Tag Archives: The Readers Podcast

Sometimes You Don’t Want to Read or Blog…

…You just want to take the neighbours dog for a long leisurely walk around the park after a week of being stuck in a balmy hot and bonkers busy office and just take some time out. And that is alright isn’t it?

Walking the Dog

Don’t worry I am not ill. As I was actually walking with Ann and Michael from Books on the Nightstand discussing books in my ears, I also then came home and recorded an episode of The Readers and am now blogging about it – but you know what I mean. Sometimes you need to tear yourself away from what you are reading (even if your book group is only two days a way and you have only read a chapter of the novel) and just sit on a bench out in the real world people watching (while your canine companion is squirrel watching) and just take in life and the fresh air…

Where is your favourite place to take a break from books and the hustle and bustle of the real world?

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Books of 2013; Part II

Blimey, it is the last day of 2013 and before we know it 2014 will be upon us. I hope you have something lovely planned for your New Years Eve? I will be back home in the Peak District with my Mum, aunties and all their children which will be lovely, we are combining Christmas and New Years all in one so much merriment will ensue I am sure. Anyway time for more of my books of 2013. I am continuing the tradition of the last few years, and my inability to whittle books down as favourites, and so this is the second of my books of the year post. Today I celebrate my top ten books that were published for the first time in the UK this year, yesterday I gave you all a list of ten corking books published prior to this year – do have a gander. So without further ado here are my favourite books published this year…

10. The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness

I absolutely adored ‘The Crane Wife’. It made me cry at the start, possibly at the end and a few time, with laughter, through the middle. It has been a good few weeks since I read the book now and I still find myself pondering what has happened to the characters since, always the sign of a good read, and the writing just blew me away.  Patrick Ness says in this book that “A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew.” I hope this story grows to be a huge success as it certainly deserves to be read and loved.

9. The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil – Stephen Collins

There is one word that sums up the whole reading experience of The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil and that is ‘sublime’. I loved everything about it; the imagery, the atmosphere, the message at its heart, everything. It’s a very moving book and one you cannot help but react to, I even shed a tear or two at the end. There is no doubt that to my mind The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil probably has the best title of any book this year, it also looks set to be one of the most memorable books of the year for its contents too. A quite literally, or maybe that should be quite graphically, stunning book and one of my reads of the year.

8. Maggie & Me – Damian Barr

I really loved ‘Maggie and Me’. I related to it – something that only happens to your very core or bones once or twice in a blue reading moon – and empathised with it. It was the sort of book my younger self was crying out for someone to put in my hands. I can only hope some lovely relatives, librarians, teachers or other influential bods make sure this is passed on to both the younger generation, especially those who call rubbish things ‘gay’, and to everyone they know really. Books like this help make being different both more acceptable and understandable, we need them.

7. Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

There is no question that Hannah Kent has crafted an incredibly beautiful novel with ‘Burial Rites’. It is a book which has a sense of isolation and brooding menace throughout and a book where the prose is as sparse (you feel not a word has been wasted) as the Icelandic landscape it is evoking. It is one of my books of the year without question and one lots of people can expect in their season stockings in a few months time. I strongly suggest you read it.

6. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra

‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ is one of those books that Gran would say ‘manages to educate you on something you have little knowledge of’ and ‘makes you walk in a strangers steps, even if the stranger is fictional’. It is a book that isn’t a comfortable read by any stretch of the imagination yet, and I know I am sometimes stuck on repeat when I mention this, I don’t think that fiction should always be neat and comfortable. Sometimes we need brave bold books and authors like this to highlight what is going on or has gone on which we know little about.  Anthony Marra took on a challenge that even an author on their tenth book might not take on and he excels at it. I urge all of you to give this book a try.

5. Alex – Pierre Lemaitre

What Lemaitre actually does with ‘Alex’, which is far more interesting and potent is make you question, as the twists come, what you think is and isn’t morally right and soon this gripping thriller starts to ask so really serious questions of its reader and their ethics. A very clever move indeed, provide a book that makes you think hard about what you might do or what you find to be the ‘right’ thing for someone to do whilst also creating a read which is a complete page turner that has the readers jaw dropping as they go. That is what has made it my thriller of the year so far, it’s genius, and I personally cannot wait for the next one in the Camille series.

4. All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

The way Evie weaves all of this together is just masterful. She doesn’t simply go for the route of alternating chapters from Jake’s present and her past, which would be too simple and has been done before. In the present Evie makes the story move forward with Jake from the latest sheep mauling, in the past though we go backwards making the reader have to work at making everything make sense. I had several ‘oh bloody hell that is why she is where she is’ moments with the past storyline before thinking ‘what there is more, that might not be the reason…’ Jakes mistrust of things it seems it catching. This style is a gamble and admittedly initially requires a leap of faith and chapter or two of acclimatizing to the structure, yet it is a gamble which pays of dividends by the end and if you see the end coming, and aren’t left completely jaw droppingly winded by it, then you are a blooming genius. I was honestly blown away.

2= Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Atkinson is a master of prose in my eyes. I love the way she gives the readers discreet asides and occasional knowing winks. I love her sense of humour, especially when it is at its most wicked and occasionally inappropriate. I think the way her characters come to life is marvellous and the atmosphere in the book, particularly during the strands during World War II and during the London Blitz (though I didn’t think the Hitler parts of the book were needed, even if I loved the brief mention of Unity Mitford) along with the tale of her possible marriage were outstandingly written. There is also the element of family saga, the history of Britain from 1910 onwards and also how the lives of women have changed – all interesting themes which Atkinson deals with throughout.

2 = Magda – Meike Ziervogel

Two of the biggest powers that books can have are to make us think outside our usual periphery or be a spring board to discovering more about subjects we think we know. Some books can do both, they are a rarity though. Magda, the debut novel from Meike Ziervogel, is one such book which gave me both a different outlook on something I thought I had made my mind up about and left me desperate to find out more when challenged. It is the sort of book where I simply want to write ‘you have to read this book’ and leave it at that so you all do, yet it is also one that is designed to be talked about and the questions it raises be discussed.

1. The Language of Dying – Sarah Pinborough

I thought The Language of Dying was a wonderful book for its rawness and emotion. It is a book that I really experienced and one which I am so glad I have read for the cathartic and emotional effects it had on me (I was openly weeping often) and proved that sometimes books are exactly what you need and can show you truths you think no one else quite understands apart from you. I can’t recommend it enough, without question my book of the year.

I have to say I struggled with this list rather a lot. If any of you have listened to the latest episode of The Readers you will have heard me shamelessly cheating as Gavin and I discuss twelve books we are each looking forward to in 2014. So I will here cheat slightly and say that Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English, Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave, Bernadine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman, and particularly both Deborah Levy’s Black Vodka and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, could all easily have made the cut. Maybe I should have created a top twenty?

So which of these have you read and loved? What have been your books of 2013? What are you doing for New Years Eve?

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Wrapping Up For The Year…

As each year comes to a close I have the same feeling of needing to wrap up (pun slightly intended) my reading, the blog and just my life in general. I have always been a fan of seeing every New Year as a new start. Out with the old and in with the new, sort of. The feeling has suddenly come upon me late this year as it only really hit home that we don’t have much of 2013 left earlier today, twice.

Firstly I had the pleasure of interviewing Christos Tsiolkas (who is bloody lovely) about his new novel Barracuda for You Wrote The Book. The book isn’t out in the UK till the beginning of January and the podcast will follow, but it suddenly made me realise 2014 wasn’t far away at all, despite the fact that in my head it is months away – a small wake up call. Unlike some bloggers (who I call show offs, ha, ha) I haven’t started reading books of 2014 unless they are to record podcasts or the like for next year – there are too many books from 2013 (and actually EVERY year before that but I won’t freak myself out) I still haven’t read yet!!

This was followed this afternoon by recording the penultimate episode of The Readers for 2014 and my last with Thomas (as Gavin is back for a special episode discussing the books to look out for in 2014 – there it is again – on the 31st) before the new year starts. We were discussing books we would like to get for Christmas and books we would like to give, the latter being some of our individual books of the year, another reminder it was nearly over. Then the second section of the show really hit the fact home as we discussed resolutions for 2014; what mine are shall remain a secret for a little while longer. But it really hit home and I had a mini panic.

Had I got my lists of Books of 2013 ready? No. Have I reviewed all the books that will make my list of books of the year? No. Have I worked out how many reviews I can fit in within the last few weeks of the year? No. (I have a weird habit of not liking to review books I read in the year before the following year, even if in fact it was read a few days ago. I also have a weird habit of not allowing myself to be mid-read as the New Year starts.)Have I read all the books that I meant to before I start afresh in 2014? No. And that was just the tip of the panic iceberg! I then realised I start a new job next Monday so how will I fit all this in, what with Christmas to and oh… oh… oh!

Several hours later I am much calmer. There are piles of all the books I haven’t reviewed yet and should, of which there are over twenty; some will be reviewed alone, some in bulk, some not reviewed at all – sorry about the latter I have either forgotten them or enjoyed them but don’t have enough thoughts to make a blog post on. Then I went through a selection of books I have on a secret hidden shelf, the unfinished books, and simply popped them on a pile to give away. After my time with The Luminaries I have decided I need to be tougher, better at letting go and just ditching something that isn’t working. Unreviews will have to start next year though as some of these have been half read for months and my thoughts on them are a little hazy and nonchalant – probably why I have never gone back to them.

So now I can get my house, well blog, in order for the New Year which will be a new start both in my reading and my blogging (which is really going to change next year – I have been mulling and plotting the blogosphere and my blog for some time now) and now the only question is which books do I think I want to spend the rest of the year with? I feel it is time to head for some old favourites or new comfort reads? Not quite time for any more books of 2014 just yet, they can wait – it is time for some simple self indulgence. What about all of you though? Do you feel you that the oncoming of a new year signifies a time to put your reading thoughts in order? An ending of one reading year and a start of another and all the experiences it will bring? Do you read more comfort reads and old favourites over the festive season?  Do you have any end of year reading traditions of ticks like I do?

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The Internet & Reading

Sometimes, even though it lasts 40 minutes, there are sometimes subjects that we cover on The Readers that either I feel like I need to add to or simply want to discuss on the blog in more detail. On the latest episode Thomas and I talked about the internet and how it has affected books and reading and so I thought I would bring the discussion here because the more you think about it the internet has changed the book world even more than we think both in good and bad ways. Being a bit of a cynic, only a slight one, almost every ‘pro’ has a slight ‘con’ twist to it in my view but it’s not all bad, not all bad by far.

The first way in which it has most obviously changed has got to be blogs, vlogs and podcasts. The rise of the blog across the whole of the internet has been vast. Even in the years since I started blogging, talking out into the empty ether for a few years, the amount of book blogs has more than quadrupled. It is wonderful that there are so many of us, I just can’t keep up. In a time when review pages in the broadsheets are down there are now lots of places for books to be discussed and reviewed that aren’t just book forum sites etc. That said I do wonder if it has created a small monster in terms of book blaggers, which I have discussed before, you know the blogs that appear write some reviews ask for lots of review copies and then never seem to read them. Those. That has almost created a competitive edge to blogging of who can read what first, which I think is really sad.

The second thing, and probably actually the biggest change, is the arrival of e-books and the e-reader. This has made books available anywhere at any time, even if you might not be able to log on another countries version of a certain site you can the publisher and download there. Yet as this means we can bridge the gap of books coming out at different times in different territories it also means that a whole new world of self published books, some which have become huge hits and ended up in print and some which are utter bobbins and clog up the bookish parts of the internet, everyone can be an author now!

The third and possibly most obvious change is what social media has done with books. I remember being really reluctant to join Twitter as I couldn’t see it as a bookish vehicle of any kind, who knew it would be a haven for much bookish geekery? If I want to have a chat about what I am reading, or thinking of reading where is better to pop in and have a chat? If I want to have a chat, or in some cases try and have a chat, with an author about a book where is quicker? It is marvellous. The only issues with it are when some people (authors, publishers, and bloggers) don’t know when to shut up. I don’t mean Twitterer’s diaorrhea, as I call it, which I occasionally get when I find I can’t stop binge tweeting but more a case of inflated egos or attitudes of self importance. I think sometimes people take the word ‘followers’ a little too literally and think they are some super/superior voice – always awkward to watch. Or there are the ‘controversial’ tweets begging for attention, or the misers just moaning about everything. I am a strong believer that Twitter should be a happy place, but the with fake profiles and anonymous comments sadly one of the biggest cons of the internet is how vile people can be and get away with it. Anyway, I digress; there is also the fact that if I tweeted less (and indeed the blog could fall under this category) then maybe I would read more? The distraction factor…

Let us move to the most positive parts though and for me personally there are two. The first is that a book has always been a spring board of sorts to go and discover more, initially through the power of fiction as it is what I read the most of, and then in the past I would go off and find non-fiction around any subjects the book brought up. Now of course, thanks to the internet, I can finish a book and go off and find out more from the tapping of a few buttons. For example, after I read Magda, I went off and found documentaries about the Goebbels, other books I could read, films I could watch. I had done all of this in a few minutes, which frankly is amazing and shows what a great tool it can be. Though I have yet to go as far as Thomas and actually look up somewhere the author describes to see it in the flesh, I leave the authors descriptions and the images they create or it breaks the spell. You can also find out more about the author and interviews about why have written the book, what else they have written etc. Simple Googling. In fact Thomas made me laugh and laugh as he was saying how when, in Rebecca (a book I am not sure if I have mentioned on the blog), the narrator firsts meets Maxim Thomas wondered why she didn’t Google him to check his credentials – alas she didn’t have an iPhone.

The other equally wonderful thing about the internet of course, which is all down to blogging and social media with all their pro’s and con’s, is the people I have now befriended through books and the conversations we have had, readalongs we’ve taken part in, the podcasts we have made and book groups we have started or joined. That is probably the best thing about it, be they on the internet or have they actually led to meeting in real life. They/you have made me think, made me laugh in some of the darkest times (Gran being ill and dying, me being ill, my marriage breaking down), made me think and rethink and led me to some amazing books and brilliant conversation. Reading is a lonely hobby, and sometimes the internet breaks that down whilst finding you something else fabulous to read. Can’t really fault that overall can you?

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Other People’s Bookshelves #20 – Gavin Pugh

So this week’s Other People’s Bookshelves is a little bit late but that is because I wanted to do something special for its 20th post in the series and have a special guest and delayed it to match that special guests birthday (21 again). Yes this week it is none other than my bookish beardy best mate the lovely, lovely Gavin C. Pugh. Really he doesn’t need an introduction, many of you will have followed his blog or seen him around Twitter (where he is like a bookish Lady Gaga in terms of followers) as @GavReads.

He describes himself as a social reader and has only recently admitted to collecting books. He was the original co-host of The Readers podcast with me, and will be back at some point, though now does more behind the scenes producing The Readers and You Wrote The Book where he makes me sound better and less inept – oh if only you all knew! He is back with a new podcast called Hear Read This! with Kate and Rob from Adventures with Words any myself too. He’s mainly known for loving SFF but he’ll delve into reality every now and again. He’s currently running NoCloaksAllowed.com and going to be reviewing a piece of shorter fiction a day for the next year. So wish him luck. Now let’s go and nosey through his shelves…

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

That’s a huge question. Before I moved to university I had 3 tall book cases 10 years ago and at the time I squeezed as many of those books as I could into my car to take with me. I couldn’t store them all so I had a big cull. Don’t worry too much it was things like Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson, so books that I wouldn’t reread. But I did get a feel for culling books. And I can be quite heartless if I need some space. That doesn’t mean that I have room for books. Right now, I’ve got six tall and wide book cases at the minute and a couple of piles keeping my desk up.

Now, this is a confession… I worked out recently that I had 483 or so unread books in the house so my read books have to be extra special to stay. I’m not sentimental though I sort of wish that I did keep the Anne McCaffery and Robert Rankin books from my teens. I did keep my Terry Pratchett books and those really do need two shelves now especially with the new Gollancz hardbacks coming out as I’ve definitely run out of room. I’ve culled books that I loved as if I’m not going to re-read it usually goes unless there is some other reason. I’ve started collecting certain books so I am now especially keeping books to make collections. You might see Adam Roberts for example and I bought the first edition of Stone as I read it from the library and really missed not having a copy. I buy and acquire more books faster than I can read them. I envy people’s restraint who can do one in one out.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

My shelves are currently quite organised. I’d love to make them alphabetical but I think I’d have to cull them by half so I could see them all rather than have half of them hidden by double spacing as they are now. Before I had a bit of a tidy up the Neal Asher books for example were all over the house they are now all together even if they can’t all be lined up. And that made a big difference to how I looked at my bookshelves. Before it was a case of anywhere that I could find a space! Now I try and keep them together through some sort of link, hover tenuous that is. Though that does mean that Jim Butcher and Peter F. Hamilton have got buried. I do like seeing them together. The yellow-spined SF Masterworks are together but only I know what I’ve read as I don’t keep read and unread separated. And it’s lovely to see The Readers Book Club books all on the shelf together.

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I have this big shelf of writing-related books that’s quite scary to look at – does one person need that many writing books I wonder? But I can’t bear to part with them. Actually, I’m ignoring the elephant in the room. As a reviewer and book-cheerleader I get a fair few review copies and they sometimes get shelf space while they wait but mostly new ones are on the floor in front of the shelves. But without reviewing I’d have a lot of books. I buy a lot of ebooks (sorry Simon) rather than physical copies though I’m swinging the other way and buying physical copies if there is a change I’d want them around to look at after I’ve read them. The other thing I do, like with the short stories, is to be able to pull those books off the shelves and pile them on my desk for reference and easy grabbing.
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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now? 

You know I honestly can’t remember. I got a lot of books from the library when I learning what I liked as a reader. I’ve always been a reader but I didn’t gain traction until I was 16 and that was all down to The Witches Collection that Gollancz published collecting Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad and that got me hooked and I devoured all the Discworld books and kept myself topped up as they game out every 6 months for a while. I don’t have it anymore but I do have the individual volumes.

The thing I’m really bad at is overbuying books. I’ve not read the Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen mysteries yet, but I like having them around. There are some books that I bought when I was first getting into books hidden behind others on the shelves. I’ve always gorged on books. One thing I don’t do is buy second hand books but there is a copy of Storm Constantine’s Stalking Tender Prey as I lost it in a move and couldn’t do without having it on the shelve as battered and smelly as it is.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

You know, I’m a little embarrassed by my poetry collection. It’s very different from SFF that I’m known for reading. It’s probably that I don’t know many people to ‘geek-out’ with the same way I can do with you or with people on twitter. Though I think poetry is a powerful thing that I wish more people weren’t put off by in school.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I did have a no-burn shelf but since reorganisation they are a bit scattered. I don’t really go for signed books. I have a few signed books but almost all of those are mementoes of meeting an author and that makes a story and a connection. I have signed books by a few of my heroes Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Mark Chadbourn, Storm Constantine, Neal Asher and Garth Nix for example. Some celeb books like Russell T. Davies, John Barrowman, and Barry Humphries. I have books signed by friends that I’d have to try and grab. The Terry Prachett hardcovers. And then there are some ARCS (advanced reading copies) that I’ve been lucky enough to acquire that are special to me like Horns by Joe Hill. Though a lot of books that I would grab because they are OOP have found a new life in ebook so I’d leave those until last like The Great Game by Dave Duncan and the Mark Chadbourn series – sorry Mark. Oh I almost forgot China Miéville – I’d grab those first as most are signed and he’s an amazing writer that I love seeing on the shelves.

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What is the first ‘grown up, and I dont mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Greyway, that you remember on your parents shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I guess you’d say that was Stephen King and Dolores Claiborne. Stephen King for me is very hit and miss author. I’ve tried a good many of his books some like Gerald’s Game, which should be shocking didn’t grab me and some like The Stand I didn’t see why they were talking so long. I love Under the Dome but I don’t have a copy any more but Dolores Claiborne is the book that I’ve bought and given away about 5 times and it’s currently missing. I need to buy another copy soon as I like rereading it. It’s got no horror in it as such but tells the lives of two women as they grow old together.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

This is one reason that I’m really sad that libraries are disappearing as I’ve read some books when I was finding myself as a reader that are missing from the shelves like Martin Bauman by David Leavitt that I should have got around to re-buying but it’s not a book I want to read again mostly as it was such a powerful book the first time that I don’t think a second reading will live up to that. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman I did end up buying though I thought I would reread it much earlier than I actually did and then I listened to it as an audiobook so that doesn’t really count as I still didn’t open the actual copy on the shelves. I guess that’s one reason why I’m ruthless at culling is that once I’ve read a book I have to be honest  if I’ll reread them and that I’m not just holding on to books in the vague hope they’ll be useful later. Saying that though now I’ve admitted I’m a collector I have a much better excuse for keeping more books.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

One thing I love about twitter is that it’s so easy to call out and get good book recommendations. I did that recently and got back suggestions of Murial Spark The Driver’s Seat and Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckingridge & Myron. I can’t remember what the criteria was now but I tend to ask for older books that people love.

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Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you dont currently?

I’ve already mentioned Martin Bauman. I’m a little sad that I gave away Un Lun Dun by China Miéville  as that’s a proper collection gap. Also when I was a student I didn’t by Making Money by Terry Pratchett and a couple of weeks ago I bought a first edition hardback to fill that gap. I can’t find my hardback of Thud!, another Pratchett, and I could swear I bought the hardback so I might have to get a first edition of that soon.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

Having a wall of books in the living room, which is four of the bookcases, is an impressive sight. I think it shows a person that loves reading. To be honest I’m sure that they’d know a fraction of the authors that I have. They’d probably be more impressed by the soft toys that have been placed here and there amongst the shelves.

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A huge thanks to Gavin for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Also, without sounding daft, a huge thanks to him for being a brilliant bookish bud, he’s ace.  If you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Gav’s responses and/or any of the books/authors that he mentioned? Don’t forget to wish him a Happy **th Birthday too!

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Radio Silence/Radio Savidge

That blinking thing called work is a pesky so and so isn’t it? Every time I think I am going to get back into the swing of things something like an International Music Festival comes along and reading, let along blogging, goes out of the window. On a serious note – I am actually really, really loving my new job. Second to books in my life is definitely music (family and friends are somewhere along the pecking order) so to work on a new exciting project like this is bloody amazing really. If that wasn’t enough the people are also bloody lovely (it is all bloody lovely really) and they are being really supportive with everything that is going on with Gran, no change there at the moment.

The blog has been suffering a little though I will admit, though I think (blowing my own trumpet maybe, as you may all disagree) that my reviews have become more ‘me’ I think. Still a work in progress as always but I feel much happier putting them out, even if they are taking (and becoming) a bit longer. Let me know if you think otherwise!

Anyway, I realised that whilst my blogging has gone a bit more sporadic there are three other ways you can catch up with me being bookish and those are the podcasts I am on, and this got me thinking about Radio Savidge. You see there are the three podcasts I do (The Readers, The Readers Book Club) and also the podcasts that I am always listening to and so I thought I should share some of them with you so that, should you fancy, you can hear me waffling on about books or listen to a few of the podcasts I have in my ears at the moment.

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So as some of you will know I host two book groups, one which also has a monthly spin off. The first is ‘The Readers’, which has now gone fortnightly, which I co-host with the bloody lovely Gavin of Gav Reads. We subtitled it ‘Book Based Banter’ because generally we waffle on, and off on tangents, about books for roughly 30/40mins per episode. We also have a monthly book club which we have now made seasonal. For the summer selection we have gone for ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ by Tarquin Hall, which you can hear here and see my review of here, and for July we have ‘Snake Ropes’ by Jess Richards (which we are recording next Wednesday) and ‘The Last Banquet’ by Jonathan Grimwood in August. Each show features Gav and I discussing the book, being joined by the author and sometimes a special guest PLUS asking your questions. So, if you have any for Jess or John let me know.

The final podcast I am involved with is the one I host alone. You Wrote The Book! is a fortnightly ‘in conversation’ show where I (lightly) grill an author. Some people love author interviews, some people loath them, I love them as I find authors brains rather fascinating and I have been very, very lucky as already I have had Evie Wyld, John Boyne, Xiaolu Guo, Alan Bradley, Taiye Selasi, Joanne Harris, Patrick Ness, Damian Barr and Maggie O’Farrell on the show! Eek, squeal. If you fancy having a listen to them you can do here.

Sorry about that slightly shameless plug, I will now redeem myself by sharing three of my favourite bookish podcasts that I listen to every episode without fail and think you should be checking out too. First up is ‘Books on the Nightstand’ which I think I have raved about endlessly already on several occasions. Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness have become firm friends of mine, though we have never met, simply through hearing them and tweeting bookish stuff with them. They both work for random, know their books, love their books and are brimming with recommendations – recently they discussed ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon’ by
Anthony Marra which had completely gone under my radar and was absolutely amazing, A–MAZ–ING! Next up are another duo, who also happen to be boyfriend and girlfriend (does playground giggle behind hand) too, in the form of Rob and Kate who make up ‘Adventures With Words’, this is another weekly podcast and I often sit with a cuppa and listen, occasionally responding to them before realising I am not in the same room as them, oops. Finally, another duo, only this time related as Trevor of Mookse and Gripes blog now does a podcast with his brother discussing NYRB classics, with the occasional extra show thrown in for good measure.

I could of course mention the vodcast of the ABC Book Club, formerly The First Tuesday Book Club with my heroine Marieke Hardy, and also the Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman, who I am currently slightly obsessed by and who I would like to steal many an interview technique off as well as spend many hours with discussing books. They are two further goldmines of audio joy, well one is visual too. Oh, I mentioned them anyway.

So which podcasts do you listen to regularly that I should be adding to my own Savidge Radio Station? Do we listen to any of the same ones?

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The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist

So they have been announced, the twenty titles that make the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Longlist, and after my guesses yesterday I can reveal that I guessed a whopping… four! More on that shortly, first though here is the list of the twenty titles…

Kitty Aldridge – A Trick I Learned From Dead Men (Jonathan Cape)
Kate Atkinson – Life After Life (Doubleday)
Ros Barber – The Marlow Papers (Sceptre)
Shani Boianjiu – The People of Forever are Not Afraid (Hogarth)
Gillian Flynn – Gone Girl (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Sheila Heti – How Should a Person Be? (Harvill Secker)
A M Homes – May We Be Forgiven (Granta)
Barbara Kingsolver – Flight Behaviour (Faber & Faber)
Deborah Copaken Kogen – The Red Book (Virago)
Hilary Mantel – Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Bonnie Nadzam – Lamb (Hutchinson)
Emily Perkins – The Forrests (Bloomsbury Circus)
Michèle Roberts – Ignorance (Bloomsbury)
Francesca Segal – The Innocents (Chatto & Windus)
Maria Semple – Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Elif Shafak – Honour (Viking)
Zadie Smith – NW (Hamish Hamilton)
M L Stedman – The Light Between Oceans (Doubleday)
Carrie Tiffany – Mateship with Birds (Picador)
G Willow Wilson – Alif the Unseen (Corvus Books)

I have made the ones I have read in bold and linked to them if I have reviewed them, I have also put all the ones I have in mount TBR in italics. What you possibly might want to know is what I think of the list overall though maybe? Well, I have to say that I rather like it.

The talking points are of course going to be, firstly, Hilary Mantel. I can only imagine that there will be lots of people groaning about how she is up for yet another award and isn’t it unfair she is winning all these awards because she wrote such a brilliant book – honestly this whole attitude of slating someone for writing something that apparently, I haven’t read it yet though now I am more tempted, many people think is one of the very best books of the year is just mean. She has written a great book, the best books are meant to win prizes, let her enjoy it and please shut the **** up moaning about it and say something positive. Alas in the same vein I think the second point will be the ‘oh my god a crime book is on the list’ with Gillian Flynn and ‘Gone Girl’, a book I loved and am delighted is on the list – indeed I guessed it might be.

Speaking of guesses, yes I am sad that Kerry Hudson, Nell Leyshon, Maggie O’Farrell etc have missed out, especially as the Emily Perkins novel that I really didn’t get on with is on the list, but yippee Kate Atkinson is on it, and I predicted she would win it back on January the 1st in an episode of the Readers podcast. Let us continue on that positive note and look at the thing that really excites me about the list… The books I have never bloody heard of! These are, for me, what a longlist is all about – well, apart from the fact longlists make us look at books and talk about them, a lot.

I am really keen to find out more about the ones I don’t have here at home, especially the authors that I haven’t heard of, I tried the Smith and the Kingsolver and they didn’t grab me when I got them. I have heard of all the books or the authors bar three and those are the ones which really strike me as books I might need to get my mitts on. They are Deborah Copaken Kogen’s ‘The Red Book’, Carrie Tiffany’s ‘Mateship With Birds’ and ‘The People of Forever are Not Afraid’ by Shani Boianjiu. The latter two in particular as the Tiffany sounds right up my street as I love books set in the middle of the countryside/nowhere and how that effects people, the Boianjiu also sounds like it would be outside my normal reading remit which is something I am desperately looking for at the moment. In fact I will be discussing reading diets, and the fact I think I need to change my reading tastes a bit later today.

In the meantime though, what do you make of the Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist above? Which of the books have you read and what did you make of them? Are there any books you are shocked to see on there or missing from there? Do you think Flynn vs. Mantel will be the big story? Is anyone planning on reading them all (I am going to read some if the whim takes, probably the two I mentioned I know nothing about, maybe) at all?

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Magpies, Sheep and Tigers (Honestly, I Haven’t Lost the Plot!)

Whilst it is not an attractive attribute I have to admit that I get jealous sometimes. The green eyed monster in me rears its ugly head now and again. For example if someone looks at my other half a certain way, if the evil lady downstairs tries to feed my cat, if I see someone tweeting a picture of a giant custard slice they are about to eat, etc, etc.  This also happens with other peoples reading habits weirdly and catching up with a friend last week and asking them what they were reading sparked it off again and lead me to thinking about magpies, sheep and tigers – I promise this will make some sort of sense.

My friend who will remain nameless, though I wasn’t so discreet on this week’s episode of The Readers podcast, but suffice to say I have always been rather envious of their ability to find books and authors that are off the mainstream, invariably I have never heard of, and that sound amazing. Their latest read was no exception. I had never heard of Amelie Northomb before and therefore not ‘The Character of Rain’ which sounds amazing frankly. “The Japanese believe that until the age of three, children are gods, each one a ‘Lord Child’. On their third birthday they fall from grace and join the rest of humanity. Narrated by a child – from the age of two and a half up until her third birthday – this novel reveals that the move from deity to ordinary member of the human race can be a very difficult thing indeed from which to recover.” Doesn’t that just sound brilliant?

I asked where my friend had heard of this and the response was “oh, I just came across one of her other books and really liked her”, why does this not happen to me? Or am I being too hard on myself? Managing not to sulk slightly at the ability to discover these gems we finished nattering away but I was left thinking about it. I realised that my friend is a tiger (or any other animal that tends to live alone apart from mating), if we apply animal analogies to ourselves as readers (I do this with all sorts of things, did I just hear someone whisper ‘how weird’?), as they go off alone and hunt down hidden treats lost in the wilderness. What am I?

I worryingly started to think I was either a magpie or a sheep. You see magpies spot beautiful new shiny things, like books, and simply have to have them. They also kill competitors young; I have yet to do that so maybe I am ok. In my head magpies also start off with one shiny thing, grab it, and then decide they want another shiny thing. Fickle some people might say. Though I don’t tend to do this all the time I have noticed I do like the shiny new books, though I am now trying to go for older more classic (both modern classic and ‘classic’ classic) so maybe that makes me an owl? I have been talking about magpie behaviour a lot as it’s something that I don’t think that I like in my own character. But I guess we all do it don’t we? Though I don’t actually ask for many books via Savidge Reads, in fact I had to explain only last week that in a picture of nineteen books that had arrived in a week fourteen were unsolicited.

Why do I also think I am a sheep? Well I have noticed that if everyone is going on about a book or if I hear a rave review on a podcast/blog then I want to read that and follow the crowd. This has happened with ‘The Twelve Tribes of Hattie’ by Ayana Mathis. Oprah announced it was on her book club, the publishing world went mad about it, everyone wanted to read it and so did I. I got it before Christmas, and I have only just started it. It has now also happened with Amelie Northomb too, my friend mentioned it and so I have picked up ‘The Character of Rain’ and ‘Sulphuric Acid’, from the library since. That said I was about to start Hilary Mantel’s ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ again when it won the Costa and I decided as everyone else was going to be going crazy for it I really didn’t want to read it. What animals are crazy and completely contradict themselves, maybe I am one of those?

I thought I would put all this madness out there to you all to chat with me about. Do you think that actually we all have the magpie effect in built in us and it’s just natural to crave the new and shiny? Do you also think we all like to be a little like sheep and follow a crowd because reading is by its very nature a lonely pass time and we like to join book groups or have discussions one on one or on blogs and forums etc because of that? Do you sometimes crave to be someone who goes off and finds undiscovered gems, or lesser known ones, that you can tell everyone else about and get them excited about? I would love, as always, to know your thoughts – it might make me feel a little less barmy, ha!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Tom-All-Alone’s – Lynn Shepherd

I have always been a little dubious about books that are sequels, prequels or tales that combine a great classic in them. I have tried a few spin offs in my time and firstly there is the question of if they can live up to the classic itself and secondly can they provide anything original to the world we most likely already know, this has also made me wonder how limiting it can be or is it just an author regurgitating another authors ideas? So when Gavin chose ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’, or ‘The Solitary House’ as it is known in North America, for the latest Readers Book Club, I have to admit I went into it with some trepidation, especially as I had not read Dickens’ ‘Bleak House’ which this book runs alongside.

*** Corsair Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

As ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ opens in 1850’s London we meet Charles Maddox, a former policeman and now private investigator in the days when ‘the Detective’ is a role that is just forming. Maddox has just been given a second case to track down the writer of some threatening letters by the eminent and feared lawyer Edward Tulkinghorn, a new case being just what Maddox needs as the only other case he has got, finding a long lost girl in London (rather like finding a needle in a haystack) is dragging, even if the new case seems a small one. However as Maddox investigates people start to die and he realises that there is much more than meets the eye of these letters and indeed the man who hired him to solve the riddle.

The premise of the book is an intriguing one. I have to admit though that I was thrown from the start by the narration of the novel initially. The voice we get is a modern one and one that tells us the tale in an all-seeing and all knowing way. If a character misses something, the narrator points it out and the fact the character misses it, there a quips and factual asides and whilst there was no denying it was readable it initially jarred with me a bit. Who was this narrator, why were they so all knowing, was I being patronised, was I being played with? I couldn’t work it out, which initially annoyed me but then intrigued me. Then suddenly everything changed again and we were being told a completely different story from a completely different perspective in the form of a young woman named Hester. Stranger and stranger as I read on and found Dickens himself appearing in the book I found myself thinking ‘blimey, Ms Shepherd likes to take a risk with her readers’.

“As we wait for the slow dark hours to pass, we might do no worse than stand, as Dickens himself once stood, in the irregular square at the crossing point of the seven narrow passages that give this place its name. Dickens talked of arriving ‘Belzoni-like, at the entrance’, and if you’re thinking that you’ve heard that name before and recently, then you’re right. It was this same Giovanni Belzoni who brought back the sarcophagus that holds pride of place in Mr Tulkinghorn’s labyrinthine collection. It was the same Belzoni, moreover, who was the first to find entrance to the inner chamber of the second pyramid of Giza, and the first to penetrate inside. Hence, I suppose, Dickens’ choice of analogy. It is certainly true that Egypt can hold no darker ways, no more obscure secrets, and no more foreboding, claustrophobic tunnels than those that confront us here. In the brightest daylight it’s hard to see far, the air is so dense with grit and coal smoke, and even a ‘regular Londoner’ would hesitate to come here by night, as we have. So let us explore a little, while we wait for Charles.”

I think that excerpt shows both sides pro and con of the prose style whilst you are getting used to it. There is the all knowing, the factual references and yet there is a sense of mystery and also the atmosphere of the city at the time. This is a Marmite technique though as people will either love it or hate it. I have to admit that if ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ had not been a book that I was reading for the Readers Book Club then I think I probably would have stopped reading at this point as I was feeling so thrown by it all even though I was loving the world Lynn Shepherd was creating. However, as with any book group read I encounter no matter how tricky it is I do read on (yes Elizabeth Gaskell and that ‘Mary Barton’ I am thinking of you) and in this particular case I am really glad I did because I would have missed out. As the book went on I stopped noticing the style and found myself completely immersed in the era and the twists and turns in the tale.

Lynn Shepherd clearly loves the Victorian era and that comes across in every single page and becomes contagious. It was some of the observations of London at the time, and the aside stories of prostitutes, unwanted babies and what happened to them, grisly murders etc, and little set pieces off the central story that really hooked me in. I also thought the fact that she weaves several mysteries, as there are really four at the heart of this book, so cleverly and so confusingly (in a good way) really added to its charms.

So what about its relation to ‘Bleak House’? Well, whilst I have not read the book I decided – in the name of research and so we could have a more rounded discussion with Lynn for the podcast, I would watch the BBC adaptation (which The Beard oddly adored) so I could compare. I was amazed how little of the whole story she used though Tulkinghorn and an important thing that happens to him in ‘Bleak House’ does very much become part of the mysteries here. Speaking to Lynn, which know not every reader will be lucky enough to do, did make sense of the narration in the book though, that is how Dickens’ does it in ‘Bleak House’ and makes me think that while it stands alone, as Gavin’s review will tell you as he had not read ‘Bleak House’, I think having read the classic might help you get into the book better.

Overall I enjoyed ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ yet like another Victorian based book I read recently I would have liked it to have been longer as so much is going on, and I am not saying that because ‘Bleak House’ is a monster book. I was happy with what I got out of the book yet I would have liked more of Charles Maddox’s domestic story, how he moves in with his uncle (another crime mastermind who reminded me of an elderly Holmes, also called Charles Maddox) who is in the start of what I hazarded was dementia and the relationship between Maddox and Molly. I would also have liked longer for the threads to build up and a slightly more drawn out ending which all comes so quickly, the book suddenly revs up about two thirds in and that bit is addictive. This is all, though I am worrying it doesn’t sound it, a compliment to Lynn Shepherd’s writing… I wanted more of it over a longer tale. I loved the atmosphere and her characters, so I am hoping a Maddox standalone of any literary nod is on the cards, though I will be interested to see what he does with the Shelley’s next too. Oh and biggest compliment of all – I now want to read, and have indeed bought, ‘Bleak House’ all for myself. I never thought I would find myself saying that.

You can see Gavin’s review here and listen to us talking to Lynn here. Who else had read ‘Tom-All-Alone’s’ and what did you think? If you read it without reading (or watching, cough) ‘Bleak House’ how did you find it? What about if you had read (mumbles again, or watched) ‘Bleak House’ what was your reaction? Did anyone wonder how Dickens might have reacted to Shepherd’s twist on Tulkinghorn’s character at the end? Are you planning on reading this at any point? I would highly recommend this as a book group choice as it would be sure to create some lively discussion. All thoughts welcomed as always.

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Filed under Constable & Robinson Publishing, Corsair Books, Lynn Shepherd, Review, The Readers Podcast

‘New Adult’ Fiction; What is the Point?

One of the many things that I love about recording The Readers every week, with Gavin of Gav Reads, is that it makes me think about (and in this case have a rant about) things that I wouldn’t expect it to. This week Gavin wanted to talk about the genre of ‘New Adult’ fiction, I have to admit I knew very little about it to be honest and so I went off and did some research. Having done so I have to admit that my main thought with it is… What is the point of ‘New Adult’ as a genre?

If we use the trusted source (my tongue is slightly tickling my cheek here) Wikipedia for a definition then it is “New-adult Fiction or post-adolescent literature is a recent category of fiction for young adults first proposed by St. Martin’s Press in 2009.St. Martin’s Press editors wanted to address the coming-of-age that also happens in a young person’s twenties. They wanted to consider stories about young adults who were legally adults, but who were still finding their way in building a life and figuring out what it means to be an adult.” What is all the more interesting/odd is that the age range for this new type of genre is according to several sources the age range of 14 – 35.

Now we will slightly gloss over my main issue that this is a genre simply created by some marketing people in a publishing house to sell more books which is no bad thing, until you see some of the quality of some of the books and the sort of stories they are. Snobbish? Maybe! It seems like a cash cow and one which I find a mixture of patronizing and perturbing.

My first concern is that the first book which has been published as a ‘new adult’ novel is Tammara Webber’s ‘Easy’, which starts with the protagonist of the book getting raped. I am aware this happens in the world and that younger people need to be taught the hardships of life (though in my day it was being taught about death by being bought a hamster or goldfish that would invariably pop it’s clogs in a month or two) but at the age of fourteen, really? This for me becomes all the more disconcerting as apparently the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ trilogy has now, along with ‘Twilight’ but not Harry Potter, been put into this category. Do we really want anyone, not just girls, under the age of 18 reading books with graphic sex in them, regardless of the tin of S&M worms that come opened with it? Weren’t we all calling these books ‘Mummy Porn’ just months ago, now because we are so stupid forward thinking and ‘out there’ let’s pass it on to some youths. I am inwardly groaning as I type. I am not a prude but this does all just seem wrong.

The question is what next? Will the ‘Mummy Porn’ become a genre alongside ‘Tragic Life Stories’ (groan) and ‘New Adult’ (I have just seen how appropriate that title is for books that seem to technically be Baby Black Lace/Black Lace for Beginners), will there be a ‘Ready Meal for One/Spinster/Lonely Man in a Cardigan/Eternal Bachelor Fic’ to run alongside ‘Romance’? Will I be dashing to buy from the ‘True Tales of Animals Daring Do’s’ shelves? Will ‘Grey Fiction’ suddenly take off? The mind boggles, though if any of those do become ‘the latest thing’ I want royalties.

Also what annoys me about it is that those publishers pushing this genre are actually closing off a world of books to people rather than opening the eyes of many to more wonderful books. Are we all going to have to follow the same reading trajectory? You start with picture books, then children’s books, then YA, then NA, then ‘fiction’ and that is the only option? What happened to just getting to an age where you read what you want? For me, who is from a generation prior even to YA (yes I am that old), it was a case of reading from Robin Jarvis to Patrick Suskind, possibly via some Point Horror, because I just naturally progressed at my own pace in my teens. Are the ‘New Adult’ book police going to stop my 14 year old sister from her current read of ‘An Evil Cradling’ by Brian Keenan (no she really is) or make my 13 year old cousin stop reading Charles Dickens and C.J Sansom because apparently he isn’t ready for them yet, instead handing them ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ to have a think about as that is what they should be reading at their age? Erm, no thank you! It all seems preposterous to me. And what about YA is this defunct, down graded or what?

Is this 'NA' or is it 'YA' or simply just fiction?

Is this ‘NA’ or is it ‘YA’ or simply just fiction?

That said, as this is a rather one way set of thoughts on the genre I have recently got a ‘New Adult’ book, though it was just in ‘Fiction’, from the library in the form of ‘Dare Me’ by Megan Abbott. I thought I really should try one of the books from the genre I am writing off a) to see what I make of it b) see if really it is just fiction or YA under an addition unnecessary pigeon hole c) because Jessica of Prose and Cons Book Club (who I love and wish blogged every day, no pressure) loved this tale of crazy evil cheerleaders and it might be a laugh. I will report back, I might end up eating my hat, or I might find out this ‘New Adult’ tag is just a bonkers new genre that need not be, we will see.

As you might have noticed this subject has brought out the rant filled part of me, which you can actually here in the last section of The Readers this week, and I could go on all day. I would love to hear other people’s thoughts on it. Regular readers of this blog of course, but also some of the NA lovers out there and maybe even some of their authors. So what do you think about NA, am I just being a grumpy old git or what?

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Books By The Bedside #6

I am just sorting out which books to take with me back to Matlock while I go and look after Granny Savidge for a while and thought it might be quite timely to share with you the books on my reading periphery at the moment. I have noticed that reviews are piling up at rather an alarming rate at the moment, especially now I can talk about any of the Green Carnation Prize books submitted apart from the shortlisted ones. So while you might not see my thoughts on the books below for a while here is what I am getting my reading tackle around currently…

The first was a book I ran out and bought (okay, I didn’t run I just went online and got it for a bargain) as on the Halloween special of The Readers I waffled on about a short story, about a man who moves into a house that smells of almonds, that really freaked me out but I had no idea what it was. Big thanks to Goodreads member Kristin who knew it was Roald Dahl’s ‘The Landlady’ and I have read it and been freaked out all over again and am really enjoying ‘Kiss Kiss’ as a very odd collection. More on it soon…

Second and third up are books that might seem a little morbid with all that is going on and yet I think will be proof that books can help you in difficult times. ‘Mortality’ by Christopher Hitchens is a book that AJ has raved about and then Karyn recommended I try with everything going on, as it is Hitchens’ memoirs/essays that he wrote for Vanity Fair after he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Here he shares everything he goes through from that point and I have heard that whilst I might not agree with him and his views his writing is incredible. Another book that has recently arrived is ‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ by Will Schwalbe, this is an account of the conversations he had with his mother as she was having treatment and then dying of cancer about books as something else to discuss and yet at the same time use to address what was going on. Oddly Gran and I mainly talk about books at the moment, sometimes books really can mirror your life.

The book I really want to pick up after these two is ‘Gossip from the Forest’ by Sara Maitland. I hadn’t heard of the book until I caught up with a recent episode of the BBC Book Cafe where she took one of the presenters around a wood talking about the history of forests and fairytales and where the two meet and how forests inspired the latter. This is exactly what this book is all about and as a big, big fan of both forests and fairytales this sounds like one of those rare non-fiction books I might actually ‘get’.

The final book on the bedside is one that I mentioned in my library loot vlog post. If there is one thriller that I have noticed seems to have the word of mouth buzz, rather than publisher hype, then it is ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn which sounds like an ideal escapist thrilling read which I could do with right now. So I think I will be packing all of these for my trip to Grans where we have already agreed we will have some reading time together as she isn’t getting enough. Like I would say no to that!

So which of these titles have you read and what are you reading right now? What have you been reading and what might you read next?

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Hollow Pike – James Dawson

I have always been a little wary of young adult fiction, well since I was a young adult, and reading it as a grown up. I admit I loved Harry Potter but I did start that series when it came out in my late teens and so of course I carried on with the series, how could I not. I have dabbled in ‘Twilight’ to mixed results (I like the films more) and just didn’t get ‘The Hunger Games’. Odd then that I thought James Dawson’s debut novel ‘Hollow Pike’ was a bit of a corker, yet I think it’s because it is everything I would have liked in a young adult novel when I was one (and my sister, who is fourteen, love it – more on that later) and never got. I will explain…

Indigo Books, paperback, 2012, young adult fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Lis London (brilliant lead name for a YA character) leaves her home in Wales for the small Yorkshire town of Hollow Pike after the bullying that she has endured at school simply becomes too much and hopes for a new start. However new starts are always tricky, will you make any new friends, will you end up in the right crowd, could history repeat itself? Prior to moving Lis has been having nightmares of someone trying to kill her each night, before she arrives at Hollow Pike she believes that this could be due to stress yet why is it when she goes through the local woods (which have a history of witchcraft) everything looks so familiar? Throw in the murder of one of her fellow school mates and soon it looks like Lis is set to be the killer’s next target.

I will admit that on paper the idea of ‘Hollow Pike’ as a story does look slightly like your average supernatural teen thriller fare, yet there is so much more to it when you read it. First of all there is Lis, she literally (cliché alert) walks off the page. The story of how she was bullied at school and then tries so hard to fit in with the right, and then the delightfully wrong, crowd will without a doubt have you looking back at your own school days. I remember having a Laura Rigg (popular, beautiful but ultimately a complete bullying power controlling bitch) or three in my school, I also remember the slightly kooky, or some people might say odd, group which you kind of wanted to be a part of and where also rather scared by and so all these characters came vividly to life. I thought that fact that he made three of the lead characters gay and lesbian was also a very brave thing to do and something I don’t think is really written about for that age group, brilliantly its very much part of who the characters are yet it isn’t the only thing that defines them – like life.

Secondly there is the style and nature of the book. From the outside (cover and blurb) this book looks set to be a witch-fest, it is far more clever than that. I actually think at its heart ‘Hollow Pike’ is a crime novel, with hints of witchcraft thrown in for good measure, where the moral of the story is friendship. The book has the fast paced thrilling nature of a good crime though never at the expense of the writing or the atmosphere, which I really liked. Oh and I couldn’t guess who the killer or killers were and was second guessing all the way to the denouement.

Thirdly, as an adult reading this, I loved the sense of nostalgia it had. I am of the generation (as is James Dawson it would seem) that had the Spice Girls blasting on the radio, watched ‘The Craft’, ‘Mean Girls’ and ‘Scream’ at the cinema and devoured Point Horror novels all weekend (I didn’t even care that they regurgitated the same plot over and over). This combines all those things, except switches regurgitated ideas for originality, and creates a book and a world in young adult fiction that is familiar yet new. I was charmed by it.

I did have the odd wobble or two with ‘Hollow Pike’ I will admit. Occasionally bits of it felt overly familiar and I think I was expecting something with more witchcraft. But I am a thirty year old critiquing a book that isn’t for me, and I really enjoyed it overall, so I will leave you with the thoughts of my little sister Miriam (who joined me and Gavin on The Readers Book Club to discuss it – and do listen as she is brilliant on it) who said, to paraphrase, that…

‘Hollow Pike’ was actually all the more clever for what James Dawson does with the witchcraft elements and  that I shouldn’t expect the obvious – which told me frankly. She found it scary (I did a few times but didn’t want to admit it – oops), thrilling, realistic, original and different from other books in its field.. At fourteen she is the idea reader for this book and she LOVED it. I am not its target market and I thoroughly enjoyed it, so rave reviews from both of us really.

Who else had read ‘Hollow Pike’ and what did you think of it? What are your thoughts on adults reading young adult fiction? If you like them yourself then which would you recommend, apart from ‘Twilight’ and ‘The Hunger Games’?

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Filed under James Dawson, Orion Publishing, Review, Young Adult Fiction

Ask The Readers Anything…

I mentioned the other day that The Readers, a book based banter podcast I make with Gavin Pugh of Gav Reads, had just gone past the milestone that was its first birthday. Next week will also see it reach its 50th episode, even though it is actually its 58th (possibly 59th as we get confused), which seems to be another milestone in a way. So what Gavin and myself thought we would do is have a special episode where you can literally ask us anything. No really… anything!

If you want some book recommendations for tricky family members, just want to know our thoughts on anything bookish (the authors we have on, our favourite books etc), non bookish (what we do for our real jobs etc) or anything technical about making podcasts or, well as I keep saying, anything else then do let me know in the comments below and I will pop them in the show with the ones from Goodreads and Facebook. if you have anything you have always wanted to ask me too, go for your life.  Go on, it is your chance to be really nosey…

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Filed under The Readers Podcast

Ghostly Tales, Can They Still Scare Us?

Happy Halloween one and all! I hope you have something suitably spooky planned for your evening? I don’t know if I have mentioned this on the blog before or not, but Halloween is one of my very favourite days of the year. I think the mixture of the legends and folklore and my secret belief that maybe there are witches, ghouls, vampires and werewolves out there somewhere and the fact its just a really dark time of the year for us in the UK makes it very atmospheric. So naturally my plan is to curl up with a good ghostly tale, ‘Dolly’ by Susan Hill since you asked, but I do wonder if ghost stories still scare us like they did in times of old and if they do scare is it easier to do it set in the past than in modern times?

This is something I have been discussing on and off for weeks but actually a lot more due to The Readers and recording the Halloween Special and talking to both Gavin, as always a joy, and Jeremy Dyson who has scared hundred and thousands of people with the stage show ‘Ghost Stories’ (which I saw and really scared me) and is hoping to do so again with ‘The Haunted Book’ which I will be telling you all about tomorrow. He is a firm believer that modern ghost stories can still scare you, however myself and Gavin both remained a little more sceptical oddly. I think me personally though much more than Gavin to be honest.

Why is this? Well I think first of all I simply don’t find werewolves and vampires scary anymore. With series like ‘Twilight’ and ‘True Blood’ vampires have become much more sexualised, not to mention glittering like diamonds, and sadly this has taken the fear factor out of them. This doesn’t stop me from wanting to watch the movie or TV shows but I am not covering my eyes in fear when I watch or when I have read some of them. The same applies, only I think it is a million times better written, with Glen Duncan’s novel ‘The Last Werewolf’ (which I really recommend as a Halloween read) it’s a gripping and fast paced thriller and full of sex, violence and gore but I was much more thrilled rather than scared. This leads to another issue, I don’t really ‘get’ gore in books.

I discovered this when I was reading Adam Nevill’s ‘Apartment 16’, the atmosphere and everything was brilliant and there were some really creepy going on until it all suddenly went too far. There were blood soaked people screaming out of walls and half centipede half humans running around hallways, the spell broke for me it was too visual. This is fine in films, though I am the sort of person that laughs their way through a Saw film, but for me to be really scared things need to be much simpler. It is all about unease, too much gore and freakish sights and it falls into ‘camp’ for me or gorey for the sake of it, if I just get that slight sense of unease tingling down my spine giving me a quick shudder and chill then I am sold.

This is why I think that older ghost stories, like the amazing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Tales of Mystery’ etc, or modern novels set in the past, like Susan Hill’s ‘The Woman in Black’, work the best for me. Part of it is that in the olden days, pre the 1950’s really, I think it’s easier for the atmosphere to be created better. You don’t have the internet and mobile phones, in fact in some of the best ones a lack of electricity helps, and so the world seems more other worldy from what we know now and yet we recognise it. It is that unknown and uneasy element in what we know that tends to scare me a little bit more. It is also harkens back to our base instincts, we see things out of the corners of our eyes and in the depths of the shadows. For me really, what is better than a big old mist encompassed spooky manor house?

So what about you? Which books really have had you spooked be they at Halloween or any other time of the year? What ghostly or supernatural tales would you recommend? Are you planning on a night with a ghostly tale or two tonight and if so which ones?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness