PONTI

You know when a book falls into your life and just blows your mind?

Well that’s Ponti.

Set in 2003, Singapore, Ponti is the story of sixteen-year-old Szu. Living in the shadow of her mother Amisa a beautiful but has-been actress, Szu finds herself in her first real friendship with Circe. Seventeen years later, Circe is navigating a work project when she is suddenly confronted with the guilty memories of her friendship with Szu.

Ponti was one of those books that I keep spotting on twitter. Some of my favourite bookish people were talking about this brand new voice in literature. Using my mystical book lover powers, I managed to somehow summon a copy to my desk.

I could not put Ponti down. Sharlene Teo has a way with words which is up there with the greats. I felt like I was reading a prizewinner, the descriptions of sweltering Singapore left me heady and drained. Teo weaves three generations together through her amazing portrayals of young womanhood.

Ponti was everything I wanted in a novel: beautifully written, compelling and perfectly witty.

2018 is all about Ponti.

Ponti by Sharlene Teo will be published by Picador 19th April 2018

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Urgh… 2017

So 2017 has been properly awful but PUBLISHING HAS BEEN AMAZING!!!!!!

Compared to last year this 2017 has seen a crazy amount of outstanding debuts and brilliant new work from much loved authors. On twitter I post my top five for this year but it got me thinking about the other books that I couldn’t stop thinking about from the year.

First off I can’t end the year without mentioning The United States of Absurdity by Dave Anthony and Gareth Reynolds (from The Dollop, one of my favourite podcasts). This book is ridiculous, gross, funny and the illustrations by James Fosdike are so, so, so, awesome. You don’t have to be a listener to The Dollop podcast to get massive enjoyment from this look at the weirdest parts of American history.

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman is unavoidable at the moment. Voted Waterstones book of the year and loved by so many, I couldn’t wait to get read The Book of Dust. You know what? It was so much more than I wanted or expected. Pullman has a way with words that rivals the best storytellers and every sentence broke my heart and fixed it back together. I spent the last few pages of The Book of Dust in denial about the fact that this book would end and I would have to wait to read volume two. Haven’t read His Dark Materials? The get yourself a set of these books immediately. IMMEDIATELY.

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen King and Owen King, I keep thinking about this book. I want to re-read it, I feel like I rushed this book and hastily compared it to The Stand. I enjoyed it, but I don’t think I took it in fully. 2018 will be the year of the Sleeping Beauties re-read (when it’s in paperback and easier to carry).

Annhilation by Jeff Vandermeer. Just read it.

Strange Magic by Syd Moore. This book is so much fun! Sharp, sassy writing and a main-character that you just want to neck a bottle of wine with. I haven’t had a chance to read Strange Sight yet but I can’t wait to find out what happens to Rosie Strange. It’s one of those books that I have had so many genuinely lovely conversations about and I’m excited to see where this story goes.

Do you have a child? Then you need to buy Mopoke by Philip Bunting. Don’t have a child? Then you need to buy Mopoke by Philip Bunting. It was upon my 487th read of Mopoke that I really felt the frustration of the poor little Boobook owl, he just wanted to chill on his branch BUT no he has to put up with a whole lot of nonsense. Mopoke is totally genius and look forward to the next 487 reads.

Finally, Ms Ice Sandwich by Meiko Kawakami. It’s a strange little novella about a young boy who is smitten with a woman working behind a deli counter he called ‘Ms Ice Sandwich’. This story is pure, sweet and off-the-wall. If you’re a fan of Japanese fiction then appreciate the translation of this novel, Louise Heal Kawai has done an outstanding job with this beautiful piece of fiction.

So that’s it. Everything I’ve read recently is due to be published next year and so far 2018 is looking impressive.

Territory of Light

Most people have their in with Japanese fiction with Murakami or some manga, for me it was the novel In The Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami. When I finished reading Ryu Muakami about 10 years ago I started making a list of Japanese authors I wanted to read. At the moment there’s roughly 30 authors I’m eager to get through and right at the top of this list has been Yuko Tsushima. She’s a heavyweight when it comes to prize winning Japanese authors with both the Akutagawa, Yomiuri and Tanizaki prizes under her belt.

When I got a message saying my friend had received a proof of Territory of Light which is due to be published by Penguin Classics in April 2018 I was thrilled. I watched the post day after day waiting for this novella.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when starting Territory of Light, it’s such a short book.

A young woman who has recently separated from her husband moves into a new apartment, in Tokyo with her two-year-old daughter. The story is sheathed in light, whether its the warm, comforting light streaming through the apartment windows or the threatening glow from a mysterious distant explosion.

Starting this book was incredible, every few pages I found myself taking a deep breath and really had to process what I had just read. As I was reading about this character adjusting to living alone with her young daughter, I was sitting on my stairs, half doing everything I could to stop myself from crying my eyes out at this book, half listening for my daughter to stir in the night. The main character’s depiction of motherhood is honest and overwhelming. Passages about the child testing the mother’s endurance were hard hitting and weaved beautifully with descriptions of the mottled light shining through cherry blossoms or the glimmering reflections from flood water.

Considering Territory of Light was written in the 70s I found it relevant and the writing didn’t feel dated at all. Tsushima’s way with words will get the even the sturdiest of hearts, I was an emotional wreck by the time I finished the novella.

Yuko Tsushima is possibly my new favourite author.

The Silent Companions

The Silent Companions popped up on the proof list for a second time, it had caught my eye the first time but I had just read The Wicked Cometh and didn’t fancy another book set in the 1800s. When it popped up again I knew I had to request a copy, @smokintofu from What Page Podcast had raved about this book and two other booky people had recommended The Silent Companions so I was ready to dive in.

Set in 1865, the recent bride and widow Elsie Bainbridge goes to see out her pregnancy in peace at their country estate, The Bridge. The Bridge is resented by locals and up in the locked garrett Elsie come across the two-hundred year-old hand painted wooden statues – the companions.

The Silent Companions is really REALLY good. It’s eerie from the off, the start of the novel reminded me a little of See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt. Elsie is a wilful character, she’s quite no-nonsense but as the book progresses you see more tragic side to Elsie. The starts going in a bit of a Woman In Black direction quite early on and there’s one part of the book that went a little Final Destination and gave me actual chills.

Purcell’s writing has great pace, she keeps the tensions going with every page. There’s sections of the novel that take place in the 1600s and Purcell keeps the pages turning and  weaves her timelines together perfectly.  The line “Perhaps you don’t belong in an at all.” plays in the back of your mind while your reading Elsie’s story and I found myself trying to constantly guess the outcome of the novel. You’re given hints at the start as to where the story will end but there’s more than a few unexpected dark twists.

I was reading this book on a dark, windy night and credit to Purcell her story was so good it made me question every creak in my house. The Silent Companions took me all of two days to read and it was one of the most enjoyably, twisty books I’ve read in a long time. It’s a gothic delight which will leave you shivering.

Definitely one for the long winter nights.

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell published by Bloomsbury 

>I Still Dream

I’ve been bedridden with a gross chest infection. It’s been the worst, but also the best because I’ve actually had time to read. I’d just finished The Wicked Cometh on Tuesday evening and was raring to start another book.

Weeks ago I requested a copy of the new James Smythe novel I Still Dream which is due out in April 2018. It was a real judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover moment when I first saw the proof, there was a little sticker on the front saying “Cloud Atlas meets Black Mirror” so I was completely on board.

I Still Dream is the first novel I’ve read by James Smythe, I’m not sure why I’d left it this long to read one of his books as he’s always come highly recommended by other booksellers.

1997.

At the age of 17 Laura Bow has invented Organon. Organon begins as a sound-board or kind of responsive journal for all of her teenage dilemmas, everything Laura is experiencing she’s offloading to Organon.

As she grows Organon grows.

The first chapters of I Still Dream will give anyone born in the 80s the most cringeworthy flashbacks. I instantly fell into Laura’s life, I was one hundred percent there. Laura’s experience of the coming technological revolution is written with perfection. Out loud I sighed “oh my god” when reading Laura’s inner debate about the comparisons between the quality of using Sony cassettes or Maxwell ones. Just trying to stifle the noise of your modem booting up was every teenager’s nightmare in ’97. Smythe’s writing was grounded, real and oh too reminiscent of going to a rubbish secondary school in the 90s.

The book takes an unexpected jump forward and your realise you’re in for the long-ride. I was a little sad to leave teenage Laura behind, she didn’t give a shit and I just wanted to read about her sitting in her room programming Organon.

It’s been so long since I’ve read a novel so quickly. I think it’s wrong to compare I Still Dream to Cloud Altas because Cloud Atlas can be a real slog sometimes, this book isn’t like that. Every page holds so much, if you want to put I Still Dream alongside a David Mitchell book put it alongside The Bone Clocks. There’s a lot of comparisons you make between Holly Sykes in The Bone Clock and Laura Bow but Smythe’s character feels more reserved. Laura’s compassionate and protective, unfortunately not always to the people around her but to Organon she’s maternal. She’s grown Organon from the piece of code that began it all but she’s guarded when it comes to who’s hands this software is in.

This book is a brilliant technological adventure that dabbles with the morals of artificial intelligence and privacy but also tells the story of the human experience. The latter half of the novel is almost anxiety inducing, it holds a mirror up to surveillance and how much of our lives are there for everyone to see. Smythe’s book is about choice, compassion and knowledge and what we do when we pass these things on to AI. You see both sides of the coin, good and bad. Going forward we’re integrating AI into our day to day and people like me who aren’t necessarily tech-minded don’t see the depth of the information that these programs are learning. This book sheds light on a fascinating part of our future.

Anyway, this has been one of the best books I’ve read all year and I can’t wait for everyone to get their hands on this outstanding novel next. Regardless it’s a fascinating book about artificial intelligence or just a fun novel about a Kate Bush song?

If you enjoyed Ex-Machina or Black Mirror (especially the episodes The Entire History of You, Be Right Back and San Junipero) you have to read this novel. It’s every bit as thrilling and touching as you can get. I’d also recommend Life 3.0 by Max Tegmark, Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari or Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom for further reading.

I Still Dream by James Smythe published 5th April 2018

The Wicked Cometh

I just finished a wonderful book.

The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin is set in 1831. The darkest London is home to Hester White, she’s sharp, intelligent and doesn’t belong in the slums. Hester is doing everything she can to get back to her old life in Lanachesire, a time when her parents were still alive, a time away from the slums of London.  Men, women and children are going missing from the streets of London in broad daylight, the police aren’t doing a thing. Hester becomes embroiled with the Brock family and slowly begins to uncover the wickedness behind the disappearances.

I alway tend to steer clear of historical fiction, I couldn’t get on with The Essex Serpent and I’ve only read one Sarah Waters novel (which I enjoyed but haven’t taken time read any of her other works). I massively enjoyed The Wicked Cometh, I was expecting a slow burn of a book but Carlin’s writing style is action-packed in some chapters. There’s chases, deceit and some passages so intense you can help but give a little gasp under your breath as you read Hester’s story. The last third of the novel is quickly paced and takes some twists and turns I couldn’t have foreseen.

Carlin fleshes out her female characters well, they’re slightly tied by their time period but Carlin makes up for it with the dialog and sultry glances they throw towards each other. Hester is a formidable main character and reminded me of a grittier version Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart.

I was so engaged with this book. I could not stop turning the pages of The Wicked Cometh, my favourite chapters were the ones that took place at Waterford, it had hints of Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

If you enjoy twisting Victorian tales you must pre-order a copy of The Wicked Cometh, it’s great for fans of Sarah Waters or Daphne Du Maurier. Get this book on you TBR pile now!

The Wicked Cometh by Laura Carlin

Published 8th February 2018 9781473661370.

Picture this

We’ve read I Want My Hat Back and Sunk to death. They’re great books but it’s time for an autumn refresh of the pre-bedtime toddler fodder.

First up is Kevin by Rob Biddulph. A new Biddulph book is always a cause for celebration, I’ve read Grrrrr more time than I can count and Sunk is still one of my daughter’s favourites. Kevin is a funny, charming, rhyming story of little Sid Gibbons who blames his cheeky behaviour on his imaginary friend Kevin. Every page is beautiful and it’s guaranteed to get your little one to sit still for ten minutes.

Mopoke by Philip Bunting. If you’re only going to get one of the books I recommend: get this one. It’s one of the best I’ve come across this year. Mopoke is a weird little book about some strange variations of this Australian breed of owl. This is one that parents will have lots of fun reading. It’s also super stylish and a must have for Klassen fans. I can’t wait to see what Bunting’s next book will be.

Oi Cat! By Kes Gray and Jim Field. This is the one we’d been waiting for. We LOVED Oi Frog! and Oi Dog! Guess what… Oi Cat! Doesn’t disappoint, it’s hilarious and ridiculous and just a total joy to read at any age. The rhyming in this book is next level and the illustrations are ace. As soon as my daughter saw Oi Cat! she was bouncing off the walls with excitement.

The Wolf, The Duck And The Mouse by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen. Another treat from the best selling duo that brought us Triangle, Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and Extra Yarn. Darkly funny tale with lots of funny twists. Every illustration in this book looks like it could be a wall print in the chicest nursery.

The Grotlyn by Benji Davies. This book is lovely. The delightful mystery of the Grotlyn who’s scuttling through houses will keep any toddler entertained. It’s a must read if you enjoyed Davies’ The Storm Whale.

Thank You Mr Panda by Steve Anthony.

If there’s one thing my spawn loves, it’s a good panda story. After reading this book my daughter wanted to read it again, which is always the sign of a great kids book. Thank You Mr Panda was our first Steve Anthony book and since reading we’ve ordered all his other Panda titles.

There Is A Tribe Of Kids by Lane Smith. Winner of this years CLIP Kate Greenaway Medal, this book is just lovely. I don’t tend to go for prizewinning books but I couldn’t resist this title. It’s got everything. A beautiful story, it’s fun, lovely illustrations and by the time you get to the last page you’ve learnt something valuable.

I try my hardest to get my daughter to read nothing but the best picture books but even I can’t escape the odd Hey Duggee book but who cares, as long as she’s enjoying a book I don’t mind.