Monthly Archives: December 2010

Books of 2010 Part Two…

So in my second list of books that I loved in 2010 I decided to go for books that were published in hardback or paperback for the first time in 2010. There are some exceptions though and I have not included any of The Green Carnation Prize long or shortlisted books as I don’t know if I could rate them in the same way I do the books I read randomly and pop on the blog, is that fair of me? I will have to think about that more going forward in 2011 maybe? Right anyway, as Miranda Hart would say, let’s get on with the show…

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot (Pan Books)

“…there is so much in this book that it’s really, really hard to do it justice in any kind of way. It’s book that will open your eyes to some of the most important times in modern science, the not that distant injustice of racial segregation was still going on (Henrietta was on a coloured only ward) and a real life family drama that you couldn’t possibly believe isn’t fiction, but it’s all very real and makes for an incredibly emotional and utterly brilliant book. I cannot recommend this enough; it’s definitely one of my books of the year, if not the book of the year so far for me. It’s emotional, angering, thought provoking and mind expanding; it’s also incredibly readable and an important book too.”

Purge – Sofi Oksanen (Atlantic Books)

“Sofia Oksanen has written something quite amazing. It is a rare book that takes me on such an emotional journey and to such dark places and yet leaves me almost unable to put the book down. Her prose is absolutely stunning (and here I should credit Lola Rogers on a fantastic translation) and without ever being too graphic she manages to drop in enough information to let the reader work out what’s going on and yet leave enough unsaid that we create the scenes in our own minds which is often the more disturbing and effective than spelling everything out.”

One Day – David Nicholls (Hodder)

“I am well aware that this book won’t be for everyone but anyone who is looking at it and thinking ‘chick-lit by a man with no literary merit’ (and I have heard that said) would be wrong. The prose is incredibly readable without being throw-away. I laughed and cried whilst reading this book in one sitting, it was rather like spending a day on an emotional rollercoaster I have to say and yet once I had put it down I really just wanted to start all over again and I don’t say that too often. It’s not a modern masterpiece but I hope it becomes a contemporary classic… A book that will leave you an emotional wreck, make you want to hug it and also start all over again all at once possibly.”

Beside The Sea – Veronique Olmi (Peirene Press)

“I know there are some people out there who think that if you don’t have children then you can’t relate to tales about mother’s (or father’s) feelings for their child or children. I think that’s a load of rubbish, I believe that a wonderful author can take you absolutely anywhere, into any mind or situation, that’s the wonder of books. Olmi is just such a writer who put me into the mind of a mother thinking of her and her children’s lives and left me rather an emotional wreck and not any books can leave me almost feeling physically winded.”

The Long Song – Andrea Levy (Headline Review)

Slavery is always going to be a tough subject and yet the way Levy writes it both hits home the horrors of what took place, sometimes in quite graphic detail, and yet through her wonderful narrators voice there is a humour there… If you haven’t read any Levy then this is a great book to start with. If you have already had the pleasure then this book continues to show that Levy is a wonderful author who can take you to faraway places with wonderful characters and make it all look effortless… This is a truly wonderful book that haunts you in both its humour and its horrors.”

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee (Corsair)

“It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel as to read it feels so accomplished. Unlike other books that could have made you feel almost too much is going on everything is measured and paced, themes are explored but not overly so. No puddings are overegged by Mr Mukherjee here where some authors might have gone into melodrama or overkill. The prose is both lush and stark in parts and has a wonderful flow to it. The only slight tiny niggle I had was that Maud Gilby’s tale is all in bold which played a bit with my eyes, as I said a small niggle though…  Not only, as I mentioned above, is it a book that leaves you feeling a little differently about life, not on a grand scale but in subtle ways and haunts you after you finish the last sentence.”

Room – Emma Donoghue (Picador)

“Emma Donoghue does something incredibly special with ‘Room’. By putting us in the mind of 5 year old Jack she makes us see things from both the innocence of the child narrating and the cynical knowledge the reader has as an adult and rather than play it for a schmaltzy tale of woe, or a calculated tear fest, though the book is emotional in parts. It’s also very funny in parts too and that’s all down to the child eye observance of Jack and his voice. Child narrators can sometimes really grate on me, let alone books that are written in a slightly childish dialect, yet I could have listened to Jack describing his life for pages and pages more.”

Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson (Black Swan)

“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 marvelous, 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.”

The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell (Headline Review)

“I should say it will be hard to do this book justice full stop, it will also be hard to say too much without giving everything away and spoiling it for the reader… For me the star of the whole book was the writing. Every single sentence was a real joy to read and seemed to have been crafted with care as if every word counted and that is a rare find I think. In some ways it reminded me of the way Brooklyn was crafted though the stories are nothing a like at all. The fact that on top of this atmospheric and beautiful writing are two such interesting women, a whole cast of wonderful crafted characters and a plot makes this a wonderful book for the reader, you won’t want to rush it rather savour every line page by page.”

The Clay Dreaming – Ed Hillyer (Myriad Editions)

If I said to you that ‘The Clay Dreaming’ was a book about an aboriginal cricket team arriving in London in 1868 it might not sound like the type of book you would instantly rush down to your nearest book shop to grab… The prose is masterly, the characters are full drawn – apart from the mysterious ones of course and I could easily imagine this having been published in installments in the papers/magazines of the late 1800’s… It’s not a book to be read quickly, nor an easy read by any means (ideally it’s one to be read slowly with no great rush and allowed to unfold in front of the readers eyes – perfect for on your holidays) but it is one that I don’t think people should miss out on.”

You can find the rest of my top books of the year here. Which of the books above have you read and what did you think? Have any of these books been on your must read lists? What were your favourite reads of 2010?

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Books of 2010 Part One…

I do like a nice top ten list of some kind and here is the first of two that cover my favourite reads of the year. 2010 has been a fairly vintage year for reading both with discovering some wonderful new books along with some older classics and so I thought what I would do is one list which is the top ten book I read in 2010 which were published before the year started and another list which covers all the books published in 2010 be it in hardback or paperback. So let us start with the top ten books I read in 2010 but published before it, links to the full review can be found by clicking on the titles…

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Vintage Classics)

“I will simply say that ‘Jane Eyre’ has instantly become one of my all time favourite novels. I have even given ‘Villette’ a few enquiring sideways glances since I finished this yesterday. I would give ‘Jane Eyre’ an eleven out of ten only that would be breaking the rules. I shall simply have to give it a ten out of ten in bold… a simply MUST read book, it’s even made me think about the way I read – and it takes the most special of books to do that to us I think personally.”

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago)

“I cannot pretend that I didn’t originally want to read this book in part because it sounded like a wonderfully shocking and slightly trashy romp of a tale. Yet to label the book trashy is unfair on ‘Peyton Place’ because Grace Metalious (possibly the best name for an author ever?) writes wonderfully and as a piece of fiction it’s really rather complex, as there are so many characters and undercurrents, and also has a lot to say. Fear not though never once does the author baffle you or over complicate things.”

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber)

“If I gave anything away I would be so cross with myself because knowing nothing about this book is probably the best way to let the emotional impact hit you as it unfolds. I will say that Ishiguro creates such a realistic story and scenario that rather than thinking ‘Never Let Me Go’ is set in an ‘alternative England’ in the 1990’s I could very well believe that all that happens in the novel could have really happened and still be happening and you would never know. You might find yourself looking at people you pass in the street a little bit differently. I know I did after finishing the book and to me that shows how real and engrossing a modern masterpiece Ishiguro has created.”

The Drivers Seat – Muriel Spark (Penguin Classics)

“I think this has almost instantly become my favourite Spark yet. In comparison to some of the other works of hers I have read this has the darkest undertone despite its bright cover and flamboyant lead character. It also packed one of the hardest punches yet, and I will say I thought The Girls of Slender Means had a dark twist; this one hits you early on.  It also see’s Muriel dabble in a genre that I wouldn’t have seen her try and yet she does brilliantly in her own Sparkish way. I realise I sound vague but I do so hate to spoil things and this is a book that should not be spoiled in any way at all and in fact if you haven’t read must be read immediately.”

Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks (Vintage)

“It is incredibly hard to try and encapsulate ‘Birdsong’ in a mere few paragraphs and I am sure I haven’t done it justice. The writing is incredible, as I mentioned above I don’t think I have ever had war depicted to me – especially life in the trenches themselves – with such realism. By turns dramatic yet never melodramatic you find you heart racing as much as you do feel the longing of a love affair that seems doomed from the start in the first section. I did initially get thrown by the addition of the modern narration through Elizabeth, Stephen’s granddaughter; however Faulks uses this to add a further dimension to the journey we are already on whilst adding a further tale of the effects of war. The only word for it really is epic, ‘Birdsong’ is a book you’ll want to get lost in for hours and yet be unable to put down.”

The Loved One – Evelyn Waugh (Penguin Classics)

“I laughed out loud a lot with this book and I wasn’t expecting it (though maybe with a dedication ‘to Nancy Mitford’ inside I should have guessed) it charmed me. I loved the irony, comical cynical attitude of the author and random plot developed and it entertained me and took me away from everything for the two hours that I couldn’t put it down. Ten out of ten! This is a lesser known work of Waugh’s that has left me looking forward to reading many, many more of his books in the future… It’s wickedly entertaining and a real riot to read, if in some slightly dubious taste, I bet this caused quite the stir when it was published in 1948.”

Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett (Serpent’s Tail)

“I will admit it left me a bit of a wreck (am not doing spoilers but feel free to in the comments), it was all utterly worth it for a reading experience like this as they don’t come around all that often… I could go on and on raving about this book, the other wonderful characters that Bartlett creates (Mrs Kesselman is a wonderfully drawn formidable yet secretly caring middle aged woman who works with Mr. F), the descriptions of London in 1967 with its living and breathing atmosphere, the parallels with the much mentioned and alluded to ‘Beauty and the Beast’, the role of a victim as a tormentor, sexuality… the list is endless.”

Stiff – Mary Roach (Penguin)

“It might not be a subject that you would think you would want to read about but death is really the only guarantee that we have in life, and though we might not openly admit it aren’t we all a little bit fascinated (in a morbidly inquisitive or scientific way) by it? Well in ‘Stiff’ Mary Roach is very intrigued by just that and meets all the people who have dealings with us when we die and asks all the questions that we would if we honestly could… You get history, you get insight, you get emotion and laughter – yes I was in hysterics at some points – and you get reassurance in a strange way. All the while in the company of Mary Roach who by the end of the book I felt I was firm friends with, if only all nonfiction whatever its subject could be as readable as this.”

On The Beach – Nevil Shute (Vintage Classics)

“Nevil Shute has created possibly one of the most brilliant ‘tart with a heart’ heroines in Moira, who from her first drunken arrival on the pages (and soon followed up with a hilarious ‘accidental’ bra loosing moment which made me laugh out loud) promptly steals any scene that she is in. You could actually say to a degree it is the tales of Moira and Mary that in part make the book such a special read. I know I have picked a few holes in it but I still ended up coming away from ‘On The Beach’ feeling very emotional and it’s made me do quite a lot of reflecting and thinking which all the best books should do. It’s one of those books that will stick with you for days and days, I am sure I will be mulling this book and the question it raises over for weeks and weeks to come. Like I said before ‘On The Beach’ is not the perfect book but it’s an incredible one.”

Firmin – Sam Savage (Phoenix)

“It was the ending and then surprisingly the authors note that popped it back to being five star as I didn’t realize the period in which the book was set was a strange time for Boston and in particular those in Scollay Square. Don’t look that up though until you have read it as the impact of that and the ending left me feeling a little winded and a little more emotional… I would call this ‘a tale of a tail whose owner who loves tales’ and a book that will leave you with more book recommendations than you could shake a tail at!”

You can find the rest of my top books of the year here. Which of the books above have you read and what did you think? Have any of these books been on your must read lists? What were your favourite reads of 2010?

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I’m MyDaily Blog of the Week

Well what a lovely way to end 2010 and start 2011, hang on let me explain! I had a lovely email from the people at MyDaily, the online lifestyle magazine from AOL, asking of I would like to be their blog of the week from today until Wednesday next week as they would like me to be! How could I say no?

So if you fancy having a little gander at the lovely piece you can do by visiting their site via the link here.

How are we all?

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Tamara Drewe – Posy Simmonds

I so, so, so wanted to go and see the ‘Tamara Drewe’ film when it came out earlier this year, however sadly for lots of reasons I never got around to it. Mind you I now think that this was fate because I do really like to read the book before I go and see the film version, hence why I have still not gotten around to seeing ‘Revolutionary Road’ which I must read next year. ‘Tamara Drewe’ was a book that I definitely wanted to read because being a graphic novel, a genre I am getting to know slowly but surely, it seemed like it could be something quite different. I saw it in the library earlier this week, snapped it up and then read it in one go!

I had seen snippets of ‘Tamara Drewe’ by Posy Simmonds when it was serialised in The Guardian whenever I was at my Mum’s or my Gran’s on a random Saturday visit. I can’t say that it was something I particularly looked out for because I would catch it rarely and I do like to read things in order. However it came out as a graphic novel back in 2007, yet it wasn’t until seeing the film adverts on the telly that I really gained awareness of it, but I am so glad that I have finally picked it up and read it.

Stonefield is a writers retreat in the fictional town of Ewedown deep in the English countryside. The owners Beth and her writer husband Nicholas Hardiman who are currently in their latest brawl over one of his affairs and the writers, including Glen Larson, and the gardener Andy are having a garden break when a girl in a mere vest and hot pants appears. This siren is Tamara Drewe, a woman who lived in Ewedown but left to follow a career in journalism and also to get a nose job, a column on which has made her career so far. She is back and wittingly or unwittingly (as the reader can decide as they go) she causes chaos and changes the lives of some of the villagers for good, especially as it appears she has some history with several of the people at Stonefield.

Posy Simmonds is not only a wonderful, and I mean really wonderful, artist she is a brilliant storyteller who can be both incredibly funny and also rather emotional. As Tamara causes chaos in almost all her relationships with others you could be taken on a farcical tale of middle class England and its bed hopping and gossip. What you get is a little bit of that laced with both a morality and slight melodrama that makes you believe in all the characters and their situations and puts you in the heads of them all and their motives whether they are good bad or indifferent. I wasn’t expecting too much out of this book actually, I thought it was going to be rather a throwaway romp through the fields, haystacks and bedrooms of some rather comic and cad like characters. I was proved wrong and was most pleasantly surprised. 8.5/10

Its been a good year for me with graphic novels, I would say I have loved every single one but both this and the incredible ‘Blankets’ have shown me I need to read much more of this genre, any suggestions for 2011 please?

P.S I am sorry this post is so late, wordpress seems to be playing about with my scheduled posts… grrr! I’m also not sure what is going on with my fonts!

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Filed under Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Posy Simmonds, Random House Publishing, Review

You Better Not Cry – Augusten Burroughs

I had completely forgotten about ‘You Better Not Cry’ until I was delving through some of my books, currently residing in a lovely garage, for my new book groups next choice and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to read it. I will admit the cover made me snigger and that was what definitely sold it to me, you want a good laugh at Christmas don’t you, especially when things start to get a little fraught over turkey’s or charades! Well if you ever think that your Christmases get stressful or strange then really you need to read this collection of tales by Augusten Burroughs to put everything into perspective.

‘You Better Not Cry’ is like a festive special of some of the memoriesof Augusten Burroughs at various points in his life. From his childhood, which you may have already read about in the brilliant ‘Running with Scissors’ – if you haven’t read it then do, to his adulthood we get a glimpse of some of the most vivid and often rather hilarious but tragic Christmas moments. Stories like when his Grandmother had to point out the difference between Santa and Jesus as a younger Augusten thought they were one and the same person (which had caused some rather confused childhood moments), to waking up during his drink filled years to find a Santa suit and a naked Santa look-a-like in his bed (which had me laughing a lot) and to the year he realised he hadn’t celebrated Christmas for a decade, well not properly.

I really enjoyed this collection it has to be said, and started to rather annoy my family members as I was croakily giggling between chocolates on the sofa during this Christmas. I loved hearing more about his drug addled mother and alcoholic father and how they tried to make Christmas perfect… and failed slightly. In some ways the fact this book was over his lifetime so far at different points made it all the more interesting, it was less concentrated that some of his other books which whilst funny can really get to you at the same point.

Most of the stories are very funny though there is always a slight tinge of sadness around each of the tales in this collection, it’s not all ‘look at how hilarious and crazy my life has been and oh how we laughed’ it has a sensitive and often poignant side too reminding you what Christmas is all about… family and loved ones, no matter how much they can sometimes be a burden. There is also one utterly heartbreaking tale which I will admit had me on the verge of tears, yet left me thinking just how lucky I am this Christmas too! 8.5/10

So if you are after a final festive read this Christmas time, or after something to savour until next Christmas then I would highly recommend you give this a whirl. I really enjoyed it and it’s another ideal pick up and put down book between the merriment and mayhem of the season. It’s also reminded me I must pick up more of Burroughs books in the New Year; I don’t know why I have left it so long.

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My Favourite Day of the Year?!?

I have to say that I think Boxing Day could be my favourite
day of the year! I love Christmas Day, but it always becomes a
frenzy and a little fraught and fretful – or is that just me? I
quite like my birthday but it tends to be an anti-climax, I always
get a bit too excited it’s lethal! Boxing Day is another thing all
together… You see it’s a day where you nibble (lots), drink and
be merry (some more and as hair of the dog), and enjoy your
presents! Such as nice new books in front of the log fire with lots
of chocolate, well thats what I have been doing so far!

So what are you
all doing on Boxing Day? Did you get lots of lovely pressies? I’ll
be reporting back on mine in the New Year as I’ve got a second
Christmas Day at my Mum’s on New Years Eve and have a feeling have
a few more delights await me! So what did you all get?

Please note: that’s not the lounge I am currently in!

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Wishing You A Very…

… Merry Christmas from Savidge Reads. (I hope this image moves like it should because it will hopefully make you laugh like it did me, its the small things in life!)

I hope that wherever you are and whatever you are doing (which must involve reading – or else) and that you get all the books presents that you want and have a wonderful, wonderful day!

Happy Christmas to you all!!!!

I think people already think I am one of those crazy cat people, so to make sure there is no question of it I had to use this image!

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