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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Filed under Books of 2011, Persephone Books, Review, Winifred Watson

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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Filed under Books of 2011, Review, Virago Books, Winifred Holtby

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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The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell

When ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ by David Mitchell was chosen for book group I had two reactions. The initial was an inward groan as I had read ‘Cloud Atlas’ and sort of hated it (it was pre-blogging but I found it confusing, cold and rather patronising – I know lots and lots of people have loved it) which annoyed me because the cover was so lovely. The second reaction I had was ‘ooh this could be a challenge’ and I found myself both strangely pleased at that. So which was it? Well, oddly it was both.

Upon finishing ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ I had four reactions. I thought both ‘wow the author can write’ along with ‘blimey it’s rather formulaic, a little pretentious and boy is David Mitchell letting you know how much research he has done ‘. I also came away thinking ‘that was a challenging and thought provoking read’ along with a sense of ‘thank goodness that’s over’. Completely polar feelings in one book I find rather fascinating, but what was it about it that made me feel like that? Well the story, or stories, was the first factor.

The book is set in several parts. If you were to only read the first chapter of this novel, and indeed the first part of the book, before buying it you would either feel disgusted or completely gripped as the scene of a traumatic and complicated birth is graphically played out over the first few pages. However from that point the novel suddenly changes to the tale of Jacob de Zoet who has freshly docked on the floating village of Dejima, just off the harbour of Nagasaki, in 1799. Here as a clerk for the Dutch East Indies Company, trading basically, he meets a young midwife, Orito Aibagawa, who he rather falls in love with.

Along with all this Mitchell creates a huge cast of characters (over 100) and the way of life at the time but I couldn’t say, despite how descriptive he is – and he really is, that the characters, other than Orito, were vivid and nor could I say that I felt the atmosphere of the place. It felt a little cold and one dimensional, so much was going on that I couldn’t quite focus and here Mitchell let me as a reader down as instead of allowing me to build some of the picture myself he explains so much in such detail I felt like his intellect and imagination was being forced down my throat and he didn’t trust me to use my own. That might seem harsh, but all is not lost quite yet.

If I am 100% honest had it not been a choice for my book group I would have given up on Jacob and his tale there and then. However I like to try and read a book group from cover to cover and thank goodness I did as part two was just incredible. It is Orito’s tale, after Jacob believes she has vanished, which sees her in a nunnery that is not all it appears to be at first and in many ways is some kind of religious cult which needs children to be born, how those children are produced and what for I will leave for anyone who chooses to give this book a whirl but I was left stunned by it and followed Orito the way you would follow a thriller, pages were speedily being turned. I also liked the feel that this was almost a homage from Mitchell to writing of the 16th and 17th century, it felt rather ‘Dracula’ meets ‘Castle of Otranto’ in some ways.

Sadly after part two we head back to the world of Jacob again of which I shall say no more other than the hard work you put in during part one of the book sort of pays off… sort off. I personally wish that David Mitchell had written ‘The Thousand Autumns of Orito Aibagawa’. Whilst all that Jacob de Zoet encounters is rather interesting in terms of history, it does start to feel like a text book, there are even pictures every now and again, and my imagination seemed to be penned in. Yet when I was with Orito the book came into its own, I was gripped and found her story fascinating.

‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet’ has quite a lot going for it, and I am fairly sure that anyone who has read Mitchells previous books will have read it by now regardless and most likely loved it. For me it was a book of two halves. I am certainly glad I read it, I feel I challenged myself in terms of returning to an author I vowed I never would – but I am not convinced I will go through his back catalogue just yet, though at the same time I will be very interested to hear what he writes next. 6/10

Rather like ‘Brighton Rock’ though its not a book I instantly loved its definitely one that’s got me thinking about what I read and the way I read it – and of course what I look for in a book. I don’t always want comfy, I need a book like this to give me a jolt sometimes. I am sure lots of people have read and adored this book and I would love to hear from you if you did and of course if you didn’t. It received a mixed bag at book group with one member loving it and really getting passionate about it (and who I am sure would love any more Mitchell recommendations you might have), a few of us having quite liked it and several other members who couldn’t get through the first part. So a mixed bag, but sometimes those books make the best book group books don’t they?

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Filed under Book Group, David Mitchell, Review, Sceptre Publishing

A Great First Book Group Choice…

Only a quick post today but one that I am hoping that you will help me with. Not that I need to question that, you are all always really helpful! I’m looking for recommendations of books that would make the perfect first book group choice for the first discussion meeting.

Though I’ve joined a lovely book group in Levenshulme (we are actually meeting tomorrow to discuss ‘The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet’ by David Mitchell – thoughts soon) the house mate of one of my friends, who also wants in too which is ace, in the centre of Manchester has asked if I’d like to set up a book group with them and others in the city centre of town. Well how could I say no? I’m not leaving the Levenshulme one, I think I can manage with two and it is a great way of making more new friends and reading more diversely.

I’ve been asked to come up with the first title and I’m a bit stuck. You see when I cofounded The Riverside Readers we had a meeting where we discussed our favourite books, it seems in this group they just want to get a title and get cracking! All good with me but what oh what to choose?

I think something that is a mix of genres, is page turning and also wonderfully written, something not too new and not too old would be good, but are there any books out there which encompass all these things? Help!

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The Highs of Hebden Bridge & Heptonstall (A Book Crawl in Yorkshire)

Before I take you on a virtual tour which includes beautiful countryside, several book shops, Sylvia Plath’s final resting place and an impressive book loot, I just want to say a huge thank you for all the comments, emails and texts I got yesterday after I told you of the latest with my health. It was lovely to have all your thoughts and meant a lot. Anyway before I get any mushier let me tell you about a wonderful day out I had on Tuesday which was something of a destination lottery as it turned out.

Wanting to do something to keep me occupied before ‘results day’ on Wednesday myself and the lovely Paul Magrs decided we would head to the train station and pick a random destination to head to for some kind of bookish adventure. And what a lovely station it was that we chose, you know how I love my Victoriana…

As soon as we stepped inside I had a good feeling that we would have a great day for books and adventure when I saw this wonderful old signage from the original station…

We decided we would get the next train which happened to take us into the Yorkshire Dales with Hebden Bridge as its destination. With a lovely M&S sandwich selection (which Paul rather took the mickey out of me for) and some nibbles we got onto a train that looked like it should be sat on a snowy peak and be taking us off to the top of the alps. Instead it took us as far as Todmorden where we sneakily got off (sometimes you need to stop and hop off along the way)…

Paul had raved about a wonderful bookshop that was housed there; unfortunately it seemed that like most of Todmorden on a Tuesday it was closed… which was rather unimpressive, did they not know we were coming? Oh no, they didn’t. We did pop into several charity shops though before both grabbing a corned beef pasty (I might also have had a gingerbread man) which we ate by the canal…

Soon enough though we headed off to Hebden Bridge which has one of the most wonderful train stations I have scene, its literally like going back in time…

Again, sadly the independent book shop here was also closed on a Tuesday (maybe we should have said we were coming) it looked a corker too…

We did visit a marvellous remainder book shop…

In which I found an absolute gem I could have walked away with about five books from this store but I was incredibly restrained, well ok I was restrained because we had visited every charity shop going in Hebden Bridge and had already got a corking seven books in my bag. Which meant rather than walk all the way to the peak point of Heptonstall I begged to get a bus, which was driven by the happiest bus driver I have ever had the pleasure of meeting – he drove us back down too rather like a taxi service), and came to the stunning derelict Heptonstall church which either got struck by lightening or was bombed, I need to look it up…

It honestly was incredibly haunting and rather spooky. It has stayed with me since and seems to have got my creative juices flowing, I have been scribbling away in my notebook ever since seeing this…

Before we left we went and, after rather a lot of searching, found the final resting place of Sylvia Plath, I was rather surprised by her grave to be honest I think I expected something more showy or extravagant. Instead was a rather understated grave in the middle of a simple hidden church yard…

Paul and I then had a rather interesting, if slightly sacrilegious, discussion on the way back down with the jolly bus driver as to whether ‘The Bell Jar’ (which is the only Plath that I have read, I am not so good with poetry) would have been quite so successful if Sylvia hadn’t died early? All in all it was an amazing bookish day. Oh of course… you will want to know what books I came away with. So without further ado…

  • Murder At The Laurels/Murder in Midwinter/Murder in Bloom by Lesley Cookman – you may have noticed in the last few hauls I have managed to get almost all the Libby Sarjeant series. I will be tucking into these soon.
  • Dewey by Vicky Myron – I am actually rather cross with myself for buying this but it’s become a rather’in’ joke with Paul and I and for 50p I couldn’t hold back. A book about a library cat, I have an awful feeling that like ‘Marley & Me’ I will love this and be ever so slightly disgusted with myself.
  • Eating For England by Nigel Slater – I almost squealed when I saw this after LOVING ‘Toast’ earlier in the year.
  • This Is Not A Novel by Jennifer Johnston – You don’t see Johnston’s books very often in second hand shops and I do like her style and prose a lot plus I loved the title, so in the bag it went.
  • The House of Mitford by Jonathan Guinness – This was the bargain I found in the discount store, it was the most expensive purchase of the day at a whopping 3.99 but it’s normally over a tenner, its about The Mitfords which is themost important factor and is normally quite hard to get hold of – hoorah!
  • Fear The Worst by Linwood Barclay – I can’t deny that I am having a real ‘Savidge Reads Crime’ phase and I really liked the first Linwood Barclay ‘No Time For Goodbye’ so even though I haven’t read the one between these I picked this up anyway.

What an ace bookish day it was. Books, Sylvia Plath, adventures in the dales, and stunning locations. No wonder we had to have a drink afterwards in central Manchester to calm ourselves down. Have you visited Heptonstall? Read any of the books that I picked up? When did you last go on a random book haul trawl and where?

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Cosy Crime Time…

Over the last few weeks, maybe even months, you may have heard me mentioning how my health has been all over the place. This of course has to some extent affected my reading, as while I have had more time for it in waiting rooms and on long bus journeys etc my mind hasn’t been able to concentrate on it in quite the way it should. Not quite readers block exactly more a reading head fog. Anyway this week saw the final results come in and it wasn’t the best news but it wasn’t the worse, it seems a certain bunch of evil cells (and you all know what I am getting at here) have set up home in my colon and over the next week we will be seeing what can be done (more procedures) and where we go next. I didn’t know if I should make this big news as a) I like to keep the blog positive b) I don’t want other people worrying c) I’m never sure how much sharing is too much sharing on the blogosphere?

Anyway, in general I’m doing ok with it all and dealing with it all in bits whilst remaining in quite a positive place. I finally feel like I know what I am dealing with and though its not great we aren’t at curtains just yet plus after having felt so sick over the last few months with no answer I now know it wasn’t just all in my head. I will admit though that I think for the next few days it’s going to need to be a time where I, through whims of course, turn to some comfort reading and one particular genre is calling out to me…

…Those lovely cosy crime novels. I have sifted through some of the many boxes of books in the house and come up with a delightful collection that are going straight on my bedside table for some fun reading times ahead. Some of them are old favourites like the wonderful Agatha Raisin, who I have also been listening to lately and really enjoying, plus some of the Edwardian M.C. Beaton mysteries that have recently been republished with lovely (rather camply fabulous I think) new covers. I am also going to crack on with a whole new series and author Lesley Cookman (though I know her through the Green Carnation Prize I have never read any of her books till now) which I seem to have managed to randomly get the whole ‘Libby Sarjeant’ series of after a trip away this week which I will be reporting back on tomorrow.

It looks like I have some marvellous murders ahead doesn’t it? I know I have some about a crime fighting cat; I just haven’t been able to locate those yet. I’ll have to have another hunt when I re-box my books that have started to go a bit curled in the garage. Which cosy crime novels do you turn to now and again? Any you would recommend I seek out I might have missed?

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The Tooth – Shirley Jackson

Well that’s what you get for scheduling posts isn’t it? Yesterday I promised you not one but two reviews and this then didn’t go live, but it means I am a few days ahead so that’s ok and really I do think that Shirley Jackson’s collection ‘The Tooth’, which is another of the mini classics Penguin are publishing that I mentioned yesterday. Like with Carson McCullers ‘Wunderkind’ I thought that Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Tooth’ was going to be a novella and instead found a gripping and rather dark collection of tales instead.

All the five tales included in ‘The Tooth’ actually come from Shirley Jackson’s extended collection of short stories ‘The Lottery & Other Stories’ which was originally published in 1949. Having previously read ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ I have to say I had high hopes that this mini-collection would be full of dark little tales that unnerved me and they didn’t disappoint. It’s a collection that unnerves you as the tales all have a familiarity with the real world going on as normal in the back ground while the lead characters undergo trying horrors and eerie moments.

I would say that of the collection it is both the title story ‘The Tooth’ and ‘The Lottery’ which are the most famous of his short stories. ‘The Tooth’ being a very unnerving, especially as I don’t like anything to do with teeth so this one actually bothered me a lot, tale about Clara Spencer who must travel to New York City in order to have a tooth seen too. On her way there a stranger, Jim, keeps appearing in wherever she goes and things get stranger and stranger from there. It’s an interesting look on one person’s perception of reality and in some ways how we see the world differently when we are undergoing pain or stress.

‘The Lottery’ was again a tale that bothered me. In a small village people are randomly chosen, hence the name of the tale, to be stoned to death by friends and family. It’s an odd tale because what would be a horrific and scary act for the villagers is almost seen as a time of celebration and catching up. It’s a tale that seems to be about the façade of people and how really you never know what your neighbours and friends might be thinking, could they actually be evil. It chilled me in a way none of the other stories quite did. The theme of identity and society both in the two tales previously mention both merge in ‘The Intoxicated’ in which Jackson uses the setting of a house party to show some undertones of darkness slowly but surely as two guest’s converse.

I think it was actually ‘The Witch’ which is one of the shortest of the bunch (along with ‘Charles’ which is only a page shorter) which I was most shocked and slightly disturbed by and there for I enjoyed the most. However being so short I can’t give too much away and shall simply say is the tale of a boy who whilst entertaining himself on a coach plays i-spy and ends up getting much more than he bargained for. I loved how dark it was and it seemed to encompass the whole feeling of the collection in ten pages, and it’s a great collection I would highly recommend. 9.5/10

This collection has bowled me over far more than reading ‘We Have Always Lived In The Castle’ which I enjoyed but might have read to much hype about. I am going to have to read ‘The Lottery & Other Stories’ without a doubt. I did wonder though, and maybe you can help, will any of the other stories be as good as these ones of have they taken the best ones from the collection? Any other Shirley Jackson books I should be looking out for?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Shirley Jackson

Wunderkind – Carson McCullers

I am rather aware that there haven’t been many book reviews on Savidge Reads for a little while and that’s because I am reading slower and thinking more about what I am reading slower. However today you are in for a treat of not one but two reviews of some of the Mini Modern Classics that the publishers Penguin are releasing to celebrate their 50th anniversary. The first is ‘Wunderkind’ by Carson McCullers, an author I have always wanted to read and never quite gotten around to until now.

I was expecting before I opened the cover that ‘Wunderkind’ would a small novella that Carson McCullers had written at some point and hadn’t seen the light of day for a while. In fact it’s a collection of four short stories, which make up just over sixty pages, taken from a collection of hers called ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Works’ originally published in 1951. It’s always hard to write a review of a short story collection, especially one so short, and not give anything away. I will however try and give it a go. Though I don’t think I understood ‘The Jockey’ and anything it was trying to say in its ten pages and so will steer clear of that one.

The first story in the collection, and the title story, ‘Wunderkind’ was actually Carson McCullers first piece of work ever to be published which she wrote aged 19 and makes a lot of sense. It’s the tale of a specific music lesson between Frances who after being proclaimed a prodigy isn’t becoming one. The tale is basically a wrought set of intense emotions and desires which overcome her during this one session. The fact Carson herself was not far from the narrators age and could possibly well remember these feeling gives what in some ways is a tale we have all seen before have a certain edge, its believable, it rings true and you are left feeling as puzzled as the narrator at the end.

‘A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud’ is another intense emotional tale but is the polar opposite of ‘Wunderkind’. In a small town a man tells of his wife of “one year, nine months, three days, and two nights” and how her leaving him and his obsession with finding her wherever she might be has taught him to love and what loving really means. This sounds rather abstract but is done in rather a haunting way, both sad and hopeful through the way McCullers leaves the reader at the end.

My favourite of the four was ‘Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland’. This to me hard a certain Sparkness to it which I think was why it appeal so much. It’s an initially light hearted tale of a new teacher at Ryder College in New York who seems to be perfect, however as the tale goes on little signs that there may be more to Madame Zilensky than meets the eye creeps into the reader. That’s all I can say on it without giving anything away and therefore spoiling the read.

I guess the best thing is to end with reviewing the collection as a whole. It’s definitely a mixed bag, I wasn’t fussed about ‘The Jockey’ yet despite some of them feeling a little unfinished I think all the others will stay with me for quite some time. This collection excels in doing what I think Penguin are aiming for in a small £3 pocket sized book… it has introduced me to an new author and left me wanting to read more of her work, which is of course published by Penguin. There is a certain sadness in McCullers work that doesn’t depress but haunts and I have found that strangely enticing. I must read more. Who new a 61 page pocket book could provide so much food for thought?

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Destination Unknown

Excuse spelling as I am writing this on a train to nowhere, ok technically it’s a train to Manchester but from there I don’t know where I could end up all I know is that the aim of today, which I am spending with Mr Magrs, is a big book crawl and possibly a big book haul!

I’m armed with my notepad and pen, an M&S picnic, a sense of adventure and two little pocket sized novellas, what more could I need?

Of course we could end up somewhere dire (though there would still be laughter involved) and we may not buy any books (highly unlikely) but it’s a bookish adventure waiting to happen and with a big results day at the hospital tomorrow it’s just what I need!

I will report back in due course! Do any of you just do a random railway trip simply picking a destination and grabbing book stops as you go?

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