Sunday, May 31, 2009

Not Getting Home

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Invention of Everything Else - Samantha Hunt

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 29, 2009

Scottsboro - Ellen Feldman

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Unread

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Man Booker Musings...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Savidge Reads Grills... Karen Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 25, 2009

After The Fire - Karen Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Brighton Rocks

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Blogging Break...

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

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

Friday, May 22, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Reason I Was Silent Yesterday...

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Oranges Or Lemons?

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 18, 2009

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Blog About Book Groups

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, May 15, 2009

The New Books In Town...

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

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

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


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

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gluttony

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Earth Hums in B Flat - Mari Strachan

I actually have to admit that I read this before I had finished Midnight’s Children in between Book One and Book Two - does anyone else do that if they are reading quite a lengthy meaty book with books or volumes in it? I had won a copy of Mari Strachan’s ‘The Earth Hum’s in B Flat’ from a giveaway from the lovely Lizzy Siddals blog. I had been wanting to read this book for quite a while after hearing some wonderful reviews from other bloggers and some of the media. There were three other factors that made me really want to read it however and those were a) the cover b) the title and c) the fact that the author Catherine O’Flynn who wrote the superb What Was Lost had quoted wonderful things about it all over it. Therefore before even starting Mari Strachan’s debut it had a lot to live up to… but would it?

This book is essentially a tale of growing up though I wouldn’t put that dreadful label of ‘coming of age tale’ on it though I suppose in many ways it is. When you are young everything is black and white though not so much for the narrator of The Earth Hums in B Flat, and the wonderful creation that is, Gwenni Morgan. In the land of 1950’s Wales where a TV is rare Gwenni has two main interests which are reading (especially detective classics) and the people around her but never does she border on precocious, she is simply interested in everything. Gwenni is described by the fellow villagers of her small town as “quaint” though her mother thinks this means “everyone thinks you’re odd”. This is down to a slightly overactive imagination where Toby jugs are always watching you, fox scarfs are appealing to her to give them a true burial and the fact that she can fly at night. All these slightly surreal and bizarre images and sights Gwenni throw in just add to her character, voice and are a very comical aside when the book can get very dark and serious.

As Gwenni becomes more interested in the people around her she discovers that the adult world is full of mysteries and secrets. When one of the villagers goes missing Gwenni decides that like the hero’s in her detective books she will find out just what is going on in her village and get to the bottom of all the mysteries she only hears the whispers of (mainly through the gossiping villagers who don’t think young ears are listening). However soon enough she finds that not all secrets and mysteries have happy ending and some of them should stay uncovered.

With all this going on Mari Strachan also manages to fit in the story of Gwenni growing up and how things change in those pre-teenage years. Friendship is one subject that is written about with wit and in some parts sadness as Gwenni’s older (and wiser – in terms of repeating her mother’s – the queen of gossip in the village – words) friend Alwenna starts to take notice of boys, who Gwenni despises and changes no longer wishing to be Gwenni’s sidekick in all her adventures. The other subject is family but I don’t want to give too much away with that storyline.

I really, really enjoyed this book. It’s a book that warms the heart, with a world that you can’t wait to dip into, you can picture life in the village and how hard things were for some of the lesser well off families (such as Gwenni’s). You see how idle gossip can tear people apart and also how people’s imaginations can runaway with them. This is the perfect book to curl up and spend a single Sunday devouring though I would try and prolong the experience in all honesty. Highly recommended.

Sadly I missed a live blog chat, which was partly the point of winning the competition to read the book, with Mari Strachan on Lizzy’s blog. What would I have asked her? I only had two immediate questions which would have been “where did you get such a wonderful title” and “was it in any part autobiographical”. However some other people did ask those questions and you can see the whole thing here. I have to say in my lead up to reading the Orange shortlist it must be a great selection if this one was left of it (and the long list too)!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

So finally I have conquered the Booker of Booker’s Salman Rushdie’s epic novel Midnights Children. Like Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin I have been finding it difficult to review such an epic and complex novel (seriously this about the fourth time I have sat down and tried to review it so I hope that I get it right this time). I did wonder if reading the Booker of Booker’s was a wise decision when I had only read about five other Booker winners. Would it be too much of a mission?

Midnights Children, let there be no doubt, is a huge novel and not only as it is a grand 675 pages long. Though what is essentially the tale of a mans life in India growing up born on the hour of its independence and all that follows it’s a book that looks at our families life before us, our environments, genealogy, culture and how all of these things make us who we are. It also takes us into the surreal, as the narrator himself is certainly not the most reliable of narrators you will ever come across in fact he sometimes worries himself with the order of events in his mind when he knows they can come out wrong as he crafts his tale and his history.

Our narrator is Saleem Sinai also known as Snotnose, Baldy, Buddha and Piece-of-the- Moon. He is born on the exact stroke of midnight on August 15th 1947 also the exact moment that India became independent after British Colonisation. This makes him special as only he and one other boy of the 1001 born in the first hour of independence actually arrived dead on the midnight hour. However before you find out just why Saleem is so special Rushdie takes you through his heritage and his family background and looks at the question ‘are you born with all your ancestors baggage attached to you before you have even drawn your first breathe?’ I found this idea absolutely fascinating. Not only does he look at that huge question, through Saleem’s family history and indeed through the years that Saleem tells us of his growing up Rushdie shows you how the landscape, religious and political tensions and society changed in India.

Before I get to the ‘surrealism’ I should also mention that one of the other things that makes Saleem so special is the fact that he can get into peoples mind’s read their thoughts and even see through their eyes. In fact as it turns out all of the ‘midnight children’ have some sort of powers that make them unique and also very different from any other children born the day before or the hours after. Which opens up even more interesting tales and made me think that Rushdie might just have had his idea’s “borrowed” for a certain ‘heroic’ TV series, maybe?

Now one thing that scared me off the book before I read it, bar the length - as long books and myself have a funny relationship, was the dreaded ‘surrealism’ word. Now I don’t personally hold anything against books that use surrealism the whole point of fiction to me is to escape. What I don’t like is when it is done to be ‘out there’ or get noticed. I didn’t think that this sudden twist in the tale, there are quite a few unexpected twists in this novel making you wonder just how much genius there must be in Rushdie’s head, did anything other than make the book even more enthralling and fantastic. I admit it I was completely hooked.

It’s not just the extreme storylines that are surreal though its some of the paragraphs of prose which to me read almost like fairy tales throughout the book and who out there didn’t love fairy tales as a child? For example the love story of Saleem’s Grandparents who met when he was a doctor and she his patient only he could only see her via a small hole in a sheet used to cover her modesty when she needed to be examined. They fall in love without ever seeing each other, beautiful. It’s almost a shame she becomes such a sour faced old lady in the end… only it isn’t because what wonderful characters those are.

That is another thing that teems throughout this book. The characters, not only is Saleem himself a great character so are his family, especially his sister ‘Brass Monkey’ in his childhood along with his tempestuous Grandmother. His alcoholic father and adulterous (though not in the way you would think) mother are wonderfully written, in fact his mothers story like his Grandparents love story could have made two more books just by themselves. There is his wonderful wife Padma ‘Godess of Dung’ and possibly my favourite all the cat shooting, bicycle stunt loving American new girl on the block Evelyn Burns who in Saleem’s pre-teen years becomes a femme fatale and young tyrant all in one. Every character is fully formed in this book even if they only show up for just one page.

Overall I think this is a complete masterpiece. Some people will of course hate it, some will find it hard work and some will be taken away by the beautiful prose, the fairy like quality of a true epic tale. (I have to add here this last few years I have read some wonderful fiction based in India or from Indian writers that I am simply going to have to go there – I have quite fallen in love with it.) The latest Rushdie novel The Enchantress of Florence has just jumped about twenty places up my TBR pile, I only hope its as good as it does seem I have started with his best work! Let me know if his others are as good and what your experiences with Rushdie have been like!?!

Monday, May 11, 2009

What I Bought Back From The North

Nope I still havent quite been able to finish reviewing Midnight's Children though I have officially finished it. It has to be one of the hardest books to review, so while I recover from being a bit ill yesterday and try again to crack a worthy review I thought I would let you know of my latest bookshopping from while I was away up north last weekend! Naturally the bookshops of Matlock and the surrounding area were simply too good to miss. Can anyone tell me why charity shops arent as cheap as they are in the north of England everywhere? Mind you if they were I would be forever shopping and never have enough money to eat. I was slightly reserved and only bought four books and had valid reasons for buying them all frankly (and yes I will keep telling myself that)...

E.M. Forster - A Passage to India
I am having a real love affair with India through my reading so far this year (The White Tiger and Midnight's Children to name two) and so this one being such a classic has always been on my radar. Reading the blurb how could I then resist "When Adela and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced British community. Determined to explore the real India', they seek the guidance of the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz, a cultivated Indian Muslim. But a mysterious incident occurs while they are exploring the Marabar caves with Aziz, and the well-respected doctor soon finds himself at the centre of a scandal that rouses violent passions among both the British and their Indian subjects." Well frankly I couldn't at 99p! It goes towards my aim of reading more classics in 2009 too.

William Golding - Rites of Passage
Well as I am planning on trying to read all the Booker winners within the next twelve-ish months this, the 1980 winner, has elluded me in recent shopping trips. I shamefully have still not read Lord of the Flies which I am quite embarrased about... I mean I call myself a reader!!!!

Carson McCullers - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
I have to admit I bought this for the cover (I love the new silvery Penguin Modern Classics) and also for the title, come on you must all surely have done that before. However it does sound like it could be wonderful "Set in a small town in the American South, it is the story of a group of people who have little in common except that they are all hopelessly lonely. A young girl, a drunken socialist and a black doctor are drawn to a gentle, sympathetic deaf mute, whose presence changes their lives." I might read this soonish!

Kate Grenville - An Idea of Perfection
I have been waiting and waiting to see a copy of this as I am holding off reading 'The Secret River' until I have managed this first. I dont know why I originally came up with that pact with myself but I did and am sticking to it. Plus with my soon to start Orange Short-list-a-thon I am going to read some previous winners and some of the other books the winners have written before I delve in!

What was the latest book you bought? Have you read any of the above or any of the authors mentioned? I would love to know! (Oh and dont forget the competition below!)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Getting Cross... But Still Running A Competition

All will become clear as to why I have named today’s blog this shortly I promise. My time in Hertfordshire was absolutely lovely and for over twenty four hours I didn’t read a single word from a single book. Worrying but slightly refreshing, does anyone else need a small reading break now and again?

So after a delightful weekend away frolicking through the fields in glorious sunshine why might I be cross? Well because frankly ‘hay fever from hell’ has been having a bit of a negative effect on my delightful weekend away. Is it me or is it much worse than ever this year (I probably say that every year)? I am now bed ridden in the dark feeling awful, I don’t think an added dosage of man flu is helping if I am honest! This has however made me undoubtedly very grumpy this evening and therefore that is why I am a bit cross. Now you know how I mentioned that every now and then it’s nice to have a break from reading? This doesn’t apply when you are at home feeling really rubbish and can’t even be taken away by some delightful fictional world! Now as I have used a picture of the British Red Cross (because I feel poorly) I noticed it’s the opposite of the Switzerland flag and that leads me too my next point…

It was confirmed on Friday that I am off to Switzerland for a week in June (despite the fact that someone tried to steal this “work trip” off me – which did make me cross but is all sorted now and not worth going into to be honest) and I am very excited as I will be going around by train from city to city which means… reading time! Now I have been thinking about this and thought it would be good to get all your ideas on what to read. Now for the flights I will need two gripping travel reads as I hate flying and need light escapism but I think I have those in mind. So I will bring back some delicious Swiss chocolate and post it to whomever comes up with the best book or preferably a selection of books which have a storyline based in Switzerland (I am going to Basel, Geneva, Lucerne and Zurich so four options) as I sometimes like to read books that are set where I myself am having my travels. I can’t wait to see what you come up with… you have until May 22nd! Good luck!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Picture This...

I am slightly worried that this week Savidge Reads seems to have become less about books and more about pictures. Is this a bad thing? Well if it is a bad thing then I am very sorry but tough luck for one more day! Maybe this week is subliminally picture book week? Oddly the Booking Through Thursday I missed this week was based on 'graphic novels' maybe there is something in the air? Anyway I am waffling on...

Today is another picture blog while I finish off Midnights Children (which should have been last weeks Savidge Big Reads - no Savidge Big Reads this week) and after that feat is accomplished will then try and read another novel (possibly two) plus all of your book blogs. In fact I will be pretty much spending the whole of this weekend doing as much reading as I can. I need some time reading and relaxing to recuperate from last weekend and a bit of a crazy week. It is in fact something from last weekend that this blog (once I finish rambling) is about. Though my Gran has moved away from our old gorgeous family house...

She does indeed have what I would say is a small dream-like library, a place I can only hope that I have something like one day. A sacred spot that would be simply perfect on a day like today when you are planning very much on spending doing not much else than read. You have had a long week, you need to relax so you walk into that special area where half the room has been turned into wall to wall books...

You pick one from any of the three walls and wander over to your comfy sofa's...

Only there is a slight problem when you are there. Do you read the book or simply stare out of the window (as shown above) at thes stunning view that changes minute by minute for the entire day... believe it or not the picture below doesnt do it justice, its three valleys converging and I could only get one in the shot!
I have to say it would be a good struggle but after ten minutes I know I would be emmersed back in the world of words but what view to ponder a complex twist or some evil doings and dealings of a character? Oh well... I can dream! Where would your dream reading spot be or do you already have it? Where can you picture yourself in the perfect reading surroundings?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Catching Up: Blog Silence, Competition Closed and Midway Through Midnight’s Children

Hello one and all, is it me or does it feel like I have been away ages? It is probably very likely just me. Firstly apologies for the blog silence the weekend actually really took it out of me much more than I had expected and I came back feeling quite drained and exhausted so I needed a bit of a break which is very unlike me. However let us not dwell on all that. I am back now and raring to go. My work situation has changed too (in a good way) so am finding I have much less time and so am writing this weekend off, and sadly postponing the Savidge Big Read “Sea of Poppies” by a week if that’s ok, to chill out, devour lots of reading that I have been meaning to do for ages and play catch up in general.

Speaking of what I have been reading… I set a little competition for you with regard to my travel reading. I had given you the list of books I was taking and asking which ones I would have read by the time I got back and which book out of a possible five was my mystery addition to my packing...
Well the mystery book was Daphne by Justine Picardie which lots of you got right, but sadly that was half the question. How many did I actually read? The answer is 150 pages of Midnight’s Children, so technically none, which none of you guessed. However fear not, I will be doing this again the weekend after next (I know am becoming a bit of a jet setter) and once in June, July and August so you have four more opportunities to win a delightful selection of books.

I have to admit my reading hasn’t been great since I got back, I did break from Midnight’s Children to devour The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan for fellow blogger Lizzy’s live Q&A which very sadly I missed as was working late. The questions I would have asked were “is it autobiographical” and “where did you get the title from” alongside gushing praise to Mari on a superb book which I will review shortly. It seems my questions were asked by others which made me feel slightly better but am gutted to have missed the main event and I do feel have let Lizzy down. I am thinking that this week is simply not going to be my week, am a bit out of sorts.

So how is Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie going? Really slowly but really well in all honesty. Now when I say slowly I don’t mean this is because it’s a difficult or boring read far from it. You know sometimes when you really like a book and the voice of the narrator you can either greedily rush through it or slowly devour it an hour at a time? I am definitely doing the latter with this book and I am finding it so worth it. Yes its quite complex and yes there is a lot of surrealism but it’s by no means the monster that I was imagining, more a friendly beast of a book. More to come when have finished it!

Monday, May 04, 2009

What Arrived Before I Departed

I dont know how interesting other people find these but I have always loved seeing what fellow book bloggers have either been sent or been out and bought of late. If you are one of those people who dont like those sorts of blogs then you might want to look away now...

The latest books to have been sent from lovely publishing people to Savidge Reads Towers are (for those of you who cant see the picture well, or dont like reading sideways);
The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite - Beatrice Colin
Home - Marilynne Robinson
The Invention of Everything Else - Samantha Hunt
A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True - Brigid Pasulka
The Earth Hums In B Flat - Mari Strachen (actually from a blogger not a publisher)
The Behaviour of Moths - Poppy Adams
Burnt Shadows - Kamila Shamsie
Ask Alice - D.J Taylor
Devil In Disguise - Julian Clary
The Glass of Time - Michael Cox
Now some of you maybe thinking "he has already read Lilly Aphrodite" well yes I have and this was a suprise arrival from the lovely Caroline at John Murray who had sent a parcel only its was "To Simon's Gran" c/o Savidge Reads not actually just another copy for me! This was a truly lovely thing to have done and I will let you know my Gran's thoughts when she has read it. It has been mine (and Caroline's) favourite read of the year so will be intrigued how Grans takes to it. I am slightly worried that through the amount of mentions that she gets in this blog Gran might suddenly become infamous herself. That would never do ha!
I am not going to give you the blurbs for all the books as I think that may over egg the pudding but it gives you a hint as to what is coming up in my reading in the rest of May. By the time I am home the rest of the Orange short lists should have arrived and this is one of my big reading plans for May before the winner is announced in June, I do have to say though that I think I might already have a definate idea of who will win just from a gut feeling having not read a word. Lets see if the reading changes my mind or proves that particular book is deserving of winning.
The other thing that has, oddly quite quietly, been announced is The Richard and Judy Summer Read which I am having a lengthly mental debate as to whether to do it as another challenge for the next few months or am I biting off more than I can chew... I am never as big a fan (bar The Island) of the summer books they choose but the list this year there is one I have already read (Mr Toppit) and several I would love to read (Guernica just sounds wonderful) I shall mull it all while I am away.
So of the new books which ones have you read (no plot spoilers please) or have you read others by any of the authors mentioned? Any Orange/Richard & Judy Summer Reads thoughts? What books do you have on the go?

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Postcard Pictures From The Peak District

I thought I would do you a picture postcard blog while I am away of the sort of surroundings that I will be in when I am reading with the peaks at my feet! Seriously while I am away, as this is written in advance, I will have to try an get a picture of my Gran's reading room as its like a book lovers dream. Now mentioning the fact this is in advance I am hoping that the view will be delightfully sunny and joyous like this...


Although it could be foggy like this...


Mind you if it is foggy then the castle on the opposite hill looks really really spooky...


Of course we shouldnt cross out the possibility of snow after all it is Ooop North and anything can happen...


Oh and one final picture, this is the house (now you know I love old haunted houses - I have many a tale from here) where the book addict that yours truly spent pretty much his entire first 10ish years and spent most of the summers there after, I think a blue plaque is called for don't you?


Hope you are all having delightful breaks, oh and dont forget the competition below!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Travel Companions (and a hard but worth while competition)

So by the time you read this I shall probably be on a train going halfway up the country to my homeland, that’s right the blogs you get over the next few days are timed and have been written in advance so I have been less reading and more typing the last few days. It is a mixture of sadness and happiness that takes me up as I love seeing all my family but sadly we are doing my Granddad’s (or as I called him Bongy) ashes, it would have been his 70th birthday on Sunday. Now that may get you all doing some maths, my Mum had me when she was 16 and my grandparents helped raise me when she was at University (well in the holidays - I was with her in term time) so as my Dad wasn't around Bong was actually the closest thing to a Dad I had. Sadly almost two years ago he was diagnosed with cancer and died within seven weeks, and I think the shock, plus logistics of the Savidge Tribe (we are having a close family dinner Sunday and its 20 people) have held us off doing this sooner. I think it’s quite nice it’s his 70th seems timely. Anyway enough doom and gloom this is a book blog not my online therapy outpourings.

So like I said when you read this I will be on the train and what does one need for all good train journeys? No not a book… books. I see the books I travel with as being almost as important as whom I am travelling with. You need something for every possible eventuality; therefore I don’t take a book I tend to take two or three for each direction the ones I don’t read on the way to my destination I can read when I am at it if that makes sense? So I always take about six one of each of the following catagories;
a) Something big I have been meaning to read for ages
b) A guilty pleasure read in case the above really just doesn’t work out, you know something slightly erm… un-literary??!!
c) Something by one of my favourite authors (like we discussed on Thursday)
d) Something brand spanking new ‘just in’ as you never know
e) A good crime novel
f) Something that has been hovering on my TBR pile and reading radar for sometime
This so far has stood me in good stead (though do note this isnt the order I read them in) and ok so my bags might be a bit heavy (I always get a tut from the Non-Reader over the amount of books I “need” when we go on trips) but should the train breakdown in the middle of nowhere or we get stranded at a station hey I am all sorted thank you very much.

So for this trip I have enclosed in my luggage in reference to the above formula:
a) Midnights Children – Salman Rushdie (and the latest Savidge Big Reads which you can join in with, I think some of you are already?)
b) Angels & Demons – Dan Brown (as The Da Vinci Code was a complete cheap thrill page turner and also because I am also going to a special screening with Q&A’s with the stars and director next week)
c) Behind The Scenes At The Museum – Kate Atkinson (must try and love this book)
d) The Earth Hums in B Flat – Mari Strachan (and I am taking part in a blog on someone elses site where we get to ask the author lots of questions and you can join in – more of this on Wednesday)
e) The Point of Rescue – Sophie Hannah (because her books are just superb)
Now what about f? I was stuck I simply had too many contenders. Eventually I managed to whittle it down to five…

If you cant see the picture very well the five are; Daphne - Justine Picardie, The Girl on the Landing - Paul Torday, The Devil's Paintbrush - Jake Arnott, The Road Home - Rose Tremain or The Secret River - Kate Greville!

So which one did I pick? Well I thought I would leave you guessing and see what you come up with, which one would you have taken? Which one do you think I will have taken? I can’t wait to read your thoughts... and also if you have any particular ‘books for travel’ rules yourselves?

I was going to dish up the results of my nosey findings of what people have been reading on the tube as it fits well with this but as this blog looks a little like a business report I shall hold off with any more lists and bullet points! I am going to run a little competition though… As well as telling me which one I picked from my five and your travel reads habits, if you can guess how many of the books I actually read (and which books they were) from what I have taken I will send you a very special book filled parcel! Adds to the May Bank Holiday Fun for you all I think! You have until 9am Tuesday...

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Cupboard Full of Life - Alexander McCall Smith

I actually wanted to call today’s blog ‘Precious Time With Precious Ramotswe’ for that is exactly what it has been but am sticking to the formula of the books title but the thought was there. I had some really good reads in April (I will do a month review when have a spare moment) but the last couple of weeks, bar The White Tiger, nothing has completely blown me away. The longer books have taken a lot longer to read than I anticipated, partly because they were quite heavy (says the man who is trying Midnight’s Children this weekend) and I needed some gentle relaxing escapism. You can never go wrong with Alexander McCall Smith for just that, actually I didn’t love the 44 Scotland Street first book; maybe I need to dip into those again at some point?

The Cupboard Full of Life is the 5th in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency Series which I would imagine everyone is aware of even if they have never read one. We find the delightful Precious Ramotswe, the owner of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, contemplating when exactly it is that she is going to get married. Her fiancé (of the longest engagement) J.L.B Matekoni has his own problems; he has somehow been pushed into doing a parachute jump to raise money for the local orphanage. So where I hear you cry is the detecting.

Well in all honesty I was wondering that in this book as well. I personally am only too happy to just sit and read Precious Ramotswe talk to her friends and observe life, but I do like it when she goes investigating and in this book there is only one case; a case of a woman who has many suitors. Mma Holonga is an owner of a very successful chain of hairdressing salons and has suddenly realised she is in her forties with no husband, Before she knows it she has four and cannot work out which of them has the genuine motives, will Precious Ramotswe be able to help? (Naturally I am not going to tell you or you won’t read the book.)

Having read the series in order (as you all know I do) I have to say though I loved it and truly escaped something seemed to be missing and I don’t just mean the crimes. My very favourite character Mma Makutsi doesn’t even appear until about seventy pages in and the two foster children were hardly in it at all and yet there seemed to be too many characters and mini plots going on which though made it very easy to read (and it was) made it slightly less addictive than its predecessors. I would give it 3.5/5 though I certainly haven’t been put off reading the next in the series.

I do actually have it on good authority that the next book In The Company Of Cheerful Ladies is a cracker as bizarrely out of all the books I have had out of my bag over the last few weeks this is the one that the most people have started talking to me about, which only goes to show just how popular they are. How have you all found the series if you have had a go at it? Don’t give anything away though please - no plot spoilers!

What have you made of the television series? I have to say I wouldn’t have cast Jill Scott as Precious as she is too young compared to the Precious in my head but I think Anika Noni Rose is wonderful and spot on perfect as Mme Makutsi and very oddly almost exactly as I had imagined she would be (even funnier in fact). The show itself did nothing for me at first, and then it completely won me over, before loosing me again with a rather limp ending. Why can’t books be made into great TV shows or films? I will be watching The Name of the Rose tonight so wonder if, as many people have said, this will be a change to that rule. I’ll report back in due course.