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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Filed under Give Away, Simon's Bookish Bits

The Point of Rescue – Sophie Hannah

I have been meaning to read the next in the Sophie Hannah for ages. ‘So why haven’t you?’ I hear you cry. Well when there is a series that I really love, or indeed an author, I find that though I want to race through the entire series/works I am aware that there are only a limited number of books left and I don’t want to run out.  Well I was out shopping a few weeks ago and saw that the latest Sophie Hannah was in the windows and so I knew I had more in store and so could get on with reading the third of her crime series ‘The Point of Rescue’.

Imagine you had a week’s escape from your life, a week where you escaped the world. You weren’t married with children but free with the world at your feet. Imagine you met someone who was in pretty much the same position and you had an affair that you both agreed no one else would ever know about. Now imagine you’re watching the news and that name from the past appears on the screen as their partner and child are dead under shocking circumstances, only the person you had met name appears on the screen but they aren’t the person you had the affair with.

That is the situation that Sophie Hannah puts us in through the eyes of Sally, a happily married woman who had a week of escaping her life and a short affair with Mark Bretherick only it isn’t the Mark Bretherick that she met despite the names of his wife and daughter being exactly the same. What’s even more ominous is how alike Sally is to the recently deceased Geraldine Bretherick. What ensues is a chilling, puzzling, gripping and as ever brilliant thriller that follows on from ‘Little Face’ and ‘Hurting Distance’ that looks at how parents cope with having children, or not in some cases.

I will say no more on the plot because I wouldn’t want to give away the smallest hint of what goes on as working it all out, or furiously trying to is all part of the fun of reading a book like this. I will say it leaves you once again in wonder at how an author can make the impossible both possible and plausible and once again with this Sophie Hannah is flawless.

I am sure any of you who have read the first two will be wondering what is going on with the two protagonist cops that have been part and parcel of these books, and really make it a series even though these books do stand alone quite happily. Well Charlie is still unsure how Simon feels about her and the two skirt around each other just as much as in previous books but there is a surprising twist in this book with their relationship even though the book is less about them and much more about Sally and the Brethericks and rightly so because it makes for utterly compelling reading. 7/10

I do love how Sophie Hannah creates an impossible situation and then breaks it down leaving enough titbits to make you think you are really clever and have the cause and culprit nailed down before then pulling the rug from under your feet completely. I only wonder where she can go next with these? I am looking forward to finding out, though with only two more ahead of me I shall have to continue pacing myself. If you haven’t read Sophie Hannah I find giving her a try most advisable.

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
Little Face – Sophie Hannah (because its the beginning)
When Will There Be Good News? – Kate Atkinson

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Filed under Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Sophie Hannah

Savidge Reads Grills… Evie Wyld

Now if I hadn’t urged you to get your mitts on this debut novel before today then I would urge you once more to read ‘After The Fire, A Still Small Voice’ by Evie Wyld, that is of course unless you have already read it! I enthused about it last year and it made my top books of 2009. Well I had the pleasure of meeting Evie a while back (a big thanks to Kim of Reading Matters for being brave) and going all fan like and a little star struck. However despite my ‘rabbit in the headlights’ first impression Evie kindly agreed to be my latest victim author to have a Savidge Reads Grilling. Here she discusses her wonderful debut (on the day it comes out in paperback in the UK hint, hint), kissing books and books that make her clap with joy…

For those people who haven’t read After The Fire, A Still Small Voice yet, can you try and explain it in a single sentence…
It’s a story about traumatised men, not talking and scary things that people try to ignore. 

How did the book come about, where was the idea born?
I really just sat down and wrote for three years. I didn’t have any strong ideas of where it would go, I just followed the characters around until they made their own way in the story. Australia was the only bit that was a solid ‘idea’.

Now the book is written from points of view of some very strong (and if I may say so emotionally withdrawn) males, how easy did you find that, what were the hurdles?
I didn’t find it difficult using a male voice – in fact I think I find it easier to write at a bit of a distance, because you have to imagine so much more to make it authentic. When I was writing at home there was a fair bit of acting that went into developing the characters, I spoke a lot of their dialogue out loud; I stomped round the flat and tried to imagine I was Frank and Leon. That seemed like the easiest way to understand them.

Has working in a book shop been a push to write more? How did you combine work and writing?
I work twice a week in the book shop, so ordinarily I’ll have three days of writing, which seems to be working out pretty well. Working there has made me aware of how difficult it is to get anywhere with writing – and rightly so – there are so many wonderful books, and they keep coming, there’s no reason for anyone to read a bad book. I think it’s made me understand the importance of getting it right.

How relevant do you think book blogging is to the publishing industry? Do you ever pop and see what people have thought of your book or is it something you avoid at all costs?
I find it impossible not to read reviews. And they can be really helpful – it’s lovely to know that someone you’ve never met is taking your work seriously. I’ve found that book blogs give a whole other life to the book, and it’s that sort of word of mouth which has been the most useful in getting the book out there. Reviews on your blog or on Dove Grey Reader seem to be as helpful to sales as something from say the Guardian.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do? How long have you been writing for?
I started writing when I was about 15, and the first thing I wrote came out really easily, partly because it was pretty awful but partly because it released some tension I didn’t realise I had until then. It just flowed out and it was a really wonderful feeling. I don’t get it often but that’s the feeling I’m chasing when I’m writing. It’s as much about figuring yourself out as telling a good story.

Which books and authors inspired you to write?
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton was the first novel that made me envy a writer’s relationship with their work. I had the misguided idea that for the author the characters have an afterlife, that it doesn’t all end when the writing stops, like you could ask what a certain character goes on to do after the book is over and the writer would know. I love Lorrie Moore too and anything in the Love and Rockets series by the Hernandez brothers

Which contemporary authors do you rate who are writing right now?
David Vann’s ‘Legend of a Suicide’ is wonderful. I would read anything that Tim Winton writes, and I’ve just got into Peter Temple. Jon McGregor is a hero and I’ve just read ‘The Cuckoo Boy’ by Grant Gillespie, his first novel. I loved that. I’m looking forward to whatever Karen McLeod writes next.

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?
I write best it the morning, and I drink black coffee. I like to get out of the flat, so that I don’t have the temptations of housework and looking in the fridge. My only really creepy ‘quirk’ is that if I’m reading a book, I have to kiss page 100 when I get to it. That’s the only thing that really makes me worry about myself. 

Which book, apart from your own, would you demand Savidge Reads and readers run out and buy right this instant, a book you would call your favourite?
So hard – I really don’t have a favorite, but The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville makes me clap my hands.

What is next for Evie Wyld; please say we don’t have to wait too long for the second book? No pressure though, hee, hee!
I’ve made a start on the next book, its set between Australia and sea side towns in the UK. I’m also working with an illustrator on a short graphic novel, which is really good fun. It’s about my early childhood and swapping between Australia and England and it’s about sharks.

Well I don’t know about you but I cannot wait for novel number two and the graphic novel (maybe this project will help me finally get into that genre). A huge thanks to Evie for taking part, I won’t go all fan-esque again, I shall just say if you haven’t read her book then you really, really must and you can visit her website here and read her blog as Booktrust ‘writer in residence’ here. Oh and I nearly forgot, should you have any burning questions for Evie you might want to pop them in the comments as she just might pop by, you never know…

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Filed under Evie Wyld, Savidge Reads Grills...

Introducing The Prose Practice (And Some Savidge Readers)

I mentioned when I introduced the all new look to Savidge Reads that I was planning on doing a books problem page which seemed like rather a popular choice looking back at the comments (I will get to replying but just so you know I am reading them) from some of you. So today is going to be a pilot episode/post of how it will work only I have decided its not going to be just me who answers, its going to be all of you too, well I hope it will.

You see I am a bit of a paranoid android at the best of times so when I had put the post up on Monday I spent about ten minutes every hour or so worrying that people might be sat there thinking ‘just who does he think he is some self prescribed (do you see what I did there) Book Doctor?’ So I thought well how about it isn’t just me as Savidge Reads that responds but all you Savidge Readers* as part of ‘The Prose Practice’ and rather than ask for any of you guys to offer up a prose based problem I thought I would venture forward with my own problems so you can get a feel for it.

I think two problems every now and again could be good and I did come up with a simple ‘I have heard there is a marvellous book about two women, possibly sisters, in the Victorian era that’s meant to be a classic and have no idea what its called, can you help?’ however one of you has already helped and informed me very kindly that its ‘The Odd Women’ by George Gissing. So it could be a problem like that, or it could be something more dramatic…

Dear Savidge Readers
I made the slightly silly mistake of marrying for love someone from another continent who I hadn’t known for very long but knew was the one, like in some great romance, yet who doesn’t really like reading – it should have been a deal breaker! I know, I know its shocking a book addict and someone who remains unbothered by books, Shakespeare couldn’t have written a bigger disaster. I have tried and tried to put some delightful reads in their path but only a few reads have succeeded and literally been devoured. These were;

  • The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
  • Down Under – Bill Bryson
  • Marley & Me – John Grogan
  • Relentless – Simon Kernick
  • Henry – David Starkey
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjama’s – John Boyne
  • Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin (but wasn’t bothered about what happened to them all after enough to read anymore in a hurry)

The list of books dumped a quarter, half way through or three pages in could go on for pages. I dream of Sunday mornings in bed lazily reading with toast and tea, or holidays on the beach side by side in deckchairs reading for hours but it seems destined to never be. Could you recommend any books, bear in mind English is their second language, that someone cannot fail to love???
Simon, London

Simon Says: Well I am living this so I am absolutely no help. I would have said The Kite Runner (they didn’t like that) or Harry Potter (too many words which aren’t even English and caused major translation issues) so I am stumped…

What do the Savidge Readers suggest? (And this is where I would, and now will, hand over to you for your suggestions and problem solving so do suggest away**)

*I am personally loving the idea of ‘Savidge Readers’ because it makes me sound like I have started some dark dangerous bookish cult, I don’t think I have… as yet.
**Oh and let me know what you think of this as an idea please and if any of you can drawer I would love an image to go with this feature. Now who else has a bookish problem? Email savidgereads@googlemail.com you will remain anonymous unless requested otherwise.

51 Comments

Filed under The Prose Practise

Mr Rosenblum’s List – Natasha Solomons

I had been meaning to read ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ by Natasha Solomons ever since it arrived here at Savidge Reads HQ before Christmas last year, and then made it one of my books to look out for in 2010. Then I decided to wait a while, partly to let myself calm down a little from it and also because it wasn’t coming out until the start of April and if I read it early you might not remember it if it was any good. One of the new little mottos for the new Savidge Reads is that even if I read a new book before its out you wont hear of it until after its out, make sense? Now however it seems that I am a little late to Mr Rosenblum’s party and quite a few lucky blighters have gotten there first, ha…

I know you should never judge a book by its cover but the hardback of Natasha Solomons debut is utterly delightful and it’s a good place to start because so is the book. However ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ isn’t quite the ‘utterly charming and very funny’ read that Paul Torday quotes on the cover, it’s actually that and more. Amongst the humour and charm lie some big questions and rather dark, thought provoking undertones running the whole way through the book.

Jack Rosenblum has come, along with his rather reluctant wife Sadie, to live in England in the hope of becoming a truly English Gentleman. Disembarking in Harwich in 1937 he and Sadie have come from Germany where the movement against Jews has already started although the war isn’t due to start for another two years. On arrival they are told that assimilation is the key and that they must do everything they can to become almost invisible and follow the ‘Helpful Information’ leaflet to the latter. Jack has been obsessed with England and the English since first hearing the forecast on the radio and believes that he knows exactly what you must do to become a true Gent and fit in, you must buy marmalade from Fortnum and Masons, no hand gestures must be made to show too much emotion and German simply must not be spoken.

Despite his obsession and his efforts and even starting the most successful carpet firm in the East End he still manages to get arrested and shortly imprisoned for not quite fitting in enough and that’s how he ends up briefly in the countryside which he falls in love with, and comes up with a plan involving that most British of sports… golf (if like me you aren’t a fan of golf don’t let it put you off), only he isn’t bargaining on the countryside being harder to fit in with than London.

I did enjoy Jack’s story a lot however it was actually the story of his wife Sadie that really struck a chord with me and I only wish she had been in it and explored a teeny tiny bit more. She doesn’t love England like her husband, in fact for half the book I wondered if she loved her husband at all and vice versa, and is rather baffled by it all she misses her life before no matter how hard it was. Through her runs a tale of loss and sadness (that happens to spread throughout the village when anyone smells her Baumtorte – it is in fact baking that eventually settles Sadie somewhat into village life with the other women). She is often bemused by her husband and wonders why Jack finds it so desirable to fit in and tries so hard (whilst Jack cannot understand why Sadie won’t try and, for example, get a blue rinse like all the other women) and more importantly seems to forget who he is, his culture and where he comes from. It was that particular strand of the story, to me at least, that was very much the heart of this book and what it was all about and I found that both poignant and emotive.

“Lavendar blinked, forced a tight smile and then relaxed. This was the first time Mrs Rose-in-Bloom had casually mentioned her German past. But, Lavendar supposed, it wasn’t sordid like Mrs Hinton’s younger sister whose ‘past’ had been a long haired sailor from Kentucky. Mrs Rose-in-Bloom’s past wasn’t her fault, and perhaps it was better that she spoke of it from time to time.”

I think it was Sadie’s story and Jack’s humorous try hard nature that set this book well apart from the normal stereotypical tale of strangers moving into and English village and being deemed ‘the outsiders’. It also interested me that I went from not liking Sadie to wanting the whole book to be about her, thats a rare thing with me. I do need to mention  one wonderful character though who also makes the book a  delight and that is Curtis Butterworth and his secret cider recipe. He steals the show on several occasions and is someone I would love to have as a neighbour if I ever end up in a village in the middle of the countryside. All in all this is a delightful debut, I am looking forward to more of Natasha’s work in the future and am hoping she isn’t afraid to delve that little bit deeper into the darker undertones out there because she writes humour and delight just as well as she does sorrow and hardship in the glimpses we see. 8/10

***

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
Notwithstanding – Louis De Bernieres
Henrietta’s War – Joyce Dennys

36 Comments

Filed under Hodder & Stoughton, Natasha Solomons, Review, Sceptre Publishing

The Orange Prize Shortlist 2010…

…Well it hasn’t been announced yet but I think it’s probably going to be the thing everyone is talking about today so I thought I would do a quick post on it (a non Orange related post is coming later, if it hasn’t already – I am doing this before the shortlist is announced purposefully) and as I love a good guessing game I thought I would give you the Savidge Reads guess of the short list.

I think that it will be/would like it to be…

  • Andrea Levy – The Long Song (Headline Review)
  • Attica Locke – Black Water Rising (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)*
  • Kathryn Stockett – The Help (Fig Tree)
  • Lorrie Moore – A Gate at the Stairs (Faber and Faber)
  • M.J. Hyland – This is How (Canongate)

I am sure I will be miles off the mark but there we go! I am wondering if I should have stopped one of the top two with Amanda Craig? Oh I could chop and change forever couldn’t I? I will update the post with what actually makes the cut after its announced at 9.30am!

**UPDATE**

So here are the actual shortlist contenders…

  • Attica Locke – Black Water Rising (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Barbara Kingsolver – The Lacuna (Faber and Faber)
  • Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)
  • Lorrie Moore – A Gate at the Stairs (Faber and Faber)
  • Monique Roffey – The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (Simon and Schuster)
  • Rosie Alison – The Very Thought of You (Alma Books)

Three out of six isn’t bad though it shows I know nothing, which I was already quite certain of, as I have read two of the books, though not written on here about them yet (my new rule of letting books sit with me somewhat before I post – I also noticed I still haven’t put my thoughts of some of the Man Booker long list from last year up!!!) that made the short list so you will see my thoughts on those in the next few days/weeks when I have digested them all. Well apart from the one I wasn’t a fan of. What do you all make of the list? Are you thrilled, annoyed or not bothered?

30 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Orange Prize

A Change For The Better…

You might just notice that there’s been a change or three at Savidge Reads when you read this post. I sat myself down and gave myself a good talking to, which caused some odd looks from passers by, over this last weekend (between some major shopping, sunshine, picnics and pigeon eating pelicans) about just what I wanted from this blog and hopefully, bar some tweaks here and there over the next few days, that’s what you will now be getting.

I did make some big decisions though. I am not going to say I won’t be posting everyday from now on because I might,  I am however giving myself the option of simply not doing so; very much like I used to do many moons ago when I first started this little project.  I am sure I won’t go back to the days of doing nothing for a week, but if I do I am not going to fret or beat myself up about it.I will also not be putting posts up around the exact same time every day. I have never been made to feel obligated that I should do either of these things by anyone other than myself and with everything going on outside of my blog I need to allow myself more me time. This might mean I am not at other blogs as much, or lurking a bit more, I am telling myself that’s fine too. I will also be going off on a lot more reading tangents but that’s less about the blog and more about my future reading habits.

I have also decided there’s going to be bigger gaps between reading a book to reviewing it. I think distance is a good thing, so I will let my thoughts flow for a while. I realised I was writing nice things about books I enjoyed which as time went on stayed with me and grew on me more than the books that I was raving about, initially loved and then faded after time. It’s time to step it all down a notch enjoy the books and spend more time reading as really that’s my main love and what this little place of mine in the ether is all about. This leads to the next port of call in my thought process… those pesky aesthetics!

I am hoping the blogs looking a little simpler and yet a little more modern. I am aiming for less is more; I want the books to be the focus. The new look isn’t quite finished and I am still plotting a few things here and there whilst doing lots of brainstorming (currently about how I do my book thoughts/reviews, which I need to hurry up and decide upon as I have one good to go for tomorrow) so bear with me in the interim while everything gets sorted and to just the way I want it. You might be wondering where lots of things have vanished to, the key to the answer is in the pages… I now have drop downs and so have created more hidden pages. Well… when I say created I might be being slightly liberal with the truth and in fact mean creating!

It’s not all out with the old though. ‘Simon’s Bookish Bits’ will still be around, though I debating it as a Saturday post, along with the occasional ‘Do I Want to Read?’ which are two posts I love because I hear back from all of you. There are also some cracking ‘Savidge Reads Grills’ coming up in the months ahead which I am very, very excited about (and almost pinching myself slightly). In fact you could say all the things I love myself and can really enthuse about are coming to the fore in many ways and not just with posts but with what I read too.

There are some new things in the pipeline like having a search engine which will hopefully prove helpful. I am just working out the logistics of a few other bits and bobs, for examplehow to do some sort of agony uncle feature (did you all know that’s one of the things I do for my day job?) only in a bookish way. Maybe find someway of promoting and involving some other bloggers, not guest posts but something else though am not quite sure what. I also want to try and get an independent book shop involved with an idea I have but haven’t ventured to contact any yet. I am also wondering if a non-book based post once a week would be of any interest to you?

There is one new feature that I can almost guarantee will excite most of you. I have taken a leaf out of The Lady and its revamp by asking a rather wise woman from the Peak District who isn’t afraid to speak her mind to do a column, though not weekly, on books. Who else could it be than Granny Savidge Reads? I think that calls for a picture of us both.

Gran and Savidge Reads; even on a bus a bookshop causes awe, temptation and the question of demanding the driver to stop!

I am quite keen simply from the fact that she said ‘you will check it for slander or liable before it goes out’ I think we can expect the unexpected with this post when it comes and if it goes well and Gran thinks she can commit the time it might just go fortnightly. No pressure though, which I think best sums up the new Savidge Reads approach. No pressure at all just lots of reading and book loving.

I just hope you all like it… keep me posted.

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Filed under Book Thoughts

Falling Angels – Tracy Chevalier

I am trying to think for the life of me why I haven’t read any of Tracey Chevaliers books before ‘Falling Angels’? I think I had gotten the impression they might be a bit historically twee. Where do we get these subconscious ideas from? However having been recommended it by some of you and by some of the other tour guides at Highgate Cemetery (which plays a huge part in the setting of the book) I mentioned it enough around the house for The Converted One to get a copy for me as a surprise belated birthday treat.

When opening the book I instantly got a shock. Wife swapping? In 1901 (well New Years eve of 1900)? Didn’t that all come in during the sixties with car keys and some such? Apparently not and Tracey Chevalier uses the opening of the morning after the night before to instantly put us into the deeply unhappy mindset of one of ‘Falling Angels’ main characters Kitty Coleman. Kitty married for love and yet now several years on and a daughter (Maude who is also a pivotal character) later on she isn’t quite happy with her lot and spends her time either in books or strolling round Highgate Cemetery. She is in essence bored and unfulfilled and it’s the changes in her that often as not move the story on but it’s not a story just about Kitty.

The day after Queen Victoria’s death all of England goes into morning and many head to their nearest cemetery and that’s where Kitty and her family meet The Waterhouse’s, a family not quite of the Coleman’s status, who have a family grave their with an angel that the Coleman’s object to. Being polite Victorian society they say nothing and make polite conversation. The families’ daughters however manage to go off and have an adventure, meeting gravedigger apprentice Simon, and become the best of friends drawing these two families into an acquaintance neither are sure they want. It’s these two families and the lives they lead after this and how they affect the others that the book follows and as we all know some families have some big secrets. Along with the domestic drama’s Chevalier also features the themes of a country in a time of change not just of monarchs but a whole era in which cars replace horses, fashions and customs change and a women’s movement starts (if you are interested in the suffragettes this is very much a book for you as it’s a huge plot).

Chevalier manages to fit a huge amount of change in a rather remarkable time in history effortlessly into this book. It could be too big and vast a period to cover because it’s so full and yet your divulging all this information easily because of the wonderful narratives. Yes, I said narratives and we aren’t talking one or two or even three here, I think by the end I counted ten from each member of the family (the two girls Maude and Lavinia are two wonderfully polar voices and very entertaining) but that of the gravediggers apprentice, the maids, the mother in law and the cook. Rather than being complicated each characters voice rings true and a full picture of these families is painted. I thought it was marvellously done.

I will admit before I started it I thought ‘Highgate better be in this a lot’ because I am slightly obsessed at the moment and didn’t know if the rest would interest me but it did greatly. I didn’t rush through it because I wanted to savour every page, every voice and I will admit I couldn’t have guessed the endings either. I am definitely going to read more Chevalier, where is good to head to next? Has she anymore set in the Victorian period as I could wallow with her there for ages all over again?

45 Comments

Filed under Harper Collins, Review, Tracy Chevalier