Crime Fiction Giveaway

Just a quick post for this giveaway as the full review will appear in Shiny on 8th October when our autumn edition goes live. But the lovely people at Constable offered me a free copy for any of my readers, anywhere, and a comment will put you in the draw.

murder on seaEarlier this year I read the first in the Whitstable Pearl series by Julie Wassmer and enjoyed it. Wassmer used to write scripts for Eastenders, so she was always going to be a safe pair of hands. This second novel was, unsurprisingly, better than the first as is so often the case with crime fiction series, as the characters become more clearly defined and grow from book to book.

I started reading this one morning last week, and although I had all sorts of things I ought to have been doing, I finished it later that same day. It’s cosy crime set in the seaside community of Whitstable and our sleuth is restauranteur and private eye, Pearl Nolan. A spate of poison pen messages in Christmas cards causes much upset among Pearl’s friends and acquaintances, and is swiftly followed by a suspicious death at the church hall fundraiser. Pearl’s love interest, DCI Mike McGuire happens to be at the fundraiser thanks to Pearl and so he, too, finds himself excluded from the police investigation. Together, they set out to find the culprit.

This is just a really good, engaging story, lots of suspects and colourful characters, strong plotting, satisfying ending. Cosy crime isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s my comfort reading go-to. If it’s yours, put yourself in the draw, which I’ll close next Friday, 2nd October.


A Festive Update

holly SNBOur latest ‘inbetweenie’, the update we put out between issues of Shiny New Books is now live and lovely! Publishers brought out so many fantastic books in the early autumn that we’ve got over 30 new reviews, as well as a Christmas quiz and an amazing 7-book prize from Buried River Press in a lucky draw competition (though UK and Eire entrants only).

Time to find out what you want for Christmas, and what you can get all your friends and relatives, too.

Lost for Words

lost for wordsA novel about warring judges on the panel of a prestigious book prize that is essentially a poorly-masked Booker? This sounded like a delightful hoot to me when I heard about it, and I fell on Lost for Words with enthusiasm. I hadn’t read any of Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose novels but he was an author I was curious about and I figured that at the very least there’d be plenty of good writing. Well this was a masterclass in how good writing alone cannot save a doomed story, and for me it raised the question yet again as to why anyone would want to write a satire. It is the most adolescent of literary genres and I do not mean that in a good way. The book world is a complex place, rich in emotion and significance; when will anyone write a book that does justice to its reality?

Anyway, in Lost for Words, we find power-hungry MP Malcolm Craig appointed head of the judging panel for the Elysian literary prize. Elysian being a somewhat dodgy agri-chemical business whose notable creation, the ‘Giraffe carrot’ ‘had been a great help to the busy housewife, freeing her to peel a single carrot for Sunday lunch instead of a whole bunch or bag.’ He is joined by crusading journalist, Jo Cross, interested only in the ‘relevance’ of the books she reads, a good-looking young actor, Tobias Benedict, who never seems able to turn up for the meetings, an academic, Vanessa Shaw, who irritates the others with her hunt for good writing, and an ex-Foreign Office writer, Penny Feathers, who tries to be diligent but finds the judging process interferes with writing her latest thriller, Roger and Out.

I don’t need to say any more about these characters. They are exactly as you might expect them to be. In the full glory of their two dimensions.

Added into this mix are some of the writers whose books are competing for the prize. There’s a nymphomaniac but brilliant writer, Katherine Burns, whose admirable novel fails to make the longlist because of a mix-up at the publishers. Instead they send the recipe book of an elderly aristocratic Indian woman, aunt to a princeling determined that his magum opus, the enormous and unreadable The Mulberry Elephant, will be a huge hit. Alas and of course, his aunt’s cook book is hailed as a triumph of postmodernity and shoots onto the shortlist, provoking him to turn the family retainer into a hired assassin.

There are other people but I can’t be bothered to tell you about them. You can probably imagine.

Stuff happens. You can probably guess what.

Various pot shots are taken. For instance, genre writer Penny Feathers gets it in the neck because of her use of ‘some highly addictive software called Ghost’, a programme that can provide a cliché for any situation.

When you typed in a word, ‘refugee’ for instance, several useful suggestions popped up: ‘clutching a pathetic bundle’, or ‘eyes big with hunger’; for ‘assassin’ you got ‘ice water running through his veins’, and ‘his eyes were cold narrow slits’…. She could scroll and click, scroll and click all day, with the word count going up in leaps and bounds.

And of course the judging process itself is fair game.

He could hear Vanessa’s exasperation as she gradually realised that the majority of her so-called ‘literary’ novels were not going to make it onto the Short List. She kept trying to argue that the other novels lacked the qualities that characterized a work of literature: ‘depth, beauty, structural integrity, and an ability to revive our tired imaginations with the precision of its language’. The poor woman didn’t seem to realize that what counted in the adult world was working out compromises between actual members of a committee that reflected the forces at work in the wider society…

St Aubyn is capable of making clever and incisive remarks. He writes really well. Why lower himself, then, to some of the most tired and lazy cliches when it comes to character, situation and plot? Well, my own issue with this is basically about satire. Satire is fuelled by unresolved emotions – anger, spite and contempt for the most part – and in the rush to make a cheap laugh, it rarely pauses long enough to contemplate the objects of its derision. Satire is pretty much permanently doomed to using stereotypes as its foundation. St Aubyn does try to bring in some much needed compassion – Vanessa is deeply worried about her anorexic daughter and Katherine’s love life eventually calms down – but this just makes the book feel choppy and unstable. What I would love to see is a novel about the book industry that tries to be serious and real, and maybe it would be satirical inadvertently, but then again it might not. At least the result would be unpredictable.

Unfortunately, back in 2006, Edward St Aubyn’s novel Mother’s Milk, was shortlisted for the Booker and surprisingly failed to win it. At the time he is reported as saying he was relieved about this. And then in 2011 when his novel At Last wasn’t longlisted, he was quoted in interview as saying: “I’m not going to spend a lot of time thinking about a prize I can’t win. The Booker 2011 is of no more interest to me than the world heavyweight championship which I’m not going to win either. It is irrelevant. What I have to do is start writing a new novel.” You have to wonder whether it’s wise for someone with that kind of history to write this kind of novel.


Finally, I Can Tell You

There have been good and bad reasons why I’ve been so quiet in the blogworld lately, and finally I can tell you about the good reason.SNB-logo-small-e1393871908245I’ve been involved in getting a new online review magazine off the ground, and on Monday 7th April, Shiny New Books will be going live, ready to tell you what to read next and why.

When we first began thinking about the magazine, we thought there was an absence of a) places that brought lots of book bloggers together and b) nowhere that you could read up on all the latest releases that you see all the time in book shops and libraries, without knowing if they are any good or not.

So we decided to publish a quarterly magazine (covering new books out from January to the start of April in the first edition) and have picked only those to review that we loved, enjoyed and were entertained by. We’re based on UK publication dates, but the book world is so globalised these days that they aren’t so very different to anywhere else.

The first edition carries over 70 reviews, features, interviews, and behind-the-scenes glimpses of writing and publishing. We’re covering as wide a range of books as we can, and as wide a range of publishers too. There’s also going to be some pretty fantastic competitions (I want the prize myself for the first one). The only thing we’re not doing is supporting amazon.

The editors behind Shiny New Books are all bloggers you will probably know – Annabel, Simon, Harriet and me. But we couldn’t have done it without the fabulous bloggers who also contributed reviews – a huge thanks to them. We’ll be looking for more bloggers to write for us, because we also want to make the magazine a showcase of the best book writing on the blogosphere.

So, do sign up for our newsletter, which will alert you to each edition when it appears. We’ll have a mini-issue in May with additional reviews, and the email newsletter will be monthly-ish with competitions and discussion threads and all sorts of booky goodness. To sign up, do visit Shiny New Books, or like our facebook page, or twitter feed.

It’s been a really rocky few months chez Litlove, and I have been pretty thankful at times to have such fine distraction as looking at the nth version of a logo, deciding how to organize menu bars and figuring out possible channels for publicity. I’m here to tell you that nothing focuses the mind like a pile of seven books that need to be read and reviewed to a deadline. I must say a big thank you to the other editors, too, who have been a joy to work with, and not nagged me once for being a bit scatterbrained at times There was one big boo-boo that I made, but I’ll tell you about that next Monday when we launch.