Swiftly becoming a highlight in my yearly calendar, last week I attended the 4th annual Penguin Bloggers Night. Held as usual on the lofty top floor of Foyles Bookstore in Charing Cross, the evening serves as a showcase of the publisher’s key books for that year with a programme of notable authors reading excerpts from them.
Aside from tables piled with delectable books and Penguin totes to greedily fill, the night is a great chance to talk to favourite authors and for me to discover books that are out of my comfort zone – i.e not historical fiction or sinister gothic tales.
I also love the pianist who has become a staple at the events who intros each reading with a catchy theme tune – my favourite was the intro for Elizabeth Fremantle’s new historical book ‘Sisters of Treason’ she walked on to Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’ – naturally. Sheer brilliance.
Here are some of the books and readings from the night that caught my eye and ears.
A mesmerising reading and no doubt multi-layered debut novel by young and talented author Emma Healy - Maud, an ageing grandmother, is slowly losing her memory-and her grip on everyday life.
Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger. But no one will listen to Maud-not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth’s mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend. Publication Date, June 2014
This reading had everyone in stitches… nostalgic and funny, Man At The Helm follows a divorced mother and her children, including nine-year-old Lizzie, in the 1970s as they move to a village in the English countryside. All alone and shunned by the villagers, Lizzie’s mother becomes a drunk and a playwright. Worried about becoming wards of court, Lizzie and her sister decide to write letters to the suitable men in the area in order to find a man at the helm for their mother.
After reading up more about this author, none of whose books I had heard of before – I stumbled onto her much acclaimed biographical book published earlier this year Love, Nina: Dispatches from Family Life which sounded equally hilarious. Then I realised I hardly ever, in fact ever, read funny books. I have resolved to begin. Publication Date, August 2014
Two groups, almost a hundred years apart, find themselves on the same desolate Antarctic island in this tense and compelling novel.
1913: Dinners, Millet-Bass, and Napps – three men bound not by friendship, but by an intense dependence founded on survival – will be immortalised by their decision to volunteer to scout out a series of uncharted and unknown islands in the Antarctic, a big, indifferent kingdom.
2013: Brix, Jess, and Decker – three researchers with their own reasons for being far from home – set out on a field trip to the same ancient lumps of rock and snow, home to nothing but colonies of penguins and seals.
Under the harsh ultraviolet light, as all colours bleach out, and the world of simple everyday pleasures recedes, they unknowingly begin to mirror the expedition of 100 years ago. Publication Date, March 2014
A delicious Tudor drama [with an amazing theme tune] Sister’s of Treason is a gripping tale about two sisters who tread as dangerously close to the crown as their tragic sister, Lady Jane Grey, executed after just nine days on the throne.
When Lady Jane Grey is executed by her cousin Mary Tudor, it is court painter Levina Teerlinc who helps Jane’s young sisters, Mary and Catherine, survive the Queen’s reign. But when the hot-headed Elizabeth inherits the crown, court life becomes increasingly treacherous for the Grey girls . . . Publication Date, May 2014
A few other books on the table published last year or earlier this year which caught my eye…
Em and the Big Hoom, Jerry Pinto. In a tiny flat in Bombay Imelda Mendes – Em to her children – holds her family in thrall with her flamboyance, her manic affection and her cruel candour. Her husband – ‘The Big Hoom’ – and her two children must bear her ‘microweathers’, her swings from laugh-out-loud joy to dark malevolence, and her frequent wish to die.
The Violet Hour, Katherine Hill . A love story that begins with the end of a marriage, The Violet Hour follows a 21st century American family through past and present, from a lavish New York wedding to the family funeral home in suburban Washington, from a drunken PTA party to a scene of unexpected public violence.
The Strangler Vine, M.J. Carter Calcutta 1837. The East India Company rules India – or most of it; and its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing. William Avery, a down-at-heel junior officer in the Company’s army, is sent to find him, in the unlikely company of the enigmatic and uncouth Jeremiah Blake. A more mismatched duo couldn’t be imagined, but they must bury their differences as they are caught up in a search that turns up too many unanswered questions and seems bound to end in failure.