Monthly Archives: December 2008

The Savidge Dozen

Blimey so a reading year is over… a year of some good reading, some difficult reading, some readers block plus some dire reading and some frankly amazing reading. In fact there was so much amazing reading I changed my mind and didn’t do what I did last year and have a top ten, instead am doing as the delightful Dove Grey Reader had done and am doing my version of the Man Booker Dozen. So thirteen then… unlucky for some but not for these authors who should feel very lucky (I am being facetious) it was a really hard choice actually, really, really hard. I did stick to last years rule though of only one book per author. So here goes, in reverse order…

13. The Spare Room – Helen Garner
There was uproar in the blogosphere when this didn’t even make it onto the Man Booker Prize long list and after reading it I could see why. A thought provoking, sparse and raw novel about dealing with cancer this book was also filled with heart and emotion. Helen invites her friend Nicola to stay after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer, what follows is nights of cleaning beds, friendships pushed to breaking point and possibly one of the most honest fictional voices I heard this year.

12. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer
I think if Nancy Mitford was still around (what is it with the Mitford’s being everywhere this year, more on them later) she would probably have been a massive fan of this novel. All at once this novel is sharply witty, comical, touching, observant and sad. Juliet Ashton became possibly my favourite character of the year as a writer struggling to find the next book in her and befriending the said society (it’s too long to write the title each time) and corresponding through letters with the many wonderful characters on a post occupied Guernsey. Superb!

11. The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
This book was simply unputdownable, and yes that is a word I have made up but should exist. When 15 year old Michael meets older woman Hannah when he falls ill he doesn’t know this is a relationship that will be in their lives forever. After becoming lovers one day Hannah vanishes only to reappear in Michael’s later life and to make him think about his life and the country he lives in totally differently. A new interesting, horrifying and thought provoking look at the Holocaust. Will make you think, a lot.

10. The Room of Lost Things – Stella Duffy
I honestly genuinely believe this is one of the most over looked gem books of the year, and not because I know the author and think she is fabulous. I would hope you’d know by now that I am not that sort of person. This book celebrates London and has some of the most fabulous characters in it. Be it from the story of Robert Sutton who is selling his laundrette (where everyone leaves their secrets in their pockets) after a lifetime of hard work to the homeless men who sleep under an archway on a old battered sofa the characters in this book are full of life and I secretly hoped for this to be the start of a series. A love letter in novel form by the author to South London!

9. When Will There Be Good News? – Kate Atkinson
My love for the writing of Kate Atkinson went stratospheric this year with the third so far in the Jackson Brodie ‘literary crime fiction’ series. Having also read its predecessor ‘One Good Turn’ this year I didn’t think her coincidence based complex plots could get any cleverer, I was wrong. This book is much darker than the previous two and grittier yet still in parts incredibly funny. It also of course had one of the characters of the year in it through Reggie the sixteen year old girl who saves Brodie life and yet brings an old flame and a mystery that needs solving into his life on top. It’s so difficult to explain this book, so simply put… buy it!

8. Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
Ok so this book has been out a while but sometimes I get behind, I mean The Reader is eleven years old, so be kind. I ironically had no expectations of this book at all which sees the children of a small village on a tropical island receive a new teacher and a new book to study ‘Great Expectations’. The new teacher Pop Eye or Mr Watts takes on the class when no one else will due to war in the South Pacific. This reminded me slightly of Half Of A Yellow Sun for the graphicness of war which when you start reading the book you wouldn’t imagine you are going to have in the story ahead of you. Definitely my most shocking read of the year, amazingly written and celebratory of fiction and all it can inspire.

7. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
When Novel Insights and I decided to do this as one of our Rogue Book Group choices I wasn’t sure it would be my cup of tea. I was completely won over by Waugh’s stunning writing and possibly my favourite villain of the year in the form of Lady Marchmain. Charles Ryder reflects on returning to Brideshead during the war on his own history with the building and the Marchmain’s who owned it and their privileged life style in the post Second World War glory days. However Charles experience has a nasty sting in the tale that though he has tried to forget he simply cannot. A genuine classic.

6. The Boy in the Striped Pyjama’s –John Boyne
If there is anyone left who hasn’t seen the movie (which was almost as good as the book, a rarity) or who hasn’t read this book themselves I do not want to give a single bit of plot of this book away as if I had known what was coming I don’t think it would have worked in the same way. I will say that it tells of a young boy Bruno who is forced to move from his childhood home with his mother and sister to join their father for his work. The land they move to is in the middle of nowhere though eventually Bruno befriends another young boy through a fence. Through their innocent friendship Bruno is brought into a much darker world one that will change his life and his family’s lives forever.

5. Mudbound – Hillary Jordan
I admit that the title I found both intriguing and incredibly off putting, however a random purchase in Sainsbury’s (I know, I know) led to me reading possibly one of the most surprising and remarkable books of the year. Set in the Mississippi Delta in 1946 you are first lead to believe this is a novel about a resentful wife being made to live in the cotton farm of her nightmares she swiftly calls Mudbound. What Jordan manages to bring in to this incredible novel is stories of family breakdowns, affairs, war and racism. Not always comfortable reading, especially one sickening scene, this book absolutely blew me away. I cannot wait for Jordan’s second novel whenever it comes.

4. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale
Now shock horror, Mr Savidge who never really liked to read non-fiction has two in his top ten. The first of which is Kate Summerscale’s simply wonderful, if crime can be wonderful, retelling of the events of ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ or ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’. Back in 1860 in the small town of Road in Wiltshire a horrific murder took place one which the local police simply couldn’t figure out so at a time when detectives were a new thing Scotland Yard sent Mr Whicher to investigate. The murder both provoked national hysteria and also inspired many authors such as Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle. Being a fan of crime fiction and of books this was a perfect read and made all the facts down to train timetables easy to digest until you find yourself detecting alongside.

3. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
I most people will know this book and I know it had been a book that I had wanted to read for a long time and so after sneakily buying myself and Novel Insights a 50p charity shop copy each it became a Rogue Book Group choice. Scout tells the tale of her town in the 1930’s Deep South of America. Her father Atticus (a wonderful character) is defending Tom Robinson of rape, Tom is black and in a time and town where racism is rife he finds himself and subsequently his family struggling with the town and struggling for justice. I loved it, even though until about 50 pages in it hadn’t gripped me suddenly I was hooked.

2. On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
In a year that has seen a lot of McEwan pass in front of my eyes, and has seen him become one f my favourite authors, it was this book in particular that wowed me of all of his I read. Set in the early sixties it is Edward and Florence’s wedding night. For uptight and inexperienced couple, through not speaking and misunderstood actions, this is the night that will change their lives forever and have devastating results. A superb look at how society has changed and how people have become more informed on life since, but also a sad and startling look at innocence, communication and what was expected of differing genders in those times, plus what was morally or socially correct. A small book with a lot of punch and bite. Oh, and its the second year that Mr McEwan has been in my top three books of the year!

1. The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley
What had initially led me to read this book was the idea of letters that spanned a huge amount of history. Having, until this book, only known of Deborah Cavendish (though not as a Mitford because of her name, but because I know Chatsworth well), Nancy Mitford (as an author) and Unity Mitford (as the supposed mother of Hitler’s child) to a small degree; I fell in love with all the sisters (possibly bar Diana, she didn’t have being crazy as an excuse to liking Hitler like Unity) and thought the amount of British history contained in one book was phenomenal. I also loved their play on language, thoughts on society, books and people. I defy anyone to read this and not be 100% in love with it and ready to start again once you have put it down. This book has unquestionably inspired me to read a lot more non fiction in 2009. Best book of 2008 by a clear mile, no offense to any others.

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Filed under Bernhard Schink, Books of 2008, Charlotte Mosley, Evelyn Waugh, Harper Lee, Helen Garner, Hillary Jordan, Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson, Kate Summerscale, Lloyd Jones, Mary Ann Shaffer, Stella Duffy

Should Have Reads 2008

So whilst putting the final touches to the Savidge Dozen (or my version of the best books of 2009 in my humble opinion) I have been going through the books I have read and been sent or bought and of course the ones that I haven’t managed to read. So I thought I would do my own top ten of books that I haven’t managed to read but will be showing their faces in the first few months of 2009. I wonder if any of them will be in the Should Have Reads 2009, what a depressing thought, swiftly moving on…

The Top Ten Should Have Reads 2008

1. The Secret Scripture – Sebastian BarryThe

2. Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
3. Love In A Cold Climate – Nancy Mitford
4. Story Of Forgetting – Stefan Merrill Block
5. The Outcast – Sadie Jones
6. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
7. The Little Friend – Donna Tartt
8. My Cousin Rachel – Daphne Du Maurier
9. Bonk – Mary Roach
10. Company of Liars – Karen Maitland (as didn’t finish it this year)

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Daphne Du Maurier, Leo Tolstoy, Mary Roach, Nancy Mitford, Sebastian Barry, Tom Rob Smith

When Will There Be Good News? – Kate Atkinson

This will be my last book of 2008 which is an odd feeling. I fly off to Barcelona later today and am taking Anna Karenina with me and strangely although I hope to read a lot I don’t think I will be able to get through that in just under a week. I have already typed up and saved my blogs for while I am away so hopefully I will be blogging as usual. So to the matter in hand and my last read of 2008 had to be one that I have been savouring and savouring after hearing some fantastic reviews and also having loved both its predecessors. The book in question is Kate Atkinson’s ‘When Will There Be Good News?’ the latest in the Jackson Brodie series which I hope just goes on and on.

If you haven’t read ‘Case Histories’ and ‘One Good Turn’ then frankly shame on you. Kate Atkinson has created something wonderful in fusing crime and mystery with literature without it being pigeonholed into either. She also has a fantastic plotting ability which deals with some very complex coincidences in fact coincidence has been the theme throughout these three Jackson Brodie novels however I think with ‘When Will There Be Good News’ she has surpassed the previous two, though they are both must reads.

Jackson Brodie is a former detective and private investigator who when we last saw him (forewarning of possible spoilers if you haven’t read the first two) had been rejected by his finance whilst sorting out a crime spree in Edinburgh and meet and fallen for the official detective of the case Louise Monroe. Now we pick up quite a few years later when Brodie is investigating something much more personal that ends in him getting lost in the Yorkshire moors and then on a train the wrong way which ends in a crash. In Scotland Louise Monroe is dealing with a missing homicidal manic, her new marriage and a convict fresh out of jail. How do their paths cross again, how do they intertwine with Joanna Mason who witnessed her families’ murder thirty years before and in the present day with Reggie a sixteen year old nanny who has reported her employer Dr Hunter missing when no one else cares?

I can’t really say anymore on this without puting you off with the complexities (which Atkinson makes easy) or without giving things away so I will simply say that this book is simply superb! Brodie is again wonderful and Monroe is great in her very professional yet completely confused character. I absolutely loved the new character of Reggie who is used to ‘everyone dying’ and has a wonderfully young yet cynical and sassy look on life that I just loved, I think she is one of my favourite charcters of the year. I would like to see her come back in the future along with Brodie. I hope they do.

This has to be Kate Atkinson’s masterpiece to date (I never cared for Behind The Scenes at the Museum and must try to finish it one day) and with each in the series she gets better and better, you begin to wonder how she can top this with the next one. This particular novel however I found much darker (yet still very comedic) than the previous two as did fellow Atkinson and Brodie lover Harriett Devine. I, like Harriett, cannot wait for the next in the series and pray there is one (I have heard rumour of one in 2010) as I will be rushing to the shops for it one its day of release it should become an annual event really.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Kate Atkinson, Review, Transworld Publishing

Not ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’

I don’t know if anyone else didn’t watch the BBC’s version of ‘The Thirty Nine Steps’ a few hours ago? It’s just I tuned in at the right time earlier tonight and appear to have watched something completely different with the same title and same named lead character of Richard Hannay. Is this just me?


I read the book earlier in the year because I knew this would be on at Christmas and really like to read the novel before I see the TV version/film. After having loved the book so much I was really excited by the prospect of some great Christmas television, especially after how good the Beeb’s versions of ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Cranford’ have been.

Well I don’t know what happened here, I mean it started off the same and then suddenly they brought in this suffragette strumpet called ‘Victoria’ who not only didn’t exist in the book, completely took over and then also completely changed the plot from then on. Richard Hannay didn’t play second fiddle to anyone in the book and yet here he was being ordered about and getting domineered by someone who didn’t exist in the world of John Buchan. I fear the author might have been turning in his grave during the last few hours. I was so cross I didn’t watch the show about him on BBC4.

I really wish I had just watched ITV’s adaptation of ‘Affinity’ by Sarah Waters now!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books To Film, John Buchan, Sarah Waters

As We Get To The End Of The Year…

So naturally I have started to go through what I think are the best books of the year which I will announce on the 30th of December, in the lead up and looking at other people blogs everyone is working out how many books they have read and by male or female authors like Simon Stuck in a Book. I liked this idea of as well as blogging your favourites of the year you do something a bit different too. However I thought of a few extra questions I would ask people, so here we go…

How many books read in 2008?
I think the one I am reading now will be the last one of the year as after that am reading Anna Karenina and don’t think could read that in less than three days and finish this one so “When Will There Be Good News” will be my 102nd book of the year beating last years 69.

How many fiction and non fiction?
In total 94 fictions and 8 non fictions.

Male/Female author ratio?

50 male and 52 female which really shocked me as I thought I had read much more books by women than men, odd.

Favourite book of 2008?
I have a pretty sneaky suspicion but you’ll have to wait until the end of the year!

Least favourite?
Midnight Cowboy by James Leo Herlihy was incredibly boring though I finished it, I didn’t finish Iain Pears ‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’. I also thought that ‘Son of a Witch’ by Gregory Maguire was poor; I don’t think anything he has done has been as good as ‘Wicked’ though. I refuse to mention Abby Lee. I was also underwhelmed by Emily Bronte sadly.

Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why?
I didn’t finish the aforementioned ‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’ just because after realising that I was going to have to read the same boring storyline four times from different people I gave up during the second. My Gran read this and struggled on through but said she wished she’d given up. The other was ‘Company of Liars’ by Karen Maitland which I really wanted to read but just wasn’t in the right mind frame for, maybe in 2009!

Oldest book read?
Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ which I thought didn’t live up to expectations at all.

Newest?
I have read a fair few new ones of which isn’t out until January, so a few pre-publication.

Longest book title?
I read quite a lot of long titled books such as any of the M.C. Beaton ‘Agatha Raisin’ novels but it was Mary Ann Shaffer’s ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ is officially the longest.

Longest and shortest books?
Nicola Barker’s ‘Darkmans’ was easily the longest; shortest I think is ‘The Tales of Beedle the Bard’ by J.K. Rowling.

How many books from the library?
None, which is shameful isn’t it!?

Any translated books?
‘The Reader’ by Bernhard Schlink, ‘Strangers’ by Taichi Yamada and ‘In The Miso Soup’ by Ryu Murakami.

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author?
Stella Duffy, I managed to devour three of her books this year!

Any re-reads?
Not this year.

Favourite character of the year?
Julie Ashton the narrator of ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ just completely and utterly stole my heart this year, either her or Atticus from Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’.

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading?
England and America through the ages, Italy, China, Switzerland, Sweden, Germany, France, Africa, Afghanistan, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, The Netherlands, Guernsey, Mexico, post apocalyptic somewhere, and of course the land of Oz.

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?
‘The Reader’ by Bernhard Schlink.

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?
Five classics; Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, Emily Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’, Henry James ‘Turn of the Screw’ and John Buchan’s ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’.

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Filed under Bernhard Schink, Emily Bronte, Gregory Maguire, Harper Lee, Henry James, Iain Pears, John Buchan, M.C. Beaton, Mary Ann Shaffer, Nicola Barker, Ryu Murakami

The Reader – Bernhard Schink

Oh and another contender for book of the year happily becomes part of my Christmas reading. I actually wasn’t going to start Bernhard Schink’s ‘The Reader’ until after Christmas as I heard it was quite depressing and instead was going to dip into one of my M.C. Beaton ‘Agatha Raisin’ guilty pleasures but having seen the advert for the movie twice on television today I simply couldn’t hold off. Now just under twenty four hours later it’s all finished, I couldn’t put it down.

After having read some amazing books on the holocaust and WWII in the past twelve months or so like Marcus Zusack’s astounding ‘The Book Thief’ and John Boyne’s superb ‘The Boy in the Stripped Pyjama’s’ I didn’t know if ‘The Reader’ would live up to the brilliant reports that I had heard not from blogs but from some friends, on in particular who I was in my old book group with who told me that ‘you simply have to read it’. This book has actually been around now for ten years and book blogs or blogs in general weren’t around (how did I find what I wanted to read lol) but is resurfacing with the film coming out in January. This book is just as good as the aforementioned and yet totally different.

Michael is ill during his fifteenth year with hepatitis when he first realises he is sick he collapses in the street and with help from a lady in the street he gets home saftely. After making most of his recovery he walks to thirty six year old Hannah Schmitz to thank her for what she did. This becomes a regular visit as he is intoxicated by her and eventually is seduced by her, then starts a love affair involving Michael reading to her before and after their intimate relations, and eventually just reading before one day Hannah suddenly vanishes from his life. However one day Hannah comes back into his life in a totally unexpected way. I will say no more than that as this book has a incredibly thought provoking twist and I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Schink’s novel (beautifully translated by Carol Brown Janeway) looks at the Holocaust and things that happened during it in a way I haven’t seen before fictionally. This book is all about the generations after the war and how it felt to carry the burden of Hitler’s regime and destruction. I had never thought of what it would be like to have that as part of your history, especially in this case so recent. Through one of the characters actions he asks how people you perceive to be good could possibly do unspeakable things in unspeakable conditions. It also looks at love and emotions in a time where a country and its people were damaged and scarred.

This is simply a wonderful novel, moving, shocking, and thought provoking. If there is one book you read in the next few months make it this one. Mind you with some of the fabulous books I have gotten through in the last twelve months of blogging I have said that a fair few times, but in this case I seriously recommend it and cannot recommend it enough. I will definately be putting Bernhard’s other works on my list of to reads in 2009!

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Filed under Bernhard Schink, Books of 2008, Books To Film, Orion Publishing, Review

Merry Christmas Everyone

Merry Christmas everyone, am hoping that you got all the presents that you wanted and that your stockings were filled to the brims with books. We have had a lovely day here at Savidge-Reads Towers and this year saw me cook my first ever Christmas Dinner and by all reports it was better (not as good as, as I told her on the phone) than my mothers which really pleased me! Did I get any books? I only got one which has shocked a lot of people who I have spoken to on the phone, but there was actually only one that I wanted.

The book that I really wanted and was overjoyed to open (as it had been disguised in a shoe box) was Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’. I have been wanting to read this for years and years, have picked it up and put it down so many times but now its happily nestled on my TBR pile for 2009. I have already decided that classics are going to be big on my ‘to read agenda’ next year. Also what was brilliant was that The Non-Reader had gotten me the copy of ‘Crime and Punishment’ with the cover that I have been specifically hankering after for ages. I am a bit picky about covers and would have sneakily swapped it if it hadn’t been the one that I had wanted which I know is spoilt but these are my shelves and they mean a lot to me. I also really love the way that Vintage have taken the classics and given them a contemporary feel whils keeping them modern looking to entice new readers.

Anyways, shouldn’t be on here too long. Hope you are all having a very Merry Christmas and curled up reading in the warmth full of turkey, or shortly about to tune in to Dr Who as we are! Merry Christmas!

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