Monday, June 15, 2009

Savidge Reads Doesn't Live Here Anymore...

Don't worry this is merely a relocation rather than a farewell as you can read below!

You can now find the new look Savidge Reads at http://savidgereads.wordpress.com/ so before popping by for a natter do update your address book!

Now when do I throw the housewarming party? Suggestions welcomed over at the other site!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Waving Goodbye & Then Waving Hello

So after taking in all of your feedback I made the decision that I am definitely moving to pastures new and if you are reading Savidge Reads on Blogger then it’s a farewell, if you are looking at Savidge Reads on Wordpress then “hello and welcome” as it is officially my new home so from now on do drop your comments on the Wordpress one http://savidgereads.wordpress.com

I wouldn’t say that the move has been emotional as I think that might be a slight over dramatisation. It has been a bit difficult in terms of saying goodbye to a site I took so long to get right and I was worried that none of you would follow me but already I have found your commenting there, I now get email alerts when you do which completely flummoxed me at first. It’s not been difficult swapping to Wordpress at all though and I am not the most technological man in the world.

A few of you said you would like to know how the transition was and the answer is… really easy. I won’t lie, I did find the new dashboard a little daunting but the forums and support are cracking help as you go. I am only annoyed that I simply cannot for the life of me work out how to make a “Currently Reading” tab but I have some help coming on that one from the lovely Lizzy Siddal. The best thing about the move I am hoping is that I will be able to interact with you all much more. I mentioned I get notified of your comments now and rather than reply in bulk I can now do it individually. I have started working more on the additional pages which you should be able to see around Tuesday, keep your eye on the Book Group page particularly, in fact Tuesdays blog will link into that too… but more of that later.

Before I go I just want to say a HUGE thank you to you all for your feedback it meant lots to me, now its all done I will be catching up with your blogs tomorrow I promise.
Do bear/bare (I can never get that right) with me while I sort out things like ‘tags’ which has been my one and only nightmare in terms of dragging the blog from one site to another and while I get used to accidentally deleting and finding things. It will all be worth it hopefully! Oh and don’t forget if you have my site in your top blog links (I flatter myself some of you might have) to update the link and let me know when you have as I will do the same back. Did that make sense? I think it’s all been a bit much this weekend, ha!

Oh and one final change… my email address, you can now get hold of me at savidgereads@googlemail.com

Erm that’s it for now… it’s all new as of tomorrow!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

This is a blog beg from a man on the edge... Ok so I really, really need your help with this decision, as I mentioned yesterday (though this being blogger it could turn up any day it chooses) I am spending most of the weekend trying to chill out whilst having a sort out. Now one of the things that I had set out to do was look at other blog providers and I have now set up a new blog site that I am going to trial for a week or so.

However what I need from you the people who come and visit the blog (and who, bar myself, I write the blog for) is your thoughts on the two different sites and if I should move. So the site for you to now run like the wind to and check out is...

http://savidgereads.wordpress.com/

I would love, love, love your feedback as it means heaps to me, and obviously I want you guys to like it. My current thoughts are that blogger looks more classic and I can have my 'current reads' on the page, wordpress looks more modern and I can have more than one page for things like The Savidge Reads & Kimbofo Book Group and also my top reads of all time etc, etc. The Converted One managed to drag thier eyes away from their copy of David Starkey's 'Henry' to announce 'the new one is better its more colourful, more you and you can put so much more on it' however, though The Converted One is now enjoying books, popping by my blog daily is quite a different matter!

So please let me know what you think by leaving your comments on here, like I said it means a huge amount to me. Thats my begging over... I will continue to sort my book world out and await your thoughts! It's a bit like Big Brother (which I am refusing to watch this year) "Blogspot or Wordpress, who goes... you decide!"

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sorting It All Out

Sorry for some blogging silence today but I am having one of my sort outs. On the list of things to do over the next coming weekend is really sort out my TBR piles, TBR boxes and finding all of my duplicate copies of books as then I can do some sort of giveaway to you lovely people who come by and comment. I also plan to go through my bookshelves. I seem to have quite a few books on there that I simply thought were ‘quite good’ or nice and am wondering whether I really need to keep hording them or make room for books that I love instead. I think a longer blog on this will be coming over the weekend as frankly today I am shattered. I still haven’t recovered from Switzerland; however I have a three day weekend now!

Another thing that I need to sort out is what books have come in recently and when they are released as I would like to post reviews when the books are actually out. I also want to make sure that some real true classics are at the top of my TBR pile as I haven’t been fulfilling the promise I made this year to read more of them. Speaking of latest arrivals, since I last told you what came in I have received…



City of Thieves – David Benioff (which came with an additional jacket that said if you don’t like this we will send you two books in return – now that’s a promise)
Molly Fox’s Birthday – Deirdre Madden (which I have read but still isn’t showing up on my blog… more on that shortly)
The Séance – John Harwood (very excited)
Casanova – Ian Kelly (a biography – interesting)
Daphne – Justine Picardie (the paperback, so now I have two)
Call For The Dead – John Le Carre
A Murder of Quality – John Le Carre
The Looking Glass War – John Le Carre
The Spy Who Came In From The Cold – John Le Carre (the only one of these I had heard of)
Henry – David Starkey (another biography)
The Coma – Alex Garland
Valeria’s Last Stand – Marc Fitten
Sunnyside – Glen David Gold (another duplicate)

Oh I forgot three… see what I mean about needing to sort everything out! I have also had these…
Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy (with the most summery cover)
Ghosts & Lightning – Trevor Byrne
Come Sunday – Isla Murphy (other than Thomas Hardy I know nothing of these authors)

The other big thing I have been sorting out is a possible new blog site! I have been working like an absolute demon on researching and actually trialling some of the other blog providers apart from Blogger which as you may know I am having some slight problems with. I had a good look into Typepad which is a popular one and I do love the layout that people like Dovergreyreader have but I feel a bit funny about paying for a blog. So after much whittling and indecision I have decided to try out Wordpress. Now I haven’t gone there for good but I am giving it a go as I love the fact that your blog can have several pages. So I have made some extra ones, sadly I cant have a currently reading column, well it could be the fact that I haven’t worked out what to do with it yet!

My trail site is HERE and I would love, love, love to hear what you think. So do please let me know. I think this one is more classic but with less pages and the new one is more modern... oh I don't know... you decide!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Books About Books

Today’s question on Booking Through Thursday is all about Niche books. “There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.)
But then there are books that only YOU read. Instructional manuals for fly-fishing. How-to books for spinning yarn. How to cook the perfect soufflé, rebuilding car engines in three easy steps. Dog training for dummies. Rewiring your house without electrocuting yourself. Tips on how to build a NASCAR course in your backyard. Stuff like that.
What niche books do YOU read?”

I have to say in all honesty that none of the above appeal to me and nor do niche books in general. I don’t really do D.I.Y when generally simply phoning the landlord gets everything done, but maybe when I finally buy a house (with a library) of my very own then I will. I am not really a big arts and crafts person, though I think I have an inner ‘knitter’ screaming to get out of me. I do have quite a few cookery books if that counts though?

If there were to be two types of ‘niche books’ that I do buy the first would be books on ghosts. Seriously, I have a whole shelf devoted to them. In fact when I get home later I will try and remember to take a photo of said shelf for proof. I tend to buy older dustier copies of these as they seem a bit spookier, though you may notice the odd ‘Most Haunted’ book thrown in the mix.

However the ‘niche’ books that I have only a few of and would love to have many, many more of are… books about books and books about reading books.
The only thing is they seem to be few and far between. I have read ‘The Book Club Bible’ collated by Lionel Shriver and Sara Nelson’s ‘So Many Books So Little Time’, I also have ’84 Charing Cross Road’ by Helene Hanff and ‘Reading Lolita In Tehran: A Memoir of Books’ by Azar Nafisi high up on my TBR piles. But I need more for the future to make a collection and so I need suggestions from all of you of books about books that frankly I simply must own. I look forward to your suggestions…

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Vanish - Tess Gerritsen

I hate flying but from now on whenever I have a big trip coming up I am going to have to make sure that I take a Tess Gerritsen book with me. I had been unsure of which book to read as I flew to and from Switzerland and most of my contenders seemed too heavy (especially as I was on a little bit of vallium) but my latest read in the Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles novels ‘Vanish’ was absolutely perfect. I always say that a Tess Gerritsen book for me is my favourite ‘Guilty Pleasure’ but actually I am going to remove that tag from her books now as frankly literary or not (dependent on what you believe is and isn’t literature) she writes brilliant books that completely grip me and have me turning pages like crazy.

Vanish is in fact the fifth book in what was the Jane Rizzoli series and then became the Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isle series of crime/thriller novels that Tess Gerritsen has become incredibly famous for. Every single of the previous fur I have absolutely loved and raced through and so each time I open another one I always worry that this will be the one that I don’t like or that isn’t as good as the ones that have gone before it. I needn’t have worried as I was in safe, if gruesome, hands of a master of her work, or is it mistress of her work?

Dr Maura Isles is going about her routine paperwork at the morgue when she hears a noise. Not one for getting the creeps, as she is named ‘Queen of the Dead’, even she is shocked when she checks on the bodies and one of them opens their eyes. The woman is rushed to hospital where she then (and this isn’t spoiling the plot as its in the blurb) kills a guard and takes some of the staff and patients hostage. One such hostage is Detective Jane Rizzoli of homicide who is heavily pregnant. Who is this Jane Doe and what does she want and can Jane survive long enough to find out.

In previous books, as with this one, they are quite gruesome dark and tense. What makes an interesting twist with this book in particular is that Gerritsen decides to throw in some political twists which she hasn’t done so much in the past, had I known this I would possibly have been put off a little as I don’t do politics but Gerritsen makes it compelling reading adding to the suspense and twists which I don’t find many authors manage when they cross over the political thriller with the crime thriller. I can see this book gaining Gerritsen even more fans who may not have tried her before.

Along with all this is the fact that Gerritsen herself is a doctor and so she knows what she is talking about, never for one minute do you feel any of the scenes in the hospitals or morgues are faked, in fact Gerritsen has said that finding non dead people in morgues is more common than you would think which is a bit of a scary thought. Ok so some of the story line means you really have to suspend your belief (in the last one Dr Maura Isles opens up a body bag to see herself in it), but many, many books do that. Her characters though are superb and she does something only a few crime writers do which is get the reader to know the victim, making the death not only shocking tense and chilling but also adding the feeling you know that person makes it all the more horrific to read. I can’t say a bad thing about this book and do you know what… the next book, The Mephisto Club, sounds even better!

It was also perfect after the Orange shortlist (reviews still being sorted for the final two I read… I don’t understand what blogger is playing at) which though a great read and made me read some wonderful books I would otherwise have missed was a bit like an exercise and all too planned. Now before I try and do the Man Booker Long list when its announced I am more than happy to just let my reading whims take me wherever they should lead. Bliss!

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Fifteen In Fifteen: A Quick & Easy Blog

…Which is exactly what I need whilst I get my bearings after a nice break away and whilst all seems to be chaos in the land of blogger! Genuinely if you can recommend another blog site I am definitely thinking about changing provider, though can you carry over all you have already done?

Anyway I realized that I had missed last weeks Booking Through Thursday and so thought “why not do it now” especially as it was the fun and fairly quick “Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.” And here are what I came up with…

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
The Woman In White – Wilkie Collins
The Time Travelers’ Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
Hound of the Baskervilles – Arthur Conan Doyle
The Woman In Black – Susan Hill
Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
The Boy in the Stripped Pyjama’s – John Boyne
Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Mr Pip - Lloyd Jones
State of Happiness – Stella Duffy
Human Croquet – Kate Atkinson
Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

These are in no particular order by the way it is literally as they came into my head. I did then think of Helen Garners 'The Spare Room but that would be sixteen! As to why these books stuck, it would be the plot, the characters and the prose plus most books which stick in my head but arent my instant favoruites are ones that reall make me think and all 15 of these have in varying ways. Isnt it weird though that the books that have ‘stuck with me’ aren’t all the ones that I would say are my favourite fifteen books of all time. That would be quite, quite a different list maybe I will blog about that another time, and if things keep going as they do maybe on another blog!

What about you do your fifteen books that have 'stuck' matched your favourites and what is it that makes a book stick in your head?

Monday, June 08, 2009

So Loved Switzerland...

Now I am going to ignore the fact that blogger seems to have not uploaded my review of The Wilderness and merely left a title or the fact it completely didnt bother to upload the review of Molly Fox's Birthday... instead I am going to think about my trip to Switzerland which was amazing and so, so, so relaxing! I thought I would share some pictures of my trip with you before I get down to sorting this site out... call it a image interlude!

Here is my new favourite city Lucerne...

The one from my balcony...

And here is the lovely Zurich, which I think I am addicted to as I have been twice in six months...

And finally here is the lovely holidaying gang (I'm on the right)...

A little more insight into the 'non-book' side of me. Did I read much? I have to admit I didn't I think that the Orange Shortlist required a reading break after it (let's not even discuss the winner I will get cross and I am still relaxed from spa-ing) I did devour some trash and have some very heated book debates but more on those when I can get blinking blogger performing properly! Hope you are all well?

Saturday, June 06, 2009

You Know I Mentioned About Book Groups…

A very short blog today but sometimes the smallest things can have the biggest news in them. I should get straight to the point shouldn’t I rather than simply just waffle on endlessly which frankly could happen couldn’t it?

The other week I mentioned that I really wanted to join a book group but had been having real problems finding a good one in the flesh or online. Well you all sent me some wonderful thoughts and ideas, I did particularly like the idea of a Skype book group. However randomly I had a chat with the lovely Kimbofo who is a fellow London book blogger and we have come to the conclusion that we will be starting one together in London Town.

We would welcome anyone who wishes to join us, though you do have to take a literary quiz in order to be accepted… that last bit is a joke, can you imagine if we were insistent on that, I would fail it and not be allowed into my own group. So if you are interested in coming along to the meetings which will be held once a month then please drop either me or Kimbofo an email via our blogs and we look forward to getting to know you. We are just tweaking how the group is going to work but everyone will be able to choose a book in turn but all will be revealed at the first meeting when all we ask is that people bring along their very favourite read… I look forward to your emails!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Reading Journals

I have been debating getting myself a notebook especially for all my book thoughts as I go for quite some time now. Partly because I don’t think I have grown out of that love for new stationary that you have as a child at school when new terms start (I would regularly loose books on purpose simply so I could get a new one, not so good when it came to revision) the other part is that I think blogging is great but its nice to have a private diary where I can write extra little silly thoughts I have and have a place to write down the titles for books I really want to get my mitts on. I already do this in all the many random notebooks I own. I did want to take a photo of one so that you could see how my mind works on paper when am reading but I appear to have lost about three notebooks or left them in random bags and offices and don’t have time.

Hence why I am thinking that maybe a general notebook ONLY for books would be a good idea? The other reason may also be the fact that I saw that Penguin were now selling these in a certain chain of bookstores here in the UK…
I can’t deny it, I wanted one on sight, but at £12 I was slightly dubious about it and unusually for me I left a book shop empty handed. I am thinking that I deserve a treat for something; I am just not sure quite what that something is yet. I will have to think it over. What I have done though is pack a notebook (not anywhere near as special as the ones above) so that while I am in Switzerland I can give it a go and see whether it makes a big difference or not and how much I use it. Do any of you keep Journals or Notebooks of what you have read as well as or instead of a Blog? I would love to hear your thoughts by the time I am back and I will let you know how it all goes!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Who Do I Think Should Win The Orange Prize?

So tonight is the ceremony which sees the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction announced. I have to say I have it to thank for finding some wonderful books that I would have shamefully possibly missed out on and one particular author whose backlog of books I am getting very ‘Amazon Happy’ about. Sadly due to bloggers recent behaviour I haven’t been able to put the reviews for two of them up but I will and I can promise you that I have read them all and here, before it is announced (if blogger doesn’t go crazy) is who I think should win, I will admit it was almost a draw but my Orange Prize would go to…


...Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie! I know I have already waffled on about how wonderful I thought this book was but days on I am still talking to everyone about it and frankly I can’t be stopped. As soon as it comes out in paperback I have a list as long as my arm of people that I will have to send copies too. I think the one thing I wished that I had added in my review (which you can find here) is that it’s also very much a book for our times. We like so much to think that the human race has come such a long way forward and in reality I am not sure how true that is and in some ways (not all but some) Kamila Shamsie’s book captivates this and along with sadness and despair she brings hope in a wonderful, wonderful character such as Hiroko.

I did say that this could have easily been a drawer and the book that I would also be more than happy to see win has to be The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (the review should be up on here on Friday) as the tale of a man and his developing Alzheimer’s and how he tries to remember his life story is another absolutely wonderful book. I would love it if one of them won the Orange and one of them won the Booker that would be quite fabulous wouldn’t it. If Ellen Feldmen or Samantha Hunt won I would be happy too (reviews are here and here), they were both very good books. I remain undecided on Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden possibly because I haven’t quite finished it (review will be up Monday when am back and have more time) but it’s left me luke warm for now. I won’t comment on Home, you can all read my struggle with that here.

Will I be right? I won’t actually know until Monday… how vexing! What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Taking On My Travels

It’s all going a little bit wrong in the land of Blogger which I am finding quite annoying as it isn’t seeming to let me do any blogs before today when I want it to (additional note this should have been posted successfully at 11am not almost 11pm) and I am fairly unimpressed as I am desperately trying to get my Orange thoughts to you before tomorrow. Burnt Shadows finally seems to be up but it’s not letting me do two more which is really irritating! What I may have to do is put the reviews up in advance and you can get my full thoughts on the list on Wednesday and reviews of the final two afterwards, that cant be considered cheating as frankly I have read them and done the time. It is also annoying when you are trying to write a week worth of blogs so that while you are away magically there is something fun for your readers daily! I have to admit I am seriously thinking about moving blog provider when I come back from Switzerland or will that confuse things even more? Any advice or thoughts would be much appreciated.

Anyway onto happier things I am off on holiday, in fact by the time this goes up I will be there… or even back who knows (I mustn’t think of that or I will worry while I am away and am on an internet break) and so of course I need to have some books to take on my travels. I think I have shown you how I do this before, in fact I have, but I base my travelling choices like this…

a) Something big I have been meaning to read for ages
b) A guilty pleasure read in case the above really just doesn’t work out, you know something slightly erm… un-literary??!!
c) Something by one of my favourite authors
d) Something brand spanking new ‘just in’ as you never know
e) A good crime novel
f) Something that has been hovering on my TBR pile and reading radar for sometime

Now because I am away for a week and doing a lot of train travelling across the Swiss landscape there will therefore be a lot of dragging of suitcases, so I have limited myself to five but some of them fit in several categories! So my Swiss TBR pile is looking very much like this…


Vanish – Tess Gerritsen
I love Tess as and author and frankly I have been holding of the next in the series for as long as physically possible. She’s becoming less and less of a guilty pleasure and more and more of an open obsession plus its crime and something that should keep my mind off being up in the air in a plane which I hate with a passion.

Wavewalker – Stella Duffy
You know that I love Stella’s work and this is the second in her crime series. I really enjoyed the first and so have high hopes for this, I will be saving it for my flight back as think it will take my mind of being in a tin can so many miles above the earth. Moving swiftly on…

Daphne – Justine Picardie
I have now said I will take this with me and read it on three holidays and its getting out of hand. A book all about the wonderful Daphne Du Maurier and The Bronte’s really is a must read, shame on me. I have just realised I still haven’t done a review of the new Daphne short stories so I will sort that out when I am back.

The Devil’s Paintbrush – Jake Arnott
This sees Jake leave the crime Genre and go all historical on us. I don’t have too much of an insight into what it’s about as I am desperate for it to be a surprise. It’s also been on a travel trip with me and come back unread, second time lucky let’s hope.

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
How could I not, I have managed to hold of the whole way through the Orange shortlist and I refuse to hold off any longer. That is all I have to say on it for the matter. A few of you seem quite divided on this book which has made me all the more intrigued.

…Now tell me London City Airport doesn’t have a book shop does it that could be lethal with time to kill and nerves galore!?! Oh and additional comment, please don’t be offended if I don’t visit your blogs or comment back on here while I am away, I will do so with gusto when I am back!

Blogger Not Blogging

Hello, just a quick note to say that blogs from Sunday onwards maybe randomly appearing over the next 24 hours, so dont think I havent been blogging it appears that Blogger has a bug and theres some faults going on. This isnt very helpful when I am flying off to Switzerland in less than 24 hours and am trying to programme timed blogs daily whilst I am away! How selfish of it all... erm thats all. When the blogs have all sorted themselves out it will be like a lovely bumper read for you all, after which... this message will self destruct! Ha!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Burnt Shadows - Kamila Shamsie

This was actually the book that the person who was once named The Non Reader, and has now become The Converted One (thanks to Books Psmith - Brighton Rock in the post) bought me quite a while back. In such an effort to find a book that I liked and didn’t own, The Converted One checked in all my TBR boxes and piles, on my shelves, even asked a few friends and then made sure the reviews in the press and some of my favourite authors quotes we all good before buying.. I have to say The Converted One’s research would have culminated into one of my favourite books of the year… only for the book to then turn up three days later in the post from the people at Bloomsbury! It’s the thought though that counts!

Burnt Shadows for me has been a complete and utter joy to read. In fact I could go as far as to say its one of the rare books that you pick up, devour, put down and then get itching to start at again. It’s going to be a hard book to review because there is so much to encompass and so much to praise but I will do my best.

The story follows possibly my favourite character of the year so far (and there have been a few contenders) Hiroko Tanaka on August the 9th 1945 in Nagasaki just before they dropped the bomb and ‘the world turns white’. Though Hiroko survives her German lover Konrad is killed. Two years later as India declares its independence she turns up on his half-sisters door step in Delhi with nowhere to stay and becomes attracted to their servant Sajjad and all this is in the first 60 pages. The book then follows Hiroko’s story and the story of people around her (that’s all I am saying trying not to plot spoil) through more pivotal times in history such as the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and America post 9/11.

Burnt Shadows as you can probably tell is an epic novel. However despite the subject matter, which is dealt with in a thought provoking, shocking, touching and yet tactful the book never feels heavy even though at times it is wrought with emotion. If I had one small complaint it would be that I could have read another 200 pages easily. In keeping the book just over 340 pages long Shamsie does hurry slightly towards the quite amazing climax.

Hiroko herself is an additional reason that you should read the book. A quirky sparky victim of her times at no one point does she ever complain she just keeps trying and hoping (this isn’t a woe is me tale because Shamsie doesn’t ever let it be) and most importantly observing. Some would say that to cover all the different era’s, cultures, and issues of this time span would be far too ambitious for any writer and yet I thought that Shamsie did this effortlessly, there must have been hours and hours of research that went into this book and without question it has paid off. I can unashamedly say that I think this is one of my favourite books of the year so far no question.

I don’t feel that I have written enough to justify what an amazing book it is, but then I don’t really think I could if I wrote for about ten pages of praise for the novel. I will simply say please read it. Do I think it could win the Orange Prize? Yes I do and part of me thinks that it definitely should however it has one contender which I haven’t reviewed yet which I think is the other most deserving winner and in fact I am hoping that both of these books make it onto the Man Booker list later in the year, but more of that another time…

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Not Getting Home

I don’t feel that in all honesty I can review Marilynne Robinson’s Home as I didn’t finish it, in fact sadly I didn’t even get close. Now as I have said I don’t slag anyone’s books off on this blog as I think discouraging people to choose what they wish to read is wrong, encouraging on the other hand is quite a different story. I might hate a book (a very rare thing) and you might love it. If I don’t like a book, as I have said before, there is Rule 80 and sadly Home was one of the books that didn’t make it past Rule 80.

With prose as wonderful as the whole of the first 80 pages were, how could I not continue? This wasn’t a badly written book, quite the opposite, but for some reason it simply didn’t hold my attention. I think in my head there was also what I am naming ‘The Gilead Effect’. I read Gilead a few weeks ago and whilst by no means was I driven by the plot I couldn’t stop reading the absolutely stunning prose it kept me flowing through page after page. I liked the book, I didn’t love it but knowing Home was set in the same village over the same period of time as I picked up the book I found myself thinking ‘I should have given myself a bigger gap between these two’ but as I am reading the Orange list by Wednesday before the winners announced I needed to try and read it.

I don’t know if it was the fact that I read Home so soon after Gilead but I found myself forgetting how wonderful the prose was and thinking ‘this is a cop out, this is an author dishing us up almost the same story in the same village only with a female voice in the mix (which I was actually finding easier to read). I felt a bit like, and I am sure this isn’t true, that having taken 25 years to follow up Housekeeping with Gilead, Robinson had decided to take two yeas to edit re-tell and slightly twist in terms of situation her last book. Sadly this really influenced my reading experience.

I haven’t given up on Home. It has gone into one of my TBR boxes so that one day when Gilead seems to be more of a memory and less fresh in my mind I can read Home and take it as a stand alone book. I am sure the prose will then move me like Gilead’s did I just think sometimes authors and certain books need a big breathing space between them. Do any of you feel like that? What are your thoughts on Home if you have read it?

Note: If Marilynne Robinson’s next book is set in Gilead at the next neighbour’s house then I fear I may not be able to read anything else by her as that would prove a point in my head one that I am trying so hard to dispel.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Invention of Everything Else - Samantha Hunt

The second of my Orange shortlist reads has quite taken me by surprise. I think I am going to have to stop myself reading other peoples reviews of what I am very shortly going to read and hold off until I have finished reading the book. I love reading other peoples thoughts on books and indeed find some great new books to read through others but sometimes it can overhype a book and other times it can make you dread a book. Samantha Hunt’s novel ‘The Invention of Everything Else’ was falling into the latter category and frankly I shouldn’t have let it.

The Invention of Everything Else starts quite surreally with the inventor and scientist Nikola Tesla waiting for a pigeon at his hotel window, one who when doesn’t appear he goes to find and ends up in deep conversation with. If scientists talking to pigeons would put you off reading a book like it might do me please do try and continue, normally I would have put the book down and not picked it up again, it just seemed a little bit too whacky. However something in Samantha Hunt’s writing kept me reading and held a promise of more to come and she didn’t fail in that.

Nikola Tesla has become something of a recluse in his later life, slightly embittered after having his colleague Marconi steal his invention of ‘the radio’, he has lost touch with reality and the world and lives alone in room 3327 of the New Yorker Hotel creating new inventions and avoiding people. However one person he cant seem to avoid is Louisa, a young chambermaid who has an inquisitive streak and keeps ‘cleaning’ his room/laboratory which she finds as mesmerising as his inventions and mysterious air. However it isn’t only the fact that they have the hotel (which is wonderfully described as in the 1940’s it was one of the tallest largest hotels in existence) in common, as the book continues their separate lives become more and more linked. A friend of Louisa’s father suddenly reappears after two years ‘missing’ claiming he has designed a time machine which happens to be based on Tesla’s theories. It is chance that at the same time mysterious man called Arthur bumps into Louisa and knows everything about her and then who is told, by her fathers friend, to be her future husband? I wont say any more for fear of giving away more of the plot which I became totally lost in.

Like I said I wasn’t sure I was going to like this book at all from how it started and also from the fact I hate science (seriously it goes over my head or bores me) but I completely fell under its spell. I can see why people found it The premise is a little whacky though Nikola Tesla is indeed a very real scientist and inventor but I loved the magical almost science fiction to it that in some ways reminded me of one of my favourite books The Time Travellers Wife and in other ways some of Margaret Atwood’s surreal magical moments both of which are great things. An unusual book that I wasn’t expecting and which completely won me over where many couldn’t have.

… So at the moment two books in it’s a roaring success, and I have nearly finished Burnt Shadows which is… no, I shall hold my tongue until the last page is turned as it could all change for the better or worse.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Scottsboro - Ellen Feldman

...And so here comes (finally I hear you all cry – I did actually finish this book quite some time a go) the first of my reviews, get ready for a mad rush of them over the weekend, of the short listed books that are up for the Orange Prize revealed next Wednesday. I couldn’t decide quite which one to start with (I will admit it wasn’t going to be Home as I had read Gilead too recently) so shamelessly I went for the one with the cover that most appealed and after a toss up between Burnt Shadows and Scottsboro I chose the latter.

Scottsboro is a novel based on the true story of a trail in the town of the same name in Alabama in 1931. A trial which “the principles that, in the United States, criminal defendants are entitled to effective assistance of counsel and that people may not be de facto excluded from juries because of their race.” Two white girls had accused nine young black men of raping them on a freight train back in times when if you were black sometimes you didn’t even need a trial you could just be hung by the locals and it was overlooked by the law and judicial system. However these cases made it to the courts even though “the juries were entirely white, their attorneys had little experience in criminal law, and the judge gave them no time at all to prepare their cases”. I am quite ashamed to admit that I had never heard of what is such an incredibly important case in history.

The fictional story is told through two voices. The first of which is Ruby Bates, one of the girls who accused the boys of rape and then proceeded to change her mind several times. Her story tells of the desperate poverty and life that she led as a penniless prostitute and how the infamy of the case changed her fortunes and her life and yet she knew what she was doing was wrong. Through her eyes we get the tale of a good girl gone bad due to circumstance and how when things get much to big for her she tries to do right but can she change a media whirlwind completely beyond her control. The second voice is that of one of the media, journalist Alice Whittier. However unlike the other journalists who are interested in sensationalizing the whole case, Alice is looking at it from the perspective of ‘what if these young men are innocent’ this doesn’t by any means make her a ‘heroine of the piece’ though. In fact though Alice is a wonderful factual voice for the whole plot and all the key facts and twists in the case, I never felt like I really got to know her which would be my one main criticism of the book overall.

Some people have said the book reads as non fiction, which I would partially agree with, bar the incredibly well created, depicted and carried off character of Ruby Bates who I didn’t like but wanted to follow and read more of. I thought that the other girl Victoria, who also accused the boys of rape, was also incredibly well crafted and incredibly dislikable. I can see how a book couldn’t be carried by just these two though as you do need the facts and the twists. It’s an amazing case (I have included a picture of the boys below as I found it made it even more real) which undoubtedly people should know much, much more about and I think in a market where a book like Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ has done so well a great book like this with find a huge amount of people who will really enjoy the book like I did.
So first Orange Short Lister in and this is my favourite so far! I have read one and a half more since I put Scottsboro down I just needed to give myself a break from the emotional rollercoaster of frustration, anger and sadness that you get with a novel like this (you can't ask much more from a book than that can you) before I could actually write about it. Would it stay my favourite... you will have to wait and see!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Unread

That would make quite a good book or movie title in itself wouldn’t it, ‘The Unread’? Anyway, today’s Booking Through Thursday question was, as always, one to make you think. “Is there a book that you wish you could “unread”? One that you disliked so thoroughly you wish you could just forget that you ever read it?”

I have to say that there isn’t a single book that I feel like that about simply because I have a rule with books that I don’t like or enjoy, which I shall come to shortly. Not finishing a book used to absolutely kill me as until I was about twenty four I simply had to finish every book that I started. Maybe if you had asked the question of ‘The Unread’ back then I could have given you a list as long as my arm. What is quite amazing is that any books I didn’t like then have been wiped from my mind, maybe from the horror of them.

That may not necessarily be true though, as believe it or not it wasn’t really the book addict that I am today until a few years ago. I read a fair amount, don’t get me wrong, but I wasn’t as addicted as I am now and could in fact have a break from reading for a couple of weeks without blinking. I am trying to think what suddenly changed it and in all honesty I don’t have a clue but soon enough a book a month became a book a week, became three books a week. I also used to stick to authors I trusted or genre’s I was most comfortable with and so there probably were less rogue books or new subjects and authors that might go wrong if you know what I mean?

As my reading became more diverse and my book buying unstoppable things had to change, and thanks to my Granddad ‘Rule 80’ was recommended to me. When my Granddad got terminally ill with cancer I asked him if he had any regrets and he said ‘none… I cant even say bad books as if I didn’t like a book by page 80 I just stopped reading, life is too short’ and since then that’s what I have done. It was really tough at first as like I said I used to swear by the reading rule “if I started it I need to finish it” but with the amount of books I own and read it has made a huge difference and reading more enjoyable. I even applied the rule at my previous book group. I would always try and give everything a go (and actually only couldn’t finish two) and then would discuss why it was I didn’t like it rather than, like some members, simply say ‘hated it and had to force myself to read it’.

Which two books could I not complete at book group? Well that would be telling! I try really hard not to slate books on this blog. If I didn’t love it and couldn’t get past page 80 it’s unlikely that it would end up on my blog anyway as I only review (bar one or two occasions) books I have finished, as we all know everything can change in the second half of a book, or even in the last 30 pages. I also think that the time you read a book is really important as you have to be in the right frame of mind for a book, everything needs to be aligned. After an emotionally wrought or dark massive fantastic epic you might not be in the right mind for another of the same and so read something light next. There is also the fact that one reader’s trash is another readers treasure and some of you might hate a book I love and vice versa but that’s what makes it so interesting.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Man Booker Musings...

Firstly, a big congratulations to Alice Munro for winning The Man Booker International Prize today! It did make me think though as for some reason (I should undoubtedly be ashamed) I thought that the Man Booker Prize was International. However after doing some research I found the non-international Man Booker eligibility really interesting though I did question a few things which I have added in italics.

- Any full-length novel, written by a citizen of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe is eligible. Such a book must be a unified and substantial work. Entry for books is dealt with in Rule 4. (Why only the countries mentioned here???)

- Authors must be living at the time of the award. (What if they died after the longlist is announced, do they automatically get disqualified and the book withdrawn? What if they died the day of the announcement? Please note I am wishing no authors ill, I just find that random!)

- No English translation of a book written originally in any other language is eligible (So are they saying its only English speaking countries that can put a book forward as that goes again the very first point and what about America? )

- Self published books are not eligible where the author is the publisher or where a company has been specifically setup to publish that book. (Not very promising for struggling new talent but then they probably can't afford the £5000 for the publicity publsihers contribute to any longlisted book.)

- All shortlisted books will be made available by publishers as e-books within two weeks of the shortlist announcement. Extracts from the e-books should be freely accessible for downloads. (Now I never knew e-books could count, that’s amazed me. This also means Margaret Atwood’s new book wont be in the long list as it’s out in September and I thought that would be a definite long lister at least)

- Children's books will only be accepted on the condition that they have also been published by an adult imprint within the specified dates. (Never knew this, very interesting, but has it ever actually happened. Can you imagine Harry Potter having won the Man Booker?)- No entry shall be ineligible because its author has won either the prize or any other prize previously. (But if it has won other awards does that help?)

I also found this really useful “United Kingdom publishers may enter up to two full-length novels, with scheduled publication dates between 1 October 2008 and 30 September 2009. In addition, any title by an author who has previously won the Booker or Man Booker prize, and any title by an author who has been shortlisted in the last five years may be submitted.” Now I know all the above I can have a proper go at guessing who will make it onto the long list of thirteen before the 28th of July 2009. Is anyone else up for that game? I will do a blog on it again nearer the time. I have to say I am predicting already that The Children’s Book by AS Byatt (which popped through my letter box yesterday) will quite, quite possibly win, the signs are all then. I will let you know my thoughts in a week or so when I have read it but that’s an early guess from me.

Back to today’s announcement, I wondered what differentiates the Man Booker Prize each year from the Man Booker International Prize. The obvious answer, to me any way, is that the International Prize is more for an author than for a piece of work. The site though makes the eligibility a bit vague “Any living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language. The winner is chosen solely at the discretion of the judging panel; there are no submissions from publishers.” Isn’t that a little bit too open?

Now for the winner herself… naturally I now want to read some Munro and wondered if any of you had and if so what did you think? What would you recommend?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Savidge Reads Grills... Karen Campbell

Yesterday I raved about the wonderful book After The Fire by Karen Campbell. Today Karen has been kind enough to do an interview with Savidge Reads all about both her books, what’s coming next and getting praise from Kate Atkinson…

You yourself were a police officer, what made you swap the law for the world of literature? Was the transition difficult? Do you think there are skills in police work that transfer to creating an intricate plot?
I’d done English Lit at uni before I joined the police, so I guess it wasn’t a huge transition. And every case you ever write in the police is a narrative of sorts – you have to make it coherent, convincing and believable. But it was really after I’d left the police, when I had my first daughter, that I began to try and capture some of the sights and sounds I’d experienced. Being a cop is a tremendous privilege – it opens the door to people, worlds and stories you might never meet otherwise. And I also wanted to show that cops are real people. They’re not drunks or sexist bigots or mad mavericks (!), but generally just decent folk trying to do a difficult job.

Had you always wanted to write?
Yes, even as a little girl, I was always writing my own books, illustrating them, stapling them into little pamphlets, bringing them into school. Once I’d left the police, I went back to uni and did a post graduate Masters in Creative writing, which really helped – not in terms of shaping my writing so much as just being in a community of writers.

Where did you get the initial ideas for the characters and stories of James, Cath and Anna for the books?
With my first book, ‘The Twilight Time’, the dynamic was very much between Cath and Anna, looking at the choices women make between career and motherhood, and how your sense of identity can change when you become a mother. The police was really a backdrop to that, although of course, the nature of Anna’s job means that she encounters crime & its effects on a daily basis. With the second novel, I wanted to write about someone’s life turning upside down because of a split-second decision, and I also wanted to examine policing and firearms – something that’s often in the news. So I made Jamie, Cath’s husband, the main pivot of the book. I wanted my protagonist to be a guy with a lot to loose!

It’s a very unusual set up between them all how have you managed to keep that realistic and also not make any character a victim or one ‘the bad person’.
My writing pretty much stems from characters rather than plot – if something doesn’t feel ‘right’, then I’d never shoehorn a character into an unconvincing situation. I’m not a fan of ‘black & white’ fiction – life is ambiguous and intriguing, and I like stories that reflect that. Often, people behave in ways we can never explain or expect – that was certainly something I learned in my time in the police!

After The Fire is a stand alone book and yet is in a way a follow up to The Twilight Time, is this going to be a series (please say yes) and was the second one difficult to write?
I’m glad you think you could read ‘After the Fire’ as a stand alone. It’s a very different book to ‘The Twilight Time’, which is more sinuous, I guess, with lots of different strands and themes. Because I already knew the characters and I had a very clear idea of where I wanted the ATF story to go, the second book actually came very quickly. I’ve just finished a third book about Anna, called ‘Fade to Grey’ and have started work on the fourth – I’ve always seen this as a quartet.

Where did the title ‘After The Fire’ come from?
Well, I liked the biblical connotations it had, of the shocked stillness following an all-consuming disaster. But also, literally, ‘after firing’ - basically, it’s as if the old Jamie has burned away after the shooting incident, so it’s about what’s left in the ash, both for him & Cath. It’s also about how Anna behaves after the passion of ‘The Twilight Time’ has burned itself out. And the title also refers to another incident in the first book – which I won’t go into since you’re reading them in reverse!

Which authors do you love?
As well as the classics like Austen & the Brontes, I read mostly contemporary fiction – AL Kennedy, AS Byatt, Janice Galloway, Ali Smith, people like that.

Now not only is Savidge Reads a huge fan but one of my favourite authors Kate Atkinson has also raved about your work, how did that feel?
Just brilliant! I’ve always admired Kate’s work – from ‘Behind the Scenes’ onwards, and it was a real thrill to get a thumbs up from someone who combines literary prose with thrilling narrative to such great effect. I’ve never met Kate, but if our paths ever cross, I will definitely… I don’t know…go up and curtsey or something!

What is your writing routine?
I usually write when my girls are out and the house is quiet, so I tend to get up, run the girls to school, walk the dog, and then sit down at the computer. I break again at lunch to give our manic border collie his second walk of the day, but I actually find this helps the writing process – just the rhythm of walking and letting my mind go blank seems to unknot any blocks and let inspiration float in. I’ve had some funny looks occasionally, when I’ve been muttering over a bit of dialogue in what I think is an empty, wooded path - then someone coughs politely and overtakes me!

Which book, apart from any you have written, would you demand Savidge Reads and this blogs readers run out and buy right this instant?
I’ve just finished ‘The Given Day’ by Dennis Lehane, which I loved. It’s a historical story about the Boston Police strike, but it’s also about families, immigration, workers’ rights, black oppression – even baseball! It’s got everything: romance, drama and a real sense of place. I’ve never read any of Lehane’s work before, but what appealed, again, was this kind of cross-over, in that he writes about crime, the police and social issues but most of all, he just writes about people. I think genre labels can be limiting, and I’m all for not having them at all. For me, defining a book that has lots of different layers as a particular ‘type’, whether it be ‘crime’ or ‘historical’ or whatever, means the reader thinks they know what they’re getting before they even open the book. And where’s the pleasure in that?!
And on that note we come to the end. I would like to thank karen for taking the time out to do this and urge you all to read this series, I honestly thought this book was fantastic and will be running out to get 'The Twilight Time' this week despite my book ban!

Monday, May 25, 2009

After The Fire - Karen Campbell

I do love a good crime book, I haven’t always in fact I think it’s a fairly recent thing bar my teenage obsession with Sherlock Holmes. A while back on this blog, after reading the first Scarpetta book by Patricia Cornwell, I mentioned that I would love to know of any other great thriller/crime series that you thought I should give a go. I have already tried and loved Susan Hill, Kate Atkinson, Stella Duffy and of course the proper old school favourites like Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Now I think that I have found a new author in this genre… Although technically Karen Campbell found me, and my blog, and asked very nicely if I would read her second novel After The Fire. She did also mention that, one of my favourite authors, Kate Atkinson had “really enjoyed the book” (Kate actually said “I loved this book”) and that, plus Karen’s lovely email, was the deal done.

After The Fire is all about recently convicted police officer Jamie Worth who, not long after having qualified as a firearms officer, shoots and kills a young girl who appears to have no gun on her. The press and indeed the police force are looking for blood and blame and soon enough Jamie is imprisoned for murder. What follows is not just a gripping and twisting tale of what happened that night and why, it is also a tale of how the people involved come to terms with what has gone on.

Jamie himself is a policeman in prison, which I don’t think is a perspective that I have read in a novel before, and this was an incredibly interesting storyline for me. Not only seeing how prisons run and the state of them but how someone who might have put some of his cell mates in jail deals with them when he is in there too. At the same time Jamie is coming to terms with his own guilt about what happened to the young girl Sarah and what will happen to his family and all the people he loves in the world outside the prison. Outside the prison we see how Jamie’s wife, who herself was once a cop until she had children, comes to terms with what her husband has done. Though she believes he did what he thought was best she still has to deal with the fact that her husband has killed a girl the same age as their daughter. It doesn’t help when Anna, the woman Jamie had an affair with, appears on the scene wanting to help Jamie and his family. This all makes for an engrossing domestic dynamic alongside the thrilling plot of what happened the night of the shooting.

I loved Karen Campbell’s writing style. It’s punchy, fast paced and most importantly real. I don’t know if this comes from the fact that Campbell was herself a police officer before she started writing which might have something to do with how direct the book is. There is, in what is a very dark book, some real wit (I laughed a fair few times) though which really reminded me of Kate Atkinson in her Broadie books and yet at the same time you really feel for all the characters even if they aren’t people you would like one bit in the real world. Most importantly for me though was that I could believe it all (this goes for all genre’s of books from crime to sci-fi and all in between) all the voices are real nothing is done simply for effect. There is also the history between the characters also makes for great ‘domestic drama’ as well as reading about a man living on his nerves and trying to stay alive in prison.

I only have one very small gripe with this book and that is that in reading After The Fire before reading Karen’s debut novel The Twilight Time I have inadvertently broken one of my cardinal rules… always read a series in the right order. The Twilight Time is technically a prequel to After The Fire and features some of the same characters. The fact that this book was so good, and stood firmly so well all by itself, has made all rule breaking forgiven. I do kind of wish that I had read The Twilight Time first as though at no point whatsoever do you feel you should know the characters back stories and also their history relating to one another you wish that you did know it all first. Though now of course I am incredibly excited about finding it out when I manage to get my mitts on The Twilight Time which I will be doing very, very soon.

Now this is a real cliché but I am going to say it anyway… it would be a crime not to read this book. I dont rave about books that often but this is one I will be I promise! I hope there will be more in this series as I was hooked from start to finish. Campbell is definitely an author to watch out for and I am very excited as she is doing an interview with me for the blog tomorrow, so make sure you pop by then!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Brighton Rocks

Ok so technically this is written on Monday but please, please don’t hold that against me as there is a review coming up a little later on Monday and I don’t like leaving a day blank and try not to where I can. So I thought I would let you know about the Non-Reader and my 1st Wedding Anniversary holiday. It all started out a little to pot when I booked a Eurostar weekend away and the Non-Reader announced on Thursday that their passport had run out. I don’t even want to go down the route of what my head was thinking but some serious string pulling later and that weekend has been postponed by a few months (to tie in with the Non Readers 30th). This then left me with two days (Non Reader is working on Monday) to fill.

Next idea was a trip to Alton Towers, until I saw the train fares and there was no way I was doing a coach trip – you cant even read on those without feeling sick. So then I thought of Thorpe Park! Was just literally about to book when the Non Reader phones and says “we’re not doing anything next Sunday are we as I have told my work colleagues we will go to Thorpe Park with them. So that’s plan three ruined. I was stuck, very, very stuck. In the end I searched long and hard and found a hotel in Brighton free on Sunday night so an early Sunday trip was planned for our actual anniversary date... You all know me so well I can envisage some of you thinking “I bet he bought Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock for the trip” and you would be wrong, I didn’t. I did think about it though. Saturday comprised of the Non Reader being taken first on a surprise trip to Chessington World of Adventures (where I nearly threw up on a rollercoaster for the first time ever and felt very pathetic watching hardcore 8-11 years olds coming off it bouncing along whilst I was green) followed by a surprise trip to see the a circus at Wimbledon Theatre which was jaw droppingly amazing.

Sunday morning’s early departure became an twelve o’clock departure partly because we waited for Sainsbury’s to open for a picnic and partly because we both had hangovers from hell, shamefully from only a bottle of wine between us! So we get on the tube, the Non Reader having no idea where we are going, when a book is produced out of their bag. I tried to think nothing of it; though in the last month the Non Reader has devoured ‘The Cellist of Sarajevo’ and ‘The Thirteenth Tale’ both in their second language. The book ‘Restless’ by Simon Kernick is then devoured on the train… and on the beach. Weirdly myself I was mainly watching tourists, daydreaming and bidding my time until I couldn ‘need the loo’ to go and check into the hotel and then create a real “surprise” which it did and even a few emotional tears. I think the boat had been pushed out when someone wasn’t expecting it to be.

Later on a trip for me to get some shorts, as the weather was amazing, we fell into a book shop as I wasn’t really getting on with any of the reading I had brought and was about to give into the aforementioned Brighton Rock. None in stock as luck (well luck for my bank balance this weekend) would have it but when I came downstairs the Non-Reader is avidly flicking through the books in the 3 for 2 offers and debating ‘if I should get three as am reading much more’. I felt a bit dizzy at that and was worried if I was dreaming. None were bought but there is now a mental TBR list being compiled in the Non Readers head especially Henry by David Starkey “which I really, really want to read” (and is wrapped in gold paper on the Non Readers bedside table for when the come back from work but sssshhhh it’s a secret). I am worried though do I now have competition for my TBR pile? I shall leave you with a postcard from the seaside below. Did you all have lovely weekends? Get much reading done?

Oh and a little competition as it seems the Non Reader’s non-reading days are on the wane… what new nickname can I use? The best answer gets a stick of Brighton Rock in the post!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blogging Break...

I just wanted to leave you a short notice to say I am taking a blogging break. Not for long (so please dont start worrying, crying, wailing in fear) just until Monday/Tuesday as this weekend is my first wedding anniversary and so I am whisking the Non-Reader away on a suprise trip, you will forgive me for not saying where on here in case it was to leak across the web like wild fire. So whilst we are away I am leaving things bookish behind... well bar reading on the journeys to and from our destination etc!

Hope you are all having lovely extended weekends... let me know what you are all upto and see you next week!

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Latest Books To The Never Ending TBR Pile Are...

That sounds like a bit of an Oscar Nominations announcement doesn’t it? However I really like seeing the latest books that everyone in the blogosphere is getting and so I thought I would share with you what has been arriving and being purchased of late in The Savidge Reads Towers.

Naturally I have already been back to my new favourite local bookshop in the hunt for bargain books and not come out empty handed. I have managed to pick up two more Orange Prize winners (which I may intermingle with the shortlist as I read it) so I came away with Geraldine Brooks ‘March’ and Linda Grant’s ‘When I Lived In Modern Times’ the latter which, oddly as a prize winner, is quite hard to get hold of. I loved Geraldine Brooks ‘The Year of Wonders’ (which is all about how the plague ended up in a small Derbyshire village – just down the road from my Gran – and how they shut themselves off to save others) so will be interested in this book which is a retelling of the father of the ‘Little Women’, maybe I should read that first? I haven’t read any of Linda Grant before but know she was long listed for the Booker prize last year I think it was, so am intrigued by her and the story of “20-year-old Evelyn Sert who leaves post-war Soho after her mother's death for a new life in Palestine”. I also bought Margery Allingham’s “The Tiger in the Smoke” as many book bloggers have mentioned this classic crime story and also it featured heavily in the wonderful, wonderful ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat” which I read a few weeks ago, as well as Chris Cleave’s ‘The Other Hand’ after Claire Kiss A Cloud was raving about him the other day. Please, please, please do not give any of the storyline away on this one if you comment as it’s meant to be one of those sorts of books!

Arriving from lovely publishers I have had one more of the Orange Short List books as Picador have sent me Ellen Feldman’s ‘Scottsboro’ which I think is the first one I am reading. I received Emily Listfield’s thriller ‘Best Intentions’ all the way from the USA so will be giving that a good read of that in the non to distant future. Atlantic Books sent me a biography (not a book genre I tend to go for but often find I like them more than I think I do) ‘The Life and Times of Harvey Milk, The Mayor of Castro Street’ by Randy Shilts which after the film ‘Milk’ is getting a big re-release in a few weeks. Finally, and possibly one that I have been most excited about, the lovely people at Capuchin Books have sent me ‘The Green Hat’ by Michael Arlen which sounds very, very me “Iris Storm, femme fatale, races around London and Europe in her yellow Hispano-Suiza surrounded by romantic intrigue, but beneath the glamour she is destined to be a tragic heroine.” They have also made me one of the ‘blogs we love’ which has thrilled me and I had no idea of until they contacted me. You can see their blog here.

Finally for two books that have actually been sent by the authors themselves. Karen Campbell has sent me a copy of her latest book ‘After The Fire’ which I have not long actually just finished reading and will be raving about very soon, Kate Atkinson is a fan so I knew I would be and I wasn’t wrong. Karen has a very interesting story as an author and I will be divulging more over the weekend! Rosy Thornton sent me a copy of her latest book ‘Crossed Wires’ which arrived yesterday and is all about “the story of Mina, a girl at a Sheffield call centre whose next customer in the queue is Peter, a Cambridge geography don who has crashed his car into a tree stump when swerving to avoid a cat. Despite their obvious differences, they've got a lot in common -- both single, both parents, both looking for love. Could it be that they've just found it?” It’s also described as “an old-fashioned fairy tale” which sounds quite me. Phew with all that I better get reading…

Have you read any of these or any books by these authors do let me know! Also what’s the latest book that you bought?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Reason I Was Silent Yesterday...

…Was because the people at Nintendo had sent me a little treat to test out. I know what you are thinking “what on earth is Simon doing waffling on about Nintendo’s on a book blog?” Well it turns out that the people at Nintendo have cottoned onto the whole e-reader idea and decided to compile the “100 Classic Book Collection” for the DS.

Now I have to say I have been incredibly anti anything that resembles an e-reader but behind my book loving façade I am slightly addicted to my DS (I think Nintendo would have sent a trial one if I hadn’t – I would have had to give it back though) especially Brain Training. So I thought I might as well give it a go and have spent a good 24 hours with it and my verdict is… that it isn’t bad. It’s really easy to use and the collection of books is actually very good. This actually would be perfect for my “must read more classics” pact that I made with myself earlier in the year. You have ‘Little Women’, ‘Robinson Crusoe”, “The Picture of Dorian Grey”, some of Dickens work and all of the finished Austen’s.

The only downside for me is that its not actually 100 books, which is a pretty massive downside overall, I cant feel the paper in my hands or the smell of a fresh new book - or even a musty loved one. I might look a bit odd trying to sniff my DS on the tube or on a bus. Which also brings me to the whole idea that if your reading on a £100+ device might someone not try and steal it? I cant imagine someone stealing a £7.99 paperback from your lap! It seems a bit odd tapping a screen, and isn’t such a nice sound as, leafing through the pages plus the screen is quite small so not good if you have sight issues. Also no one can see what your reading and the reversal of that would mean I would never see what anyone else is reading which can often lead me to some wonderful books I would miss out on. It has warmed me to the whole e-reading experience and at least now I can say that I have given it a go. I just prefer the page much more. We can live in hope that this might be a good way of ‘the youth of today’ possibly getting into reading though I suppose as they all seem to be constantly on their DS’s and the like.

What are your thoughts on the whole e-reading debate? I have to admit I have been truly scathing of it!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Oranges Or Lemons?

So it starts, yes I am all finished with the utterly superb thriller/crime novel (which I will review later today – I know two blogs in one day I really am spoiling you) and now am all focused on the Orange Short List. I did actually really toy with the idea of reading the freshly arrived latest Sarah Waters novel ‘The Little Stranger’ but then thought “hang on I have already now got a backlog of six books that I need to read in just over two weeks… have I really got time? Actually I am still waiting on Molly Fox’s Birthday by Deirdre Madden and also The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey (which is all about Alzheimer’s a subject very close to my heart as I often go to an Alzheimer’s home to see my Great Uncle) but they are on their way and it give me a chance to get through the others. Maybe I can treat myself to Sarah Waters along the way, maybe at the midway point? I am interested with the selection as until the shortlist was announced I had only heard of two and had only wanted to read one of the books on the list which is Kamila Shamshie’s Burnt Shadows, purely down to a few rave reviews and a wonderful cover. I should really put down the entire list just in case any of you don’t know it (highly unlikely) so the contenders are…

Scottsboro – Ellen Feldman
The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey
The Invention of Everything Else – Samantha Hunt
Molly Fox’s Birthday – Deirdre Madden
Home – Marilynne Robinson
Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie

I am wondering if there will be some complete lemons in the mix of oranges, time will tell. I already have an inkling which one will win, but I am holding fire on saying in case it turns out to be a complete lemon. I also have two favourites in my head (neither which I think are the winner pre-reading them) just from the storyline’s alone. Isn’t it funny what judgements you can make on books without having read a single word!?! Will I be right? I am not sure to be honest as I have only read two of the winners the first was On Beauty by Zadie Smith which I think is possibly one of the most boring books I have ever read and on the complete opposite spectrum Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half A Yellow Sun which sits in my Top Ten Books of All Time. If I can I will try and fit in a few other winners along the journey but I do only have 15 days I must try and stay realistic. I shall announce who is my winner before 9am on Wednesday 3rd of June as it’s announced that evening. I can’t cheat as I will be on a plane to Switzerland at 7am that morning which also means you will all know the winner before I do! I don’t think it will make world news?

What are your predictions? Have you read any so far (no plot spoilers please)? What has been your favourite of the Orange Winners so far? Oh and most controversially, do we still need the Orange Prize and is it sexist to have an award just for women?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The (Delightful) Perils & Pitfalls of Publishers Parcels...

Just when I am deeply engrossed in the final pages of a brilliant thriller/crime novel and have got my reading planned as I take on the Orange Shortlist as of tomorrow (more on both of these tomorrow as I am manical today) there is a loud thud through the letter box of a heavy parcel, which when opened sends me into some kind of hyper state as it is...

So now I am left with a huge dilemma and one I just cannot decide what to do with! I need your help... Good angel on shoulder says I should carry on with my reading and save this until after as a well done... Bad angel on my shoulder is saying devour this devilishly right now!

What am I to do... I need your help and guidance!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Blog About Book Groups

Earlier in 2009 I set myself the mission to join more book groups and did indeed join two. One of these was an in the flesh book group and one of them was online. Neither of them I have been back to. The online one was great but it felt a little bit disjointed, and while I love using the comments on this blog to have a good discussion or listen to your thoughts on the varying books I read that you have read or want to, that is more a forum than a book group and though you can have a nice coffee whilst you discuss the books you might be waiting 30minutes for the next person to say something.

The in the flesh book group wasn’t bad either except for two things. Firstly it was organised by emails, I have never had so many emails about long lists, voting for books to then make a shortlist to then make a top five choices to be voted at the next meeting. I was tired before I had even gotten there. Then new rules came in that we couldn’t vote for the same book twice. I would have let this slip but things didn’t change when we actually met. True we did discuss the book for two hours which I think is about average however ‘the group leader’ wouldn’t let it happen naturally we had a formula, and we had to follow online questions as well as bring in our own. It was a bit of a regime in all honesty and funnily enough I haven’t been back since.

Now I do have a Rogue Book Group with the lovely world touring (and therefore not blogging) Novel Insights and indeed whilst she travels round the world we have a list of five books we will have read in time for her arrival back in the UK. It’s really relaxed and we just have it at one of our houses, we have known each other for 23 years and though we have the same tastes we like to challenge ourselves too. We originally started a book group about three years ago. It started when we wanted to see Memoirs of a Geisha but see it first so we read it, saw the movie and then had a good natter about both after.

We had some book loving colleagues and so we started meeting in a pub once a month with one member choosing a book and everyone reading it, as you do. Then it became a bit of a monster. We started going for meals, which was lovely, and then having a list of five books to be voted on which again was a good idea. Until people started to say things like ‘no Jane Austen – they are girls books’, ‘no crime I cant bare murder I won’t sleep’ or ‘nothing too long or too hard’. Meals soon had to match the setting of the book or the authors nationality and then we stopped talking about the books after ten minutes. I sadly decided to leave.

So that might answer the question of why I am hesitant to start a new one which I would quite like to do. In fact I met a friend last week who is really really keen to start one of for us to join one together. I started doing some research and was surprised how hard book groups are to find. I thought London would be teaming with them but they seem a little like secret society’s and also I did try a book group a year or so ago which was so cliquey it was untrue (and it was a library group which surprised me). I always hoped to join a book group like the TV show on Channel 4 (see picture below) a group of diverse people who love books and make new life long friends, maybe that’s too much to dream. Mind you my Gran is a member of two and she has a wonderful time at both and has met some lovely people whilst reading some wonderful books.

So what should I do? Should I give more online book groups a go? Is there anyone out there in the ether of the internet in London be you a blogger or a blog follower who is up for it? And for the rest of you some more questions… Are you in any reading/book groups and how do they work? How do you choose what you read? Have you made life long friends? Have you had some book group nightmares? Do let me know!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

I have had this book in my TBR pile for absolutely ages and though it has won awards such as the Pulitzer (which I prefer to the Man Booker in general) and been praised by family, friends and some bloggers it has never quite sold itself to me when it actually comes to starting a new book. There are a few reasons for this that I can think one was that it doesn’t have chapters (which really put me off The Road but actually didn’t matter) and I like a break now and again. The other, more important, reason was that I didn’t like the look of the subject matter. Firstly it’s the letter of a dying man, and secondly it’s got a very religious theme which always makes me wary. I have nothing against religion, I am not religious myself though and don’t like ‘preachy books’. I was beginning to think this might be much more for my catholic Non Reader.

However knowing that I am going to be reading the Orange Shortlist over the next two weeks in the lead up to the winner being announced and knowing that Marilynne’s nominated book Home is in there and is a sequel and prequel and companion (confused much - I am) to Gilead I thought I should give it a go. There of course a big worry for me which was ‘if Gilead is rubbish how on earth am I going to get on with Home’? I opened it admittedly with quite a lot of trepidation…

Gilead is a novel which is in fact the letter of dying Reverend John Ames to his son written in Gilead, Iowa in 1956. Knowing that he will not be around for much longer and will not be able to tell his son of his ‘begats’ and family history he decides that he will write it all down for him. It’s his final testament if you will for his son ‘who may not remember me in the future’. Now you would be thinking that with a novel like this there isn’t going to be much joy, however actually despite there being no particular storyline this is really a book filled with the celebration of life. As John Ames memoirs come in stops and starts and have no particular structure you are given insight into the memories of an everyday man as he makes his way in the world and the trials and tribulations along the way.

I admit I was worried for the first 40 or so pages that this was going to be a beautifully written but ultimately boring read. Indeed was almost certain my ‘if you don’t like it by page 80 put it down’ rule was going to come into play but it didn’t. Page 80 was suddenly 20, 40, 60 pages behind me and the prose was taking me along with it on its meandering delightful journey. Robinson’s prose is possibly some of the most beautifully written prose I have the pleasure of turning pages too and undoubtedly is what kept me going to what is quite an ending (that is all I will say about the ending) and the final page.

Now it’s rare that a book can make me emotional but this one did. I don’t know if it’s because I myself have looked after someone who is terminally ill or just the prose and the way Robinson puts you into the mind of a dying man but passages such as this set me off.
“Just now I was listening to a song on the radio, standing there swaying to it a little, I guess, because your mother saw me from the hallway and she said, ‘I could show you how to do that.’ She came and put her arms around me and put her head on my shoulder, and after a while she said, in the gentlest voice you could ever imagine, ‘Why’d you have to be so damn old?’
I ask myself the same question.”

Was the religion in the book preachy? No not at all I actually found it quite insightful and thought provoking. There is a lot of debate over religion and war and how each affects the other and how divided people of the same faith can be over religious involvement, backing or prohibiting war can be. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea I would say give it a go and see how Robinson can change your mind with her prose. I will admit the book is slightly too long at 282 pages and occasionally I found that John Ames was repeating anecdotes or statements more than once. If stunning prose and subtle observations of life over none stop plot and all the fireworks is your thing then this is definitely the book for you. I am going to say I sit on the fence.

Having the knowledge that Home is now out you can see that the clues are very much there in Gilead that it was planned as Boughton is always being discussed mentioning his children are ‘home’ or are coming ‘home’. Part of me wonders if Robinson’s idea is to eventually write the life of all the inhabitants of Gilead. I would like to give Robinson’s Housekeeping a go as that sounds like it has a fascinating storyline. If Home has the prose of Gilead then I think that there isn’t really any competition in the Orange shortlist… I will be able to tell you within the next two weeks.

Do you prefer plot over prose? Have any of you read Housekeeping? I would ask you if you have read Home but as I haven’t yet I don’t want anyone giving anything away!

Friday, May 15, 2009

The New Books In Town...

I know that today's post is later than I would normally post of an average day but frankly this couldn't wait. Earlier this evening I was priviledged to be invited to the opening of a new bookstore as a 'local lover of books'. Was it a new flagship store? Erm, sort of...

It was the brand spanking new Oasis Charity Book Shop store. I wasnt the only person invited some members of the council popped by as did our local Labour MP who I had a very good natter with... not about politics of course... about books. We did this all in a deightful setting as the shop itself had a full refurb before any books entered. The backroom had become a buffet but will be a cosy reading corner (wonderful idea) and the front fiction section is lovely, fresh and bright. (I don't think that the balloons are always up nor is there always a buffet on - these are small things!)

Of course I kow what you are all wanting to know... was there a goody bag or did I go spending crazy???? Well despite the fact that the books are 5 paperbacks for £2 or six hard backs for £3 (you can't go wrong with that can you?) I was very restrained and only came away with two books, which are ones that I have been looking for, and only £1 worse off!


I felt an extremely happy customer as I walked away with Oscar & Lucinda and Paddy Clark Ha Ha Ha! There is no doubt that this is going to be my favourite local haunt! Do you have a local haunt? Have you read either of the above books and what reading plans await you this weekend? I am planning on reading a few short books as feel havent read enough books this month at all!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gluttony

This weeks Booking Through Thursday question is all about book gluttony asking… “Are your eyes bigger than your book belly? Do you have a habit of buying up books far quicker than you could possibly read them? Have you had to curb your book buying habits until you can catch up with yourself? Or are you a controlled buyer, only purchasing books when you have run out of things to read?”

The very simple answer to that is “yes” in fact “yes very much so” would probably be the most accurate response. I now have a TBR pile of over 800 books in fact it has gotten so big and so bad that since I moved last October I now have TBR boxes which you can see here (along with how I end up sorting them every few months – in fact a TBR sort is due very soon) at the time ten huge boxes seemed excessive, though they do look delightful, now however there don’t seem to be enough and so new books are ending up in all sorts of places. Such as all the books bought in the last month which as you can see below end up “hiding” from the Non-Reader down the side of the sofa.
I think the Non Reader is wise to it but simply ignores it as a “Savidge-ism” as my family are all quite bookish and all seem to have hordes of books. What does make me feel guilty about my gluttony is that I now get sent books from publishers but that still hasn’t stopped me. In fact guilty is the wrong word… I don’t think you should ever be guilty for buying books. I do sometimes feel bad for all the books I buy desperate to read and then get more it sort of seems like neglect. I will get round to them all one day though my Gran always reminds me that “you will never read all the books you want to in your lifetime” which depresses me slightly. I imagine my favourite author bringing out a 700 pager whilst I am on my deathbed. Moving on from that horrifying thought…

Last year it did get slightly out of control(we don't talk about it) and so now I have a monthly ‘book budget’ and I have to say its working much better than the ‘book buying ban’ I was put under, which led to devious book binging. I do wish I could be one of those people who simply buys a book only when I have finished my current one, but there doesn’t seem to be so much fun in that. What about all of you?