Tuesday, March 31, 2009

A Month in Books: March & The Orange Prize

Can you believe March has almost been and gone, is it me or is this year going incredibly quickly? So as with February here is my review of the month as a whole. It has to be said on the whole it was a really good reading month, a very diverse range of authors and genres of books. March has been quite influenced by Richard and Judy looking back, mind you now their reads are over next month will be quite different, I still have The Cellist of Sarajevo to go though. I have also travelled a lot going to Los Angeles, New York three times, Russia under Stalin’s regime and the aftermath, Germany during both wars, in the land of theatre twice, strolled through Paris with Edmund White and been to Wonderland. It’s no wonder that I am shattered.

Books read: 12 which I think is a record.
Books added to the TBR Pile: 46 though I have absolutely no idea how that happened.
New author I tried and want to read ‘the works of’: Tom Rob Smith, and I did, all two.
Character of the month: Lilly Aphrodite
Best crime: Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
Best non-fiction: The Flaneur – Edmund White
Surprise of the month: The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin
Book of the month: Ok this month there are three. The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin, Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith and The State of Happiness by Stella Duffy which you all have to read.


I am excited about what April will bring. It already seems a promising month as I have started The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry and it seems like its going to be a complete corker what more could I ask for at the start of the month. Now this leads on to the next topic of my blog The Orange Prize. The long list has been announced and I have one (Blonde Roots) and heard of three others (Burnt Shadows, Girl in a Blue Dress and The Lost Dog – the latter two were long listed for the Man Booker last year) here is the full long list.
The Household Guide To Dying – Debra Adelaide (Harper Collins)
Girl in a Blue Dress – Gaynor Arnold (Tindal Street Press)
Their Finest Hour and a Half – Lissa Evans (Doubleday)
Blonde Roots – Bernadine Evaristo (Penguin)
Scottbro – Ellen Feldman (Picador)
Strange Music – Laura Fish (Jonathan Cape)
Love Marriage – V.V. Ganeshananthan (Orion)
Intuition – Allegra Goodman (Atlantic)
The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape)
The Invention of Everything Else – Samantha Hunt (Vintage)
The Lost Dog – Michelle De Krester (Vintage)
Molly Fox’s Birthday – Diedre Madden (Faber & Faber)
A Mercy – Toni Morrison (Vintage)
The Russian Dreambook of Colour & Flight – Gina Oschner (Portobello Books)
Home – Marilynne Robinson (Virago)
Evening Is The Whole Day – Preeta Samarasan (Fourth Estate)
Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury)
American Life – Curtis Sittenfeld (Doubleday)
The Flying Troutmans – Miriam Toews (Faber & Faber)
The Personal History of Rachel DuPree – Ann Weisgarber (Pan MacMillan)

They sound like a real mixture of books and I so want to read every single one. Is anyone planning on doing the Orange Challenge and reading the whole long list or will people be waiting until the short list is announced?

Monday, March 30, 2009

Blackmoor - Edward Hogan

I was bought Blackmoor for my birthday and even though I have a huge pile of books to read this one instantly sang out to me for several reasons; the cover has the feel of a dark brooding more, there is mystery involved and I was born in Derbyshire where it is set so I think though this book would always have been an instant read or a must have for me. Seeing Dovegreyreaders review of it clinched the deal I was actually going to treat myself to it until someone treated me first.

Oh hang on I should mention that I am fifty pages off finishing the novel but believe me I can still rave about it until the cows come home. If the ending is a dud then I will add an additional note, but somehow I don’t think that will be the case. Plus I don’t want to leave blogging any later as I like to try and have one out at the same time everyday. Unfortunately most of the day has been taken with a hospital visit and do you know what, I have discovered that I cannot read in a waiting room which was very annoying with so much time to kill waiting. It is also annoying considering this. Anyway enough about me and onto the book…

Blackmoor is set in a village of the same name in Derbyshire, where I was born, and tells two stories. The first is the story of Beth “an albino, half blind, and given to looking at the world out of the corner of her eye” and her sudden death in the village (that’s not giving anything away it’s in the blurb). Beth is a mystery to the villagers, she doesn’t act like everyone else and doesn’t try to fit in, the people of the village believe something dark emanates from her and naturally they all gossip. When things start to go wrong in the village of Blackmoor people slowly but surely start to blame Beth’s presence.

The second narrative through the book is the tale of Beth’s son Vincent a decade later. His mother died when he was very small and his father George left Blackmoor soon after with him. George doesn’t discuss Vincent’s mother or like to hear her mentioned, and in some ways treats his son like the reason for the past being so shut out. However when Vincent makes a new (and it seems his only) friend they start working on a school project all about Blackmoor and Vincent starts to learn all about his mothers life and her secrets.

What did surprise me was from the cover and the blurb I had imagined that this book was set in the late 1800’s one of my favourite era’s to read. However when I opened it up I found it is set in the 1990’s and 2003. I felt a bit disappointed for a moment until I started reading it and within about ten pages I was hooked. It’s a wonderfully written book and keeps you turning the pages partly from the mystery but also because of the tales of all the villagers in both Blackmoor and also Vincent’s new home town of Church Eaton as you read you know the characters so well, particularly the nosey busybodies. The setting in the 1990’s looks at the mining industry and its closure and how that affected the villages like Blackmoor (which of course is fictional) and its inhabitants. It’s quite a bleak and dark novel, if like me that is the sort of story you enjoy you will absolutely love this.

I think this is one of the most accomplished debut novels I have read in a long time, a dark twisting tale of prejudice, misunderstanding and misfortune. I have thoroughly enjoyed what I have read so far and in fact I found it hard to tear myself away from the climax that appears to be brewing long enough to write this. So really I must get back to it!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Time... For Your Thoughts!

Does anyone else feel a little bit cheated today? Does anyone feel like they have lost an hour this morning to enjoy a delightful read in bed, in the bath or just with your elevenses? Yes me too. I am enjoying Blackmoor so much that frankly this spare hour that has vanished has thrown me into a small sulk. I know it’s Sunday so it’s a nice relaxing day anyway but still, I want that hour back. It’s some kind of time stealing skulduggery that’s what it is.

Mind you it did get me to thinking about Time both reading wise and book wise. Can you believe that some people actually think that reading a book is time wasting, there have been a few books that I have felt that way about, but reading as a general rule I think is one of the most rewarding ways to spend your time. So now its time for you feedback (do you see what I did there) I thought I would ask you all some questions relating to time and see what you all come up with. I shall also have a go too. So here are ten time based questions with my answers beneath each and I would love you to all have a go...

What time do you find the best time to read?
Hmmm, I could read all day but I have four main reading times. Thirty minutes when I get up, on the tube, in the bath and an hour or two before bed.
What are you spending time reading right now?
Blackmoor by Edward Hogan, already am deeply entranced by all the mystery in the book which being set in the 1990’s I didn’t know if would grip me but it has.
What’s the best book with time in the title you have read?
Without question for me it’s The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, I actually want to read this again before the movie comes out.
What is your favourite time (as in era) to read novels based in?
I would say Victorian and Tudor are my two favourites with Victorian novels being my very favourite as it’s such a dark point in history. I also like books set around The Plague, is this making me sound strange.
What book could your read time and time again?
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.
What recently published book do you think deserves to become a classic in Time?
I think it would have to be The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer or The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin.
What book has been your biggest waste of time?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, which actually has a time theme, I insisted on finishing it but don’t know why I did.
What big book would you recommend to others to spend time reading if they haven’t?
I would have to recommend that anyone who hasn’t read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins must, or Darkman’s by Nicola Barker which is huge but well worth it. I on the whole prefer shorter books as you can read more of them.
What’s your favourite read of all time?
That is a really hard one I could list about five that tie for this however as have only one choice it would be The Complete Tales of Sherlock Holmes by the great Arthur Conan Doyle which you can read in parts or simply devour.
Who is your favourite author of all time?
Hmmm that’s a tough one I can think of three, but again as only one choice I would say Daphne Du Maurier, as yet I haven’t read a book of hers I haven’t like and two of her novels would make it into my top ten books of all time.

I look forward to hearing all your responses! So let me know either in my comments of by leaving a link if you decide to do it in your own blog and get other people you know doing it as I think the answers could be very interesting, even if I do say so myself.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll

I have one particular person to thank for my reading of this classic, even though when I said I was going to read this many of you delightfully said that I simply must in your comments, and that person is a fellow book mad blogger of the name Simon... Simon Stuck-in-a-Book. Had he not done his post on the wonderful images taken from various imprints of the book then it wouldn’t have become such a need to read it so soon. That and the fact I managed to find such a wonderful old copy (I have pictured the Vintage one because I think out of all the modern covers it’s the best) in a second hand store within days of his post made it all feel like the reading fates were trying to tell me something.

Now believe it or not not only have I never read these two tales of Alice before, I have also never seen the Disney version. I know it appears I had a very bereft childhood, I didn’t actually I just wasn’t really a very Disney kid and I read lots but not children’s classics oddly as my mother is an English and Classic teacher. I do remember reading a lot of Greek Myths as a child though. Anyway, I digress.

For those of you who like myself have somehow missed the treats that are Lewis Carroll’s stories of Alice I will try and sum up what happens, though if you have read the book then I am sure you will appreciate that it is quite some feat to some it up easily because frankly both stories are quite crazy. As I think is Alice. Her first Adventures in Wonderland start when out with her sister she sees a white rabbit running and talking to itself. Bizarrely not thinking anything much the matter with that it takes him pulling out a pocket watch for her to take interest and follow him down a hole which ends up in the bizarre and brilliant Wonderland. Through The Looking Glass sees her return to Wonderland… through a looking glass, I didn’t need to explain that so much, where she becomes a pawn in a very bizarre and entertaining game of chess across endless lands.

Now though I had never read the books before I found myself knowing the characters and some of the crazy plot lines and can only think that randomly throughout my life somehow I have taken these all in by osmosis. I don’t think that I can say I originally knew how unusual the book would be will plots, characters and settings changing in a sentence or even in mid sentence. Despite it being slightly confusing you understand that its because Wonderland is a place of no rules where things don’t make sense and I was totally drawn in and can see why so many children (and adults) have enjoyed it so much.

Amongst all of the nonsensical there are lessons being taught and games being played by the author. He plays with words and meanings. “Don’t all authors do this?” I hear you cry, no actually they don’t. He looks at language and plays with it turns it on its head and makes it even more bizarre and interesting all at once for example how many ways ‘I beg your pardon’ as an expression can be taken. I did feel there was a darker side to the book, the Cheshire Cat for example in my mind is frankly up to no good and shouldn’t be trusted an inch. That for me really was what made the book, I loved the characters some were rude, some were delightful but all of them were wholly believable, be the a wailing unhappy Mock Turtle, a rude Queen, a Mad Hatter, or the terrible twosome Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum I wanted to join in with Alice on her adventures.

Oh just for Simon’s benefit here are some lovely pictures from my version of the novel, sorry they arent amazing quality…


Overall if you haven’t read this book then you should I cant see anyone not falling in love with it though I would say it will be most enjoyed by those who like escapism, can completely suspend their believes and have a high imagination. If you have all those as a reader then I defy you to dislike it. It’s also getting the movie make over and as we all know that means next year everyone will be reading it and re-reading it so do it before the trend sets in. I only hope they don’t give it a new horrible movie tie-in cover, but then the idea of that happening is far more unlikely than any of Alice’s Adventures.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Belated Birthday Boys Birthday Books Blog

I wasnt going to blog today as have been on one of the shortest but most important deadlines of my writing career today and been literally sat at my computer pulling my hair out, fortunately it has all turned out very well the piece is loved by all. Enough of that though one thing I forgot to blog about (because I was busy being a birthday boy) was whether I got any books for my birthday on Tuesday the answer was yes... three!

Now I have to say that one of the ones I was secretly hoping for but didn't get was The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie BUT I think until I have conquered Midnights Children I shouldnt be allowed to read it. Now please have in mind that I didn't have a list of books that I wanted and the Non Reader doesnt really like books or reading when you see what was unwrapped...


What a great selection of books! I was really impressed. I asked how these were chosen and after I put the blurb of each one below I shall then put the Non Readers reasons. I was secretly quite, quite touched. So here we go...

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao - Junot Diaz
Blurb Says: Things have never been easy for Oscar. A ghetto nerd living with his Dominican family in New Jersey, he's sweet but disastrously overweight. He dreams of becoming the next J.R.R. Tolkien and he keeps falling hopelessly in love. Poor Oscar may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fuku - the curse that has haunted his family for generations. With dazzling energy and insight Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous lives of Oscar; his runaway sister Lola; their beautiful mother Belicia; and in the family's uproarious journey from the Dominican Republic to the US and back. Rendered with uncommon warmth and humour, "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" is a literary triumph, that confirms Junot Diaz as one of the most exciting writers of our time.
Non Reader Says: It has won one of the biggest book prizes, and a prize you say is much more reliable than the Man Booker in terms of actual winner. It sounded a bit obscure whihc is very you, whist at the same time being modern. You have also picked this book up and ummmed and ahhhed about it every time we have been in the book stores in the last month.

Blackmoor - Edward Hogan
Blurb Says: Beth is an albino, half blind, and given to looking at the world out of the corner of her eye. Her neighbours in the Derbyshire town of Blackmoor have always thought she was 'touched', and when a series of bizarre happenings shake the very foundations of the village, they are confirmed in their opinion that Beth is an ill omen. The neighbours say that Beth eats dirt from the flowerbeds, and that smoke rises from her lawn. By the end of the year, she is dead. A decade later her son, Vincent, treated like a bad omen by his father George is living in a pleasant suburb miles from Blackmoor. There the bird-watching teenager stumbles towards the buried secrets of his mother's life and death in the abandoned village. It's the story of a community that fell apart, a young woman whose face didn't fit, and a past that refuses to go away.
Non Reader Says: It' set in your homelands of Derbyshire and a place that we both think is stunning and has a dark side. This book looks like it might be mysterious and spooky and I actually might want to read it after you.

The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco
Blurb Says: The year is 1327. Franciscans in a wealthy Italian abbey are suspected of heresy, and Brother William of Baskerville arrives to investigate. When his delicate mission is suddenly overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths, Brother William turns detective. He collects evidence, deciphers secret symbols and coded manuscripts, and digs into the eerie labyrinth of the abbey where extraordinary things are happening under the cover of night. A spectacular popular and critical success, "The Name of the Rose" is not only a narrative of a murder investigation but an astonishing chronicle of the Middle Ages.
Non Reader Says: You like murder mysteries and crimes and always saying that you can guess the outcome. You like history but don't understand religion so I thought this might teach you something. It's meant to be a 'classic'. Plus you have been saying to yor Gran that you really want to read it quite a few times on the phone.

Has anyone helped the Non Reader without me knowing... most puzzling!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Supposedly Bad Books

So on today’s Booking Through Thursday we are being asked the opposite question of last weeks. This week the question was “What’s the best ‘worst’ book you’ve ever read — the one you like despite some negative reviews or features?” This is actually an incredibly hard question to answer and means that you need to think what constitutes a bad book. I have actually had some heated debates at previous book groups over this one when I claimed that I thought that Martin Amis’ London Fields was possibly one of the worst books I had ever read. I was asked “what my criteria for a ‘bad book’ was?” and I was stuck.

Some times it can be the writing style that I simply don’t enjoy. The plot might not go anywhere. I could be reading that specific book at the wrong point in my reading life (for example I think had I read Wuthering Heights at a younger age I would have enjoyed it more). I might not have gelled with the characters or the voices in the book, I don’t agree with ‘if a book has awful characters it’s a bad book’ as not all books should be happy and not all characters should be likeable or nice. It could also be that it’s simply not my genre or my taste, some people don’t like crime or thrillers – I love them, I don’t like science fiction and fantasy but that doesn’t mean every book in that genre is bad. I may not relate to any of the characters, sometimes you might totally empathise with a character because you have been through what they have for others it might leave them cold.

So in looking at all that it very much down to peoples own specific opinion. I love reading peoples reviews on blogs, in the press, on Amazon etc but when I do I always remember that this is one person’s opinion. I might write a review on here raving about a book that everyone else could loathe, it doesn’t mean either opinion is wrong it just means that we have differing tastes and differing factors that make us enjoy a book a specific way. If a review is completely and utterly glowing then I admit I am more likely to want to read the book and of course there are some reviewers, friends and bloggers you begin to trust because they seem to like all the books you do and any they recommend you whizz through. There is a very good piece that The Times ran ages ago on books that were so bad ‘burning is too good for them’ I think I would read any book deemed dreadful if it meant it would be saved from this…

As for my own Best Worst Book of all time, I am still struggling. I googled ‘Worst Books of All Time’ and laughed at some of the titles suggested on various different sites and also agreed with some. I didn’t like ‘Wuthering Heights’ which some people love, some people loathe ‘Pride & Prejudice’ which I think is a marvellous book. I think that if some of you saw my shelves would wince (in fact people have) at certain authors they don’t deem as being ‘literary’ for me books are about escaping and like I discussed with my review yesterday it could be a masterpiece in the depths of war torn India, or a page turning serial killer on the loose in Boston if I escape and if I enjoy it how can either be bad?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

No Time For Goodbye - Linwood Barclay

I have had this book on my TBR pile for ages and ages and finally have gotten around to reading it as I needed some serious escapism. Escapist reading for me can be one of a few things, a comedy, a who-dunnit or indeed a gripping page turning thriller. Everyone has different escapist reading, I know on person who can find no finer escapist reading than Mills and Boon. So as it was also one of the books on mine and Novel Insights books to read (I still have to conquer The Blind Assassin yet to have caught up) I decided that this would be my next read.

Linwood Barclay’s debut novel No Time For Goodbye is definitely escapist reading. It is also a very thrilling read with possibly one of the most unpredictable plotlines that I have come across (bar the immense Child 44) in some time. One day a fourteen year old girl wakes up to find her entire family have vanished. There are no traces of them anywhere they have simply disappeared. Come forward twenty five years and Cynthia is still none the wiser to what has happened, however when a TV show decide to pick up the story again things slowly but surely start to unfold and Cynthia may begin to wish that she remained in the dark.

I found this a real thriller, it’s a proper page turner and you are thrown some big red herrings and then random possible theories that turn up later to make much bigger plot twists. I have seen reviews of this that state ‘this is no literary masterpiece and doesn’t deserve the sales’ and I have to disagree with that. I am not a literary snob, I like what I like some of it isn’t literary and some of it is, it’s the same with books I don’t like. No Time For Goodbye is a book that I enjoyed thoroughly because the plot and pacing are fantastic. I quite liked the characters without being attached to them but most of all it did what I wanted and drew me in, took me on a thrilling mysterious adventure and most of all I escaped.

What I will say was a slight issue for me was that despite the blurb, I have issues with blurbs that don’t tell the truth (this one says a letter arrives that changes everything – that doesn’t happen), the book isn’t actually written from Cynthia’s point of view. The thrilling tale itself is told through her husband Terry’s eyes. I really wanted more insight into how she felt about it all rather than what she told him she felt throughout it all if that makes sense? He was a great narrator and got fully entrapped in the whole situation and scenario and I enjoyed reading it from his perspective I just think hers would have given the book an extra something.

I thought that the plotting was brilliant, the end of every chapter makes you want to read on. Yes, there are parts that go slightly beyond coincidence and what is and isn’t believable but that’s what makes a great thriller and also some things that happen to people in real life you couldn’t make up, I never myself stopped believing that the whole situation could have happened.

Other reviews I have seen say that the plot is over the top. Yes it is, that tends to happen in most thrillers and if you don’t like that then don’t you tend to stay away from these types of books? I mean I don’t believe in goblins so I have always avoided J.R Tolkien. In the same vain don’t we all like to have the realms of our beliefs pushed I don’t really believe in magic but I really enjoyed the Harry Potter books. Sorry I have gone off on a bit of a tangent.

Overall I found this a ‘thrilling’ thriller. I became completely engrossed in the whole story line and though I predicted some of the ending there were still lots of twists that left me reeling. I can understand why this book has sold so well, I think the fact it was a Richard and Judy Summer Read (which I can find hit and miss) probably helped, but even without that I think this book would have done well. It has a very original and unsettling storyline, and you simply cannot stop reading it… well I couldn’t anyway. 4/5

Monday, March 23, 2009

Second Hand Gems

I have two new additions to my TBR pile and they are books that when I saw I knew I had to have and frankly didn’t care what they would cost me. In the end they only cost me £1.50 each. Normally in second had book shops or charity shops I don’t tend to look at the really olde-worlde books. I don’t know what it is about them that puts me off, maybe they frighten me a little, not frighten… intimidate may be more the appropriate word which is odd because I have dreamed of having one of those stately home style libraries. Now thanks to my latest two acquisitions I can actually start that stately collection.


The book that I saw first was one that I have been hankering after for ages in any form and that was Madame Pompadour by Nancy Mitford. You will all probably know by now how much I have come to love the Mitford’s and went on a bit of a collecting spree (I really want Jessica’s non-fiction books but they are really difficult to find) and this is now the latest of their works to join my collection. The second caught my eye because it’s so yellow. I have to admit that I wouldn’t have purchased this book as I have never had the urge to read it. Lewis Carroll Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (and this also has Through the Looking Glass in it) wasn’t a book I had read as a child and hadn’t considered as an adult until Simon Stuck-in-a-Book blogged all about the wonderful pictures in differing versions. This one has some wonderful images inside it.

This edition is actually from the 1920’s and to me it’s a real find. What I couldn’t help thinking was ‘I wonder who has read this book before me?’ there must have been loads of people with their own stories that have turned the pages and now its ended up with me and will be read fairly soon. By the way before you tell me off for more shopping, its my birthday tomorrow and these were little treats for me! Moving on...

What’s your best find in a charity shop or second hand book shop?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Flaneur - Edmund White

I used to read quite a lot of Edmund White when I was younger and have been meaning to read some of his newer stuff ever since Bloomsbury sent me a few of his latest works. I didn’t know what The Flaneur would be about but it sounded a little different and was something non fiction so I thought I would give it a go.

With The Flaneur what Edmund White gives us is essentially his guide through the city of Paris. By actual definition a flaneur is someone who walks the streets and observes life as it passes, watching the world go by in all its wonderment. Now if this (like it does with me) describes you and you are indeed someone who loves to stroll and people watch this is a book for you.

What Edmund White has as an edge is the perspective of someone who has lived in Paris for years and knows the ins and outs of its history backstreets and where those who know Paris like the back of their hands go to. It’s like a much more personal and interesting Rough Guide in some ways, not that I am saying rough guides aren’t well written. I just think this has an edge in terms of being a much more personal stroll through the streets.

Not only are you told the hotspots to go and where to visit for history that isn’t in the Louvre or on the tour guides, you are given various histories of Paris. The book is quite short (I wish I had had this when I went to Paris last year) so is perfect to take with you should you go away but is also incredibly easy to read and wonderfully written. There are only six chapters in the book and each one seems to be an essay on a specific side to Paris. If the word ‘essay’ makes it sound like its boring then ignore the word because it is far from it.

The first subject rightly so is simply just Paris and a kind of love letter to it. There are also chapters on the immigration of all different nationalities coming into Paris and making it the racial and cultured mix that it now is where as once it was a predominantly white city. I found this chapter fascinating especially in terms of the black soldiers in the war which made me think of part of the story in Hillary Jordan’s wonderful ‘Mudbound’. Part of the book is dedicated to the literal ‘gay Paris’ and looks at that side of the city and its flamboyant and yet very dark history. My favourite parts of the book were actually the literary history of the city. White wrote a biography of Genet and he is mentioned in this book too alongside the stories of writers like Colette, Balzac, Flaubert, Bechet and many, many more.

All in all if you enjoy White’s work anyway you will love this book especially as it gives you even more insight into his life. If you are a fan of Paris then this is also definitely a book for you. I would recommend this to anyone who loves the history of cities, watching life pass by, literary history, travel and wonderful writing. It was a wonderfully surprising treat to read.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Love Your Library?

I was shocked to find that when I went down to Tooting Library it was closed and being completely revamped. This is partly good as it was a bit of an out of date branch but also quite sad as it previously felt like you were walking right back into the late 80’s especially as you could never get any books published after 1989 when you went in. What was secondly shocking was that this book lover hadn’t actually been to the library for almost two years, but then I do have a slight love hate relationship with them which will become more apparent as I go on.

So I went down to Balham library as it is now my closest to go and find some research material on The War of the Triple Alliance (long story) and also the following:
- Faceless Killers – Henning Mankell
- One Day In The Country – J.L. Carr
- Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll
- Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie
Well as I sadly could have predicted none of these were in the actual library and then when I went to the information booth I was shocked. I asked if they could bring copies of these into the library and they said yes they could but for £2.20 a book. Is this normal? I think that’s a bit wrong to be honest, needless to say I didn’t order them in, not when you can buy them second hand from a charity shop for less. I also couldn’t find any books on The War of The Triple Alliance and looking through the databases it appears there aren’t any… no one out there in the blogosphere knows of any do they?

What is good about libraries is that you can have a good long browse and find books that you wouldn’t normally necessarily pick up and read and give them a go which is just what I did as you can see.
Julie Myerson – Home
She is the talk of the literary town at the moment for some quite unusual reasons and rather than read the book that’s causing the stir and I am not sure I agree with but I thought I would give her a go. There was one book she wrote about a murder and how that affects a community but they didn’t have that. This one sounds great, I love the idea of finding out everyone who has lived in your home and then writing about their lives.

Doris Lessing – Alfred & Emily
I have always quite fancied this and though I have been told that Lessing can be quite hard to digest this book sounds so interesting. Alfred and Emily were Lessing’s parents and she re-writes history in part of the book by making them never meet and what would happen next. Unusual!

Victorian Murderesses
This just grabbed me with the second title ‘Respectable French and English Women Committing Unspeakable Crimes’ sounded a bit different and after The Suspicions of Mr Whicher I fancied some more ‘real crime’ but not one of those Fred West sensational books.

Betty Mindlin - Barbequed Husbands
Now when looking for books on The War of the Triple Alliance (which was between Brazil, where the Non Reader is from, Paraguay etc) I found this wonderful collection of fables and fairy tales from the indigenous people of the Amazon through Brazil. Looking at them briefly since getting back some of them are quite racy but I want to find out more about Brazil and what better than folklore?

Bruce Parry - Amazon
In the same section more about the Amazon from someone who trekked it… which is what I am doing later in the year. Oh I will be a book blogger from Brazil, which will be unusual. Hoping this book gives me some insight and makes me better prepared.

So what little gems have you found in the library you wouldn’t have read before? Do you love your library?
2nd April 2009
Note - This has become a question on Booking Through Thursday today "I saw that National Library week is coming up in April, and that led to some questions. How often do you use your public library and how do you use it? Has the coffeehouse/bookstore replaced the library? Did you go to the library as a child? Do you have any particular memories of the library? Do you like sleek, modern, active libraries or the older, darker, quiet, cozy libraries?"
So will add (as think have answered some of this above)that my local libraries arent the best but the new Tooting one promises to be though I kind of prefer the older libraries that you see in movies and read about in gothic mysteries. In fact its very much my aim to have one eventually, just need the gothic creepy mansion first, and the salary that can pay for it!

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Parasites - Daphne Du Maurier

Now some of you may know that I have a real love for the book ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier, in fact I think it would have to be one of my books of all time. So every time I read a new Du Maurier book it not only has a lot to live up to but I also get that slightly nervous feeling that the next one I read will taint how wonderful I think she is as a writer. Jamaica Inn and The Rendezvous & Other Stories have both been wonderful reads and carried on my fondness for her writing (which is always quite dark) and I have to say The Parasites is another wonderful book. I have read this along with Novel Insights (who is away travelling the world) as part of our (now transatlantic) Rogue Book Group and it’s a really different brilliant read.

The Parasites is a tale of three siblings Maria, Niall and Celia who are actually ‘the parasites’ of the title. “When people play the game: Name three or four persons whom you would choose to have with you on a desert island - they never choose the Delaney’s. They don't even choose us one by one as individuals. We have earned, not always fairly we consider, the reputation of being difficult guests...” Not full blooded (I hate that expression) siblings they are joined by their mother and father – Celia is the only child of both parents – who are well know in the theatre world. Instantly you want to know why these three are so infamous and what sort of characters they must be and slowly but surely Du Maurier draws you into their world.

The book is actually narrated by all three of the siblings, sometimes individually and sometimes as a collective which makes the style of the book even more interesting. Maria has become a well known actress, Niall a composer of songs and Celia has artistic talents stifled by caring for their father. Through different events in their pasts and looking at their current situations you are left in no question of their true characters. Celia is a definite ‘spinster’, Niall is a lazy floating composer with no real attachments to anyone bar a slightly obsessive incestuous love for half sister Maria who herself is more the characters she plays than ever actually herself. In fact sometimes you wonder if Maria actually knows who she is, let alone anyone else knowing.

The backdrop of the novel is the theatre world and upper classes of London and Paris in the times leading up to and during the second world war which adds to the fascinating novel. For me though as ever it’s the darkness that Du Maurier finds in people and their surroundings, her observations of people and their motives and how circumstance and background can create peoples characteristics. Mainly in this novel they are quite dark and calculating. What particularly shines out in this novel is Du Maurier’s dark wit, I admit I let out a few cackles of glee reading this with some of the situations, put downs and words the characters have in the book.

People say that Rebecca was always inspired by and gave a nod to Jane Eyre, and this novel seems to share some parallels with Wuthering Heights. Niall and Maria could easily have been Heathcliffe and Cathy especially with their dislikeable ways and even their relationships mirror some of that novel as do their tragedies in some ways. I personally didn’t like Wuthering Heights I cannot say the same for this novel.

This is a lesser known of Du Maurier’s works and I can’t see why as here I think observationally and definitely in terms of her dark sense of humour she is on flying form. I thought this might be quite a cynical sparse novel and in many ways it is yet I found myself on quite an emotional journey at the end and indeed the whole way through with Celia and her story. If you are a Du Maurier fan already you will love this book, the writing is just superb. If you haven’t tried Du Maurier yet then this only adds to the reasons that you should be picking up her works as soon as you can.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My Worst Best Books

“What’s the worst ‘best’ book you’ve ever read — the one everyone says is so great, but you can’t figure out why?” That is the question from today’s Booking Through Thursday and I could instantly think of one and that would have to be Twilight which though no one I knew was loving most of the UK population seemed to be joining in with that whole bandwagon and that included me. I thought it was overly long repetitive and didn’t really have any likeable characters. I also got very bored with the whole ‘I love him but he’s dangerous’ that seemed to be repeated twice every page.

However if I am talking about books I have been recommended by lots and lots of people I know and would generally say I trust in terms of great reading guidance I think I have four main contenders, actually no, I have five books I could put forward for you. All of them have been described as being ‘very me’ and though bar one I have finished them all they have left me completely cold. The one I didn’t finish and therefore have promised several people I will re-read this year is We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Hated the writing style, was bored and then someone told me the ending which I am hoping I have forgotten! I was also just generally a bit bored with it.

Second on my hit list would have to be The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. Even I thought I would love this book as I am a big fan of dark gothic spooky tales but this left me cold, one part made me jump admittedly but the rest I thought was a bit dull, Novel Insights read this with me at the time and agreed. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger was another book loads of people told me I should read. I have never disliked a lead character more and I know you shouldn’t like all characters but when all they do is moan, lie and fantasise you come away bored. Fourth would be The Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, found it very confusing and then the ending just completely let me down!

Now for the fifth and final book which I am sure will cause uproar for some people when I say this but it has to be Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. The leads are two of the most selfish vile characters written and in an overlong and quite dull narrative, totally boring. I couldn’t wait for the end of both of them and the end of the book. There I have said it. Sorry if that shocks you but seriously I was so disappointed. Having been to Haworth and walking to the farm that caused the inspiration for the book and walking the moors I thought I would love it… no!


I do love being recommended books though. I would never have read The Book Thief so early on if it hadn’t been raved about by my friend Danielle. I would never have dipped into Daphne Du Maurier if three people hadn’t told me Rebecca was one of the best books ever written, in fact I would have missed a fair few of my favourites (The Woman in White, Brideshead Revisited, Lady Audley’s Secret, To Kill A Mockingbird) if they hadn’t been recommended to me so fervently.

I am trying to think of books I have recently been recommended. Simon at Stuck in a Book has told me I must read Alice in Wonderland so will be giving that a go soon and reporting back and indeed I have promised Dovegreyreader I shall try We Need To Talk About Kevin once more. I will report back on those! What books would you recommend I read? What are the worst best books you’ve read?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

December - Elizabeth H Winthrop

…And so onto the penultimate of the Richard and Judy Reads 2009. I knew very little about December or its author Elizabeth H Winthrop before this book was placed on the list and when the lovely people at Sceptre sent me a copy. I looked and saw that it has received slightly mediocre reviews on Amazon and in some ways I can see why and in others I can’t.

December tells the tale of a winter and in particular the lead up to Christmas Day for the Carter family. Husband and wife Wilson and Ruth are concerned with their daughter Isabelle who has not spoken for over nine months. There seems to be no reason as to why Isabelle has put herself under a self imposed silence that they can see. They have tried many different psychiatrists who have been unable to work out what is wrong and now Isabelle’s school are thinking of letting her go.

It is interesting for the reader to see this from all three parties’ sides. Winthrop looks into the minds of all three and how they each cope very differently with the situation and really gets into each of these peoples heads without melodrama which could have been quite easily done. The pressure put on the marriage and how it affects Wilson and Ruth is an interesting subject as they both have moments of denial, anger and unbound love about the whole situation. The voice I didn’t feel I quite got as much as I would have liked was Isabelle herself which was slightly frustrating as the story does in essence evolve around her.

I agree whole heartedly with two comments made by Farmlanebooks One was that it is a ‘gentle’ novel and that is an absolutely spot on word for this novel. This is a very delicately written novel that doesn’t pull out all the stops to dramatise or go over the top. The writing takes you a long without it ever being a page turner. That style leads me to another review that said it was in some ways very ‘like Anne Tyler’ and that is also spot on. In fact after reading Breathing Lessons and Anne’s writing about family issues earlier this year I was reminded of it again with this book. Winthrop looks at real life and writes about real people and situations and maybe that is why some people have found this a slightly underwhelming read.

I didn’t personally find it underwhelming, I actually quite enjoyed it without being blown away. In fact overall I would say it was an ‘enjoyable gentle’ read, even though really very little happens I still wanted to know more. For those who love a book with a punch and want to get lost in a great tale this is possibly not for you. Those of you who like books that looks into families and how they deal with things, observations of people and how they behave or just love Anne Tyler like I do then you will enjoy this I would imagine.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Secret Speech - Tom Rob Smith

I actually finished this last week but it’s a book that you need to take a bit of a step away from to sort out all in your head. Partly because it’s quite complex (I admit I got a little confused once or twice) and also because there’s so much action in it you feel like you have lived it with the characters. Yes I can say that Rob Tom Smith’s The Secret Speech is just as thrilling as its predecessor Child 44, only in a completely different way. Now how do I review this without giving anything away from either of the books?

The Secret Speech is the second in what is now going to be the Leo Demidov Trilogy. The first Child 44 was all about a serial child murdered in the early 1950’s before Stalin’s regime comes to an end (that doesn’t give anything away does it). Now we meet the former MGB Agent Leo Demidov once more now as the head of his own special homicide department, the first that Russia has sanctioned. Oddly this homicide department doesn’t see much action in this book as it’s all about the time after Stalin’s rule and how Russia seems to turn on its head the police are now the criminals and that includes Leo. How will society react to the fact that all they saw Stalin implement is denounced in ‘The Secret Speech’ and will they seek revenge on their former rulers and tormentors?

Behind this is also a big family plot for Leo and his wife Raisa as they bring up two young girls they have adopted and who aren’t taking to Leo at all. How will Leo cope when one of his own daughters is used as the perfect weapon for revenge from an enemy of his past changed beyond recognition?

The Secret Speech isn’t quite the crime thriller that Child 44 was its still very good though. Instead this is a thriller of two very different plots, one is the political thriller and one is the personal family thriller and they work very well together and take Leo on quite the adventure through Siberia and Budapest. I did find some parts very confusing though partly because so much is happening very quickly and occasionally action seems to overcome explanation but this is very rare and sometimes I needed to re-read parts of the book. This is probably my own fault because in wanting to know what’s happening and finding it so addictive I was whizzing through the pages. If I had to compare them I would say Child 44 has the edge just because I love crime, however I did really enjoy the mix of personal drama and political thriller and still find the whole era in Russia’s history really interesting and cannot wait for the next one.

Oh and if you thought that the last one was gory and that this one not being about a serial killer it would be any easier you would be mistaken. There isn’t any cat killing in this one though, so cat lovers can sleep tight. My interview with Tom Rob Smith will be up the week after next (nearer the release of the book in just under three weeks) I can tell you he was quite lovely though.

Monday, March 16, 2009

What To Read Next… It’s Not As If I Don’t Have Enough Choice!

Yes that’s right I have been truly stuck on what to read next. Part of the problem is that fact that The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite was just so good; it’s difficult to decide what can follow that at the moment. I could start on the next Richard and Judy and be early but it didn’t take my fancy and neither did any of the ‘review’ books I have received of late, some of them are going to be stonking reads I just know it, they just didn’t do for now.

One thing I can’t say it that I don’t have choice as I do currently have a TBR pile and TBR boxes of over 600 books to choose from then again this is part of the problem when you have too many books to read you simply don’t know where to start. Farmlanebooks had the wonderful idea of choosing one of the books that I have had on my TBR the longest the only problem with having so many books is that you don’t know which ones have had waiting to be read for eons and eons. So I hatched a plan, as the weather was so nice I knew me and the Non Reader were off out to spend a day in the park with a picnic and hours of fresh air and no plans. So I decided I would look at my new years book resolutions and pick a book out of each resolution to take with me and have a try of the first page of each one.

So I took some classics a Scott Fitzgerald, a Bronte and a James Baldwin. I grabbed a Jodi Piccoult as I have always been a bit sneery about her without actually reading a word she has written (I am not alone I have had that same conversation with three different readers) and We Need To Talk About Kevin as that’s one of my re-read missions for 2009 after I hated it when I first tried to read it a few years ago. None of these – despite the sun, my good mood and my relaxed brain – did the trick and it’s not because I had the dreaded readers block they just weren’t what I wanted.

Now it’s of course typical that when you twig exactly what you do want to read you don’t own it. Two things happened which gave me for the desire for the book I really want to read next but don’t have a copy of. The first was my Gran who told me that it was her next read. The second was the author herself being on television last night at 10pm on ITV, the actress and now also author of memoirs Sheila Hancock. ‘The Two of Us’ is her memoirs as an actress and also living with the death of her husband John Thaw and how she coped and it is said to be marvellous and after seeing her on the telly last night I think she is wonderful. I oddly have the second Just Me but I have to read things in order. It looks like I might have to go shopping… whoops! I know I shouldn’t but I think it would be a wise celebration of my 200th post on this blog, yes 200 posts old today! Come on I think that’s fair? I will only get it if I see it in one of the charity shops… here or in the next two towns.

**UPDATE**

I did find the book on the way to Sainsburys in the first charity shop I went in and it was the only book I bought (despite seeing a wonderful copy of Madame Pompadour by Nancy Mitford - there is alwys tomorrow) however as I was pottering about I noticed a book I had aimed to take with me to the park yesterday and had forgotten... The Parasites by Daphne Du Maurier, I am already loving it and quite hooked so Sheila will be next on the list to read!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite - Beatrice Colin

I have to say just from the cover I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this novel. It looked like it might be a bit ‘chick-lit’ not that there is anything wrong with that by the way, just that it isn’t really my general cup of tea. I was actually sent this book ages and ages ago buy the lovely people at John Murray and despite a phone call raving about it from one of their delightful team I was still suspicious. It went to the bottom of the TBR I am ashamed to admit. However it has been this weeks Richard and Judy choice and as I am doing the challenge I picked it up, dusted it off and tried it out. I absolutely loved it.

Lilly Nelly Aphrodite is born just before midnight on December the 31st 1899; however she doesn’t actually take her first breath until one minute past twelve taking her first breath in the first minute of the twentieth century. Instantly you know that Lilly isn’t going to be your typical child and as a baby with her extremely vocal lungs she proves her point further. Things don’t start well for Lilly as within months her mother, a cabaret singer, is killed under scandalous circumstances. We then follow Lilly as she goes through her childhood as an orphan to becoming a major German movie star.

Now if your like me that final line would have made you think ‘chick-lit’ however with the background being Berlin and the timescale of the novel being from the start of the 1900’s until the mid 1940’s what you as the reader witness is war torn Germany… twice. Lilly is a wonderful set of eyes through this period as she has no real political streak, her only actual desire is to survive and through this you are given an insight (very realistically) into what life might have been like through such a horrific period in history for the general/poor public of Berlin. That isn’t the only historical facts that Colin focuses on, there is also the heyday of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hollywood and its golden era. How she manages to make all this work is quite a feat but it does.

Lilly is a wonderful character. She rightly steals the show… well book as she is witty, manipulative, wily, funny, naughty, kind and incredibly strong. Though she goes through endless turmoil she doesn’t wallow in self pity, well only occasionally, and instead she fights resolutely and carries one. Naturally she is flawed and makes several mistakes along the way but all in all you can’t help to admire her and like her, maybe a little less towards the end, but I don’t want to give anything away.

If Lilly isn’t enough I have to praise the characters that come and go, and come back. Eva is a wonderful character though in the end completely dislikeable you want to read more and more about her, especially the more conniving and bitter she gets. Hanne however almost steals the whole story from Lilly; she is a wonderful character a fighter like Lilly only much harder and much darker with a real self destructive streak. In fact it’s the women all in all that shine and take the main roles in this novel. Though not in the forefront of the novel the men are all there and very complete characters, in fact sometimes Colin does a wonderful trick of having a character say one line and then following it with what happened to that one small character in the rest of his life in the next single sentence.

It was in fact this quality that made me think of great authors like Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elisabeth Braddon etc. In fact in many ways some of this novel reminded me of books like Moll Flanders or Tess of the D’Urbervilles in the fact that every character no matter how small has their part to play and their story to tell no matter how big or minor their role was in the general tale. The only other two authors I can think of that do that now are Sarah Waters and Jane Harris and if you like any of their work then you are sure to absolutely love this.

As you can tell overall this for me was an absolutely marvellous book. The setting richly painted like the make up on many of the wonderful characters faces. I simply cannot find a fault with this book and think its one that many, many people will be getting copies of for birthdays and one that I can’t wait to re-read and take it in all over again…Though with my TBR that may not be for some time.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Unfinished Words & Memoirs

I was hoping to have a review for you today of the wonderful The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite but as yet I still haven’t finished it. Not because it’s not good and I am not enjoying it immensely, which I am, but it is so good that I am savouring every minute of it. I know I am well behind with the normal deadline I give myself for Richard and Judy reads but it’s so good I don’t really care. It’ll be done and dusted by the end of today so I shall have it up for you tomorrow am sure.

What I am going to talk about today is Unfinished Books or maybe just one, a book that you can’t get in the shops. Last week I went up north and saw some of the family. When I arrived I was greeted by a pile of Christmas presents from family I haven’t seen. One of the gifts from my Gran was ‘David Savidge – A Memoir’ which she has had made wonderfully. Now bare with me on this as it will all make sense in the end.

David Savidge was my grandfather, though actually more like my dad as my mum had me quite young and my grandparents looked after me half of the year, he sadly died almost two years ago. He was only 68 and it was very sudden and he died within seven weeks of being diagnosed with cancer, now maybe you’ll see why State of Happiness by Stella Duffy really hit such a chord with me, especially as I spent most of the seven weeks up there.

One of the things that he had always said he would do was to write his memoirs and about a year or so before he died he started. Sadly the computer he started this on was stolen when they were burgled… twice. Understandably this really put him off though Gran believes had he lived he definitely would have finished and I so wish he had. There are only five chapters for us (she made copies for the family) but they are just wonderfully written and totally encapsulate him and where he came from.

I know this isn’t the equivalent of an unfinished Dickens or Austen or any other author (though I have to say his writing style is brilliant) but it is so sad that I can’t read the whole 68 years worth. He had seen so much happen in his life time in terms of change that to read all of that would have been fascinating, especially from a working class background. I loved the Mitford’s letters for how much they saw though they were under much more privileged background. Are there any books out there that you wished had been finished? Is there anyone you wish had written a memoir but didn’t? I would love to know.

I think maybe the reason I was a little harsh on David Sedaris’ memoirs as I read this straight after and obviously it had more of a personal effect on me. It has made me want to read a lot more memoirs of people from the same era, especially non-famous people. Does anyone know any they could recommend, or just any good memoirs?

Friday, March 13, 2009

Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris

I knew absolutely nothing about David Sedaris until I was sent some of his books from the lovely people at Little Brown. Actually that’s not technically true. I knew that he was meant to be very funny and that he became well known through the radio and gained a regular slot which he read some of his diary excerpts on which then landed him a book deal. So ok I knew a fair bit, I also knew that I had seen, and this is no word of a lie, six different people reading this on the tube in the last week. I told you I would be doing some research on what people are reading on public transport and the results will be coming soon. What seemed promising too was that two of the six people were chuckling to themselves.

Me Talk Pretty One Day is actually the fourth collections of essays, diaries and thoughts of David Sedaris. (I know I normally read everything in order but after seeing this so many times I gave in.) This particular collection is actually a collection of two halves. The first looking back on David’s childhood and education (the later seems to be a theme in the book) and in particular the relationships he had with his parents. The part about his non stop swearing brother actually had me laughing out loud on the tube so that’s a good sign. The second half of the book focuses more on his time living in France with his partner, a place he feared and then came to love even if he didn’t love the language.

Throughout the book I kept thinking of the books by Augusten Burroughs, though Burroughs had a far harder and more bizarre childhood they have both fought addictions and ended up living quite unusual lives, I did feel that with Burroughs you laugh a lot more if not always for the right reasons. The humour in Me Talk Pretty One Day is definitely there but some of the essays did leave me a little cold whilst others had me crying with laugher so it was a little hit and miss.

Overall though it’s a great collection of funny tales, there has been some dispute over how all of these things can be true and have possibly happened in some ones life especially enough to fill over five books with. I don’t agree with that I think that people do have strange things happen in their lives and you certainly meet interesting characters day to day. I’d recommend this as a read a long side something really heavy (like Anna Karenina or such like) so you can read an essay or two have a giggle with a nice cup of tea in between something else. I enjoyed it though quite a lot even if having just read this back I sound like it wasn’t my favourite and I am definitely looking forward to reading some more of his work.

Oh and though its Friday the 13th... Happy Red Nose Day, I was going to do a sponsored no reading day but that was simply impossible so have simply given a tenner to charity today instead. Are any of you doing anything special?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Movie Potential

Oh the question from Booking Through Thursday is a really good one this week, well they are always interesting. This week it is this: What book do you think should be made into a movie? And do you have any suggestions for the producers? Or what book do you think should NEVER be made into a movie?

Part of me doesn’t want to have any of my favourite books turned into films, though some of them have, as they always get ghastly movie covers made, why do they do that with books to movie, cant they just keep the same ones? I have never seen a movie cover that I have liked. Here are some of the ones that had I not read them already would have truly put me off. Sorry just a strange issue I have there, moving swiftly on…

vs or vs

If I was too say which of all of my favourite books I would like to see in movie form it would be a huge massive production of The Woman in White (as long as Kiera Knightly doesn’t get to star in it) by Wilkie Collins, I know its been adapted by the BBC but I would love to see that on the big screen. I would say the Life of Pi but I think that is already happening. Oh I have thought of another Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White that would make a brilliant movie, so I guess that one. On the whole though I would rather my favourites were left alone in case they don’t live up to the book as I have translated it into my own head!

The most recent read that I would have made into a film would be Child 44 however that has already been optioned. I am actually interviewing the author Tom Rob Smith today so if anyone has any questions for him do let me know on here or here. It’s a fantastic book and will make an amazing movie.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Child 44 - Tom Rob Smith

I don’t know why I haven’t read Tom Rob Smith’s debut sooner as it’s a book I have been meaning to read for ages. Maybe I was worried that after all the brilliant reviews, and all the discussion on the Booker Nomination, that I might be left disappointed? It could also be the fact I had the hardback copy and they tend to be slightly put of when I am doing a lot of travelling, though I actually read this partly on a train journey. I think in all honesty I was slightly worried that I wouldn’t be able to grasp or be interested in Stalin’s Russia, boy oh boy was I wrong. I couldn’t stop turning the pages let alone put the book down.

Child 44 is set in the 1950’s Soviet Union. A child is found dead with what appears to be soil in his mouth and his family are sure that this is murder despite the boy’s body being found on the train tracks. Leo Demidov of the MGB is sent to cool things over and persuade the family that this is nothing more than a tragic accident, a job he does begrudgingly as he feels it is taking his time away from his more important work. However when Leo himself goes through some very changing circumstances and another body of a child with soil in its mouth is found he begins to realise that there may be a serial killer out there.

Behind what is a very intriguing, if gruesome and quite dark, storyline is also the tale of Russia in the few years leading up to Stalin’s death. Russia is a place plagued with paranoia where the innocent are guilty and bad can be innocent if they go about things the right (or technically wrong) way. I was shocked reading this novel at just how corrupt people where and just how many people were slaughtered needlessly and made guilty without any way of fighting to prove their innocence. Leo himself is one of the people who imposes the regime and believes in it, until the regime turns against him and those he loves. I know this is fiction but it is clear Tom Rob Smith has done his research meticulously as the setting was so well written I could feel the cold icy snowy air around me as I read the book, and no, I didn’t just have the windows open. It became all became very real to me and when I had finished the book I went off to do much more research on the era.

One thing I have to say is what a wonderful character I thought Leo was. I was determined not to like him in the first few chapters and especially after a torture scene. He is a man hardened to life who though he loves his wife and family is more loyal to his country than anything else or anyone else who gets in his way. You wouldn’t think that a character like that would become enjoyable to read. However soon enough I was on the breathless never ceasing adventurous journey with him. Adventure sums up this book pretty well too, and you can see where Tom Rob Smith’s own love for Arthur Conan Doyle comes in, it’s a page turner but not in an airport lounge shop sort of way if you know what I mean.

There is quite a lot of gore in the novel and a few very uncomfortable scenes but their needs to be for the story to work. I can’t say that a book about a child killer is an easy or enjoyable read as its not, but it’s an incredible read non the less. My only slight dislike was the speech in italics, I have never personally liked that though I found myself forgiving it and will undoubtedly do so in the next novel The Secret Speech which I am looking forward to enormously. I didn't think that this was written like a film screenplay (though it is being made into a film) though if it had been it wouldn't shock as that was what Tom Rob Smith did before he turned his hand to novel writing. I thought it was a sparse engrossing book that deserves all the awards its been put up for and more.

Now for some very EXCITING NEWS! I am going to be interviewing Tom tomorrow (at his house – what biscuits should I take?) and so I wondered if any of you have any questions for him? This is open to everyone whether you have read the book, heard about the book, or would just like to ask an author anything at all? If so leave your comments and I will see what I can do!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

I'm Back... With More Books

So I had the break away which was very much needed indeed I love London but it really can be nice to get away. Did I buy any books while I was away? Not a single one. I came back and within a few hours 'oh look' I have bought three but I didnt intend to go and get them. I merely wanted to go and see if the new book shop that they have been promising to open down the road was actually open yet. It wasnt... and as I walked past the window of one of the other ones I saw a book I have been wanting to get for ages, Lady With Lapdog by Anton Chekhov. Ever since seeing The Reader I have been wanting to read it, if you've seen the movie you'll know why if not then I wont spoil it.

The other books that I got were books that I *needed* or ones that are quite difficult to get. I have been looking for The White Hotel by D.M. Thomas for the last month or so as I am joining one of my friends book groups in Hertfordshire next week and that is what they are reading but its not that easy to get despite being Long Listed for the Man Booker. I told my Gran that I was going to read D.M. Thomas and she exclaimed 'ooooohhhh I think his stuff is a bit racy... if it is let me know' I am not sure whether that meant she would avoid it or read it!

The other book that I managed to get, and am thrilled that I saw out of the corner of my eye, was White Mischief by James Fox. After reading The Bolter about the life of Idina Sackville and all the shenanigans going on in the Happy Valley I have been wanting to find out more about the era and the characters in it. White Mischief is all about one of Idina's five husbands who was mysteriously murdered out in the Happy Valley. I only thought this was a movie I didnt realise the book (which is non-fiction I gather) had come out first so I will be devouring this very soon.

Whilst away I didn't manage either of the two books I asked you to guess I might take with me because I was a little too busy with these two...
I did manage to finish Child 44 with Tom Rob Smith which I shall review tomorrow. Oh which two books did I take? If only I could do a drum role, sadly I can't so I shall just say Daphne by Justine Picardie and The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. I've come home and started something completely different instead... and autobiography am off to go and read it now. So what are you all reading and what have you all been upto? Three days seems like a lot longer, in a good way.
Oh I also forgot to add that while I was away I received an 'I Love Your Blog' award from the delightful Farm Lane Books so was very chuffed, what a lovely welcome back. Do check out Farm Lane Books as its great, we are both doing the Richard and Judy Book Challenge (to read all of them) and though we occasionally differ I love hearing all her reviews and thoughts.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Reads for Rail Journeys

I am off for a bit of a break this weekend and Monday so there maybe some Savidge Reads Silence for a few days but hopefully not too long. I am off 'oop' north to the homeland to see some family and escape London life for a little while. Due to the delights of London Transport this trip is going to take around 3-4 hours each way and though its a slight drag the good news is that it means that I will be able to get some serious reading time in. The likelihood of delightful sunny views being low from the weather reports.

So I shall be finishing of the gripping thrilling and quite superb Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith then came my dilemma... what else should I take? The way things are going I will be up until the last possible moment trying to finsih Child 44 before bed time so what two others should I put in my bag. The criteria was something long, something I will hopefully get completely engrossed in and then a spare in case the first option doesn't do the trick. Does anyone else have that rule on long journeys or trips away? I whittled it down to these five...

1. The Secret Speech - Tom Rob Smith (would this be overkill, though I am interviewing him next week?)
2. The Well of Loneliness - Radclyffe Hall (I really want to read this but not sure if am quite in the mood might grip me though)
3. Daphne - Justine Picardie (no idea why I havent read this yet after having it so long)
4. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood (possibly one of the best reads I have never read yet)
5. The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite - Beatrice Colin (get ahead with the R&J reading - plus sounds brilliant)

Which ones would you have chosen or would recommend? So which two did I take? Can you guess? Well all will be revealed when I get back, but do let me know your thoughts... oh and what weekend read do you have planned? Have a lovely weekend!

Friday, March 06, 2009

Netherland - Joseph O'Neill

This is the seventh of this years book group choices by Richard and Judy and I have to admit as I said previously a while back I wasn’t convinced I was going to like this. Sold as a tale of a man whose wife leaves him to go back to England after the tragedy of 9/11 and then decides building a cricket pitch is what New York really needs alongside the unusual Chuck I thought that it sounded quite different. Especially with the twist that Chuck is pulled out of a New York canal hands tied behind his back and having been dead for quite some time I thought there might be some added mystery.

What the book turns out to be is more a description of New York after 9/11 and looks at the people living there and how they cope. It also looks at what affect this has one the marriage of our narrator Hans van den Broek and his wife Rachel who cannot cope in the aftermath and such atrocities, this was for me the most interesting story in the book. It isn’t Hans who has the plan to make a cricket pitch it is in fact Chuck a character with darkness who doesn’t seem to be all he appears. A great unreliable character though, he sadly isn’t in the book as much as I would have liked as I found him quite entertaining. The rest of the story evolves around what happens in the years between Rachel leaving and Hans hearing that Chuck is dead.

I didn’t really gel with this book at all. I started of liking it however the marital strife of a life changed by chaos and horror in New York is done and dusted within fifty pages or so. Then what follows is a succession of characters and incidents that flow through Hans depressing years after of which all bar Chuck and cricket come and go with no real relevance or point. This seems like a very long winded essay of the writer’s thoughts on America and the cultural societies in New York after 9/11 which drifts off at tangents that I couldn’t follow. I just didn’t care what happened to them again bar Chuck, I wont say the ending but I was left confused and slightly non-plussed and all in all quite nonchalant.

For me, though I know many people have absolutely loved this book, I ended up feeling quite disappointed and I wasn’t that excited about the book anyway. I didn’t feel I knew enough about Hans to want to follow his story and could actually see why his wife left him, though technically she was leaving the city. I did give the book a fair chance and I did finish it when at some points I didn’t want to, so I gave it my all I just don’t think it was quite the book for me. I’d be interested to hear other peoples thoughts though.

In the additional P.S section that Harper Perennial do in their books, which I think is genius and give you much more insight, the author says this book was hard to sell to publishers and kept getting rejected over and over again. I could sadly see why. It annoyed me a little that a book like this has gained such publicity, been long listed for the Man Booker and now is on the Richard and Judy list whereas wonderful thought provoking beautifully written books like State of Happiness (which I am still thinking about all the time) by Stella Duffy don’t and they should. Onwards and upwards though, hopefully next weeks book The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin will be much better!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Best Book You've Never Read?

We’ve all seen the lists, we’ve all thought, “I should really read that someday,” but for all of us, there are still books on “The List” that we haven’t actually gotten around to reading. Even though we know they’re fabulous. Even though we know that we’ll like them. Or that we’ll learn from them. Or just that they’re supposed to be worthy. We just … haven’t gotten around to them yet... What’s the best book that YOU haven’t read yet?

Hmmm this question from Booking Through Thursday has really made me think, literally all day, hence why the slightly late blog from me (that and trying to finish Netherland). I couldnt decide what one best book I havent read yet as there were so many so I thought I would do a top ten instead. How id I decide what made it on the list? Books that I have always wanted to read, books I have always been told I must read and books by my favourite authors I havent gotten round to yet!
1. The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood
2. Madame Bovary -Gustave Flaubert
3. The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
4. Crime and Punishment - Dostoevsky
5. The Accidental Tourist - Anne Tyler
6. My Cousin Rachel - Daphne Du Maurier
7. The Well of Loneliness - Radclyffe Hall
8. Love in a Cold Climate - Nancy Mitford
9. The Secret Scripture - Sebastien Barry
10. A Handful of Dust - Evelyn Waugh

Please note: this list is technically subject to daily change as my mood for what I want to read and what someone might recommend me tomorrow may become the next best book I have never read!
So what are yours?

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

State of Happiness - Stella Duffy

I don’t know about you but when you find an author that you love there is that mingled desire to read everything that they have ever written before you discovered them as quickly as possible. There is also the desire to savour these books and not have finished all of someone’s books before the next one is out. There can also be the niggling worry that you might not like it either at all or just not as much as the others. Which authors is it for you? For me there are a few authors that I have these thoughts with, I bet you could guess them, and those are Ian McEwan, Susan Hill, Kate Atkinson, Anne Tyler, Daphne Du Maurier, Tess Gerritsen and last but not least Stella Duffy. So I opened the first page of State Of Happiness with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.

This book is amazing, simply stunning. I don’t know where to start a review exactly because I don’t want to give anything away so I will try and stick to the blurb with my additional babbling along the way. Jack (a Mancunian living in New York trying to make it in TV and the news) and Cindy (a mapmaker and published writer) meet at a mutual friend’s party and by the end of the evening know that they have both met someone special. What follows is the story of their relationship over the first five years moving from New York to LA and then dealing with the shocking blow when Cindy becomes incredibly ill.

The first half of the novel tells of the way relationships start and flow as they become more and more serious. The hesitations and customisations people have and make as they go through the new emotions and make room in their life for someone new, someone to become the other part of their life. I don’t know how she does it but Stella Duffy writes in a way that we see all these things in ourselves and smile at them. I kept thinking as I read on ‘oh yes, I have felt like that’ when she describes making space in your life for someone else and their habits. It’s written with a delightful realism that made me empathise with the characters which only made things harder in the second half of the novel.

Oddly when Cindy moves to be with Jack from the busy city and lights of New York to the sunny skies of LA the book becomes much darker. When Cindy falls sick (and I am not going to tell you what happens) you live the moments with her. I think my journey with her was so much harder because I liked her so much (I know books aren’t about characters we like but like her I did) and because someone close to me became very ill and it brought it back. I don’t think I have read such a spot on description of all the emotions you go through, the questions, the anger, the sadness and the laughter apart from in Helen Garner’s The Spare Room. ‘State of Happiness’ has it all encapsulated in less than two hundred and fifty pages.

The other thing that Duffy does that I thought was wonderful is relate all of these factors with mapping. Cindy herself is a cartographer as I mentioned, we read some of the excerpts of her book and possible future novel throughout the book, and how our lives are mapped and how the routes change as we go along is a big subject of the book. It’s the prose that gets me though frank yet poetic and subtle yet poignant. A friend of mine read the book just before me (and gave away the ending – tut) and summed it up in a sentence ‘a wonderful book, I have never read anything like it’ and she was spot on. This is a must read… must read.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

In The Market For Books

No while it half of the book loving population were in the outskirts of Bristol grabbing as many free books as they could this weekend. My first thought was how did they find out that this was happening? Second was are there any more places like that I am missing out on? Third thought was damn them all I am very jealous and final forth thought was maybe it was for the best as I would have been uncontrollable in that environment.
However an unplanned wander down the Thames and the South Bank this weekend made myself and the Non Reader (who raised eyebrows tutted and went of to get coffee when he saw what was looming) stumbled across the book market.


I always forget it exists (possibly financially a good thing) and whenever I find it again I get really excited as I have bought some absolute gems here before. So I browsed... for 50 minutes. There were hundreds of books and I had to make sure I looked through them and more books...

And more... and lots of my favourite orange spined Penguins and some lovely first editions...


But I didn't buy anything, not a single one. Doris Lessing's books about Cats almost tempted me as did a few old green Virago novels but in the end I left with nothing. I am wondering if I might be ill?