Monthly Archives: May 2010

Light Boxes – Shane Jones

I was alerted today’s book of choice thanks to Frances of Nonsuch Book a while back. I then promptly forgot about it until a few weeks ago a little parcel from Penguin arrived and there inside was a compact novel. By compact I mean it’s about half the size of an average paperback both in depth and height. I then whizzed back to Frances post to see what had made me want to read it so much initially

In an unnamed town, where you soon learn things are not what they seem, February has taken over and flight has been banned. For over 300 days the town has been in perpetual winter, children are going missing or killing owls and villagers who rebel are being found in the woods dead their broken jaws filled with snow (one of the images that haunts me still), leaving the people of the town with no other option than to start a war with February. Our would be hero of the hour and in many ways catalystfor all that follows, is  a balloonist Thaddeus. After his daughter goes missing one night leaving only a bed filled with snow and teeth swears to get revenge and finish February once and for all, though he is tricked along the way, whatever shape it may take. It is also the voice of Thaddeus that despite the varing narratives the story is told fromguides you from start to finish.

In some ways it’s a thriller, you want to know who, why and what February actually is with many twists along the way.  In some ways it has elements of science fiction. In the main with its ghosts, secret underground worlds, moss that can eat anything slowly from the feet up, and endless impossible possibilities it’s an adult fairytale (I don’t think I would let young children read it) where anything can and often does happen though it tends to be the things you least expect. In others ways it’s a fable, and a tale of hope.

The film rights for this book have already been sold and, for once, it’s actually a book I am looking forward to seeing on the big screen because it’s written so visually. I found that, though I might be the only one, the book with its short chapters was in some ways like a series of wonderful slightly abstract watercolours that left imprints on your mind for some time after you had read each snap shot. It is of course all down to Jones wonderful writing that this is the case I did also wonder if the fact it is also written in first, second and third person adds to it.

You can’t help thinking that whoever designed this book added to the magic of it all. After all it has six different fonts in several sizes and is written with a sentence on one page, maybe a list on another, maybe just a paragraph or a full three page chapter (for that’s as long as they get), though this could be the authors doing of course. Either way it’s a magical book that’s very visual without being illustrated which for a debut novel I find quite incredible.

I could sum up Shane Jones debut novel ‘Light Boxes’ in one sentence. An adult fairytale filled with surreal magical feel that pulls the reader into another reality. Really it’s just a marvellous escapist read that’s darkly beautiful and will leave you thinking of it for days. 9/10 (Oh and its out later in the week here in the UK, I think elsewhere it’s already published.)

I can’t think of any suggestions to go with this one because I honestly haven’t read anything quite like it before. Has anyone else given it a whirl? What are your thoughts on the ‘magical realism’ genre?



Filed under Books of 2010, Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books, Review, Shane Jones

Fledgling – Octavia E. Butler

Well apart from the tears that were shed in the fact that this book was the last title for the Not The TV Book Group I was really looking forward to reading what promised to be a very different vampire kind of book. Not that I have anything against vampire as I have ended up being addicted to the Twilight Saga , well what I have read so far anyway. So would this be the pigeon hole busting vampire book that I was promised?

I have to say Octavia E. Butler’s final book ‘Fledgling’ is quite unlike any vampire book that I have read before in lots of ways. For one the vampire in question, Shori, is a 53 year old vampire with amnesia under the cunning guise of a ten year old black girl. When we meet her she is a mystery to herself just as much as she is to the reader lost in the woods with no memories at all just heightened senses. In many ways Butler played a clever card as the reader makes the journey alongside Shori into finding just what she is and how she came to be. We soon discover that the remains of a village burnt down is not far from where Shori has been cocooned a village Shori is fairly sure she might have lived. She needs answers, and so do we, and so goes searching.

Now this is where it all started to get unsettling for me because in finding civilisation she meets Wright a hairy hulk of a twenty three year old and not too long after this they start having sex after she bites him (something she soon learns is addictive, necessary and highly pleasurable for both parties). I hit a certain ‘ewww’ situation here because this seemed to be rather paedophilic, ok so Shori is technically 53 but she looks ten. This made me put the book down for quite some time before soldiering on.

Eventually Shori finds some ‘others like her’ who we come to learn are in Ina ‘an ancient species of near mortals’ this is when the book starts to feel more like a sci-fi book than vampire tale, though the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive of course. It’s also when guns appear in the book and we go off into some action sequences, before (and I don’t want to give too much away) the book takes an almost courtroom drama twist though not your average ones being vampires and all. Into the mix of all these goings on Butler also somehow deals with race, polygamy, sexuality and our pasts it’s an interesting mix though for me it didn’t quite work. I couldn’t connect with Shori and despite the master and slave bond she creates with her human symbiants she never creates an emotional one and so therefore neither did I. I did read on, I was just never quite hooked or convinced though sadly. 5/10

I have since heard this was apparently a book that Butler wrote as a lark (heavens knows what a seriously dark book by Butler would be like, I don’t think I will be finding out to be honest) and so maybe this was meant to be a slightly throw away novel? I don’t think I helped myself with this book in some ways though because I looked at all the amazing reviews on a certain site which I think made me build up the book before I had started it. It probably also doesn’t help I am reading another book that twists the vampire tale on its head (and is bloody brilliant – do you see what I did there) which is of course the epic ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin. Hmmm a puzzling one. Have you read any Butler; if so was this the wrong book to start with? Should I have avoided those pesky reviews too?


Filed under Not The TV Book Group, Octavia E. Butler, Review

Simon’s Bookish Bits #23

Don’t Saturdays seem to be coming around quickly at the moment? Before I know it its time to do a Simon’s Bookish Bits and I feel like I only did one five minutes ago. Maybe that’s just a sign I am getting older? So this week I thought we could look at what we all have on our bedside tables and I would also treat you to another gem of a book store that I found last weekend on my travels.

First up though, here in the UK it is a three day weekend. In fact I am getting rather over excited as next week is only a two day working week for me as I have another long weekend coming in the woods, more on that later in the post and in the week though. This weekend I am treating myself… to doing nothing! We unless you count spending the weekend reading (and a brief trip to see the musical Spamalot) in fact I am considering trying a little read-a-thon on my own tomorrow maybe.

There are some books though which will be getting my attention either way this weekend…

  • A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle, I have been craving to read a Sherlock Holmes for ages – in fact since seeing the film – and what better way than to start at the very beginning dear Watson.
  • Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, a book I suggested myself, Novel Insights and our friend Michelle all read before we go away next week so we can have a rogue book group. They have both started from what I can gather whilst I have not.
  • Theodora by Stella Duffy, its out next week and though I was sent it well in advance I didn’t want to write about it too far before. I have in the last week or three been so excited about it I have been saving it and saving it as a treat. Why do we do that with books sometimes, why don’t we just go for it?
  • The Passage by Justin Cronin, I will finish this epic this weekend, after all aren’t long weekends designed for long books?

I will also be catching up with blogs and comments as I have gotten slack again with that hence why I have no blog post of the week for you so I do apologise, can I possibly make up for it with a delightful book shop that I found when I was out and about last weekend?

I took The Converted One to Kew Gardens which is one of my favourite places in the whole of London. It’s the fact possibly down to the fact that though you wouldn’t initially think it the whole area is so Victorian, in fact here is a shot for you of The Converted One in front of one of the greenhouses from 1848.

It amazes me you can walk in the footsteps of all those people from the past.  It also makes you feel like you are walking in the jungle and so was perfect practice for myself and the autumn ahead in Brazil.

Anyway how does this relate to books? Well, as we were walking back through the village of Kew, I was saying how I wanted a house there yet it was a shame there wasn’t a book shop, we turned the corner and low and behold what did we find? A picture perfect bookshop, in fact I found this painting of it (my photo’s were lost as my Blackberry died this week, now have a lovely new iPhone which some of you recommended) which actually looks exactly like it.

Inside it’s a wonderful treasure trove, filled with shelves of delightful books and most importantly staff recommendations. I always look at those in bookshops. I had no idea until this week that The Guardian once wrote a list of the top London bookshops and this one is on the list. So thats yet another bookshop I would highly recommend paying a visit to, and you can visit Kew Gardens afterwards. Or maybe before, depending on which of the two you most prefer ha, ha.

Well I think that’s it from me, am off to go and read for a few hours (it’s just started to drizzle and The Converted One is studying for a very important exam on Wednesday). What have you lined up this weekend? Which books are lined up on your bedside? What are you reading and what have you loved in the last week?

Oh and a brief additional note, Simon’s Bookish Bits is having a holiday next weekend as have something else planned so it will be back in a fortnight by which point I will have lots of lovely links and the like to share!!!


Filed under Simon's Bookish Bits

The Prince of Mist – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I don’t know about you but I loved ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. In fact if you haven’t read it please go to a bookstore/library and get your hands on a copy if you do nothing else today. I know it became one of those books that got incredibly hyped and you saw every Tom, Dick or Harry reading but sometimes (here ‘The Book Thief’ springs to mind) the rave reviews are just and all those people reading the book before you are spot on. So when I was offered an advance copy of his cross over book  ‘The Prince of Mist’ I had to say yes (I know, I know I did the same with The Angels Game and haven’t read it yet – that book is much bigger, ha) though naturally, as you may know my thoughts on cross over books, I was worried this might not really work for me. The fact that in Spain this was a best seller for two years, yes two whole years, made me think I just had to try it.

In thinking of how to write about this book I was drawn to two of the tag lines that I have seen for ‘The Prince of Mist’ one is ‘for the young, and the young at heart’ and the other is ‘nothing is more powerful than a promise’. These do actually really some up the book here and I could say ‘well the job is done then’ and stop here as if you want a book review in two lines I would borrow those. However I think I will flesh it out a little more than that for you.

In the summer of 1943 thirteen year old Max Carver and the rest of the family are rather surprised when Maximillian Carver (Max’s father) decides to relocate his family. Leaving the city is not something the family want to do, however as the war gets nearer a life by the sea seems to be the ideal solution. As the family arrive at the town instantly Zafon starts to let a slight unease build in the story in the forms of the train station clock, which goes backwards, and a rather over friendly large cat (never trust a cat that’s too friendly) who seems intent on befriending them.

Things get steadily creepier as the family are told of the history of the house previously owned by a couple whose child drowned at sea with no explanation. The house itself seems to hold secrets, you never feel alone, and there is that strange cemetery at the bottom of the garden which houses a rather evil looking mausoleum to a clown. As something awful happens to one of Max’s sisters Irina in the house, Max, his sister Alicia and their new friend Roland are drawn into the legend of ‘The Prince of Mist’ and are soon to discover that if you make a promise you have to keep it, no matter what the consequences are.

It’s hard to not get over excited and share too much with a book like this. It does indeed appeal to the young adult in you as you read along. From pretty much the very first page until the last sentence Zafon takes you on a fairly non stop adventure involving secrets, legends, mausoleums, ship wrecks, murder and magic. Whilst all this is going on there is a good dash of emotional drama going on, the upheaval of a family, those dreaded teenage hormones, young love and occasionally the sense of dread of the war in the background, such as when Roland mentions he may have to enrol soon. In fact this was the only teeny tiny thing that stopped this book being a bigger hit for me, I did from time to time think there was almost too much going on, but then isn’t that just what makes for great escapism and a great page turner?

Now I know its meant to be a ghost/horror story for younger people but I have to say it is actually properly scary too, I even jumped reading one bit, something I think books rarely make you do physically. I am very glad that we have another three in this series to look forward to over the next three years. I am almost tempted to go and learn Spanish just so I can read them all in their original form ASAP as I am not sure I can wait a year between each one. 8/10

Have you read any Zafon? Have you read ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ and did you think it was superb or not? Which other cross over books would you recommend (no mentioning The Hunger Games, I tried and… well I didn’t get on with it) as after Neil Gaiman and now this I am beginning to get fonder of books that appeal to my twelve year old self? Do you like cross over fiction or do you avoid it like the plague?

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman (this is much scarier though but just as much fun)
The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon (because its excellent and has the tension this one does)
The Woman in Black – Susan Hill (a fantastic adult ghost story)


Filed under Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Orion Publishing, Review

The Prose Practice: Lonely Men in Cardigans

From yesterday’s erotica to something almost polar opposite, though maybe actually not if these cardi-clad men are very lonely, anyway… I mentioned earlier in the week that your advice would be called upon, as unwitting participants of The Prose Practice, not once but twice and so here is a rather unusual and utterly brilliant question from a new reader of the blog all the way on the other side of the world to me in Australia. Can you all help with some suggestions for some masculine reading material that might involve lonely men in cardigans though not necessarily read by them. I have so far only come up with one and its not one I have read so I could be barking up the wrong tree completely.


Greetings from Australia. I am a new reader of your splendid blog.  I am especially interested in novels which I can only describe as examining the Male version of Anita Brookner’s characters [I have already posted about her on your site] – that is, men of a certain age who have lost their way, given up hope or just accept the general tragedy of ageing with stubborn stoicism or sad irony. This is an unexplored genre. I seek recommendations from you and your bloggers. Where are the novels dealing with lonely, single men in cardigans?

Norman, Australia


Simon Says: Hmmm… books about lonely single men in cardigans. (Can I just say trendy men in their late twenties – and younger – now where cardigans too in fact I have been known to don one, ha!) Well the one that instantly came to my mind isn’t one that I have read and so I could frankly be completely wrong with my suggestion. However the book that I did think of was Man Booker winning ‘Last Orders’ by Graham Swift. It’s a book that I have sat in the TBR and may now very well have to read having gone off and read the synopsis. I am not sure that it’s quite the right suggestion?

What say all of you readers out there?


Filed under The Prose Practise

Delta of Venus – Anaïs Nin

I personally think there is a huge divide between pornography and erotica. Some people don’t. Then again some people will possibly have closed there browsers before they get further than that first line and some people will have found this blog for the first time because of it. Isn’t it interesting the power of the words… porn and erotica. Well today’s post is about the Madame of Erotica herself Anaïs Nin and author many have recommended I try and not for the reasons you might be thinking you mucky minded lot! Though this review could end up not being for the faint hearted or easily offended, you might want to avert your eyes.

As Anaïs Nin states herself in the preface of ‘Delta of Venus’ this collection was never really intended to be published, in fact when these tales were originally written they were simply created for someone she names only as ‘The Collector’ in order to bring in the money. What she did want to do with the erotic tales she wrote was create more of a story and flavour of literature rather than just the mechanical act itself. In fact reading these now, I imagine they were quite steamy stuff in the 1940’s, it’s the beautiful prose and the underlying themes that make Nin’s collection so interesting to read.

Yes ok so there is a lot, and I mean a lot, of sex in these stories but it’s not of the ‘wham bam thank you man variety’, well actually sometimes it is but behind each act there is a story and occasionally almost a moral to the whole tale. Reading these I was actually reminded of fables and folklore on more occasion, especially in tales such as ‘The Ring’ which takes place in Peru and looks at the madness love can create, the opening tale ‘The Hungarian Adventurer’ seems to have a moral twist looking at promiscuity and the responsibilities you have with it.

Through this collection of fifteen works Nin not only deals with differing kinds of sex from true love and true lust to acts of sadomasochism, she also looks at other things in life. Sexuality is naturally a  big theme in a collection, there is a tale set in a Brazilian boarding school which deals with homosexuality on several levels and bisexuality is a recurrent theme but she also looks at peoples circumstances, lifestyles and their psychological states.  This can lead to the darker side of life in fact in the collection there are some rather tragic tales. ‘Mathilde’ is the tale of a hat maker who men simply cannot resist, which starts of rather hilariously, yet soon she falls into the world of opium leading to harder drugs and dangerous and frightening circumstances for the heroine.

There are also moments of hilarity, in the aforementioned ‘Mathilde’ the way she gets propositioned by some ‘suitors’ is utterly hilarious. I wont share for fear of getting turned into an ‘adult site’, lets just say its comical and happens here there and everywhere. ‘Lilith’ which I think was one of my favourite stories (there was one or two that left me a little nonchalant, but only one or two) has me laughing out loud. Lilith doesn’t really like sex and so her husband swaps her sweetener for the almost Viagra like Spanish Fly drug and tells her after. Her response being “what a trick to play on me. And I promised Mabel that we’d go to the movies together. I can’t disappoint her. She’s been shut in at home for a week. Suppose it begins to affect me at the movies.” Imagining that conversation over tea in the 1940’s really tickled me. This is a beautifully written collection of eye opening tales which if you look past the sex have so much more to say, if only ‘The Collector’ had known! 9/10

Do you think erotica can ever pass for literature or do you think those who suggest such a thing, like me, need a good talking to? Have you read any Anaïs Nin?


Filed under Anaïs Nin, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Short Stories

The Prose Practice: Reading Abroad #1

Your help is going to be needed twice this week as we have not one but two, yes two, problems for The Pragmatic Prose Practice Panel (I tried to think of another P word to take the alliteration to a whole new level but I failed) this week the first of which is another of those tricky problems we all have… finding books to read in the places that we are off to visit. Why is it that we always want to do this? Well, I am assuming most of us do?

Oh and in case you were wondering if the problem later in the week is also to do with foreign fiction, its not, I just numbered this one as I can imagine it could become a popular question to put to you all. Right so to the problem;

Dear Savidge Readers,
For my second wedding anniversary earlier this week my beloved shocked me beyond all proportion with a surprise gifts, and one that was almost better – or equal to – a huge pile of books… a trip for a week away to Lisbon in Portugal!!! I was (almost) speechless when I opened my card thinking that I was just getting some vouchers for Waterstones or Amazon.

 Now I know how helpful your readers can be like when you asked for reads for Israel, Istanbul (which got postponed indefinitely due to volcanic ash and a tight travel PR firm) or even just to the woods! So I wondered if they might be able to help with some Lisbon literature or if nothing springs to mind maybe some Portugal prose?
Simon, London

Simon Says: Well you may by now have guessed that this is indeed my problem and that yesterday The Converted One actually shocked me beyond the beyond with a week away in June/July (my work and deadlines being a nightmare to schedule around) to Lisbon and so I am looking for some fiction either from there, heavily featuring the city or just some fiction about Portugal. I have only found ‘Night Train to Lisbon’ by Pascal Mercier so far and it looks like it has received really, really mixed reviews, anyone read it? Any others that you could recommend from the city, region or country? Who are the portuguese masters?

So what do you recommend? Oh and dont forget if you have any prose problems you can email


Filed under The Prose Practise

The Girl Who Married A Lion – Alexander McCall Smith

If you mention the name Alexander McCall Smith I have noticed that two things seem to happen. Either people utterly love him/really like him or, simply put, they really don’t. I am in the really like him camp… for some books! I really like to turn to Mma Precious Ramotswe and ‘The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’ series when I am in need of some comfort and a jolly read. I am not such a fan of either the ‘44 Scotland Street’ or ‘Corduroy Mansions’ though living in London adds a certain something to the latter. Anyway I decided to try something completely different with my latest McCall Smith and went for his retelling of African folktales (which I originally thought was part of the Canongate Myths Series); I do like a good folk tale after all.

Originally entitled ‘The Children of Wax’ when it was first published in 1989‘The Girl Who Married A Lion’ is a collection of over 30 folk tales from Zimbabwe and Botswana that McCall spent a lot of time researching and being told from the people to who these stories had been handed down to through the generations. Some people may say ‘Well these aren’t McCall Smiths tales then are they?’ but they he has edited and changed somewhat to carry the McCall Smith feel and are his way, so he states in the introduction, designed to introduce readers to the wonderful tales of those regions and letting them live out in the world.

The tales themselves are really quite wonderful. I won’t give you a synopsis of each of the 34 tales because that would a) take forever and b) take the enjoyment out of the book for any of you who go on to read it. However I will try and give you an overview. In this collection we have cannibals, a woman who gives birth to children who are made of wax, a man who has a tree growing out of his head, a girl who marries a lion and several stories of how different breeds of animals learnt to mistrust each other through various escapades plus many more tales. Of course why all these situations came to be you would have to read the book to find out.

The whole collection does wonderfully evoke Africa (I went to Kenya when I was much younger and this brought it all back) even though each tale is a maximum of around four pages each. I love the idea of days from the past where animals and humans communicated and you are really carried away with your imagination. You can feel that they all have the history, landscape and heat of the country embedded in them. I loved the simplicity of them even though in many ways they are all magically surreal some more so than others, and you can see why this was re-issued as a book in both adult and child editions. These tales also carry a moral at the end of the story and I am sure all of us whatever age we may be could gain something from this book as well as thoroughly enjoying reading it. 7/10

This collection has made me want to read the folklore and fairytales from all over the world. I read Perrault’s tales not too long ago (am still enjoying Angela Carter’s retellings sparingly to savour them) and have Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm’s collections in the TBR as well as a collection of Amazonian folk lore but which ones am I missing? Do you know of any? Or of any wonderful modern re-tellings?

(P.S Sorry for the late post, it’s my wedding anniversary today and so a second day of surprises has been lined up for both parties.)


Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Canongate Publishing, Review, Short Stories

The Last Not The TV Book Group?

Lots and lots and lots of you have been asking via email, in person or leaving comments here and there if this could really be the last NTTVBG (goodness saying it like that makes its sound rather grand – you know what I mean) I will answer that as best I can a little further on.

First of all though I will of course ask that you head with me over to Holland Park where Kim of Reading Matters, and I honestly don’t know how she does it, has managed to pretty much hire out the entire Japanese Garden in Holland Park to talk about ‘Fledgling’ by Octavia E. Butler. It’s a book that I probably would never have read if it hadn’t been for the NTTVBG. You can see all of my thoughts and everyone else’s where the discussion is right here.

(I will be coming live via Satellite for some of it as it is my wedding anniversary tomorrow and I have been spring with ‘a day of surprises’ ahead – thank goodness for Blackberries as I shall still be able to join in here and there all day!)

I am feeling a little saddened that this is the last NTTVBG. I have loved taking part in it and am very glad that from an email I sent, which seems only the other week, to Lynne at Dovegreyreader this was delightfully born. Its been a real joy to be made to read books that I probably wouldn’t have read (I will admit there has been moments where I may have cursed a little) and I have come away from it not only prepared to try more books I wouldn’t think to but with some new future favourite authors too. I could go on and on but I shan’t.

So is this the last one ever? Well to be 100% honest I haven’t a clue. I hope not, but it’s not just my project, not that anyone else has said ‘good God never again’ mind you. I have actually just sent my co-hosts an email about a little idea for summer but nothing too big or grand. I think it’s a case of letting us all have a month or so of whimsical reading and space from the delightful NTTVBG whirl and see where we go from there, time will tell. But now for your thoughts…

How has is been for all of you? Which ones have been your favourites to read? Have we helped you discover any new authors or works you have loved but would otherwise have possibly not tried? How could we have done it better? What’s been your favourite aspect? Do you want a second series of NTTVBG?


Filed under Not The TV Book Group

Simon’s Bookish Bits #22

Today I thought I would do a post on audience participation. Something that I have been a little lax at, as you will see from my sudden commenting splurge on Thursday, on the blogosphere and in comments because it’s been deadline week again.  Mind you the blogosphere seems so quiet (pins dropping anyone – hee hee) that maybe it has been unnoticed. Anyways while that madness has been going on I have been partaking in some audience participation myself whilst also planning more, which links into podcast of the week, and some of it links into books in general – you will have to read on to find out more…

I have seen two plays for work in the last week which I simply had to tell you all about (sorry f you aren’t in London to see them right now but they may tour etc) the first was ‘Love The Sinner’ which is a new play by Drew Pautz which is debuting at The National Theatre and really is something to see. In fact like the other play I have seen it’s a show which encompasses a rollercoaster of emotions dealing with a meeting of priests in Africa and something that happens there that will change one of the groups life forever. I won’t say more than that but it’s simply spell binding and left me and my friend speechless one minute and then roaring with laughter the next and back again. The cast was fantastic and in two hours subjects like modernism of the church, AIDS, affairs, poverty, IVF, sexuality and even squirrel trapping and cucumber sandwiches are all touched upon. It made me excited about the theatre again.

The second show that also has you crying with laughter one minute and moves you to tears of sorrow the next is ‘Holding The Man’ based on Timothy Conigrave’s book (see a book theme already) and adapted to a play by Tommy Murphy. This was a HUGE success breaking heaps and heaps of box office records in Australia, now having seen it I can see why. It’s the true story of Tim and his partner John and the effect the AIDS epidemic has on them in the 70’s and 80’s. Another unmissable show, the two leads were flawless and Jane Turner (of Kath and Kim – one of my fav shows – who I got to interview this week and was lovely, lovely, lovely) is superb.  I now simply have to read the book! Has anyone else read it or seen the play?

Not content with those shows I have also pencilled in some author and book talks and I thought you might like to hear about them in case you wanted to pop a long to anything (yes it’s a bit London-centric this post bear with it). The nearest, most pressing and probably most under advertised event in my diary (I am praying I have tickets) is happening at Highgate Cemetery on Wednesday this week coming – the 26th – when Audrey Niffenegger and Tracy Chevalier will be talking about their books based on and in Highgate ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ and ‘Falling Angels’. It’s in the chapel costs £10 and is not to be missed though very limited seating I imagine. You can find out more here.

The next, which links to podcast of the week, is a recording of The World Book Club with the author Carlos Ruiz Zafon. If you havent already got this as a subscription on your iTunes then you simply must go and get it here, plus you can here this one in a few weeks! I thought, and still think actually, that ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ is an utter masterpiece of a book and one that if you haven’t read you simply must. I am actually debating reading it again myself as well as ‘The Angel’s Game’. The only thing is that I now have to come up with a question to ask… eek! This event is taking place at the Beeb on the 3rd of June and is sold out already. So why am I telling you, well guess what? I have a spare ticket! If you fancy it then email me! (I might not answer straight away as will probably be lying in the sun today.)

If that wasn’t enough I also have the ‘Orange Prize Readings’ and the author Andrea Levy in discussion coming up at the Southbank, more on those nearer the time though. So which authors or bookish events have you got lined up? And, as ever, what are your reading and non-reading plans this weekend? (I have two vampire books to finish, the last NTTVBG to help host and lots of lying in the sunshine planned! Plus its time for one of these!) Do divulge your plans please!


Filed under Simon's Bookish Bits

Do I Want To Read?

Despite not being able to buy any books this year (it has almost been six months which I almost cannot believe) I do pop into the odd book shop and have a gander on other wonderful blogs, read the books pages in the press and see what Amazon might be recommending to me right now. Yes it’s once again time for me to ask you all for your thoughts on three books that have caught my eye recently that I am just not 100% sure I want to read desperately or not really that much and who better to ask than all of you?

So here are the three books which have caught my eye in the last week or three…

In doing my research for ‘Reading for Brazil’ (no I won’t stop mentioning it, ha) I came across ‘The Silence in the Rain’ by Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza which is the first in a detective thriller series set in Brazil and just sounds like it’s marvellous, but is it really? “The first in a stunning new literary crime series featuring Detective Espinoza of the Rio de Janeiro Police Department. A handsome young businessman is found dead in downtown Rio, a suicide who left no note, who had everything to live for. But by the time the police are called, all traces of the man’s identity and the weapon have been removed. Then as Detective Espinosa discovers that the man moved in the upper echelons of Rio society, and meets his beguiling and remarkable wife, clues to the way he lived and how he died lead Espinosa tantalisingly close to the truth. But is he on the right track?” It also has one of the most stunning covers I have seen in a long time.

Speaking of covers… that brings me to book number two ‘Chronic City’ by Jonathan Lethem which I have been recommended by Amazon. I don’t think the book sounds 100% me though! “Chase Insteadman is a handsome, inoffensive fixture on Manhattan’s social scene, living off his earnings as a child star. Chase owes his current social status to an ongoing tragedy much covered in the tabloids: His teenage sweetheart and fiancee, Janice Trumbull, is trapped by a layer of low-orbit mines on the International Space Station, from which she sends him rapturous and heartbreaking love letters. Like Janice, Chase is adrift, and trapped in a vague routine punctuated only by Upper Eastside dinner parties and engagements. Into Chase’s life enters Perkus Tooth, a wall-eyed free-range pop-critic, whose soaring conspiratorial riffs are fueled by high-grade marijuana, mammoth cheeseburgers and a desperate ache for meaning. Perkus’ countercultural savvy and voracious paranoia draw Chase into another Manhattan, where questions of what is real, what is fake and who is complicit take on a life-shattering urgency. Together Chase and Perkus attempt to unearth the Truth – that rarest of artifacts on an island where everything can be bought. Beautiful and tawdry, tragic and forgiving, Lethem’s new novel is as always, utterly unique.” It sounds a little bit ‘modern’ for me, but I like a challenge. It’s the cover though – I love it!

Finally how could I not mention the winner of The Lost Man Booker Prize ‘Troubles’ by J. G. Farrell. Why is it that a book you weren’t too sure you wanted to read, though I would love to read ‘The Siege of Krishnapur’ which is a later book in this trilogy! Now it’s won this prize I am desperate to read the blinker! “Major Brendan Archer travels to Ireland – to the Majestic Hotel and to the fiancee he acquired on a rash afternoon’s leave three years ago. Despite her many letters, the lady herself proves elusive, and the Major’s engagement is short-lived. But he is unable to detach himself from the alluring discomforts of the crumbling hotel. Ensconced in the dim and shabby splendour of the Palm Court, surrounded by gently decaying old ladies and proliferating cats, the Major passes the summer. So hypnotic are the faded charms of the Majestic, the Major is almost unaware of the gathering storm. But this is Ireland in 1919 – and the struggle for independence is about to explode with brutal force.”

So which of these are you equally keen to read? Should I judge any of them by their covers or are their covers a clever ploy? Which, if any, of these have you read? Do let me know! What books are you ummming and ahhhing about reading at the moment?


Filed under Do I Want To Read?

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? – Agatha Christie

When I mentioned I was having somewhat of a rough time reading wise recently Claire suggested that I either turn to Mitford or Christie (wise words indeed) I actually went for ‘The Graveyard Book’ but then when another slump hit almost instantly after I pulled down on of Dame Agatha’s lesser known novels ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’. It amazes me that people can be rather snobbish about Agatha Christie’s writing because she always, well so far, comes up trumps… even with her lesser known works it now appears. (Oh and mini-fact for you I collect these old Fontana editions of Christies books, I just love the covers.)


I specifically chose ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?’ as my latest Christie read, and I have a fair few, because it was one I know I have never seen on the telly (though I have heard that it became a Marple TV show despite her not being in the book at all?!?) and so as I opened the book I genuinely had no idea what I was going to be greeted by. When I started reading about golf I thought ‘oh no Agatha’ (I should have guessed from the cover – I know!) but four pages later, or a chapter in Christie terms, Bobby the golfer in question has discovered a body at the bottom of the cliff when his ball goes AWOL. As he waits with the body, his friend having gone to get the police, the man who is not quite dead mutters ‘Why didn’t they ask Evans?’ before taking his last breath.

This is dismissed as a tragic accident however after Bobby’s friend Lady Frances Derwent (or ‘Frankie’) reminds him of the words he lets the deceased’s family know. Soon after strange things start to happen such as mysterious job offers in Buenos Aires and even Bobby being poisoned and so Frankie and Bobby decide to play sleuths leading them into a dark mystery involving the 1930’s upper classes, dark Granges and sinister nursing homes. I will say no more as I don’t want to spoil the utter pleasure this book is to read to get to the final solution (which I didn’t guess). I will say it’s absolutely brilliant stuff; I could barely put it down.

Some people have said this was a ‘light hearted romp’ in Christie’s career and there is a feeling of an adult ‘Famous Five adventure’ about it, well more a slightly hapless duo in this case. Don’t let that stop you reading it though because the characters are superb (especially the wonderful head strong Frankie who calls someone a b*tch within seconds of being gracing a page with her presence) the plot has lots of twists and there are more red herrings that you could find at a fishmongers. Oh and Christie very cleverly and wryly shows you just how easy it was to work it out, even though it’s unlikely you will – seriously, in the final chapters as the lead characters discuss it. This could be my favourite Christie yet! I am quite disappointed that this isn’t the first in a series as I could read much, much more of Frankie and Bobby. 9/10 (And I don’t care if you judge me on giving a Christie a 9, with this book she deserves it!)

Has anyone else read this, or have you never heard of it? Where do you stand on Christie? Is she a cosy writer or a plotting mastermind in your opinion? Which is your favourite (no spoilers though please) of her works?


Filed under Agatha Christie, Harper Collins, Review

Latest Library Loot

I haven’t mentioned the library for a while. Partly because I am sulking with my nearest (which has been done up and looks quite amazing, though I don’t like self service in a library, it just seems all wrong) because since re-opening they still think I have a book that I gave back over 2 years ago and now every time I go there we have a very tiresome and long winded conversation about how I gave it back, they then closed and no I don’t owe them £7.99 for a replacement book!!!! It is most infuriating and puts me off going to be honest.

Right off my little drama soap box, though I do feel better for a vent! Anyway I have been to some of my ‘sort of’ local libraries and this is what I have picked up of late…

  • Honour & Other Peoples Children – Helen Garner (I loved ‘The Spare Room’ – if you haven’t read it you simply must – and so have been meaning to read more of her work. I also love these editions of Penguin Modern Classics)
  • Loitering With Intent – Muriel Spark (my taste for Spark seems to have exploded this year and have seen lots of bloggers saying this is fantastic)
  • A Woman in Berlin – Anonymous (Kim of Reading Matters suggested this for the NTTVBG but it didn’t quite get in, I wasn’t sure about it but having read her review of it I then wanted to read it – isn’t that always the way?)
  • The Comforters – Muriel Spark (I am always intrigued by any author I loves first novel, and this was Muriel’s)
  • The Still Point – Amy Sackville (I know it got long listed for the Orange but that’s not why I got it, the cover called to me and Gaskella really rated it a few weeks ago)
  • Coraline (The Graphic Novel) – Neil Gaiman (though only posted about it yesterday I really enjoyed ‘The Graveyard Book’ a few weeks ago and this will give me a push in the direction of Graphic Books which I tend to avoid/slightly sneer upon – no idea why)
  • Barbequed Husbands – Betty Mindlin (folklore tales and myths from the depths of the Amazon, what could be more perfect for ‘Reading for Brazil’?)

So that’s my lot of latest library loot! Oh and speaking of library loot can we all send our best ‘get well soon vibes’ to Eva of A Striped Armchair. I am missing her blog lots, especially her library vodcasts!

What have you got from you library of late? Have you read any of the above?


Filed under Book Thoughts

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

I think I must be one of the very last bloggers on the planet to get around to reading this. I am prepared to be honest and say I have had this on the TBR since it came out in hardback and went off the idea of actually reading after seeing everyone going doolally (in a lovely way – I am not being catty) about it on the blogosphere and that making the hype and expectation too great. However its thanks to some of the other guides at Highgate that I ended up picking this up when we were discussing Highgate based books a few weeks ago, like Tracy Chevaliers ‘Falling Angels’ and Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’, and they told me that the latter author took Neil Gaiman around to help with inspiration for this book! How could I not read it after that?

I think any book that opens with the murder of a child’s parents (and in this case sibling) leaving an orphaned boy alone in the world will instantly make a reader think of Harry Potter. It is this such an opening that Gaiman chooses for ‘The Graveyard Book’ however the book then becomes nothing like HP particularly as in this case the orphan who becomes named Nobody, or ‘Bod’ for short, isn’t saved by wizards but by something else a little spookier after evading the murdered and hiding himself in the local cemetery.

Yes, Bod is saved from his fate by ghosts. In fact two particular married ghosts Mr and Mrs Owens, who died without having had children though they always wanted to, take pity on this living young boy and want to keep him, something not all the ghosts in the graveyard feel quite so similar about. However the ‘caretaker’ of the graveyard Silas who agrees to be the boys guardian and so Bod is brought up in amongst the mystery and the dead of the tombstones however he can’t leave as there is still a murder out to get him, but Bod thinks with all the knowledge he gains as he grows up that that particular rule might be for breaking.

I thought this book was really rather wonderful and I wasn’t expecting it which made it all the more so (in fact I was expecting it to have the effect The Hunger Games had on me – best say no more). I loved the atmosphere of the cemetery and think Gaiman had got that spot on. I didn’t quite get the concept of the ghoul-gate and got a little confused but later understood its importance. What I loved the most was the characters. The Owens are a wonderful pair of down to earth and rather soft ghosts, Silas is a cool customer with lots too hide and I loved Liza Hempstock (a witch) and Miss Lupescu too. I thought Gaiman’s touch of introducing each deceased character by their epitaph was a brilliant way of instantly giving you their character.

Lots of readers, and indeed the author himself, have mentioned how this is a retelling of ‘The Jungle Book’ only instead of a jungle you have a necropolis. I personally couldn’t see that myself, but then again I have only seen the Disney version and never read the book, if it’s as good as this (I know it should be the other way around) then I must be missing out.

I mentioned back at the start of my thoughts that reading the first chapter of ‘The Graveyard Book’ I was highly concerned it was trying to be the new Harry Potter, it was the orphaning opening that did it, yet this book is clearly only trying to be itself, nothing else, and by the time I reached the end I was rather annoyed there isn’t a series and therefore not a further six books to read. A book that has a certain magic about it that Gaiman weaves so well. 8.5/10 (This does of course leave me feeling utterly conflicted about ‘cross over books’ once again, ha!)

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners (apart from the two at the top):
Never The Bride – Paul Magrs (spooky goings on with adventure and comedy in Whitby that appeal to our inner child)
The Whitby Witches – Robin Jarvis (one of my favourite children’s books ever and one of my favourite reads full stop, deserves to get a much bigger readership)


Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Neil Gaiman, Review