Sunday, 28 April 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls (Anton DiSclafani)

I was sent a preview copy at the beginning of this week and was in that wonderful and awful situation of wanting to read on to find out what happened and not wanting this book to end. I didn't quite miss my bus stop and need to walk back, but it was very close.

It's a fantastic story taking in the bubble that America's rich found themselves in even in the Depression. The slow decline in standards of living isn't affecting the many rich Southern families that have sent their daughters to Yonalossee for generations. The author has put together a coming-of-age story in the 'new girl at boarding school' tradition. Given that Thea seems scarcely to have spoken to anyone not a member of her immediate family, the culture shock is incredible. Thea's family lives in Florida and the isolated family estate and orange groves are for hunting wildlife and riding. She, her twin brother Sam and cousin George have a close relationship that's fractured by adolescence and rigid family observances of the proprieties. Finally, a scandal causes Thea to be sent away to school in North Carolina's Blue Mountains. Thea's only consolation is that she'll still be able to ride every day. She encounters a new set of values at school beyond the ladylike behaviour modelled by her mother: family, money and the ability to ride contribute to your ranking. Thea finds herself struggling to make friends, dress and cope with lessons and noise. How she copes with her exile, the changes to her own body and a new set of rules results in a complex sexual awakening that's handled deftly and with incredible realism.

This novel is one to buy and enjoy over a weekend - you'll be irritated at anyone who interrupts you or be reading through the night. Thanks to Headline Publicity for the proof. It's published on 6 June 2013 in hardback and e-Book and I really recommend reading it.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Browsing in Foyles

Bookseller updating on the second day of sunshine and a clear Alice-blue sky that promises spring, flowers and even Londoners are smiling on public transport. Actually, it's the weekend of the London Marathon: lots of happy tourists in London.

Have you seen the hoardings outside the former College of Art next to Foyles? It promises a new, expanded and improved Foyles for the next century. I'm delighted that Foyles has bounced back to become the bookshop of first choice for so many in London. It's a spectacular turnaround from 15 years ago when it wasn't quite such a pleasure to browse and buy in - sent from one desk with a chit to another to pay in a dark and dusty labyrinth. The books you wanted would probably be there. It was just a case of finding out where, precisely, they'd been shelved.

Whether or not it's a London bubble with good salaries and tourists still plentiful, Foyles has developed well in the last few years and has an enviable number of repeat customers. I know that it's also expanded to Bristol, not that I know the city or the branch. The St Pancras branch is small, well-stocked with books for the traveller in need of something interesting to read on the train. Most people don't have the Wildean scandal of a diary, so a paperback comes in handy.

I admire their selections in both small and large branches. There are a good number of new bestsellers and other, quirkier items that you might not have heard of and a blurb that'll draw you in. You can also rely on the bookseller knowing the author you're seeking when you just can't remember that Paul Torday wrote Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, though you could remember the 'T' and were hoping not to need to go through the entire section moving your head to one side and the other reading the spines. The shop sparkles from the care that everyone has put into it and the sheer number of red bags in the local area shows trade is going well.

What can other businesses learn from all this? Mostly, it's doing the basics well.

1. Don't leave unshelved stock on the floor. Unless, of course, you really want it to get damaged.

2. Keep replenishing the stock. Empty shelves don't look good or make the shop look cared-for.

3. Train your staff - have an environment where they're supported, happy to be there and ready to answer questions. Even if they are required to fend off 'Is this a bookshop?' politely.

4. Label areas clearly. Floor-plans are brilliant, as are signs to lifts and stairs.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

This is a title that won't be published in the UK until a bit later in 2013 (Amazon says 7 November for the paperback which comes up first in the results, though a hardback comes out at the beginning of June), but it's one that I'll certainly be buying. The sound of the title drew me in - it's a wonderful sound - and the short blurb captivated me as I do like a good costume drama and I hope that doesn't sound unflattering as it's intended as a compliment.

I don't know the author, nor have I seen a review copy. This is simply excitement at finding a story that's shot to the top of my wish-list. It has all sorts of promising elements: 1930s America, high society, riding, a boarding-school story in a new setting. I'm looking forward to finding out more about the scandal that caused Thea to be sent away to boarding school (or is it finishing school?) as it seems to be for debutantes.

One to look out for from new-to-me author Anton DiSclafani. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Jane Beaton - Rules and Class

I keep hoping that we'll see another instalment of Jane Beaton's Class series, but think that too much time has passed since the first two for that to happen. It may be that there aren't any more or that she's moved publisher. I simply don't know. Having re-read both earlier in the week I do know that Class and Rules are a fun pair to read and promised for an entertaining series. I thought that six were planned.

Jane Beaton's a great fan of vintage and modern school stories and this is clearly reflected in her character names: Prosser (Kingscote scholarship, Antonia Forest), Trebizon-Woods (Anne Digby), Simone (Chalet School, Brent-Dyer) and setting her books in a Cornish school complete with hockey fields and castle-looks (Enid Blyton).

Maggie Adair applies for the job of English mistress at Downey House on a whim and is astonished to find she is offered the job. Her long-term unambitious boyfriend is even more surprised that she accepts. She's from the state sector in Glasgow and Cornwall's private sector is as much of a shock as a pleasure. There's a quick mention of 'lesson-planning' where Maggie realises that she can teach for the full period and doesn't need to set time aside for breaking up fights. She's very much the inspirational teacher and one getting to grips with responsibilities: to her pupils, her colleagues and herself.

Both books do a very good job of showing how isolating teaching can be, how rewarding and how draining. Daft pranks have their place as well as some skillful work at showing the unkindness of a single-sex environment from the pupils' perspective. Perhaps it's exaggerating to say 'bullying', though there's plenty of low-level nastiness from the villain.

(Apologies for any odd spelling above that I may have missed. One English dictionary on one piece of software is fighting the American dictionary on another). 

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Other Miss Perkin - Lorna Hill

Rights negotiations take months and I am trying for three titles. The silence worries me a bit, but people do need time to consider offers and former publishers also need time to find rights and answer emails. It's also the run-up to the Book Fair Season (London and New York), so that'll be a priority for them. It's for a pony book and I've never had so much difficulty chasing down permission for anything. It could just be that animal stories aren't for my list, though I hope not. The historical novel is proving far less problematic. 

So, I can't do anything more about rights this afternoon, but I can tell you about a charming novel for adults by Lorna Hill. I knew her as the writer of the Wells series and have a few of her ballet books somewhere, though they may end up for sale at some point as I didn't like them as much on rereading. I'm keeping my copy of The Other Miss Perkin as it's one to read with tea and biscuits in one go over an afternoon.

This is a fantastic escapist read in the vein of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. It has the same quiet charm and takes genuine pleasure in small things. Miss Perkin, a middle-aged Englishwoman who doesn't even own a passport, wins a trip to America. This book is set some time in the 1905s when flying was for the rich and every passenger was offered a champagne cocktail with refills. Miss Perkin can be summed up as one of life's copers. She's the housekeeper you'd love to have and a good vicar's daughter. She's dependable and predicable with a marvellous fantasy dream-life that she indulges with the help of magazines - probably gleaned secondhand from her employer. Her trip to America is fascinating as she explores New York on foot and stretches every cent to manage a trip to the Grand Canyon. It's a gentle Cinderella story as a millionaire sees past her dowdy image, faded clothes and careworn appearance to find her a very caring companion. 

Once you've read this and enjoyed all the rail travel across the United States (from New York to the Grand Canyon) can I recommend Susan Coolidge's Clover and In the High Valley for Colorado scenes. Thanks to Project Gutenberg both are free. Then for New York and California travel, try Noel Streatfeild's The Painted Garden. You do need to find a hardback reprint for that as they cut all of that (over a chapter) from the Puffin paperback and I still think that's a shame.

Monday, 1 April 2013

New month - what to read

Friends who blog usually note 'what they've been reading' this month at month end. Which is a nicer idea than the chaos of a financial month end in retail or accounts. I was always put off by reading diaries, ever since the school insisted that I couldn't possibly have read that much in a week. (I could and did). Now, though, I'm buying and borrowing as many books as ever, not that I mention what I couldn't finish, hated or just 'passed the time'.

I love reading through what other readers are reading. I find it harder to trust mainstream print reviews as there are too many friends reviewing friends or academics looking for goodwill, but bloggers are happier to critique a free book. Some bloggers do wonderful reviews and I'm pleased to see them and consider. I also find the mixture of vintage and modern offerings that bloggers tend to offer to be far more interesting. I mentioned Waitrose's newsletter a while ago - it's good to see vintage and modern represented in their book reviews area. Books need time and often word-of-mouth to gain a readership and that's what so many books don't receive. Your average high-street bookshop has very limited shelf space and is under tremendous pressure to move stock, so you have to remember to buy what looked interesting now and hope you can balance your finances until payday.

So, rather than use a Goodreads or a LibraryThing model, perhaps publishers could modify their websites and print on demand offerings to balance backlist titles and the newest of the new. Yes, I realise publishers are now huge corporations, but they could show readers their imprints and suggest future novels to read within that imprint in a slightly different way to promote brand identity. Are people loyal to publishers or is it really to one author? I'd be very interested to know. I blog, admittedly quietly, to maintain interest in my books and remind people that I'm still here. I can only publish so many each year, so Twitter and the blog have to work to gain attention.