Monthly Archives: April 2010

Simon’s Bookish Bits #19

Sorry if when you start reading this you are lulled into the false sense of security that this is Saturday, it isn’t unfortunately, I have just moved my bookish bits a day forward. This week we have some competition winners, some Persephone bits, big books and you have the opportunity to ask Granny Savidge Reads anything bookish and my mother too (who is just as hot on books) so rather than waffle on let’s get cracking.

First up a HUGE thanks to all of you who came up with the wonderful descriptions of a Bunyip that author Evie Wyld and I asked for last Saturday, they are some of my favourite comments ever and I was thrilled how creative you got. Evie has had a look and named three winners who are Jenny, Fliss and Jodie! If you email me your addresses then a copy of Evie’s book will be in the post and your Bunyip’s will be on show next week as Joe is creating your visions right now.

Now links and things this week are about bookish events both bloggish and in the flesh that are coming up. Not only is next Saturday the 8th the ‘UK Book Bloggers Meet’ which is being organised by the lovely Simon T (and I will be popping into briefly) it is also ‘Vintage Classics Day’ at Foyles where you can see and meet A.S. Byatt, Martin Amis, Adam Foulds, Julie Myerson… oh and me and my rather special plus one who will be reporting back on it all! So that’s something to head out for I feel, you can find out more about it here.

From Monday it is also ‘Persephone Reading Week’  hosted by Verity of The B Files and Claire of Paperback Reader (who has done a wonderful Angela Carter month, I have been loving ‘The Bloody Chamber’ so much I have been rationing it). Do you have some Persephone’s lined up? I have five options I am mulling over currently.

Speaking of Persephone I was a little over excited by the fact I had not one but two quotes in the Persephone biannually…

 

You should be able to click on the pictures to see larger versions or you could just pop and see my thoughts on Little Boy Lost and The Shuttle. The Shuttle is my favourite Persephone that I have encountered so far and will soon be on my ‘A Readers Table’ which a lot of you have emailed about the disappearance of along with a lot of other pages. They are having some nips and tucks but will be back over the next few days, though not this weekend as I will be away and having no signal I will be getting to grip with this monster (which I have started and have to say is addictive)…

My being away leads to the final part of today’s post. I am off up north (or already on my way/there dependent on when you are reading this) to see my mother, step dad, siblings and THE WHOLE Savidge family, all 22 of us, which of course includes Granny Savidge Reads (who has told me her column is half done). Mum has agreed to do a Savidge Reads Grills like Gran did too. I then thought though I would go one further and let you ask either of them any bookish based question you like!!!! Just leave it in a comment and I will corner them sometime on Sunday and let you have the results in due course.

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The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell

I don’t know about you but am I the only blogger who wishes they had cottoned onto all of this blogging malarkey about three or four years (maybe five or six) before they actually did? The reason that I have been thinking about that is that I could have shared my thoughts on so many other books with you all, one such book would be on that Granny Savidge Reads made me purchase and was ‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’ by Maggie O’Farrell which we both thought was marvellous. However I can share my thoughts with you on the latest which I was rather delighted to get an advance copy of.

First off I should say it will be hard to do this book justice full stop, it will also be hard to say too much without giving everything away and spoiling it for the reader. There are two main stories running through ‘The Hand That First Held Mine’. One is the story of Lexie a recently graduated student who finds herself back at home in rural Devon with her family and younger siblings. When she finds Innes Kent spying on her over her garden wall she soon finds her chance to escape and ends up in the midst of the streets of London’s Soho during the bohemian 1950’s and part of a rather unconventional, but very touching for the reader, love story.

The other story set in the present day is of Elina, a woman who has not long had a baby though she cannot remember the birth at all one minute she was pregnant the next there was a baby by the bed, and her husband Ted who knows what happened and doesn’t want to tell her. As the book goes on O’Farrell very carefully allows us glimpses into these two very different worlds slowly filling in the blanks and adding in some subtle twists, plotting and weaving the two stories together slowly revealing how they are connected. I make it sound like there is no plot, there is – well there are two, I just don’t want to spoil anything for the reader. I will say I found both stories incredibly readable, you want to know what happens with both couple for very different reasons as there are things left unsaid and tensions bubbling under the surfaces.

Some reviews I have seen have bemoaned that the connection is too obvious but I didn’t really start to figure it out until two thirds of the way through. However this isn’t a mystery story for the reader to figure out it’s a tale of two wonderful female leads and their lives, though readers might like to be prepared for some shocks and the possible need for some hankies. It is also about the characters around them, for example Lexie has a wonderful strong willed landlady and Innes’ ex’s while Elina has a matriarchal mother-in-law to contend with.

For me the star of the whole book was the writing. Every single sentence was a real joy to read and seemed to have been crafted with care as if every word counted and that is a rare find I think. In some ways it reminded me of the way Brooklyn was crafted though the stories are nothing a like at all. The fact that on top of this atmospheric and beautiful writing are two such interesting women, a whole cast of wonderful crafted characters and a plot makes this a wonderful book for the reader, you won’t want to rush it rather savour every line page by page. 9/10

Here’s one of my favourite parts of the book which shows how beautifully written cinematic and captivating I think the prose is;

But this is anticipating. The film needs to be rewound a little. Watch. Innes sucks in a nimbus of smoke, lifts a cigarette stub from the ashtray, appears to envelop Lexie in a shirt and push her across the room, the pillows jump on to the bed, Lexie zooms backwards towards the window. Then they are back on the bed and they are both naked and, goodness, doesn’t sex look oddly the same in reverse, except now they are lovingly putting on each others clothes, one by one, then whisking out of the door, running down the stairs, and Innes is pulling the key out of his door. The film speeds up. There are Innes and Lexie in his car, scooting backwards along a road, Lexie with a scarf over her head. There they are forking food out of their mouths in a restaurant and putting it down on plates, here they are in bed again and their clothes fly towards them. Here is a woman in a red pillbox hat walking in reverse away from Lexie. Here is Lexie again looking up at a building in Soho, then she is walking away from it with a jerky, reversed gait. Lexie is walking backwards up a long, dim stair case. The film is getting faster and faster. A train pulls out of a big smoke-filled station, rattles backwards though countryside. At a small station, Lexie is seen to get out and put down her suitcase. And the film ends. We are back, neatly, to where we left off.”

I now rather desperately want to read the rest of Maggie O’Farrell’s work even more than I did after reading ‘Esme’, especially after I saw her talking, despite a cold, at Foyle’s on Tuesday with Lionel Shriver. I am wondering if Maggie O’Farrell is eligible for the Man Booker if so I wouldn’t be shocked, rather delighted in fact, to see this getting long listed. As to her previous works what would you recommend? I have to say I might pace myself as I think they will be books to treasure and I don’t want to run out of them.

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell (if you haven’t read it you should)
Brooklyn – Colm Toibin (for the writing)

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Filed under Books of 2010, Headline Review, Maggie O'Farrell, Review

Homer & Langley – E.L. Doctorow

I have probably mentioned once, twice or maybe even more, that there are some authors that can intimidate you with just their name. I have no idea why but E.L. Doctorow is one such author. I think it might be because his name makes me think of the Russian greats and I find those most daunting too. When I saw his latest novel ‘Homer & Langley’ was about two reclusive siblings who shut themselves away from the world I instantly thought ‘ooh a male Grey Gardens’ and wanted to read it. It might be a bit of a strange reason to want to read a book for but there you have it and Grey Gardens is one of my favourite ever films.

‘Homer & Langley’ is a fictional take on the very real Collyer brothers. However if like me you had never heard of them before fear not as E.L. Doctorow manages to bring them and their lives vividly to life. The brothers were born into bourgeois New York in the 1880’s. Homer the eldest went blind in his late teens, his description of which opens the book both beautifully and sadly, his younger brother Langley went off to fight in the First World War and came back a changed man from the effects of mustard gas. During Langley’s time away his parents had sadly died from Spanish flu epidemic.

“To this day I don’t like to think about their deaths. It is true that with the onset of my blindness there had been a kind of retrenchment of whatever feelings they had for me, as if an investment they had made had not paid off and they were cutting their losses. Nevertheless, nevertheless, this was the final abandonment, a trip from which they were not to return, and I was shaken.”

From the perspective of Homer we are given an insight into how the brothers ended up withdrawing from the world little by little and from looking back at their past almost letting the reader see how two men could end up surrounded by endless hoarded items (one of the rooms actually housed a car) in particular Langley’s need to collect every single paper every single day in the hope of creating ‘Collyer’s One Edition For All Time’ (which made me think of a homepage on a news website way before its time). We also get to see how society and the world in general was changing as though the brothers became reclusive they knew of people, read about or collected things from this changing world.

It is in fact one of the many wonderful things about this book that in just over 200 pages we go through decades which included both World Wars as well as Korea and Vietnam and feel the impact of them. We see how the television and motor cars, the movements in science (such as the first man on the moon) and the politics affect America. We also get to see changes in society as the brothers have phases of opening their doors to all walks of life from tea room parties, immigrants (mostly staff), gangster’s and prostitutes and the hippy movement end up sharing their dilapidated space.

One of the rooms in the Collyer Brothers house.

Another master stroke from Doctorow was having Homer, who as I mentioned was blind, narrating the book as interestingly the description of everything is greater. We don’t just get the visual we get so much more as in order to describe everything that’s happening Homer uses memories of his sight along with all his other senses such as touch, taste and smell to build an even more vivid picture. I think in part it may also be because out of the two Homer is the brother we can empathise with, Langley comes across as a darker more mentally loose cannon and sometimes is quite dislikeable. We also get to witness how as the house deteriorates Homer becomes lost in his own familiar surroundings and how the worse things get the more he relies on a brother who can barely look after himself leading to an ending that is all the more shocking and heartbreaking because we know it was true. A modern masterpiece, I think this is a remarkable book. 9.5/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
I am struggling with this one today as I don’t think I have read a book quite like this before or any other E.L. Doctorow, can any of you tell me where to head book wise either with a book like this or another Doctorow?

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Filed under Books of 2010, E.L. Doctorow, Little Brown Publishing, Review

The Prose Practice – Family Histories

Last week I introduced a new feature here at Savidge Reads and that was ‘The Prose Practice’ and already we have our very first problem. Yes a reader of this blog has already sent in a bookish problem that they are having. This actually was initially (I added a little bit) left in one of the comments from the previous post and so I thought I would pop the conundrum from one of my lovely readers Linda who resides in the Peak District (so not far from Granny Savidge Reads I imagine) who came up with this prose based puzzle…

I thought this imae appropriate until we can find something more apt!Dear Savidge Readers
I’ve been spending the morning on puzzling through the web of my late mother’s papers on our family history in order to help a cousin solve some gaps in his knowledge. I enjoy novels that feature several generations, especially if a family tree is included. Can anyone recommend a contemporary novel where someone is trying to find out about their past (not necessarily a crime or period genre)? Or a novel that contains a family saga of many generations?
Many thanks,
Linda.

Simon Says: I have to say I am rather looking forward to hearing what everyone else says in regard to this as I am a little stumped if I am 100% honest with you particularly on the books about someone discovering their past, I am going to have to mull that one over. I am weirdly thinking of ‘coming of age stories’ (a phrase I hate) to recommend but I don’t think that’s what you are after. Family saga’s I am hopefully going to be a little better on. The most recent one I have read and really been impressed by was The House at the Mosque by Kader Abdolah which is the tale of a family through generations in Iran. I am wracking my brains for more but clearly this is the sort of book I have been missing out on too.

So dear readers what helpful hints and delightful reads can you recommend for someone looking for a book about a multi generational family saga and a great book or two where someone is trying to find out their past?

*** 

 

Oh and a quick update on the last weeks issue. Thanks all for your suggestions some of them are now in a separate TBR on The Converted Ones bedside table and they have actually received some nods of interest which is a most rare event.

However, as I have told a few of you in comments and emails, since the post went up a random event took place. Whilst we were stood waiting for a tube on Thursday I heard ‘oooh, I would really like to read that book’. After picking my jaw up from the floor, as this never ever happens, I looked over at the poster and it was a book I would not have chosen in a million years… ‘The Strain’ by Guillermo Del Toro. So you might just be getting a guest post on this book in the not too distant future from The Converted One. Well I never!

 

 

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The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag – Alan Bradley

Anticipation of a book can ultimately lead to its downfall and this is something that I was rather worried about with the second Flavia de Luce novel ‘The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag’ by Alan Bradley. I had been so wonderfully and unexpectedly charmed by Flavia in her debut ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ that though I had been really keen to get my hands on a sequel when it arrived I was nervous. Would Flavia be as entertaining or charming, could precocious have gone to annoying? Would Alan Bradley be a one trick pony?

Eleven year old Flavia de Luce gets embroiled in her second murder mystery when a ‘celebrity’ accidentally ends up in the village of Bishop’s Lacey. Rupert Porson, famous for Porson’s Puppets and the show ‘Snoddy The Squirrel’ – well this is the 1950’s, has broken down by the local churchyard. Flavia happens across his weeping assistant Nialla and decides, partly because its strangers and that might equal adventure, to help her out and befriend her. As a thank you to the villagers for helping him and Nialla out Parson’s puts on a puppet show for the town, everyone expects a spectacle yet no one is expecting to witness a murder.

Naturally Flavia, being the delightful precocious young thing that she is, decides that once again it is up to her to discover who the villain is and uncover several secrets as she does so. One such being how this murder might be linked to the death of a local young boy Robin who was found hanging in Gibbet’s Wood ten years prior. And secrets that have been kept hidden for that length of time tend to want to remain so at any cost.

‘The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag’ is a much darker book than its predecessor in the main aspect being due to a child’s death and under such circumstances. It forces Flavia to grow up a little and yet not too much as she never fully quite comprehends how dark it all is just as she doesn’t comprehend how much danger she could be putting herself in. That for me in part is Bradley’s masterstroke in terms of developing Flavia, she is still just as precocious and unruly as before yet she has moved on a step, fortunately for the reader she seems to be becoming more deadpan and that’s the other wonderful thing about this book, it’s very funny in parts mainly through Flavia’s observations.

“Of the many phrases that came to mind to describe Cynthia Richardson, ‘good sport’ was not among them; ‘ogress’, however, was .”

It’s not just Flavia that gets all the laughs. There are her spiteful sisters, who in this book get even meaner despite one of them falling in love, there is the wonderful ‘Dogger’man servant to Flavia’s father and many more of the villagers. One of my favourites was Mrs Mullet who cooks for the de Luce household, knows more gossip than anyone and comes out with corkers like ‘they had what they call an ink-quest at the library – it’s the same thing as a poet’s mortem’ the cast is marvellous too. But don’t confuse this with a cosy mystery as its not its just highly readable and very funny as well as being a page turner.

I didn’t work out the ending until it happened with this second novel unlike the first and so Bradley and Flavia outwitted me which I enjoyed. I do like feeling very clever and having figured it all out myself but there are more twists and turns and with an addition of an old mystery thrown in you have lots more to contend with. Add in Flavia’s dreaded aunt, a drop dead gorgeous German prisoner of war, a mad woman of the woods and a secret pregnancy and you have hours of fun, mayhem, twists, mystery and entertainment ahead of you. I think this series is just going to keep on getting better and better. Its books like this that make reading such a pleasure. 8.5/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley (because to begin at the beginning is the way I like to do things)
Agatha Raisin & The Terrible Tourist – M.C. Beaton (not the first of a cosier series than Flavia – because I read the first one before I started blogging – yet has the wit and an unlikely loveable amateur detective too)

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Flavia de Luce, Orion Publishing, Review

NTTVBG – Series One, Book Six…

I feel a little bit sad that we are getting into the final weeks of the Not The TV Book Group and the fact that in just over a month there will be no more of these reads be they hits or misses or unputdownable or unfinishable (yes two words which don’t exist but do the job rather well I feel). Mind you there could be a second series, you never know.

Anyway I won’t waffle on too much and simply ask you to whizz over to the lovely Lynne’s at Dovegreyreader for yet more delightful munchable (another new word I have made up) treats and bookish banter about Mary Swan’s ‘The Boys in the Trees’. I have decided to say banter because I do rather feel that this book could be a Marmite book, either people will love it or hate it, or maybe like me love some bits and be bored to tears by other bits. Have I given too much away? Actually you might be surprised! So do now pop over and tell us all your thoughts on it or just have a nosey at ours.

Oh and don’t forget that before all resumes on Monday here at Savidge Reads you really should pop and enter a rather lovely competition which has seen some wonderful, wonderful entries so far. Right see you over in the summer house (which proves delightful escape as London is really rainy this morning) with DGR!

Oh actually one last question before you all pop off there. Can any of you recommend me any books set in Shropshire? I would be most, most pleased if you could, thanking you in advance.

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Simon’s Bookish Bits #18

It’s quite nice that Saturday pops around so quickly until I suddenly realise I have made no notes (I am big on notes as my addiction to stationery and Paperchase as seen on my bank statement would prove) for what the heck I am going to talk about today. But fear not I have a few bits and bobs and actually with a favourite link, podcast of the week and a rather special worldwide competition it seems my Bookish Bits seem to have gone back to their roots at long last hee, hee.

First up a huge thanks for all the comments and emails regarding the new look, it seems you all really rather like it so that’s good. Over the next week or so more pages and places will be added but I will keep you updated with them as they arrive. At the moment I am looking at re-doing ‘The Readers Table’ as it hasn’t been done for ages, in fact ‘My Mighty TBR’ could do with a bit of a sorting too.

On to other blogs though and my fav post of the week and one I keep popping back to is by Simon of Stuck-in-a-Book who has done a wonderful post where he is asking people to tell him about the weirdest profession any character/s have in books, do pop over and have a gander.

I think I’ve completely forgotten, until now, to tell you that the video podcasts of ‘The First Tuesday Book Club’ are back and see the delightful Jennifer Byrne and co discussing books. The latest edition sees them discussing Ian McEwan’s ‘Solar’ and guests Sarah Waters in the discussion. I am becoming even more a fan of Marieke Hardy especially as she described the novel as ‘loosey goosey structurally’ I think she might become on of my bookish idols. You can see it all here.

Now before I go off to the park with a bag of books (its delightful weather here again today) I have a competition for you. As you will hopefully all have seen, and if you haven’t pop and have a look, the lovely Evie Wyld did a Savidge Grills on Thursday which funnily enough was the day of her wonderful debut novel coming out in paperback. Vintage have kindly offered three copies of ‘After The Fire, A Still Small Voice’ to giveaway worldwide all you have to do is answer Evie’s creative quandary about a legendary mythical Australian creature…

When I was 19 I asked my Australian grandmother what she thought the Bunyip looked like. Her answer was ‘sort of roundish with legs’. Any improvements on this description would be most welcome!?!

So we would like you to come up with a creative made up description of a Bunyip in a single sentence (you can be as bonkers as you like) ‘I saw a Bunyip and it looked like…’and the winning three get a copy of the book AND not only that (as Evie and I were plotting away we thought as its quite hard you should get something else too) but you the three winners will also get their Bunyip drawn by the lovely Joseph Sumner who is working with Evie on a graphic novel. How ace is that? I am tempted to enter it myself. You have until Thursday so get cracking! Have lovely weekends!

Oh and FYI my Bookish Bits will be on Friday next week!!!

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