Monthly Archives: February 2011

Those Blinking Big Books…

One of the books that I missed out from my earlier ‘February Incomings’ post (which if you don’t like seeing the latest loot arriving with bloggers – I do – you might want to avoid) was a book that I found when I was in hospital last week. I want to call it a book exchange but I think they leave off that title as it might infer that you simply cant wait to go back, which wouldn’t be true (and I am back in tomorrow) really even if the staff are lovely. Anyway I had to go and have a look, simply for it being a place where they have lots of books , and came away with one I would never have expected…

I have only read one of Henry James’ novels before and that was ‘The Turn of the Screw’ a book that I freely admit left me rather underwhelmed and didn’t have me rushing to read anymore of his works, especially as they are so blinking big. Well for some reason when I saw this copy of ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ I felt that I should have read it and as I hadn’t maybe it was time. The thing is big books tend to scare me off before I have even turned a page and yet I do feel that I am missing out on them.

There are several factors in my slight avoidance with bigger books. The first is that I look at them and think that I might get bored. I am not sure on which authority or previous reading experience this is based on but it seems that is the way my mind is programmed. I look at anything over 500 pages, occasionally anything over 400, and think ‘oh I bet I would get bored of that’. Maybe its time I put it to the test, I have spotted ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts on my relative’s shelves and hankered to read it. Something about the cover does that though I am not sure why.

The second factor, and probably the biggest, is that I always wonder how many smaller books I could read to every large tome. I know reading isn’t a race but I do like to feel like I am getting through Mount TBR even if I am adding to it all the time. Its also a case of time. I mean one massive book surrounded by work, trying to be sociable (not that its an effort) and other constraints mean I don’t have the effort or massive time that needs devoting to such a book. But then surely not all huge books need massive amounts of attention do they? Nor do small ones mean they don’t get any and I do believe I give all books the same detailed attention and thought regardless of length.

Maybe I am simply creating excuses? That could be the crux however thanks to The Green Carnation Prize it looks like I am about to have to gear myself up for a long read as one of the first submissions we have had (the publishers are onto the prize really early this year which is very exciting) almost broke the postman’s back…

In fact ‘Cedilla’ by Adam Mars Jones (which doesnt look huge in that picture, but note how the matress underneat is caving in) is the book I have decided I am going to crack on with next. I mean at the moment with all that’s going on and the fact I will be bedridden for a while really it’s the perfect time after all isn’t it? What are your thoughts on longer books, do they scare you or are you drawn to them and their promise of a whopping great story you can become completely lost in?

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February’s Incomings…

I do love those lists that some bloggers have down the side of their blogs where  the jacket covers of all the incomings that they have received or are receiving as the weeks go on can be seen. Sadly, though I am sure that there is one on wordpress, I have no idea how to do such a thing and as I started one last month I thought I would do another end of month post (which might become a monthly feature) of the books that have arrived this month. Now if you don’t like these sort of posts fear not as you can discuss the pro’s and con’s of big books with me today on this post here instead. However if you love these posts, as I do on other blogs, then lets take a gander at what has been quite a crop of books.

First up it’s the hardbacks and as you will see while a lot of books do come from publishers some are treats from other lovely people, or simply treats from me.

  • Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – This is a book I had been told was winging its way to me and I got very excited about and then the mail man mislaid it. Now it’s here and over the next week or so I am going to be throwing myself into Russia which is a country that fascinates me and yet I know very, very little about. I am wondering if the atmosphere, which is meant to be incredible in this novel, will send me off to read some of the Russian greats.
  • Beautiful Forever by Helen Rappaport – This came out last year and is non-fiction about “Madame Rachel of Bond Street – cosmetician, con-artist and blackmailer” true life Victorian dastardly goings on, what could be more me. This was a belated Xmas pressie from my mother which she brought down last week.
  • One of Our Tuesdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde – The latest Thursday Next novel and a timely reminder I need to start at the beginning (I wanted to see him at Waterstones tomorrow but I will be in hospital, grrr).
  • The Tenderloin by John Butler – a Green Carnation Prize submission from Picador.
  • The Path of Minor Planets by Andrew Sean Greer – One of Faber and Faber’s entries for the Green Carnation Prize. (Publishers are really onto it early this year – hoorah!)
  • Mrs Fry’s Diary by Mrs Stephen Fry – I bought this at Sainsbury’s for £3 on a whim as thought might make me laugh at hospital.
  • Sleeping With Mozart by Anthea Church – I was thrilled when Virago got in touch and asked me to read this but sadly I didn’t care for it much and as I don’t like doing negative reviews it’s leaving me in a real quandary, to write about or not to write about? Hmmm!
  • Darkside by Belinda Bauer – I loved Belinda’s debut ‘Blacklands’ and having been in a crime mood this was ideal. Thoughts will be up tomorrow (if everything works right) on this murder mystery.
  • Ape House by Sara Gruen – After reading ‘Water for Elephants’ for book group and loving it, I am thrilled that Sarah’s publishers Two Roads wanted me to give her latest a whirl.
  • Cedilla by Adam Mars-Jones – This is the second Faber entry for the Green Carnation so far and its HUGE (I am talking big books later) and one I am looking forward to as it’s the sequel to the rather marvellous ‘Pilcrow’ though I will be judging it as a stand alone book of course.

Phew that’s quite a few. Onto paperbacks which have been arriving thick and fast. I haven’t included the Jo Nesbo parcel which arrived and I mentioned before, nor have I included the two rather large shopping spree’s which I undertook in February both on a visit to Granny Savidge in Matlock and on a day out in Yorkshire earlier this month. Shame on me, still somehow I managed to buy a few in this lot too.

  • Through The Wall by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya – The lovely Novel Insights brought me this Penguin Mini Classic last week on a visit as she thought it would be right up my street. I have a feeling she will be spot on.
  • Heat & Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – A booker prize charity shop find for 50p. I have said I do intend to read all the winners at some point and have devoured this one so expect thoughts soon.
  • The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons – I really enjoyed ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ when I read it last year and actually chattered and nattered to Natasha when she was working on this one so I know a bit about the plot and it sounded fascinating so I have everything crossed this will be a corker.
  • The Bride That Time Forgot by Paul Magrs – The latest Brenda and Effie adventure in paperback, again reminding me I am slightly behind with this series. I also have a spare so expect a give away at some point.
  • Where The Serpent Lives by Ruth Padel – I know nothing of this book but isn’t she the lady that caused a lot of controversy over something and nothing?
  • South Riding by Winifred Holtby – I have devoured this one and my thoughts on it are here.
  • The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee – Another book I know nothing about but having read the quotes and page 29 (all the blurb says is ‘read page 29’) this looks like it could be an astounding book.
  • Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue – As you will all know I loved ‘Room’ and this is a reissued copy of her earlier historical novel (I am hoping it’s a Victorian romp) which I am excited about. I have already got an American edition of this which I am now handing over to Granny Savidge Reads who, after reading ‘Room’, is a Donoghue fan too.
  • The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal – I so wasn’t bothered about this when it came out but since winning the Costa Prize and having heard about it all over the place when it arrived I was super chuffed and have started dipping into it already.
  • The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath by Jane Robins – I do like true historical crime, modern stuff makes me feel uncomfortable in general – too close to home maybe, but this sounds like its right up my street. Maybe not one to read in the bath though?
  • 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan – I bought this in Sainsbury’s, bad me, partly because the cover is so good and also thinking it was non-fiction from the blurb, wrong. I will give it a whirl though and see.
  • Half a Life by Darin Strauss – A memoir about accidental murder. I had to sign a confidence clause before I could get the proof for this and then forgot the date had been and gone so will schedule my thoughts to be shared soon.
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy – I have already read this, however it’s a book group choice in the next few months and I’d had mine signed for my Gran so a new one has magically turned up. I am actually really looking forward to re-reading this one even so soon after I originally did.
  • Dog Binary by Alex MacDonald – I don’t know anything about this, it came with Half a Life.
  • Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid – I am hoping this is another entry for the Green Carnation Prize as we do want a mixture of genres, I don’t think the other judges have had this one though so I will have to check. I have heard McDermid is very good at murder so this should be good.

So lots of books to read while I am in waiting rooms, hospital wards and in bed when I get home over the next few weeks or so which is an utter delight. I wonder how much of a dent in them I will make. I also really need to have a fresh cull and clear out too. It never stops. Have you read any of these books and if so what did you think? Any you would like to see me give priority to if the whim takes me?

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Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson

I was a little worried that I might not be able to take part in ‘Persephone Reading Weekend’ with everything going on of late and reading by whim. However I do like joining in and I had high hopes that ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ by Winifred Watson might be just the ticket for my reading mood right now. It has also been long enough ago that I saw the film that I remember very little about it, other than it was fabulous, and so could create the characters and the story a new in my head as was my imaginations want.

The best way I can describe ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’ is simply to call it a fairytale, in fact it’s a modern (well in terms of being written in 1938) take on the Cinderella story. Miss Guinevere Pettigrew is down on her luck, middle aged and seemingly in the middle of a rather mediocre and hand to mouth existence. Rather than sending her to a house filled with unruly children it seems her employers believe that Miss Pettigrew would be far better suited to a life looking after the household of nightclub singer Miss Delysia LaFosse. Initially you wouldn’t think that Miss Pettigrew would be able to stomach spending more than two minutes with Miss LaFosse but a jobs a job and slowly but surely Miss Pettigrew starts to live her life more than she ever has before.

There were two things that I utterly adored about this book. The first was the characters. Miss Pettigrew herself could have possibly come across as slightly too moralistic and I would end up feeling sorry for her and possibly slightly annoyed. I also thought that the flighty and rather wayward Miss LaFosse might get on my nerves for the complete opposite reason of her being so completely and utterly over the top. Neither happened I am glad to report. In fact the chalk and cheese nature of these two women and how their relationship developed was one of the complete joys of the book, from polar opposites mutual lessons of self discovery come to these two women in many ways. Their characters were wonderful and possibly the best thing about the book all in all.

The other thing I loved was the timing and pacing of the book. I hadn’t remembered from the film that it does indeed take place over the space of a single day. Yes, the title does suggest that but not all titles are 100% reflective of the book inside are they? I loved the way the book was sectioned out in 26 chapters, some encapsulating 2 hours some 20 minutes etc, from 9.15am one day till 3.47am the next. It kept the pace and plot moving but more importantly left me believing, rather naively and sentimentally, that your life really can change completely in the space of a single day.

I loved this book quite unashamedly and I think that its one of my very favourite of the Persephone novels that I have read (and I have indeed read a few now) though it doesn’t quite beat the sensationalism of ‘The Shuttle’ by Frances Hodgson Burnett yet I think they could both be two of my very favourite books I have read so far. A delightful fairytale in my favourite period (as I do so love the 1930’s), I couldn’t really ask for more could I? 9/10

Oh and I nearly forgot, if that wasn’t enough it came with wonderful illustrations which I really liked and in some ways reminded me of the Joyce Dennys books I love so much.

It’s made me want to see the film all over again, so I shall have to add that to my never ending Lovefilm list. I’m very glad both Claire and Verity and their ‘Persephone Reading Weekend’ sent me in the direction of this, it also seemed rather serendipitous that this book was one I actually won from Claire in a previous Persephone Reading Week if I am not mistaken. So have you read or indeed seen ‘Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day’? Did one lead you to the other or did you happen upon them by chance? Which other Persephone novels would you recommend I give a whirl? I do have Winifred Holtby’s ‘The Crowded House’ which is tempting me after the lovely South Riding’… in fact I have just noticed that I have had rather a ‘Winifred Weekend’.

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South Riding – Winifred Holtby

Apologies for what is a back dated post but a mixture of me feeling a little ropey, WordPress being a bit ropey and… well the internet at home being a bit ropey I couldn’t some how get my thoughts up on ‘South Riding’ by Winifred Holtby. You see the TV adaptation is currently here on the BBC in the UK and also the lovely, lovely blog Cornflower Books had chosen it for her latest book group. Having very kindly been sent a copy from Virago recently it seemed that all of the signs where pointing me to reading ‘South Riding’ and as I am reading on a whim this year I decided I would.

 

It is very hard to try sum up the whole of ‘South Riding‘ in any kind of book thoughts/review because though there is one story at the very heart of it there are also several other minor stories going on between a cast of almost one hundred characters (maybe more, I haven’t counted the list of characters which you get at the start of the book – though I am of course now tempted). Really ‘South Riding‘ is a tale of its times, which is rather a cliche I know and I am slightly cross with myself for it, and a way of life in the British countryside. We join the residents of ‘South Riding‘ as they appoint a new headmistress, Sarah Burton who is returning to her old homeland after several years away both abroad and in London, and its the tale of her arrival and the people that she meets and how she changes the town in certain ways (not all big, not all small but I don’t want to give everything away) including meeting the rather difficult but dashing squire Robert Carne.

 

As soon as I say that you are likely to think, and could be on the money, that there is going to be an instant dislike between the two and then things could move from there. Well whilst I don’t want to give anything away you wouldn’t be far off which reminded me of ‘Pride and Prejudice‘ and showed one of the interesting things I found in ‘South Riding’. There sees to be shades of certain famous novels, Robert Carne seemed rather like Mr Rochester of ‘Jane Eyre‘ and his house rather like Manderley from ‘Rebecca‘ – though of course that came later so maybe Du Maurier read this novel, that had clearly influenced Winifred Holtby’s work though the novel isn’t hugely gothic at all even if the romance at the heart of it feels so. I fear I might not be making sense here but hopefully if you have read the book, and if you haven’t then you should, then you might understand where I am coming from. Back to the book itself though as I seem to have gone on a rather strange detour…

 

The timing of the novel is interesting as set between wars, or thats what I assumed, its a time of both uncertainty and also a time of great progress. In fact ‘South Riding‘ in many ways is a social commentary as well as a novel and I found that rather fascinating. Of course this could mean that it won’t be to everyones taste. There are several sections of the book where often nothing much seems to be going on and a lot of time is spent on minuscule little details alongside the fact that there are often sudden diverging mini-tales which take you away from the main one which some people might think makes the book overly long. I myself got lost in it. I felt like I knew all the characters and actually found myself caring about them more than I have done in a novel for a while. I took an instant dislike to Snaith (were my feelings founded, well you would have to read the book), really felt for Lydia Holly and food myself really liking South Ridings first female Alderman (though I found the whole alderman thing slightly dreary) Mrs Beddows which I wasn’t expecting. The one tale that I could have read a lot more of was that of Robert Carnes daughter Midge, there was so much there to take in about her and her situation from the first chapter (which I initial read in completely the wrong context – it was more along the lines of Eastenders than a 1930s drama) and onwards that i sort of felt it could do with a book all of its own. See there is so much to this book its a real nightmare to try and write about and do justice.

 

What I think is brilliant about ‘South Riding‘ and what I have tried to encapsulate, and I have to admit found bloody hard, is how it encapsulates (thats a lot of encapsulates I am aware) a British village to the full in the 1920’s/30’s. Not just its characters either but its moods, the feelings of change in the air. Obviously I wasn’t in the countryside at that time but thanks to Winifred Holtby and this wonderful novel, published posthumously, has made me feel like I have been on of the local curtain twitchers and have lived in the times and been revelling in all the goings on and the not goings on. Though its not as salacious as the wonderful, wonderful ‘Peyton Place‘ by Grace Metalious (which I really loved and is also published by Virago) this book has a certain gentle charm that had me from the first page to the last. It’s a book you really feel like you have lived through. 9/10

 

You can see some more coherent and less rambling thoughts on Cornflowers Book Group Blog which might help you make a more informed decision as I have come away from writing (and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting) this and feeling like somewhat of a failure in trying to sum up and make anyone read this book, which I would recommend people do. Its a book that should be a classic and isn’t, though I am hoping with the adaptation on the BBC etc this will now get the attention it deserves. I already have another Winifred Holtby lined up, ‘The Crowded Street‘ which Persephone published and Paul Magrs lent me. I was going to read it for the ‘Persephone Reading Weekend’ but I thought I might be Hotby’d out if i did that. What did I read? You now, thanks to the delay of this post, don’t have long to wait and find out. So have you read ‘South Riding‘ or anything else by Winifred Holtby? I would like some more recommendations, oh and recommendations of other novels where I can feel like a real nosey neighbour again? I think I am becoming a bit of a curtain twitcher.

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Persephone Weekend, My Life in Books & World Book Night

I thought I would do a little bookish round up post (I say little but I never quite manage to keep posts that brief, I will try) today of some of the latest bookish things that have been preoccupying my mind when health and hospitals haven’t. I could ramble on but I shall not and instead just get on with the three bookish things that I wanted to point you in the direction of instead…

First up is ‘Persephone Reading Weekend’ which starts today and runs until the 27th. In what is becoming an annual book bloggers delight in celebration of those lovely grey covered wonders the lovely Claire of Paperback Reader and Verity of Cardigan Girl Verity blogs are running a weekend of reviews and competitions all in celebration of Persephone Classics. If you haven’t read one yet then this could be the ideal time to get into some or won some so do have a gander. I have dug out a Persephone (I have noticed I only really have ones with the colourful covers, I wonder why that is) which I have almost finished and am hoping to put my thoughts up on that and join in all the fun on Sunday.

Here in the UK the wonderful (and I do genuinely love them at the moment with all this and ‘South Riding’) BBC are starting what is going to be a special year of TV shows about books. You may remember that I mentioned ‘Faulks on Fiction’ the other week, its proving interesting with a wonderful list of books I now need to read yet at the same time its also rather pretentious which is a shame as I like Faulks. I digressed. The new show this week has been ‘My Life in Books’ which sees Anne Robinson interviewing a whole host of well known faces (I don’t want to say celebrities) talking about their five favourite books which have meant a lot to them at different times in their lives. I am LOVING IT. So far my favourite guests have been P.D James (for her love of Sherlock), Clare Balding (for choosing some sentimental rogue novels along side Greek myths) and most of all Sue Perkins who just made me want to read every single one of her recommendations and in particular ‘The Queen of Whale Cay’ by Kate Summerscale (of ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ fame) if you can watch it on iPlayer then do, if not I believe its on YouTube too.

Finally it’s just over a week until ‘World Book Night’. I have been selected to give 50 copies of my choice away, I will reveal which one it is over the next week or so, and I am a little stuck on how to do it. I had hoped to get a local bookstore involved but they don’t seem too keen, I wont be in hospital (well I hope not) though if I was that would be sooooo much easier, so I am a little stuck on what to do. Any ideas? What’s going on with you at the moment be it bookish or otherwise?

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Hospital Breaks & Books…

By the time this goes up I should be off on my way to the first of what looks like rather a lot of hospital visits over the next month or so and believe me there are a lot (including one operation which is happening a month today… on my blinking birthday, so not fair) which I know is all for my own good after my latest health news. I actually, and rather fortunately at the moment, don’t mind hospitals it has to be said. In my head its lots of time for more reading rather than for what I am actually there for and all the fun that it’ll entail, or not as the case maybe. So my first point today is are there any good books with hospitals in or based in them?

Maybe not quite on the scale of ‘The Surgeon’ by Tess Gerritsen which the lovely Novel Insights (who came to visit me yesterday which was lovely) bought me for a hospital trip a few years ago and is actually a thriller based on a psychotic murderer… lovely.

The second point is that Savidge Reads might go rather sporadic over the next couple of weeks, though I have scheduled quite a few posts already, while all this goes on but do bear with me and pop back now and again. I will also pop the odd mini report on how I am doing as everything goes on. Now those hospital book recommendations…

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The Redbreast – Jo Nesbo

I treated myself to a copy of ‘The Redbreast’ by Jo Nesbo when I was in Matlock a few weekends ago after asking your advice on some crime writers as I started a major crime binge. If you don’t love crime novels fear not as I will be spreading the reviews from that reading binge over a few weeks on the blog. Nesbo seems like the man of the moment in terms of crime and has even been labelled ‘the next Stieg Larsson’ and so it seemed that he might be a good place to start, even though I don’t normally follow the hype. But if everyone is raving about someone there has to be something in it doesn’t there? It also appeared had quite a few fans in all of you, would I be hooked?

I am someone who has to read a series of novels in order, this does only apply to a series I don’t have to read an authors works in order at all. ‘The Redbreast’ is the earliest of the Harry Hole novels to have been translated from the original Norwegian and so it seemed the ideal place to start. As we meet Harry Hole for the first time he does something which could leave him without a job, as he accidentally shoots a secret agent he believes is an assassin, instead however due to the circumstances he actually gets a promotion which puts him in the path of another mystery as a rare and unusual gun seems to have come into the country. What could someone possibly want with such a weapon and how could it be used?

I have to say when this turn of events seemed to become more and more apparent I was beginning to think ‘oh no, I am not sure this assassin stuff is going to really be my kind of crime novel’ yet as Nesbo carries out Harry’s story he interweaves two other perspectives. One is again in the present day and sees an elderly gentleman acting most ungentlemanly in many ways both dealing with those on the wrong side of the law and also in murderous ways. We also get a very interesting back story set in 1944 (and becomes like a separate tale of war with both its battle fields and a love story) which Nesbo weaves and alternates on and off throughout the modern day tale combining a tale of the Nazi’s in the war with neo-Nazi’s in the present.

In fact in some ways it’s this rather different way of telling and setting up a crime novel that made it stand out. Before anyone jumps on that I am aware other authors will have done these historical tricks but this did actually feel different it was like reading a historical literary novel in some ways as well as a crime novel. I did occasionally find that Harry Hole, whilst interesting enough, was never quite fully drawn and riddled with those great modern crime detective clichés. He likes his drink, he doesn’t seem to relate to anyone else that he works with, he can’t seem to hold a relationship down, is a bit of a loner. I also didn’t find it as page turning as I had been initially promised as I was occasionally confused at what was going on with which of the many characters. But I was hooked in and did read it fairly quickly just taking a breather now and again to make sure I had caught up with it all in my old head. I cant say too much about the plot either because of this and because I don’t want to give too much away as I did guess how everything interlinked before Nesbo officially let me in on it.

I cannot say that ‘The Redbreast’ is the best crime novel that I have read, and indeed I have read some recently that far surpass it, but it’s a series I now want to read much more of. To say he is ‘the new Stieg Larsson’ I think actually discredits Nesbo (and not just because I didn’t get on with The Millennium Trilogy) because in the historical sections of the novel he has created something quite wonderful and unusual in the crime genre and I am left wanting to know if the rest of the series is as different. It’s a novel of two very different halves, both very good in their own ways, which Nesbo combines and weaves together until the finale. 7.5/10

Rather annoyingly ‘The Bat Man’ and ‘The Cockroaches’ which are the first two in the series and both sound intriguing titles haven’t come out in the UK yet though it would seem foolhardy not to considering how popular he has become in the last year or so. In the meantime I will carry on working my way through this series as I think its going to get better and better, and as luck might have it they all fell through the letterbox this morning. I am going to have to fight very hard not to read ‘Nemesis’ next…

I did find it interesting, and quite exciting, reading other reviews of this novel that ‘The Redbreast’ is seen by some of his fans as a weaker novel – is this true? Have you given into the Harry Hole hype and if so what did you think? Is this a series you have had on your radar, tempted?

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