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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Summertime – J.M. Coetzee

I don’t know what’s happened with my blogs of late they seem to be getting later and later. I was quite a way ahead a few weeks ago but with all this Man Booker Long List reading I am doing far more reading than blogging. That’s not a complaint by the way it’s just something I have noticed. Anyway in the frankly glorious sunshine we had in London I managed to finish reading ‘Summertime’ though the content of the book didn’t quite match the title as ‘summery’ is not how I would describe my first foray into the writings of Coetzee. 

‘Summertime’ is a very clever novel and all at once a very confusing one. It is fiction and yet is the memoirs of J.M. Coetzee. Hang on let me explain… this is a fictional novel written by a researcher who is writing a biography of John M. Coetzee after his death. He meets with five people who were important in Coetzee’s life in the 1970’s when Coetzee was living in South Africa with his Dad himself a grown adult and as many say ‘fathers were not meant to live their lives with sons’.

The start and end of the book are two sections of the Coetzee’s notebooks (are these real or fiction – we never know) that look at his life at that time and in many ways the relationship he had with his father and see’s Coetzee not only reflective but also questioning himself. These are the notebooks we learn that inspire the researcher after reading them and has used to form the book on Coetzee he is writing. Are you keeping up with this? It’s easier to read than it sounds I will admit.

The people the nameless researcher interviews are an interesting collection. Julia a married woman with a child who John had an affair with, even though by the sounds of it it wasn’t a particularly enjoyable relationship between them somehow it went on and bizarrely started sparks in Julia’s dead marriage for a time. I slightly wish this has been the final part of the book as I found this the most insightful and interesting into both Coetzee how he was deemed to see women and also how he lived with his father as Julia stays there for a time. The next interviewee also stayed with them for a while, Margot his cousin discusses their childhood love for each other and his sudden return from “jail in America” and what a changed man he was. Adriana, a Brazilian dancer, believed he was infatuated with her and even more inappropriately her daughter whom he taught. Martin was a friend he made when they both failed an interview, and didn’t quite seem to have a point at only ten pages long. Finally there is Sophie a colleague and lover he had.

In fact this book to me seemed less about father and son and more about Coetzee and his relationship with women. In fact with the mentioning on several occasions of the possibility that Coetzee was a homosexual by all interviewee’s and the researcher I was expecting Martin to have been a lover also, maybe a dalliance.

It is written incredibly well and despite being a complex idea, I don’t know if the other two novels in his fictional memoirs are the same format, he makes the whole thing work and actually read in parts like fiction, in others like research and interviews and then also like a work of non fiction. I couldn’t work out, which riled me somewhat, whether with the fact the researcher always mentions ‘he sold well but was never popular, the public never took to him’ if he is being bitter, ironic or wanting sympathy. I also couldn’t work out if all the tales of what an odd, awkward and dark person Coetzee was, Coetzee is in fact wanting sympathy or doubly proving he is trying to be unbiased.

I was definitely left wondering how much of ‘Summertime’ is fact and how much really is fiction? Either way it’s a great read, one I would recommend to people looking for something different but very readable. I was new to Coetzee and would certainly read more.

Yet another reason why I am so pleased I am reading the whole long list this year as I am being introduced to so many new and interesting authors and works. As you will see I have started reading (which I was quite apprehensive about) ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel and am loving it. I am just over 120 pages in and am reluctant to stop every time I have to put it down. At only a sixth of the way through (well just over) it could all change but if it carries on like this it could be a favourite, more of that later in the week.

Back to Coetzee though have any of you read any of the other of the trilogy of his ‘memoirs’? What are your thoughts on writing a fictional memoir like this? What about any of his other works? I have two copies of Disgrace at home and now will have to give it a go, have any of you read it… thoughts (though of course don’t give anything away)?

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Filed under Harvill Secker Books, J. M. Coetzee, Man Booker, Random House Publishing, Review

A Few More Additions & Double Trouble

I am not sure the postman was a fan of me this week, but then again with all the postal strikes of late I dont think that I am really a fan of the postmen. Who do they keep on striking when its not getting them anything, well all its getting is the british public a bit narked off and really you would think they would want us onside. In the current climate at least they have jobs… any way off my Savidge Soapbox and back to books!

Yes its that time again when I come to share with you the latest arrivals at Savidge Reads Towers (which the postman has begrudged delivering) and ask you what you have read from whats arrived and what you want to read…the latter in particular today you may want to think about as it may prove relevant further in the blog. Anyways the first few arrivals have been  from the lovely people at Oxford University Press for my ‘Sensational September’ read-a-thon which I would love for you to join in on if you would like. So the ones that have arrived so far (more are on the way apparently) are…

Some Sensational Stuff

  • No Name by Wilkie Collins, which I know nothing about which in a strange way suits the title of the novel.
  • The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins, this is supposed to be one of his shortest Sensation Novels and yet one of the ones which packs the biggest punch which after reading The Woman in White (which I am going to re-read) I would be mighty impressed if it could beat.
  • East Lynne by Ellen Wood, sensation fiction fans claim this is the mother of all sensation novels and there for maybe where I start, or should this be where I finish? This one sold hundreds towards the end of the 1860’s and is most well known for its implausible plot – sounds a hoot!

Next is a mixture of stuff from various publishers and other sources. The week before last saw the author Chris Ewan contact me )my Gran was here she found it all very exciting) after seeing me comment on Random Jottings post about his books and offered to send me the latest not minding “if you don’y blog about it if you dont like it” which was a really refreshing view, I have had pushy authors in the past who I shall not name and shame, its simply suffice to say their books have never featured on the site.  Anyway I bought the first one ‘A Good Theifs Guide To Amsterdam’ as I have to read series in order, everything else has popped through the Savidge Reads letter box from various lovely people.

New Random Arrivals

  • An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson, I have lost count how many times I have seen praise in the blogging world for this novel and so its been on my hitlist a while. Very excited.
  • A Good Thief’s Guide To Amsterdam by Chris Ewan, as mentioned above.
  • A Good Thief’s Guide To Paris by Chris Ewan, again as mentioned above. Oh but the premise is that its about a crime author who is also a thief. Read the post by Random Jottings for a better summary.
  • Ekaterinburg by Helen Rapport, I have had this one the wish list for ages as people were raving about this non-fiction piece about the Romanov’s and the last thirteen days before their massacre in 1918. This looks to be a non fiction masterpiece and I said I would read much more non fiction this year.
  • Voice Over by Celine Curiol, which is next months Book Group Book. You can go on that page to read more about it and if you want to attend do contact me. Sounds like a very exciting debut from this french author I wouldnt have read if it hadn’t been put forward this month.
  • Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher, I knew nothing of this book it was a suprise in the post, I do adore the cover though. It’s based in Egypt which is a country I haven’t read many novels set in and looks like its quite an intriguing plot about relations between Britain and Egypt and the political climate. I may have got that all wrong.
  • Angel With Two Faces by Nicola Upson, the sequel to An Expert in Murder… already, very exciting.
  • Conspirator: Lenin in Exhile by Helen Rappaport, the latest of her non fiction and more about Russia andof course Lenin. Ever since reading Child 44 I have wanted to find more out about Russia and it seems over the next few months I will get my chance.

Finally (‘at last’ I hear you cry) there have been five or ten other arrivals depending how you look at it…

Doubled Up

  • True Murder by Yaba Badoe, I have been picking up and putting this down for about three weeks at Waterstones as its one of thier books of the month. Two children find a skeleton in their attic at boarding school and decide to play detective, though what if the killer is still there and wants to keep certain dark secrets buried? Sounds reallt, really good and quite me.
  • Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler, the latest Tyler novel… erm… need I say more?
  • The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews, this was long listed for the Orange prize earlier in the year. I like the Orange lists and this is one I didn’t get to read but now its out in paper back I can.
  • A Story of Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer, the tale of a happy marriage that one the arrival of a knock at the door changes for ever, another book that sounds very me.
  • The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty by Sebastian Barry, now if any of you have read and loved ‘The Secret Scripture’ then you might remember the brief arrival of the character Eneas in the narrator Roseanne’s tale, now prior to The Secret Scripture the author Sebastian Barry has already written Eneas’ story, am looking forward to this one a lot too.

As you may have noticed I got doubles of these and so, yes thats right, you can expect some giveaways in the fortchcoming weeks, so keep your eyes peeled! I just need to work out if I should give them away one by one or in a big parcel or two parcels? Hmmm… I shall mull it over by the Lido today in the sun, where I am going to be getting into the world of The Tudors and Cromwell. More on that later in the week.

Have you read any of the books above? What are the latest books you have bought, been given, etc? What are you reading now and whats top of your TBR and wish lists?

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When Places Inspire You To Read

A very quick post from me today as we still have my Aunty and her daughter staying for the weekend and we have lots of things planned but wanted to pop up a post that a day out yesterday inspired.

As you may all be aware I am doing the Man Booker long list read-a-thon at the moment and the one and only book that I have been, dreading is too strong a word, intimidated by is Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. This book, though very alluring in its striking red cover, has been in my view line for a few weeks now nestled on my Long List shelf and has been making me feel quite nervous as I have sworn to read every book in the long list cover to cover and that includes this… I haven’t broken out into sweats or anything yet though but mild palpitations maybe.

That was until yesterday and spending the day wandering round Hampton Court Palace and Gardens and getting totally immersed in the Tudor period, we even met Henry the 8th… well sort of. Being in the spirit of the era is was all I could do not to drop (the very good) Summertime and start reading it straight away!

Does going somewhere ever make you instantly want to deviate from your panned reading and immerse yourself in a specific time period, setting or even country? Speaking of which any more recommendations for books on Tel Aviv? I am flying off in just over a week. Thoughts as ever most welcomed. Oh and before I forget if a time in history or a certain place inspired you to read where was it and what was the book?

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Blogger Appreciation

Now I don’t like to blow my own trumpet or any of that malarkey but when I got the emails to say that I had been nominated for three awards at  Book Blogger Appreciation Week I was completely shocked and then completely thrilled. I don’t know who put me forward, it was really kind though and now I have to decide which 5 posts I should send off and submit for the judging panel of each different catagory that I have been nominated in. The catagories are…

  • Best New Blog
  • Most Eclectic Taste Blog
  • Best General Review Blog

Now I need to find five blogs that most match each catagory. And wondered if you could help at all by letting me know which of the posts I have done that you have really enjoyed? Which posts where I ramble about my book buying or book obsessions have you empathised with? What reviews have been your favourite?

I don’t think this is counted as cheating, I hope not, but you are all always very good with advice and I though as you are the people who read the blog and the ones that come back and take the time to read and comment you would be the best people to ask. I have until midnight so do let me know I would be in huge appreciation if you did…

I had better dash. Am off for a day out here today…

A day at Hampton Court Palace filled with under tens, tudor history, picnics and, bar the inevitable brochure, no reading! Though I will probably leave with some books, I always ending up buying Biographies at these places!

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Best Recent Read

Booking Through Thursday is again about ‘Recents’ this week. We have had ‘funny’, ‘serious’, ‘worst’ and now ‘best’. This week is genuinely going to be a quick blog post as my most recent best is easy.

Without a doubt the best read I have read of late, and in fact for a little while as got to be Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. It’s just wonderful and in fact I wrote about it yesterday and one of the things I said was that “this is just the book I have been craving to read, and haven’t quite been able to find for quite a while something I would rush to read the next bit of and get lost in all over again“. I would recommend absolutely everyone to read this and am now crossing everything that it makes it onto the Man Booker short list and possibly even go on to winning.

I actually enjoyed it so much I am wondering about adding it onto my ‘All Time Favourite Forty’ I don’t like to do that too rashly though so I may leave the book to linger with me for a while.

So what about you? Whats your most recent ‘best read’?

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Brooklyn – Colm Toibin

One thing that I particularly like about reading this year’s Man Booker long list is that it is giving me the opportunity to read for the first time some authors that I have always wanted to try but never quite managed, or possibly been slightly daunted by. A.S Byatt is one of them and that is still going slowly but surely (enjoyably so), Coetzee I will be starting today and is someone I have always been intrigued by. However its Colm Toibin who I pretty much own the back catalogue of works by but haven’t read a page… until I started ‘Brooklyn’ that was.

9780141041742

I am not going to hold back I loved ‘Brooklyn’. I thought Toibin’s style of prose and narrative was simple and beautiful and throughout the whole book I was totally and utterly engaged. I liked and believed in all the characters and I loved the subtle simple plot. In fact ‘subtle and simple’ are possibly the perfect two words to sum this book up for me. Yet at the same time it’s quite an epic novel and one that covers a huge amount in fewer than 250 pages.

‘Brooklyn’ is a tale of Eilis, a young girl in Ireland after the Second World War where the economy is a disaster and jobs are scarce. Overjoyed simply to find a Sunday and occasional evening job when you can expect little more Eilis is suddenly offered a job and life in Brooklyn where work is easier to find and so is money and more importantly prospects. Eilis soon realises that this isn’t a sudden offer and in fact her mother, sister and brothers (in England) have been well meaningly plotting this for quite some time and really she has no choice.  After following her nightmare journey across the ocean we watch as Eilis settles into a new life with new people and new cultures in an unknown environment. We also watch as she grows from girl to woman and falls in love. It is eventually though a trip home that leads to the climax and a huge decision for Eilis… I wont say any more than that, I will say I bet the ending will either seal the deal for people or possibly put them off the book completely.

The plot brings us some wonderful, wonderful surroundings. I loved the Ireland we briefly got to see at the start and especially when Eilis ends up working in the local shop where supplies are low and people get special treatment, well bread that’s not off, if the owner likes them. When Eilie moves to Brooklyn you could vividly see the streets of shops and as Eilis works in one of these ‘Bartocci’s’ we get to see how everything runs and I could just envisage it so clearly. I will admit it; I ended up wanting to be there in Eilis’ house share in 1950’s Brooklyn!

The plot also brings up many subjects. The first is poverty and how the Second World War left countries like Ireland and all the people who survived the horrors of war behind. It looks at women’s roles and how they changed and strangely gained independence further during these times, they could go and work in other countries and start new lives even if the job opportunities were limited. It also discussed racism at the time as the colour of customers in Bartocci’s changes; this isn’t a subject at the heart of the book I did like its inclusion though as it would have happened at the time. In fact looking back with Eilis’ love interest being from an Italian family and Eilis not being an American in America different cultures is in a way a theme.

For me out of everything it was the prose and also the characters that really made the book the complete joy to read I found it. I liked Eilis though for me she was in a way a ‘nice and intrigued’ pair of eyes to watch a story through. It was characters like the scary domineering and gossiping Mrs Kelly who owned the corner shop and the fabulous Georgina, who I adored, and is Eilie’s partner in illness on one of the most horrendous boat crossings I have read… I did laugh though. With characters, plot and backdrops like this I would be amazed if you could fail to love this book.

In fact actually this is just the book I have been craving to read, and haven’t quite been able to find (not even in Samantha Harvey’s The Wilderness but almost) for quite a while something I would rush to read the next bit of and get lost in all over again. I can’t wait to read more Toibin after the Man Booker long list, the only question is… where to start, what should I read of his next?

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Books Hidden Treasures

Slightly quirky post from me today but it’s been very Man Booker heavy and thought would pop something a bit different in today’s blog. I meant to originally do this post after I had read Hotel Du Lac by Anita Brookner. It was the inside of the book cover that inspired me to start thinking about writing this post which is all about something I have been collecting for ages. The random things that we can sometimes find in second hand books or the notes people have left for whomever they gave the book to. The inside of my copy of Hotel Du Lac is one of the latter.

Inside Hotel du Lac... Well the book anyway.

A lovely reminder that someone, who remains nameless, bought this ‘for Greg, Christmas 85’ and because it was ‘one of my favourites’. I used to not like books to have names written in the covers and actually avoid them in charity shops turning my nose up, now I see it as a bit of history. I do try not to think how someone bought that book for someone special and they gave it away or something as that taints it somewhat. I do have a little collection of things I have found in the last year in books.

A selection of finds

  • A Hatchard’s gift tag “Richard – (Belated) Happy Birthday! With love, Stephen xx”
  • A post-it note of Andrews ‘things to do’ including ‘envelopes for booths’… interesting.
  • Two ABC tickets for 30th September 2000 though it annoyingly doesn’t say what film or which ABC cinema.
  • A stock control card from ‘Wimbledon Books’ for ‘A Bit of Singing & Dancing’ by Susan Hill which wasn’t the book I found it in nor does that book shop exist any longer.
  • A boarding stub for a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Fiumicino on the 17th of December, which year I will never know.
  • Postcard from the V&A which has been used as a week planner and mentions ‘Thursday = Inca-Market Leather Factory”
  • Some foreign phrases cello taped together both reading “Frigo – raccordez après s’il vous plait!”
  • A postcard of ‘Old Troon Golf Course’ taken from the ‘Marine Hotel, Troon’ a place I had never heard of before.

I love all of these little things that books have carried with them over the years as well as the words that they have enclosed. In fact I have always said I would like to write a book of short stories based around just these sorts of hidden gems. I think out of all of the above the one that could instantly give you the most information is the postcard from Troon sent at 4.30pm dated 7th July 1977… 

A postcard from Troon 1977

Weather in the high 80’sand I have to sit indoors all day, terrible. Slumming it at the five star Tunbury Hotel isn’t too bad – food quite tolerable and 1961 Chateaux Brown (Claret) slips down a treat. Hope all is well in London? My love to Char. J x

I think that’s priceless and conjures so much up instantly. A slightly different post I will grant you but its book related and is something that fascinates me. Is there anyone else out there who loves finding these things? Have you ever bought a book just because it had something old as a previous book mark, or have you popped said bookmark into the book you want to buy not the one it was it? What’s the strangest thing you have found? I would love to hear back from all of you on this as it really intrigues me. Oh, or what is the sweetest or most insteresting inscription you have found in a book?

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