Monthly Archives: August 2010

Talking Books…

Some photographs I only discovered at the weekend that The Converted One took in Scarthin Books café of my Gran and I seem the perfect pictures for today’s post because they are pictures of us firstly having some kind of rather heated book debate over our tea one minute…

And then unable to contain ourselves laughing the next minute…

Aren’t they lovely? These pictures to me show the differing joys of reading and talking about books, if only I could remember what the books were that we were talking about. These two pictures are also ones that I will treasure forever as the illustrate me and Gran’s relationship brilliantly, we had no idea The Converted One was snapping away. Any back to talking about books…

In fact at around 5pm big discussions will be starting in just what ‘The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2010’ will be (though you lot won’t know the results until tomorrow morning). I am getting quite nervous as have a couple of books am rather passionate about and haven’t had to champion books in this way before. I am also a bit nervous because I haven’t met some of the other judges before and have only met the two I have very briefly. I am sure it will be a delight and actually I am getting really excited about a good long natter about what has been a selection of some fantastic books… and some not so.

Subsequently you might not see so many book reviews on the blog for a week or so. In part because I am not sure if I will write about the books that don’t make it into the longlist yet, at all or after the winner is announced in December. It is also a case of me feeling quite read out at the moment. ‘The Green Carnation Prize’ submissions the final one of which I put down on Sunday where rather more books than I could ever imagine reading in a month – not that I am complaining.

However I am once again going to be able to talk much more about the books I am reading and the books I might have been reading which I am looking forward to. So this week and some of next will see much more discussion based posts looming. I just need to let them all form in my head and get over the nerves and excitement of tonight! Oh and tomorrow myself and Novel Insights are meeting to chatter about a new project that involves us chattering about books… but more of that in the forthcoming weeks.

For now though how about playing catch up? As over the weekend I asked you a question about classics that I would love more of your thoughts on and yesterday I asked you all about ghost stories which I would also love your suggestions on. Also ‘The Bookboy’ has been back and is wondering what other books you would like to see him read here. So lots and lots for you to get chatting about please, you guys are always marvellous with your siggestions!

P.S I need to go and mull over what the heck to wear tonight, we have a photo shoot first, so any suggestions for what a male book judge should be seen in (pref that isn’t a suit) are most welcome in the comments below too!

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Ghost Stories

I know its not Halloween yet but I thought today I would mention Ghost Stories and spooky tales today, which seems a slightly spooky coincidence as when I was looking for perfect images on the internet I noticed that it would be Mary Shelley’s 213th Birthday today which I didn’t know. Ooooh spooky!  Anyway, today is less about horror and more the chilling which has come up in conversations and the like a lot of late. I always think if a good few people are talking about it then it must be something in a few peoples consciousness, then when it comes up on a podcast and in my weekend reading I kind of think its worth bringing up.

Actually I think ghost stories have been on my brain subtly for a month or so since I went and saw the brilliantly jump-out-of-your-seat scary ‘Ghost Stories’ in the West End a while back. I haven’t been that scared in a theatre since the first time I went and saw ‘The Woman in Black’. I was talking with my friend Vicky, who I went with and is also a big reader, afterwards and we were saying how rare it is a book can scare you. It isn’t on the whole a medium (no pun intended) that can make you jump out of your seat, or look over your shoulder when you are reading alone at night, or is it?

 

‘The Turn of the Screw’ by Henry James tends to be a book that everyone mentions if you talk about ghostly tales. I am going to admit to you all I didn’t really like it. I read it a while back (I think from the small review you can tell I was trying my hardest to be nice, hence minimal) with Polly of Novel Insights and I just remember feeling really underwhelmed. Having said that, a scene with a face at the window did make me jump, it’s just a shame the rest to me was a bit boring with rather melodramatic peaks now and again (I have nothing against melodrama but I do tediousness).  

In a big emailing conversation last week I asked the other judges of The Green Carnation Prize one of the judges started talking about Ira Levin’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ (for reasons I cannot explain yet) and so the subject of ghostly tales came up. Apart from the mention of M.R. James and Mary Danby classic ghost tales aren’t that easy to come across, they tend to be in anthologies and most of those are sadly out of print. In fact Paul Magrs himself has done a great post on the wonders of a selection of second hand ‘Pan anthologies’ which look to be exactly what I am on the hunt for. Drat’s and bother to book buying bans.

I then listened to the Guardian Book Club podcast and who should be on it but Sarah Waters talking about ‘The Little Stranger’. Now that book, which has grown on me over time, sadly didn’t scare me or thrill me in the way I hoped it would, but her discussion on old ghostly tales and the state of the modern ghost story interested me because really modern ghost stories do seem to be thin on the ground don’t you think? Supernatural is incredibly popular, you can barely move in a book shop without seeing a vampire (on the shelves rather than in the aisles looking for prey) but these books aren’t scary (sparkly vampires for example), and horror as a genre has never really chilled me. A ghost story is less about blood and gore and much more about atmosphere and suspense.

In fact apart from Susan Hill, with ‘The Woman In Black’, ‘The Man in the Picture’, ‘The Mist in the Mirror’ (which I haven’t read yet) and the forthcoming ‘The Small Hand’ which looks like it could be amazing, I am struggling to think of any modern authors who write brilliant ghostly tales. Oh, apart from Michelle Paver whose forthcoming adult novel ‘Dark Matter’ sufficiently scared me this weekend, but as its not out until late October I shall say no more till then. I can say its put me in the mood for more things that go bump in the night in my fiction.

So where are the best modern ghost stories, and again I mean chilling rather than a horror blood fest, do you know of any? I have heard Paul Torday’s ‘The Girl On The Landing’ is quite spooky, has anyone read that? What of the golden oldies, who haven’t I thought of? Which tales have genuinely chilled and scared you? What are the best anthologies?

I have just realised I could have made this into a problem for The Prose Practise! Oh and if you want some fabulous old 70’s (I think, maybe 80’s) chilling viewing today then take a look at what I found.

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The Bookboy Reads #2

Hello and welcome to my second book blog. Hope you will enjoy it and thank you very much for the response I got for my first blog.

My first book today is going to be a newly released book. A couple of weekends ago, I went to one of my favourite bookshops and had £35 to spend. I had already picked up, Dido by Adele Geras, Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce, Titanic 2010 by Colin Bateman and The War of Jenkins’ Ear by Michael Morpurgo, when I spotted Johnny Swanson by Eleanor Updale, lying with a magnificent newspaper style front cover.

The main characteris an 11~12 year old boy called, as you may have guessed, Johnny Swanson. It is set in 1929. Johnny is very small for his age and therefore is teased at school. He also has a lot to live up to, as his father (Harry Swanson), died a war hero. Johnny and his mother are poor and Johnny wants to change that, but when he sees an advertisement in the newspaper for “The secret of Instant Height”, he steals the money from his mother and sends off for the answer. Only four words are written on the piece of paper. What are the four words and what will his course of action be?

I had never heard of Eleanor Updale before and was pleasantly surprised by how good the book was. I was shocked by some of the events that occurred in the book and it really did open my eyes as to how unjust things can be. I would recommend this book only for children of ten years of age or over as some of the language is unsuitable and some portions of the book may be harder for younger children to understand.If you have read and enjoyed Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo, then this book will definitely be for you.

My next book is Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. I have only recently read this, because I’d been putting it off and off. I thought it wasn’t going to be any good, but it was fantastic.The main character is a 12 year old criminal mastermind called Artemis Fowl. Fairies exist, and they aren’t just sweet ladies with wings, a lot are tough policeman with guns. However, Artemis knows that each fairy carries a book, with the laws of the fairies within it. Artemis gets the copy of a book and is able, with amazing technology, to decipher it. His intentions are to kidnap a fairy, but will he succeed or fail miserably?

This book was excellent and I enjoyed its many twists and turns and variety, of shall we say colourful characters. I would recommend it to anyone above ten, simply because there is a slight use of bad language and also, because the ideas are very slightly complex for children of younger than ten. Anyone who has read The Higher Institute of Villainous Education by Mark Walden will enjoy this book immensely.

My final choice today is Harry and the Wrinklies by Alan Temperley. I know this may sound very immature and silly to you, the readers, but this book was glorious. The main character is a small boy called Eugene Augustus Harold Montgomery Barton, I think. But, he prefers to be called Harry. Harry lives in London in his Parents’ mansion, however, his parents are never there. Instead, to look after Harry, they have employed a horrible woman called Lavina Mcscrew, whom Harry has nicknamed Gestapo Lil.

In a tragic accident, Harry’s parents are killed and Harry is packed off to live with two great aunts in the country. One, Aunt Bridget, is tall with hair tied back in a bun, whilst the other, Auntie Florrie, has wild blonde hair, wears baby pink lipstick and drives cars at over a hundred miles an hour. On his first evening, Harry hears something that will change his time at Lagg Hall forever. Perhaps, Harry’s aunts and their pensioner friends aren’t quite what they seem? This book was hilarious and it swallowed me up into a sort of bubble of my own, where nothing and no one could penetrate it. I would recommend it to adults and children alike; however, you do have to watch for bad language at times.

I would also like to hear from you what Teenage Fiction or young adult books you’d like to see me review in the near future?

Bookboy.

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Spending Sundays With A Classic?

No, no you haven’t gone mad and neither have I. I am well aware that today is Saturday and not Sunday. However today seems a befitting day to launch a little something new, that gets me (and maybe some of you if you fancy) back into those classics. It’s also something I will need – oh how demanding of me – I mean I would love your recommendations and suggestions with. Right let me explain…

A few things have conspired with me in the last few weeks that have made me start to yearn for some classics. One factor has been that suddenly August has become really autumnal in the UK (I am hoping it is going to be better for the three day weekend we are all having here) and in London the main view from my windows has been rather like this:

A photo by my good friend Dom Agius (www.domagius.com)

Yes that’s right, rain ready, delightfully dramatic but also most certainly autumnal. The perfect sort of weather to curl up on your sofa or in bed and get curled up with some classics. It seemed most serendipitous then that I had decided that as I was reading so much modern fiction (for a certain something) for a change of scene I would join in with reading ‘I Capture The Castle’ by Dodie Smith for Cornflower’s Book Group which will be being discussed today. (I am supposedly on an internet ban by The Converted One this weekend as I have been overdoing it with work and everything and we have very few free weekends before we head for Brazil, if not I will catch up after.) I will be spilling my full thoughts on ‘I Capture The Castle’ very soon, but getting back to something older, not that it felt dated, had a certain something about it – especially seeing as it was a book I bought ages ago and have been meaning to read anyway. I wondered, have been getting swept up in the modern a little too much?

I had mulled over doing another ‘Sensation Season’ a month or two ago and then again a few weeks ago but I thought maybe it was time for something a bit different. So instead what I am going to do is be ‘Spending Sundays With A Classic’. Not every Sunday mind you just a few here there and everywhere but I will let you know which ones are coming up and when (should I simply give you a few weeks notice or have a sort of schedule, what do you think?) and maybe if you would like to you can join in.

Now before I ask you lots of questions about classics I thought I would share my initial six possible contenders (don’t judge me on not having read them sooner, ha) which are…

  
  

  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  • Emma – Jane Austen
  • Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Is there anyone out there left who hasn’t read those already? I bet I am one of the last people ever to the party of these books, but maybe some people will want a re-read, or I am happy to read alone. This isn’t the definite list of six, just the initial one that called to me from my TBR pile. Now what I want is for you to answer some classic questions and they are these;

  1. What do you define as a classic?
  2. What is your favourite classic of all time so far that everyone on earth should be made to read?
  3. Which classic have you just never really managed to get on with?
  4. Which classic books have you yet to read but really must get around to?

Right… over to you then…

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The Thirteen Problems – Agatha Christie

I am beginning to think that Agatha Christie, in particular with her Miss Marple stories are actually some of the best crime novels for me. Invariably they are set in the 1930’s or 40’s when they were written which is a period that I love. They also seem to be the perfect match of an initial cosy crime caper that soon becomes something far much darker and as Miss Marple would say herself ‘full of wickedness’. ‘The Thirteen Problems’ seemed like a perfect read between everything else as being short stories of around ten pages each you can read them on the go, between another read, or just when you have ten minutes that need filling with a book.

The opening story of ‘The Thirteen Problems’ called ‘The Tuesday Night Club’ was originally the first published outing for Miss Marple and featured in The Royal Magazine in 1927 (the first Marple novel ‘Murder at the Vicarage’ wasn’t published till 1930) and introduced a collection of characters, including this slightly demure older lady, setting up a regular night when they can share tales of mystery that only they know the answer of and leaving the other members to solve the riddle. Well I think you might be able to guess who does the solving by simply applying human nature she has observed in the village of St Mary Mead. Agatha Christie then used ‘The Tuesday Night Club’ to create a further twelve stories that all interlink, though could easily be read separately and so this collection, which is more like an episodic novel (‘The Tuesday Club Murders’ in America) was formed and what a collection it is.

There are some straight forward murders in this novel, a few of your good old ‘manor house murders’ but what surprised me with this ‘The Thirteen Problems’ was that there is a rather supernatural streak through them. I am sure this was due to spirituality still gripping the nation when Agatha was writing. In fact Marple uses superstition to help someone she believes is going to be murdered at one point. None of them are ridiculous ghostly parodies, but because mysteries are just that people look for other explanations. Mediums appear a few times and the way Christie builds the plot and especially in the suspense creates the atmosphere we all know and love in a good ghostly tale. ‘The Bloodstained Pavement’ is a tale set by the idyllic seaside yet when a woman sees blood on the street no one else can local legend tells a murder will occur, and guess what it does and the missing blood is rather important. Yes, not easy to figure out I can assure you.

I loved every tale in this collection but my two favourites were the spookiest. ‘The Idol House of Astarte’ initially centres around a big house and then moves to the grounds where is it believed a shrine has been made for the goddess who it soon becomes apparent can possess people and make them do despicable things, or is something far more malevolent at work? ‘The Blue Geranium’ might be my very favourite though as a medium tells Mrs Pritchard that blue flowers will be the death of her. Strangely enough within weeks the flowers on her wall paper start to turn blue and yet she is the only one in the room over night and the only one with the key to get in, yet is this ghosts or is someone trying to kill her with fear?

I can’t remember where I saw the quote but someone somewhere has said that all the plots and short tales are so good that they could each have easily made a full novel and honestly that’s the truth. The fact Agatha Christie manages to grab you, hook you in, confuse you and then very easily explain what has baffled you in around twelve pages a time is quite something and the more I read of her the more I truly think that, bar Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, no one can better her for crime plotting. Many people mumble that she simply retells the same story over and over and yet having read quite a few of her stories I wouldn’t agree. There are a couple of tales in this collection where a husband bumps off a wife but the circumstances and indeed the murders are all completely different and the stories told in varying ways, with ‘A Christmas Tragedy’ you think you know who only Christie turns it all on its head, and again and again leaving you guessing.

A book that will: entertain and have you guessing either in greedy gulps or sneaky snippets. A perfect collection of short stories that anyone who loves a good mystery or thirteen should get there hands on. I think this shows just how much of a genius Agatha Christie really is. 10/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie – Miss Marple might be my very favourite of Agatha’s series of books but this stand alone novel  is another firm favourite and sees a slightly different style from Christie’s other books.
Agatha Christies Secret Notebooks by John Curran – reading this collection has made me want to reach for John Curran’s superb book on Agatha which collates her notebooks and plotting and really gets you into the mind of Christie.

I am still tempted by the Secret Notebooks but I have more than enough reading to be getting on with, maybe I could have an ‘Agatha April’ or something in 2011? So who else has read this collection? I am hoping there is someone else out there? If you haven’t then please do! Oh and on a slightly different tangent… this book has made me want to read some classic Victorian and early half of the 1900’s ghost stories, any recommendations?

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Not Talking About Books

Though the above might not exactly be what I have been doing for the last few weeks yet it is slightly how I have felt of late. I know if you have popped by the blog and seen the posts going up you might be thinking ‘what on earth is this chap talking about?’ There is however quite a big difference between typing about books and talking about them, now typing I have been doing lots of.

With the secrecy behind ‘The Green Carnation’ submissions for this year I have literally not talked to anyone about it. Nope, not even Novel Insights or my Gran and it’s quite weird. If books come up in conversation I either go shifty, really vague with lines like ‘oh I have just been reading masses of stuff, I wouldn’t want to bore you’ or simply have to change the subject because I know what I am like and I might just let something slip. I have of course been able to chatter online about books either here, like writing this or responding to comments and on other bloggers in their comments. And while I love it, it also isn’t the same as having a proper chin wag over a coffee, down the blower, in the pub, at book group (no disrespect to bloggers and the blogging world of course). It doesn’t quite scratch the itch.   

Neither does emailing and believe me there have been furious emails between all of the judges flying across the country (we worked out a whopping 32,000 words have been whizzing through the either catching up on where we are at and what our thoughts might be on this one and that one and so forth) but until dinner on Tuesday when we debate and decide on the longlist I wont have physically breathed a word, not even a hint, about any of the books that have come in for it.

In fact I noticed the other day that I haven’t done a post on incoming books for ages, in part because I haven’t asked for any for ages and also because most of what has come in are Green Carnation submissions. In fact maybe I will pop a secret post in below so you can have a look at anything that isn’t Green Carnation related that’s come in and we can have a chatter about those? In fact I most definitely should as some of you have sent me books and though I have thanked you by email I haven’t on here. Back to my original subject of chatting about books though! (Note – I have done a post on incomings if you fancy a snoop!)

It made me think of who the real “in the flesh” people I chat to most in the world about books are and weirdly I haven’t seen them for a catch up or spoken to them on the phone for ages. So members of book group (and Kim, Dom and Polly in particular who I see often out of it), Gran, Mum and my little sister Miriam I am sorry it’s not been avoidance honestly.

It has given me some time to think, and not in a bad way. I have been scheming and plotting some new bits and bobs for the blog and looking at how I review things (you may even see the odd slightly, and I mean slightly, negative review), which books I am missing out on and shouldn’t be and where my focus is and isn’t. All really positive stuff actually. Maybe now and again we need to be cut out of the book chattering world a little (and lost in the real world with some good books, some amazing books and some absolute duds – oh see, I nearly slipped right there) and focus on some other things and catch up with everything else?

It has been hard but good and it will get a little bit easier and a little bit better after next Wednesday; just don’t go asking me what my favourite is in the long list, ha!

So have there ever been times when you haven’t been able to talk about books? How did you cope? Is it just something you simply cannot imagine? Who are the people away from the internet and in the real world you instantly turn to and have a natter with about books and why?

P.S I hope no one thinks I am moaning about judging for The Green Carnation Prize, I’m not honest (its just made me think) and have already signed up for The Green Carnation 2011, which is going to be something quite special… mind you am not meant to be talking about that until December. Best shush again, oops.

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Lastest Incomings & Postal Problems

I thought as I haven’t done one for ages and ages I would do a post on the latest arrivals from some of you and some lovely publishers over the last month and a bit. First though I need share my latest postal drama’s with you. You might remember a while back that I told you how my delightful postman (I like to point him out to visitors when they are staying so they can see just what a miserable so and so he is) was leaving my parcels in the street. Finally he has given up on that front but I was rather worried as some rather important parcels (which I can’t share with you or talk about sadly) hadn’t turned up. So off to the sorting office I marched.

I got there, explained the situation as they know e quite well and they said they would have a look. I then get one of them coming out beaming ‘it’s your lucky day’ they had seven rather large parcels waiting. I was about to leave when I noticed the posted dates, some as far back as last Saturday, so back to the man I go and ask what this is all about. I get a sheepish look before I am told ‘well the thing is, because you get so much post we hold the parcels for a week and then try and deliver it in one go once a week’. I didn’t shout, I didn’t kick off – after all these people do handle my post and I don’t want it vanishing forever as opposed to a few days. I simply and quietly said I would be most appreciative if my postal service could deliver the post that people are paying for at the speed they are paying for it. I then shouted and screamed a bit down the customer complaints phone line. Anyway before I make myself cross again lets get to those parcels, and some that arrived on time, which of course cheered me up no end.

First up a big thank you to you out there who read the blog and then send me emails asking me if I would like a copy of this that or the other that you have spare, want to re-home etc. None of you wanted your names mentioned but I wanted to put you first at least with a picture of your treats as I am very grateful. In the last month you have come up with some real gems such as…

  • Wise Children by Angela Carter – after I loved ‘The Bloody Chamber’
  • Taking The Devils Advice by Anne Fine – as it was mentioned in my Mum’s favourite books
  • The Child Garden & Lust by Geoff Ryan – a kind reader thought after my ‘253’ joy these would be good and one is a very sci-fi look at a future London so that will be interesting
  • Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood – you all know I love an Atwood and this is one of the few not on the TBR
  • Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue – after I loved ‘Room’ a kind reader thought I might like her 1700’s slightly sensational earlier novel

Now onto publishers some who sent a few so I have placed their books separately before a mixed bag or two at the end. First up some more guilty pleasures as Constable and Robinson sent me the latest M.C. Beaton series which they are relaunching this autumn. Cosy Edwardian murder mysteries with a new heroine and some fabulous titles.

The power of social media can bring you some treats sometimes. I tweeted that I had heard Brett Easton Ellis on the Guardian Bookclub podcast (I also heard Sarah Waters this week and it made me like ‘The Little Stranger’ even more which has grown and grown on me) a week or so ago and how listening to him talk made me want to read everyone of his books that I hadn’t, and wasn’t it funny how listening to or seeing authors talk can do that? In the post within a few days came this from Picador…

So now I do have the whole of his works to go through bar the latest as I had only read one of his books before which is the amazing (but possibly a book you don’t read twice) ‘American Psycho’ which If you haven’t read bite the bullet and try.

Vintage Books sent me a mixed bag of unsolicited (which I like as with Vintage they tend to be books that are going to become classics and I never knew I wanted to read – or had heard of – and yet once I see them I do) forthcoming treats containing…

  • The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks
  • The Good Angel of Death by Andrey Kurkov
  • Look At The Birdie by Kurt Vonnegut
  • A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks (can you believe I have still never read a Faulks?)

Now for two final mixture of publishers who have sent and who are…

  • Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford (Capuchin Classics) – I will be reading this over the bank holiday weekend
  • The Pantomime Life of Joseph Grimaldi by Andrew McConnel Scott (Canongate Books)
  • Last Night In Twisted River by John Irving (Transworld Books) – another author I can’t believe I haven’t read yet
  • Something Sensational To Read On The Train by Gyles Brandreth (John Murray) I love diaries and these one sound quite salacious and gossipy so I might be dipping in and out of them for the next few months
  • Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman by Friedrich Christian Delius (Peirene Press)
  • Tarr by Wyndham Lewis (Oxford University Press)
  • The Woman Before Me by Ruth Dugdall (Legend Press) winner of the Luke Bitmead Novel Award and being compared to Sophie Hannah

  • The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst (Sceptre) – call me a book cover slut but I do want to read this for the cover alone
  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart (Granta)
  • The Death Instinct by Jed Rubenfeld (Headline) – I have started this one because I really liked ‘The Interpretation of Murder’ only thing is I couldn’t remember what happened in that as it was my pre-blogging days – oops. I know I liked it though and so far I havent had to hark back to the last one!
  • Farundell by L.R. Fredericks (John Murray) – I had never head of this one before it thudded through my letter box, however reading the synopsis and seeing thoughts on it here and there I am actually ridiculously excited about reading this one over the weekend
  • The Captain’s Wife by Kirsten McKenzie (John Murray)

Right that’s the lot of lovely loot, it has been a good month or so since I did one hence the mightiness of it. Special thanks again to you the readers who have been sending. So which of these have you heard about, which do you quite fancy and what else have you read by any of the authors and what did you think? Any more tales of postal hell?

Oh and a quick note; none of these books were asked for – I have banned myself from that as have lots in the house – either the publishers contacted me or simply sent them unsolicitied. Just so you all know!

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In Between The Sheets – Ian McEwan

For some people the two words ‘Ian McEwan’ will have them running for the hills from any blog post. I personally am quite a big fan, in fact as yet there haven’t been any of his books that I haven’t liked (enjoyed isn’t always a word you can use with McEwan) though I might have struggled with a few here and there. I had, until now, never tried his short stories – short stories seem to be the perfect reads between Green Carnation submissions at the moment. ‘In Between The Sheets’ is a collection that I borrowed from my Mum when I stayed recently and thought it was about time I gave a whirl. This can prove a risk, as short stories are hard to write, I have noticed in the past (not naming any names) some of my favourite authors can’t do it, could McEwan?

You can pretty much guess what this collection centres on from its title ‘In Between The Sheets’ but rather than just a collection of stories based around sex and sexuality McEwan uses these themes to build a set of stories which are much more than that. ‘Reflections of a Kept Ape’ is both a nod towards Darwin’s views on evolution and also in a way looks at the ideas behind the Oedipus complex whist setting gorilla’s in a house in the present day as neighbours of humans. The title story ‘In Between the Sheets’ uses a young girl’s sexual awakening to highlight the marriage breakdown of her parents. ‘Two Fragments: March 199-‘ starts with a slightly sexual theme, which it returns to later on, but is actually in fact about a dystopian future which McEwan was predicting could happen in the 1990’s, this collection being published in 1978 and was a vision of London that I found quite harrowing yet most readable and quite fascinating.

Naturally in any collection there are some books which you instantly warm to and others you don’t, in fact I think a collection in which you love every single story is a rare thing. Both ‘To and Fro’ and ‘Psychopolis’ I didn’t really get and I think would need a re-read but I think that’s more an issue with me as a reader and my understanding and what I took from them rather than them not being such good tales.

I was bowled over by two particular tales in this collection, bar the two mentioned in the paragraph above they all worked from me just two stood out particularly. ‘Dead As They Come’ is a brilliant and comically dark tale of a man’s obsession with a woman, only as you read on you realise the woman is not what you would first assume (I can almost guarantee its not what your guessing either) and leads to a melodramatic climax which has me gripped and starting the tale all over again.

The opening story ‘Pornography’ (which I would have placed as the last tale because of its impact) is the tale of womanising O’Byrne and how he gets his comeuppance. In fact it’s a rather feminist tale which I would direct any reader to read if they think McEwan is a male testosterone driven writer, which he can be on occasion I admit. That particular story is one that had a rather wince inducing (if you are a man) twist in its tail that I really wasn’t expecting.

In fact I think I would direct both people who already love McEwan and haven’t read this collection along with people who think they don’t like McEwan to ‘In Between The Sheets’. This was his fifth fiction outing and I do like the darkness in his earlier work, and have taken ‘The Cement Garden’ off the shelves for a re-read, and this is brimming with it. It also shows glimmers of where he took his writing afterwards.

A book that will: appeal to those who like McEwan regardless and possibly show him in a very different light to those who aren’t sure about him. An entertaining and thought provoking collection which makes a very interesting read. 8/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

The Breaking Point by Daphne Du Maurier – I am not comparing the authors, this is just one of my all time favourite short story collections of which some of its tales have stayed with me vividly ever since.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – This has the dark sensuality of this collection only instead is a modern twist on certain fairytales. Interestingly this was published a year after ‘In Between The Sheets’ so maybe there are other collections from the late seventies I should be looking up?

Can you recommend any other late seventies short story collections I might want to have a crack at as I liked this and ‘The Bloody Chamber’ so much? Has anyone read McEwan’s other collection ‘First Love, Last Rites’? What are your thoughts on McEwan in general?

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Filed under Ian McEwan, Review, Short Stories, Vintage Books

The Green Carnation Countdown and a Competition

Just a quick post before some bookish thoughts coming later in the day… I haven’t really mentioned The Green Carnation Prize properly for a while. I have been a little worried if I keep on mentioning it I will sound like a stuck record and you will all be bored to tears with it. However I am breaking the silence a little bit as over on The Green Carnation Prize website (which you should be visiting regularly anyway for some of the blogs from the judges – ha) there is a competition which could see you winning a lovely haul of bookish loot. So do pop over and have a go.

As the longlist or ‘The Green Carnation Bunch’ announcement is still a week away (yet it seems to have gone by far too quickly) I still cant say too much, I will say we have had more submissions than I ever thought we would and that, on the whole, publishers have really gotten behind this prize like many of you lovely people out there have and we are really grateful. Oh dear that sounded like I was going off into an Oscar speech, moving swiftly on…

Next week will see some more Green Carnation dedicated posts on Savidge Reads not about the long listed books so much, as I don’t want to give my thoughts away and have you thinking there are any early favourites (not that I have a clue what will be on the list, all the judges have very different tastes which is exciting) but more on the process and thoughts its brought up. For example I have already drafted two posts on ‘Controversy Over Content’ and ‘Too Much Sex, Not Enough Plot’ which could up becoming one piece. I wondered if there was anything you would like to know? Some of you mentioned the judging process, but what specifically? Let me know and I will see what I can do, and don’t forget to head off for that competition!

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Filed under The Green Carnation Prize

A Trip To Gran’s… Do Come Along

I know a lot of you like all things Granny Savidge Reads and so I thought I would do a little report back from the trip that myself and The Converted One went on two weekends ago back to my homeland of the Derbyshire Dales. I have already shared a trip we took to Scarthin Books which deserved its own post and so I thought I would share some more pictures of both the peaks, my past, more books (Persephone ones, really old ones and damaged ones – the latter caused me real horror) and lost of other bits and bobs – including a charity that I would love you all to have a look into.

So on the Saturday morning we left the grey skies of London for what I assumed would be the even greyer skies of ‘oop north’. However it would appear I was very wrong as the further north we got the sunnier it became.

First up was an early lunch both preceeded and followed by tea and coffee. This provided the perfect picture for any of you who love Persephone books as Gran had hers placed rather delightfully on a tray with some rather wonderful china.

It was soon off to Matlock Bath for a wander down the promenade and over the wonderful old Victorian Jubilee Bridge (you know how I love my Victoriana)

This takes you across the River Derwent to a land of rather marvellous grottos, fountains and fantastic views from which you can see my old house (where I lived with my grandparents for half of every year growing up) in the distance below The Heights of Abraham.

 

Here’s a close up of that very house, the one I have sworn I will buy back one day.

We were in Matlock Bath both for a bit of nostalgia and to go to an event organised to ‘Save the Pavilion’ (or the Pav as we call it) and celebrate its 100th Birthday it is a rather historical old building on the main promenade. It’s a place that means a lot to me personally as my Mum and Dad actually met at a school disco in the dome on the roof. They had allsorts going on including a Punch and Judy show which had The Converted One in awe and I let Gran explain.

 

It was actually a ‘typically British fate’ with both a wonderful band…

And a Women’s Institute charity book store of delightful old (and rather saucy if you look at the picture in detail) books, I had a rather longing look and had to move away swiftly.

Soon it was time to dash back for more tea and cake with my aunty and cousins back over the hills and in Gran’s rather wonderful garden before dinner, it was a real treat to sit, drink and natter outside over that view.

Later on we went through the family albums and I found this rather wonderful picture of my Gran as a little girl in her nursery which I just love, I am going to have to get it blown up and framed for one of my walls.

Next day after visiting my Dad’s parents who I hadn’t seen for five years and who hadn’t yet met The Converted One we headed to the grandeur of Chatsworth and its wonderful park land.

After a nice cream tea we toured the village of Edensor where the Dowager Duchess and last surviving Mitford sister Deborah lives where I found a house that I desperately wanted, I have a thing about turrets and could be ‘Debo’s’ neighbour.

Then it was all too soon time to go home which was rather a fraught journey as we almost had a fight with a man who was sat in our booked seats. Then, if that wasn’t stressful enough, a woman sat with this opposite me…

I could almost hear the book and its pain. However my distressed spirits at both that poor book and the fact I wanted to stay up north longer were somewhat eased when I found two gifts on the bed from that book stall I mentioned above I had no idea I had been bought! (Village Tales by Miss Mitford and The Lamplighter by Miss Cummins – anyone read either of these?)

So hopefully that hasn’t bored you all silly and you have enjoyed that little tour of a small part of Derbyshire. Do these break in bookish posts appeal to you all now and again? Should I be sharing little bits of my non bookish life with you now and again? Let me know as I don’t know if I share too much, not enough or just about right! Have you had any nice trips lately?

You can find out more about the great cause of ‘Save The Pavilion’ and watch a marvellous video about Matlock Bath and the Pav here. Do pop by!

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Filed under Book Thoughts

Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson

When one of the books you have been most looking forward to all year pops through my letter box my mind seems to split in two. The first half wants to drop whatever it is I am already reading and start it that second. The second half holds off with a mixture of wanting to wait because once I have read it its read and also the fear that it might not be as good as the others. I always find the latter interesting as I don’t tend to be a pessimistic person. These debates went on when ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ (which might be one of my favourite book titles of the year) by Kate Atkinson arrived, in the end however I just caved in.

‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ is the fourth in what has become a series of ‘literary crime’ novels, as they have been pigeon-holed by publishers/bookshops not by me, featuring Jackson Brodie. Yet if you are now worrying ‘oh I haven’t read the other three’ fear not because what is brilliant about this set of books is that they all stand alone and (as a few of my family members have – not naming any names) you could read them in any order. But let’s get onto what ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ is all about shall we?

To try and encapsulate the story or plot of ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ is actually quite difficult. It’s quite a complex plot, though not so complex you have no enjoyment in it in fact quite the opposite, told over two periods in time and through several different view points in each. As the main story, told in the present day, opens we are in Yorkshire where Jackson Brodie has come out of ‘semi retirement’ as a private investigator to look into the past of Hope McMaster who was adopted and taken to New Zealand. We also have Matilda ‘Tilly’ Squires an aging and slightly forgotten actress in the Yorkshire drama ‘Collier’ who is suffering from the start of dementia. We also have Tracy Waterhouse a former Sergeant for the West Yorkshire Police and now Head of Security in the Merrion Shopping Centre  who is completely unaware that she is about to do something that will change her life forever.

The second interweaving back story from mid 1970’s when Yorkshire was in the grip of several serial killers. This is where we meet a much younger Tracy and her colleagues investigating the murder of a prostitute and her son who vanishes from orphanage to orphanage as if someone wants him not to be found. How does all this weave together and what does it have to do with the aforementioned Tilly and Jackson? Well you would have to read the book to find out and you really should because the way Atkinson does it is not only incredibly clever (without leaving the reader completely lost) it’s also very readable.

The more I read of Atkinson’s work and in particular this series, the more of a genius I think she is. Not only do you have a mystery or two in the book to work out, you have this overall mystery of just how on earth everything interlinks and with ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ she draws out the process by introducing each character and bringing their circumstances and personalities to the fore. No one dimensional characters here, not even if they are merely in the book for a page or two. All the main characters are marvellous, readable and real. In doing so she also gets to voice her thoughts on both issues from the past (in this case the serial killings in the seventies which gripped the nation and left many women in fear) and in the present (prostitution, child welfare, the recession, dementia) through their back stories which makes it even a fuller read. If you are reading them in order and for Jackson Brodie (as my Gran does) then he does soften a little in this one and all because of the most surprising new sidekick.

I also think ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ has learnt from its excellent predecessors. It has the darkness of ‘Case Histories’, the humour – though less farcical and more contained – of ‘One Good Turn’ and the brilliant complexities of the coincidental plotting in ‘When Will There Be Good News?’ whilst also like its predecessors being nothing like any that have gone before it. I can’t wait for the next one!

A book that will: show you why crime fiction can be so good and why its so annoying that some of it doesn’t get a mention in the big prize long lists. 10/10

I don’t think I can suggest any perfect prose partners for this other than the earlier books in the series. I could suggest some of the Sophie Hannah or Susan Hill crime novels because Hannah makes the impossible and complex possible, and Hill interweaves crime with great social awareness and themes, yet though I love them dearly Atkinson seems to interweave the two. If you haven’t read these then you really must. If you have read this and/or its predecessors what did you think? Which other novels by Atkinson have you tried? I really must give ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ a whirl.

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Filed under Books of 2010, Kate Atkinson, Review, Transworld Publishing

Coraline: The Graphic Novel – Neil Gaiman & P. Craig Russell

I do love the library for the fact that you can try something different. I used to love comics as a kid, particularly ‘The Beano’ and anything to do with Batman. The latter led me onto a real phase of loving graphic novels in my early teens and then when my reading stopped ages about 15 so did my love for graphic novels. In fact I have sort of looked upon them with a mix of ‘well it’s not a real book’ and ‘aren’t I a bit too old?’ So, when I saw it at the library, I thought that a graphic novel version of Neil Gaiman’s ‘Coraline’ might be the way forward, especially as I loved ‘The Graveyard Book’ earlier in the year.

When Coraline moves into a new apartment block, in a rather spooky old building, with her Mum and Dad she starts to get to know the rather unusual inhabitants of the flats surrounding them. You have your stereotypical ‘crazy old man upstairs’ Mr Bobo a retired circus performer who believes that he is training mice/rats to perform in a very special circus all of their own. There are also the delightful retired actresses Mrs Spink and Mrs Forcible who read Coraline’s tea leaves and feel she might be in grave danger, and they could just be right.

In their new apartment during a rainy day Coraline and her mother find a door that opens onto a brick wall, however one night Coraline discovers the door open and a long passage leading into an almost identical apartment in another world. Here she finds she has ‘other’ parents who initially seem to be the parents that Coraline wishes she had, her parents have been very busy since moving and have been spending less time with her, only as she gets to know them she realises that her ‘other’ parents aren’t what they seem, and they don’t ever want her to leave.

I really hoped I would find ‘Coraline’ a wonderfully escapist read regardless of the way it was delivered (be it images and words, as opposed to just words and descriptions normally) and it was just that. I was taken into a weird and magical world or second dimensions, evil monsters disguised in human form, talking cats, crazy old ladies and men and a rather creepy circus. I really enjoyed it; the more I am reading of Gaiman’s work the more I think he is a great writer. I still want to read the book though interestingly. It was a great experience reading the graphic novel, I just think I would have had an even fuller one (maybe a ten our of ten)  if I could have let the images build in my own head rather than on the pages in front of me giving me no option. I don’t think the Coraline in this would be the same as the one I would create myself through my imagination.

A book that will: be perfect if you are dipping a tentative toe into graphic novels, or for anyone who loves any Gaiman they have read already. 8/10

It’s interesting as I think if I hadn’t known there was a book version (which of course I now really want to read – have any of you read the book version of ‘Coraline and Other Stories’?) I think I would have felt completely sated by this; I just now want to read it and see if it has the same effect or a greater one? Batman is different (looking back at my previous graphic novel experience) as I guess I have him engraved on my head from the movies etc from early on. Where would you suggest I head next for a great graphic novel? What other Gaiman novels can you recommend?

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Graphic Novels, Neil Gaiman, Review

A Small Swift Saturday Survey

I was away ‘oop north’ visiting family last weekend, report coming next week, and now have some of my family coming to stay from the north this weekend (my Aunty Caz and her children)! So I thought I would just do a small short (alliterative) sharp interactive survey. Basically because I can’t talk about what I am reading (which is actually rather taxing), I thought I would ask you the first four questions that I always want to ask people be they new aquaintances or life long friends and I hope my readers fall into a mix fo the two or somewhere in between. Plus I just love being nosey about books. So, could you answer these quick questions?

What was the last book you finished?
What are you reading right now?
What will you most likely be reading next?
Which book that you don’t own are you really hankering after desperately?

I have seen a few other bloggers do some similar posts. I wonder if there will be any trends or themes in everyones reading? Right, that’s it for me – am off to show a rowdy troupe of Savidge’s the sights of London. Hope you all have lovely weekends planned? Looking forward to your four answers very muc and feel free to get people you know having a go too!

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Heartburn – Nora Ephron

I have always been rather a fan of Nora Ephron’s films in the past, they aren’t my all time favourites, though Julie & Julia could one day end up there, but I have enjoyed them enough that myself and a colleague where I used to work would have ‘Ephron moments’ you know when life is a little bit bittersweet and you still have to laugh about it. In fact it was this former colleague, and also something I saw on Justine Picardie’s blog some time ago that brought Ephron’s book to my attention, and when I saw it in the library a few weeks ago I had to pick it up.

‘Heartburn’ is the tale of Rachel Samstat a journalist who has somehow become a name in cookery writing, which is why there are a fair few recipes spread out throughout the book. As we meet her she has not long discovered that her husband Mark has been having an affair with Thelma Rice, whilst Rachel herself is heavily pregnant. What’s worse is that this doesn’t seem to be a small bout of infidelity (can we really even forgive those?) but a relationship that has been going on for some time and doesn’t look like either participant wants to give up. What follows is an incredibly vivid, occasionally incredibly funny and also incredibly emotionally raw, account of a woman coming to terms with her second unfaithful husband. At least this time, Rachel thinks, it isn’t with one of her friends like the husband before.

I thought this book was brilliant and very clever. It could easily have become a very bitter tale, and in some parts there is rage and hurt, which simply slagged off men (which it sometimes does, though it also looks at women’s faults too) and became a rather torturous read. Instead, whilst very much looking at the emotional side of it all and indeed the practicalities of the situation Ephron adds some humour. Even when the worst things happen to us we do still laugh at the most random of things, there is that saying ‘if you didn’t laugh you’d cry’ and Ephron clearly has this intention with this novel. She also introduces other couples and characters into the mix that add to the laughter, yet have their own tragedy such as Rachel’s mother’s madness, her father’s marriages after and so on.  

Many people say that ‘Heartburn’ is actually a fictionalised version of Norah Ephron’s marriage breakdown and divorce. Not knowing Ephron personally, sadly, I couldn’t comment on that, however in her own introduction – which makes great reading afterwards – Norah hints it may be ‘thinly disguised’ fiction. Regardless it’s a brilliant book. Because the author has been there and pretty much puts her heart and soul laid bare into the pages it feels real, we have all at some point felt some of these emotions; so we can empathise and have more of an involvement, understanding and reaction to the book.

A book that will: strike a chord regardless if you are male or female (I get the feeling this is aimed very much at women but I think men would like it too) it will also make you laugh out loud. 8.5/10

I can’t currently think of any books that I could pair this with so I haven’t done so. Has anyone else read this and could share some books that other people might like too and of course what you yourself thought of ‘Heartburn’? Has anyone seen the film and what did you think? I have just ordered it on LoveFilm – thrilled to see Meryl Streep plays Rachel!

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Filed under Nora Ephron, Review, Virago Books