Monthly Archives: August 2009

Taking To Tel Aviv (and a little Competition)

By the time you read this I should be either waiting in the airport, on the plane (which doesn’t bare thinking about) or actually here…

Tel Aviv, and my first ever time in Israel! Now you know me and I cannot go anywhere without a book. Holidays are even worse, in fact I might have written about this before… in fact I have!! So of course this for me is the hardest but of packing. Forget what shorts or shoes I might need its all about the books, please tell me I am not alone. Now on this trip its no different, only I have put a column on the site with them all one which should be just to the left so you can have a gander. I will list what I am taking and why anyway for you (in author surname order, not reading order – thats as yet undecided)…

  • True Murder by Yaba Badoe – I got two copies of this the other day from the lovely people at Vintage and on planes, which I hate, I need something thats pure escapism, only this might be a little short for five hours each way. Lets hope two girls in a boarding school trying to solve a murder acn keep my mind off the journey in the air.
  • The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins – The first read of Sensational September which kicks off on the 9th after the Man Booker Shortlist is announced.  Reading about a haunted hotel whilst I am staying in a hotel could be interesting. The one in the book is in Venice though.
  • The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds – A Man Booker Longlister and one set in an asylum which I think by blurn alone sounds the most ‘me’ of the man booker books this year we will see.
  • The Mephisto Club by Tess Gerristen – I love, love, love The Gerristen, though I am worried I will soon have read all her works as The Converted One bought me ‘Keeping the Dead’ yesterday. This is the 6th in the series which deal with a lot of murders and “an old and secret society dedicated to the study of evil“. I am sure that this will easily keep me entertained on the beach or possibly on the plane.  
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson – I have had this for ages and there has been lots and lots of great things said around this thriller. I havent looked at the blurb as I want to be suprised. I think this is likely to be the first of the reads, its nestled in my hand luggage waiting.
  • Me Cheetah by James Lever – Or should that be by Cheetah? The oddest of the Man Booker Longlist that again seems to be perfect escapism. A mickey take memoir of Tarzans ape and a celebration (and good old gossip) of the golden era of Hollywood.

So thats what I am taking. I mentioned a little competition and I have one. I would like you to try and guess how many books I will actually read (I am not including any travel guides) and which books they are. Whoever gets it right will get a book related gift from Tel Aviv’s Old Town (Jaffa) Market. I will find something special. I am leaving this blog up for two days, unless something bookish amd amazing catches my eye in the airport!

Now all I have to try and do is keep away from the airport bookshops. Oh and just so you know am not being rude, I won’t have the internet while am away (which is strangely nice) I have timed some blogs to come over the week, so if I don’t comment am not being rude, and the same applies with visiting your blogs, I am sure will have lots of treats to catch up on when I am back.

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Books of Birmingham

Finally I have managed to get myself on the internet – hoorah! I can now finally show you the view form the suite (I nearly called this post ‘A Room With A View”  but thought that was too cheesy, even for me) which you will see is very apt for this blogger! Now before I show you let me set the scene. Imagine you have been on a two hour train journey where a baby cried so much and so loudly you couldn’t read (the quiet coach was full) so you have slight book rage. Imagine that then you end up having a conversation with your partner about how many books you own, the fact there are too many and that really you should avoid all bookshops this weekend (even though shopping is on the cards) and ‘isnt it good you wont be able to by books for a week in Tel Aviv’ to then get to your lovely penthouse suite and be greated by this view…

The Wickedly Taunting Waterstones

Now some would call that a calling, or fate. I call it meanness. I almost asked if we could change rooms. It was even haunting me with its neon name in the night…

Wicked Waterstones by Night

Oh that wickedly placed Waterstones!!! It’s a marvel that I didn’t by a single book yesterday, mind you there is still a day of shopping left (travel guides don’t count do they?)! I was even more impressed with myself when I happened to pass this shop which normally would send me into some sort of book-a-holic trance…

The £2 Book Shop of Birmingham

It didn’t which considering books were actually only £1 a pop is quite something especially as I accidentally somehow fell into the shop (how do these things happen?) I was only tempted by one book, which I have now forgotten so clearly I didn’t actually want it, I only remember it had some great quotes and was a author’s memoir, though not an author I had heard of ! I did see a selection of books which I thought I would share and seemed good for book discussion that were on show in this  little book lovers site of intrigue…

The Cheating Guides To Reading Classics

Yes these little gems, of evil in my opinion, are ‘Compact Classics. Which in my head I would call “The Cheats Guide To Reading”. You could cheat your way through ‘the best bits/half of’ Hermen Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’, Elizabeth Gaskells ‘Wives & Daughters’, George Elliott’s ‘Mill on the Floss’ or Thackeray’s ‘Vanity Fair’. Is it me or does that seem a little bit wrong and slightly cheat worthy? If you agree do let me know and if you don’t do tell me why?

I am now off to not shop in that Waterstone’s ‘Tower of Temptation’. I must also somehow avoid one of the biggest Borders store’s I have ever seen (from the outside only) in the Bull Ring. Wish me luck, I fear I may need it. Or as support do let me know of your tales of triumph of overcoming a bookstore that just couldn’t stop inviting you when you were on  a book ban!  Support and thoughts are much needed, ha!

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Persephone from the Penthouse

Well I said that I would give you some of my favourite quotes I loved, and made the book so very much a “me” read, on the blog today and I shall it make take me quite some time though! I am currently posting on my blackberry from 19 stories above Birmingham where we are staying for my work. I am reviewing penthouse living the irony being I don’t like heights, the view is stunning and in some ways very appropriate only as our suites internet isn’t working and Blackberry won’t let me upload pics on my blog I can’t share. We move to the creme de la creme one later so maybe then! I will say I think I may feedback they could with adding some Peresphone books for guests as the grey ones would sooooo suit the classic and contemporary look. I digress… Persephone quotes, or Mollie Panter Downes quotes;

“Her roguish eye implied that without her restraining chaperonage Mrs Ramsay would be helling around Sussex, probably in the nude.”

“Miss Ewing and the other ladies dreaded bad news, because it reacted distressingly on their digestive system, causing quite a run on sodamints at the chemists and a constant patter of feet in the upper corridors of the hotel during the small hours of the morning. On the whole, however, the war seemed reassuringly remote from this cheerful haven.”

“The Clarks heard her without surprise. By now they were used to smiling ladies, old or young, who urged them distractedly to have a nice cup of tea.”

“The Red Cross sewing party met twice a week in Mrs Ramsays dining-room to stitch pyjamas, drink a dish of tea, and talk about their menfolk. Mrs Ramsay found pretty soon that she was in possession of all sorts of facts about the husbands of the village.”

“Mrs Twistle’s pink cheeks went two shades pinker and her Alexandra coiffure was tremulous with emotion.”

I could have added pages more but shall stop there as my fingers hurt from these little keys! Hopefully I will be able to add the very apt view I have from up here later today, it certainly doesn’t help my “Birmingham Book Buying Ban” that’s all shall say. Now book quotes, what books have got you quoting almost every line from? Does anyone else do quote notes in a book notebook or write down pages you must remember and revisit? Let me know!

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Good Evening, Mrs Craven – Mollie Panter Downes

I have taken a small ‘Booker Break’ in honour of the delightful Persephone Week which I mentioned earlier in the week that Claire of Paperback Reader and Verity of The B Files have been running. Sadly with Man Booker madness, going away this weekend and then flying away on holiday on Monday its been a bit manic at Savidge Reads Towers and so I have only so far managed one Persephone read (though I am taking some up north this weekend) what a delightful read my first Persephone has been though.

“Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories” by Mollie Panter Downes is pretty much as it says, a collection of short stories Mollie Panter Downes wrote in the War which was a period of intense writing for her as she had several newspaper columns and wrote a mass f short stories. This collection contains 21 (yes, 21 in less than 200 pages) of her short stories from the late 1930’s to early 1940’s.

These are not stories of doom and gloom though, in fact on several occasions with some of the wonderful things that the characters came out with I was laughing with glee. This is very much a book that manages to sum up ‘the Blitz Spirit’ whilst observing people and how they cope during times of trial and tribulation. I can’t really describe all the 21 stories as they are a very diverse collection and some are so short if I reviewed them one by one you wouldn’t need to read the collection and I think that people should. They do all have a theme along side ‘blitz spirit’ and that is that they all feature strong women, even in tales such as “Lunch With Mr Biddle” which is actually about a group of women who luncheon with said Mr Biddle, and really this is a book about how women coped and dealt with war.

We see laughter in most of the stories, and believe me the dry wit is wonderful. There were in fact so many great quotes in this novel that I think I will have to do a separate post tomorrow so you can capture some of the joy in the book. Whilst there is a jovial side to the novel of course the War brought dark times. Women’s houses were invaded by evacuee’s some who ruined their lodgings as we see in one tale and of course there was death and the loss of loved ones. Also relations in groups such as ‘The Red Cross Stitching Committee’ became strained, tensions mounted in times of pressure and people even became competitive in the war between themselves, their tragedies and who’s husband/father was better at fighting than who. ‘The Battle of the Greeks’ is a story that completely sums this up.

This is a wonderful and evocative collection that portrays the war not only as a time of trouble but as a time of communities pulling together. (You will also love this is if you like fiction about strong women, groups of gossiping women or women who think everything can be solved ‘with a nice cup of tea’ – just my sort of book.) I will definitely be reading more of Mollie Panter Downes work and much more of the Persephone Books.

I have to thank Claire and Verity as without them and this week this delightful book would have been unlikely to be picked up by me. I am only cross mow I have to give the book back to the library, tut! Have you read any of Mollie Panter Downes work? Is it all as wonderful as this? What other of her works should I read? Which other Persephone author must I get hold of?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Mollie Panter Downes, Persephone Books, Review, Short Stories

“Fluff” Fiction?

The latest in the Booking Through Thursday ‘recent series’ is a tricky one, and not in a difficult way. The question is “what’s the lightest most “fluff” kind of book you have read recently?” I do read some quite ‘light’ reads on occasion but I wouldn’t never call them ‘fluff’. To call a book fluff seems to imply that actually it’s a bit throwaway and rubbish and I try and avoid books like that.

I do have phases, and am just on the cusp of possibly have one on holiday next week, of reading what I call my ‘guilty pleasure reads’ but then again to label them as such is probably doing them a disservice. I should actually just call them ‘blinking good escapist reads’. I am talking about my Tess Gerritsen addiction, my new found love of Lynwood Barclay and the like. I wouldn’t call these ‘fluff’ though as with the plots, twists and pacing they have they are just books you can’t put down.

I think it depends on what you see as ‘fluff’ though and the ‘recent series’ on Booking Through Thursday has been interesting in terms of how people (including myself) perceive the terms ‘funny book’, ‘serious book’, ‘worst book’, etc. I would perceive Barbara Cartland as ‘fluff’ but then again I haven’t read any of her work.

A while ago I shamefully would have perceived Persephone Books as ‘light and fluffy’ possibly from the ‘wallpaper cover’ image but in reading ‘Good Evening Mrs Craven’ by Mollie Panter Downes as part of Persephone Reading Week (and having a Booker Break, more on that later) at the moment I am finding that they are anything but ‘fluff’ and if this one is anything to go by they are clearly delightful, insightful, observational, witty and intelligent fiction that I am glad are being reprinted.

So what do you think of the word ‘fluff’? Is it cute and light, or slightly demeaning? What was the last ‘fluffy’ book that you read? I will be very interested in your thoughts. Also what books do you turn to on your holidays for gripping fast paced reads, I could do with some idea’s for next week.

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Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel

I will be the first to admit that this wasn’t one of the Man Booker Long List that I was looking forward to the most. I think the size and subject, despite lots and lots of rave reviews online and in the press, were what were making me feel that this book was going to be too much for me. It wasn’t the fact it was historical fiction, in fact The Tudors, The Victorian era and the 1930’s are eras books can cover that I can read about until the cows come home. It was more who the book was about, was I really interested in a book all about Thomas Cromwell? You know the saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ this might be my first case of ‘never judge a book by its subject’.

Reading the blurb I was lead to believe that ‘Wolf Hall’ would be the ‘fictional account of the first half of Thomas Cromwell’s life’ which considering I didn’t really know and wasn’t sure that I was all too bothered about. However ‘Wolf Hall’ isn’t just about Thomas Cromwell, though he is the main character and the book covers his youth and leads up to the height of his power to merely call it a ‘fictionalisation of Thomas Cromwell’s life’ doesn’t actually do the book justice whatsoever.

What Hilary Mantel manages to actually conjure up is 35 years of Tudor Britain and focusing especially the pivotal time in England’s history when Henry VIII decided Katherine was not the Queen for him and Anne Boleyn certainly was, thus changing the religious situation of England forever and creating one of its most tempestuous political climates. This isn’t told through the eyes of the King or off any of the Boleyn’s, this is all through the eyes of the man who would struggle and fight to become Henry’s right hand man from his beginnings as the son of an alcoholic abusive butcher.

Though what happens to him between 1500 and 1529 remains quite a mystery Mantel has clearly done a huge amount of research (you couldn’t make the Tudor world seem so very real without putting in huge amounts of time, effort and research) and does give us occasional glimpses when Cromwell reflects which he does now and again. What does come to light is he becomes Cardinal Wolsey’s right hand man and Cardinal Wolsey was of course Henry’s right hand man. Not only do we get to see the lavish lifestyles of the rich such as the king, the lavish like Wolsey and the comfortable like Cromwell. We also get to see, through Cromwell’s work with law, his time amongst the public and poor and time through plagues, how the poor lived and I honestly felt I was walking the streets with him.

Mantel never overdoes it though, her prose is descriptive but tight, she doesn’t wander off into endless flowery paragraphs of descriptions of one castle front, or one of Anne Boleyn’s dresses. The details are there they just happen to be precise and to the point yet vivid and scene setting. So if she is so precise how can this book be over 650 pages? Not because it is filled with endless political or religious terminology if that’s what you are worried about. Mantel spends time building all her characters and their back stories as Cromwell becomes aware of them or takes them into his household. Some of the cast of characters include as Wolsey, Henry VIII, Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn as mentioned but also Mary Boleyn, Mary Tudor and Jane Seymour all fascinating historical characters.

I completely fell into the world of this book. I actually couldn’t put it down (which at its size in hardback is quite an effort on the arms) and rushed to read it at any given opportunity. Mantel may or may not win the Man Booker with this but what I think she has done is create an epic novel that will one day be considered a modern classic. I have found it to be one of the most compelling, interesting and complete joy to read novels of the year, and I don’t say that often or lightly. I think the fact it’s the longest of the Man Booker long list and I have read it in the shortest space of time of all of them should speak volumes.

I also think it’s a book that’s accessible to anyone. I don’t think everyone will like it, in fact I didn’t think I would at the start I just immersed myself and was ‘there’, well I felt I was. It seems inevitable that people will compare this to some of Philippa Gregory’s work, ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ springs to mind instantly. While I did enjoy that book (sadly the one about one of my favourite women in history Bess of Hardwick ‘The Other Queen’ left me slightly cold) I do think Mantel takes the era an extra step though how is hard to put my finger on. No we will never know if these conversations ever happened but it does seem to be based much more on fact and less on what might possibly have happened. Having said that if you like Gregory (and I do – I just think this takes historical fiction further) then you will love this, if you love literary fiction I can imagine you loving this.

Can you tell I loved it yet? I will stop now, I could go on and on about this book for hours. I have given it straight to ‘The Converted One’ who is a Tudor-holic. I will just add that I do think going to Hampton Court Palace last week was the push I needed to read this and it came just at the right time.

Has anyone else been daunted by this book before reading it like I was? What are your thoughts on it being the favourite for the Man Booker at the moment? What do you think of historical fiction, can it be literary or is it just escapist romps in corsets? What’s the best historical novel you have read?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Fourth Estate Books, Hilary Mantel, Man Booker, Review

Polite Persephone Push

Now I want to prod you all in the direction of a very special week that the lovely Claire of Paperback Reader and Verity of The B Files are running. Yes, a day late on my blog – very rude, but Persephone week is here.

Now if you are wondering what Persephone Books are then you can go here but just to surmise “Persephone prints mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women. The titles are chosen to appeal to busy women who rarely have time to spend in ever-larger bookshops and who would like to have access to a list of books designed to be neither too literary nor too commercial. The books are guaranteed to be readable, thought-provoking and impossible to forget”. I also described them this morning to someone as ‘the Cath Kidson of the book world’!

I think some of the titles that they print sound wonderful (I so want to read Virginia Woolf’s “Flush”) and the covers that they do are stunning, even the simple silver/grey ones are a delight and look very classic. It makes you want to have your own Persephone Shelf.

This week you can partake in quizzes, read-a-long with some of the Persephone Classics and just basically immerse yourself in some wonderful rediscovered classics such as ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ which is the Persephone Book I most want to read in the world and yet don’t own. I did grab some from the library a few weeks ago.

So am I joining in? Well I was slightly worried that I would be spending a week in ‘Wolf Hall’ but I am racing through it and though it won’t be till later in the week I shall definitely be aiming to read a couple of the ones I have borrowed and then reading more post-Persephone week. I will of course be joining in with the discussion and partaking in the competitions and everything. I think this is going to be a really popular themed week in the Blogosphere and so am very much hoping that we will see Persephone week emerge once more in the near future!

Who else is joining in? What makes you desperate to own a Persephone book? Which Persephone book is your favourite? What would you recommend to someone like me who hasn’t read a single one yet? Any Persephone pointers are most welcome.

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