I get sent lots of books to review. I cannot possibly read them all but I can give make the effort to give them all a quick flick. Here are my first impressions of books that have been pushed through my letterbox recently. Make of them what you will.
Emily Mayhew - Wounded
An interesting take on WWI history, following the stories of wounded soldiers from the front as they make their way back home to Blighty. Mayhew deliberately adopts more of a novelist's style which helps to bring this rather niche subject to life. One to investigate if you have had your fill of more 'straight' Great War histories.
Max Leonard - Lanterne Rouge
Some poor fucker has to wind up last in the Tour de France every year and Leonard, a cycling enthusiast and journalist, decided to track down the stories behind many of these losers. It isn't a pisstake, he genuinely reveres anyone who manages to finish the race and finds these stragglers fascinating. This is bound to be popular with the lycra brigade. I don't really 'get' cycling but even I found this interesting.
Laura Lippman - After I'm Gone
Odd choice of cover for what is effectively a crime novel, and a pretty good one at that. A convicted businessmen does a bunk just before he is due to start his sentence, and then his mistress is found murdered. Decades later, a retired detective resurrects the case. I am not sure how this will find the right sort of audience as it looks like a glossy supermarket novel but if anyone does pick it up I reckon they'll enjoy it.
Sara Wheeler - O My America!
I like history books and biographies that look outside of the usual material for their subjects and Wheeler has definitely done that here, examining the lives of 19th century Englishwoman who upped sticks and moved to America. It makes for a fascinating mix of characters and, as the author says in a note at the beginning of the book, 'a superfluity of Fannies'.
Sue Guiney - Out of the Ruins
Guiney is an American who lives in London but spends a lot of time in Cambodia where she has founded a writing workshop for street children (you can read more about that here). Her novel is clearly influenced by her experiences, set as it is within a group of charity workers in Cambodia. Anyone with an interest in that country, its culture and its problems will fine lots to engross them within the pages of this novel.
Chris Pavone - The Accident
An entertaining thriller centred around an anonymous manuscript that appears to contain all manner of alarming revelations, revelations the CIA would rather didn't get out. I am not aware of any other Literary Agent vs Secret Agent novels and I suspect this will prove popular with those in the book trade, which can often lead to a word-of-mouth success.
Charlotte Higgins - Under Another Sky
A travel book with a difference: all the locations are Roman ruins. As an extremely amateur classicist I love stuff like this.
Paul Auster & J.M. Coetzee - Here and Now: Letters 2008-2011
A rare chance to nose around the private correspondence of two literary giants, and it is as engaging as you'd expect. I couldn't help wondering if they had always intended them to be published and, if that is the case, you have to assume there is a lot of self-censorship going on but that doesn't reduce their readability and this is an ideal book to keep by the bed and dip into from time to time.
A.L. Kennedy - On Writing
Most of this book is made up of a blog posts Kennedy wrote a couple of years ago tackling subjects she thought my be helpful to other writers, and they do make for a thought-provoking take on the creative process. Also included are a few short essays. As someone who makes a living from publishing books based on blogs (not exclusively, but some of our bestsellers came via that route) I do think this is a good idea and I am sure it will prove to be useful to many people currently hunched over a blank sheet of paper.
Sheila Heti - How Should a Person Be?
I almost published this. Not really. That's a lie. I did get sent a very early copy before it had found a home in the UK and while I knew it would get some great reviews, and she was clearly an author who would garner a lot of attention from the literary pages, I decided not to because the writing simply didn't amaze me. It is OK, and fine, and perfectly decent but it lacked the wow factor for me, even if it has wowed lots of people who write about books for a living. Nonetheless, I am pleased it has found a UK publisher.