Monthly Archives: June 2009

The Book Club Boutique

Something of a slightly different blog post for you all today as its not a  readers rambling’s or a book review but actually a review of a bookish event. As you may all be aware Kimbofo and I have set up a Book Club (which starts on Thursday) after my researching that London didn’t seem to have many or any. I contacted libraries which of course run them and a few as mentioned on Bookgroup.info and tried a few but nothing stuck, in fact I didn’t get any replies at all from some people I contacted.

Randomly, after having organised the new book group, my lovely friend Lotte emailed me saying that there was a night that we simply must try. The night was called ‘The Book Club Boutique’ and so last night we decided that in the name of ‘book group research’ aka ‘being a bit nosey’ we would go and check it out.

The Book Group Boutique is “London’s newest literary salon and Soho’s only free weekly spoken-word book club. It was created by the notorious poet and raconteur Salena Godden and her partner-in-crime Rachel Rayner in ‘Dick’s Bar’, the cosy basement bar at 23, Romily Street. The salon brings poets, authors and book lovers together to hear new and established writers, spoken word acts, and eclectic music in an informal speakeasy environment. This is no square affair; there is dancing, merriment and mingling over cocktails from the infamous Dick Bradsell and a different DJ every week.” Sounded perfection, something a bit different where book lovers could get together listen to poets and writers and natter endlessly about books!

Though in reality it wasn’t actually a book group, as in reading and nattering about books kind of group, it was a fun night. I did worry a little at the start when someone started singing ‘welcome to the book club boutique’ with a bass guitar over and over again but I needn’t have as there were several highlights. Two in particular… I am not the biggest fan of poetry I will admit but Mark Walton was fantastic, funny, emotive, just wonderful raw poetry. I will be buying a copy pronto and I never buy poetry. There was of course one more major highlight for me and that was…

Savidge Reads Meets Stella Duffy... outside a bar!

Savidge Reads Meets Stella Duffy... outside a bar!

… The delight that is Stella Duffy! Who took to the stage to read a very funny poem before doing a reading from the wonderful ‘Singling Out The Couples’ and then later from her Saz Martin crime series. In fact that reminds me I need to read the second of those as I loved ‘Calendar Girl’. You all know how I am a huge fan (without verging on being a stalker) of Stella’s and it was lovely to see her and have a good old natter over some wine. So if your in London and fancy a very unique and interesting night then I would say drop in to ‘The Book Club Boutique’ and give it a whirl. It made me wonder what other literary events there are out there especially after yesterday and discussing the Daphne Du Maurier festival in Fowey after my review of Justine Picardie’s ‘Daphne’. I would love, love, love to go to that… what other great bookish events do you know of I might be missing out on?

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Daphne – Justine Picardie

I have had this book on the TBR pile for quite some time now and though have picked it up on several occasions I have never ended up reading as I have been slightly in fear of it. Not in fear of the size or subject matter, more in the fear that I wouldn’t like it and that no book could do justice to the life of my favourite writer. I also had the thought that if I read something which had been so thoroughly researched about Daphne I might not like her and that could tarnish all my reading experiences of her in the future and from the past. So with trepidation I opened the first page and…

I could barely put ‘Daphne’ down! The book is of course mainly about Daphne Du Maurier, though this is not a fictionalised life story which some people might assume. This is actually set in the late 50’s when Daphne herself was herself 50. It was a turbulent time in her life and actually inspired the collection of short stories in ‘The Breaking Point’ which I read only the other week. Her husband ‘Boy’ Browning was in a nursing home after a breakdown and so Daphne moved for a while to London and into Boy’s cramped flat where she was then confronted by his mistress ‘The Snow Queen’ who asked Daphne to free ‘Boy’ and that hiding his affair was clearly killing him.

Desperate to save her marriage despite her own affairs Daphne tries to turn Menabilly into the perfect ‘family’ and ‘marital home’ only not only does thoughts of the Snow Queen take her over but also the ghost of her own fictional creation Rebecca haunts and taunts her in her lonely hours. She then decides to throw herself fully into her latest project, the biography of Branwell Bronte. In doing so she strikes up a correspondence with scholar and Branwell expert Alex Symington who seems to have some secrets when it comes to all things Bronte especially after being ‘let go’ from the Parsonage Library itself because of the dealings of himself and his previous colleagues.

There is also third strain to the story as a young woman in Hampstead whose current situation seems to bear similarities to both Daphne in her 50’s but even more so to the ‘unnamed’ narrator of Daphne’s most famous works ‘Rebecca’. To escape the problems of her own marriage and her unhappiness by burying herself in a thesis on Daphne Du Maurier and the Bronte’s and their writings and also what she believes is a 50 year old literary mystery.

After taking a few pages to get used to reading one of my favourite authors as a character and as fiction (though quite clearly Justine Picardie has researched Daphne Du Maurier to the nth degree) I literally couldn’t stop reading the book. Though there are three narratives, and frankly I myself could overdose on all of the parts told through Daphne’s eyes, this is essential to the movement and mystery of the story as a whole. We get extra insights into the whole scenario through these different eyes and we piece the whole mystery together ourselves.

I imagine many people who haven’t read any Du Maurier (shame on you all) or any of the works by the Bronte’s (which includes me apart from having read Wuthering Heights, though I have been to the parsonage) would possibly think this book would leave them alienated, I honestly don’t think it would. As a stand alone book, though it’s a complex tale Justine Picardie tells, yet it all weaves together effortlessly. It is beautifully written too, the prose is quite stunning and in some parts poetic. I think this book must have been a true labour of love to write (the details have all been immaculately researched) the results are fantastic. This is an ideal book for any ‘bookworms’ out there without question.

This is a book anyone could enjoy not just the die hard Daphne fans like me, some of whom (cough) might have been both excited and worried about it, though if you loved Rebecca this is a great accompaniment. Justine Picardie handles this like a true master, you can also tell she completely loves the subject, I will definitely be reading more from her in the future. This is highly recommended reading, I have probably left something out I could praise this book till the cows come home.

I would love to do a Savidge Reads Grills with Justine only I dont know how to get in touch with her… if any of you do, do let me know!

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2009, Daphne Du Maurier, Justine Picardie, Review

Thankyou & Goodnight

Ok, so I am not actually leaving or anything but I thought that this would be a good title for a blog for the subject matter. I haven’t blogged since Friday as I briefly mentioned on Thursday that I would be spending the weekend in the West Sussex, Petworth to be precise. In the grounds of this wonderful National Trust property I was one of the volunteers for the Ribbon Walk which Breast Cancer Care have organised since 2005 adding new walks, I think this was Petworth’s second, and I was there to do various volunteer duties.

I had asked that whilst I was staying in such grand, yet slightly spooky, surroundings to help me choose between the books I should read next whilst away and I took with me, on so many peoples say so both ‘The Seance’ by John Harwood and ‘The House At Midnight’ by Lucie Whitehouse starting with the latter. I cannot thank you all enough for adding your thoughts. I am wondering if it might be something I should do more regularily if I get stuck with reads and inspiration?

How much reading did I actually do… well… would you be angry if I said I have read about ten pages this weekend? If I explain that from about 2pm friday I was helping put up tents, marquees and fences. Helping decorate and fill said tents and marquee’s to make them look delightful. Lugging crates of water, bananas and Haribo (the latter very dangerous as the temptation was too much for many of us. Making goody bags and unwrapping medals for participants. This went on until quite late when we popped for a pint had a good natter and were all in bed very early from exhaustion, so no reading. Then Saturday was a 5am start with more of the same. Then welcoming all the participants and then supporting them on their 20 or 10 mile walk, cheering them on getting them water and treats. Then Sunday was undoing everything that had been decorated and put up in the previous days all this in the heat too. It was all hardwork but 100% worth it.

Now I am back and am planning on having quite a relaxed and early night. Do I want to read? I have to say that though I would love to curl up some more with ‘The House at Midnight’ but I think all the heat and genaral madness and ‘getting involved in everything’ of the weekend has left me too exhausted to read. Does anyone else ever get that? You are so tired that even though the idea of a book is heaven, the reality is that your so tired you can’t concentrate on what you are reading or what you are taking in, thats the state that I ma in this evening. So instead its pizza, the sofa and a copy of ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ on DVD. I havent read the short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald but I would like to. For once oddly I am not bothered that I haven’t read the book first, I just want to get lost in some far fetched wonderful tale of escapism and this looks like it should do the trick. Back to normal business tomorrow I promise., hope you have all had lovely weekends?

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What To Read Next… You Decide

I mentioned yesterday that I really wanted to read something set in a big house, probably something that had a spooky side to it. The reason is that I will be staying at a stately home this weekend and so I thought as I am nearing the end of the brilliant ‘Daphne’ by Justine Picardie – which is oddly also set partly in Daphne’s stately home, and also need a Bronte break before I start ‘The Taste of Sorrow’, that I would read something in a stately setting next. 

So I asked for your thoughts and then also had a look through my never ending TBR and found three books that fit the brief.  Now, as I really like having interaction with you on the blog, I thought I would give you the option of choosing what I read next out of the three which are…

The House at Midnight – Lucie Whitehouse

When Lucas inherits Stoneborough Manor after his uncle’s unexpected death, he imagines it as a place where he and his close circle of friends can spend time away from London. But from the beginning, the house changes everything. Lucas becomes haunted by the death of his uncle and obsessed by cine films of him and his friends at Stoneborough thirty years earlier. The group is disturbingly similar to their own, and within the claustrophobic confines of the house over a hot, decadent summer, secrets escape from the past and sexual tensions escalate, shattering friendships and changing lives irrevocably.

Madresfield – Jane Mulvagh

Madresfield Court is an arrestingly romantic stately home surrounded by a perfect medieval moat, in the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. It has been continuously owned and lived in by the same family, the Lygons, back to the time of the Domesday Book, and, unusually, remains in the family’s hands to this day. Inside, it is a very private, unmistakably English, manor house; a lived-in family home where the bejewelled sits next to the threadbare, the heraldic and feudal rest easily next to the prosaically domestic. The house and the family were the real inspiration for Brideshead Revisited: Evelyn Waugh was a regular visitor, and based his story of the doomed Marchmain family on the Lygons.Never before open to the public, the doors of “Madresfield” have now swung open to allow Jane Mulvagh to explore its treasures and secrets. And so the rich, dramatic history of one landed family unfolds in parallel with the history of England itself over a millennium, from the Lygon who conspired to overthrow Queen Mary in the Dudley plot; through the tale of the disputed legacy that inspired Dickens’ Bleak House; to the secret love behind Elgar’s Enigma Variations; and the story of the scandal of Lord Beauchamp, the disgraced 7th Earl.

The Seance – John Harwood

‘Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there…’. London, the 1880s. A young girl grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for the child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance Langton takes her to a seance. Perhaps they will find comfort from beyond the grave. But that seance has tragic consequences.Constance is left alone, her only legacy a mysterious bequest will blight her life. So begins “The Seance”, John Harwood’s brilliant second novel, a gripping, dark mystery set in late Victorian England. It is a world of apparitions, of disappearances and unnatural phenomena, of betrayal and blackmail and black-hearted villains – and murder. For Constance’s bequest comes in two parts: a house, and a mystery. Years before a family disappeared at Wraxford Hall, a terrifying stately home near the Suffolk coast. Now Constance must find the truth behind the mystery, even at the cost of her life. Because without the truth, she is lost.

So now all that is left for you to all tell me which one I should read and then I will pop it into my packing before I leave late tonight. I look forward to counting the votes.

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Summer Reads

Today’s Booking Through Thursday question initially looks like it could be quite easy. “What is the most ‘summery’ book you can think of… the one that captures the essence of summer for you?” Now I instantly started thinking ‘oh dear’ as summer to some may mean a tale of passion on the sand-dunes of Marbella, there is nothing wrong with that is just isn’t very me and wouldn’t be my list of chosen books for the summer. Though actually Alex’s Garland’s ‘The Beach’ is a good beach read funnily enough. (Please note on Booking Through Thursday it does say that ideal ‘beach reading’ is not quite what it’s about.) So then I had to think of what summer means to me.

First and foremost it means hay fever, but I don’t think as yet there has been a book written about some dreadful hay fever that takes over the world. Maybe I should write one? The other thing that summer of course brings is heat and is also something I am not a huge fan of, I like sitting in the shade most of the summer reading under tree’s I am not really a sunbathing boy, ironic as I married a Brazilian and they very much are. I am getting better though.

So I started to think of my favourite summers and those would either be in my childhood in the wooded hills of the peak district and some of Britain’s most beautiful views or my holidays to Greece with the stunning water, medium heat and hours of swimming. And it was that that made me start to think of probably what I would say is my most summery read which would be ‘The Island’ by Victoria Hislop, which even has a summery cover. If you haven’t read it, and I would recommend it, the blurb might urge you on…

On the brink of a life-changing decision, Alexis Fielding longs to find out about her mother’s past. But Sofia has never spoken of it. All she admits to is growing up in a small Cretan village before moving to London. When Alexis decides to visit Crete, however, Sofia gives her daughter a letter to take to an old friend, and promises that through her she will learn more. Arriving in Plaka, Alexis is astonished to see that it lies a stone’s throw from the tiny, deserted island of Spinalonga — Greece’s former leper colony. Then she finds Fotini, and at last hears the story that Sofia has buried all her life: the tale of her great-grandmother Eleni and her daughters and a family rent by tragedy, war and passion. She discovers how intimately she is connected with the island, and how secrecy holds them all in its powerful grip…

Ok so it’s got harrowing parts with regard to the lepers, but it’s a great summery read in all other aspects. Mind you looking forward and at what I have at the top of the TBR pile most of my summer is going to involve tales of woe, war and love lost. In fact from what I gather her new book ‘The Return’ (which I will soon be reading) is meant to be quite a summery read set in Spain. Maybe I am just not a ‘summery’ reader properly. Oh actually the book I reviewed yesterday ‘Breath’ by Tim Winton is in a very summery surrounding… with a very dark end, I just can’t do full on summery! What ‘summery’ book should I try and read while we have a heat wave? Which books will you be reading this summer?

Oooh and another favour, at the moment I am at home with a bug, so maybe that’s not helping me feel summery either. However all things well and good I am going to be spending the weekend here…

Now it’s not for a holiday, as I will actually be at Petworth for a charity event that they are doing where I am a volunteer, but it has made me think that while I am feeling rubbish at home trying to get better for it, and possibly to read while I am there, what are the best books that have a wonderful big spooky sort of stately home like Petworth in? As its always nice to have a book on the go that matches your setting. All recommendations welcome, so that’s summery books and spooky stately home books, I look forward to your thoughts.

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Breath – Tim Winton

When I heard that Tim Winton’s ‘Breath’ had won the Miles Franklin award my first instinct was ‘what award is that?’ It transpires that it is a prize awarded to the best Australian book or play “portraying Australian life in any of its phases” (is it just me or should we not have one of these in the UK) looking through the list of previous winners I had to say I had only heard of Peter Carey and Thomas Keneally both of whom I have on the TBR pile also. My second reaction was “I think I need to read this book and soon” so I did.

From just after the opening sequence, a shocker I can tell you, at the start if the novel you can see why ‘Breath’ won the Miles Franklin Award. The book opens with our narrator, a paramedic, arriving at the scene of what appears to be an adolescent’s suicide and yet Brucie Pike is aware that it is in fact an act of auto- asphyxiation. From this shocking scene Brucie, now in his fifties, starts looking back of the summers of his ‘coming of age’ when he discovered surfing and sex.

One summer Brucie, or Pikelet as he if often called, becomes accidental friends with Loonie (a name that truly suits the crazed character) a friendship that his parents don’t really approve of as in a small town like Sawyer people talk and discussions involving Loonie and his father never seem to be too positive. The boys don’t care and through a love of dare devil diving, the deeper longer and more dangerous the better, build their friendship and find a new mutual love… surfing. The bigger the waves, the more risks of death and the more sharks the better as far as Loonie is concerned and here we see the friendship rocked slightly both by the arrival of Sando (an older surfing idol) and the fact that Loonie starts to want to take risks everywhere such as playing ‘William Tell’ with a dartboard or seeing how close he can get to his toes with an axe.

The somwhat invited infiltration to the duo by Sando is what starts to really test their friendship as both boys fight for his attention. Eventually the boys start taking trips with him and borrowing boards from his house under the watchful and untrusting eye of his wife Eva. Eva herself is a very complex character living through a trust fun of her fathers after her professional skiing days ended up giving her a crushed kneepad and some small mental disturbances that become more apparent as the story develops.

As Brucie’s fear builds up of the waves and the crazy path his life is taking Sando starts to neglect him in favour of Loonie who he takes on surfing expeditions around the world leaving Brucie and his wife Eva out in the cold with only each other for comfort which then become the darkest and most graphic part of the book leading to a chilling ending. I shall say no more than that for fear of giving anything away, but I was shocked and actually found some of it very hard to read, though if you can manage it do because its powerful stuff.

This book has been labelled a ‘coming of age tale’ (a label I don’t like and in fact puts me off a book) and though it is indeed about two boys becoming men it is also very much about the accidental meetings of four people all with one thing in common which is they have no fear and as the author says “no moral compass about the consequences of living”. You as the reader are simply taken along for the thrill and fall of it all.

I am actually finding it really interesting and refreshing that some slightly darker and more controversial (with being so just for the sake of it) books like this are winning more awards. Recently ‘The Slap’ (which I am desperate to get my hands on) by Christos Tsiolkas won the Commonwealth Writers Prize. I hope the Man Booker judges choose some slightly ‘out there’ books this year, especially as I am planning on reading as many as I can!

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Filed under Picador Books, Review, Tim Winton

Bronte Fever Anyone?

A delightful parcel had popped through the gates (ok the letter box) of Savidge Towers when I got indoors last night, and you know I can’t hold back so swiftly I opened it and was delighted to see that it was a book that there is a definate buzz about at the moment.

Taste of Sorrow‘The Taste of Sorrow’ by Jude Morgan is a fictional account of the lives of the Bronte’s in particular the lives of the three now world famous sisters Charlotte, Emily and Anne. Now I have been excited about this since seeing a few reviews popping up on blogs. The blurb will probably sell it better than I ever could so…
From an obscure country parsonage came the most extraordinary family of the nineteenth century. The Bronte sisters created a world in which we still live – the intense, passionate world of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights; and the phenomenon of this strange explosion of genius remains as baffling now as it was to their Victorian contemporaries. In this panoramic novel we see with new insight the members of a uniquely close-knit family whose tight bonds are the instruments of both triumph and tragedy. Emily, the solitary who turns from the world to the greater temptations of the imagination: Anne, gentle and loyal, under whose quietude lies the harshest perception of the stifling life forced upon her: Branwell, the mercurial and self-destructive brother, meant to be king, unable to be a prince: and the brilliant, uncompromising, tormented Charlotte, longing for both love and independence, who establishes the family’s name and learns its price.” 
 
Now is it me or does this sound a bit like every book-a-holics dream? The tale of one of the most literary families in the world who had difficulties living in the world outside their own fiction? So where is the catch? Well in terms of the book there isnt one, and I am hearing the murmurs of ‘Man Booker Nominee’ though of course none of us will know if this is indeed true for quite some time. However for me myself there is a bit of a worry… Will it matter if I haven’t read anything by the Bronte’s? I know, I know its a crime, actually what I am about to say may prove even more criminal as I have indeed read one of the Bronte books (and did so after having stayed for a lovely weekend in Howarth). I read ‘Wuthering Heights’ last year… and I didn’t enjoy it at all, in fact I may have mumbled ‘melodramatic and dislikable’ to close friends. So my ponderment is this…

Should I hold off and read more by the Bronte sisters, even after Emily put me off somewhat, or could this be the book that sends me into a Bronte Fever reading every Bronte book that falls in my book-a-holic path and therefore be one that I should devour instantly? What do you reckon? If I am to read any further Bronte novels, before or after this, where should I start, what are your Bronte thoughts? Also have any of you read Jude Morgan, I have had ‘Indiscretion’ on my TBR for a good while (possibly over a year I wouldnt like to say)? Do let me know, as ever your thoughts and recommendations are much needed.

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