Tuesday, 31 March 2015

What's next: Reading everything in the Penguin Random House Spring 2015 Debut Fiction Sampler so you don't have to

Penguin Random House Spring 2015 Debut Fiction SamplerPenguin Random House Spring 2015 Debut Fiction Sampler (17 March 2015) by various authors

I don't normally read the whole of these publishers' samplers; I get them so I can pull out a list of titles, look them up, decide whether or not I'm interested. This one, though, being adult debut fiction coming soon from Penguin Random House, seemed like a better bet than most. As an experiment, I decided to do the opposite of my usual strategy, and read the extracts first, then look up the details of the books. Here are the results...

The Silver Swan by Elena Delbanco (out 21 May 2015)
Skimmed over this. I guessed it was one of those books that contrasts a historical plotline with a modern-day one, possibly revolving around the same family or something, but it appears it's a contemporary novel with music as the main theme. Seems to have that kind of 'elegant' but completely pallid prose that has pretensions towards literary fiction without quite getting there, and just doesn't engage me at all. I'm probably being totally unfair; this just isn't something I would have looked at under any other circumstances.

The Ghost Network by Catie Disabato (out 7 May 2015)
This extract has catapulted The Ghost Network, which was already vaguely on my radar, into my top five most anticipated books of the year. I stayed up late just to finish it, even though I knew I wouldn't be able to read the rest of the book. Written as if it's non-fiction (with the author describing herself as a mere 'editor' of an existing manuscript) in a faux-academic style, it's the story of two missing women: an internationally famous pop star, and a superfan who tried to find out what happened to her. Just a few pages is all it takes to be hooked. If you loved Marisha Pessl's Night Film as much as I did (though that may not actually be possible), you'll want to get this on your wishlist STAT.

House of Echoes by Brendan Duffy (out 14 April 2015)
Immediately had the feel of a horror novel. An intriguing prologue, with the main character making a gory discovery amongst some ruins near his new home. Some clichéd (but nevertheless very fun) elements typical of horror - the big old ramshackle house with a creepy history, the middle-of-nowhere location, and very obviously portentous imagery - are dragged down by irritating stock characters (the author self-insert protagonist, the impossibly perfect wife, the annoying kid) who I now see are described in the blurb as 'achingly sympathetic'. Haha... no. By the end of the extract I'd been thoroughly put off any notion of seeking this out.

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum (out now)
Skipped this because I already have the book and I don't want to spoil any of the story before I start it properly. Watch this space!

Muse by Jonathan Galassi (out 2 July 2015)
Now this I think will definitely be categorised as literary fiction. It's set in a publishing house in New York, with a somewhat bland (at least in this opening chapter) protagonist, and has a slightly disconcerting and quickly exhausting, though not entirely unlikeable, style with endless diversions into little stories about various characters. And there are lots of them: this short extract alone introduces a seemingly endless parade of bit players in a society drama with a literary theme. Now I've looked into the book, I know that the author is a poet, which fits with the tricksy style. The plot sounds intriguing, but I think the quirky humour might get a bit wearing.

The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins (out 18 June 2015)
Definitely a fantasy. Very... fantasy-ish... fantasy. Reminded me a little of Lev Grossman's Magicians books with its juxtaposition of contemporary language, humour and recognisable motifs with situations straight out of a high fantasy epic. 100% definitely not for me, although according to Karen's review it does get better, so perhaps the first few chapters aren't the best part to pull out as a sample.

The Star Side of Bird Hill by Naomi Jackson (out 30 June 2015)
Family saga? Set in Barbados. Quite a short extract anyway compared to some of the others, but while I didn't particularly dislike it, nothing about this engaged me.

Bradstreet Gate by Robin Kirman (out 7 July 2015)
Another book already on my radar and tentatively on my wishlist. It's a campus novel about tangled friendships, an ill-advised affair and, ultimately, a murder, although it opens ten years after that murder, with one of the students who was involved - now a mother with a terminally ill husband - being visited by a journalist looking to find out more about the old case. While I'm not wild about the way it's written (it's a bit pedestrian), and it didn't get me madly excited about the book like the Ghost Network extract did, there's enough here to make Bradstreet Gate an intriguing prospect and one I'll be keeping an eye out for when it's published.

Freedom's Child by Jax Miller (out 2 June 2015)
The first line is 'My name is Freedom Oliver and I killed my daughter', so it's safe to assume this is a thriller. The book's blurb is full of praise from the likes of Lee Child and Karin Slaughter, which gives you an idea of the target audience. However, despite the gung-ho super-American style and a heroine who's the embodiment of a 'tough female character' brainstorm, I found enough about the extract compelling that I could probably quite happily read the whole of this.

Girl at War by Sara Nović (out 12 May 2015)
A novel of recent history, seemingly set in the early 1990s, dealing with the Yugoslavian civil war as seen from the viewpoint of a young girl in Croatia. The first few chapters see protagonist Ana and her friend Luka negotiating the new political landscape, trying to understand the new system of relations through the actions of their parents, neighbours and teachers. The publisher's description says the book goes on to look at Ana's life ten years later, when she's a student in New York. I have to admit, I've previously been offered a review copy of this and hadn't even considered it (the fact that it has a really boring cover doesn't help), and while I'm not going to be scrambling to read it as soon as possible, the elegant and emotionally engaging content here is enough for me to give it another look.

Re Jane by Patricia Park (out 7 May 2015)
Another book that appears to be set in the 90s (circa the 'dotcom bubble'), focusing on a group of Korean-American characters in an outer borough of New York. Zingy and overtly humorous, this opening was a bit too farcical for my tastes. I assume it gets a bit more serious later on, though, as it's apparently a modern retelling of Jane Eyre - which makes sense of the book's name: I thought it was 'Re: Jane', like the title of an email.

The Valley by John Renehan (out 9 April 2015)
Blah blah blah soldiers, war, the military. I couldn't even concentrate hard enough on this to make out any of what was going on. Profoundly dull.

Little Bastards in Springtime by Katja Rudolph (out 7 April 2015)
Opens in 1941 with a girl on the run; in a slightly surreal and fast-moving scene, she is quickly drawn into the machinations of a rebel political group. Coincidentally, this seems to be another book about war in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, and the main character is a boy who I presume must be a descendant of the woman portrayed in this extract. However, the style of this didn't captivate me anywhere near as much as the excerpt from Girl at War.

Bennington Girls are Easy by Charlotte Silver (out 14 July 2015)
This seems to be the only extract that doesn't begin at the very beginning... although it's very difficult to tell, because for some reason the formatting is really messed up and a lot of lines are cut off mid-sentence, only to reappear in truncated form in a completely different place. Consequently, I couldn't have read it properly if I'd wanted to. From what I can make out, it's one of those coming-of-age stories about rich graduates in New York that will probably get compared to Girls. Seems very name-droppy and chick-lit-like and not that interesting.

The Ambassador's Wife by Jennifer Steil (out 28 July 2015)
Terrible title: I assumed straight away that it was going to be a sugary historical romance. In actual fact it seems to be a political/war thriller, albeit one focused on the eponymous wife. Based on this extract, I'm not keen on the tone, took an instant dislike to the main character, and I'm worried it might actually be kind of racist. Not for me at all.

I received this sampler from the publisher through NetGalley.

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