Monthly Archives: March 2010

CrocAttack! – Assaf Gavron

Thank you all so much for your thoughts emails and comments that arrived from yesterdays post. I will be responding to you all throughout the day but now its time for some thoughts aimed towards a particular book which is ‘CrocAttack!’ by Assaf Gavron. Before I do it was very interesting to hear lots of you saying a book blog with few reviews will leave you wanting and eventually not visiting, but then we are book blogs so reading and relating our thoughts after should be what we are about as well as random bookish moments. But how many book reviews is enough and how many is too many, if a blog is solely reviews I find myself switching off or questioning how someone can read that much. Maybe that’s a discussion for another day, over to the book…

‘CrocAttack!’ by Assaf Gavron is a book that would have come to my attention without any help (though it was kindly sent by the publishers) as it is set in Israel, particularly Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, which I fell in love with when I went there last year. This book probably might not be the ideal holiday read to take on a trip there or before you go, as it looks at the terrorism seen in Israel, but its definitely one worth reading. I should make clear though that this book is set almost a decade ago when the Israeli/Palestine tensions and conflicts were at their most destructive and heightened.

Eitan Enoch is your average business man who is in a slightly turbulent relationship (his girlfriend Duchi is an interesting character) and in a steady average job being paid to save and find time for companies like the UK’s 118 118. On a normal routine bus ride to work in Tel Aviv one morning a fellow passenger begins to fret over a dark skinned man with a suit bag and believes he is a terrorist. Eitan, or ‘Croc’ to his friends, simply laughs it off. When the bus then explodes not long after he has dismounted and gotten the lift up to work Croc can’t believe what has happened. He also can’t believe it when he is involved in another set of terrorist attacks and neither can the public soon elevating him into being a national figure something the terrorists themselves want stopped.

If that wasn’t enough of a story line Gavron gives us another in alternating chapters which looks at the situation from a completely different angle, the mindset, feelings and driving forces of a terrorist. An initially unnamed young man lies in a coma unable to speak or communicate with the outside world, though he can understand what is going on around him, looking back at his life and how he came to be a suicide bomber and how his life came to that hospital bed at that time. Gavron goes through his emotions and feelings in a way that doesn’t make you sympathise with him at all but helps you to sort of understand him.

“To demonstrate, I disconnected the explosive from the electric circuit and connected a light bulb instead. I showed him how to connect the battery and he managed it after a few attempts. There was sweat on his brow. Bilhal went out to smoke, and when he returned I gave him a doubtful look. You have to be cooler than a cucumber in order to do something like this: you need frozen blood. You need to be a little bit crazy.”

It’s a place many readers won’t wish to go and indeed some may be horrified at the idea of (hence why this book has caused some controversy here and there) but if you are up to the challenge this is well worth it. It is also worth reading for the way the two narratives weave in and out and as you start to realise there is going to be a mammoth climax to the tale.

I realise I might have made it sound like this book is hard work or a struggle and it isn’t. The subject matter is dark and sometimes quite difficult but you feel you are in safe hands with Gavron, and despite some descriptions of the carnage a bomber leaves behind, nothing ever gets too graphic or goes too far. Basically it’s not a book that’s shocking for the sake of it. Nor is it a book that should be written off as simply ‘a darkly comic tale of terrorism’ as though in some places its funny it’s not a satire in anyway. It’s an incredibly intelligent, thought provoking, different and most importantly well written read that I would highly recommend giving a try.

I had the pleasure of listening to Gavron speak about it when I visited Jewish Book Week earlier this month and had the good fortune to have a quick chat with him after (more on that tomorrow) and get my copy signed.

I had started the book at the time, wanting to read it before he spoke, but then Book Group and the NTTVBG meant I popped it down but it stayed with me until I finally finished it last week however having now read it in its entirety it will stay with me much longer. I definitely want to watch out for the rest of Gavron’s back catalogue as it comes out in the UK, I am already a big fan.

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Filed under Assaf Gavron, Books of 2010, Fourth Estate Books, Review

Ethically Speaking (aka A Bit of Background Information)

I was going to just post a blog with pictures of the latest books to arrive at Savidge Reads HQ of late but before I did I thought maybe I should discuss with you all the ethics behind Savidge Reads as a blog and me as a blogger. Actually the ethics, and in a way the integrity, of book blogging has been something that I have been thinking about over the last month or two. It was something that a few other bloggers and I discussed last week at various events. So here goes, though I am slightly dubious about putting this out there as someone somewhere is bound to take offense, especially if this post is skim read, but hey ho here we go…

When I first set up my blog back in September 2007 (with a different blog provider) I left a single review up of a Susan Hill novel and promptly didn’t do anything again until the December. From then on I posted for almost another year before getting any comments or regular readers. The idea behind the blog was to have a home for my book thoughts rather than my system at the time of using the back of old envelopes, random scrap paper etc, etc. At the time I was working for an off shoot of News International (don’t judge me) and the lovely people next door at TLS took pity on a certain book geek and started letting me have ex review copies etc. You should have seen the amount of postal sacks they got every single day!!!

After deciding to work for my current employer (who I never name or normally bring into the blog as I like to keep them separate, today warrants an exception) full time, and leaving News International in December 2009, being the book lover I am I wanted the books pages. Oddly everyone up north (the head office is in Leeds, I work from home in London) seemed only too pleased to let me do so. I initially thought that it was because they weren’t very ‘booky’ up there, and they aren’t in the main. When the sudden mass of parcels started to arrive I began to realise there was another reason they might have been happy to hand it over. Initially I was thrilled at these bookish deluges and so would pop a picture up on the blog of books incoming; I also did this when I would go on rather mad book buying sprees, to share with all three of my readers at the time. It became a little regular feature and remains so.

I share the pictures because I like seeing pictures of books other bloggers get on their sites. I often think ‘oooh I wish I had that one’ and hope that instills the same feelings in some of you. I also put the pictures up because you all might recommend a book in that pile I would never otherwise have planned to read and would have ended up at Gran’s or passed on to friends/book group members/the charity shop and instead I find little gems here and there that is a bonus for me and the books pages and the blog (that’s a lot of bonuses going round right there).

When you work on a magazine with a UK circulation of over 250,000 readers a month lots of people want their books to feature on your (very limited) two pages each issue. So naturally I get lots and lots of unsolicited copies coming through the door. I think people might believe I ask for every book that arrives here… I don’t. I can’t, wouldn’t and don’t complain as who out there that loves books wouldn’t love that arriving at your door? I have also discovered some absolute gems that I would have missed out on other wise as I mentioned above. What is slightly hurtful is when I get criticised (by email or by word of mouth) for it, or for ‘showing off’ with all the books that come in or am accused of blogging for free books/becoming a marketing tool.

I am not someone who thinks people should go into the book blogging world for the free books, it’s simply not ethical. If they ask to send a blogger something  or if they send books without asking that’s the publishers prerogative. Asking for books is very different. I can’t lie I have been known to ask for a book or three now and again, however this is done on the understanding that it will get read and my book thoughts will appear at some point (my review policy for Savidge Reads, not my work, will be on the blog soon).* I do email publishers though if all goes wrong with a book or a book I specifically asked for is actually not going to get featured for a while. 

I am not making any money from this site I simply do it for the love of books. I think the fact I have a nice amount coming in via my day job is not only a perk of the job but benefits all of you and means I have a diverse selection of books to write about. Having good relationships with publisher’s means I can get the odd author interview or giveaways and things. I don’t sell the review copies I don’t want, as I have rather a major ethical opinion on that – simply that’s its wrong. But that’s just my humble opinion.

I also don’t think you should go in to blogging looking to become some kind of celebrity reviewer/certified fountain of all knowledge on books aiming to take over the publishing world and eradicate/destroy/discourage the reading of any book you don’t like and make any book you do enjoy win every award going. We have book blogs, we aren’t reviewing for the NYT or The Guardian (not that I am saying their reviews are better than bloggers – lets keep a lid on that can of worms) or judging The Man Booker, no matter how wonderful some book blogs are. It’s lovely when people leave comments or when you meet them and they say that they like your blog. It’s delightful to get emails telling you someone bought a book you raved about, even if it might be they hated it and want you to reimburse them (that’s a joke). In fact it’s the comments, emails, friendships and discussion along with keeping a diary of my bookish life that keeps me posting and this blog going.**

I am hoping that all made sense and I haven’t caused a mass desertion of readers from the site, if I have… whoops. I think I just wanted you all to hear from the horses mouth, as it were, my personal ethics on blogging and particularly how books come here. Partly because there have been some wicked whispers not necessarily aimed at me, but also because it just seemed timely for me to tackle it all and get my thoughts out. Thanks for reading this far sorry if I waffled on, I know it was a long post today.

*In case any publishers are reading and thinking ‘oh but that title I sent hasn’t appeared on the blog’ either I am doing it on release date or just after or sadly I didn’t really love it and so it wont be appearing on the blog. A post and a page on my review policy is currently pending.
** Now if you do want to see some pictures of books that have come in to Savidge Reads, some requested some not, of late then do go to the post below. If not then I will see you tomorrow for more bookish fun and frolics.

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(Sort of) Birthday Books

Hopefully there will be a post above this now which talks more about how the books come into Savidge Reads and my ethics behind it all. In fact some of you might have come from there, but enough of that rant and onto something joyful. Books, books, books! Yes its one of those posts with pictures of the books to have arrived of late at Savidge Reads.

The first ones that I will share, though one isn’t a book really, are presents from some friends I saw at the weekend. My lovely friend Dom got me ‘The Truth About These Strange Times’ by Adam Foulds “worried buying you a book would be a nightmare Simon, but I saw the line ‘he felt almost savagely awake’ and instantly thought of you’. I know nothing about this book so am quite excited. My friend Michelle got me a host of goodies including the ‘Postcards from Penguin’ I have had my beady eyes on for some time.

Next up and some parcels from publishers which were in some cases birthday parcels and in other cases just random lovely parcels. I have separated them and below you can see ten of the long listed Orange books.

I won’t list them all because I am well aware some people are already a bit Orange’d out already (I had a phase of that yesterday but am back to loving it all again) but it now looks like I will have no excuse not to read the short list or frankly the long list. No pressure though I might just see how I get on with one of them now and again.

More of a mish mash of titles now for you which I would love your thoughts on, well I would love your thoughts on all of the books in today’s post but you know what I mean.

Miss Savidge Moves Her House – Christine Adams (how can I not love this when it’s someone with my name, very excited about this non fiction book)
Wigs on the Green – Nancy Mitford (need I say more?)
In Other Rooms, Other Wonders – Daniyal Mueenuddin (have heard wondrous things about this one)
Italian Shoes – Henning Mankell (an author I pretty much want to read the entire works of after only one Wallander, this isn’t a Wallander book)
Ascension – Steven Galloway (I thought The Cellist of Sarajevo was utterly brilliant)
The Book of Negro’s – Lawrence Hill (wanted this for ages though might have to give reading fiction about slavery a rest after The Long Song by Andrea Levy)
Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey (I think everyone is going to be reading this book this year)
Skippy Dies – Paul Murray (a modern epic is what I have been told, might be perfect for a chunky read over the Easter break)
The Lessons – Naomi Alderman (know nothing about this one but I do love the cover so that’s a good start)

There you have it. Have you read any of them, or indeed anything else by the authors? What are your thoughts on posts on incoming books? I love them on other people’s blogs but would love your thoughts; I might be in a minority.

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All About Those Victorians

I actually wanted to call today’s post ‘All About Victorians and a Little Bit of Death’ but I thought that the second half of that sentence would either put people off or possibly attract the wrong sort of attention and so I toned it down somewhat. There is a reason behind my post today though, its not just being slightly macabre for the sake of it. I mentioned to you on Saturday that it was a big day for me at Highgate (and I was appallingly nervous) as it was the important tour guide training. I actually took a picture of a very newly uncovered tombstone that I thought might interest all you fellow book lovers because of whats carved on it…

Anyway the good news is that (hip, hip hoorah and a huge sign of relief) I am now officially one of Highgate Cemetery’s Tour Guides!! So should you happen to venture there on a weekend after the 10th of April then you might get me taking you around. Naturally I now want to be the best tour guide ever, unlikely as some of them have been there for a decade or more and know so much it makes me feel quite vexed, and so I am on the hunt for more reading matter that can bump up my knowledge of the Victorian era and even all things deathly, which means I need to face one of my reading weaknesses… Non fiction!

As you can see above I have dug out a few non fiction goodies I already own that might help me. ‘Necropolis’ by Catherine Arnold is a book about ‘London and its dead’ that I mentioned a while ago, dug out of the TBR and then promptly forgot to read. ‘Stiff’ and ‘Six Feet Over’ are the two of Mary Roach books that I have been meaning to read for ages, the first is all about what happens to your body after you die and latter is all about the afterlife which the Victorians were very into. ‘Underground London’ by Stephen Smith is about what lies underneath London that you might be missing out on and discusses some of the cemeteries etc. Finally Jessica Mitford’s book ‘The American Way of Death’ might be slightly off track and in the wrong country but it might have some relevant bits and we do get a lot of American visitors to the cemetery and I have been told ‘engaging with your audience is key’.

I need your help though. Not only do I think that there are more books on this subject I am more than likely missing out on I have a huge gap in my knowledge and that’s the in’s and out’s of Victorian life and the history of 1800 – 1900. I did get sent both ‘The Victorian House’ and ‘Consuming Passions’ by Judith Flanders in the post but they went missing which was very vexing and the publishers didn’t send a second set. I have heard these are marvellous though. What would you recommend? I can guarantee many of you will have wondrous recommendations of books that I should give a read and if you do I would be thrilled.

You might also know some places to go that I haven’t thought of. I dragged The Converted One and my friend Michelle round Brompton Cemetery yesterday (they filmed some of Sherlock Holmes there, so a sort of tenacious bookish theme there too).

I have also already done Kensal Green, which I previously shared with you, and aim to do the rest of the Magnificent Seven in due course. But apart from cemeteries where else might I go and visit? I know I live in London but I often find people who don’t hear or secret places those of us living here pass by. So that’s your mission today, to recommend places of Victorian interest to visit that I might have missed and even more importantly books on Victorians that I must, must read.

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The Illusionist – Jennifer Johnston

It almost seems contrived to constantly sing the praises of book groups (be they online or face to face) and the fact that they make you read books you never normally would, yet I am going to do that again today. One of the truest  joys of  a book group can be finding an author previously unknown to you that you enjoy so much you can’t wait to read more of their work, in fact you find yourself regularly looking at their back catalogue and wanting to own it all immediately. This happened with me in reading ‘The Illusionist’ by Jennifer Johnston for the latest meeting of minds of the NTTVBG last week.

‘The Illusionist’ is an intriguing and unsettling tale of the meeting, marriage and separation of Stella (a publisher) and Martyn (an illusionist – not to be confused with a conjurer, especially not in front of the man himself) who meet as strangers on a train in the summer of 1961. Initially unimpressed by this random man who wants to befriend her Stella is soon won over by what she believes is love and accepts his swift proposal of marriage, once married though Stella is bound into a world of secrecy, not just of her husbands but also of her own, and an ominous side to her husband begins to show through.

It isn’t giving anything away to say that the book is set after Martyn’s untimely death (he is blown up along with hundreds of doves from his infamous act in an IRA bombing) and funeral as Stella’s estranged daughter Robin comes to visit her when the book opens. As the two women discuss Martyn, Stella is reminded of the past and we switch between the present and the past and discover how the couple’s relationship developed and changes over time. The mystery that initially attracts and draws Stella to Martyn soon fades becoming secrecy and a calculated, controlling and subtle bullying behaviour of his true character starts to submerge which is in some parts quite dark and disturbing for the reader. It will also make you so angry in parts that you almost can’t speak, but that to me showed me I was deeply involved with the story and the characters.

It’s hard to say anymore without ruining the book because it’s a book that slowly but surely hooks you in and leaves you wanting more even once the final page is turned. It is certainly a book that will stay with me for quite sometime. I will fully admit I had some slight trepidation with the book initially as Johnston alternates between time periods suddenly and often with the same narrative, yet with the end result its well worth muddling through the first ten pages as the book will win you over with its subtle brilliance.

I have to say from initially feeling unsure about the book I was soon completely engrossed and had finished the book in a sitting or two and I can’t imagine there are many people that couldn’t be spell bound (pun intended) by this novel. I would highly recommend this to any of you who didn’t join in the NTTVBG and a huge thanks to Kim for putting this book and indeed this author on my reading radar, I will be looking out for much more of Jennifer Johnston’s work in the future. Has anyone else read this or any of Johnston’s other works? Do you have any particular recommendations for what I should read next?

Don’t forget that the NTTVBG is having a week off so we will be back on the 11th to discuss Neil Bartlett’s ‘Skin Lane’ right here at Savidge Reads, hope to see you all then.

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Filed under Headline Review, Jennifer Johnston, Not The TV Book Group, Review

Simon’s Bookish Bits #15

I have been up quite early this morning as I am feeling rather nervous as I am off to Highgate today for the crucial last day of training and approval to become a tour guide so if I waffle in this weeks rather random (birthday bits, competition bits and bobs, a link and the Riverside Readers small leap to fame) Bookish Bits. I hate tests I get so, so nervous so please have everything crossed from me this afternoon.

First up is another big thank you from me as I received some lovely birthday gifts from some lovely bloggers and readers which was really kind. I still have to go and pick up quite a few parcels from the sorting office (the postman hates me this week) but here is what has come in from some of you…

That very appropriate mug and book are from the lovely Kim at Reading Matters. The bag has already been out on the tube with me twice and three people have actually asked me where it came from. I didn’t know which got some frowns, I just think people thought I didn’t want to tell them, but maybe Kim will pop by and let us know? The lovely Simon T sent me some Wodehouse as I own none and mentioned on his post that I really wanted to read them. A reader who would like to remain unknown also sent me Murakami’s ‘After Dark’ which I am really looking forward to reading. I believe the lovely Novel Insights has ordered me a rather special series of books which I am very excited about and will update you on when they have all arrived.

Now as a thank you for all your lovely thoughts I secretly put anyone who said Happy Birthday in a raffle for a copy of ‘A Life Apart’. I also then gave away two sets of the first reissues of the Agatha Raisin series and (drum roll please) the winners are… Simon T and Elena. If you email me your addresses we will get them out to you.

Now if you didn’t win don’t be disheartened, there is a mammoth Agatha competition coming later in the year, seriously its ace! There will be more random giveaways for comments here there and everywhere in the months to come. It takes a lot to comment (I get as many emails as comments as some people like to stay that bit more anonymous) so it’s nice to say thanks now and again don’t you think. I am aware I have been rubbish at commenting back or on other blogs this week, revision and birthdays are to blame.

Finally before I whizz off for my big important day at Highgate I thought I would leave you with some links to have a gander at. Claire of Paperback Reader has written a brilliant rant about annotations in library books you have to read. I personally can’t grasp why people even dog ear a library book let alone write in them. Do what you want in your own books but not library ones, I find it really grating. Mind you this shocked me to the core last year…

Yes that is indeed a second-hand Persephone book that some dimwit has written the price in ink and massive letters on the inside of and technically defaced. I was appalled.  Note – this is not a new picture but one taken when I was allowed to buy books last year.

The last link for you today is one that I got very excited about. The Riverside Readers have become the latest book group to feature on the Faber and Faber website. You can go and have a look at our lovely group shot and then read the feature, I have been eagerly awaiting this for a few months and hoorah here it is!

So what are you all up to this weekend? Is anyone else doing any tests/exams of any sorts? What bookish things have caught your eye? What book have you been raving about? I will look forward to all your lovely replies when I get back… oh dear the nerves are coming in waves again!

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The Long Song – Andrea Levy

Andrea Levy’s latest novel ‘The Long Song’ is another book that I have had to give a little space to before I could write about it. Its been very interesting meeting lots of other bloggers over the last few days and finding that a lot of them leave a book a good day or two (or even a month or two) until they have digested it and then written about it. We were actually discussing how its interesting a book you read and think is ‘ok’ can sometimes be one of the books that you most remember a few months later. Oh, hang on I have gone off on a tangent…

‘The Long Song’ is a book about the slavery in Jamaica which we are told through an initially nameless narrator (who has written this book for her son is a publisher and thinks the tale should be told) a depiction of the life of a slave girl in the 1800’s. We follow July from her birth onwards through the trying times of her separation from her mother when Caroline Mortimer, not long arrived in Jamaica, decides she wants her as a pet pretty much, through the Baptist War in 1831 and onwards. I don’t want to give anything away other than to say it’s quite a journey because I do want to urge people to read this.

July is a wonderful character to follow all of this through the eyes of. From her very birth there is a drama and a determination around her which proceeds as she becomes a maid from the rich white people left to fend at the age of 9 for without her mother. Rather than become a victim, which would be understandable, she becomes a wily, spritely and rather rebellious young woman who knows how to get what she wants and get away with a heck of a lot. Levy doesn’t just create funny and heart-warming characters there are also ones who become villainous throughout the book. The aforementioned Caroline being one, her tale is that of a rich young woman forced to live with her brother who initially delights in Jamaica and all its ways before turning bitterly against it, she has a complexity to her that I liked though I didn’t like the character myself. She treats her staff poorly, beating them often, is spoilt and yet there is a naivety which comes from her breeding and place in society that’s oddly interesting to look at.

Slavery is always going to be a tough subject and yet the way Levy writes it both hits home the horrors of what took place, sometimes in quite graphic detail, and yet through her wonderful narrators voice there is a humour there. At first when I accidentally let a big laugh out on the tube I felt incredibly guilty, how awful of me to sit and laugh at a book about such a subject. It almost made me waver with the book slightly. However I put the book down for a day and thought about it and through the characters and the humour in their tales of trialling lives I think what Levy is doing is showing you the spirit that some of these people (I am writing about them as if they were real but they are drawn so very vividly you believe it all) had which only hits home the terrible situation to the reader even more.

I have seen some rather poorly received reviews of this book and I can’t help thinking it’s because of its predecessor. It’s hard to not compare this book with the wonderful, wonderful ‘Small Island’, which is an incredible book, yet to do so would be a disservice to this book, I do like to judge an author on each book they write. I could also mention its long listing for the Orange Prize (which I guessed it would – hoorah) but I think we all know the Longlist quite well by now. I do hope it gets shortlisted; I will leave it at that.

If you haven’t read any Levy then this is a great book to start with. If you have already had the pleasure then this book continues to show that Levy is a wonderful author who can take you to far away places with wonderful characters and make it all look effortless. It also has one of my favourite opening lines (have you all been keeping notes on yours) in quite some time. “The book you are now holding within your hand was born of a craving.” This is a truly wonderful book that haunts you in both its humour and its horrors.

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Filed under Andrea Levy, Books of 2010, Headline Review, Review