Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman to be released in a less expensive edition so that I can buy it as soon as I'm done with reading as much Gaiman as I can find. Besides, What I Saw and How I Lied has been recommended to me many times and I'm just waiting for a bank account-friendly edition. It's a YA novel that won the National Book Award. Finally, on January 22nd will be released a new edition of Humprey Carpenter's (perhaps better known for his Tolkien biography) Brideshead Generation (subtitled "Evelyn Waugh and his friends", whoever they are). Waugh interests me although I couldn't understand Brideshead Revisited when I read it. Perhaps the biography will make me want to go back to it and to his other books.

Can't wait for 2009 !