Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Secret River – Kate Grenville

You know when you have a book that you have had for ages and ages, everyone has told you that “you simply must read it” and yet you haven’t? We have all got some of these on our TBR’s I would imagine? ‘The Secret River’ by Kate Grenville is one such book for me (though I will admit there are a few) and finally I have managed to get around to reading it “at long last” I can hear some of you cry. It might actually be like preaching to the converted to discuss what this book is about as I have a feeling that most people have already given it a whirl. However, maybe as I hadn’t read it until now there might be some more people out there who don’t know what this book is all about.

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The Secret River opens with a kind of prologue called ‘Strangers’ as William Thornhill arrives fresh off The Alexander in New South Wales, Australia as one of the convicts sent to serve a life sentence in 1806. On dry land he comes across one of the aboriginals a man ‘as black as the air itself’ and what follows is the scene of two men, neither understanding the other sussing each other out. Now this opening scene appeared rather random to me because three pages in you are in the poverty stricken streets of London in the late 1700’s. As the book develops in its different parts you soon come to understand the significance of it as The Secret River is not just about the first convicts to Australia, it is also about racism and a rather dark time in Australia’s history as men try and stake their claims on the continent and in doing so tragic and horrific events unfold.

What I think that Grenville has done in this book which is incredibly clever is give you the back story of William Thornhill and his wife Sal so that you have seen them struggle and fight through poverty, sickness, death and despair through their lives in London and so you come to like them. Therefore when they then become embroiled in situations in the future you have a real difficulty as a reader to then separate the people and the circumstances and the conclusions they bring. I can’t say any more than that as wouldn’t want to give the story away; it did make me really think though as well as affecting, horrifying and unnerving me.

I am aware that I might not do this book justice as if I say to much I culd ruin it for anyone who hasnt read it yet and isn’t aware of the story so am being a bit vaguer than normal. I was impressed how quickly I was pulled into this book and ended up reading it in four sittings. I can be a little hit and miss with historic fiction yet before I knew it I had gotten through half of the book. As I said I liked the characters of Will and Sal and despised some of Grenville’s well drawn vile characters like Smasher who has to be read to be believed. I also felt that Grenville tried to balance the story as best she could by putting you in the minds of both those arriving in Australia and doing anything to make their way and survive and those already in Australia who wanted to keep what was theirs and survive.

If that wasn’t enough Grenville even did the unthinkable and made me enjoy a book that has a lot of ‘boatish’ things going on in it, something I didn’t think was possible. I did have one small issue I must mention to make this a wholly rounded review and that was some of the characters names. I found it distracted me (and if you spotted this you will know why though email me don’t leave in the comments) which sounds a small thing but would draw me out of the story now and again, but a very small qualm overall.

All in all I am really, really pleased that I have finally read The Secret River, if you haven’t read it yet do give it a try. Its finding a book like this that is one of the reason’s why I am so pleased some of my resolutions were ‘whim reading’ and ‘no book buying’… look at what gems I have been missing. I will definitely be reading more of Grenville’s work in the future (I have a few more on the TBR), what would you recommend next? If you have already read The Secret River what did you make of it?

38 Comments

Filed under Canongate Publishing, Kate Grenville, Review

Simon’s Bookish Bits #6

Is it Saturday already? This week seems to have sped by. Anyway welcome to the latest of my Bookish Bits today I don’t have a link of the week I have a few, I look back over January at my resolutions, some sympathy parcels come in and some of you win some books.

I did have a link for week and now I cannot for the life of me remember what it was so I thought that I would mention a whole list of people who have moved from Blogger to WordPress and become part of my neighbourhood. I love the migration as Blogger is a nightmare to comment on sometimes if you aren’t on Blogger and also WordPress is just so easy to use. Anyway the lovely blogs that have moved (and I should have changed the links of in my list) are Su(Shu), Kiss a Cloud, Bookssnob and Gaskella. Do pop to their new homes and say hello.

Its been rather a haul of books for the postman this week, I will be writing about most of them on Tuesday but I wanted to say a special thanks for four that have arrived. One from the above mentioned Gaskella who I won a copy of ‘The Girl With The Glass Feet’ by Ali Shaw which is one of my choices for Not The TV Book Group. Ooh speaking of the NTTVBG don’t forget its just over a week until the first online meeting, hope you have managed to get some copies of Brodeck’s Report. Anyway, the sympathy supplies…

As well as the recent win from Gaskella, I also received three parcels from some very kind people two who don’t blog and one who does. My first arrivals were ‘If The Spirit Moves You’ by Justine Picardie which I was sent ‘because you loved Daphne and I know you are fascinated by the spiritual… and you need to read more non-fiction’, I was also sent ‘A Rope of Sand’ by Elsie Burch Donald because ‘the cover is very you, the book is a bit dark and mysterious and Kate Atkinson has a quote on the front’ these do both sound very me. I also had a gift all the way from America as the very kind Kristen M sent me ‘A Reliable Wife’ by Robert Goolrick after I commented on another blog how much I would like to read about a ‘poisoning wife’ sounds quite sensational. A big thank you for these, most kind.

These all of course make the book buying ban I embarked on from the 1st. I have to say so far I haven’t found it too hard. I have even been in some second hand shops, and visited my favourite old book binge haunt to give them a few hundred of mine and left with none. I even dared to have another mooch. As it’s the end of January almost I did wonder what about my other resolutions? Recently my whim reading has slightly wobbled so that needs sorting, am still reading short stories not in one go just working through a collection between books or when I fancy a quick read. Translation books are going better however I have as yet not read a Brazil based book, so that’s something to change for February. How are you all getting on with your resolutions?

Is it me or does it feel like a funny old week? Not the world of blogs just in general, they do say it’s the most depressing week, I think the word is melancholic. Well hopefully I can bring some joy into two people’s lives. In last weeks Bookish Bits I said anyone who commented would be thrown in for a signed copy of the latest Agatha Raisin. Well congrats to Verity and Kirsty who have both won one each… let me have your addresses and they will be in the post sharpish. If you didn’t win do keep your eyes peeled over the next couple of months as we have some huge Agatha Raisin giveaways to come so that’s something to look forward to.

So how have your weeks been? Any nice new books in your household? How are your New Year’s resolutions going? Who is joining in with next weeks NTTVBG? What have you read in the last week that you have loved?

28 Comments

Filed under Ali Shaw, Book Thoughts, Justine Picardie, Not The TV Book Group, Simon's Bookish Bits

To The Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

So it was a fortnight ago that I thought I was about to commit a sacrilegious act here on Savidge Reads by admitting that I wasn’t a great fan of ‘Mrs Dalloway’ and that whilst I had respect for Woolf’s delightful London imagery and prose I wasn’t a fan of the book. I did say I would carry on with the ‘Woolf in Winter’ which I signed up for last year and use ‘To The Lighthouse’ as a second attempt to get along better with Ginny, would it work?

When ‘To The Lighthouse’ opens we join James Ramsey and his parents as they discuss the likelihood of visiting the nearby lighthouse the following day. Mrs Ramsey tries to pacify her son by saying that they can ‘if the weather is fine’ however Mr Ramsey is pessimistic and almost cruel in telling his son that ‘it won’t be fine’ somehow this initial chapter both sets the tone for the rest of the book. In fact really it sets the scene for the rest of the book where in three parts we see what becomes of the Ramsey family before and after World War I and why many years later they make that journey back to the lighthouse in question.

I found the way this book was written was quite incredible. The first part of the book sets the scene and tone of the rest of it, as I mentioned before whilst introducing all the characters. The second part I found an incredible piece of technically skilled writing as Woolf manages to encompass a decade of a family’s life including an event that rocks the family during the war torn years of World War I (Woolf called this writing a H, with two parts of a story and a corridor in the middle). The thing is I am not sure a book can live by prose alone in some books (see Home by Marilynne Robinson) and I found myself meandering mentally away during this book and then having to re-read a page or two.

I will say that I generally gelled with this book much better than I did with Mrs Dalloway. I seemed to care more about the characters in this novel and wanted to know more about them from the start. I think having had the previous Woolf experience of her writing through streams of consciousness I was also more open to the writing style and enjoyed this novel the more for it. I am not sure how this novel would be received by someone new to Woolf. This post is probably a slightly rambling and confused set of book thoughts, I think that is simply how Woolf leaves me. Stunning prose but, but… I don’t know quite what the but is but there is one and its making reading Woolf more of a chore than a pleasure.

So what does this mean for me and ‘Woolf in Winter’? At the moment I am a bit 50/50. I loved the idea of this read-a-long as I felt like I had support out there; sadly though I am also worried reading Woolf every two weeks for the two books could endanger me from being put off for life. I think what might be best is to have ‘Orlando’ on the bedside and the selection of short from the library loot the other day and see if they spark any interest. If they do marvellous, if they don’t well that’s fine too. Does that sound like a complete cop out? Do pop over to the wonderful Emily who is hosting today!

How did you all get on with ‘To The Lighthouse’? Do let me know as your thoughts after ‘Mrs Dalloway’ invigorated me for the next Woolf challenge and may again. I am sure lots of you will have lots of insight into this book that might push it from 3 stars (Mrs Dalloway would have had 2.5, so it’s a step forward) to 3.5, ha. So go for it, what did you think?

34 Comments

Filed under Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Virginia Woolf

Precious – Sapphire

I am one of those people who likes to read a book before I see the film and so with a planned visit to the cinema to see ‘Precious’ this weekend I thought that I would read the book, originally titled ‘Push’, by Sapphire. I didn’t really know what to make of it, if you have seen the trailer then you will get some idea, it looks like it could be quite a harrowing movie (though one already to wipe the Oscars clean this year) and therefore you would think it might be fairly harrowing read. The thing with harrowing or tragic tales is that they can also hold infinite hope inside them.

“I was left back when I was twelve because I had a baby by my favher. That was 1983. I was out of school for a year. This gonna be my second baby. My daughter got Down Sinder. She’s retarded. I had got left back in second grade too, when I was seven, ‘cause I couldn’t read (and I still peed on myself). I should be in the eleventh grade, getting ready to go into the twelf’ grade so I can get gone ‘n graduate. But I’m not. I’m in the ninfe grade.”

From the very first paragraph we are taken straight into the world of Precious Jones and truth be told its not a world for the faint hearted. Pregnant for the second time by her own father Precious has grown up illiterate in the back streets of Harlem where the only thing she wants is an education which will bring freedom and opportunity. She lives with her abusive mother who is living off the money she receives for having her daughter and granddaughter living in the house, though in truth Precious’s disabled daughter has been shipped off to her grandmothers while her mother claims the extra money.

As we join Precious she is reflecting on her life and how she came to be in the position she is in and as you come to know her back story it not only makes you sad it also makes you quite angry. Precious is soon kicked out of high school under the pretext of simply ‘being pregnant’. However a teacher takes sympathy on her and has booked her on an alternative education course Each One Teach One. This is, Precious knows, probably the last chance she has of an education along with the likes of Rhoda, Jermaine and Rita (all with dark and unfortunate pasts) but with a second baby due, a mother who doesn’t want her to do anything but be a slave and a means of benefits is Precious really ever going to change her life?

I thought, though in parts it made me angry, that this is one of the most amazing books I have read in a long, long time. It brings home the lives that some people live in modern times who could really be in the same city as we are and we just don’t notice. Though the book is set in the 1980’s this is still going on and actually shows how rather worryingly in some ways things haven’t moved on as much as we might hope. Precious is a remarkable character and a sign of hope in dark times, as are all the girls in her class at Each One Teach One and her teacher Blue Rain, having humour when most of us would give up. Though fictional this book packs a huge punch as you know that these things are really going on out there. We need books like this and people need to read them, especially when they are written with such a blunt (the language is quite out there as are some of the scenes described), compelling, honest, emotional and occasionally funny voice.   

I was utterly blown away by this book, I am not sure how I will be able to handle the movie, it left me speechless and with a huge amount to think about for such a small book. Books like this show just why reading shouldn’t always be a safe and comfortable experience, sometimes we need harder stories like this. Its remarkable, not an easy read but most certainly a must read.

54 Comments

Filed under Books of 2010, Books To Film, Review, Sapphire, Vintage Books

Savidge Reads Grills… Xiaolu Guo

I always get excited at the prospect of a Savidge Reads Grills as I love getting to know authors better. It makes it even more exciting when its an author that you adore and today I have the pleasure of bringing you an interview with the wonderful Xiaolu Guo. If you havent read any of her work then I cannot recommend them enough, pop to yesterdays post to see how much I enjoyed her latest novel Lovers in the Age of Indifference. Anyway on with the grilling.

Savidge Reads is already a huge fan of your work but for those readers out there who may not have read one of your books how would your describe them and where would you say they should start?
Well, it is no good to do self recommendation I guess, but you know, every book has it’s own reader with its own accidental chance, you may pick a book from me in a corner bookshop, and that is something, we say in chinese – yuan fen, an accidental destiny. I can say that I like some of my novels: A Concise Chinese English Dictionary for Lovers, and 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth for example…but you cannot say that.  I always prefer the next one which I am writing….
 
Where does the inspiration for your books and your characters come from?
Life, life, and life. other’s life, self life, life’s life. 
 
All your novels tend to have quite kooky female lead characters and yet these women are quite alienated characters too, why is that?
That’s how humans are in this world nowadays….of course, from my point of view. You don’t need to have the same vision like mine.
 
Though some of the contents of your books are quite hard hitting, for example rape in A Concise Chinese English Dictionary for Lovers, or the poverty and future of China in UFO in Her Eyes, there is also a lot of dark and wry humour, is that intentional in your writing?
Not intentional but natual I would say. It is almost unconcious I would say.  Or I can say these stories are so much in my bones, they presented my visions of this world, me and the story are together, there are not much separation in between.
 
Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?
No. Very casual and sometimes rather painful to sit down to write. My problem as a writer is that I don’t like writing, really don’t like the mear act of writing, it is an act of anti body. I prefer do anything other than writing if I can… 
 
You also make films; do these two occupations work well together? If you had to choose one occupation which would it be?
I like doing films. I don’t think one has to choose one thing. Filmmakings and writings, I like both in a sense that they can provide me very different method via different vision-story, I think film media is great, modern and complicated – that is the charm and power of the visual world when you actually comes from the word-world, the literature world….
 
When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do?
Very young… my early teenager days. It is not a question of easy or difficult, it is a matter of if one finds the beauty of the literature or not.
 
So what is next for Xiaolu Guo? You have a new book out in January, what are you working on after that?
A short story collection Lovers in the Age of Indifference just came out in english, which is a book I like very much. 17 stories on lovers’ relations. I am now working on – of course, some new ideas….
 
Which books and authors inspired you to write? Who do you love to read at the moment?
Too many, and at different stages some books have different importance to me. For example I used to be very much in love with Duras, Modiano, the french literature from 60s and 70s, lately I loved Boris Vian’s novel The Foam Of Daze, and recently a kind of russian literature, for the similar communist background… Sometimes I prefer to not read english literature just because the fact we are too much living in a english speaking world. But when I was younger I loved beat poets and perhaps I still do.
 
Which other Asian authors would you recommend people MUST run out and buy right now this second, well once they have finished reading this?
That is not my style, I don’t urge people read it is their choices. But I do like chinese writer Zhu Wen, he is very cool, and deep.

A huge thank you to Xiaolu for taking the time to participate in a Savidge Reads Grills you can see more of them with other authors and my Gran here. You can also find out even more about Xiaolu Guo by visiting her website www.guoxiaolu.com

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Filed under Savidge Reads Grills..., Xiaolu Guo

A Poetic Costa Winner…

I have a Savidge Reads Grills going up within the next few hours which links to yesterdays post but seeing the Costa winner before I went to bed provided me with an interesting and enquiring interlude. So I will leave you all with a question or two over night (and on into the day of course dependent where you are worldwide and when you read this) and see what you all came up with.

Firstly though congratulations to Christopher Reid whose book of poetry ‘A Scattering’ won the overall Costa Award yesterday. I won’t deny that I had high hopes for the wonderful, wonderful, wonderful ‘Brooklyn’ but that got Costa Novel Award so I can remain a little thrilled, a little chuffed and even a little smug that my favourite book of the year ranked highly with the judges too. Back to this years all round winner, I am pleased Reid won as the story of why it was written (it’s all based around his wife’s illness, death, the after effects and emotions) is a poignant one, I think he is a worthy winner, it is also unusually poetry too. I am not sure when a book of poetry last won this award but I gather it’s a rare thing.

I am useless when it comes to poetry and apart from the occasional re-read of Brian Pattern from my youth (Gargling With Jelly is just a wonderful book) I rarely touch it and don’t go out of my way to find it. I don’t know why it just doesn’t get to me. I wonder if it’s just because I haven’t read enough or tried enough. Since reading The Bell Jar I have wanted to try some Plath poems, is she a good place to start? Who would you recommend to get a man who doesn’t think he likes poetry to absolutely love it? I know you will come up with some wonderful ideas.

After thought – Isn’t it odd that as I wrote this post as I noticed my next read is actually a crime mystery novel written in verse, not intentional I swear, this could make for interesting reading!

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Filed under Book Thoughts

Lovers in the Age of Indifference – Xiaolu Guo

As you may well know by now I am a real fan of the work of Xiaolu Guo. So when I was sent an advance copy of her latest book ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’ I was really, really excited. Though with the great excitement you feel a slight trepidation, well I do, when you are going to read an author who you really enjoys latest book. Will it be as good as the rest? What if I don’t like it? I am sure I am not the only one who does this with a favourite readers new work, or one you havent read before.

I wouldn’t describe Lovers in the Age of Indifference as a novel; I also wouldn’t really call it a collection of short stories either. I guess I would call it a collection of fictional works. By this I mean that we have seventeen fictional pieces some of which are so short they are more like snapshots into peoples lives, some are longer and would fall in to the short story category, not that I know the rules on how long a short story should be.

They are a collection of brilliant works, each involving very different characters but all in some ways looking at love. Not always in the cosy way that we are used to. Guo looks at love through both rose tinted spectacles in some of her characters and the eyes and minds of hardened cynics in others. We have tales of long distance romance ‘Letters to a City of Illusion and Hope’, tales of unrequited love ‘Today I Decide To Die’, tales of affairs ‘Then the Game Begins’ and tales of love that cannot be spoken ‘Into The Unknown’ really Guo has covered the whole gambit and I haven’t even mentioned them all. I should mention that everyone should read ‘An Internet Baby’ which is only eight pages long but completely shocking.

Actually having said its all about love there is one story ‘Junk Mail’ which I couldn’t see linking to love, as its about those emails we all receive about having won millions, or getting a share in someone else’s millions brilliantly told through emails. In fact ‘Beijing Morning Star’ is about how we have to edit things in our lives and in this case in a paper in order to be PC and not offend. I would say that it’s a book about modern times, modern people and modern emotions, yet the last tale Flower of Solitude reads like an old myth. I think maybe its best to simply describe it as a book of brilliance instead.

Guo is an author who will use differing forms of writing in her books. In UFO in Her Eyes the book is written in case notes and transcript interview records and 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth is interspersed with images. In this book, more than in her previous books, Guo really goes to town with writing styles. Some as I mention are told through emails, some through letters, some simply in first or third person, one short story is told in time sequence another by alternate narrators, making it a heady experience for the reader. One tale that I think shows the brilliance of Guo and her writing is called ‘The Third Tree’ and is told through thirty pages of text messages. Now when I saw this I didn’t think it would work, however I got completely involved in the tale and even felt the emotional punch at the end. Utter genius. Again it’s also a very insightful look at modern love in our society today now we have this technology.

This is another wonderful book by Guo, she hasn’t failed me yet and I only have one more book of hers to go. I think this is my favourite since ‘A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers’ maybe because like that it’s a quirky and unique look at love in modern eyes. If you haven’t read Guo before then you really must and if you have read her then you have to read this one too. Oh and if you are a fan you might just want to pop back tomorrow, or just come back for a quirky post. I originally read this towards the very beginning of the year but have been holding out posting it waiting for a little special something to be sorted, more on that tomorrow. Until then I will hand over to you, what are your thoughts on Guo, have you read this or been wanting to? Which works have you tried, or have you not tried any quite yet?

23 Comments

Filed under Books of 2010, Chatto & Windus, Review, Short Stories, Vintage Books, Xiaolu Guo

Blacklands – Belinda Bauer

Despite my annoyance last week I decided I would give the second read a whirl as I already owned a copy and see what it was all about, in part to be fair to the show that aired again last night plus I would see how my hours reading it were rewarded. I also thought that in the possible instance that it wasn’t really discussed very much last night then people could pop a long here and have a good old natter about it. So onto the book…

Blacklands is a rather dark tale of two halves, one part of it is the tale of an unhappy and dysfunctional family, and the other is the dark tale of the mind of a serial killer. The thing, or person, that links the two is a twelve year old boy called Steven Lamb. Steven is one of those boys who isn’t very popular at school in fact even his teachers try not to notice him and even try to avoid him and his ‘smell of mildew’, so much so they ignore his being bullied. His home life is also not the best, living on the breadline, Steven with his Mum, Nan and little brother Davey.

It’s not the happiest of households either, his mum has a favourite son which isn’t Steven and his Nan has been bitter and angry ever since the disappearance of Steven’s Uncle Billy. The disappearance seems to linger over the household mainly because its never fully been solved and cannot rest. Aged eleven Billy vanished between the newsagent and his house believed to be the victim of serial killer Arnold Avery. Steven decides and in some way becomes slightly obsessed that finding Billy’s body will make everything better and if he does it his family will love him more. After fruitless digging on Exmoor he decides that he will write to his Uncle’s killer, what he doesn’t realise is that this provides Arnold Avery with the perfect game.

Steven is a brilliant character and I really enjoyed reading him and following his journey. Occasionally I thought he spoke and acted a lot older than twelve, having said that with his home life the way it was and all the bullying I could understand why he might have aged quicker. I thought the premise was an interesting and yet incredibly disturbing one. I found getting into the mind of Avery and his paedophilic ways made for difficult reading, I am of a mind though reading shouldn’t always be comfortable just like it shouldn’t always be happy. That’s another conversation though.

If I was judging a book by its cover I would possibly, and I don’t mean to sound a snob, not have picked Blacklands up as it looked like a bit of a bad crime throwaway summer read and it’s not at all. I can’t say I enjoyed the book because I don’t think you can enjoy a book with a serial killing paedophile, I was enthralled though, gripped too and turned the pages till suddenly it was finished and a few hours had whizzed by. It’s not got the best prose that I have ever seen yet it does get into the minds of an unfortunate twelve year old as well as the darkest recesses of a serial killers mind. I would recommend people give this a go.

I have to add that I had no idea that I would be taking part in the Not The TV Book Group (which now has its own page) before when I started reading Blacklands, not that it really makes any difference as I still watched The TV Book Club last night. I don’t think the book was talked about enough again and it should be the star of the show truth be told, and the whole thing with the pencils was pointless, it didn’t relate to books, but it was a bit better, maybe the improvements will start next week what do you think? Have you read Blacklands?

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Filed under Belinda Bauer, Review, Transworld Publishing

Not The TV Book Group… The List

So if you guessed that the short list of books for the Not The TV Book Group might include; a Vampire with amnesia, a girl turning into glass, an environmental data collector in post-war France and Virginia Woolf… then well done you! If you hadn’t guessed that intriguing combination then you will be as surprised as Kim, Kirsty, Lynne and myself were after a ‘meeting of minds’ that started at 12pm and finished at about 3pm.

Yes finally we have come up with what we hope will be eight unusual and interesting reads for us all to discuss over 8 Sundays in the next 18 weeks – we decided to take out bank holiday weekends – each one of us inviting you round to our blogs to have a good old chat, maybe some banter and possibly some heated debate. Enough of me waffling on, you just want to know what the books are so without further ado…

I hope you will agree it’s a rather eclectic mixture of genres, authors, stories and publishers and one that you will all want to join in with as we have all very much had you in mind whilst doing this. We have held of starting the first read too soon so you can get to your library, a book store (new or old) or any online places of note to get copies and we really hope you join in. In case you are wondering why I have put links to a certain site on, its just so you can see covers and blurbs etc not because we are affiliated with it, just so you know.

How did I choose from so many books? Well I read maybe the first 20 pages of almost any book that fitted the criteria (out in last five years, hadn’t already written about etc, etc) and then looked at what was a bit different, what would make for good discussion and what would also be readable to more than just me but might take you slightly off the beaten bookish tracks. I then whittled them down till I got four books that matched all that criteria and yet were all very different. I have to say I am really quite pleased as my two favorites were the ones that got chosen from my final four.

I have been hankering after Ali Shaw’s ‘The Girl with the Glass Feet’ ever since I heard the title, which sounds a bit random but it’s the truth. The fact that it has been described as a modern adult fairytale and frankly it was almost  job done. Then reading the synopsis I was sold 100%. It also helped that I won this very recently from the lovely Gaskella as it was a book I had been hankering after for ages, it isn’t physically in the building yet but is on its way!

A mysterious metamorphosis has taken hold of Ida MacLaird – she is slowly turning into glass. Fragile and determined to find a cure, she returns to the strange, enchanted island where she believes the transformation began, in search of reclusive Henry Fuwa, the one man who might just be able to help…Instead she meets Midas Crook, and another transformation begins: as Midas helps Ida come to terms with her condition, they fall in love. What they need most is time – and time is slipping away fast.

Neil Barlett is an author who has quite a cult following but I don’t personally think that he has had enough attention. ‘Skin Lane’ is his third book and is described as a “taut little psycho-shocker” by none other than Will Self an author I really enjoy. I also liked the idea of a thriller being thrown in the mix and it sounds like this will be thrilling and creepy.

At 47, Mr. F’s working life on London’s Skin Lane is one governed by calm, precision and routine. So, when he starts to have frightening, recurring nightmares, he does his best to ignore them. The images that appear in his dream are disturbing – Mr. F can’t for the life of him think where they have come from. After all, he’s a perfectly ordinary middle-aged man. As London’s crooked backstreets begin to swelter in the long, hot summer of 1967, Mr. F’s nightmare becomes an obsession. A chance encounter adds a face to the body that nightly haunts him, and the torments of his sweat-drenched nights lead him – and the reader – deeper into a terrifying labyrinth of rage, desire and shame.”

Do pop and see Dovegreyreader, Kimbofo and Other Stories to find out which were their choices and how they chose them – they will probably be more insightful than me as I feel utterly shattered! Book short listing is fun though tiring, who’d have known? What were the other two… I can’t say I might need them for series two if this one goes well!

I will be posting a new page tomorrow morning with the list, all their covers and their blurbs, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Oh, I have only just realized that both my final chosen books were Costa Award Nominee’s, I am hoping that is a good sign!?! I hope you will be joining in be it here or there or for the whole run. I am now off to have a bookish break; I am truly booked out and so will hand over to you, what do you make of my choices, and of course the list as a whole?

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Filed under Ali Shaw, Jennifer Johnston, Jon Canter, Mary Swan, Neil Bartlett, Not The TV Book Group, Octavia E. Butler, Philippe Claudel, Susan Sellers

Not The TV Book Group

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a book group where you could talk about a book with people all over the world for a whole day? Well odd you should all be thinking that as it seems there is and by popping here you have joined one of the virtual launch parties of the “Not The TV Book Group”, so grab a virtual canapé (the prawn ones are a delight) and glass of something lovely as I welcome you and explain all.

So what on earth is the Not The TV Book Group? Well I am thrilled that myself, Dovergreyreader, Kimbofo and Other Stories have brought together our bookish forces to bring you a fortnightly book group that you can all join in with. This is a chance to make a book group with a bit of a difference.

Not The TV Book GroupBefore I go any further I do want to state that even though I may have been a little cross about the TV Book Club last week this is in no way designed to denigrate or mock or challenge the show in any way. Yes there is the title but think of the ‘Not The Booker Prize’ the Guardian ran and you will see where we are coming from. The TV Book Group isn’t going anywhere and in truth we all hope that it listens to its audience and prevails as there aren’t enough shows on TV about books here in the UK.

We also haven’t told any publishers that we are doing this, there is no marketing going on, in fact we discounted any freebies that we may have been sent to us by publishers in the past, as for Series One we wanted to bring you something that was just from us, something we are passionate about that’s gimmick free. We aren’t going to be checking on the sales of the books we choose, though if you did want to buy the selection then do feel free, we are just as happy if people head to their local library and check the books out. Anyway now that’s cleared up back to how it will work…

We decided a book a fortnight was a good plan as though I am sure the final list will be a delight I would like to read some other books along the way, as I am sure you all will too. So therefore over the next sixteen weeks we will be taking it in turns to share our virtual lounges/sofa’s/beanbags and thoughts with you all. We really do hope you join in with reading some books which could be gems and some which could be turkeys, time will tell and we will be honest with our feelings on them.

So what are the books? Well as yet they haven’t quite been whittled down, we have a “meeting of minds at midday” today to make a long list of sixteen become a unanimous eight reads. You wouldn’t think choosing books would be hard but choosing four books each for the long list was so difficult, the criteria was;

  • Books we have not yet read or written about.
  • Books available in paperback in the UK (and hopefully oversea’s)
  • Books out now or published in the last five years.

The final eight and their dates will be announced as soon as we are all agreed and then we can only hope that you all decide to join in if you can, wherever you are, the more the merrier. I hope to see you all at each date with all your bookish thoughts at the ready! Until thats announced I wondered if you could guess what any of, or all eight of, the titles? At the moment of typing this I am as mystified as you, I only know what two of them could be. Go on have a guess!

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts, Not The TV Book Group

Simon’s Bookish Bits #5

As you can see I decided in the end that I would number my Bookish Bits, I know its nice to get a taster of what’s coming however you now have no idea and so you just have to pop by anyway, most of you preferred the numbering too. So anyway what is coming up today, well we have a bit more discussion of TV Book Clubs, we also have some criminal admissions and a give away before finishing up with something that will either make you think a) I have gone mad b) I am a big hypocrite c) you may want to disown me. So its all the usual fun and frolics for one of my Saturday posts really.

First up a huge thank you to everyone who commented on my rant post about The TV Book Club which still makes me a little bit annoyed just thinking about it. Not because of the book choices or Ms Ross (who has a job I am most envious of and credit where credit is due she is getting people to read) just the time spent by people rewarded in such an awful way still gets to me. Of course I will be tuning in tomorrow though not expecting to see any changes as they have pre-recorded it already. Part of me will be tuning in for intrigue and the other part of me will be wanting to watch so I can play Lizzy’s new weekly game which also happens to be my post of the week and you can see here. I love the idea.

From my aforementioned post I took on some advice from Mee and checked out The First Tuesday Book Club a show on in Australia that really, really works. I have popped a video clip of one of the segments I love where each member of the show shares a book they have loved in the last month which wasn’t one of the Book Group choices. Here is the host Jennifer Byrne discussing a book she loved one particular month…

I love how enthusiastic she is in fact the whole panel are, even when they don’t like a book they are enthused. I was thrilled to see on their website that they have reviewed The Little Stranger and so should you want an interesting and insightful chat about that have a look here. I have also decided I want to befriend Marieke Hardy, in every episode she makes me laugh and she doesn’t hold back too. You can also get podcasts of the show which are my podcasts of the week (though I am still addicted to Books on the Nightstand of course). 

I am planning a big book sort over the next week after I noticed that once I added all the books received this week (see below in a mo) I have a TBR list of over seven hundred books (about 780)! I know, I know. I am planing a slight cull this weekend, a mega sort through is needed. Though I do love having a big selection to browse through. I have added a new page on the blog especially called My Mighty TBR so do go have a gander, though don’t judge me for the amount of books there or what those books are ha. It is criminal really, but what can you do, it’s an addiction. Speaking of criminal this is the latest pile of books in…

All crime fiction! We have some Mankell who I read as soon as it arrived and raved about yesterday. There have been both Penguin and OUP editions of Sherlock Holmes arriving, reminding me I must arrange a ‘Sherlock Saturday’ or something along those lines. If that wasn’t enough every copy of Agatha Raisin I didn’t own has turned up leaving me over joyed. What an ace arrival of parcels.

Now as ever I like you guys to get in on the action and so I have two signed copies of the latest Agatha Raisin book ‘There Goes The Bride’ all you have to do is leave a comment on something in today’s Bookish Bits and you are in the drawer, simple! The drawer is open until midnight tomorrow winners announced in the week. Though maybe don’t comment on the picture below which may outrage some of you…

Yes that’s me with an e-reader, I cannot deny it BUT, and please hear me out, it is for work. I have constantly sworn I would never buy an e-reader and I haven’t however when I was offered on to see if it could convert me I thought “don’t be prejudiced Simon, give it a try at least then you will know if you don’t like it” and so I am. I will be reporting back in due course. I haven’t started anything yet, have been too busy with the manual (which is on the e-reader itself) so am debating if should start my e-reading travels with Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ or Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ both I have wanted to read to see what the fuss is all about. Though one of course is a complete classic, the other… well, I shall say no more!  Over to you.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Give Away, Simon's Bookish Bits

Faceless Killers – Henning Mankell

I mentioned on Saturday that I have been really enjoying the BBC series of Wallander adapted from the Henning Mankell series. I have however been leaving watching Faceless Killers as I wanted to read the book first. Well finally I have gotten round to it. Would I love the book as much as do the television series, would it be as atmospheric and gloomy yet fantastic as the TV show?

Faceless Killers is the first in the now very successful series of Wallander books by Henning Mankell. It opens with the discovery of the brutal murder Lovgren’s, an elderly couple who have been living their latter years in the Swedish countryside, by their neighbours. Inspector Wallander is called to the scene where they have discovered Maria Lovgren is still alive but not for long. Her final word being ‘foreigners’ is also the only clue as who might have killed this couple as no one can work out why they would have been murdered. It is up to Wallander and his colleagues to try and find the killer though once someone leaks the woman’s last word to the press a racial storm is whirled up causing its own shocking deadly events.

Wallander is a brilliant creation as he is incredibly flawed; in fact really both he and his life are a complete mess. His wife has left him, his daughter has barely spoken to him since she tried to kill herself and he saved her and his father is becoming senile and he is surviving on caffeine, alcohol, pain killers and little sleep. It can be difficult to make a distinct lead character in crime fiction as there are so many inspectors/detectives to choose from but Mankell has done it instantly with Wallander.

I also thought that throwing in the topic of racism in Sweden makes the book not only have another dimension to it but looks at a country changing. It’s interesting to see through the characters how they all react to this and the state of immigrants in the country fictionally; though I think Mankell is trying to also raise a current topic that’s important to be discussed. I couldn’t believe that this was originally written nearly 20 years ago as it felt very fresh and current. You could put that down to translation but I think its definitely in the main down to the author. I think first crime novels can be really difficult but Mankell makes it look easy and I cannot wait to read The Dogs of Riga.

I am really excited about the rest of the series and can completely see why people have been raving about it for so long. It was interesting though as I watched the TV version about half an hour after finishing the last page (because I didn’t want it to expire on iPlayer) and as usual the show was beautifully shot, wonderfully acted and gripping. It is also very much an ‘adaptation’ though the story is much more complex in the book and twists and turns a lot and some characters don’t exist in the book or look anything like their description if they are in it. That’s not a criticism as the show is amazing, if anything it’s a bonus as if I read the others that I have seen I know they will be quite a bit different. I do think that Branagh is a perfect Wallander and that rarely happens. So now I have double the delight.

If you haven’t tried this series be you a fan of crime or not do give it a whirl. It comes highly recommended from Savidge Reads. Who else has read this book? Does the series carry on in the same vein, does it get better? Any other Wallander thoughts?

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Filed under Books To Film, Henning Mankell, Review, Vintage Books

Library Loot & Temptation Test

I was unsure how to use the library with my book buying ban as it doesn’t really stick to my ‘reading through the books I own’ goal. However after some thought I decided that not only would this be helpful for book group choices if I didn’t own them, it also promotes libraries and that is also a good thing. I can only take out a certain number of books out at a time and read them all by the time they are due back. So what books did I get from the library, just a select five;

The Finishing School – Muriel Spark
Myself and Novel Insights have been plotting a little Spark-ish something for the spring and so I am hoarding up as many Sparks as I can just for that, more on that in due course.

Memories of a Novelist – Virginia Woolf
Though my initial reading experience may not have been a favourite book of mine there is no denying that Woolf is an amazing writer and so I thought I would give this selection of short stories a whirl, and they are Hesperus Press what more could you want?

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
I can’t work out if I actually want to read this or if its like bloggers peer pressure and because I have seen so many of you raving about it a book I wouldn’t normally be interested in has been niggling at me for a read, it was this or Eclipse so I thought I would try this out. I didn’t get the sequel as have heard it’s not great. We will see how I get on with this I don’t want to read it when am not in just the right mood.

After Dark – Haruki Murakami
After loving my second journey into the fictional world of Murakami I spied this on the shelves and decided that I couldn’t not. Its one of his most recent and also its one of his shortest so thought would give it a whirl. I have some of his here but isn’t it funny how when you own an authors work it’s the other ones you want to read?

The Rehearsal – Eleanor Catton
I have seen a few bloggers mentioning this and I feel it could be on the Orange list, I have no reason for that at all I just do, I think this will be getting a lot more attention when it comes out in paper back it also sounds quite fascinating and slightly provocative with its tale of a high school sex scandal which is then put on as a play in schools.

So that’s my lot from the library. I should add that you should be extremely proud of me as my visit to the library proved to be very tempting. Not because I could have come away with many more loans but because of this…

A Bloody Book Sale

Typical isn’t it? I go somewhere which I deem ‘book binge safe’ and there is a huge table or three of 10p and 20p bargains. I did have a browse and you would be even more impressed as some of the titles were very me, but I walked away with nothing so I have survived my first big temptation and feel quite pleased. I will add that I didn’t dare walk in any second hand shops on the way or on the way back though, they don’t have library stickers or those crinkly see through covers on.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Haruki Murakami, Muriel Spark, Virginia Woolf

Timoleon Vieta Come Home – Dan Rhodes

When I read Gold all the way back in 2008 not only did I thoroughly enjoy it and laugh a lot I also got very excited about the author Dan Rhodes. It has somehow taken me almost a year and a half to read his work again now having finished ‘Timoleon Vieta Come Home’ would I enjoy Dan Rhodes as much as I did the first time around?

I wasn’t sure that a book about a dog ‘with the saddest eyes’ would work for me as I don’t tend to like adult books about animals, though I am an animal fan. However as that dog is the Timoleon Vieta of the title I knew I would be on a journey with him so I would have to leave my preconceived ideas somewhere else. I am glad I did as within about ten pages I was smitten with Timoleon Vieta (apart from the name which when you have to read it that often gets a little much) and quite wanted him as a pet of my own. Onto the story though.

Timoleon Vieta is the best friend, quite literally, of the composer Cockroft after he appears at the window of his Italian Villa one day. Cockroft a lover of animals, though with a bad history in owning dogs, cannot resist his eyes and so keeps him and spoils him rotten and the two become the perfect companions. That is until ‘The Bosnian’ arrives. Cockroft has a habit of giving out his card (along with a rather sexual quip) to good looking young men in the hope of long lasting affairs; he doesn’t expect them to follow it up, especially when they are straight. However as The Bosnian wants a free life where he can be happily bored for days on end he is willing to go to any lengths to get it, he just has to get that damned dog that hates him out of the way and one night after getting Cockroft drunk the dog is taken to Rome and bumped.

This is when the second half of the book kicks in and though we still read of Cockroft and his wicked Bosnian houseboy we end up following Timoleon Vieta as he makes his way home and surviving. We also are brought into the lives of those he meets and their fascinating stories in the Italian villages and towns. From a tale of star crossed lovers, a spurned Welsh girl after a holiday romance gone bad, to a man left with his dead wife’s child from another relationship these are all short tales of love, loss and betrayal and all of them are stunning.

I really enjoyed this book. There is a shock ending that I should mention as it has been slated on certain sites for it. I found the ending shocking but then sometimes we need to be shocked and sometimes books shouldn’t end the way we the reader want them too. I won’t say anymore because I don’t want to give anything away, if you have read it and want to discuss it drop me an email as wouldn’t want to give any spoilers out on here. It’s official I really enjoy Dan Rhodes writing, in fact he could become a favourite author if it carries on like this. I was surprised this was actually his debut novel; its darker, quite a lot more graphic and a bit angrier than Gold was but none the worse for it and shows that Dan Rhodes can write two very different books. Four stars from me, which is high praise!

I think I will be reading a lot more of him this year and am already eying up Anthropology on my shelves. Any Rhodes recommendations or thoughts from you all?

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Dan Rhodes, Review