Category Archives: Paul Magrs

Joan Bakewell & Bookmarked

I’m having a rather quiet week and just settling down and reading when I can rather than blogging. I thought I would pop in though and let you know just whats by the bedside. I have a fair few ‘research reads’ ahead of me but I am trying to do it in a whimsical (and I don’t mean funny) style as much as possible.

The main selection of reads are the memoirs/autobiographies/essays and novels of Joan Bakewell’s. Why? Well, I have always liked her when I have seen her on the television, her work on which has won many prizes, and in the UK she is deemed by many as a ‘national treasure’. I am getting very excited, and of course very nervous, as I will be in conversation with her on November the 10th at Waterstones Deansgate in Manchester where we will be discussing her novels, her CBE, her tv experiences and much much more…

There is also the fourth Bookmarked on the horizon in just under two weeks, when we will have our ‘supernatural and sci-fi’ night with Ben Aaronovitch and Paul Magrs. I will be reading both of Ben’s novels and Paul’s latest in the lead up, which as they are filled with spooky goings on will be just the things for Halloween, hooray!

You can find out more about Bookmarked here. Sorry about that mini plug, but it is all book related. Have you read any of Joan Bakewell’s novels or her autobiographies/memoirs? What about Ben and Pauls books? Hope to see some of you at either of these events. Any spooky reading suggestions at all?

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Filed under Ben Aaronovitch, Bookmarked Literary Salon, Joan Bakewell, Paul Magrs

Reading With Authors #3: Valley of the Dolls – Jacqueline Susann; With Paul Magrs

So Paul only a day late, oops, blame the Transpeak (I actually almost got stranded in Matlock last night, not funny)…we’ve nicely invited ourselves (Savidge Reads and it’s readers) to your house, well your Summer house actually. Are Fester and Panda here? Can we get a nice cuppa we’ve brought biscuits (though no digestives or fig rolls), what would you like? 

Really, I think we need pink champagne for this one. And some sort of fancy nibbles. I’m amazed you went to such effort and dragged up again, Simon. You look fantastic, but mind your hem as you come trolling across the lawn. Come and sit on one of these garden chairs where all the neighbours can see. I’ve got some Dolly Mixture we can pretend are prescription drugs. Aren’t you a bit too warm in your beaver, by the way?

Oh yes, I must get rid of this thing, in fact seeing as you tricked me into fancy dress when you haven’t I might just pop and get changed… there that’s better. All normal now, well normal-ish. So Valley of the Dolls, why did we choose it again? 

I wanted an excuse to reread it. I love the old movie, and there’s a fantastic biography of Jacqueline Susann that makes me laugh and laugh. She had such a rackety life and career, and she was determined to make it. But she behaved so badly and was so tasteless and brilliantly vulgar. I love the movies about her, ‘Ain’t She Great’ with Bette Midler, and ‘Outrageous Me’ with the wonderful Michelle Lee. And, a number of years ago, I was completely gripped reading her novel ‘The Love Machine’ while on holiday in Paris. I wanted to go back to the first novel to find out why and how she’s so readable.

Did you enjoy it? Do you think Valley of the Dolls deserves its cult status?

I’m not sure! It was huge at the time, of course. Mostly because (if we are to believe biography by Barbra Seamann and the two biopics) Susann was such a whizz at self-publicity. She went on TV and book tours – but she also did things like taking breakfast and coffee to the lorry drivers who were transporting her books around the US. It has sold insanely well over the decades and I say, rather than a cult value, it has a kitschy one. It’s a pure product of its era – an absurdly outdated piece of pop culture. It’s camp, of course – but despite itself, rather than setting out to be self-consciously ironic and amusing. It’s too stodgy and earnest, I think, to be a true Cult classic. It terms of vintage tat, it’s the literary equivalent of one of those scary half-dolls with no legs and knitted frocks that sit on top of toilet rolls.

I’ve been a bit up and down with it, I loved it initially but Anne’s story seemed to go on a little bit too long, I was glad of the narrative change weren’t you?

Yes, I was – at the two hundred page mark, or whatever it was. It was heaven to get into the stories of Jennifer and Neely. Anne is too good to be true – she’s a bit winsomely perfect, and she drives me up the wall, really. My feeling is that Anne was Jacqueline Susann’s idealized version of herself. (Susann posed for adverts, and TV, etc – and knew that world.) And so the writer indulges herself in that strand of the story – Anne’s ever so slightly sanctimonious point of view. For me, though, it’s when Helen Lawson, the singing battleaxe comes on stage, that the book really lights up. She’s incorrigible and frightful and behaves quite justifiably like a monster throughout. The scene in the ladies’ lavs when Neely rips her wig off and shoves it down the loo is my favourite in the whole novel.

Did you have a favourite between the ‘Dolls’ out of Anne, Neely or Jennifer? I know I did, can you guess which?

I reckon you liked Neely best. Don’t know why. Oh yes, I do.

You might just be right there though I am intrigued as to why you think that, maybe that’s a conversation to have another time… it might have something to do with the scene you mentioned, maybe… 

As for me…well, if I can’t choose Helen, then I’d choose Jennifer, I think. I love how useless she is! She doesn’t even notice that her Italian crooner husband has a mental age of ten! She falls into a lesbian relationship because she quite likes skiing and getting stroked! She plumps up her breasts each night with cocoa butter and goes about in a haze of self-worshipping stupefaction! And she winds up in mucky French arthouse movies cause she can’t think of anything better to do! And then she winds up committing suicide because of something her STUPID second husband says at her near-deathbed – and Jacqueline Susann thinks we should worship her perfection. Amazing! 

I was surprised how moving, and slightly depressing, Jennifers story was. This to me was almost the heart story of the story if that makes sense…

Oh, I just answered that above. I thought she was a bit of a dope, but I was fond of her. Why do you think it’s her at the heart of the book? Because she pays the highest price for their lavish and extravagant lifestyles?

In part it is that, it’s the bit of the book that sort of hit me the most. I think it also felt like Susann was the most passionate about this part of the book. It read differently to the rest of the novel for me, well her third person narrative did. I think… In it’s day this novel was a sensation in part because it shocked so much, do you think it has dated? Did you think any of it was shocking still?

I believe it was the lesbianism and the oral sex that were eyebrow-raising back in the day. Also, the exposing of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. All of that is old hat to us now. What seemed shocking to me now was how the women’s dependence upon men and marriage is completely taken for granted. These are successful, independent women and they’re still desperate for a bloke to pop the question. To me, though, the most shocking thing is the casual homophobia. There’s all this derisory, dismissive talk of ‘fags’ as lesser beings, necessary but barely tolerated in this world of showbiz. It’s outrageously shocking to modern sensibilities. Were you surprised by it, or is it just something where you think – it’s part of the way the book has dated? Or do you think it still rings true?

I didn’t think anything of the ‘fag’ stuff, I might have slightly arched an eyebrow at it, but that was just the time of the novel. I agree with you totally on the whole ‘need a man theme’ I couldn’t believe all these women, well apart from Anne, thought all they needed was to be a wife and life would be ok. In that aspect, and a few others I do think this novel is so much more than just a trashy shocker isn’t it…

I’m not sure it is, on this reading!

Really I am surprised, whilst I didn’t love it as much as I had hoped to do, it’s no ‘Peyton Place’ in my mind – which is true genius and is in part a trashy shocker and also a wonderful tale about a time in America’s past and the history of women and their rights (and gossip) at the time. This didn’t quite hit the nail on the head for me, but I did think it had weight.

It’s not wittily or cleverly constructed…

Oh some of it did make me laugh a lot, occasionally for the wrong reasons…

It reiterates the prejudices and mores of the society is depicts – there’s no clever, ironic critique going on. The characters are all clearly types. It doesn’t step outside the genre, create an ironic counterpoint to it, or exceed its bounds in anyway. It’s stodgy and overlong and points out the bleeding obvious. BUT… it also feels like the invention of a genre. It’s the genesis of what would, by the 80s, be called a bonkbuster. With a glitzy spot-laminate paperback cover, an ensemble cast of deeply-flawed sexy monsters brimming with ambition, revenge, etc etc.

I would agree about the stodgy aspect of the books, it needed to be about 100 pages shorter I thought. Initially I wanted to give Susann the benefit of the doubt when Anne just went on and on at the start, I thought it was building to ‘the fall’ and it was but not really enough to warrant that never ending opening narration. I don’t think I ever liked Anne. You can see how it’s influenced novelists of today can’t you, I am not just thinking of Jackie Collins etc…

And it becomes Dynasty and Dallas on TV. I think Jackie Collins’ ‘Hollywood Wives’ is maybe the ultimate expression of the type. Or, if you’re looking for the innocent entering the big city, commerce and the sexual economy and eventually winning through – Barbra Taylor Bradford and ‘A Woman of Substance.’ Or even Shirley Conran’s wonderfully stupid ‘Lace’ (‘Which of you three bitches is my mother?’) As time moves on it becomes less about our heroine ‘finding herself’ as it as about becoming a brilliant business woman.

As the novel goes on there is a sense of impending doom throughout, well there was for me anyway, did this make you want to read on, as it did me, waiting for awful things to happen or were you worried for our femme fatales? 

Yes – terrible sense of doom. Any novelist worth their salt puts their characters through the wringer. But in the glitzy bonkbuster there is even more impetus to create victims. My favourite doom-sequence in Valley of the Dolls is Neely getting shoved in the nuthouse by Anne. I love the fact that she gets fat and gets out and becomes a huge star again, stealing Lyon from under Anne’s prim nose. I wish we’d seen more of Neely reveling in her revenge. Maybe it’s too early in the genre to make one of the lead characters an out-and-out villainess?

I would have liked ‘nuclear’ Neely, I kept thinking that. There was a bit too much simmering and being a bit cross and not enough utter villainy.

I wonder if ‘Vanity Fair’ is the true beginning of this genre? Or even ‘Moll Flanders’? Or ‘Fanny Hill’? Or the ‘Wife of Bath’?  Has the scandalously enjoyable fuck-book always been with us, do you think?

Hahaha, I think they should have that as a new genre in the bookshops, can you imagine? I think maybe Wilkie Collins ‘Armadale’ or ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ by Mary Elizabeth Braddon could have been the start of it actually. They were the true shocking ‘sensation’ novels filled with murder, incest and all sorts of shenanigans.

So – thanks for coming round, Simon. Will you read any more Jacqueline Susann, do you think? ‘The Love Machine’ is a wonderful saga about the world of US TV in the 60s. Then there’s the book about her poodle and one about Jackie O, or there’s her crazy science fiction novel…

Thanks for having us all round Paul. I might give Susann another go, I expected to run after another of her novels, well maybe walk swiftly, after reading ‘Valley of the Dolls’ but I wasn’t quite as hooked, gripped or even scandalized as I had hoped. Right let’s hand over to everyone else who has popped by. I only hope we have enough pink fizz…

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Filed under Jacqueline Susann, Paul Magrs, Reading With Authors 2011

Hell’s Belles – Paul Magrs

I ummed and ahhhed about if I should post about the fourth in Paul Magrs Brenda & Effie series ‘Hell’s Belles’ because as some of you will know Paul has become a firm friend (and a fabulous coffee and charity shopping partner for days out) alongside a fellow founding member of The Green Carnation Prize. However, I hope that you would all know that regardless of knowing an author I would be truthful about how I felt about any book that I read of theirs, slightly more dangerous now I am open to the idea of negative reviews. There, that feels better. I was actually a fan of the Brenda and Effie series way before I knew Paul and in fact it was a feature on the two ladies in question and him I did for the magazine I work for that led us to contacting each other, I seem to remember us both laughing a lot during the phone interview. It was interesting then that when I took ‘Hell’s Belles’ with me to the hospital recently that I got a bit nervous. What if I didn’t like it?

The seaside town of Whitby is welcoming some mysterious new arrivals both unknown and infamous as ‘Hell’s Belles’ opens. First there is Penny, arriving for a receptionist job a job at the Miramar hotel as a newly found all year round Goth and quite possibly escaping something. Second is the cult horror b-movie actress Karla Sorensen, arriving to remake the movie ‘Get Thee Inside Me, Satan’ which caused shock back in the 1960’s when various members of the crew and the viewing public for its limited cinema run seemed to become cursed. After the arrival of these two women, and a miraculously appearing DVD copy of ‘Get Thee Inside Me, Satan’ in the Save The Kiddies charity shop, things start to get a little stranger in Whitby and soon the unlikely and rather odd duo Brenda and Effie must investigate and see if they can save Whitby from the supernatural, including a bit of time travelling as they go, once more.

Meanwhile as the main plot unfolds we also have several other minor ones that interweave it, and might explain a few things, such as Brenda’s other best friend Roberts new mysterious fella, Brenda’s rather monsterous husband, lots of past secrets (like how Karla and Brenda have met before) and a few surprising love affairs kicking off. There is a lot going on in this book, the longest of the series so far, yet it never feels over done or trying too hard, nor does it get complicated and have you at your wits end.

Not that you need to read the rest of the series to enjoy this one, in fact actually I think this book is probably the most standalone in the series after the first ‘Never The Bride’. There’s no massive recap at the start, things from the past are nicely woven in as we go along. Not that this will bore readers who have read and loved the series so far either as Magrs tells them  through Effie’s or Robert’s reminiscing (Brenda doesn’t appear until page fifty which interestingly I really noticed, this book comes alive when both women are at the helm) this worked rather nicely showing the different dynamics between the characters and their friendships rather quickly all through newcomer Penny’s eyes and the gossip she hears as she becomes accustomed to the new bizarre haven she has found herself in.

I can’t give anything further away about the book but it had a lot more twists and turns as the tale develops, stories that had been bubbling away in the past books (along with characters like Mrs Claus of the Christmas Hotel) seemed to come much to the for yet without stealing the limelight. In fact I actually couldn’t believe how much I was starting to like Mrs Claus who up until now I had rather enjoyed loathing. It’s the way that Mr Magrs writes characters. In fact be they goodies or baddies, new faces or old friends, they all make you want to read more. Its the characters in both dramatic points and random very normal moments that add to the books charm. You might be ‘agog’ when evil things happen, yet its scenes like Brenda and Effie watching, erm, titillating old horror b-movies over cheesecake, Brenda rather excitedly and Effie rather snappily shocked, or Effie falling out with the local charity shop women, are become the scenes that stay with you for quite some time.

It’s the slight gossipy and often campy nature of ‘Hell’s Belles’ along with being reunited with Brenda and Effie and all the other wonderful characters that makes it so readable. I love how it’s cosy, spooky, funny and thrilling all at once. I also really liked the fact that just when you think you might know all the skeletons in the cupboards of Brenda’s B&B and Effie’s antique shop another one comes and takes you by surprise, again illuminating just how unusual these two wonderful women are, and often in the most funny and enjoyable of ways. It shows that this series has endless possibilities and I am excited about the next one, though I will be savouring reading it as I have nearly caught up with them all now. 8.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publishers, you can see my other Brenda and Effie thoughts here.

So who else has had an adventure with Brenda and Effie and what did you think? Which other spooky series would you recommend I pop in my reading path at some point? Do you know of any other books set in Whitby (apart from ‘Dracula’ or ‘The Whitby Witches’ both I have read), as I am off there later in the year for something a bit special and would like a Whitby based tale to take along?

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Filed under Brenda & Effie, Headline Review, Paul Magrs, Review

Exchange – Paul Magrs

I have to say I really ummed and ahhed for a while as to whether I should review this book. As some of you will know Paul Magrs is the Chair of The Green Carnation Prize (the shortlist will be announced in a week, which has come round very quickly) which I am one of the judges and co-founding members of. So I was worried that if I loved it, and I did like it lots, that people might think I was being biased through knowing the author. I don’t want people thinking that I would be biased towards an author on any account so I just wanted to clear that up before we go forward. So lets talk about this book, which if you are a lover books – and lets face it if you have popped by here then you must be – will be right up your street.

When I picked up ‘Exchange’ in a book shop a few years ago I will be honest and admit that I hadn’t heard of Paul Magrs before and had never read his ‘Brenda and Effie’ series, which I now love, I initially really liked the cover and then when I read the blurb I knew I had to pick it up from the line “united by their voracious appetite for novels, Simon and his grandmother stumble across the Great Big Book Exchange – a bookshop with a difference.” I was sold not only because it was a book about books and bookshops but also because Simon and his voracious reading Granny sounded a little bit familiar…

We meet Simon as he walks the streets with an old ladies shopping trolley, the initial protagonist of ‘Exchange’, following the death of his parents. He’s a bit of an outsider as well as an orphan. I will admit as soon as I read that I almost inwardly groaned. I have an issue with novels that start with orphans as they have become a cliché today and simply a good way to get rid of the parents so the kids can go and have some marvellous adventures. ‘Exchange’ is different because it actually looks at the emotional turmoil that bereavement can leave behind not only in the deceased’s 16 year old son but in their parents too as we discover when Simon moves in with his grandparents (Winnie and Ray).

It’s the love of books between him and his Gran which both furthers their bond and helps them move forward and escape the real world of grief after such an event especially when they accidentally discover ‘The Great Big Book Exchange’ and its owner Terence and assistant Kelly, who starts a touching relationship with Simon. Its this moment that becomes a catalyst in their lives and also turns the tale to Winnie and her childhood with the now world famous Ada Jones giving insight into what makes a writer and what makes a reader. So as you can see there is a lot going on and I haven’t even covered the burning of books either by Granddad Ray who after years of being married to a reader flips. I was weirdly expecting something magical to happen, I don’t know why this was, but instead you just have a charming story with no bells and whistles, it’s just a lovely tale.

I won’t give anything more away, I think it will suffice to say that it’s an entertaining and heart felt read which will appeal to anyone who loves books, books about books and the people who love books. I did have one tiny sticking point with the book exchange itself as I wasn’t sure about how it worked as you signed up, paid some money borrowed some books and then got some money back when you brought them back. I just thought with libraries and charity shops why would you exchange and what if you wanted to keep one as Winnie does? I have heard that there are such places though. I actually think this book will appeal to adults and teenage readers alike. 8/10

I was quite freaked out about book loving Simon and his book loving Gran and their adventures to book shops and tearooms being so like me at 16… and even now at 28! I wondered if you had ever read a book and thought ‘ooh that’s so like my life’ and if so what was it? Have any of you found a book exchange and how did it work? Who else has read this? Which other fictional books, I have some non fiction but you can recommend those too, embrace the world of books and reading that I might have missed out on?

I bought this book myself a few years ago.

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Filed under Books About Books, Paul Magrs, Review, Simon & Schuster

Summer Read Suggestions… From Authors

Earlier in my ‘Summer Reads Week’ I asked for suggestions of favourite summer reads from publishers pasts and the ones they were looking forward to having a read of over the coming months. So I then thought what about authors? I have noticed in the past some papers and the like get some authors to tell us just what they will be reading over the summer, so I thought why not do the same with authors? Asking simply what makes the perfect summer read for you and which book is your favourite summery read? Which book are you most eager to read over the summer months and why?

Rather than go off and just get any author I could to answer these questions I decided to go for some authors who have produced some of my favourite reads over the last few years of me writing Savidge Reads. I was most chuffed that they all said yes…

Maria Barbal

It depends quite on the time to spend. If I have a complete month it’s a good moment to read a long novel but also for a second rereading or for reading the whole work of an author.

I have read one book by Herta Müller and I would like to read some more.  Specially Tot el Que Tinc ho duc al damunt  (Atemschaukel, English: Everything I Possess I Carry With Me), because she has a poetic and piercing style, and reaches the reader with her writing.

Neil Bartlett

A perfect summer read for me is one which is utterly engrossing, but which I can safely fall asleep while reading on the flagstones of my garden, and then pick up the thread of at once, once I awake. Two contrasting examples currently in my pile; The Leopard (Lampedusa- perfect, as it makes the Visconti movie replay in my head) and My Memories of Six Reigns by Her Highness Princess Marie Louise – a junkshop find, full of great pictures and bizarre bejewelled stories.

Which book for this summer ? Andrew Graham Dixon’s new Caravaggio biog, which I think will piss me off, as he’s very determined to de-queer the paintings, but he’s a serious historian, and Caravaggio is an artist whose works I hope to spend the rest of my life looking at.

Stella Duffy

I read really widely anyway, and have never really bought into the ‘some books are for the beach’ idea, BUT I do like the books I’m hungry to get through in one or two sittings when I happen to have an afternoon free (we don’t have much skill at actually going away on holiday in our house!). I’ve had splendid summers in my garden where, after working all morning, I’ve spent the afternoon speeding through a friend’s very fast-paced dark crime novel or another mate’s bonkbuster.

I remember a great summer week of working every morning and reading Val McDermid’s Mermaid’s Singing in the garden in the afternoons. It hardly sounds summery, but there was something about the contrast between the warmth and sunshine and the darkness of the book that I really enjoyed.

I have Anna Quindlen’s ‘Every Last One’ on my TBR pile and I’m definitely looking forward to that. Unusually I HAVE been swayed by the quotes on the cover – Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Jane Howard, and Alice Hoffman in praise? It has to be good! I also have some newly released Janet Frame short stories ‘The Daylight and The Dust’ which I’m definitely looking forward to, and I do think they will need a long, slow, quiet afternoon or two to really do them justice.

Tess Gerritsen

The perfect summer read… A book that takes me completely out of my own surroundings and transports me to a different one.  I especially love being plunged into a different time period, or even a different world.  An historical mystery by Arianna Franklin, for instance, would be an example of a perfect summer read.  Or a fantasy novel along the lines of Tolkien.

I have a copy of Justin Cronin’s The Passage.  I can’t wait to dive in. And I also have a copy of Manda Scott’s mammoth work Boudica, which I’ve been putting off until I have the time to do it justice.  I’m looking forward to them both so much!

Sophie Hannah

The perfect summer read, for me, is anything that pins me to my sun-lounger long after I would ordinarily have leaped into the swimming pool – a book worth getting sunstroke for. I have lots of favourite holiday reads dating back several years – the one that springs to mind is ‘The Memory Game’ by Nicci French, which I read on holiday in Florida in 1999. It remains one of the most sophisticated, intelligent, sensitive and gripping thrillers I’ve ever read.

On my holiday this year, I plan to read the new Scott Turow, ‘Innocent’, the sequel to ‘Presumed Innocent’, which I have no doubt will be as stylish and compelling as Turow always is, and ‘The Disappeared’ by MR Hall, a brilliant new crime writer whose series protagonist is a coroner.

Hillary Jordan

My perfect summer read is a beautifully written novel that grabs hold of me on page one, pulls me into another world and doesn’t let go till The End. I think my best ever summer read was Lord of the Rings.

This summer I was hoping to read The Lacuna but am racing to finish my own second novel, Red…so I suspect that’s the only book my nose will be buried in over the next few months!

Paul Magrs

There are several novels I associate with summer – and I’d be keen to reread them at some point during the holiday… R C Sherrif – The Fortnight in September, a suburban family between the wars goes to the seaside. Nothing happens – from everyone’s POV. A perfect novel! Haruki Murakami – The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, it’s long, episodic and puzzling. I read it in Paris last summer and loved it. Scarlett Thomas – The End of Mr Y. This is another holiday read that’s all mind-bendy and completely absorbing and perfect for sitting at cafe tables with strong coffee and fancy ice cream. Jacqueline Susann – The Love Machine. Perfect sleazy soap opera set in the world of 60s television. Jonathan Caroll – The Land of Laughs, a wonderful supernatural thriller about a writer of children’s books.

And, of course, as many unread or favourite Puffins, gobbled up alongside all of these. The papery fragrance of Puffins *is* what summer smells of, to me. Too many, no..?

Dan Rhodes

My reading habits aren’t particularly affected by the seasons, although I did once give up on Kafka’s The Castle while lying on the beach in Majorca. I just couldn’t feel the cold. At the moment I’m going through a cop novel phase. Two in particular I’ve found supremely original and well worth a look: Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis takes a Chinese detective and drops him in the English countryside, and Pocket Notebook by Mike Thomas follows a ‘roided-up firearms officer as his life and career unravel quite spectacularly. Most cop novels are by whey-faced writer types who would run a mile from a genuine crime scene, but Mike Thomas happens to be a serving police officer, which adds a frisson of authenticity to proceedings. Should that matter in fiction? Possibly not, but either way it’s a cracking read. I’m impatient for more from those two.

I’m going to plough through my short story shelf. There’s still plenty of stuff I haven’t read by William Trevor, VS Pritchett, Katherine Mansfield, Paul Bowles, etc, etc. And just when I think I must be nearing the end of Chekhov’s fiction I always seem to find a bunch of stories I’d never heard of. And while I’m on the subject of short stories, may I recommend Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards? I’m always on about this book, but it’s criminally overlooked. It’s one of the best things ever to have happened on Earth.

Natasha Solomons

I remember my summers by the books I was reading. The summer of 2000 wasn’t island hopping through Greece with a slightly dodgy boyfriend and his dodgier moped, it was ‘A Thousand Years of Solitude’. The August I left school was ‘Moontiger’ and ‘A Town Like Alice’  — (which did cause me to develop a slight obsession with the sarong). During summer I want a book that transports me — I want the story to be more real than the British drizzle and to be so compelling that I’m flipping the bbq burgers in one hand and clutching my book in the other.

The books I love this year are Irene Sabatini’s ‘The Boy Next Door’, which has already won the Orange New Writer’s Prize — it’s the love story of a mixed race couple struggling amidst the growing chaos in Zimbabwe. I love these kinds of books: the small and personal set against the vast and cataclysmic. The other is Emma Henderson’s ‘Grace Williams Says it Loud’, which made me cry. The book is inspired by Emma’s own sister who lived for many years in a unit for disabled people. Yet, this is a sweeping love story narrated with such verve by Grace that you forget she is unable to speak. You’ll also fall in love with Daniel — he’s so dapper and debonair. I’ll also be re-reading Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ for the seventieth time. No summer is complete without a little strawberry picking at Donwell Abbey.

Evie Wyld

I love a really massive book for a summer read, and preferably something a bit spooky or scary, like Murakami’s Wind up Bird Chronicles. That was perfect. But this summer I’m looking forward to The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I’ve heard amazing things about this book.

Other things I’m taking on holiday are Larry’s Party by Carol Shields and The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon. I love Carol Shields and I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, and I’ve just been given a copy of the Trout Opera by my partner. He says I’ll love it, and he should know. All Australians I’m afraid!

So there you have it, on Friday and Saturday it’s a two parter of books that some other bloggers (some still haven’t responded tut tut, ha) have suggested for your summer reading TBR’s. Back to today though, anything taken your fancy from the selection of titles above? I am most intrigued by some of them I have to say. Did any authors surprise you with what they could be reading over the summer?

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Filed under Dan Rhodes, Evie Wyld, Hillary Jordan, Maria Barbal, Natasha Solomons, Neil Bartlett, Paul Magrs, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Tess Gerritsen

Should Have Reads 2009

It’s odd to believe that we have two weeks left of the year to go. It is especially irksome when I look at my shelves and see the wonderful books that came out in 2009 that I simply haven’t read yet. I feel most shameful. Then I think hang on a second I have two weeks to go, I can probably polish off another five or six of them by then and that is where you will be coming in shortly!

Last year I did a list of the books at the end of the year that I had meant to read but hadn’t and ten seemed a huge amount to me then. I think this years list will exceed that, we will see when I compile it below, which is odd considering I have read more books this year than I have any other year. I blame a new love of all classics in particular sensation novels partly and the fact that I still had so much I wanted to read at the end of 2008. From my should have read list last year I have only read two of the books I intended to in 2009 (though lots more I didnt intend to), it’s not promising is it?

So now I will hand it over to all of you as you were so helpful with my Gran’s list last week. Which of the following books published in 2009 that I have on the TBR must I really try and read before the year is through?

  • The Devil’s Paintbrush – Jake Arnott
  • All The Nice Girls – Joan Bakewell
  • The Death of Bunny Munro – Nick Cave
  • War on the Margins – Libby Cone
  • The Solitude of Prime Numbers – Paolo Giordano
  • The Lieutenant – Kate Grenville
  • The Other Half Lives – Sophie Hannah
  • The Believers – Zoe Heller
  • A Beginners Guide To Acting English – Shappi Khorsandi
  • Pretty Monsters – Kelly Link
  • Hells Belles – Paul Magrs
  • One Day – David Nicholls
  • The Angels Game – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The First Person and Other Stories – Ali Smith
  • Noah’s Compass – Anne Tyler
  • Legend of a Suicide – David Vann

Actually that’s not as bad as I thought it would be. So over to you… which of these books must I try and devour by the end of the year and why? Which books published in 2009 have I missed and should have tracked down? I am looking forward to your thoughts as ever.

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Filed under Ali Smith, Anne Tyler, Book Thoughts, Books of 2009, Jake Arnott, Kate Grenville, Paul Magrs, Sophie Hannah

Simon’s Bookish Bits #1

So it’s already Saturday once more and I thought I would do another Simon’s Bookish Bits (thanks for all your votes and comments last week) featuring all things bookish that has caught my eye this week. I have to admit I haven’t really been whizzing around the blogs too much over the last week and I blame Gran for that completely, ha, that will get me in trouble.

I have created a new blog though! After having a chat with Kimbofo, who I founded a book group with, we decided that a separate site for The Riverside Readers would be good (my page is looking a bit barer now) and you can pop here and check it out, do feel free to leave feedback over there. I think its nice giving it its own space as it’s out there for everyone in its own right rather than a page on Savidge Reads.

What I have seen on the blogs that have caught my eye are delights such as the link which Thomas at My Porch put up so you can create your own blue plaque and waste a good few hours, lovely! I also thoroughly enjoyed Simon Stuck-in-a-Book’s post on children’s books which I will be doing my own special post about on Tuesday. That doesn’t seem much to report but I do have some serious blog reading catching up today.

I have once more managed to go to a book shop and spend absolutely no money at all. This week it was quite worrying and also shameful as it was at Persephone Books on Lambs Conduit Street. I think I was overwhelmed by all the titles and just being there. I wish I had known of this shop when I worked on Gray’s Inn Road even though it would have meant I would never have had any money. I did manage to get a couple of pics though I didn’t introduce myself as they seemed to be in the middle of a huge mail out or something exciting. Gran loved it; she is now an official Persephone convert.

  

Podcast of the week has to be The Dog Who Came in from the Cold which is the serialised sequel to Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith. I save them for a binge of six in one long listen over the weekend. There’s only ten episodes to go so if you want to download the series you don’t have long left, you can pop here and it’s easy as pie.

Finally, though I have still not bought a book since November (which I will have to break for the next book group choice) somehow several have arrived in the post from lovely publishers. Parcels from Profile, Canongate, Hodder and Headline brought some joys.

  • A Life Like Other Peoples – Alan Bennett
  • Perfumes: The A-Z – Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez
  • The Bird Room – Chris Killen
  • Shades of Grey – Jasper Fforde
  • The Gates – John Connolly
  • Hell’s Belles – Paul Magrs

However Random House seemed to go crazy, in a good way, with all there imprints (Vintage etc) sending me joys in the post. Some of these parcels did date from the 11th of November though, so it seems all is not well in my sorting office, not impressed at least they are arriving now though. Sorry I digressed…

  • Sunday Daffodil & Other Happy Endings – P. Robert Smith (what a fab title)
  • Once on a Moonless Night – Dai Sijie
  • The Mayor’s Tongue – Nathaniel Rich
  • Voluntary Madness – Norah Vincent
  • The Last Dickens – Matthew Pearl
  • The Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
  • Get Me Out of Here – Henry Sutton
  • February – Lisa Moore
  • The Convent – Panos Karnezis

Have you read any of these books or authors? What has been going on for you that’s bookish this week?

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Filed under Alan Bennett, Canongate Publishing, Headline Review, Hodder & Stoughton, Jasper Fforde, John Connolly, Paul Magrs, Persephone Books, Profile Books, Random House Publishing, Simon's Bookish Bits, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics

Conjugal Rites – Paul Magrs

I decided in the lead up to Halloween that rather than read a ‘chilling tale’, I would wait for that on the actual night and instead in the lead up to All Hallows Eve I would read something with a supernatural rather than spooky theme to it instead. Now if you mix a good helping of the supernatural, a few scares, two old ladies, the town of Whitby, lots of mystery and some camp adventure what do you get? Why, the Brenda & Effie mysteries of course.

Conjugal Rites is the third in the Brenda and Effie series though author Paul Magrs manages to make all the books intertwine and yet they can be stand alone books so you could read them in any order. Brenda and Effie live in the seaside town of Whitby, which of course is famous for its supernatural tales such as Dracula. Magrs captures the town wonderfully with all its cobbled streets and touristy hot spots. Amongst all this though lie tales of the supernatural which B&B owning Brenda and Antiquities Shop owner Effie are the unlikely heroines who have been given the task of protecting Whitby from the perils that lurk in the night, and indeed the day.

In this instalment both our elderly heroines have to face their pasts which come back to haunt them (excuse the pun) as it were. One of Brenda’s ex’s Frank turns up making her face her past and literally drags her through hell, whiles Effie faces up to her family past in order to save Brenda along with their delightful sidekick Robert. Though there is a main plot what I also love about this series is every book does actually have several small sub-plots running through them that all accumulates in the end. With wonderful, though evil, characters such as Mrs Claus who owns the Christmas Hotel where every night is Christmas eve and every day is Christmas) I don’t know who could failed to be won over by this series its just marvellous.

Being the third in the series though I am trying not to give too much away even though they are stand alone if you do want to start from the very first one and then go onto the second one before this there are a few secrets I could giveaway that might lessen the fun as you start from the beginning. Was that me slightly over complicating things then? If you love a good plot, or even a few of them, quirky characters including two brilliant leading ladies, lots of laughter and something a bit dark then I think these books would be right up your alley.

I have noticed Paul has started a blog so if you want to find out even more you can go there. There is also one of his other non-supernatural books I have looming on my TBR that this has reminded me I simply must read. It’s called Exchange and it’s about a young man called Simon who along with his Gran has a voracious appetite for books and reading which leads them onto adventures and mysteries. Does that remind you of anyone? Ha!    

For actual Halloween I will be reading We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson which I will share my thoughts with when am back from Manchester. What are you going to be reading by candlelight/torchlight/on the sofa with all the lights on this Halloween?

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Filed under Brenda & Effie, Headline Review, Paul Magrs, Review

Something Borrowed – Paul Magrs

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Brenda & Effie, Headline Review, Paul Magrs, Review

Never The Bride – Paul Magrs

After my difficult times through Twilight earlier in the month I hadn’t planned on reading any fiction that had any spooky goings on for a while. However I will be doing an interview in February with Paul Magrs and so the people at Headline sent me the ‘Brenda and Effie’ series as it stands so far as the latest ‘Conjugal Rites’ is out in Paperback in March and me being me I cant read things if its not in order so I decided after ‘The Spare Room’ I would give this a go as the reviews seemed to all be calling t a black comedy, just my humour and just needed after the subject of the last stupendous book. This was the perfect read and I have to say as this year comes to a close I am finding it harder to choose my favourite books of the year as right now I am reading so much (on the whole) that I completely love.

Brenda runs a B&B in Whitby, she has chosen the location for its peace and quiet and also as somewhere to finally settle along with her best friend Effie she spends various afternoons having tea or having a nice night out together. They also love a gossip and they also love a good nosey into mysterious happenings which seem to be happening a lot more often in Whitby.

Why does everyone come from ‘The Deadly Boutique’ looking several years younger but also growing oddly smaller? Who are the strange Green Family who come and stay with Brenda and have an odd look about them? Who is the new mysterious Mr Alucard? What is really going on at The Christmas Hotel with its scarily sweet owner? In what could be a collection of short stories you are taken on an adventure each time with Brenda and Effie as they bumble along like two slightly warped Miss Marple’s, a character I adore.

Having read some other reviews which said the book was ‘like living in parallel Whitby where demons and vampires live with the locals’ or ‘totally for Goths’ or ‘surreal sci-fi’ my thoughts are ‘no, no, no’. Do not let these reviews put you off as they might have done me. This book shouldn’t be pigeonholed into genres its simply fantastical story telling where spooky goings on happen in a sleepy sea side tourist trap. I wanted to move their instantly and be having afternoon teas with Brenda and Effie straight away.

Magrs has created two brilliant heroines. Brenda is nosey and investigative but kind and thoughtful which balances out Effie’s slightly cynical and misunderstanding nature. Both of them, though Brenda far more so, also have very dark pasts and as the book develops you slowly find out more and more about the two women and the skeletons in their cupboards.

I absolutely loved this as you can probably tell. I didn’t think it was like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in book for I thought it was a wonderful tale about two nosey women, their friendship and what happens when things start to go bump in the night. If you loved Willis Hall, Robin Jarvis or even The Brothers Grim as a youngster then you will love this book as someone older. Or if like me you love Most Haunted, there is a brilliant similar show in the book with hilarious outcomes or anything of a spooky nature. This book has thrills, spills, spooks and a good sprinkling of laughter thrown in. Perfect!

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Filed under Books of 2008, Brenda & Effie, Headline Review, Paul Magrs, Review