Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Month in Books: February

Summing up their month of reading is something that I am seeing on a fair few book blogs now and there is something I really like reading so I thought ‘oh, I’ll join in’. It won’t be a really long blog as I have a manic weekend this weekend but I thought would be a little something to keep you all going.

Now having just finished Summer Crossing by Truman Capote literally a few minutes ago my total of books read this month is ten, I’d love to sneak another read in today but its not going to happen. This is despite having some really bad readers block during the month that sent my planned TBR and reading habits into a slight meltdown. Thanks to Susan Hill and some of her crime fiction I was soon sorted out. It also beats January as I read eight books in a slightly longer month and is also three more than I read in February last year.

This seems to have been an unintentionally crime based month with Susan Hill, Sophie Hannah and David Ebershoff. It has also of course been a month filled with Richard and Judy books which I know often get frowned upon for me however a fair few of this months best reads have come from their selection. I had read Kate Atkinson prior to this month so can’t count it, if I had read it this month it would have been my favourite book hands down. My TBR pile has gone crazy thanks to publishing houses and second hand shops, what was a pile of 702 books to read has in the space of a month gone to 754 which is verging on the excessive. Anyway here is a quick summary of my month, which from now on I shall do every month… it feels a bit like the Oscars.

New author I want to read ‘the works of’: Truman Capote (by new I mean one I haven’t read before)
Favourite character of the month: John Cromer from Pilcrow, Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s or Marianne Engel from The Gargoyle
Best crime: Hurting Distance – Sophie Hannah (so clever and so full of twists)
Best non-fiction: The Bolter – Frances Osborne
Surprise of the month: The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson
Book of the month: The Bolter – Frances Osborne or Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote, both were wonderful.
What about you? What were your highlights of a fiction filled February? What are your plans for March? Me, I think my aim is to get a few more classics under my belt. I was also going to say that I would try and restrain the number of books that come through my door (not from publishers) but it’s my birthday in March and that invariably means lots and lots of book vouchers… hoorah!

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Bolter - Frances Osborne

Now you should all know that I have a small obsession about all things Mitford, which at the moment with the amount of books filled with letters, essays and diary entries from these sisters is very lucky for me. The Bolter by Frances Osborne has been on my book-radar for quite some time because of being part of my Richard and Judy Challenge and also because apparently the book is all about, Idina Sackville, was the inspiration for Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Bolter’ in three of her novels. For this alone I know I would like this book, even though looking at some reviews have been slightly underwhelming...

Well I won’t hold back on this… I loved this book. However I can understand why some people out there might not like it so much, but more of that later. The Bolter can be summed up pretty much by its full title ‘The Bolter: Idina Sackville – The Woman Who Scandalized 1920’s Society and Became White Mischief’s Infamous Seductress’. This book promises to be full of gossip and scandal whilst taking a look at just what was going on in the rich upper classes in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It does exactly what it promises on that front with some very insightful tales even of royalty. It also lifts the lid further on ‘The Happy Valley’ (which I had no knowledge of prior to this book – but I have been looking up on the web like mad) in Africa where bed hopping, drug taking, suicide and murder along with attempted murder all took place.

These things were great, Frances Osborne makes a lot of affairs and bed hopping very easy to keep up with and digest. She also brings in some really interesting social history such as what could and couldn’t constitute the rights for divorce and what counted as adultery. She looked at the women suffragettes which were something that Idina and her mother Muriel were very much involved with. It also looks at how war affected people not just in terms of rations but in terms of love and affairs of the heart. All this was wonderfully written and all over too quickly. However for me it was the background on Idina herself along with her childhood, parents and the society she grew up in and how they made her into the character which she became that I found so fascinating.

Yes she was a sexual predator in some ways, no she couldn’t be faithful, married and divorced five times, loved to party and left her sons and husband but deep down her story is of struggle and tragedy and how people react to that. Plus she in historical terms as Frances (who is her great-granddaughter) finds, from her family alone regardless of society back in the day, is blamed for this and getting the real insight your opinion is changed. Her first marriage to her true love wasn’t a happy one after the war and he ended up marrying his sister’s best friend Barbie. Some of the names in this book are wonderful. If all the things that happened to her happened to most people they would have given up aged about 21. However Idina is incredibly strong and fights and pushes to get what she wants which you believe is actually a quite settled life just with lots of sex.

This book also did something that very few books tend to do nowadays (unless I am having trouble keeping up) which is to make notes. There are some wonderful quotes such as when Idina describes why she married one of her husbands ‘he had broad shoulders, a long attention span and an endless supply of handkerchiefs’ and facts that I felt I wanted to chase up and learn more about. I also laughed and smiled quite a lot too thinking that anyone who loves the words and works of Nancy Mitford would be right at home with this. It does appear she very much borrowed from Idina and her real story for her own fiction. I also actually felt very solemn when the book ended and quite moved.

All in all a marvellous book which I would recommend to Mitford fans and particularly people who wouldn’t normally pick up a non fiction novel. This book has made me want to know so much more about the era and the other people mentioned as well as more on Idina herself and you cant ask more than that from a good book (this also happened with The 19th Wife which was fiction based on fact but a completely different subject) I am really pleased that Frances Osborne is writing more.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Collectibles - Booking Through Thursday

Hardcover? Or paperback?
Illustrations? Or just text?
First editions? Or you don’t care?
Signed by the author? Or not?

That is the question or questions today from Booking Through Thursday. I have to say that though I own a ridiculous amount of books and it is ever growing I dont actually 'collect' books specifically. I dont even on the whole mind if they are all issued at around the same time or are the same series. There is only one exception so far and that is my Evelyn Waugh books which are all the art deco range such as you can see here this was never intentional I just bought three at once in that range for a pound and that was it! This may change though as publishers such as the lovely Vintage have now started to do really gorgeous covers on their books such as with the new W.Somerset Maugham books which I will be reading shortly. You can see a few of them here and they just look beautiful.

So some of the covers like that could get me collecting. I have just been and had a second look at my shelves and I have to admit that all my Agatha Christies are the 60's versions when books were 75p, can you imagine that now, wouldn't it be amazing! However again I dont think the Christie's being the same series is intentional. Maybe I'm a subconcious collector without even knowing it? On the whole with books in general I prefer paperback, so if I was to collect it would be those. I do have some signed first editions, if I in a store and the book, which I am going to buy anyway, is signed why the heck not? It could become a collectors item of the future.

If I did do a collection of old books it would have to be of the Ladybird 606d series which was the series I inherited from my aunts and uncles when I was young and have about six of and really remind me of my childhood. They go for around £10 each now if not more and so maybe with my birthday coming up I shall add a few to my birthday list, we shall see.

How about you?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Dog - Kerstin Ekman

It wasnt my intention to read this so soon, but I did as The Bolter didnt turn up till today and so am now reading that like a demon... plus I wanted to leave the review up of Mr Toppit for a while, well at least until someone commented (violins for sympathy ha). Yesterday though I was just in the mood for a short read and something different and this seemed just right. I was sent The Dog by Kerstin Ekman from the lovely people at NewBooks Magazine to review for their next issue (they have had something different from this one as I couldn’t ramble on as I normally do on here) and I have to admit bar Dovegreyreaders review of the book, which made me interested, I probably wouldn’t have bought such a short novel for £12.99 – well it is the credit crunch. Moving swiftly on can anyone tell me what the difference between a novella and a novel is? This is 144 pages but quite a few are delightful illustrations.

The Dog is about a dog. A young puppy one day follows its mother as she chases their owner mistakenly thinking they are going on a hunt. The mother can barely keep up with the owner let alone the puppy and soon enough he is lost in the wooded lakeside unable to find his mother or owner. From then on he must fight for survival can the natural wild instincts come from a domestic puppy. I won’t say too much to give anything away but for those of you who are worrying and feeling sad I found the outcome incredibly uplifting and positive.

After the opening of the book, which evokes such sadness, the rest of the novel continues to take you on an incredibly emotional journey. You are taken through fear, joy, desperation the whole gambit and I thought that was remarkable. I also loved the way that Ekman really looked at how the instincts of a puppy and dog would work and how scents triggered his brain. I had never thought of ‘the scent of a predator’ and that idea particularly fascinated me and made me really think. The only draw back for me in all honesty

I hadn’t heard of Kerstin Ekman before this novel, but in fact The Dog was actually released in Sweden in 1986 though the book hasn’t aged at all it feels very fresh but then the story could be set at anytime in the past, now or even in the future. She has quite a few novels that are just starting to be published over here and one thing I must say is that she is a wonderful writer. The book is in extremely poetic and I could so imagine the scents and scenery quite vividly. I think it could be slightly shorter but the illustrations along the way are lovely.

This is a 3.5/5 book for me personally. I would recommend it but wait until it comes out in paperback. This is definitely a book for dog lovers though. I think maybe because I am more of a cat person that’s why it didn’t quite work as well for me? Cats verses dogs in the reading world which one wins? I can only think of Gobbolino The Witches Cat as a book solely about a cat. I shall leave you a picture of Charlie and Phoebe in their natural book habitats and you can decide.

Which wins?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Mr Toppit - Charles Elton

As soon as this arrived from the lovely people at Penguin I knew I would have to read it pretty much instantly, and that is just what I did. After finishing David Ebershoff’s thought provoking The 19th Wife I wanted something a bit different and Mr Toppit looked just that. From the cover the book looks slightly gothic and ominous (more on the cover later) and that was exactly what I was in the mood to read. If that was what I was expecting it certainly isn’t what I got, however this book was a very pleasant surprise.

Luke Hayman has become world famous after his father Arthur Hayman’s death (this happens early on so am not spoiling the plot) when his series of children’s books ‘The Hayseed Chronicles’ go from being books that shift a few copies to books that become stratospheric selling bestsellers. The reason he becomes immortal is down to the fact his father called the main character, a young boy, Luke Hayseed. The Hayseed Chronicles also tell of a dark evil character called Mr Toppit who never actually appears, though his ominous presence drifts in and out of these tales, until at the end of the 5th novel when he comes out of the Darkwood ‘for everyone’. This to me promised a real mystery, which the book didn’t really deliver.

What it did deliver was two things. The first an insightful look at the trappings of fame, from those like Luke who really don’t want it but have it to his sister Rachel who craves it but isn’t mentioned in the novels. Luke’s story seems to reflect the story of Christopher Milne and his fame from The Winnie The Pooh books. There is also Laurie a woman who was with Arthur when he died and who suddenly becomes part of the family before going back to America and becoming part of the train of events that make The Hayseed Chronicles one of the biggest selling series of children’s books the world over.

The second thing that the book delivers is a fantastic family drama in the form of the Hayman’s and all they have go through when Arthur dies and then when the books become so well known in particular Rachel ‘the unknown sister’ who after her fathers death becomes dangerously obsessed with the books and their subliminal meanings and what could have happened next. It also looks at skeletons in all family’s cupboards and focuses on the fabulous Martha who is such a wonderful character even if she is cold, self obsessed and quite distant.

As for the plot… Hmmm, a puzzling one as I didn’t feel everything got quite wrapped up, which I know some books shouldn’t and I don’t expect all things to work out to a happy ending but I felt like some loose strands along the way were never quite chased up. I also had difficulty when Elton describes how people react to certain world famous scenes from the book that he never really describes them to the reader. I felt that more scenes from the book could have been entwined in the novel and also thought you could have had five interludes where the synopsis of each of the series was thrown in.

The characters, as well as their dilemmas and dramas in this book are undoubtedly what made it such a great read for me. I loved Martha as I mentioned and I loved Laurie’s cantankerous mother Alma equally. I also found the character of Laurie fascinating and in some ways her back story was the one that I found the most interesting as it deals with how childhood shapes us, which can also apply to Luke’s character.

Overall a very interesting debut novel and one that I would recommend to people who like a good family drama, just don’t be expecting the gothic story that the cover suggests. Speaking of covers what I did think was marvellous was the covers, yes covers. I take dust jackets of when am reading a hardback as I don’t like to tear or scuff it, when I removed it I was greeted by a cover of The Hayseed Chronicles which whilst on the tube made me look like I was reading a very big new children’s novel which doesn’t exist… which I quite liked.
I’d give this novel a 4/5. I actually closed the book wishing I had The Hayseed Chronicles to hand so that I could devour those to read next. Sadly Elton isn’t going to write them.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Latest Reading Arrivals...

I thought as I have gone a fair few book reviews in the last two days that I would put up some pictures of the latest arrivals here in Tooting Towers. I have had some lovely parcels (some people call them promotional items - I call them presents) from some of the publishers which I always greet with great excitement. You can see these below...

The First Person & Other Stories - Ali Smith (Penguin)

I had the pleasure of reading Girl Meets Boy earlier in the year and so far its still one of my favourite reads in ages, I also loved The Incidental when I read that a few years ago. A collection of short stories that are "always intellectually playful, funny and moving' should be a joy to read.

Mr Toppit - Charles Elton (Penguin)
The cover (or covers... more when I review) of this makes it look like a gothic mystery novel and I adore those. I have high hopes for a debut which seems to have a massive marketing campaign going and took fifteen years to write. The line "and out of the Darkwood Mr Toppit comes, and he comes not for you, or for me, but for all of us" sounds deliciously dark. I have to admit I have started this it just looked to good to savour.

Netherland - Joseph O'Neill (Harper Perenial)
Another one of the Richard and Judy Books of 2009 for which I am doing the challenge. This one is the one that in all honesty (and I will always be honest) has the least appeal to me initially as it seems to be about cricket which I am not a fan of. However its also a book about 'belonging and not belonging' which sounds unusual plus it was longlisted for the Man Booker and didnt win which is a good sign. I am more of a fan of the longlisted or shortlisted than the winner.

The Devils Paintbrush - Jake Arnott (Sceptre)
I meant to re-read his novel The Long Firm earlier but didnt manage to get round to it (don't worry though I will) which is part of his trolgy about gangsters. This scandalous tale is set in Paris in 1903 and is Arnotts first foray into 'historial fiction'.

The Dog - Kerstin Ekman (Sphere)
Dovegreyreader reviewed this recently and I would never have heard of it if not for her... and the people at NewBooks Magazine who have asked me to review it. It sounds a bit sad though, a puppy getting lost in the wild and having to fight for its survival. However this may actually make the dog loving Non Reader pick up a book after I have finished one for once.

The Prophet Murders - Mehmet Murat Somer (Serpents Tail)
A crime which has the wonderful subtitle of 'a Hop Ciki Yaya Thriller' - I am already sold.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - Michael Chabon (Harper Perennial)
I cannot count the times that people have told me 'you will love that book' its huge so I will be saving it for some very long train journeys I have lined up in a few weeks. The fact its a "heart-wrenching story of escape, love and comic-book heroes set in Prague, New York and the Arctic" does sound like quirky brilliance so I may very well love it.

King Kong Theory - Virginie Despentes (Serpents Tail)
This book has caused quite a lot of controversy of late (well in the broadsheets at the weekend anyway) and has made me want to read it and from the chapter titles (oh its short autobiographical stories) which I shant print just yet I can see why. Its also very short and short reads are the way forward after Mr Toppit I think.

I also went second hand shopping yesterday and found...

The Danish Girl - David Ebershoff (Phoenix)
After the thought provoking The 19th Wife it seemed like fate when I saw this for 50p. The story is again based on real people this time the "story of Danish painter Einar Dresden, this is a strange and eerily haunting novel about a very unusual love affair between a man who realizes he is really a woman and his remarkable wife" sounds unusual and is currently being made into a film with Nicole Kidman and Charlie Theron in it!

The Leopard - Giuseppe di Lampedusa (Vintage)
I have seen this book listed in so many 'books you must read' lists and the like that again for 50p how could I say no? I had no idea what it was about but apparently its a materpiece "is set amongst an aristocratic family, facing social and political changes in the wake of Garibaldi's invasion of Sicily in 1860" time will tell I sometimes have issues with masterpieces. Love the old Fontana edition I got will feel cultured andretro reading it on the tube.

The Secret River - Kate Grenville (Canongate)
I had been out shopping second hand especially for this. It's for this reason that charity books are brilliant, money to a good cause and also when your unsure of an author its a good way of trying them before you become addicted and buy everything they do th moment it comes out... or never read them again. I heard Grenville on the Guardian Book Group podcast and despite the fact it pretty much gave everything away (I shant dear readers) I thought I should try it. It is another Man Booker nominee that didnt win so the signs are good I will like it.

As for what I am specifically reading this week after Mr Toppit... mainly short reads including The Dog as mentioned. After a few heavier novels I want some faster fiction plus I had a readers block for a while and short reads are the best medicine for that. I might recah for another Capote maybe. I have also promised Novel Insights (who is on a world tour so wont be blogging till the summer now - selfish) I will read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood for our mammoth Rogue Book Group and shes stared already!

Any short read recommendations out there? What are you all reading?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The 19th Wife - David Ebershoff

So I finally get round to reviewing the latest Richard and Judy Challenge read which has only come in almost 4 days late… whoops. The thing is The 19th Wife is huge and actually didn’t take me as long as I thought it would but at the same time wasn’t as quick to read as I had thought it might be. Has that confused you yet?

When I opened this novel I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was thinking ‘wow a Mormon murder mystery how unusual’ and indeed it is an incredibly different novel. There are really two stories running through it. Firstly there is the tale of Jordan Scott a young man in his mid twenties who sees in the news that his mother has murdered his father. Jordan has seen neither of his parents for quite some time, in fact since his mother drove him into the desert and left him on the roadside ‘at God’s will’. Jordan’s parents are in fact part of the First of Latter Day Saints and his mother was one of many wives, in fact she was his 19th wife. Jordan decides that he will go back to his home town and try and help his mother meaning he has to look back at his past and face some of his demons.

The second story of the book is all about Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young the second Prophet of the Mormon Church, who in the late 1890’s leaves her village and sect and battles for freedom and an end to polygamy in the United States. Ann Eliza Young was in fact a real person, which I didn’t realise until I had read the authors notes at the end which everyone should do with this book, and to me this made her story all the more compelling. Ebershoff tells her tale both from his fictional reworking of her novel (which she actually did write) through Brigham Young’s diary, letters from her son and through Kelly Dee who is researching the life of Ann and the fact that the Mormon’s one time biggest enemy actually helped create the Mormon religion of now and made the break between them and the ‘Firsts’.

Now this sounds confusing and I am going to admit that in parts of the novel I was somewhat lost. Especially as thrown into Jordan’s narrative keep coming press cuttings and news reports from Ann Eliza’s tale and I thought they should have been in the other sections of the novel as they related to that. As an editor himself I am surprised that Ebershoff didn’t have them moved. I also thought in parts the book was a little too long and yet, I am going to sound very contrary, I wanted so much more of Ann’s tale as I found it fascinating. This is actually what was bizarre, at the start of the book I really wanted to read more of Jordan’s story and by the end I wasn’t so bothered about the Mormon murder and was much more interested in Ann.

I think this had to do with the character or Jordan and the way he spoke and the two people he became attached to. He kept speaking in slang, so for example instead of saying something was boring he would say ‘same old blog’ and while I understand he is meant to be a young man ‘of the now’ it annoyed me. When he then meets Tom I found their relationship far too convenient and also quite unrealistic. After going to the cinema once they seemed to be a married couple. Then one scene where they are on the true killers heels they spend several paragraphs checking if the dog’s have the right toys and blankets. I just found that all quite ridiculous. However what Jordan’s character was good for was his story of being gay and the effects that causes in the ‘Firsts’ sects interesting and heartbreaking especially when his mother leaves him. It also showed how in the 100+ years since polygamy was outlawed that it is still going on as it the rape and grooming of children in these sects which makes for quite difficult reading.

I think what Ebershoff has done over all is quite spectacular. I know I had a moan about some of the Jordan parts of the book but that part was still a very good murder mystery and really looked at how children are affected by polygamy. I think really this was two separate books in one which is quite some feat. What this book has done that no books have made me do for quite a while is research. I have been trawling the internet looking to find out more about Ann Eliza and Brigham Young, reading about all the incidents she depicts. I think her story really sang out of the book and in a way the book could have been solely about her and still have been great. I think in bringing in the second tale helped to show that in all this time nothing has hanged for the ‘Firsts’ and they are still a law unto themselves which is slightly shocking and worrying.

If your looking for a huge book that will really make you think about things and want an insight into the life of ‘Firsts’ not Mormons (as I have learnt thanks to Ebershoff there is quite a difference) then this is a fascinating, clever and extremely well written book. I really enjoyed it and have come away wanting to find out much more about a woman I didn’t even know existed, and thanks to the authors notes I now have a list of more books to find and read. As for another Ebershoff… would I read one? No question, I would and will be. I thought Ebershoff was a new author however this is his third, randomly I found a copy of his debut novel ‘The Danish Girl’ in one of my favourite charity shops for 50p. I will report back on it in due course.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Risk of Darkness - Susan Hill

Now you may all know that I am quite a Susan Hill fan, in fact I was surprised (only partly not hugely) when I saw realised she is the author with the most books on my bookshelves, and as you will see from yesterdays post I only put books on my shelves I have actually read. Therefore not only is she one of my favourites she’s actually my most read (followed closely by Daphne Du Maurier, Kate Atkinson, Stella Duffy and Tess Gerritsen), that was a long winded way of saying I like her work a lot basically. I started with her ghost stories, The Woman in Black being on of my all time favourite reads. Bizarrely as my mind started to develop a fondness for crime she started writing her Simon Serrailler Series. I have just finished the third ‘The Risk of Darkness’ and I think that so far it’s my favourite of the three.

If you haven’t read any of the other Simon Serrailler series such as The Various Haunts of Men or The Pure in Heart, I actually would recommend you start with them. While they can stand alone, in particular the first, I think you’ll get the most out of the book if you read them in order, though there is ‘what happened so far’ intro in The Risk of Darkness. I have to say personally I can’t read a series in the wrong order I don’t know why this is I just can’t. Simon Serrailler is a Detective in the city/town (I always imagine it’s a town but having a cathedral it must be a city – in fact in my head its very like Salisbury) of Lafferton, he is also an artist and this novel sees him weighing up the two careers. He is quite a complex character being a bit of a loner and having serious issues with women along the way. His family all live in Lafferton except on of his triplets who remains hidden in Australia, I always think something is going to happen with that story.

As for the plot I don’t want to say very much as if you haven’t read the previous two I could give quite a lot away. I will say this novel deals with the dark subject of female mass murderers which is one that isn’t tackled that often in crime. Well in my limited experience anyway. In all Hills ‘crime novels’ she deals with big subjects she wants to talk about. In this novel its not only female murderers but what might make someone who you would never think a killer become one, and in this novel there is a separate storyline discussing just that. We also gain more insight into Simon’s personality in this novel as he meets the new priest Jane Fitzroy. Could there be a happy ending for the two? In this particular series of Hill’s it would be most unlikely but that is what is great about Hill’s writing she is unpredictable and takes you to places and subjects you didn’t think she would.

This is a really good novel regardless of fiction genre. I don’t really label these as crimes like I don’t label Kate Atkinson’s Broadie novels as crimes though Atkinson’s have a lot more humour in them. It’s dark fiction with quite a lot of chaos, quite a lot of death which also looks at what makes people who they are and why. Apparently this is now the end of the trilogy but we do have the new Serrailler novel The Vows of Silence to look forward to which I will be reading in the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Booking Through Thursday: Storage

“How do you arrange your books on your shelves? Is it by author, by genre, or you just put it where it falls on?”

That was the question on Booking Through Thursday today. I have to admit I have tried a few things with my bookshelves but in the end I am sadly one of those people who simply find it easiest to have them all in alphabetical order, I do this with CD’s as well, not my DVD’s though oddly. I don’t do as one of my friends do which is have their books in alphabetical order of author and then alphabetical order of the book title I am not that precise with my book sorting. I do keep my fiction and none fiction separate. I have put a picture of my selves below as they are now (on the left) and also when I tried the whole colour co-ordination thing. I know a fair few people who do this and love it as it looks so pleasing to the eye. How can you find an old book you want unless you know the colour of the spine? It just didn’t work for me, and I spent ages working out how the order of the colours should go!

One thing that I don’t do and can’t do is put books on my shelves that I haven’t actually read, they either go on my TBR pile which are in an alcove in my room, or into my TBR boxes which I sort through every month as you can see here. Right off to finish The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff which I should have finished yesterday but is so good I am taking my time with!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Managed Many of the Man Bookers?

I was wondering how I could encorporate Harriet Devines very interesting blog on Man Booker winners into one of my blogs. Then I got a lovely parcel of books through the door yesterday which included Liver by Will Self, The Believers by Zoe Heller and The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga. The later was the perfect excuse to talk about Man Booker winners you have managed.

I decided to see how many Man Booker winners I had actually read and even though its only four (one of which I need to re-read) that was two more than I thought I had read. When I started looking at the short lists and the long lists I suddenly felt a little more pleased with my reading efforts. I thought I would share them with you, I have highlighted the ones that I have enjoyed and left the other ones normal, I didnt want to steal Harriets colour co-ordinating idea though I loved it! So the ones I have read are...

The Line of Beauty – Alan Hollinghurst (2004)
The Life of Pie – Yann Martell (2002)
Amsterdam – Ian McEwan (1998)
The God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy (1997)

Darkmans – Nicola Barker (2007)
Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones (2007)
On Chesil Beach - Ian McEwan (2007)
Animals People – Indra Sinha (2007)
The Night Watch – Sarah Waters (2006)
Arthur & George – Julian Barnes (2005)

On Beauty – Zadie Smith (2005)
The Accidental – Ali Smith (2005)
Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell (2004)
Notes on a Scandal – Zoe Heller (2003)
Atonement – Ian McEwan (2001)
The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood (1986)
An Artist of the Floating World – Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)

Long Listed
What Was Lost – Catherine O’Flynn (2007)
The Testament of Gideon Mack – James Robertson (2006)
A Short History of Tractors in the Ukraine – Marina Lewycka (2005)
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke (2004)
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon (2003)
Spies – Michael Frayn (2002)
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things – Jon McGregor (2002)
Dorian – Will Self (2002)

I have checked in my TBR pile and TBR boxes and I have quite a few winners, short listed and long listed books to go through so as I do I shall keep you posted. The White Tiger will be going straight to the top 5 of my TBR. I just want to read the shortlisted Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry and the longlisted Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. I will add the tag Man Booker to any that have won etc. So have I missed any great ones? Which ones would you recommend I get onto right now and which ones I should possibly avoid?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hurting Distance - Sophie Hannah

I first found out about Sophie Hannah thanks to Novel Insights who bought her book of short stories The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets which we both read separately and couldn’t stop talking to each other about. We then found out that not only was Sophie a poet but she also wrote crime fiction. Now I can’t speak for Novel Insights (bar I know that she secretly loves Tess Gerritsen novels like I do) but I do like a good crime novel. I like the cosy Marple crimes, the detective series crimes and also the literary crimes by the likes of my favourite author Kate Atkinson (well she is one of my favourite authors). Sophie Hannah falls in to a mixture of all of these, well maybe not the cosy crime so much with subjects like babies being swapped in Little Face, the excellent first novel in the series though they can be read as stand alone novels.

The subject of Hurting Distance is rape, not an easy subject for any author. But then isn’t the whole point of fiction to deal with the good and the bad? At the start of the novel we are shown an email, written by N.J a victim of rape, on the Speak Out and Survive website telling not of her story of rape but of her dislike for people who have been raped speaking out and attention seeking and how she is jealous of the other people on the site with their ‘demanding boyfriends’. Instantly I felt like this could be awkward territory a rape victim who both disliked and was jealous of other rape victims, could Hannah deal with this unusual look at rape in a delicate way and yet make a hard hitting crime story out of it? The answer was of course yes.

N.J it turns out, in the next chapter so I am not spoiling anything, is Naomi Jenkins a sundial maker. From the outside she is a professional successful young business woman deep down she harbours a terrible secret from her past. Every Thursday night like clockwork Naomi meets her married lover Robert Haworth at the Traveltel they check into the same room, number eleven and spend the same amount of hours together and have done so for over a year. One day Robert doesn’t turn up, in fact it appears he has vanished. Naomi reports it to the police but they think she has simply dumped him and ignore her. After going to his house and seeing something so shocking it both scares her and blanks her memory Naomi is sure something dreadful has happened and realises if she wants the police to find him she will have to convince them that he is a dangerous criminal.

I found Naomi an incredibly complex character. She goes through several different character traits in the book from powerful professional, victim, obsessive lover, jealous lover, calculating liar to vengeful woman. Hannah has created a very unlikely sort of anti-hero, how can I put that better? Though I didn’t really like Naomi or her ethics I couldn’t stop reading her and I also could see why she did what she did even though really it wasn’t right. Puzzled? Read the book and you won’t be.

Amongst the incredibly tight and twist laden story Hannah also continues the story of Detectives Charlie and Simon as Charlie is still fawning over Simon even after he rejected her advances at a party and after the last infatuation he had with the victim of Little Face in the previous novel. So amongst the already complex plotting is another one that adds its own tensions and complexities and you get to know them and their colleagues further.

I had wondered if Hannah would be able to better Little Face as it was just so good. With Hurting Distance she has bettered it (though that doesn’t take anything away from its predecessor) and come up with an incredibly complex plot and some incredibly complex characters. There is suspense and a lot of twists without it being over complicated and though I cottoned on to one of links before it was announced I would never have guessed the four or more twists that then followed on. Superb! 5/5

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Moors of Mitcham

I have dovegreyreader to thank for what has been one of the best, and most needed, days out in ages. Sometimes your head needs a bit of time off. I’ve been having a phase of cabin fever one of the pitfalls of working from home and what’s worse… writers droop and readers block! So rather than do nothing on a Sunday which is usually (and slightly infuriatingly) the case I demanded the Non Reader get up and off we went on a magical mystery tour to Mitcham Common.

I had some slight reservations about what might be lurking there as I know that dovergreyreader has some very fond memories of Mitcham, but it has become renowned for being a bit rough. However I had promised I would visit the area (I certainly wasn’t going alone during the week) and so we got the bus and ended up in what looked like a lane that wouldn’t go amiss in a crime novel as you can see.
I had some slight reservations until we turned the corner and were confronted with One Island Pond which looked like this…

I felt like I had stepped into one of the Moors from Wuthering Heights and yet I was still technically in London. In fact scrap Wuthering Heights I don’t like that novel, it was more a mix of the Moors from Du Maurier's Jamaica Inn or Bronte's Jane Eyre.

It also had the slightly spooky ominous edges of the sort of barren autumnal wasteland that you might get in a Susan Hill crime novel. My readers block vanished; I knew what I would be tucking into before bedtime. I think it’s the trees being so bare that made me think of crime sites, or too much ITV3, what do you think?

We then got lost and it started to rain. I could see the non reader (who forgot their coat) was looking less than happy until we turned another and were greeted by lots and lots of wild rabbits, some of which scarpered their white tails bobbing off in the distance and others who simply looked at us nonchalantly and carried on regardless. It was a delight. Sadly none of them stuck around long enough for a photo as it started to rain hard and they all vanished into their warm warren the lucky things. We then came across this which oddly seemed to enthral the Non Reader more than the rabbits…

Despite getting so completely lost and their being no one around we eventually found a cyclist and some directions though the walk ended up going from four miles to six, we didn’t care as we were completely encapsulated by the area. We ended up finding the Ecology Centre, which was closed and then Seven Islands Pond where we both sat on an old tree trunk by the water skimming stones in one of those delightful comfortable silences. You don’t need to say anything to each other you’re both simply happy in your own thoughts letting you head wind down.
All in all just what the doctor ordered. Or should that be just what the dovegreyreader prescribed without quite knowing it?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Bit of a Book Bah-Humbug

I don't know whats wrong with me but my reading pace and in fact reading full stop seems to be really love at the moment. Normally I find that I will always choose a book over listening to my iPod, watching a DVD or catching up with The Archers. Of late though it seems to be the other way round, does anyone else get readers block?

I know that Cornflower has been having a slight issue with her reading pace of late so I know I am not alone in this. Has it ever actually gone completely for you for a while? I dont think times are that bad but they are not that good as even my guilty reads (Tess Gerritsen, M.C. Beaton) which are normally the prefect antidote for a drop in reading speed simply arent making my book interest rise. I am reading one of my favourite authors Sophie Hannah at the moment and while the book is brilliant I thought I would have easily finished it by now, having planned to start something new on Friday. I have another hundred pages to go still, its most unlike me.

I am also feeling guilty that as I sit and cant read more and more lovely books from lovely publishers are coming through my postbox (not today as its Sunday) and I feel really bad. I must snap out of this... but how!?! HELP!!!!!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Books on Love I Have Loved

As its Valentines Day I have decided that I shall get into the spirit of all things loving and lovely and give you my Top 5 Books of Love. It was going to be a top ten and then I realised I didnt have ten which then worried me. Why do I not read books about love?

I dont actually have an answer for that as I dont go out of my way to avoid books about love. I will admit it everything sounds a bit 'soft focus' on a books blurb then in all honesty it might get put further down the TBR, that is if it gets bought at all. I think maybe I should add love stories to books that I must read more fo this year. Another slightly belated New Years Resolution to add to the many I made.

But for now here are my top 5 books for Valentines...

Rapunzel - Brothers Grimm
I had to put Rapunzel at the top as this was probably the first ever tale of love that I read and re-read from the age that I could read properly. I have sadly lost the edition shown but might treat myself to a copy for my birthday next month. For me this beat Cinderella hands down, it was darker and true love wasnt about a nice fancy castle, well not totally, it could make blind men see and something in that really made me think when I was little. I didnt believe in pumpkins becoming carridges but I did believe love could heal the sick.

Pride & Prejudice - Jane Austen
I think this is quite possibly in most peoples 'love books' of all time in all honesty. I think its amazingly well written with some of the best characters in fiction (I always loved the Mother and her hysterics, Lady Catherine De Burgh for just being vile, and Mr Collins for being Mr Collins) and a timeless love story.

Atonement - Ian McEwan
I was going to put On Chesil Beach which I think is heartbreaking but deep down their is a wonderful love story. I changed my mind because of how epic Atonement is, and its easily as heartbreaking. Never has a book drawn me so close to tears in all honesty.

The Time Travellers Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
This book blew me away. I reaqd it quite a few years ago now and couldnt put it down. Some people (my Gran included) thought that this book had a slightly worrying side to it in the sense of a naked man appearing in front of a child. I didnt think of that until after and still dont because it wasnt like that at all. I think actually this should be my number one!

The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson
I only read this last week so being so fresh in my mind might possibly have put it higher up my list but I dont think so. I found this quite a quirky compelling tale of love that might or might not (I cant give anything away) have lasted over 1000 years! The heroine of this novel is wonderful and the story is so bonkers and addictive you'll be speeding through the pages. Wonderful.

So what are your favourite romantic novels of all time that you could recommend for me? Please help!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday the 13th

Yes it is that day, the unlucky day and I have to say I don’t like Friday the 13th I am a bit superstitious (some people may think that’s mad) and in if it was possible on these days you wouldn’t see me getting out of bed. However that isn’t the real world. I thought that as it’s a special certain date, and as I am coming to the end of Sophie Hannah’s Hurting Distance, that I would find a short quick themed read before I start something bigger. I had a look through my TBR (as I have read most of my spooky or horror/unlucky based books) and found that it was seriously lacking in contenders. I could only find five and one of them technically doesn’t count other than having Demon in the title. Please find below a collage (thanks to Picasa 3 – which Simon Stuck in a Book is so much better at than me) of the contenders…

In the end I am plumping for Tess Gerritsen’s Vanish, partly because I am in need of a delightful quick Thriller and she is just the woman for the job, I just know I will whizz through any of her works. It does sound like it will be horror filled as it starts with a body in the morgue waking up on the table ready to be... well you know. I find the whole idea that Gerritsen has actually seen that happen (as she bases her books on her work) quite horrific, can you imagine waking up and everyone thinking you were dead or someone you think is dead waking up? What a horrible thought, let’s not dwell on it shall we?

I was very tempted by M.R. James short stories or Frankenstein for a classic read and I haven’t read a Susan Hill in ages and I love her ghost stories but am holding out on her until I am ready for either Mrs De Winter or one of her crime novels. As I have heard Dovegreyreader mention a few times before everything needs to be aligned when you choose a book and that seemed just so with Vanish.

So is there anything that you could recommend me for a good scary read as we have another Friday the 13th coming up in March. Please do let me know as I am stumped on this one it has to be said. I am coming up with ideas for Valentines Day reads for tomorrow as well at the moment, so if you have anything you can suggest for that too I would be most grateful.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

When Will There Be Good News? - Kate Atkinson

I know its Booking Through Thursday day today but as I wrote about it before here (and I don’t mean that in a off way) I thought I would pop a link to it and mention it before discussing the latest Richard and Judy choice that is the superb and frankly brilliant When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson.

Firstly if you haven’t read ‘Case Histories’ and ‘One Good Turn’ then frankly shame on you. Kate Atkinson has created something wonderful in fusing crime and mystery with literature without it being pigeonholed into either. She also has a fantastic plotting ability which deals with some very complex coincidences in fact coincidence has been the theme throughout these three Jackson Brodie novels however I think with ‘When Will There Be Good News’ she has surpassed the previous two, though they are both must reads. This book safely furthered Atkinson as one of my all time favourite authors. Now for me to describe it to without giving anything away from this book and the ones that came before it. I have to say that this is the darkest of the series and yet has an incredible humour to it too.

Jackson Brodie is a former detective and private investigator he carries a lot of baggage but is an absolutely brilliant and complex character though actually he isn’t in this book as much as in the later so if you become a fan you’ll want to read the others. Plug, plug, plug. Brodie is investigating something personal as we meet him, that ends in him getting lost in the Yorkshire moors and then on a train the wrong way which ends in a crash. Detective Louise Monroe has history with Brodie and is currently looking into a case of a man. In Scotland Louise Monroe is dealing with a missing homicidal manic, her new marriage and a convict fresh out of jail. Reggie is a sixteen year old nanny who has reported her employer Dr Hunter missing when no one else cares? How do their paths cross, how do they intertwine with the 30 year old case of Joanna Mason.

The start of the book centres on Joanna Mason and the horrific (and for the reader incredibly chilling I actually got frightened along with those involved) murder of her family on a walk in the countryside, she was the only survivor. It was shocking upsetting and also you wondered how it could affect the characters of the rest of the book. How does this link with all the characters above? You will have to read the book to find out… Speaking of characters though I must mention Reggie who I think is an amazing character, its very rare you find such a gem in a novel (though I mentioned Marianne Engel from The Gargoyle last week) and Reggie is a character I could read at least a dozen books about and I really hope that she is brought back at some point.

This has to be Kate Atkinson’s masterpiece to date (I never managed to finish Behind The Scenes at the Museum and must try to one day) and with each in the series she gets better and better, you begin to wonder how she can top this with the next one – she is actually giving the characters a rest for a while.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Pilcrow - Adam Mars-Jones

I would normally do my Richard and Judy review on a wednesday as I take part in the challenge I have set myself but I might start doing these on Thursdays from now on, mind you then I would miss Booking Through Thursdays which in itself would be problematic... well will work that out tomorrow. Finally for today here is the review of Pilcrow which I have been mentioning to everyone I have been reading for ages!

I had to give myself a little break from Pilcrow (I finished it on Sunday) before I could review it so that I could take it all in and let it digest. Adam Mars-Jones has been heralded for some time as one of the best writers by Granta and other such places… before he had even written his first novel, so Pilcrow had a lot to live up to before it was even published and released, it manages to live up to and beyond expectations. The book deals with so much its difficult to sum it up in a review of any length but I shall do my best for you all.

John Cromer is the unusual and fantastic narrator starting around the age of five when doctors diagnose him with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis leading to him having several years of bed rest. From there we are given the often hilarious thoughts and theories that John has as a young boy growing up in the 1950’s. From what he thinks happens in the outside world which he hasn’t seen much of to his mother’s obsession with breeding budgies and cockatiels. It also gives us the underlying insight into marriages and society in that period from things that Johns mother (who is a brilliant gossip) says that we the reader can understand and piece together even if the narrator is too young and doesn’t himself. It also looks at a child’s idea of what life is like to be stuck in that environment in that time and how he feels at the prospect of it being forever.

However it isn’t forever as during a visit to the dentists his mother reads a piece on the misdiagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and Still’s disease of which John is discovered to have the latter and the one thing you should have if you have Stills disease is bed rest leaving him with lasting disabilities. This part of the book is quite heart breaking as the family cope with the fact what they have been doing is wrong and that now more damage to John has been done to him physically when he and his family believed he was being made better. This then becomes some of the most interesting part of the book as he learns to deal with unsympathetic nurses, other children (two girls of which are hilarious evil tyrants), the workings of his ‘taily’, a murderess on the loose, and the fact that he likes boys. All these subjects are discussed through a child’s eyes which I don’t always like in novels, however here it works as the reader you can draw more adult connotations and hints from everything John sees and tells you. I just loved the black and white view of a child’s and particularly in the circumstances and era that this novel is set, and also in terms of discussing growing up, sexuality and disability.

Adam Mars-Jones has done something quite magnificent with this novel. Every character has depth even if they only appear very briefly, be they a concerned doctor, interfering Grandmother, abusive nurse or 6 year old tyrant and child eater they are dealt with in a real way. He also writes with humour this could easily have been a very heavy and hard going novel. Through Johns observations, bluntness and the scenarios he gets himself into there is tragedy but also some incredibly funny scenes.

The hardest aspect of the book, which isn’t actually that difficult, is the fact it isn’t totally linear and can sometimes jump a long way forward or not too far back, you never loose where you are though and by the end I was slowing down not wanting the final page to be turned. The good news is that this is the first in a trilogy, so I will be getting to hear more about John and his life in the future. That is where the book and its author have triumphed I think John is one of the best characters I have read in a very long time and like the blurb says ‘He’s the weakest hero in fiction – unless he is one of the strongest’. This is a must read book and I hope will get a nod in some of the awards as they come. I think everyone should give this a go as its remarkable and extremely individual. I can’t imagine anyone disliking this book as its so rewarding in so many ways. 5/5.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Breakfast At Tiffany's - Truman Capote

I haven’t read any Capote before but have always wanted to, so when the lovely people at penguin sent me a few as part of their gorgeous new modern classics range I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep myself away from them for long, but which one should I read first? I plumped for Breakfast at Tiffany’s because I had seen the movie, which is the opposite way to how I normally do the whole book to film routine, but with a new author as Capote was to me I thought that it might actually help with the reading and in some ways it did.

The story itself is much darker than the one in which Audrey Hepburn starred. Holly Golightly (which I think is a fantastic name) is a much darker and more ruthless and naughty character than the one in the film. I could instantly see how the narrator of the tale was drawn to her, her first scene is arriving a little drunk with a gentleman caller waking the neighbours by forgetting her keys, and she then causes quite a scene on the stairwell. I knew from then on I was going to enjoy the book a lot. She is ‘irresistibly top banana in the shock department’. I also didn’t realise how tragic she is in her own way. Once again the book is better than the movie which is of course a classic.

I found the way Truman uses her to describe people and social etiquette and climbing in New York in the 1940’s really insightful. You can of course see that in people today, I just wasn’t expecting it to be so dark, and I like a novel with dark parts mingled amongst cocktails parties and wonderful characters. There is no doubt in my mind that if you haven’t read the novel then you should and you should get this one.

Not only does it have possibly the best ‘film cover’ I have seen on a book, as most of them lets be honest can be pretty horrid, but there are three more stories there two of which I was completely taken with. My least favourite was ‘The Diamond Guitar’, I kept thinking of Fitzgerald’s story ‘A Diamond as Big as the Ritz’ for some reason. Though it wasn’t a bad story and the relationship and friendship between two prisoners was impeccably written it didn’t get into my head as much as the title story or the other two.

‘A Christmas Memory’ is delightful told from the eyes of an unnamed seven year old who bakes cakes every year with his sixty plus year old cousin and sends them to various people including the president. It is as it says simply a memory but one that made me think of all the special times I have had with different members of my family. However the gem hidden away (again bar the title story) for me was the story ‘House of Flowers’ which tells of another lady of the night like Holly called Ottilie.

Ottilie, who despite her job in a house of ill famed repute, desperately wants to fall in love. She is told that when she does she will know because she will be able to pick up a Bee and it won’t sting her, for a while she gets stung until she meets the unlikely love of her life Royal. She leaves the brothel to move in with him where she meets his bitter mother. I won’t say anymore than that – oh apart from the fact that it’s like a dark modern fairy tale. It’s brilliant as is the collection and I know I will be revisiting this collection again and again.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The S-ing Game: Results

So after the post I did on the challenge of finding my top ten things beginning with S below here are the answers;

Yes of course my delightful if slightly mad family, though the photo I uploaded I realised was also including a lot of my friends as this was taken on a very special day in my life when they were all together, my wedding last year. So those of you who guessed Siblings and social events… good guess but no. My siblings are on their as are my very little cousins, in fact if you saw them close up you would wonder which are siblings and which are cousins or aunts. My mother is 42 and the eldest of four and it regularly happens that we are confused for siblings and my actual little sister (aged 9) and my brother (aged 7) are confused as nephews and nieces.

I am particular about seasides though. Firstly they can’t be sandy as I have a slight phobia of sand which I blame on moment in Tynemouth when I lived in Newcastle aged about 6. I don’t like to talk about it but Polly was there only it didn’t scar her for life. Since then sand makes me panicky and sick. So I like pebbled beaches as a rule and they MUST HAVE rock pools. I am off on holiday to Whitby soon and am wondering what sort of beach that is?

In particular Jelly Belly as pictured, the tutti fruitti flavour is amazing!

Everyone thought this was swearing which is actually more appropriate so maybe I should change it as I love a good swear even if it is ‘lazy language’ its bloody descriptive. As I like writing I thought scribing would be good, I was going to put an image of scribbles as I do that all day too.

Stately Homes
I believed Sunbury in Matlock Bath where I grew up was one of them, it was more Mansion sized, and spent a lot of time as a youth in Derbyshire going around Chatsworth. My Gran and Bong also took me to endless stately homes and castles as a kid; my favourite of all is Hardwick Hall.

If you though Spooks then that’s also correct as its one of my favourite shows. I wanted to be a spy for ages after my great Uncle Derek read me many spy stories as a youth on our ten mile daily hikes (we went on lots of walking holidays) and I have always liked a good Bond.

I just put the cat on there to confuse. I do love big cats though but Snow Leopards aren’t my fav’s and didn’t think to find a picture of a sabre toothed tiger. Love swimming is a current favourite past time in my new gym routine.

I could live on Sushi (and curry) as it is one of my favourite foods. I used to think the whole idea of it was wrong on every level and once I tried it I was caught by the bug… no not a tummy bug. The best place to have it was Gili Gulu near Seven Dials in London as you could get all you could eat for £13. It’s now closed down and there is an empty space in my heart… and my gut!

With a picture of the Most Haunted crew which is my guilty pleasure on the TV. I geekily own every DVD and am quite a believer. I had the pleasure of a ghost hunt with ex Most Haunted member Phil Whyman and my mate Michelle last year and something very, very, very odd happened. Sadly nothing happened when we spent the night locked in the London Tombs for charity last year, maybe on the next one?

Second-Hand Bookshops

I cannot help but be pulled in. I think it is a defect somewhere deep in my psyche. It is also what my study and lounge are slowly but surely beginning to look like. You could also see this as Stories, as you may have guessed I love a good tale/novel/book so it’s a multiple answer.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The S-ing Game...

I have been challenged by Cornflower to do a list of my top ten favourite things beginning with the letter 'S' as pulled out of her scrabble letters bag after a shake and a rummage (I love the word rummage) and so my gauntlet has been laid down. I loved what Harriet has done which is to leave you guessing a while so I will do the same and put the results up tomorrow or Monday!

Can you guess what my top ten favourite things beginning with S are?

I am mulling over prize ideas... anyone else wanna go? Let me know and will give you a letter!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson

So this was the third of the Richard & Judy choices and after the first two brilliant reads plus knowing that some of them to come are fantastic I was slightly worried that this one could be a complete dud. From the blurb of the novel I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy this. “A young man is fighting for his life. Into his room walks a bewitching woman who believes she can save him. Their journey will have you believing in the impossible.” It sounded like it might be a bit of a clichéd romance novel. The book looks stunning by the way, you can see the cover in the picture what you cant see is the black edges of the pages which Canongate also did with ‘The End of Mr Y’ which I sadly didn’t get on with.

This book isn’t a cliché in the slightest. At the start of the novel we meet our ‘unnamed’ hero, and what an unlikely hero he is a drug taking, vain porn star. I didn’t want to like him but you simply cannot help yourself with all he goes through. The book starts instantly with action as we find him driving drunk and drugged when he suddenly sees a set of arrows flying through the sky. Unsure whether he is hallucinating from the drugs or seeing the real thing he swerves to avoid it crashing the car which soon sets alight.

In hospital he has no one (as you will learn through his back story) so when Marianne Engel turns up at his bedside telling him she knows him he doesn’t know what’s going on, he wonders if it’s the effects of morphine. When she returns and announces that she has known him since the year 1300 simply adds to his thoughts that she is in fact crazy. Plus the issue that she is also in the psychiatric ward occasionally as a patient doesn’t help. However being alone with no other visitors and so he decides to humour her and listen to the story of her life over 700 years and the story of how they might have met, if he decides to believe her that is.

I loved the character of Marianne Engel, I think that she is one of the most unusual and wonderful heroine I have read in a long time. I did sit in wonderment at where Davidson had created such an amazing woman from and where did he get the idea of a job as a gargoyle sculptor from? I think I will be hard pushed to find such an original character again this year and we are only in February. The history with the two of them if fascinating and takes you on a real adventure and adds an extra something to the novel. It added something different and some of the stories you heard Marianne tell our burn victim, dark fairy tales and fables.

Davidson’s writing is vivid, direct and punchy. It is literary without being flowery or over done, he doesn’t need to describe everything and at the same time he still does. That will make sense more when you read it, which of course you will do. There were only two things that put me off a little bit with this book and this is me being objective and not just raving about the book. Occasionally the unnamed narrator talks directly to the reader and will say things like ‘I am only telling you this because…’ and it slightly bothered me as it was inconsistent as it only happened every so often and also a lot of the book was narrated by Marianne. There was also the reference to the snake in his spine which I understood as a metaphor but didn’t feel needed to be in there.

The mixture of romance and horror with history weaved in reminded me in some ways of Chuck Palahniuk, I have only read Haunted by him but have always wanted to give him another go. This book isn’t for the faint hearted and that is a slight warning. The description of being burnt is incredibly vivid and could possibly put of some readers, I advise you to read on even if it isn’t comfortable and can be quite graphic and not just in terms of the burns. As the story goes on we learn a lot about the characters. I couldn’t quite imagine Richard and Judy reading this over their cocoa in bed of an evening. I think this is a sign that they are taking more risks with some books and the more their book group goes on the better I think they get and will get in the future. I really enjoyed this book and possibly wouldn’t have read it without it being part of my Richard and Judy challenge.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

My Back Pages

Before the snow hit London and everything came to a complete and utter standstill I took a trip down to one of my favourite independent book stores in London ‘My Back Pages’ and thought I should share the little book world gem with you. I am a huge fan of independent book shops the do have to be a bit of a jumble though. I know that’s a bit of an odd expression but when I go to an independent book store what I want when I open the door is the smell of used books to hit me straight in the face. I think what I love about these books is that you can get completely lost and immersed in them. It also seeps back to my childhood.

Growing up in Matlock in Derbyshire one of my treats used to be going to Scarthin Books in neighbouring Cromford. I was allowed to occasionally spend £5 in there and they had the most amazing children’s book selection. My Gran now knows that when I go up to Matlock for a visit that a trip to Scarthin has to be on the agenda somewhere. Anyway back to My Back Pages…

I found this store about a year or so ago completely by accident after one in Merton Abbey Mills (which is down the road in the other direction) closed down. I love book stores with character, my other favourite that I will cover when next pop and visit it is Copperfield’s in Wimbledon. My Back Pages is simply steeped in character. It’s a maze of books with avenues and dead end shoot offs of all sorts of books. The fiction section (pictured) is fabulous and though it looks a jumble, which I think, is part of its charm, and there are books behind books there is a system and fiction is actually sorted into where it originated. You have ‘American Greats’, ‘African Fiction’, ‘Latin Fiction’ frankly I could go on and on and on. Not content with that you have cubby holed shelves of horror, science fiction, crime and that’s just the fiction sections which seem never ending. If you are a Non-Fiction fan then there is a mass of delights which seems never ending. It seriously it’s a book lovers paradise.

I of course was there on a fiction hunt and after a good 45 minute rummage came away with two gems which were Fearney by James Long which I was thrilled to find after missing out on it a few weeks ago, the other was Strangers by Antonia White which I have bought unashamedly for the cover. Yes I do give in to that sometimes, does anyone else? I saw it on Stuck In A Book when he was celebrating Virago green covers of old. Which leads me onto something very special and that from reading the other book blogs I think you all might like… The Virago Shelves. I actually couldn’t fit them all in on the picture as there is a huge selection but you get the gist.

So do you all have little dens of delight for the book lover near you? If so tell me where and I will stop by on my travels… well once the snow allows life to carry on as normal that is!