Of course, it's not really a new feature. At the start of every month for the past year I've been listing five books due to be published that have caught my attention and included some blurb about each book's content. But these posts have become so popular, I thought I'd make this monthly listing a more readily identifiable feature of the blog, hence the new logo (see left).
As ever, I like to be completely transparent about my dealings on Reading Matters, so rest assured the books have been chosen purely on the basis that I like the sound of them — publishers have not asked to be listed here, I haven't chased publishers for suggestions, and no money or favours have been offered as a result. I can't be bribed!
My main source of information has been publisher catalogues, unsolicited review copies, Amazon and other online book sites, the odd press release and major news outlets (such as online newspapers and magazines).
It is also important to note that I can't vouch for the quality of the books featured, mainly because I haven't actually read them, so being featured here should not be seen as an endorsement. But I do hope that my tastes are fairly reliable and that if I like the sound of something I usually go on to enjoy the book when I do, eventually, get around to reading it.
Now that all the technical stuff is out of the way, let's get on with this month's Hot Picks! Here's five books that have caught my attention. They have been arranged in alphabetical order according to author's surname.
When the Scottish Refugee Council assigns Deborah Maxwell to act as Somali refugee Abdi's new mentor, the two are drawn into an awkward friendship. They must spend a year together, meeting once a month in a different part of Glasgow. As recently widowed Deborah opens Abdi's eyes to her beloved city and its people, he teaches her about the importance of family — and of laying your ghosts to rest. All Abdi has brought with him is his four-year-old daughter, Rebecca, who lives in a silence no one can reach. Until, one day, little Rebecca starts talking. And they realise why she stopped. Heartbreaking, uplifting and unforgettable, This is Where I Am is a novel of loss and guilt, friendship and hope, and of what we can grow from the ashes of the past.
Karen Campbell is a former police officer and has written several crime novels — this is her first foray into literary fiction. I haven't read her work before, though I have a couple in my TBR, but this one sounds appealing.
The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee
Hardback and ebook, Harvill Secker (7 March)
After crossing oceans, a man and a boy arrive in a new land. Here they are each assigned a name and an age, and held in a camp in the desert while they learn Spanish, the language of their new country. Simón and David make their way to the relocation centre in the city of Novilla, where officialdom treats them politely but not necessarily helpfully. Simón finds a job in a grain wharf. The work is unfamiliar and backbreaking, but he soon warms to his stevedore comrades, who during breaks conduct philosophical dialogues on the dignity of labour, and generally take him to their hearts. Now he must set about his task of locating the boy's mother. Though like everyone else who arrives in this new country he seems to be washed clean of all traces of memory, he is convinced he will know her when he sees her. And indeed, while walking with the boy in the countryside Simón catches sight of a woman he is certain is the mother, and persuades her to assume the role. David's new mother comes to realise that he is an exceptional child, a bright, dreamy boy with highly unusual ideas about the world. But the school authorities detect a rebellious streak in him and insist he be sent to a special school far away. His mother refuses to yield him up, and it is Simón who must drive the car as the trio flees across the mountains...
I suspect this book is going to receive a lot of attention, mainly because it's JM Coetzee's first novel in almost six years and he is a big hitter in the literary world — he was the first author to win the Booker Prize twice and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2003. His last novel, Diary of a Bad Year, played around with structure and form, so it will be interesting to see whether he tries anything new with this one.
Attending a New England summer camp as an adolescent, young Erik Schroder — a first generation East German immigrant — adopts a new name and a new persona — Eric Kennedy — in the hope that it will help him fit in. This fateful white lie will set him on an improbable and ultimately tragic course. Schroder relates the story of Eric's urgent escape years later through the New England countryside with his six-year-old daughter, Meadow, in an attempt to outrun the authorities amidst a heated custody battle with his wife, who will soon discover that her husband is not who he says he is. From a correctional facility, Eric surveys the course of his life in order to understand his behaviour; the painful separation from his mother in childhood; a harrowing escape to America with his taciturn father; a romance that withered under a shadow of lies; and his proudest moments and greatest regrets as a flawed but loving father.
From a correctional facility where he awaits news of his trial, Erik Schroder writes to his estranged wife about the seven day road trip he took with their daughter, Meadow. But the police and the press are calling it a kidnap and are asking why this man has lived under a different name since childhood. Schroder's record of events is his only hope of freedom - and of seeing his daughter again.
This is a story about the power of parental love - and the agony of separation. Alternatively lovesick and ecstatic, Amity Gaige's dazzling novel offers a profound meditation on the many identities we take on in our lives - those we are born with and those we construct for ourselves.- See more at: http://www.faber.co.uk/catalog/schroder/9780571296705#sthash.k8OcmTOQ.dpuf
Some big American names — Jonathan Franzen, Jennifer Egan, David Bezmozgis, among them — have endorsed this novel, which is Amity Gaige's third book. It was first brought to my attention at a Faber preview event I attended (for booksellers and reviewers) earlier this year, and it was billed as the kind of morality tale in which you can't help but empathise with the bad guy. That definitely ticks my kind of boxes.
Joan Stanley has a secret. She is a loving mother, a doting
grandmother, and leads a quiet, unremarkable life in the suburbs. Then
one morning there is a knock on the door, and suddenly the past she has
been so keen to hide for the past 50 years threatens to overturn her
Cambridge University in 1937 is awash with ideas and idealists, yet unworldly Joan feels better suited to a science lecture and a cup of cocoa. But a chance meeting with the glamorous Russian-born Sonya and her charismatic cousin Leo blurs the edges of the things Joan thought she knew about the world, and about herself. In the post-War world of smoke and mirrors, allegiance is a slippery thing. Working in a government ministry with access to top-secret information, Joan is suddenly faced with the most difficult question of all: what price would you pay to remain true to what you believe? Would you betray your country, your family, even the man you love?
I have always struggled with spy novels, but I think this might be my way in to the genre if for no other reason than it is based on a true story — that of British civil servant Melita Norwood, who was exposed at the age of 87 as a Cold War spy for the Soviets — and the lead character is a woman. This is Jennie Rooney's third novel — her first, Inside the Whale, was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award in 2008.
Magda by Meike Zervogel
Paperback, Salt Publishing (22 March)
In this daring portrayal of Magda Goebbels — wife of Hitler’s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels — Meike Ziervogel unveils an historical tale of abusive mother and daughter relationships that reaches a terrifying conclusion in the last days of Nazi Germany. Magda is born at the beginning of the 20th century, the illegitimate child of a maidservant who feels burdened with a daughter she does not want. The girl grows up to become an ambitious woman, desperate for love and recognition. When Magda meets Joseph Goebbels, he appears to answer all her needs, and together they have six children. Towards the end of the Second World War, Magda has become physically and emotionally sick. As she takes her children into the Führer’s bunker, her eldest daughter Helga experiences an overwhelming sense of foreboding.
Many of you may know Meike Ziervogel as the founder and director of the independent publishing house Peirene Press, which focuses on novellas in translation. She is also a former journalist, this is her first novel and I suspect it's going to be as dark and as intriguing as the books she seeks out for Peirene.
Please note that the release dates quoted are for the UK and are subject to change.
What do you think of this "new" feature? Are there any on this list that have piqued your interest?