Tag Archives: authors

Presenting the Waterstone’s 11 2013 (aka Your 2013 Must-Reads)

14 Jan


I love debut novels. There’s something extra special about them, like some kind of delicious spark of newness and excitement jumps off every page. I don’t care if the author’s been self-publishing for decades, THIS IS THEIR DEBUT! They could be The Next Big Thing! And you’re holding their shiny little book of joy and wonderment in your hands! Etc.

So I was mega psyched to see that Waterstones have finally released their 11 top debut novels for 2013. The Waterstones Eleven, the bookseller’s list of must-read debut novels, has become a massive ‘One’s to Watch’ list and a pretty trusty way of guessing the literary stars of tomorrow.  Last year’s picks included The Snow Child and The Land of Decoration, both of which were amazing. In fact, I’d recommend most of the Waterstones Eleven books I’ve read, including The Lifeboat and When God Was a Rabbit. The list is varied, the stories gripping, and – importantly – they’re also really enjoyable to read. 

This year the authors include ballet dancer Carlos Acosta, 27-year-old PHD student Hannah Kent (jel much?), award-winning journo Sathnam Sanghera, and national chess champ Gavin Extence, whose quirky coming of age tale ‘The Universe Versus Alex Woods’ is currently being read by yours truly (stay tuned for a review in the next few weeks). Having lived in Havana I’m also really excited about the Carlos Acosta novel Pig’s Foot, which sounds like it might be a transgenerational bit of magical realism (I’m hoping for a touch of Marquez about it.. although I’ll have to wait until October for the release). 

Here’s the full list of titles for your perusal. Click here for a little intro into each book… Which ones will be on your must-read list?

Pig’s Foot by Carlos Acosta (Bloomsbury, 30th October)

Idiopathy by Sam Byers (Fourth Estate, 25th April)

Y by Marjorie Celona (Faber and Faber, 17th January)

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence (Hodder & Stoughton, 31st January)

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Picador, 29th August)

The Fields by Kevin Maher (Little, Brown, 7th March)

The Son by Michel Rostain (Tinder Press, 23rd May)

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (Doubleday Ireland, 27th June)

Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera (William Heinemann, 26th September)

Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi (Viking, 4th April)

Ballistics by D.W. Wilson (Bloomsbury, 1st August)


By the way, for the sticklers out there, Waterstones got rid of the apostrophe – shudder… 


Howard Jacobson takes on Zadie Smith in Stylist magazine’s BOOK WARS

14 Oct

So I recently reviewed two books as part of Stylist magazine’s BOOK WARS feature. For the uninitiated, Book Wars pits two reviewers against each other as they argue why their chosen novel is that week’s must-read. In September, Howard Jacobson (he of Man Booker Prize winning-ness) and Zadie Smith (she of White Teeth and On Beauty) both released new novels. I was a newbie to both authors, which is probably a bit embarrassing, but I guess it also meant that I approached both books with very little preconceptions. That said, I was surprised by my reaction… Here’s my side of the review (and when I can get the Stylist website to work properly I’ll post a link to the full feature so you can read the other review)…

                       Zadie Smith NW

I have a confession to make – I’m a bit scared of literary fiction. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just into the fluffy stuff; my copy of Twilight sits along side Fitzgerald, Nicole Krauss and Jennifer Egan. But whilst I love books that make you think, I can’t stand it if a book makes you do too much work. Which is why Zadie Smith’s NW just didn’t do it for me. The urban tragicomedy is brilliantly executed, but I felt like I could have done with a SparkNotes guide to help me really understand it.

Zoo Time, on the other hand, hit the spot for me – because it’s just as sharp and intelligent as it is enjoyable to read. Which is ironic given that it’s protagonist – pretentious author and literature purist Guy Ableman – believes that good literature has nothing to do with readability. Suffering from dwindling book sales and writer’s block, he contemplates whether an affair with his long-lusted-after mother-in-law could provide the inspiration (and gratification) he’s looking for. But Ableman’s up against more than just a moral dilemma- he’s also trying to survive in a dying industry (quite literally – his publisher has just shot himself). Libraries are closing, bookshops have shut, agents and authors are locked in bloody brawls. In the words of Ableman: “fiction is f***ed”.

Is it a pessimistic look at the future of books, then? Partly. But the apocalyptic setting is an excellent backdrop for biting humour. In comparison, NW’s arguably weightier subject matter feels a lot more tragic, its comedic moments much more fleeting. I’ll admit that I was unsure whether I could warm to Zoo Time’s sex-crazed, self-obsessed protagonist with a bizarre interest in gorilla’s penises (not for the faint-hearted). But Ableman’s witty repartee keeps it surprisingly jolly, and Jacobson describes it as the most purely comic novel he’s ever written. I also loved Ableman’s wife Vanessa, a feisty, flame-haired temptress with putdowns as spiky as her six-inch stilettos.

In many ways, Zoo Time is an offbeat ode to literature and the art of writing, and bookworms will lap up the literary references. Ableman says he knows a writer’s in trouble when he resorts to writing about writing. But Zoo Time proves that Jacobson has nothing to worry about.

WIN A COPY OF ZOO TIME: Post a comment below and/ or tweet @frillseeking for your chance to win! 

The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon: a powerful little book by a playwright known for packing a punch

26 Mar

The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon, review, book review, fiction, author, literacy, Penguin, playwright, BritishLike most Londoners, I’ve encountered my fair share of weirdos on the Tube. Vomiting drunks, end-of-the-world preaching psychos, the man who took time out of his life to tell me I have a Really Big Head (he wasn’t that weird actually, mostly just honest). But the day I finished The Colour of Milk, a new release written by playwright and novelist Nell Leyshon, I BECAME the weirdo. Because as I was standing there squished against someone’s armpit in the rush hour chaos, I hurled towards the ending and was so shocked that my jaw dropped open and I was stuck with a guppy-fish like facial expression for an amount of time that would have made my fellow passengers worry for my sanity (and their safety).

Because The Colour of Milk is a book where you KNOW something bad is going to happen, but it doesn’t make it any less shocking when it happens. Set in 1831, it’s told through the voice of 15-year-old Mary, an illiterate farm worker with hair ‘the colour of milk’. Living on a farm her family, Mary avoids beatings from her father by working tirelessly from dawn to dusk. It’s a grim existence, punctuated by violence, but what Mary lacks in physical strength she makes up for with a strong will and a sharp tongue. When her father sends her to work for the local vicar’s invalid wife, she starts a journey that will lead to both her freedom and her downfall.

i don’t like to tell you this. there are things i do not want to say. 

but i told my self i would tell you everything that happened. i said i would say it all and for this i must do it.

Written by Mary after she learns how to write, the narrative has a sense of urgency that becomes extremely compelling – maybe it’s the fact that Leyshon bashed out a draft in just 3 weeks, or maybe there’s a little more at work here. Occasionally, the grammar felt a little bit too perfect (although I just tried to sneak through it again and find some examples and I’m a bit stumped to be honest), but overall it’s hugely believable and even more so when Nell herself was reading it out in her native Somerset accent at the recent Penguin Bloggers Event (see below pic). Add a strong sense of foreboding to repeated references to ‘the colour of milk’ to add rhythm and structure, and you get a particularly polished little book of 172 unputdownable pages.

I had the pleasure of meeting Nell Leyshon herself at the Penguin event. A truly lovely lady with an enviable CV (she was the first woman to be asked to write a play for Shakespeare’s Globe since 1599- no typo!), she describes The Colour of Milk as a love letter to literacy, and to literature. But not in a lame-arsed, highfaluting, inaccessible kind of way. Instead, this is a book that explores how reading and writing sets us free, in the most basic and literal sense. But what’s also interesting is that what gives Mary the chance of a better future will also have an irreversible effect on her life.

Nell Leyshon reads The Colour of Milk at Penguin Bloggers Nighthumans and animals, he said, are quite different.

ain’t that different to me, i said. there’s things they both do that’s the same.

Are we meant to think that ignorance is bliss? Does Mary trade in her ignorance for her innocence? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s the message. Instead, I think the implication is that without the ability to write, to communicate, Mary’s suffering will have been in vain. But with her words and her experiences transformed into the physicality of pen and ink, her story can be told. Finally, she has something important to say – and unlike when she tries to speak back to her father or her employer- her voice will be heard.

and so i shall finish this very last sentence and i will blot my words where the ink gathers in the pools at the end of each letter. 

and then i shall be free. 

Read it now – I think the Tube could always do with a few more weirdos…

Ones to watch: 2012’s hottest debuts

13 Mar

If it’s not already obvious from this blog, I LOVE debut novels. There’s something extra special about discovering a first-time writer that really appeals to me. Maybe it’s the fact they’ve finally ‘made it’, or the way debuts often go to town on the innovation front… either way, I really enjoy discovering new voices and if your debut captures my imagination then by golly I will go on about it til the End Of Time (be warned, you may have seen some of these books on my blog before!). One of the best things about my job as a freelance reviewer is that I get to hear about some of the most exciting books around before they make it to the shelves. So without further ado, here are 9 titles that have caught my eye already, as seen on the Stylist.co.uk website. Enjoy.


Justin Torres’ punch-packing debut wrestled its way into the US bestseller chart last year, earning him a string of accolades from critics and authors alike. Out in the UK now, the semi-autobiographical We The Animals tells the story of three brothers growing up in a poor family with a white mother and a Puerto Rican father. Told from the perspective of the youngest brother, it’s a coming of age tale played out against a backdrop of a turbulent marriage, poverty and violence. Dubbed a young Jeffrey Eugenides, Torres crafts a narrative voice that’s exciting and unique and his powerful, lyrical prose gives even the darkest of scenes a sheen of brilliance.


Tigers in Red Weather by Lisa KlaussmannHopes are high for the forthcoming Tigers in Red Weather, out in August. A dark, sparkling tale of a glamorous East Coast family plagued by secrets, it sweeps across ’40s, ’50s and ’60s America and is already being compared to classic novels like Tender is the Night and Revolutionary Road. Think passion and betrayal masquerading behind a backdrop of jazz, cocktails and hazy sunshine. The subject of a huge bidding war amongst publishers – and already generating interest from LA film studios – it’s proof that our love affair with everything retro is long to continue.


The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleenFirst-time author McCleen draws on her experience of growing up in a fundamental religion to create this unforgettable novel narrated by ten-year-old Judith. Bullied at school for her Father’s religious beliefs, Judith retreats to the Land of Decoration, a replica of The Promised Land made from discarded rubbish. But when God gives her the power to create miracles, the consequences threaten to bring tragedy. Chosen by The Sunday Times as one of 2012’s must-reads, it’s surprisingly dark in places and tackles big issues like faith and bereavement. The perfect read for fans of Room and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time.


Tea at the Grand Tazi by Alexandra SingerWriting a book is no mean feat for anyone, but Alexandra Singer’s debut is even more impressive given that four years ago she had completely forgotten starting it. The legal student was struck down with nerve condition cerebal lupus in the middle of writing Tea at the Grand Tazi, leaving her with long-term memory loss and unable to walk or write. After her brother found the manuscript in her flat, Singer set herself a daily writing target to complete the book. Finally released in March, her debut is an intensely colourful tale of a young ex-pat in Morocco who gets swept up in the seedy underworld of Marrakech.


Switched Amanda HockingShe is the 27-year-old self-published author who joined the Kindle Million Club last year, with her hugely popular collection of paranormal novels putting her in the same league as Stephenie Meyer and Stieg Larsson. This year, Amanda Hocking has teamed up with Macmillan (thanks to a whopping seven figure deal) to releaseSwitched, her first novel to be published in the traditional sense. The first of the Trylle trilogy, a paranormal romance as addictive asTwilight, all three books will be published before April. Is the hype deserved? There’s only one way to find out…


The Lifeboat Charlotte RoganDubbed ‘the most gripping debut of 2012’ by The Sunday Times, The Lifeboat is page-turning literary fiction at its best. Set in 1914, it introduces us to 22-year-old Grace Winter who is about to go on trial for her life. We know she survived a shipwreck and three weeks at sea on a lifeboat; we don’t know how. There follows a tale of survival told through an unreliable narrator who keeps you guessing throughout, making it fantastic fodder for book club debate. With fans including Emma Donoghue and Hilary Mantel, it’s the authors’ top choice for 2012.


Like a Virgin by Aarathi PrasadScience journalist Aarathi Prasad is a leading voice in the genetics field and is fast popping up all over the media – think of her as the female equivalent of Brian Cox making science accessible for the masses. Her first book, out in August, probes into the world of reproductive science to look at the evolution of a potentially sexless future. From the creation of artificial eggs to silicone wombs for men and egg-fertilizing computer chips, Prasad asks whether a future of virgin pregnancies could be just around the corner, and if so, where will that leave men? Entertaining and provocative, it promises to change the way you think about sex.


The Book of Summers by Emylia HallOne of only three authors to make this year’s Red List Hot 100, Hall’s debut novel is the story of Beth Lowe, a 30-year-old woman who is sent The Book of Summers, a scrapbook of holiday photos and mementos compiled by her long-estranged, and now deceased, mother. Over 7 summers spent in rural Hungary – with descriptions so vivid and beautiful that you will long to visit – Hall reveals the long-buried secret that changed everything the year Beth turned 16. Fantastically evocative and sun-drenched with a twist, it’s guaranteed a place on our summer holiday reading list.


The Snow Child by Eowyn IveyAlaskan author Ivey spends her time hunting moose and raising chickens, so it’s no surprise that her first novel is inspired by the stark landscapes of her hometown. Set in 1920s Alaska, it introduces us to Jack and Mabel, a grieving childless couple who build a child out of snow and awake the next morning to see a little girl running through the forest. What follows is an enchanting tale of love, spirit and survival. One of Waterstones’ top debuts of 2012 and already an international success, it is completely deserving of the hype. Devour it and pass it on to your friends.

So there you have it, 9 books to look out for. Any recommendations for the 10th spot? 

The Orange Prize longlist: my top 5 contenders

7 Mar

The book world is psyched right now as the literary award season is finally rolling into town. First up on the glittering list of accolades is the Orange Prize, the UK’s prestigious award for fiction written by female authors. With the longlist released tomorrow I thought I’d give you my two-penny worth, so here are my top 5 reads that I believe to be well deserving of a place on the longlist:


The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern, review, book review, author, Orange Prize

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Fin-de-siecle wizardry, inventive storytelling and one of the best love scenes you’ll ever read. Full (and extremely excitable) review here.




The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

McCleen spins her experience of childhood in a fundamental religion to create a quirky and surprisingly dark tale of ten-year-old Judith and her newfound miracle-making powers. My review for Stylist magazine is coming soon…



The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (out end of March)

I’m reading this right now and I am hooked. 22-year-old Grace is on trial for her life. We know she survived a shipwreck and 3 weeks at sea… but we don’t know how




The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Literary fiction at its absolute best. Ivey takes inspiration from a Russian fairytale to tell the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple in 1920s Alaska who make a little girl out of snow. Full review here.




22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

Hodgkinson’s post-war page-turner follows a Polish couple and their young son as they adjust to a new life in England. 8-year-old Aurek steals the show in this heartbreaking tale of wartime secrets and survival. Review here.



What would be your top 5? Let me know!

WANTED: Cool book podcasts…

6 Feb

Doing the washing up the other day (yawnnnn) I decided I fancied a bit of intellectual stimulation to accompany my cleaning, so I got on Google and tried to find a decent book podcast. I’m not really fussy in terms of content, an author interview, reviews, random lists.. I’m easily pleased. But what I don’t like is the fact that most book podcasts seem to be laced with tranquillisers. I love Mariella Frostrup, ain’t no one know a book like that lady, but can’t help but be put off by her BBC-tuned pronunciations and her voice, as soft and velvety as a Werthers Original munching grandma’s. Sorry Mariella.

I know there are cool book people out there (you subscribe to my blog, right?!), so I’m asking – what podcasts do you rate? Any recommendations?

My personal fave, one that stands out head and shoulders above the rest, is the Bookslam podcast. Bookslam is London’s coolest literary night, a big soiree of books, poets, actors and live music, put together with plenty of gin and not a whiff of pretentiousness about it. I am also kind of obsessed with it ever since I went to a session last year and met David Nicholls… aherm…

Ahhh yes.

Coming back to the real world, Bookslam is ace, and the podcast equally so. Go and listen to it now.

NO wait – first, tell me your fave book podcast.. please.. I have so much washing up to do it’s UNREAL.