Monday, 24 November 2014

Books for Christmas

The Christmas cactus is coming into flower, so it must be time to give my suggestions for books you might like to read this Christmas.

Let's get the obvious over with first. Accent publish my books in both Kindle and paperback. People usually prefer to give paperback books as gifts, and it's true that the paperbacks are a little (but not much) more expensive than paperbacks produced in large print runs by bigger publishers. They're still pretty inexpensive, though, and I still think that books make good gifts. If you ever run into me – and a lot of people who read this blog may do that – I'm happy to sign them for you.

Moving on to other authors, I'm going to concentrate on writers who are published by independent publishers. There are a lot of good writers who are published by mainstream publishers, but mainstream publishers have huge marketing and distribution departments and don't need my help to shift books.

Over the last few years I've been reading a lot of books published by tiny presses. Not that long ago, I was published by a tiny press myself. Let's be blunt and admit what everyone knows already: many of these books are badly presented, badly written, sometimes barely literate rubbish. However, many are perfectly good books and a few are really excellent. The best book I read in 2014 was published by a very small publisher in Australia. It was Unforgivable. I've written about it HERE. It's a stunning novel that I am going to keep plugging in the hope that one day it will get the recognition it deserves.

When you are looking at books from independent publishers, the name of the publisher does become rather important. I am published by Accent Press. I am not going to pretend that every book that Accent publishes is absolutely wonderful. I've looked at some and really not been that impressed. But everything they publish has been read by an editor who did like it – and who is to say that they are not right and I am not wrong. All Accent's books have been properly edited and proofread and are presented with the words in the right order on the page. (This should be a given, but trust me, I have been given books to review where it was not.) If you buy a book from a professional publisher like Accent – however small they are – you will have some basic guarantee of quality.

I'm reading an Accent book right now: Just One Damn Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor. I'm only a third of the way through, so I'm not in a position to give a proper review, but yesterday, for the first time in a long time, I sat in the bath reading until the water went cold. It's a story about time travel but, with its beautifully believable female main character, its eccentric English setting and its delightful sense of humour, it's far more Doctor Who than a traditional po-faced piece of science fiction. I suppose I could be disappointed, but I'm prepared to recommend this on what I've read so far.

Another Accent author I have read and enjoyed is Jean Goodhind. Something in the Blood is a traditional murder mystery, though as a whodunnit it leaves something to be desired. What it offers instead is smooth and witty writing, an attractive and entertaining heroine, rounded characters and a wonderful sense of place – in this case Bath. It's not Agatha Christie, but if you are looking for a book that will offer the reader undemanding entertainment on a winter's evening, you could do a very great deal worse.

Public Battles,Private Wars by Laura Wilkinson (Accent again) is a more serious and considered work that has, deservedly, received positive critical attention. A politically committed look at the miners' strike, with a strong feminist perspective, it does not let its ideology get in the way of telling a good story. Definitely a worthwhile read.

Let's finish with a couple of books from other publishers. Drawn to Perfection by Victoria Owens is published by Hookline Books. It was published in 2013, but it has a Regency setting and the style is straight out of Jane Austen's notebooks. There is a plot – actually rather a good plot – but I would recommend this book anyway. The characterisation and the sheer elegance of the writing blew me away. This is a fine example of why we should not dismiss books from smaller publishers. Given the amount of rubbish that mainstream houses push out into WHSmith every month, it's a shame and disgrace that something as beautifully written as this is unlikely to find a mass-market.

Finally, I'll mention Ticket to Paradise by Elizabeth Morgan. This is a novel, closely based on historical events, about the movement of Welsh settlers to Argentina in 1865.It’s a fascinating story, well told. Morgan writes well and with a great ear for the cadences of Welsh, which enlivens her dialogue. The history is riveting, and particularly interesting to anyone with an interest in Argentine history, as I know many of you have.

So there you are: half a dozen books from four different independent publishers, none of which you are going to see promoted in your local Waterstones, but all of which are, in their own ways, well worth reading. John Grisham is a great author, but he really doesn't need the money any more. This Christmas, why not give some consideration to books by authors you've never heard of from publishers you didn't know existed?


  1. Hi Tom,
    Thanks so much for this. Mine can be found at selected WH Smith and some branches of Waterstones, though it certainly won't be promoted in store! And £7.99 is totally average for a paperback, I feel - not that I'm bias or anything. Ahem.

  2. Tom, this is great - thank you! I'm struck by how many excellent covers there are in this list.