Thursday, April 30, 2009

The Lesser of Two Bookish Evils

What I love about Booking Through Thursday is that it always makes me think. I generally end up waffling on (as I am sure I will do today) and find varying tangents to discuss. It makes me think out the box though and this weeks question “Which is worse… finding a book you love and then hating everything else you try by that author, or reading a completely disappointing book by an author that you love?” has not only made me think more about books and what I have read but also how I read.

Out of the two I don’t think I could say which is worse because of some ‘reading rules’ I have, in fact I think I may have to do a blog in the near future on reading and reviewing rules I have, though they aren’t set in stone. If I read one book I absolutely love by an author I will undoubtedly pick another of their books up but it might take me weeks, months even years for me to read another of their books or for them to write another if it’s their debut. If I couldn’t wait (very rare that that happens) and the next one was rubbish I would sadly probably write them off. There is a clause in that statement though in respect of if someone whose opinion I trust raved about another of their works I would possibly give them a second chance.

So what about an author I love who releases a dud book? Well in order to love an author I have to have read more than three/four of their books. If one of them was a dud before that the rule above would apply so they wouldn’t be an author I love. I only at present have authors like that Daphne Du Maurier, Ian McEwan, Stella Duffy, Tess Gerritsen and Susan Hill all who so far with all their varying writing styles and genres haven’t failed me once.

I do get nervous reading the next of their works though that it might be the one book by them that will really bad or put me off them (in my head for some reason I am thinking of McEwan’s ‘Saturday’ instantly which I haven’t tried yet but worries me in advance) as yet none of them have written a bad word. If one did… I would be disappointed but I would forgive them. It has happened with one author who would have made my favourite readers amount to six not five and that is Kate Atkinson whose books I love only I had a really, really hard time with ‘Behind The Scenes At The Museum’ which was the second book I read of hers after ‘Human Croquet’. I didn’t get on with ‘Behind The Scenes…’ and so much so, though I am going to try again, I was tempted not to bother with her again. Luckily three people recommended ‘Case Histories’ to me and my oneside relationship with Kate has never looked back.

So not only has today’s blog made me think about my reading in a different way its also made me look at my reading pattern (is that what you call it) as I have noticed I have quite a lot of books I have absolutely loved and either not read another word by that author yet or (like Margaret Atwood) read the second one a year or so down the line. I am thinking maybe I need to start reading the whole works of some authors such as Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler… oooh who else? Any recommendations, what about all of you?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco

So... the latest Savidge Reads Big Reads (nee Savidge Big Weekenders) and one which as I mentioned on Monday I very nearly came to give up on. However despite my initial struggles with The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco I carried on (struggling) right until the end. Was it worth it? In honesty the jury is still out on that for me to be I don’t think I have ever felt so confounded by a book or so annoyed that I found a book so difficult.

The Name of the Rose is set in 1327 in an Italian monastery where Monks are dying in mysterious ways. In a time where the Catholic Church is dividing and differing Catholic communities are accusing each other of heresy emotions are running high. Brother William of Baskerville and his companion, and the narrator, Adso arrive after the first death and turn detective and sidekick as they try to unravel the mystery. Now this makes it sound like your average historical murder mystery but it is so much more than that.

Umberto Eco’s novel is undoubtedly a masterpiece, however for me it was an alienating one. Unlike when I read The Blind Assassin a few weeks ago the hard work didn’t seem to pay of with The Name of the Rose. I am not a religious person, I have nothing against it at all – the Non-Reader is Catholic, but I do find the history of religion interesting. However when the history of it is told for five pages a chapter and the same stories of heretics and the anti-Christ are reworded and repeated making what would be a great 250 page mystery into a 500 epic even a die hard theologist would have trouble with this book.

The prose is stunning though in all honesty I think Eco might work by the rule of ‘why use one word when I can use a paragraph’. The interspersed Latin I found slightly pretentious and a bit ‘look how clever I am and you aren’t’ which slightly alienates a reader, well it did me anyways. I don’t want a book to make me feel stupid. Now bare in mind I know some Latin, my mother being a Latin, Classics and English Literature teacher, I am not even someone who has no knowledge of it and I found it grated on me and to only then be reworded in English just seemed like more words to bulk up the book.

I also never felt I got to know the characters as there were so many of them and though I did really like Brother William of Baskerville and Adso as characters I never quite felt on side with them because sure enough one of them would soon be spouting paragraphs of Eco-isms and I would be put of them for a fair few pages. As for all the other characters well with all the similar names I would sometimes think that they were talking to a character that I would suddenly realise had been dead for a few pages. Back to the positive however I thought the book had moments of genius, the mystery and suspense was wonderful when it was in the book and not being shrouded by Eco-isms. Joining William and Adso as they ventured through the dark twisting labyrinth of corridors, secret passages, turrets and the amazing library of the monastery did have me on the edge of my seat. I just wish the whole book had been like that, that would have been superb.

I would give the book 2.5/5 it wasn’t awful (I hate giving bad reviews - I try and see the best in all books, especially when I have always wanted to read them and when the Non-Reader has bought me a book... a very rare event) and had moments of spell binding brilliance but to me it was as my mother (it’s normally my Gran that is famous/infamous on this blog) said only yesterday “oh I thought that book was a really good mystery surrounded by pretentious twaddle” and I have to say I think she was right. Though don’t tell her that I wouldn’t hear the end of it! She also said “it’s one of the rare books that is better as a film” I shall find out as I have ordered it from Lovefilm to see if it makes more sense that way.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Maisie Dobbs & The Detective Series

After reading the first in the series of Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta Series Phenomenon I asked for you all too kindly recommend other detective series that I might find a treat. I didn’t realise there were publishers listening however it appears there were… The delightful people at John Murray (and in particular the delightful publicist Caroline) sent me a parcel filled with Maisie Dobbs Mysteries – as you, they, the cat next door and some people the Outer Hebrides know I can only read a series in the right order. Now I have to apologise and admit that I had never before heard of this series or their author Jacqueline Winspear but somehow I think they are going to be right up my street from what the blurb of the very first one says…

…“Young, feisty Maisie Dobbs has recently set herself up as a private detective. Such a move may not seem especially startling. But this is 1929, and Maisie is exceptional in many ways. Having started as a maid to the London aristocracy, studied her way to Cambridge and served as a nurse in the Great War, Maisie has wisdom, experience and understanding beyond her years. Little does she realise the extent to which this strength of character is soon to be tested. For her first case forces her to uncover secrets long buried, and to confront ghosts from her own past! In Maisie, Jacqueline Winspear has created a character that readers will immediately take to their hearts. Her first case combines a gripping investigation with a moving portrait of love and loss. It marks the beginning of a wonderful new detective series”.

The era is perfect as for some reason I have become slightly obsessed with the 1920’s and 1930’s in my reading this year. Maisie herself sounds feisty yet with a past which looks like it could be filled with a mixture of secrets and loss. I absolutely love the covers and frankly anything that Alexander McCall Smith is raving about is almost certain to be something I want to give a go. But will it live up to any of these that I love so much?

I noticed yesterday that Elaine of Random Jottings had done a wonderful blog on the Miss Silver Books by Patricia Wentworth which I might frankly have to have a delve into, plus people keep mentioning Josephine Tey and someone recently mentioned I would really like the Bryant & May series by Christopher Fowler... anymore for anymore?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Thats What Friends Are For

Isn’t it odd how you can be given book advice from the people that you least expect? I know today should be my review of the Savidge Big Weekenders but once again I haven’t finished the book (are you all loosing faith in me yet) and so am thinking of doing the Savidge Big Reads instead, less pressure and if I just say which days we will discuss it then you can all join in… would that be a better idea?

Anyway I would normally have had the review ready yesterday as I like to be a day ahead. However Umberto Eco’s masterpiece The Name of the Rose and I weren’t really getting on. I managed a just under a hundred pages of wonderfully written but never ending descriptions and scene setting and Catholic history in the park in the Sun on Saturday morning and into lunch. I then didn’t pick up the book again until Sunday afternoon. I kept finding that I had something more important to do like Hoover the lounge, de-fluff the sofa, Hoover the lounge… again, clean out the fish you name it I ‘needed’ to do it.

I then packed it in my bag for the tube ride to town to meet some friends. I worked with G a few years ago and we became like one unit, she is a wonderful blunt beautiful Italian lady and myself, the non-reader, G and her husband were meeting for dinner and to organise a trip to Rome in August (they have houses there so really it was more to organise flights). When routing through my bag for my diary G shouts “Umberto Eco… that’s a masterpiece… are you enjoying it? No? Oh its amazing you must, must try and read more you will be hooked.” Well coming from someone who doesn’t like books that was quite the accolade. So on the way home I picked it up and tried, and tried all the way into town again today, through lunch and all the way home… and now believe it or not I am hooked. Only about 200 pages in but as G promised I am hooked. So there will be a review but more like on Wednesday, tomorrow’s blog is already done.

I have asked G to recommend me some other Italian books for Rome and instantly she said The Women of Rome by Alberto Moravia I haven’t read any of him have you? Apparently it’s the perfect book for Rome. Any other idea’s for the perfect books set in Rome? I have until August but thought would ask now anyway.

But back to friendships and books, have any of you had any experiences of people you know aren’t readers suddenly telling you what to read or championing a book? Have you ever fallen out with someone over a book? I recently almost got put off being friends with someone as they only ‘read books which are movies, I always run out and buy one as its what everyone is reading isn’t it?’ Let me know. Right am off back to read about monks and murder in the 1300’s and revel in it.

Oh before I forget the next Savidge Big Reads blog dates for discussion and the books are:
Tuesday May 5th - Midnights Children by Salman Rushdie
Monday May 11th - Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
Do join in!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

Now I have decided with the Man Booker Winners that as I read them I am not going to compare them to what else was long listed and short listed that year which I might have read. I don’t actually see any benefit in debating if it should have won if a) I haven’t read the whole long list and b) it doesn’t make any difference as I can’t change history… I know, I know, my mystical powers are weak! I am simply going to tell you what I think. Have I ever done a blog on how I review a book before? If not do let me know and I will do one in the coming weeks. Anyway onto the book in question…

The White Tiger is Aravind Adiga’s first novel and it is an incredibly accomplished first book which paints a vivid if slightly dark picture of ‘the real India’. We follow the story of Balram Halwai son of a rickshaw puller also known as ‘The White Tiger’ (which is of course the rarest of all the feline family) and his journey from a boy in a small village to ‘an entrepreneur’ in the big city via a life of servitude as a driver and, rather ominously, murder.

The story is undoubtedly a dark one and one in which Adiga is telling us of the corruption (which as Dovegreyreader brilliantly summed up in her review “just slimes off the page”) in India, its globalisation and how it has faired since the British moved out and American culture moved in. We see the darker sides of life out there that ‘tourists’ to India might not. Though this is a hard look at India and is very gritty for the reader, amongst the dark though there is humour thanks to such a wonderful protagonist. If you are puzzling over how a murderer could be likeable and funny then you need to read the book. Mind you there are a few other novels where I have felt that way too… oh dear, should I worry?

Balram’s personality changes as his surroundings do. He starts of as a naïve but clever school boy, and then becomes a disheartened young man in the tea shops before becoming a wry, calculating and knowing servant to his repugnant masters. He tells us; actually he isn’t telling us his story he is telling it to someone else. We read his story told in the form of letters to The Premiere of China. Which is oddly the only bit of the book that I didn’t really take to as I couldn’t work out why you would tell such a tale and admit to the things that he does if it might very well end up on the desk of someone as important as that.

Bar that one glitch I found the book incredible. It’s so readable and that was all down to Balram and his character (the font of a book helps though I find, more on that next week). I thought the way Adiga managed the plotting and story so we got to see so much of Indian life quite remarkable. We started in the villages looking at education, death, marriage and people who may be poor but make their life as rich as possible through the hard times (Balram’s Gran is a brilliantly calculating old woman – but then you would need to be). In Delhi we get the mix of the richest of the rich, the corruption of the government, the globalisation and Americanisation of the cities and all its gloss and glamour and the in contrast the prostitution, slum dwelling, and the life of those in servitude – the cockroach scenes freaked me out. All in all a great narrator, an unusual look at, and insight into, India and a highly accomplished debut novel.

I look forward to more novels by Adiga and hope that we see more novels from him. Arundhati Roy is an author I always wanted to read more works of after ‘The God of Small Things’ her Booker Winner but sadly we never did, maybe she is biding her time? One thing I will add about the book is the amount of people that I have seen reading it on the tube, I was going to do my report on that this weekend but I am going to hold off another week as am finding it quite interesting. Right I am off to read in the glorious Sunday sunshine.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Books for the new Budget...

Now I promise that I won’t go all political in this blog as that’s not really what it is about. However I did have an email a couple of weeks ago from someone who wishes to remain nameless who sent me an email that said…

I read your blog regularly and love to read your reviews. I have always been an avid reader of books but hardback books are just completely out of my price range and my library rarely stocks anything new, if it does then their tends to be a waiting list that goes past the publication date of the book in paperback. I know there are charity shops but even these seem to be expensive, if a book is in good condition its over £2.50 which is a bargain but still isn’t cheap, you could pay a pound more in Tesco’s. I just wondered if you knew anywhere else.

I felt a little bit like a book agony uncle, which is a nice feeling! The email really made me think though. I am very lucky and get some books sent for free from publishers and am in a job that means I can pay for my book addiction too. I dont tend to touch hardbacks myself (bar the ones lovely publishers send) unless its a very special author and I simply cannot endure the paperback wait as I do think they are really expensive and far too big for commuting bags, though they do look delightful. I am being cautious though with my spending as I think everyone is.

Now of course the best place for cheap, well actually free, books in an ideal world is your library, however (unlike the lucky Americans who pop by on this blog) we don’t have the best library system in the world here in the UK and certainly not in my borough. I know it’s better than a lot of library systems in the world but it does have its pitfalls. I went a few weeks back and couldn’t believe they charge you £3 to order a book in, now that’s more than buying a book in a charity shop that you can keep or pass on after. My local library is currently closed (see picture below) so I also have a bit of a trek to the nearest one and though I came away with some great books (of which I have not read one yet and renewed twice - whoops) none of them were on the hit list I had written before I left. The new library might be better, we will see.

So then of course there are second hand book stores and charity shops. I don’t begrudge paying over £3 in an independent book store as its their livelihood and I certainly don’t begrudge giving money to charity but charity shop books have shot up in the last year, has anyone else noticed this? Of course as you will see from last weekend there are still some gem charity shops to be found (18 books for £5.50) you can’t go wrong but not everyone has such dens of sin locally. I have now found a surprising new high street store though where you can find cheap books quite by chance!

I had gone to the high street with the Non-Reader to pop to the pound shops as they sell some amazing Brazilian (the Non Readers homeland) coffee, now my area in South London has lots of little pound shops but recently after loosing Woolies the empty store has been filled with one of the chain pound shops (this seems to be happening everywhere) and its huge. Imagine my complete surprise when I came across a book section! Imagine my increased joy when I saw that there were actually good books all for just £1…

I was very restrained and only came away with three. I picked up The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank by Ellen Feldman who is in the Orange Shortlist (more on that very soon, very excited) with her latest novel Scottsboro and also The Facts Behind The Helsinki Roccamatios by Man Booker Winner Yann Martel. I also bought a copy of Digging To America by Anne Tyler for my Gran to take when I go home ‘oop north’ next week as she likes Anne Tyler and I read this last year and loved it. I could have walked away with many more. I already had How To Talk To A Widower by Jonathan Tropper, though I could have bought it for a few other people, there was also Patrick Parkers Progress by Mavis Cheek, The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe, and Inside Little Britain as pictured. Plus as I mentioned there were titles by Anne Tyler as well as DBC Pierre and many, many more. I was pleasantly surprised but didn’t get carried away as had the word ‘budget’ going over and over in my mind.

Have any of you found some gem bargain book places? Do let me know! Now I must get back to The Name of The Rose by Umberto Eco which of course is this weeks Savidge Reads Big Weekender choice, enjoying so far but am shockingly only about a hundred pages in.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Offshore - Penelope Fitzgerald

I personally think that when you open a book that you know very little about and start to read it you give it a much fairer chance than you would a book that everyone has been raving about which I think makes you judge it more harshly. So what about a book that people you know and trust choice wise don’t really care for? I tend to write them off from the start and having heard some reviews of Penelope Fitzgerald’s 1979 Man Booker winning novel Offshore, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about this book at all. But I have set myself the challenge of reading all the Man Booker Winners and so I gritted my teeth and… enjoyed it.

Offshore is set just as it says off shore. The shores in particular aren’t some glistening desert island but instead London in the late seventies, which was actually ‘the now’ when the book was released. In a small little community ‘belonging neither to land nor sea’ we meet the various residents of the houseboats of Battersea Reach. There are three main characters in the novel that we follow; Richard a man in a mainly unstable marriage who tries too keep everyone’s spirits up and is in some ways ‘the captain’ of the community, Nenna who has randomly bought a boat to live on with her daughters and husband, that latter of which never moved in and Maurice a male prostitute by occupation who is also looking after stolen goods.

How does a book that is only 180 pages and less than 50,000 words manage to encapsulate this society through the day to day and slightly unusual dilemma’s I hear you cry? Well that’s why I think it won the Man Booker. Though I could actually have read a lot more by the end of the book there isn’t much left to add. Just as quickly (and as wonderfully descriptively) as you are thrown into these people’s lives you are equally quickly (and wonderfully descriptively) thrown back out. These are snapshots not life stories and I quite like that in novels, especially with such a jumble of characters as this book has.

I happily meandered through their lives (it isn’t a fast paced book at all), some mundane and average, some dramatic and emotional like a barge meanders down the Thames taking in all the scenery along the way. It is very much a London book and very much a book about normal real people, both factors I like in any book. I have to say my favourite characters and therefore parts of the book because they were in them were Nenna’s children Tilda and Martha. I wanted to join them on the muddy banks of the river finding hidden treasure’s and running wild. This is a very economic book, sparse in words but full of vivid imagery and characters. I am so pleased that I had taken up the challenge and found what may not be on of my favourite reads of all time but fine example of simple, pure literary fiction from an author whose work I want to read more of.

This book has also brought up a little something that I did want to mention though and that is the timing of reading books and how you might relate to a book dependent on mood, where you are etc. So for those of you who have read the book and think I might have gone crazy, I will leave you with an image of where I was reading it (it’s very short so only took me a few hours)…
I think the surroundings whilst I was reading were quite perfect for this novel.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Winner Takes It All (Hummed in B Flat)

I completely and very rudely forgot to blog about a recent arrival (this blog could have lots of Abba connotations - for no reason - if I am not careful, blame a random Abba-fest on the iPod) here at Savidge Towers that popped through my letter box the other day. A lovely copy of The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan published by Canongate. This book has already had a glowing review from Catherine O'Flynn who wrote the wonderful, wonderful What Was Lost and was 90% sold to me from that however lots of bloggers have been raving about this book too. One such blogger was the lovely Lizzy who had a competition to win some copies and I am one of the lucky ducks who won! I hardly ever win anything so was over the moon, big thanks Lizzy! It's all part of what is then going to become an interview with the author so I will have to have my new "Book Notebook" to hand the whole way through, I am very excited. I think this will be the first read after this weekends Savidge Big Weekender 'The Name of the Rose' (do feel free to join in the reading) I just need to get another Man Booker Winner finished before I start on the Umberto Eco classic.

Why Do We Read?

Today’s question on Booking Through Thursday is a bit of a mammoth one and one I don’t know quite how to answer, so as usual I will probably go off at quite a tangent so apologies if so. The question is “My husband is not an avid reader, and he used to get very frustrated in college when teachers would insist discussing symbolism in a literary work when there didn’t seem to him to be any. He felt that writers often just wrote the story for the story’s sake and other people read symbolism into it. It does seem like modern fiction just “tells the story” without much symbolism. Is symbolism an older literary device, like excessive description, that is not used much any more? Do you think there was as much symbolism as English teachers seemed to think? What are some examples of symbolism from your reading?” Now for me this sounds very like a mix of a bookish problem page and an English literature A-level question and as I have been discussing on and off on my blog of late my late school years almost put me off books and reading for life. I can’t blame the teachers (my English teaching mother would kill me) it’s their job, but it needs to be done carefully as I was severely put off books almost for good.

I didn’t feel that my English teachers particularly made me seek symbolism; I think they made me try and look at books in a different way but sadly to a point that makes you over analyse books. I do think that the curriculum killed all Shakespeare it touched and many other classics such as A Room With A View, through endless analysis and over egging of the literary pudding. it made it an effort, where was the fun in that?

I think all books have different symbolic references to different people, characters might symbolise people you know or issues that are going on in society, the world, you name it. Each and every individual will take something completely different away from a book. From reading The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood recently I didn’t feel any review I did could do the book justice in terms of all it symbolised and discussed and yet there are books I read that are simply a story. That I think is the objective of every author, to tell a good tale and take you on a journey, the rest of the work I think should be done by the reader taking as much or little out of it as possible or as they want, reading shouldn’t be a chore or a bore.

English teachers taught me how to read books differently I suppose, how to look for hidden messages and sides to the story you might not initially see and reading The Blind Assassin I wanted to thank them for teaching me that, to a degree. They did somewhat take the enjoyment out of reading, making it too much of an exercise and less of an enjoyment. This all made me think... why do we read? The latter of the two is particularly is the reason that I read the others are escapism, relaxation plus learning about things or people that interest me or cultures and events I might not know about without certain wonderful books. Maybe that’s not the academic way to read a book; it’s certainly the most fun way. What about you, why do you read? Do you need symbolism or just wonderful words that make you escape and make you think while relaxing as hours while away?

Oh P.S loving the new/re-released after 20+ years Du Maurier (see below) but am limiting myself to a short story a day to make the delight last!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

All Reading Is On Hold...

Until I have finished reading what I came home to find had been delivered today and what has now moved past everything on my TBR pile to climb straight to the top...
Yes the new collection of Daphne Du Maurier (my favourite writer) short stories which isn't out until the second week of May! I am beyond thrilled to have got this book from the very kind people at Virago and frankly cannot wait to read it... so I wont! Thankfully I had finished Offshore before I got in!

Memoirs of a Midet - Walter de la Mare

If it hadn’t been for the lovely people at Telegram Books emailing me to see if I would like to read any of their books then I would quite possibly have never read Memoirs of a Midget and yet it is a classic, one maybe many of us haven’t heard about but a classic never the less. I actually thought from the cover it was a very new book, it turns out it’s just a new edition. I hadn’t heard of Walter de la Mare but doing some research I found out he lived from 1873 until 1956 and he was a well loved and respected poet. This was his fourth book was published in 1921 and won the James Tate Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Already before I had read a single page I was intrigued by what appeared to be a forgotten classic.

Though I admit I have never read a Dickens (though I have seen many on the television – which I know isn’t the same) or read any Thomas Hardy I have had quite a few on audio book. In fact from around the age of around ten until around fourteen I loved nothing more than listening to Tess of the d’Urbervilles and often. The reason I mention these two authors is the fact they have written great books with a huge landscape of characters and that is just what Walter de la Mare does in this novel.

‘Memoirs of a Midget’ is the life and times of Miss M, told by none other than Miss M herself. Born from two ‘non-midget’ parents we follow her through her childhood and then through her early adult life and onwards after her parents both pass away. This indeed is mainly a book about how society deals with people who are different and looks at how Miss M is vilified by some, loved by others and isolated by many, written in the time it was it somehow doesn’t seem to have aged at all and in some ways could have been written quite recently. For me the tell tale signs it was a much older book were of course the fact that technology wasn’t up to date but there were other signs that it was a classic like the names of characters such Pollie Muggeridge or Lady Pollacke. There are many other wonderful characters with no actual name just a Mr or Mrs and then a wonderful surname like Bowater, Hubbins or Crimble.

All these characters were wonderful and added to the density and panorama of the book which has a huge scope and travels around Britain as it goes leading up to Miss M’s arrival in London. My favourite character partly because she was so bolshie, lovely and then suddenly serpentine was Fanny Bowater (every great classic has a character somewhere in it called Fanny, honestly, you have a think) who in some parts actually stole the show (literally) completely from Miss M.

Miss M is a fascinating character though, for a while I got slightly annoyed I couldn’t work out exactly how tall she was or wasn’t as it made her hard to visualise but eventually I worked it out and from then on was completely swept along by her story. I found the tales of the people she met and how they reacted to her and the fact she was so different very moving, occasionally funny and always touching. If you like big great long adventures with one protagonist as they struggle through the highs and lows of their life then this book is definitely one for you to read, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

This book has left me really wanting to dig out more classics; I need to get my hands on a copy of Tess of the d’Urbervilles sharpish, until then though what next? I think its time for me to get some short books read. I have loved being totally swept away for pages and pages by such wonders as this and of course The Blind Assassin but I do think I need a few shorter reads just for a few days, I have no choice as the next Savidge Big Weekender fast approaches with The Name of The Rose as the next choice, do let me know if you are joining in on that one.

So short books and novella's… what would you recommend? You all know I always love to get your opinions. Maybe I am in the mood for a guilty pleasure, why I call them guilty pleasures I have no idea, I feel no guilt when reading them, none whatsoever. And of course do let me know what you think of the sound of Memoirs of a Midget, you never know Telegram could contact you… they found me through my comments on another book blog!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Getting To Know You

I dont do Meme's very often but the lovely author David Llewellyn sent me this one on facebook, apparently he thinks I am a 'literary geek' which is quite flattering, so as running very short on time today to write the review that Memoirs of a Midget deserves I thought I would put this up so you can learn more about my reading history, do it yourself and then I can learn more about yours. Go on have a go, how can you resist a Meme about books?

1) What author do you own the most books by?
It would have to be Daphne Du Maurier, followed swiftly by Ann Tyler, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Kate Atkinson and of course the legendary, but guilty pleasure, Tess Gerritsen… all ladies interesting. Oh no add Ian McEwan read lots of his.

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier, I have one copy I read and re-read and two copies that are rare and pristine.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Should it?

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
I don’t tend to fall in love with characters more with places and era’s. At the moment I am very much in love with the 1930’s.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children; i.e., Goodnight Moon does not count)?
I am not a big re-reader. I have read Rebecca a few times and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret and Patrick Suskind’s Pefume twice.

6) What was your favourite book when you were ten years old?
The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis, and still rates quite highly.

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
Hmmm… I don’t like negative reviews as everyone thinks of books differently and has different tastes. I may take away something very different from a book you read and love. Also I think reading timing comes into play I might just not have been in the mood for that book at that exact time.

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?
Probably To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee though I could have said about five.

9) If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be?
Hmmm it would be a toss up between Rebecca by Daphne or The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
Oh now you are asking… can dead people win it? Oh... I would actually like Margaret Atwood to win it, and yes I know she is very much alive.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Any books that I wouldn’t want to read that way I can’t be disappointed or have Keira Knightly ruin one of my favourite characters etc.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Any of my favourites for the above reason, mind you Hitchcock’s version of Rebecca is wonderful.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
I haven’t had any… yet.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?
The Bitch by Jackie Collins, I just had to try it. I don’t like the term lowbrow though, well all read different things in different moods.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
Having just read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood I am tempted to say that. You have to work really hard at that book but it definitely pays off. Not a book you can read half heartedly.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?
I don’t really like Shakespeare; I blame schools and there force feeding of him over and over again.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
I am gonna sit on the fence and say both.

18) Roth or Updike?
Updike but only for The Witches of Eastwick.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
Sedaris but only because I have never heard of Eggers.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
I have explained about Shakespeare the other two I haven’t tried yet.

21) Austen or Eliot?
Austen but only as havent read Eliot yet, god this questionnaire is making me feel like an inadequate reader!

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
Classics I would say which I am slowly but surely rectifying.

23) What is your favourite novel?
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. Such a dark moody novel, very me.

24) Play?
An Inspector Calls.

25) Poem?
Something from Gargling With Jelly by Brian Pattern.

26) Essay?
Anything by a Mitford.

27) Short story?
Ali Smith is the queen of short stories but actually Sophie Hannah’s The Octopus Nest is wonderful!

28) Work of nonfiction?
The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters. Wonderful wit, encapsulates a huge amount of time, and follows family drama through all those involved.

29) Who is your favourite writer?
Du Maurier I would have to say clinches it for me; as yet I haven’t read a book by her I didn’t like.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Hmmm, Stephanie Meyer apart from that I couldn’t say I might change my mind and be won over.

31) What is your desert island book?
Possibly The Bible, have never read any of it.

32) And... what are you reading right now?
Just finishing Memoirs of a Midget by Walter de la Mare, I thought it was a brand new piece of fiction but it’s from 1920 and has been reissued. Going to start Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore next am having a Man Booker winner phase.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Whoops... More Books

A few days ago I mentioned that myself and Jackie from Farmlanebooks were planning to read all the Man Booker winners. We still haven’t come up quite with the how’s and the when’s but one thing that we did do last week is compare how many books we have both already and my five to her fifteen seems a little pathetic. So I naturally have some catching up to do. I also have quite a lot of books to get my hands on. So whilst taking a break from the latest Savidge Reads Big Weekender Read (which is Memoirs of a Midget by Walter de la Mare) I met up with a friend and we hit my favourite second hand book shop and look what I managed to find…

Seven of the Man Booker winners that I didn’t already own (ok actually in the first shop I only found four I found another three in a charity shop that was having a half price sale on books for the day) so now I have gained Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald, The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell, Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, The History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey, The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth and Vernon Little God by DBC Pierre. Now those of you who know me well and those of you who may have seen something behind the books in the above picture (not the fish, there’s a clue) will see that that’s not quite all I bought.
Yes I bought just a few more books. My aim and mission was for Man Booker Winners only however I then saw The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant which was shortlisted for the Man Booker so I thought that sort of counted. I always like the shortlisted books. I also saw Theft by Peter Carey which of course says “twice winner of the Booker Prize” all over it, so that sort of counted too. I spotted two more Prize Winner related books (which is sort of a good excuse) Bel Canto by Ann Patchett which won the Orange Prize in 2002, I am thinking of doing all those winners at some point. There was also Drown the debut by Junot Diaz who won this years Pulitzer Prize with his second book The Brief But Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao’ which I will be reading very soon. The other two books? Well those I blame on some of you, the delightful Dot Scribbles absolutely raved about She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb and Harriet Devine has been raving about Henning Mankell’s Wallander series the first of which is Faceless Killers. Now having totally scrapped my original reason for book shopping I thought in for a penny in for a pound…
And I got five more books (partly because the shop that normally does 5 books for £2 was actually doing 15 for £3 this weekend to get rid of as much stock as possible before they move over the road) that I just plain and simply wanted to read. I have been after a copy of Black Dogs by Ian McEwan for ages as I am a big fan of his work, Scoop by Evelyn Waugh has been on my hit list for ages as has The Secret Life of Bee’s by Sue Monk Kidd. I loved Pilcrow by Adam Mars Jones earlier this year and him writing with Edmund White who’s works I like seemed like a great collection of co-written short stories, plus its quite hard to get. While England Sleeps by David Leavitt was an accidental purchase as I got Leavitt mixed up with David Ebershoff who wrote The 19th Wife but never mind, after all this whole collection only set me back £5.50. No more buying books for a very long time I think. Did I make good choices? Have you bought any great bargains lately? I have seen Dovegreyreader has had a similar shopping experience to me this weekend, have any of you?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Public Reads...

Now a fair while back at the beginning of March I did a blog about ‘Conversation’s About Books’ one I had overheard in a charity shop and the other on a tube. Rather than make you go all the way back to the blog (though I have put the link up in case you should) I have copied, pasted and edited one of the conversations that took place on the tube and then gave me a little project. So here it is with a lovely picture that I think sums up today’s post…

I took the Non Reader to see ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’ which is on tour and afterwards on the way home I couldn’t help over hear (as they were talking very loudly and a little merrily) two friend’s one male one female and their conversation which suddenly turned to books. He asked her what she was reading to which she replied ‘The Journey or something’ only to then pull out The Return by Victoria Hislop a book that I have to admit I have quite fancied reading. She explained it was ‘about the civil war in Spain, I was going to give it to my mum but its very sad and she’ll probably cry, so I think best not, what about you?’ He suddenly produced the most delightful 60’s copy of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley which he’d ‘just finished today actually, its dead good, a classic, everyone knows it’ sadly she didn’t but he gave it to her. I almost had to stop myself from reaching across and snapping it out her clutches for the delightful old cover alone. This conversation made me think, on the walk home from the station that I should partake a study of what people are reading on the tube. I work from home normally but have lots and lots of trips to town in the next seven days, and a train journey to Manchester and back next weekend, so ample opportunity. I wonder what insights this week will produce.

…Well it produced a lot however partly as no one was on the train to Manchester that weekend and also this was back in the very early days of me getting a Blackberry and where I stored this list of books I have absolutely no idea, I simply cant find it. So on Thursday I was thinking of things I could blog about while I took part in this weekends Savidge Reads Big Weekender (which is Walter de la Mare’s Memoirs of a Midget should anyone pass a bookshop and want to join in) as I will be reading so much, so I thought I would make the pact again. As of Monday will note down (on a pad me and my Blackberry get on very well now but it cant be trusted) all the books I see people reading on the tube over the top of which ever book I am reading on the tube. I have received two lovely new candidates today Virago have sent me All the Nice Girls by Joan Bakewell (as she has become an acclaimed book critic it will be interesting to see how she fairs) and I received a lovely book from its author this week after the lovely Karen Campbell asked me if I would read her new novel After The Fire so you may well see me with these and a notepad peering at you from the corners of my book.

I did look at what people were reading on Thursday and Friday and mainly it’s, you guessed it, the Twilight series. No comment. I was very pleased to see lots of Kate Summerscale’s wonderful ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ being read most diligently and by a lot of people in 48 hours. Did I see anything I myself haven’t read and now want to? Well I did see one book and that was ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’ by Thomas Hardy a book of his I have never heard of before but the girl reading it looked deeply engrossed and that sold it to me. If someone is reading something devotedly on the tube and I can’t see what it is it drives me to distraction. I will tell you some of the slightly strange lengths I have gone to discover just what book it is when I report back next weekend. What books have you seen people so engrossed reading you have to pick up a copy yourself? Have you ever bought a book just because you have seen a lot of people reading it on your travels? Do let me know?

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood

So finally I have gotten to the point where I can review what was meant to be the first book in the Savidge Reads Big Weekenders. However I think it is better to say that this is the book that inspired the Big Weekenders, as even devoting some long reading hours to it this simply isn’t a book you can indulge yourself with over one weekend. I have only read one Atwood book before this two, maybe three years ago, The Handmaid’s Tale, which I loved. I tried reading The Robber Bride but for some reason couldn’t get into it, then I tried this book three years ago and 15 pages in my Gran told me the ending so I have waited to forget it. Would I manage to read the whole book unlike last time? Would I love my second dalliance with Margaret, especially such a long one that has so much to say?

I don’t think that however long I made this review of Margaret Atwood’s Man Booker Winner ‘The Blind Assassin' I could ever hope to cover all the book is trying to say, the themes it covers, the many voices it has. I actually think a task like that with a book like this would be impossible. That isn’t a cop out at all as I am going to try mu hardest to condense everything I have taken away from what is a magnificent book but by no means an easy book. I have actually been really surprised at how many people have said to me ‘oh I didn’t like that book at all’ and ‘oh it’s Atwood’s worst, it really is’ I can see why people make the first comment, I whole heartedly disagree with them but I can see why people might not like this book. If the latter comment is true after reading this book I could easily become an Atwood-a-holic as if this is her worst her best will be mind blowing.

The Blind Assassin starts with Iris Chase describing and remembering her sister Laura’s death after she drove herself off a bridge. From this dark and interesting start we are told the story in alternating parts. Iris narrates her own personal history, the story of her sisters life and their backgrounds that made them who they are. The other parts are told through Laura’s very own novel ‘The Blind Assassin’ (so a book within a book) published after her early death along with newspaper cuttings about the Chase Sisters and events in their lives. Has that confused anyone? It confused me a little at first especially as the Laura’s book ‘The Blind Assassin’ (the book within Atwood’s book) has a character who tells another story, so a story within the story within the story, that is set in a foreign world (which I thought had shades of The Handmaid’s Tale) and is like a dark science fiction like fairy tale, wonderful. Do not let the confusion or the words ‘science fiction’ put you off as I promise you persevere with this book and it pays off in dividends. It just needs some effort from the reader, but should every book no matter what you read.

As all these different elements are woven together so wonderfully by Atwood we see a picture emerging, however the picture changes dependent on who’s version you here until finally you think the full picture has formed and then it shifts slightly, that’s all I will say. Through the narration of Iris in particular, who is a wonderful slightly outrageous and sarcastic old lady compared to her timid youth “I’m not senile… if I burn the house down it will be on purpose”, we get a history of Canada and its changes in the 20th century, a look at how companies were taken over and ruined, and the rights of women and how they have changed. Like I said to cover every subject, theme or voice in this particular book in one review after only one full read through of the book I would say is pretty much impossible.

Along the way through happy and dark times, different voices and 633 pages of quite small print Atwood also treats us to a host of wonderful characters. Be they the tongue-less mute and her Blind Assassin in the fairytale, to the wonderful characters in both Iris and Laura Clarke’s lives such as the firm but fair housekeeper Reenie or Iris’ awful but wonderful to read sister-in-law Winifred. There is a whole host of wonderful characters to keep you reading on, and I will admit for some reason pages 200 – 300 were a strange struggle for me but the characters kept me going and I am so, so glad they did.

I would recommend this book to everyone and anyone. I am aware some people will think I must be crazy. My advice would be take it slowly, persevere and don’t see this book as a book to race through so you have read a Man Booker, or read one of Atwood’s biggest books (both in length and in sales) relax with it and work at it, you’ll be glad you did, I was.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Getting Your Money's Worth

Today’s slightly random question (and I mean that in a nice way) on Booking Through Thursday was “what would you spend an unexpected windfall on? Say … $50? How about $500?” Now the answer is pretty simple if it was £50 it would be books and if it was £500 it would be more books. If it was £5000 I would turn my spiral staircase and galley into a huge set of book shelves that people could admire as they went up and down, mind you as I currently rent that might actually not be the best idea. If it was millions it would be a spooky slightly decrepit mansion with a huge library. It’s all books with me. I then started thinking about the money that we spend on books. I would estimate that in the last year on both new and charity books I must have spent well over £1000, no question.

How much is the most I have ever spent on one book? If it’s new I won’t pay more than a tenner (which yes I know rules out hardbacks but I am just a bit odd like that) however I have paid over £30 pounds for two old books. One was a rare collection and edition of Arthur Conan Doyle Stories the other was a rare edition of ‘The Glass Blowers’ by Daphne Du Maurier which I simply had to have, it was slightly bizarre that I then bought an even rarer copy of another of her works ‘Kiss Me Again Stranger’ for a mere 50p about three weeks later. I think these purchases have been because I know that these authors right books I love; well they are two of my favourite authors so they are special to me. I certainly wouldn’t pay 135million euro’s for the world’s most expensive book ‘The Task’ as show in its very secure (?!?) case below…

I don’t know who the author Tomas Alexander Hartman is and its only 13 pages long, not exactly the best bet financially of a good read! …Which brings me to getting your moneys worth! I have been known to buy really big books in 3 for 2’s just because then I am getting value for money per page, oh dear. I once made the fatal mistake of buying a ‘classic’ for £9.99 that was only 130 – 140 pages long but was meant to be a masterpiece and hated it, it wasn’t even a hardback and the writing font was large. I was mortified but learnt my lesson. What’s been your biggest book extravagance? What has been the book that didn’t give you your moneys worth at all? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin review up tomorrow, I completely promise!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New Arrivals, Blind Assassins & Big Weekenders

A slightly late blog today but I have been work, work, working and on deadline weeks blogging, though delightful, is slightly harder to fit into my day I am here now though. Highlight of a hard day today has been two parcels, one from the delightful people at Transworld/Doubleday which I might have known was coming and one from the lovely people at Sceptre which was a complete suprise. You can see them on my coffee/fishbowl table here...

Their Finest Hour and a Half - Lissa Evans
I am really excited about this one, partly because its in the Orange Longlist and I really wanted to do the whole lot but just to get one is a delight. The other reason is because its sounds quite different. "It is 1940. France has fallen, and only a narrow strip of sea lies between Great Britain and invasion. The war could go either way and everyone must do their bit. Young copy writer Catrin Cole is drafted into the Ministry of Information to help 'write women' in propaganda films - something that the men aren't very good at. She is quickly seconded to the Ministry's latest endeavour: a heart-warming tale of bravery and rescue at Dunkirk. It's all completely fabricated, of course, but what does that matter when the nation's morale is at stake? Since call-up has stripped the industry of its brightest and best, it is the callow, the jaded and the utterly unsuitable who must make up the numbers: Ambrose Hilliard, third most popular British film-star of 1924; Edith Beadmore, Madame Tussauds wardrobe assistant turned costumier; and Arthur Frith, whose peacetime job as a catering manager has not really prepared him for his sudden, unexpected elevation to Special Military Advisor. And in a serious world, in a nation under siege, they must all swallow their mutual distaste, ill-will and mistrust and unite for the common good, for King and Country, and - in one case - for better or worse..."

The Solitude of Prime Numbers - Paolo Giordano
This young man (26 years old) has had a huge hit with this already in 34 countries and won awards that authors such as Umberto Eco has won, stand him in good stead. "He had learned his lesson. Choices are made in a few seconds and paid for in the time that remains. A prime number is inherently a solitary thing: it can only be divided by itself, or by one; it never truly fits with another. Alice and Mattia also move on their own axes, alone with their personal tragedies. As a child Alice's overbearing father drove her first to a terrible skiing accident, and then to anorexia. When she meets Mattia she recognises a kindred spirit, and Mattia reveals to Alice his terrible secret: that as a boy he abandoned his mentally-disabled twin sister in a park to go to a party, and when he returned, she was nowhere to be found. These two irreversible episodes mark Alice and Mattia's lives for ever, and as they grow into adulthood their destinies seem irrevocably intertwined. But then a chance sighting of a woman who could be Mattia's sister forces a lifetime of secret emotion to the surface. A meditation on loneliness and love, "The Solitude of Prime Numbers" asks, can we ever truly be whole when we're in love with another?"

Sunnyside - Glen David Gold
I knew nothing of this book until it arrived but it sounds very interesting and unusual. "From the author of the acclaimed Carter Beats The Devil comes a grand entertainment with the brilliantly realized figure of Charlie Chaplin at its centre: a novel at once cinematic and intimate, thrilling and darkly comic, which dramatizes the moment when American capitalism, a world at war, and the emerging mecca of Hollywood intersect to spawn an enduring culture of celebrity. SUNNYSIDE follows three overlapping fortunes: Leland Wheeler, son of the last (and worst) Wild West star, as he heads to the battlefields of France; snobbish Hugo Black, drafted to fight in Russia under the British general, Edmund Ironside; and Chaplin himself, contending with studio moguls, accusations of cowardice, his unchecked heart and, most menacing of all, his mother, as he pursues the goal of making a movie 'as good as he was'. With a cast of enthralling characters both historical and fictional, Sunnyside is a heart-rending, spellbinding novel about dreams, ambition and the dawn of the modern age."

The latter two arent out until June, so do you think its ok to leave reviews and reading until nearer the time of release? Hmmm, a puzzle and a conundrum I hadn't thought of before.

So The Blind Assassin... no review just yet its more likely to be tomorrow that I have it up and online. I have still got about 190 pages to go but am giving myself the night off to devour the final pages. So far I am really enjoying it, I can see why other people might not though. It's definatley a book to take your time with and though the print is quite big its misleading! So the first Big Weekender Review is running a little bit behind now... whoops!

Speaking of the Big Weekender am swapping some of the dates of the books. I am going to do Midnights Children on the May Bank Holiday instead as it sounds like its needs some extra time and patience. I think aswell I might start the books on a friday night! Oh and I also decided on the 4th book after all your thoughts so now the list looks like this...

Memoirs of a Midget – Walter De La Mare (Weekend of 18th April)
The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco (Weekend of 25th April)
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie (Weekend of 2nd May)
Sea Of Poppies - Amitav Ghosh (Weekend of 9th May)

So thats all the latest. Oh actually not quite, I need your advice, Savidge Reads Towers appears to have mice (its a Victorian house in London enough said) how can we humanely get rid of them, and most importantly... they don't eat books do they?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Introducing: Savidge Reads Big Weekenders

That title makes it sound like I am hosting some sort of blogging/book festival every weekend which sadly I am not. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful event though, lots of book bloggers under one roof discussing books for a whole weekend, you could even get publishers and authors in on the act too… maybe I should trademark that? That’s actually really got me thinking! Anyway sorry I digressed.

Did you all have lovely Easters? Isn’t it nice that we still have a day of relaxation, reading and letting all that chocolate digest? I have spent most of Friday and Saturday working, no rest for the wicked if they work from home. There have been big breaks away from the computer to curl up on the sofa and read though. Yesterday I had a day off with the Non Reader which was meant to be wandering the streets and getting ‘Lost in London’ which we like to do. You can find the most delightful secret areas of London that way. However the not great weather ruined it all and so we ended up having a spring clean. I held off from a great book sort as then the Non Reader wouldn’t have seen me for a day. Today is back to the grindstone for a half day this afternoon after a lovely lunch with my ex-boss. What did you get up to both relaxation and reading wise I would love to know? I have digressed again! So The Savidge Reads Big Weekenders…

I have a TBR pile all of its own for books over 500 pages. Now I do not call these books tomes (is that spelt right?) by any stretch of the imagination they are not War & Peace, Gone With The Wind or Anna Karenina (which is still at 200 pages read – and has been since late January whoops) those are proper huge monster books, not necessarily monsters in a bad way, just slightly daunting. No the books on this special TBR piles are ones that I really want to read but then think ‘imagine the number of books I could get through instead of that one book’. So on Saturday when I was sorting my TBR piles I thought ‘Simon this is silly, you’re probably missing out on some true gems here so why not read one big book every weekend?’

Well I started one this weekend which I have been meaning to read for ages and promised Novel Insights I would read as part of our Rogue Book Group’s Rogue 5 Challenge while she jets around the globe. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood is a book I started about four years ago, told my Gran I was doing so and she told me the ending. Being only 20 pages in I decided that I would leave it for another year or two until I forgot and fortunately I have – no one spoil it please, don’t you hate it when people do that? This is also a Man Booker winner; and after enjoying doing The Richard & Judy Challenge and then finding that randomly Farmlanebooks was doing the same thing, we have been discussing doing the Man Booker winner list together. More of that later in the week when it’s all finalised though. So I then planned the next four Savidge Reads Big Weekenders which are including this weekends…

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood (Weekend of 11th April)
Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie (Weekend of 18th April)
Memoirs of a Midget – Walter De La Mare (Weekend of 25th April)
The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco (Weekend of 2nd May)

I am debating between The Comapny fo Liars by Karen Maitland and Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh after that? If anyone would like to join in that would be wonderful hence why thought would give you the list of what’s coming and we all like a challenge don’t we? I will do the review on the Monday after the weekend of the chosen book and then if you have read it you can leave your thoughts and comments too? Might make interesting discussion, this week the review will be up tomorrow (I should have finished it by then). I would also love to hear your suggestions for ones that I should consider in the future. The only criteria are they need to be more than 500 pages, maybe even 550 and yet less than 850 pages. Can’t wait to see what you suggest.
So far am 200+ pages into The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood and loving it I can already tell there is going to be a big punch in the end. Though isn’t it annoying when you start a book and tell people, or they ask you and then say things like ‘oh god no, I thought that book was awful, I liked her early stuff but that book was dire’ or ‘have you tried The Robber Bride… oh you didn’t like it and couldnt read past 100 pages, shame as its much better than that one you’ve started.’ Fills me with hope that doesn’t it? So far they are both wrong… we will see.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Wishing You A Very, Very Happy Easter On This Easter Sunday...

I was going to put a nice lovely picture of some wonderfully decorated eggs as an image for today's blog. However they are very difficult to find and so instead I chose something that made me laugh for about ten minutes. Hope it brings a smile to your chocolate coated faces today...

I hope you are all having a lovely day surrounded by chocolates, books and loved ones! Have a fabulous day!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Something Borrowed - Paul Magrs

One of my favourite books as a youth was The Whitby Witches by Robin Jarvis and indeed the rest of the Whitby series; it was always The Whitby Witches that I returned to again and again however. It was a book that I could get totally lost in, a book set in the here and now (well back then the early nineties) that just happened to be full of magic and mysteries all before the Harry Potter phenomenon. Now about fifteen years later in my adult hood I have found a series that as an adult makes me want to turn off the rest of the world and revel in the magic and mysteries of Whitby alongside some wonderful ‘investigative’ old ladies.

Something Borrowed is Paul Magrs second foray into the world of Brenda and Effie who are two of the most delightful characters to go on a journey of almost 400 pages with. Brenda, not quite considered an outsider by the town but by no means a local yet, runs a B&B in Whitby next door to Effie and her Antique’s Shop. These two unlikely friends like nothing more than morning tea’s, gossiping and investigating all the mysteries of Whitby and its locals; also known as sticking their noses into other peoples business. It’s ironic in some ways that both of them love to find out all the secret going on in everyone else’s lives when they go to great lengths to hide their less than normal and mysterious pasts.

We follow the duo not long after all the going on in their debut outing ‘Never The Bride’ the following spring. It appears that all the mysterious and magical things in Whitby have gone to rest until someone starts sending people poison pen letters, and this person seems to know everything about the villagers with the most secrets to hide including Brenda. There is also the matter of Jessie who, until she became the living dead, was one of Effie’s very few friends and now seems to be intent on striking terror into those in Whitby she doesn’t try and eat. Plus there is a blast from Brenda’s past as Henry a professor of Icelandic history turns up to add more mayhem to the mixture.

I do have two teeny tiny niggles with this book and they would be that the chapters are very long, each on in a way is like a short story that all comes together near the end which is wonderful I am just a short chapter person. I still raced through this though you simply cannot help yourself it’s just so readable and so well paced. The other thing would be that while I absolutely loved reading more of Brenda’s back story there was less of Robert and his high drama and also less of Effie and her slightly prickly awkwardness that I had come to love so much in the previous book. These are two very, very minor niggles though and only come because I love Magrs’ characters so much. Mind you there is a third instalment ‘Conjugal Rites’ already out with the fourth following in the autumn so I cant complain as I will be getting my fix of these wonderful characters and all the delightful and dark goings on in Whitby twice more this year.

As you can probably tell I absolutely loved this and in a world where books such as Twilight (which after reading the first is a series I am avoiding like the plague) doing so well, I think people should be reading wonderful supernatural mystery romps like this instead. Books that are both plot and character led and that make you laugh along the way whilst being taken into the macabre. I do need to add that two separate scenes in this book actually properly scared me as I was reading in bed of a night, seriously. Now if any f you are sat there thinking 'I don't like sci-fi, supernatural or fantasy' neither do I normally, well bar the supernatural stuff as a complete Most Haunted addict, but this book is also comical and looks at villagers and their secrets with a splash of the bizarre and I promise thats a concoction that can't go wrong! If you haven’t started this series of wonderful books then I advise you to do so pronto.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - Mohsin Hamid

So after much thought and debate the other day I decided that out of 'Daphne' by Justine Picardie, 'The White Tiger' by Arvind Adiga, 'The Blind Assassin' by Margaret Atwood, 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' by Mohsin Hamid and two Salman Rushdie I would read The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Now my reason was that this was the book I was actually the most reluctant to read out of all of them. Why? In my own head despite a rave review from one of you, I had this book down as being really, really bad. I don’t know who I over heard being less than complimentary about it but their opinion had stuck. The fact that it was short meant that the difficult hurdle would be over and I could get on with reading something else. However I found myself engrossed in a book that definitely isn’t a thriller but makes you turn pages as fast as one.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a post 9/11 book which looks at how such a horrific moment in history has affected us all. The book is told through a conversation that Changez, the narrator, has with an unnamed American stranger he joins for afternoon tea in a Lahore café. He tells the man his whole history, how he fought for scholarship to get into an American College, Princeton in fact, and then becomes a high flyer in a multimillion pound making corporation falling in love with America and an American woman along the way. However after 9/11 everything in Changez’s New York life changes and he is never the same again.

From doing some research on the internet it appears that there is rather a large bout of criticism going on that this is an anti-American book. I wouldn’t describe it so at all. Yes I admit when Changez admits to his dinner companion that he ‘smiled’ when the World Trade Centre crumbled I almost put the book down in disgust but I am glad I carried on. What Hamid does with this book is look at how relations rapidly declined between America and Muslim countries. He also looks at how some Muslim people were treated by the city of New York and its people after 9/11 regardless of where they came from be it Pakistan or Philadelphia but instead on their Muslim looks, people were spat at, avoided and segregated. It also talks of how for Changez a man who is totally ‘an American’ in his head from his college days and living in New York becomes torn between what his current homeland is doing to his original homeland and its neighbours with the air strikes.

This truly is an incredibly clever novel and really makes you think. You need to go into it completely open minded and be prepared to look at things from all angles and that in itself with this particular topic is quite difficult, but then reading should challenge you and take you into the minds of people you wouldn’t normally. I am wondering if that’s why this book through writing style and getting into complex characters heads strangely reminded me of American Psycho, which though I doubt I will ever read again is a masterpiece. If I had any complaint with the book it would be the love story between Changez and Erica. I think Hamid slightly over dramatised and sensationalised that part of the book when he didn’t really need to. I thought the ‘open’ ending of the book was brilliant though, again it will make you think.

I am really pleased that I gave this book a go despite my reluctance I found it challenging thought provoking and also incredibly readable. I was quite reluctant to finish it… ok, have I used the word reluctant in conjuncture with this book enough now? I would seriously recommend this and again goes to prove that the long listed and short listed Man Booker nominated books are definitely worth reading even if some of the actual winners aren’t. More on that next week when I get round to reading The White Tiger. Hope your all having a lovely extended weekend so far? Reading much?

BAFAB: And The Winner Is...

Yes in honour of the fact that it was Buy A Friend A Book Week and also that Telegram Books sent me a lovely parcel of books (which seems to have started a trend with a few other publishers now… more on them when they arrive) and then the lovely Dovegreyreader sent me The Enchantress of Florence which I was thrilled with, though haven’t started yet, I joined in the BAFAB madness… I have successfully really waffled on there haven’t I?

The question was "If you were stuck on a desert island and you only had one book to read that you haven’t read yet, which would it be?" Which oddly is a question that I don’t think I could answer myself as there are far, far, far too many! I had a very nice selection of entries and last night the Non Reader finally made his pick. And the winner is…


Farmlanebooks so if the delightful Jackie could drop me an email with her address I shall be sending something delightful in the post (after all the bank holidays) to her, it’s a surprise but I think she will like it! We shall have to wait and see!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Amazon Recommends?

So I am back after a day off sick… well, I wasn’t so much sick as feeling incredibly rough and with masses on. Thank you all for popping by to see the Tom Rob Smith interview and the first ‘Savidge Meets’ it looks like it might become a more regular thing and I have two authors I have everything crossed will be able to do it soon, I shall leave some mystery around it for now. Now I was going to do my usual Booking Through Thursday today but it hasn’t turned up and I need to dash soon. My backup blog was to review The Reluctant Fundamentalist but I don’t have enough time to type it this morning.

How do blogs manage to take over our lives and make us feel guilty if we don’t post daily? I normally work from home meaning I can have the whole day to fit a blog in but at the moment am doing a month placement making blogging time sparse. However with the delightful Easter break upon us I am going to be reading like a trouper and making sure I have plenty of blogs in reserve in advance. What are your reading Easter plans? Or your Easter plans in general? The great Easter Debate in Savidge Reads Towers between the Non Reader and me is kittens! We think we have mice, ok we know we have mice, and so a cat would seem the answer… only I cant only have one lonely kitten, I must have a playmate for him/her/it. After loosing Hoyden last year I said I would never have pets again, hmmm, we will see.

Anyway… my actual blog for today before I dash off to London Bridge was all about Amazon and its recommendations. As you know I can often get stumped for what book I want to read from the ridiculously but wonderfully mounting TBR pile. Sometimes I ask you, sometimes its family, I hear someone mention it or see someone reading it on the tube (more on tube reading next week). I haven’t ever looked at my Amazon Recommendations until today and was shocked in a good way by the results. Here is my top 15…

1. The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga (reading over Easter)
2. The Road Home – Rose Tremain (on TBR)
3. The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson (on TBR)
4. The Outcast – Sadie Jones (on TBR)
5. Revolutionary Road – Richard Yates (on TBR)
6. Random Acts of Heroic Love – Danny Scheinmann (don’t own not sure about)
7. The Gathering – Anne Enright (on TBR)
8. Blood River – Tim Butcher (on TBR)
9. The Northern Clemency – Philip Hensher (hadn’t considered owning, now am)
10. The Reluctant Fundamentalist – Mohsin Hamid (haven’t reviewed yet so wont be there soon)

I am impressed Amazon seem to know me so well and what I thought was a good ploy to make you buy much more (which of course it still is and on two occasions might work with me) it is actually a good recommendation source. I am wondering if after reading Something Borrowed by Paul Magrs (I needed an adventurous, hilarious romp next and it is proving to be just what the doctor ordered) I should try and do my Amazon Top Ten in order? What do you think? Have you done this, have you found any gems this way? What’s in your Top Ten via Recommends? Oh and how on earth do you get on the Vine Programme?

With all those questions I will sign off… oh and the Non Reader is picking the BAFAB Week Winner tonight, so watch out for a post on that tomorrow!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Savidge Reads Meets... Tom Rob Smith

It’s not everyday that your first novel sells millions, ends up on the Man Booker Long list, gets chosen by Richard and Judy and has the film rights bought by Ridley Scott. However Tom Rob Smith it did with his debut novel Child 44 and now he is hoping to follow that success with The Secret Speech. Savidge Reads was incredibly lucky to be able to pop round to his converted Jam Factory house for a nice cuppa, a catch up and some Jammy Dodgers… in what I am hoping will be a regular on here with 'Savidge Reads Meets...'

Now for anyone who has been on Mars and missed the amazing success of Child 44 can you tell us a bit about it?
It is set in the 1950’s in Russia in the time leading up to Stalin’s death. It’s also actually based on a real life notorious Russian serial killer who got away with a horrendous amount of murders simply because people didn’t believe someone would do something like that and people weren’t looking for him. In fact they denied he existed and many innocent people were killed for the crimes he committed. I thought it was an interesting way to look at society then with a crime background. I wanted to write something that was a page turner something that was thrilling and hopefully that’s what it is.
How did you come up with a story like this?
I came across the original idea for a screen play; well I was researching a screen play which was an adaptation of a Jeff Noon short story about how to make serial killers safe in a science fiction world. As I knew nothing about serial killers I thought I should read up about them and came across the real life case which happened quite some years after the setting of Child 44. I just wanted to tell that story and then to have the whole Stalin Regime setting too worked for me.
How did you create the atmosphere of Stalinist Russia, as obviously you weren’t there…
Quite right yeah (laughs) it was all through other books really. In a way the weird thing, though a good thing, with the secret police was that they confiscated so much stuff particularly diaries. Now these people weren’t hoping to be published they were just daily diaries and they make amazing reading and snapshots of their lives and then I put myself in their positions.
So how do you put yourself in the mind of a killer? Reading the part from the killer’s perspective when he captures a victim is hard going I found as a reader personally…
Well the thing with that was that as you are dealing with a killer who has murdered many victims I didn’t want people to become immune to it, so you get a lot of mentions of the way bodies are found and the clues it leaves but then at the same time I wanted people to really feel the fear and the horror of the situation.
Well you did that at the start for me by killing a cat!
(Laughs) Well it wasn’t a cute cat, it was a scrawny cat. It had fought really hard to live that long but that’s the way it goes. I do have to kind of forcibly say to people ‘I do like cats’ (laughs) but it was true domestic animals disappeared very quickly at that time and I wondered about people who loved their pets enough not to eat them… so it was born out of sentamentalism
So now The Secret Speech which is set a while after Child 44, did you intend to write a sequel?
No, I had no idea. I didn’t even know if the first one would do well. Child 44 wasn’t presold when I wrote it I just wrote it. Once it had sold, I then thought ‘well is there another story’ and I knew if there was it would have to be another historical event and came across this marvellous speech and what happens after Stalin, so there was already a what happens next. I am not saying though as then no one will pick it up (laughs) so you’ll have to read it to find out. I will say its set in a fascinating period, it’s a revenge story in a world that’s completely upside down.
I have to say that I was really pleased Leo was back, but I have to admit I didn’t like him at first and then grew to really like him and warmed to him. How did you write him, were you aiming to get him to grow on the audience.
In a way… I mean at first I don’t think people twig he is even going to be the hero, I brought him into the book in a slightly peripheral way. Once people know he is the hero they say they find him hard to like until a good way in and that’s right. The job he did, though with his best intentions as to why he does it and his beliefs, is essentially a horrid job, they are the baddies. He does that job because he genuinely believes he is building a Utopia and that is hard for people to see and I wanted people to try and see it from a different perspective.
Was the instant success a shock?
Yes, you have this little dream in your head of what could happen and how well a book could do and how badly. Then when it does as well as Child 44 did, it’s a shock. Part of you is amazed and then part of you thinks what about the next one, will that do as well? If I do great, if I don’t I don’t mind… ok I do. I just wanted to write something I wanted to read, something exciting and new as I loved Conan Doyle and the like when I was younger. Plus I used to commute across London and to not have a book was hellish, I would actually walk back all the way home if I got to the station bookless. I wanted to write something that made people miss their stops, I didn’t think of the prizes or awards.
Now the Man Booker long listing caused a bit of controversy in some ways how was that for you as the author?
I didn’t mind the debate about genre particularly I think that’s actually an interesting debate. As to debating the book… well lists are always going to be debated and people will always say “oh this should be on there and that shouldn’t” that side of it didn’t bother me. I find the genre thing really interesting as all genres mean are a promise, so a thriller will thrill you and a comedy will make you laugh, that’s it it shouldn’t mean a book isn’t good if it is a crime book or some other genre that not what some people call literature.
Had you always wanted to write?
Yes, I mean I had been writing stuff for quite a long time in terms of plays and screenplays… and some TV. Mind you (laughs) most of the shows I worked on like Family Affairs and Bad Girls seem to have been dumped. Then when I found this story I decided that this might make a very interesting book as opposed to a screenplay which I was originally going to make it. Something clicked and fortunately it has really worked as a project. What’s your writing routine?
I like to start quite early and go on till lunch; have that and a nice walk then do more in the afternoon. I stop around six or seven; I am not a late writer. Do I have any rituals… hmmm… lots of tea (laughs) very British. When I am in American I become the worst Brit and complain about tea...
So what’s next?
Well… The Secret Speech is out, and then I am working on something with Universal screenplay wise. The million dollar question of what will happen with the Child 44 is something that’s in discussion and I am very excited about. I will then the final book in the Russian Trilogy which is a very definite ending, the whole book is about endings. It’s weird I didn’t ever expect it to be three books. I just thought I will try one and see how I go. See people can do anything.

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway

Sorry for the fact that I didn’t blog yesterday but I had a weekend of being quite under the weather sadly, I am feeling a bit better today though. The good thing about being sick though of course is the fact that I spent a lot of the weekend in bed reading and finally got round to reading the final Richard and Judy book of this years selection The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway.

The Cellist of Sarajevo is set during the siege of Sarajevo which took place in the 1990’s although with the level of atrocities I couldn’t actually believe that it had taken place so recently but then I suppose similar things are still happening now. The whole tale behind The Cellist of Sarajevo is a fictional work based on the true story of Vedran Smajlovic who actually played Adagio in G Minor for 22 days to mark the death of each of the 22 people killed in the street queuing for bread. Steven Galloway opens the book with the cellist going out and playing for the first time. However the book doesn’t actually focus on him, more three particular people who have the cellist and his music enter their lives in some of the hardest times in their lives.

The three lives that we join during some of those 22 days are Dragan a man in his mid sixties, Arrow a female sniper and Kenan a man in his forties struggling without life’s necessities. Each one of these characters has the cellist in their lives. Dragan for example, whose family had left Sarajevo whilst he has stayed behind to look after his apartment which sadly got bombed and now lives in his sisters house, can hear the cellist as he plays roulette with his life simply crossing the road to get to the bakers. Kenan does the same as he travels across the whole city with the possibility of being shot in order to collect fresh water as the resources are running low and he collects it for his family and neighbour (who is a wonderfully difficult disagreeable character). Arrow’s story is the one that I found the most interesting, that of a female sniper who gets the job to protect the cellist from snipers and in doing so protecting the people of the city and their hope.

Through these three lives we are given snapshots of what happened in Sarajevo and how people lived, well barely existed through it all. Galloway writes these characters and their situations with a grim reality but with wonderful lyrical prose. I know you can’t call the subject a wonderful one but you know what I mean I hope. I found seeing the world through these peoples lives opened my eyes to what happened in Sarajevo and how people coped. How they explained it to their children, how they avoided catching up with people as all they would swap would be depressing tales of woe and how strangers, who might not chose to see each other if they could help it, come together in these times of trial.

I was incredibly impressed with this novel and as a final read of the Richard and Judy Challenge I thought it was one of the selections highlights (and I am really chuffed that I read them all) and without the challenge I might not have read it and I would have been missing out on a gem of a book. Though this has been one of the most emotional and horrific books in parts, I actually had to put the book down every so often to breath and compose myself before reading on, it is one of the best books that I have read in ages and would urge everyone to give it a go.

Now what should I read next. I have a pile of six contenders at the moment I just cant decide upon. 'Daphne' by Justine Picardie, 'The White Tiger' by Arvind Adiga, 'The Blind Assassin' by Margaret Atwood, 'The Reluctant Fundamentalist' by Mohsin Hamid and two Salman Rushdie. 'The Enchantress of Florence arrived in the post from Dovegreyreader this morning and I have been meaning to read 'Midnights Children' for ages. Oh its a quandry... any advice?