Back from the Backlist · Discussion Time · Random Bookish Things · Spotlight

6 Books That Were Not For Me…BUT They Could Be For You!

Although my blog is very much my hobby – and I have absolutely no expectation of it being anything more than that – I have to admit that, aside from being able to share the book love with lots of lovely like-minded folk, one of the very nice things about being a book blogger is being sent the occasional book by publishers or authors for review.

In my case, most of these books come because I’m on Blog Tours but, every so often, I request a book because I like the sound of it from the blurb and the buzz surrounding it. 90% of the time these books then go on to be read and reviewed on this blog (although let’s not talk about my NetGalley backlog – that’s a whole different post) but, every so often, the book isn’t quite what I was expecting and doesn’t quite float my bookish boat in the way I hoped it would.

Because I don’t review books that I don’t finish on the blog, that left me in a bit of a quandary about what to do with these ‘not for me’ books. Part of what I love about book blogging is being able to help authors and publishers spread the book love, and to share books with potential readers. And I’m especially keen to acknowledge anyone kind enough to send a proof or finished copy my way.

So rather than have the ‘not for me’ books sitting on my shelf accusingly, I decided to put together this post to spotlight them and share them with you. Because just because a book wasn’t for me doesn’t mean that it won’t be for you! I’ve given Goodreads links to all of the books, along with the blurb and publisher information as well as a link to a full review from another lovely blogger!

The Canary Keeper by Clare Carson

Publisher: Head of Zeus, 398 pages

Blurb: Branna ‘Birdie’ Quinn had no good reason to be by the river that morning, but she did not kill the man. She’d seen him first the day before, desperate to give her a message she refused to hear. And now the Filth will see her hang for his murder, just like her father.

To save her life, Birdie must trace the dead man’s footsteps. Back onto the ship that carried him to his death, back to cold isles of Orkney that sheltered him, and up to the far north, a harsh and lawless land which holds more answers than she looks to find…

Review: Check out this full review from Nicola over at Short Books and Scribes – she found it “intriguing, so full of depth and the writing is beautifully descriptive” and perfect for fans of historical fiction and mysteries!

Coming Up for Air by Sarah Leipeiger

Publisher: Doubleday, 308 pages

Blurb: Three extraordinary lives intertwine across oceans and centuries.

On the banks of the River Seine in 1899, a heartbroken young woman takes her final breath before plunging into the icy water. Although she does not know it, her decision will set in motion an astonishing chain of events. It will lead to 1950s Norway, where a grieving toymaker is on the cusp of a transformative invention, all the way to present-day Canada, where a journalist battling a terrible disease, drowning in her own lungs, risks everything for one last chance to live.

Moving effortlessly across time and space and taking inspiration from an incredible true story, Coming Up for Air is a bold, richly imagined novel about love, loss, and the immeasurable impact of every human life.

Review: Amanda over at Bookish Chat loved this one – her review said that “Sarah Leipciger’s writing is captivating and sharp and all historical and medical elements were very well researched and portrayed” and felt that “Coming Up For For Air is one of those books which stays with you long after you’ve finished it”. High praise indeed!

From the Wreck by Jane Rawson

Publisher: Picador, 272 pages

Blurb: When George Hills was pulled from the wreck of the steamship Admella, he carried with him memories of a disaster that claimed the lives of almost every other soul on board. Almost every other soul. Because as he clung onto the wreck, George wasn’t alone: someone else—or something else—kept George warm and bound him to life. Why didn’t he die, as so many others did, half-submerged in the freezing Southern Ocean? And what happened to his fellow survivor, the woman who seemed to vanish into thin air?

George will live out the rest of his life obsessed with finding the answers to these questions. He will marry, father children, but never quite let go of the feeling that something else came out of the ocean that day, something that has been watching him ever since. The question of what this creature might want from him—his life? His first-born? To simply return home?—will pursue him, and call him back to the ocean again.

Review: Simon Savidge absolutely ADORED this book – it was one of his books of 2018, before it had even been published in the UK! His blog review said that the book has “originality, wonderful writing, a brilliant twisting plot, fantastic characters and some themes within it that you can really get your teeth into, should you want to” and he’s also featured the book on Youtube.

Theft by Luke Brown

Publisher: And Other Stories

Blurb: What I did to them was terrible, but you have to understand the context. This was London, 2016 . . .

Bohemia is history. Paul has awoken to the fact that he will always be better known for reviewing haircuts than for his literary journalism. He is about to be kicked out of his cheap flat in east London and his sister has gone missing after an argument about what to do with the house where they grew up. Now that their mother is dead this is the last link they have to the declining town on the north-west coast where they grew up.

Enter Emily Nardini, a cult author, who – after granting Paul a rare interview – receives him into her surprisingly grand home. Paul is immediately intrigued: by Emily and her fictions, by her vexingly famous and successful partner Andrew (too old for her by half), and later by Andrew’s daughter Sophie, a journalist whose sexed-up vision of the revolution has gone viral. Increasingly obsessed, relationships under strain, Paul travels up and down, north and south, torn between the town he thought he had escaped and the city that threatens to chew him up.

Review: Lucy over at What Lucy Wrote thought that Theft was “a compelling and colourful reflection on division and truth – both within individuals and a country” with some brilliant characterisation. You can read her review here.

Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor

Publisher: The Cameo Press, 483 pages

Blurb: A strange twist of fate connects a British soldier fighting in the First World War in 1916 with a young woman living in modern-day England a century later, in this haunting literary time travel novel.

Two people, two battles: one against the invading Germans on the battlefields of 1916 France, the other against a substandard, uncaring mental health facility in modern-day England. Part war story, part timeslip, part love story – and at the same time a meditation on the themes of war, mental illness, identity and art, Beyond The Moon is an intelligent, captivating debut novel, perfect for book clubs.

In 1916 1st Lieutenant Robert Lovett is a patient at Coldbrook Hall military hospital in Sussex, England. A gifted artist, he’s been wounded fighting in the Great War. Shell shocked and suffering from hysterical blindness he can no longer see his own face, let alone paint, and life seems increasingly hopeless.

A century later in 2017, medical student Louisa Casson has just lost her beloved grandmother – her only family. Heartbroken, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol on the South Downs cliffs – only to fall accidentally part-way down. Doctors fear she may have attempted suicide, and Louisa finds herself involuntarily admitted to Coldbrook Hall – now a psychiatric hospital, an unfriendly and chaotic place.

Then one day, while secretly exploring the old Victorian hospital’s ruined, abandoned wing, Louisa hears a voice calling for help, and stumbles across a dark, old-fashioned hospital room. Inside, lying on the floor, is a mysterious, sightless young man, who tells her he was hurt at the Battle of the Somme, a WW1 battle a century ago. And that his name is Lieutenant Robert Lovett…

Review: Writing for NB Magazine, Nicola from Short Books and Scribes said that Beyond the Moon “is a fascinating read, both in terms of the detail and the well-plotted storyline” and that she “closed the book with a sense of satisfaction and pleasure that I had read it”. You can read her full review here.

When the Lights Go Out by Carys Bray

Publisher: Hutchinson, 326 pages

Blurb: Emma is beginning to wonder whether relationships, like mortgages, should be conducted in five-year increments. She might laugh if Chris had bought a motorbike or started dyeing his hair. Instead he’s buying off-label medicines and stockpiling food.

Chris finds Emma’s relentless optimism exasperating. A tot of dread, a nip of horror, a shot of anger – he isn’t asking much. If she would only join him in a measure of something.

The family’s precarious eco-system is further disrupted by torrential rains, power cuts and the unexpected arrival of Chris’s mother. Emma longs to lower a rope and winch Chris from the pit of his worries. But he doesn’t want to be rescued or reassured – he wants to pull her in after him.

Review: Another review from Amanda over at Bookish Chat! She thought that ” the gentle humour and real moments of tender interplay between family members is so heartwarming” and that Carys Bray has an “innate ability to write about the ordinary family dynamic against the backdrop of extraordinary circumstances”.

My thanks go to all of the authors and publishers who sent me copies of these books. Unfortunately they weren’t quite my cup of tea but, as the reviews I have chosen shown, these might just be the perfect books for a different reader!

Are there are books here that you’ve taken a fancy to? Please do let me know if you pick up any of the books mentioned in today’s post!

If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green BookshopSam Read BooksellersBook-ishScarthin Books, and Berts Books

Reviews & features on The Shelf are free, honest, and unbiased and I don’t use affiliate links on my posts. However if you enjoy the blog please consider buying me a coffee on Ko-Fi!

Discussion Time · Festive

DISCUSSION TIME! My Bookish Plans in 2020

Yes, it’s that time of year again.

Start of a New Year. The Christmas decorations are down, the fridge is (finally) empty, and 2019 has walked itself out of the door whilst 2020 has waltzed on in. Time for a new year, filled with new books and new bookish resolutions.

To be honest, I’m not really setting myself ‘resolutions’ as such. I did away with making New Years Resolutions once I realised that all they did was hit every single one of my anxiety buttons at the same time – never a good way to begin anything, let alone commence a new year.

But I do like to spend a little time at the start of the year thinking about what went well in the last one, and what I would like to get out the one ahead. And that applies to my bookish life as well.

As I mentioned at the top of my Books of the Year 2019 post, I had a pretty good reading year last year. I exceeded my Goodreads goal by some way, took part in some fantastic blog tours, and continued to expand the blog and chat to some lovely bookish folk on Twitter.

And, really, I just want to do more of the same in 2020. I’ve set my Goodreads goal at 52 again (one book a week for the year), and I already have some brilliant blog tours lined up in January and February.

That said, there are some things that I would like to change about my reading life.

Firstly, for example: Buy Less, Read More

I’m definitely feeling a little swamped by my TBR at the moment. Between the books I’ve bought, ebooks requested on Netgalley, books sent by publishers for blog tours, books lent to me by friends, books borrowed from the library, and books I have to read for my PhD, I have more than enough to keep me reading for the entirety of 2020 and beyond. And I really do want to read these books. There are so many great titles sitting neglected on my shelves.

Fortunately, the aforementioned PhD also means finances are officially tight so buying less and reading more will definitely help me on a number of fronts. I can finally get to some of the brilliant titles that you lot have been raving about on Twitter and Goodreads, and there’s less chance I will one day be found buried by the weight of my own TBR pile.

Also, and this brings me neatly to my second change, reading my backlist will allow me to Improve My Netgalley Feedback Ratio.

My Netgalley ratio is currently at a woeful 36%. A requesting spree earlier in 2019 left me with a backlist the size of my arm. Given that I’m really picky about what I read on Kindle (as I hugely prefer reading in hard copy), this was simply poor decision making on my part.

But, again, I requested these books for a reason. And I’m sure there will be Netgalley titles that I want to request in 2020. But in order to do so, I’ll need to get that feedback ratio back to a decent number. I owe those books a read and a review. My Kindle is great for carrying around with me so I’ll be trying to always have a Netgalley book on the go for when I’m out and about.

This also into my third – and final – plan for my reading life in 2020 which is to Be More Selective.

With the best will in the world, my reading time is limited. My PhD is in English Literature so I have a lot of reading to do for that. Add in other work, socialising, family time, and other hobbies, and I really am limited in how much time I can devote to books and reading.

So instead of trying to read all of the things, I want to give myself permission to be more selective. As a book blogger, it can be really easy to get bookish FOMO – to feel left out of the conversation if you aren’t reading the latest title or raving about the newest prize shortlist.

But we cannot read everything. And sometimes trying to read everything takes the enjoyment out of the books we do read. So I want to make sure that, before I request a proof, sign up for a blog tour, or make that impulse purchase in a bookshop, I take a few moments to think about whether I really will read that book. And read it soon, not some unspecified time in the distant future.

Needless to say, permission to DNF is also firmly ensconced in this aim. I’ve never been too bad at putting down books but I am pretty bad at admitting I’ll never go back to them. So this year I want to allow myself to say ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ to a book more often and just move on to the next one.

So those are my bookish plans for 2020! What are you hoping to do in your reading life this year? Are you trying to broaden your horizons by reading new genres? Are you competing in any reading challenges for the year? Do let me know in the comments below or come and say hi over on Twitter!

And, until the next time…

Happy Reading x

 

Discussion Time · Random Bookish Things · Reviews

Graphic Novel Recommendations

Graphic NovelsEvery so often I like to take a break from novels and hefty non-fiction tomes and settle down with something a bit different. Short stories aren’t generally my bag but I LOVE a good graphic novel.

Graphic novels provide a completely different reading experience. The best graphic novels, for me anyway, use a combination of text and art to lead the reader through the pages.

They’re a reading experience that is both fast and slow. Quite often, they can be read relatively speedily if you just read through the text start to finish. But often I find I’m drawn to savour them, the lavish art inviting me to return to examine each frame and search for additional details that provide texture to the narrative.

In today’s post, I wanted to share a few of my favourite graphic novels with you. I’m by no means a graphic novel expert – I wasn’t one of those kids who devoured Marvel and DC throughout my childhood- but these titles have all earned a place on my shelves and I’ve re-read the majority of them more than once. Many of them are also standalone titles, making them great for anyone who is new to the genre.

NimonaNimona, Noelle Stevenson

Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona is, technically, a YA graphic novel but don’t let that put you off because it’s a fabulously funny romp featuring an impulsive young shapeshifter with anger management issues, a dastardly supervillain who definitely doesn’t have a heart of gold, and a set of good guys with more than a few dark secrets up their sleeves.

Stephenson’s art is simple and colourful but wonderfully effective, and the narrative combines some laugh out loud humour with a touching story about friendship, love, and finding your place in the world.

Bloodlust&BonnetsBloodlust & Bonnets, Emily McGovern

Emily McGovern’s webcomic My Life as a Background Slytherin has been making me laugh for quite some time now so I was delighted when she released her first full-length graphic novel earlier this year.

In a hilarious pastiche of Romantic literature, Bloodlust & Bonnets sees bored debutante Lucy team up with exuberant poet Lord Byron and dashing ‘definitelystayinginthefriendzone’ bounty hunter Shem in pursuit of notorious vampire Lady Violet Travesty.

Poking fun at the tropes of the gothic novel, vampire literature, and romance, Emily’s clean and simple art style perfectly complements the joyous, action-packed romp. The novel has also been beautifully coloured by Rebekah Rarely.

A Study in EmeraldA Study in Emerald, Neil Gaiman

Sherlock Holmes meets Cthulu. Where do I sign?

I adore Neil Gaiman’s writing and this short story, which follows a famous consulting detective and his partner as they attempt to solve a horrific murder within the murky darkness of Lovecraftian London, has that perfect Gaiman blend of the fantastical and the dangerous.

Brilliantly adapted into a graphic novel format with stunning art by Rafael Alburquerque, script by Rafael Scavone and colours by Dave Stewart, A Study in Emerald is a dark, creepy tale that has a fantastic twist in its tale.

Shoutout also to Gaiman’s gloriously feminist take on the Sleeping Beauty myth, The Sleeper and the Spindle, which is accompanied by stunning black and white art by Chris Riddell.

GiganticBeardThe Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, Stephen Collins

Collins’ wonderfully shaded monochrome art sets off a poignant story of belonging and acceptance in this quirky tale which sees Dave, one of the many residents on the buttoned-down island of Here, suddenly assailed by a terrifying monster: a giant, unstoppable beard.

As Dave gradually begins to embrace his new facial fur, he also starts to relish difference, stepping outside of the familiarities of Here. But what will the other residents do when Dave risks bringing the unknown terrors of There into their safe and closeted world?

Seemingly simple, there is surprising depth in this fantastical tale that has all too many parallels to the world we live in today.

QuietGirlQuiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story, Debbie Tung

I genuinely think Debbie Tung might have rooted around in my head to write this.

Sweet, funny, and poignant, the comic sequences collected here reveal the many ups and downs of introvert life.

From the emotional drain that accompanies even the best of social events, to the sheer joy that can be found in curling up with a book, a cat, and a cup of tea, Tung’s sharp observations and delicate sketches capture the enchantment and awkwardness of introversion.

Honorable Mentions

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, Isabel Greenberg: A fascinating alternative history of the world that embraces a number of creation myths and weaves them into a magical story of enlightenment and true love.

Mooncop, Tom Gauld: A short, stark and wonderfully droll tale of everyday life on a lunar colony. Gauld’s brilliantly simple art style is an absolute joy.

Rat QueensKurtis J Wiebe: The first couple of volumes of this series are a raucous delight of booze, death, and sex that follow an all-female team of death-dealers for hire. Sadly the series has, in my opinion, tailed off in terms of quality as it’s developed, but the first couple of volumes are well worth checking out if you don’t mind reading a graphic series that’s most definitely NSFW.

Bitch Planet, Kelly Sue Deconnick & Valentine De Landro: Another NSFW series focusing on kick-ass ladies. Based on the titular Bitch Planet, a prison planet for non-conforming women, this comic unapologetically embraces the feminist agenda in a raw, captivating, and brutal exploration of exploitation and resistance.

So, those were some of my favourite graphic novels! I hope this post will encourage you to pick up a few of my recommended titles – if you do, then please do let me know what you think in the comments.

I’m also open to suggestions for some more graphic novels to read so please do let me know your own favourites.

And, until next time, Happy Reading!

Discussion Time

Discussion Time: The Truth of Fiction

32312859Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, you’ve probably read the recent New Yorker profile of Dan Mallory AKA A. J. Finn, author of the phenomenally successful psychological thriller The Woman in the Window. The profile alleges that Mallory lied to friends and colleagues about having cancer and implies that, amongst other things, he also lied about having a doctorate from Oxford, about his mother’s death and his brother’s suicide, and about ‘discovering’ Robert Galbraith (the crime writer also known as J. K. Rowling).

The article raised some worrying questions about gender and perceived employability in the publishing industry (for more on that, see this excellent piece in The Conversation), but also raises some interesting questions about what sort of truths we expect from authors of fiction. To what extent does an author have the right to write a fiction of their own life?

A follow-up article by Leo Benedictus in The Guardian prompted me to write this post. In the article, Leo considers the recent history of authors who have, for varying reasons, lied about their identity. From reclusive Asian teenager Rahila Khan turning out to be an Anglican vicar called Toby, to embellished memoirs such as James Frey’s ‘A Million Little Pieces’, the tradition of the literary liar is, it seems, a long one. And if we start to consider writers who, for various reasons, have elected to write under a pseudonym in order to secure publication (hello, the Bronte sisters and George Elliot), then the list stretches back to the very beginnings of the English novel.

But does finding out the ‘truth’ about an author’s identity alter their work? Were Rahila Khan’s stories of British Asian life any less affecting when it emerged that their author was, in fact, a middle-aged white guy? Did ‘Jane Eyre’ become less brilliant when it emerged that Currer Bell was, in fact, Charlotte Bronte? Is ‘The Woman in the Window’ a less accomplished thriller because of its author? To what extent does an author’s fiction stand on its own?

This is not a question with an easy, or even, I think, a definite answer.

On the one hand, surely the job of fiction is to be just that – fiction. Setting aside for one moment the valid debate about the very real need for own voices narratives, the job of a novelist is surely to imagine a life outside of their own; to be able to craft worlds and characters that are beyond their own lived experiences.  Hannah Kent has not lived in nineteenth-century Iceland but does that make ‘Burial Rites’ a lesser novel? I would say no – to say otherwise would be to argue that fiction can only be written in, and about, the present moment. Crime writers do not, one hopes, have to kill anyone in order to write about serial killers, and I don’t think many science-fiction authors have actually been to space.

But when the author is declaring that the validity of their lived experiences informs their work, then I can understand why readers feel angry and misled. Benedictus’ article mentions the disturbing phenomena of the fake or exaggerated Holocaust memoir. To exaggerate or fake a life, or life events, in order to elicit publicity, reader sympathy, or praise for your work is different to imagining yourself in another situation. These authors have stepped away from the stage of their fiction and are moving amongst their audience. For me at least, it is at this point that a fiction becomes a lie.

As I said, this is a multi-faceted and complex debate, but I think ultimately this is a question of expectations. Personally, I have no issue with an author creating a fictional experience outside of their own lived experience. This is the art of fiction and I appreciate being able to revel in the scope of their imagination. But if I am being sold a book on the basis that it reflects the author’s life experience, it has not been sold to me entirely as fiction, so my expectations are altered. As a reader, I would expect an element of ‘truth’.

Which brings me back to Dan Mallory/A. J. Finn. I reviewed ‘The Woman in the Window’ on the blog and, for the most part, enjoyed it. Amidst an onslaught of psychological thrillers, it was a compulsive page-turner and I liked the way in which it played with the plot of ‘Rear Window’ in order to subvert expectations.

Having read the New Yorker piece, does my opinion of ‘The Woman in the Window’ change?

Having thought long and hard, I don’t think it does. I still think the book is a compulsive and entertaining psychological thriller. From a distance, and with more reflection, it’s probably not quite as unique or original as my review made out, but I still enjoyed the experience of reading it. It was, and remains, a decent thriller.

Has my opinion of its author changed? Undoubtedly. But whether I like, or agree, with the actions of an author – and whether this prevents me from reading any more of their books – is, I think, an entirely separate debate.

I’d be really interested to hear other thoughts on this and would highly recommend reading Leo’s Guardian piece (and the original New Yorker profile) linked above. There’s also another Guardian article on literary fakery that informed my thoughts in this post. As with any ‘Discussion Time’, this is just my thoughts on a current literary/reading debate so be nice and respect each other in the comments.

I’ll be back soon with another book review and a great author Q&A with writer Alison Morton but, until the next time, Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Discussion Time · Random Bookish Things

DISCUSSION TIME! The ‘Value’ of Blogging

There’s been quite a bit of collective ire on social media this week after a independent publisher (who shall remain nameless!) called into question the ‘reach’ and ‘influence’ of book bloggers, especially in relation to blog tours and whether they result in better sales and exposure for the book/author/publisher in question.

Many people felt that it was implied in the publisher’s comments that book blogs and blog tours don’t offer good ‘value’ for authors and publishers. As you can probably predict, many bloggers and tour organisers felt that this belittled their role in the book world and took the publisher in question to task over their comments. Other publishers and authors also raced to the defence of bloggers with positive examples of how the work of bloggers had helped promote their titles.

As someone who writes a relatively small blog – and could therefore be accused of having limited ‘reach’ and ‘influence’ as a blogger – I thought the furore raised some interesting questions about the role of blogging. This post is, I suppose, my reflections on this and an attempt to counter some common misconceptions about the life of a book blogger as I see it.

Firstly, and probably most importantly, I can categorically say that there are far easier ways to get free books than by becoming a blogger!

Bloggers have to work for their freebies. If we’re lucky enough to receive a requested book or be invited onto a tour, we have to read said book, actively engage with what we’ve read (often by making notes as we read), and then compose and edit a (hopefully) entertaining and informative post about it. If this is for a blog tour, we’ll have to do this for a specific date. If not, having the post ready for around a book’s publication date is considered polite so a loose deadline remains in place. And the work isn’t over yet folks! Once a post is live, a blogger will probably want to promote it on social media channels, and ensure their review is also up on Goodreads, Amazon, Netgalley etc. And they may well be engaging with and promoting other posts from the same blog tour, or for the same author/book. They may also choose to re-post when the book subsequently comes out in paperback or if it wins an award.

And, for the most part, they will be doing this whilst holding down a day job, getting the kids to school, doing the laundry and all the other sundry activities that make up everyday life. In short, this is all being done on a blogger’s free time.

So whilst there may be the odd ‘blagger’ out there who thinks a book blog is a great way to bag a ton of hot pre-release titles, I think they’d soon find there’s a bit more to it than that.

I mean, the above is just what you do once you have established yourself as a blogger. Setting up and starting out is a whole different type of work. It can take months – or even years – to establish your blog, develop your online presence, and make connections with authors, publishers and tour organisers. Very few publishers or tour organisers worth their salt will take on an untested blogger – they want to see you have a track record of regular posts and can provide a certain quality and consistency of content before they add you to their tour or mailing lists, especially for popular or high-profile titles.

Which brings us onto this idea of ‘value’. What can your blogger do for you?

Simply put, I think it’s hard to qualify a blog’s ‘reach’ and ‘influence’, especially over the course of what may be just a one or two week blog tour. ‘Reach’ and ‘influence’ are subjective and I suppose that, from my point of view, an author or publisher has to recognise that a blog post or blog tour may not necessarily equate to hordes of readers racing to their nearest bookshop waving armfuls of cash. But does any advertising campaign really do that?

Personally I feel that what we as bloggers offer is less immediately measurable but equally important – genuine enthusiasm for your book, a wish to shout about it to our online (and real life) communities, and an opportunity to increase presence. A presence that, crucially, sticks around long after the tour is over and continues bubbling away as we write more posts and gain more followers.

When I look at my stats page for The Shelf, I’m often surprised (and extremely pleased!) by how many people are still reading posts that I wrote months ago. As I was writing up this post, I had a hit on my review of Laura Purcell’s The Silent Companions – a post that I wrote back on 08 January 2018. If that reader goes and buys Laura’s book as a result of my post (and I sincerely hope they do – it’s a brilliant book), it could be argued that I had an influence on them. However that influence could not have been measured at the time of the post going live – or even in the immediate weeks afterwards.

I suppose ultimately what I’m trying to get at is the idea of assessing a blog’s ‘value’ is, to my mind, looking at it all wrong. Blogs and bloggers are, for the most part, lovers of books who wish to communicate that love to the world. The infectious enthusiasm that we have for sharing books may not be immediately measurable in terms of pounds and pence. But in terms of helping to build a buzz or develop a profile – less quantifiable goals but increasingly important to publisher and authors in our digital age – blogs and their associated social media presences are vital ways of getting the word out. And I’m sure there are blog tour organisers and publishers out there who can provide evidence of when this has then translated into sales.

By necessity, this post is a very brief overview of some very complex debates. I haven’t, for example, really touched on the role of blog tour organisers because I feel there are others working in that role who can outline that far better than I can – the wonderful Anne Cater, for example, put up a fantastic Twitter thread that persuasively (and passionately) argued in favour of bloggers, blog tours and tour organisers. Nor have I looked at the need for publisher support and promotion in relation to blog posts and tours, or the fact that many bloggers are avid readers and purchasers of books before they even start writing about them.  And I’ve stayed well clear of the thorny issue of  receiving ‘free’ books and ‘professional integrity’ which is a whole different ball game and one that has been ably discussed by Drew over at The Tattooed Book Geek here.

I do hope however that this post has provided some food for thought. I can only speak for myself but I don’t run The Shelf as anything other than a passion project. I aim to be professional but, ultimately, The Shelf isn’t my business – it’s my downtime. If I have ‘influence’ and can get the word out there about books I love then that’s great but I didn’t start doing this to be influential. I’m doing it because I love books and I love writing about books and having conversations about books and authors that I love with like-minded bookish folk like you.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts so please do drop me a comment down below or come say hi over on Twitter. And, until next time…

Happy Reading! x

Discussion Time

DISCUSSION TIME! Literary And/Or Commercial Fiction

Hello! It’s been a while so how have you all been? Firstly, apologies for the lack of recent posts – after a busy March on the book/blog front, April has been busy on the real life/adulting front (no prizes for guessing which one was more fun…) so neither much blogging nor, indeed, much reading has been going on in my household for a few weeks.

In lieu therefore of any book reviews, I’ve thought a discussion post might be interesting and, prompted by this excellent video from Simon over at Savidge Reads, wanted to examine the literary vs commercial fiction debate that seems to be have risen it’s little head again in some corners of the book world. So, what defines a literary novel? What makes a book commercial? And, most importantly, does it matter anyway?

The short answer to that question is, of course, no.

But for some reason, every time there’s a book prize shortlist announcement or when a Writer of Great Literature announces that their new novel is set on an alien planet and could therefore be considered as sci-fi (*gasp!*), the literary vs commercial debate starts up again.

Take, for example, Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done, a novel about Lizzie Borden. The Guardian’s favourable review called it ‘an outstanding debut novel about love, death and the lifelong repercussions of unresolved grief’ but, crucially, did not categorise it as a crime novel. And it most definitely IS a crime novel – it’s about a woman who may have stoved her parents’ heads in with an axe after all. Why then is it considered somehow different to Sarah Ward’s most recent novel A Patient Fury, in which a woman may or may not have murdered her entire family? That was also favourably reviewed in The Guardian but, interesting, was described as a ‘classic police procedural’ – clearly labelling it as crime fiction. Now I’m not saying that Schmidt and Ward write in the same way – or that the two books are identical – but, given that they have similar themes and ideas, I do find it interesting that one is considered ‘literary’ whereas the other seems to be treated as more ‘commercial’.

It was the same when Nobel prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro wrote The Buried Giant. With elements of myth including dragons and ogres, the book could be – shock horror – considered a fantasy novel. Literary critics at the time of publication took great pleasure in debating whether a ‘literary’ author should be involving himself with the stuff of such a commercial genre and, most literary types agreed, it was a departure from the norm for the writer. Really? Isn’t Never Let Me Go science-fiction? Or dystopian? The Remains of the Day could most definitely be classed as historical fiction couldn’t it? And couldn’t you say that When We Were Orphans is a crime novel? Ishiguro’s been cherry-picking from genre fiction for years – it’s one of the things that, for me anyway, makes him such an interesting writer.

So is it about ‘literary merit’ then? The lasting quality of the works, the allure of the writing, the use of inventive structure and experimental form? For me, this suggests that commercial and genre fiction doesn’t have the same resonance or impact as literary fiction and I just don’t think that’s the case. I recently read and reviewed Joanna Cannon’s Three Things About Elsie, longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction and considered by some to be one of the more ‘commercial’ titles on the list. I found it to be a deeply affecting and highly intelligent novel about friendship, loss, memory and old age and I’m currently forcing copies into the hands of my family and friends at every opportunity.

Plus the ‘literary merit’ argument completely ignores the fact that many of our now beloved classic authors – Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens to name but a few – were most definitely writing commercial fiction back in the day. Dickens’ and Collins were both paid per instalment so deliberately wrote as lengthily as possible – and anyone who claims that Austen didn’t have her eyes on the prize has clearly never read any of her letters. And all three were highly successful authors in their day so it’s not about popularity or commercial success either.

Personally I think the terms ‘literary’ and ‘commercial’ aren’t all that helpful for the majority of readers. For publishing types, they’re a useful way of distinguishing an author’s potential market and choosing how to promote that particular book. For academics and reviewers, they’re catch-all terms that can distinguish certain types of writing and style. But for readers? Well, they’re something for us to argue about I suppose!

Going back to the start of this post, I’m with Simon all the way when he says about books being accessible to everyone and that it wouldn’t do for us all to like the same things. So what if the only books you read last year were by E L James? The fact that I think Fifty Shades is suitable only for using as kindling in no way diminishes the enjoyment that many others may have gotten from the trilogy. One of my favourite contemporary novels is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History yet my Mum thought it was pretentious twaddle about a privileged elite. My best friend adores The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry but I found it so saccharine that I swear that I lost three teeth just picking it up. Having a choice in what we read and how we engage with that is one of the primary joys of being a reader. What does it matter what label a book comes with if it brings you joy?

So there you have it – literary, commercial – they’re just labels and, personally, I don’t think they should be used to define, praise or belittle anyone’s reading. Read what you want, share the book love and let me know in the comments what you think about literary and commercial fiction. I’m also thinking of making Discussion Time a more regular feature on the blog so if you enjoyed the post (or didn’t!), or if you have any bookish topics you think would be good to discuss, do let me know. And, as always, until the next time…

Happy Reading!!