Monthly Archives: November 2009

Another Sensational Shuffle

You may have noticed that yesterday I didn’t do a Sensation Sunday as part of the Sensation Season. Well blame The Converted One! It’s not as dramatic as it sounds but with the big ‘three o’ for The Converted One being today the weekend was a surprise party and who knew just how much time and cunning that would take organising. Fortunately it all went fabulously and I wasn’t killed for organising something that The Converted One didn’t initially want to celebrate. So oddly enough book reading went a little out the window.

Add to this the fact that East Lynne is utterly, utterly marvellous it does also have the whole of West Lynne village in it’s cast and about twelve plots going all at once and I just couldn’t read it as quickly as I thought I would be able to. I also didn’t want to rush something I am enjoying so much and so have been reading it as the people in the late 1800’s would and have been serialising the amount I read each day and its delightful. I now know every character much better and their motives and plots are much more apparent. I am not saying you can’t read it any other way, nor am I saying I should have read the previous sensation novels this way, I am just using my circumstances to try something a bit different. I also don’t want to stop enjoying one of my favourite forms of fiction and have even postponed another sensation novel until sometime in 2010.

The fact that I pass Ellen Wood, or Mrs Henry Wood, everytime I am in Highgate (so once a week or every other week) has instilled the thought that I must respect this book even more. It seems to me that she is a much forgotten author and though having scouted on certain sites have seen there are a lot more of her works out there they arent as available as ‘East Lynne’ which in its own way is a forgotten classic. So when you are next in Highgate do ask the guides (unless its me) to point her out as I think she should get much more attention than she does… in so many ways.

East Lynne will be up for discussion next Sunday when Granny Savidge Reads will also be in town. So much to look forward to at the weekend already, makes Monday so easier. Well that and the fact have today off for celebrating someone’s 30th – oh am not supposed to have mentioned that am I?!?

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Filed under Sensation Novels

The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood

I have been meaning to read Margaret Atwood’s latest novel The Year of The Flood for ages. I don’t know exactly why it took me so long to get around to opening the first few pages. I think part of it was the question as to whether or not you have to read Oryx and Crake first which I haven’t done. Some people say you do and some people say you don’t. Margaret Atwood herself has said you don’t need to, so I went with her opinion as apparently this is a ‘sister’ novel.

The Year of the Flood is set in the future, though quite when I wasn’t sure I personally felt it wasn’t too much in the distance and yet not in the next decade. The book is told through the experiences and life’s of two members of what people deem the cult ‘God’s Gardeners’ who await ‘the waterless flood’ which will kill out most of mankind. Here their leader Adam One teaches the followers of this mix of science and religion in a slightly free spirited way. After all this is the man who says ‘it is better to hope than to mope’ also showing some of Atwood’s wry humour. Two female members who come into this cult are Ren as a young girl when her mother runs off with her and one of the other members of God’s Gardeners, the other is Toby who is literally though never quite spiritually saved by Adam One.

The book alternates between the voices of Ren in second person and Toby in first person both in the times before ‘The Flood’ and in the times after interspersed with the preaching’s and hymns of Adam One and the God’s Gardeners (which I did find a little irritating – tiny bit – but could see their purpose). Ren has become a dancer and worker in a high class sex club and Toby has been living out of a derelict AnooYoo Spa living off the edible treatments. The question of what the flood is and if human kind, green rabbits and liobambs (dangerous creatures half lion half sheep) can survive is one that you will have to read the book to find out.

Now I don’t want to give anything away but I do need to give a little to explain further why I thought this book was so brilliant. Atwood uses the way the women enter the world of God’s Gardeners in a really interesting way in aspects to their views on it. Ren is brought there as a child and so really knows no better than the confines she is in until she leaves them (I won’t say why or when or how) and has to be a child in the ‘real world’ a world where SecretBurgers are made from just that… secrets ingredients, and if you are a cat fan beware of this chain and where the CorpSeCorps rule everything. Toby herself is rescued from that world and though joins the God’s Gardeners and becomes an Eve herself she is never quite sure if she believes all that she is meant to.

I found these different outlooks on the cult group fascinating and also their reactions to the fearful world outside the God’s Gardeners habitats. It’s also these differing pasts before The Flood that make how both women survive the initial time after when we join them so interesting and so utterly opposite. Mingle in Atwood’s dark tales of urban life, her wry humour, a death scene which made me cry and her thought provoking plot and you can’t really go wrong. Can you tell that I really, really loved this book yet? It’s a speculative spectacle.

So do you need to have read Oryx and Crake first? I hadn’t before I read this, though I will be reading it very soon I can assure you, and I didn’t feel that I was confused by the book as its wonderfully drawn for you with Atwood’s prose and is so rivetingly readable. Maybe I will read Oryx and Crake and think ‘oh no… I know how this ends’ but time will tell. Have you read either of these books?

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2009, Margaret Atwood, Review

The Book Buying Ban… The Update (Part II)

Only earlier this week I mentioned that though it was in many ways painful and was taking some serious avoidance my month of no book buying hasn’t been quite as difficult as I thought it would. This is both thanks to ReadItSwapIt and the Library as I mentioned in the earlier post. I also said I had received some lovely parcels from some lovely publishers and would let you know what had arrived and so I thought as its a Saturday and book shopping is so tempting I would tease you with these delights that you could run out and buy; as none of you are doing anything as silly as a self imposed ban like I am hopefully!! First up some classics…

I have been making a concerted effort to read more classics and two publishers you cant go wrong with are Vintage Classics and Oxford University Press. When a rather large thud resounded through the building from the letterbox I came down and found ‘The Bronte Collection’ which includes Wuthering Heights, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Villette and Jane Eyre. I will admit I didnt love Wuthering Heights but after reading The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan which is all about the sisters earlier this year I think a Bronte-Binge is on the way and the season after New Year seems perfect for this don’t you think? Might be a good Xmas pressie for relatives this Christmas maybe. (Hang on did I just mention the C word before December starts – I should be ashammed!) They also sent The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever and a huge collection of his letters. I havent read any Cheever but am thrilled about these two delights. Oxford University Press kindly sent the last of the Sensation Season novels (don’t cry they may be back again next year) in the form of Charles Dickens ‘Great Expectations’ along with George Moore’s ‘Esther Waters’ which hit my attention waves on BBC Radio 4’s Open Book show when they looked at neglected classics. Be warned – the neglected classics are dangerous list of books which could lead to a huge spree.

From the people at Harper arrived a very diverse collection of books in one big parcel, the postman is not a fan of this address – his arms certainly aren’t, quite an eclectic mix indeed. Two of the books are from thier new imprint Blue Door ‘The Ballad of Trench Mouth Taggart’ (great title) by M Glenn Taylor and Mots d’Heures: Gousses, Rames by Luis d’Antin Van Rooten the latter can only be described by a post on their new blog. Sounds bizarre but will give it a go. They also sent me Snow Hill a thriller by Mark Sanderson, who has written a memoir so heartbreaking I have owned it for years and never able to read, Mark will be doing a Savidge Reads Grills very soon. Last but not least by any means as actually this is one of the books I have been most excited about in weeks (as you know I am having an Agatha Christie binge) is ‘Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks’ compiled by John Curran, I had to stop myself reading it as soon as it arrived. It’s a treat for a very lazy Sunday.

Now in a few weeks I will be doing a piece on the books to look forward to over the next year, you can see the predictions I made for this year here should you wish. Already some are coming through the letter box and Sceptre have done some very clever marketing with a collection of three books and three characters “you simply must meet in 2010”. They are called Nevis Gow, Lindiwe Bishop and Jack Rosenblum and I shall tell you more about them in the forthcoming weeks. I just love how they have packaged it all, no titles or authors on the cover, intriguing.  Books already out arrived too and they are The Sorrows of an American by Siri Hustvedt, which I think has a stunning cover, and Incendiary by Chris Cleave and you all know how I loved The Other Hand.

Another massive parcel has arrived from Orion. I have succumbed to the latest in the Twilight Saga and it seems more Vampire delights await me with the first two of Charlaine Harris’ series about Sookie Stackhouse (great name) which have become the incredibly successful True Blood tv series. I haven’t heard much on the blogosphere on these but am very much intrigued by them as have seen tonnes on the tube.  The final tome that you can see is one thats not out until June next year but I have been priviledged enough to be asjed to take a very early look at. ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin is massive, comes with very little, though intriguing blurb and has already had the film rites bought by Ridley Scott, more on that soon too as I think this is going to be huge (and not just in size) next year. And finally…

It’s always nice when a publisher emails you be they big or small. I have to admit I hadn’t heard too much about Honno Press when they emailed me asking if they could send me a catalogue. Honno Press is an independent publisher of Welsh Women’s fiction (so a bit like a welsh version of Persephone if you are a fan) and they have a wonderful selection of books, they also go the extra mile as they went through my blog and picked three books they thought I would love. A welsh sensation novel ‘A Burglary’ by Amy Dillwyn, a book where “each generation looks back into the tragic past, loves, secrets and lies are hauled into the open with surprising consequences for all” in ‘Hector’s Talent for Miracles’ by Kitty Harri and finally a collection of witty, wry and sharply observed stories about women with ‘Stranger Within The Gates’ by Bertha Thomas. Sounds like they have got me spot on!!!

Blimey. Now over to you… are Bronte’s and other classics the perfect pressies for Christmas and reading as Spring… erm… springs up? Who has read the Charlaine Harris books, are they like Twilight? Who has tried Honno Press and what did you think?  What will you be curling up with this weekend? What books have you accumulated of late?

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New Moon – Stephenie Meyer

Yes, yes, I know I have always been completely scornful of the Twilight Saga but hear me out before you judge me!

I actually initially read Twilight back in 2008 and as you can see from my thoughts at the time I honestly wasn’t sure about it. I ended up feeling a bit ‘blah’ about it truth be told, then LoveFilm sent me the wrong movie once so I watched Twilight and liked the film a lot. Unusual! Then someone leaves a copy of it at my house after staying and so I think ‘oh I will read a page or two’… two hours later I haven’t put the book down and am hooked.

New Moon is the second in the Twilight Saga series and frankly you need to have been on the other side of the moon continually for a year or so to have missed these books. They centre around Bella Swan who has moved in with her Dad to give her mother time to get used to her new marriage (which I have a quibble with as I don’t think a teenager would do that) and starting her new term in Forks meets Edward Cullen whom she falls ‘irrevocably in love with’ but oh no… he’s a vampire. I have possibly just spoilt the plot for those of you who haven’t read Twilight or seen the film; there are more twists in it than that though.

In New Moon an instance over a paper cut in a group of vampires (this sounds like I am taking the mickey and am not because I actually really enjoyed this book) leads Bella almost killed by Edwards’s brother. Deciding he can’t always save Bella and could put her life at risk Edward leaves and leaves Bella lost and heartbroken. Eventually a friendship with Jacob Black finds Bella seen happiness once more, only he has a dark side and secrets too. Add in an old adversary of Bella’s seeking revenge and Edward believing Bella dies going to make a deal with the darkest vampire kind leaving Bella to save him and you have a gripping escapist read filled with twists and turns, none of which I want to give away.

I won’t pretend I didn’t thoroughly enjoy this book as I completely and utterly did. No it’s not the most literary of books but its wonderful vampire fuelled romp that you can’t help but get lost in. It is also much, much better than Twilight. Though in parts it can repeat itself a little its nothing compared to the pages and pages of Bella mourning the fact ‘he is so bad for me… I cannot resist’. The characters seem more defined, there are several plot clues of bigger things to come in the future and though longer the pace and twists are much quicker than in its predecessor.

I am sure I will get some stick, both on here and from friends, at the level I enjoyed this book but sometimes we all need to escape don’t we? It also goes to show that I am no book snob (which isn’t always a bad thing) and I give everything a go. I also think it points out book fate, sometimes the right book crosses your path at just the right time and that seemed to happen here. Will I give the next novel in the series ‘Eclipse’ a go at some point? Quite probably, though maybe not until just before the next film is out in June 2010. If you haven’t read any of this Saga yet my advice would be skip the first book in favour of the film and then read New Moon. I reckon it could convert people, be warned though it is quite addictive.

So what are your thoughts on the Twilight Saga be they good, bad or indifferent? Are there any secret fans out there? Also, have you ever read a series where the sequel is much better than the first book? Has there ever been a book you were determined not to read only when it crossed your path you devoured it in a few sittings?

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Filed under Little Brown Publishing, Review, Stephenie Meyer

Books of 2009… A Teaser

I have to say I don’t normally do something like this during a blogging year. Instead I normally do a Savidge Reads Dozen (thirteen though like the Man Booker) Top Reads at the end of the year here is last years. However as its thanksgiving for some today- Happy Thanksgiving to you – Booking Through Thursday was asking about books and authors we are thankful for. Recently I also saw Jackie of Farmlanebooks do her best books of 2009 so far so I thought for a change I would merge the two in a way. My end of year one won’t be books that have necessarily come out in 2009 just ones I have loved in 2009. I thought for now I would give you my top five (in no particular order) as a bit of a teaser, it was tough I can tell you… there is still five weeks to go till 2009 ends so it could all change.

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie – The story follows possibly my favourite character of the year so far (and there have been a few contenders) Hiroko Tanaka on August the 9th 1945 in Nagasaki just before they dropped the bomb and ‘the world turns white’. Though Hiroko survives her German lover Konrad is killed. Two years later as India declares its independence she turns up on his half-sisters door step in Delhi with nowhere to stay and becomes attracted to their servant Sajjad and all this is in the first 60 pages. The book then follows Hiroko’s story and the story of people around her (that’s all I am saying trying not to plot spoil) through more pivotal times in history such as the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and America post 9/11… Read more here.

The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett – The Shuttle is one of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s adult fiction books. I should admit here I haven’t read any of her children’s titles either. I had picked it up purely as it was a Persephone novel and I have wanted to read as many as I can get my hands on frankly. Reading the synopsis in the book cover I wasn’t sure this was going to fare very well with me as it seemed to be about the ships that took American’s to England and vice versa in the late 1800’s. I don’t really do books with ships and so with trepidation I opened the book and then simply couldn’t put it down… Read more here.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – ‘Brooklyn’ is a tale of Eilie, 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 Eilie is suddenly offered a job and life in Brooklyn where work is easier to find and so is money and more importantly prospects. Eilie 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 Eilie 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 Eilie… Read more here.

Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys – Henrietta’s War actually started out as columns in Sketch. Dennys was an artist who has many successful collections though once married and a mother in the late 1920’s her life became a domestic one in the English countryside and so needed something to take her frustrations out on. Out came Henrietta’s wartime letters to her ‘childhood friend’ Robert who is ‘out on the front’ and eventually became published as a collection and a novel in the form of this wonderful book. I think that any book that has the line “Dear Robert, I have a great urge to knit something for you” with in the first chapter (or letter in this case) is going to be a hit with me… Read more here.

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – Child 44 is set in the 1950’s Soviet Union. A child is found dead with what appears to be soil in his mouth and his family are sure that this is murder despite the boy’s body being found on the train tracks. Leo Demidov of the MGB is sent to cool things over and persuade the family that this is nothing more than a tragic accident, a job he does begrudgingly as he feels it is taking his time away from his more important work. However when Leo himself goes through some very changing circumstances and another body of a child with soil in its mouth is found he begins to realise that there may be a serial killer out there… Read more here.

Now I mentioned that we have five weeks left (how is it going so quickly) and so it could all very easily change. In fact I know there are two books I have read but haven’t written about yet that would probably wing it in the top five at the moment. You could also make it change, I would love you to tell me what the top five books are that you have read this year and if I own them I will try and read some of them and if I don’t own them I will look out for them when I have a small binge next week once we are in December! So its over to you…

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2009

Little Boy Lost – Marghanita Laski

If there is a Persephone Classic that I think I have heard the most about it of course would be Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (which I still haven’t read though I will) because of the film. However if I think in blogging terms then the title I think I have heard the most about would have to be Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski. Over the last year or so I have seen wonderful reviews about it and how the last line, so don’t read that line first, will reduce you to a tearful wreck. Intrigued I had to give this book a go, would it be a case of so much hype it didn’t live up to what people said?

Little Boy Lost is the tale of Hilary Wainwright’s search for his son who has been lost in France. How could a child be lost in the wilderness like that, well it is France in the time of the War when the boy goes missing, so actually even easier than you would think and with his mother killed by the Gestapo a young boy might want to be lost or indeed purposefully lost. Hilary has indeed only seen his son once and that was when his baby boy was a day old, since then he has assumed that the boy is being looked after in France until he can go and collect him. On a Christmas night he finds out that this isn’t the case and so must, once the war is over, go and find his son where he may be.

This isn’t just the tale of a man looking for his lost child though. Through the novel Laski looks at what war can do to families, the politics and extremists behind war and the devastation it leaves behind once the battle is done. Not only in the cities like Paris but also, as the journey takes Hilary, in the countryside and surrounding area’s. It is also the tale of a man so used to pain and loss that he is cold to the world and in some ways this tale of a man finding himself and questioning if he can ever love again. It also looks, sometimes in quite a sickening and disturbing way at just what happened to children in the war and the plight of those that survived.

Now my thoughts so far make the book sound bleak and depressing and in some ways it is quite a solemn tale. I can’t of course say if this book has a happy ending or not, that is for you to get the book and find out. It is a very emotive book that will have you feeling quite bleak and yet you never stop reading, well I didn’t, as you so want to know just what happened to Hilary’s boy. Did it make me cry, not quite, though it put me through the emotional ringer and no mistake. It also made me angry, unless you have read the book I can’t really say why (helpful that) but there is a point where Hilary has to make a decision and I was almost screaming at the pages for him to do what I thought was right and a book hasn’t made me feel like that in some time. That’s a good thing in case you were wondering.

I thought Laski’s writing was wonderful, emotive, atmospheric you name it she could probably write it and I definitely want to read much more of her work. It’s a book that needs to be read by people as it hammers into your mind the effects of war, whilst also being an emotional tale anyway, and was doing so way before the wondrous books like The Book Thief or The Boy in the Stripped Pyjama’s did, unlike the latter though it didn’t make me cry at the end nor the last lines hit my as hard, I think that was partly because I had read in advance it should. I thought it was an amazing book though and most definitely a classic novel that should never be forgotten or lost.

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Filed under Books of 2009, Marghanita Laski, Persephone Books, Review

The Book Buying Ban… The Update

So I haven’t bought a book since the end of October when I had a bit of a haul that I reported to you guys on a week later. I have to say that I can’t really moan about how difficult it has been because the main way through the issue so far has been being very busy and most of all… Avoidance!!!

Yes I admit I have not really been in many bookshops or charity shops (I know, it’s not normal) but there have been opportunities such as a visit to Foyle’s waiting for a late friend. Then there is the weekly Sainsbury’s shop with its tempting best sellers section (though one was bought for me while we were in there the other day) yes the answer for me has been avoidance. What has been promising though, if I do give up buying books for charity next year, has been that still books have been arriving (despite the woes of the flood) in some abundance in the last week or so thanks to the library, swapping and publishers.

Despite the fact that I have been reading some corkers and then been sulking at having to give them back I am still using the library much, much more than I was. It’s the perfect way of trying out authors or publishers (as you will see) that I am interested in and getting my mitts on books you have recommended.

  • The Boat by Nam Le – So many of you recommended this how could I not pick this up? I think I am going to love it.
  • The Tragedy of the Korosko by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – I am the biggest Sherlock Holmes fan but had never heard of this, not that it’s Holmes, and it’s a Hesperus book which is a publisher I must read more of since Lady Into Fox.
  • A Dog’s Heart by Mikhail Bulgakov – Want to read some of this author, never have and like the idea of a beast created by mixing a stray dog and a criminal. Sounds gothic and dark and is also Hesperus Press.
  • Betrayal by Marquis de Sade – Another author I want to try and a short Hesperus I can dip into.
  • Girl in the Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold – Long listed for the Man Booker and sounds a little sensational.
  • The Drivers Seat by Muriel Spark – After reading The Girls of Slender Means lots of you recommended this.
  • Wedlock by Wendy Moore – Some non fiction about ‘how Georgian Britain’s worst husband met his match’, sounds fabulous.
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – Loads of you have said I should try this and after Atwood’s Good Bones I want to try some more twisted fairy tales.
  • Jane and Prudence by Barbara Pym – Again many of you have raved about Pym and I have not tried one of her books.
  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri – Yet again through your recommendations of the author. So all these are basically your fault, and if you are getting bored of lists it’s your fault too.

I have also re-activated my Read It Swap It account again and used my unwanted books to get books I really wanted. Ok it costs a bit for postal… that’s not buying books though is it and I have got some gems.

  • The Spy Game by Georgina Harding – Has been on my wish list an age.
  • Birds of America by Lorrie Moore – As am trying my hand at shorter fiction and short stories have heard Moore is the queen of this. Is that so?
  • Perfect Happiness by Penelope Lively – After the review at Other Stories how could I not want to read this?
  • Hotel World by Ali Smith – I actually gave this one away on Read It Swap It ages ago… why?
  • A Partisan’s Daughter by Louis De Bernieres – After loving Notwithstanding I am keen to read much more from this author.
  • Soul Mountain by Gao Xingjian – So many of you told me this was a must read when I asked about Asian fiction.
  • The Little White Car by Danuta de Rhodes – Or actually by Dan Rhodes who’s Gold I love, love, loved and this sounds a wonderful tale of some crazy capers of two ladies.
  • Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – After swapping this I realised already had it but this is actually a much nicer copy with bigger type and that can matter can it not?
  • Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xialong – Another Asian author recommended after I read the latest Xiaolu Guo novel.
  • The Provincial Daughter by R.M. Dashwood – I am about to read The Provincial Lady and so reading about the daughter after might be fun, have heard great things about both from you all.
  • The Thirteen Problems by Agatha Christie – Well I like reading books in order and this was the one I was missing and one which Eva said was one of her favourites.

Phew, that’s a bit of a barrage of book titles and some of my Read It Swap It’s haven’t arrived yet. I was going to add in the books received from publishers but think you might all be asleep if I do that so will follow up with part two later in the week. As ever your thoughts on my latest arrivals are most welcome and I will be delighted to hear what you think.

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts