Monthly Archives: April 2011

April’s Incomings…

Where oh where do the months seem to be going? Can you believe that a third of the year has already been and gone? Well it has! So being the last day of April its time to share with you all the latest incomings that have arrived at Savidge Reads temporary HQ in the last month, however they might have gotten through the door.

First up are the gifts that I have bought myself, or indeed exchanged at the lovely local café, and my reasons why. I think you will find I have been rather reserved this month…

  • Deja Dead & Death Du Jour by Kathy Reichs – I have seen reviews all over the shop about Kathy Reichs and have been meaning to read her forever, especially as I have been told she is on a par with Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen. A review of another of Reichs books by Harriet Devine made me pick these up at the book exchange.
  • Nocturnes by John Connolly – I loved, loved, loved ‘The Book of Lost Things’ (pre-blogging) and rather liked ‘The Gates’ so this selection of short stories is sure to be right up my street.
  • Fresh Flesh by Stella Duffy – I have recently read the second, review pending, of the Saz Martin crime series by Stella Duffy and they are rather hard to get hold of so this one was snapped up the moment I saw it.

Up next are gifts that have been kindly sent/lent by people that I know. I realised I forgot to include some of the books I had for my birthday from people in my March Incomings which is rather shoddy of me, so…

  • Bedside Stories (a birthday pressie), and two treats of a World Book Night edition of Erich Maria Remarque’s ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘Cloudstreet’ by Tim Winton all from the lovely Kimbofo when she came to stay.
  • ‘Bel Canto’ by Ann Patchett from Lou of I Hug My Books as she loved it and thinks I will, we do have quite similar taste.
  • ‘Miss Buncle Married’ by D.E. Stevenson, a get well/birthday pressie from the Persephone purveyor herself Claire of Paperback Reader.
  • After seeing her review of ‘Love in Idleness’ by Charlotte Mendelson and letting Harriet know I loved the author she kindly offered me her copy of the only Mendelson I don’t have.
  • ‘The Middle Age of Mrs Eliot’ by Angus Wilson was a lovely old edition for my birthday from Paul Magrs. I haven’t heard of the author, but from the title I am guessing it might just be perfect for my love of books about women of a certain age.

So onto the books from the lovely publishers and lets start off with the paperbacks, a big thanks to Vintage, Virago, Picador, Myriad Editions, OUP, Hodder and Headline for these books…

  • Deloume Road by Matthew Hooton
  • What The Day Owes The Night by Yasmina Khadra
  • The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner
  • In-Flight Entertainment by Helen Simpson
  • The Death of Lomond Friel by Sue Peebles
  • Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead
  • The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall
  • The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller
  • Ilustrado by Miguel Syjuco
  • Hurry Up and Wait by Isabel Ashdown
  • Ruth by Elizabeth Gaskell
  • Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for a Murder by Catriona McPherson
  • Touch The Stars by Jessica Ruston

And thanks to Headline, Macmillan, Atalantic, Serpents Tail, Harvill Secker, Picador, Portobello and Simon & Schuster for this joyful collection of an audiobook, trade paperbacks, proofs and hardbacks…

  • When God Was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
  • Scenes from Village Life by Amos Oz
  • Embassytown by China Mieville
  • The Fox in the Attic by Richard Hughes
  • The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale
  • Walking on Dry Land by Denis Kehoe
  • The Reinvention of Love by Helen Humphries
  • The Winter of the Lions by Jan Costin Wagner
  • The Sly Company of People Who Care by Rahul Bhattacharya
  • The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall
  • The Rest is Silence by Carla Guelfenbein
  • Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith

Phew, quite a loot. Without showing any preferential treatment I have to say that the new Tom Rob Smith is really, really exciting me. Which of the books and authors have you tried and tested? Any you would recommend or would like to see me get too sooner rather than later?

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Royally Disinterested…

I am sure I am going to get accused of being unpatriotic by saying this, and I do wish the couple in question all the best, but I am so not fussed about a certain event that is taking place in England today. In fact this picture below sums it all up for me so eloquently…

(A big thanks to Rachel of Booksnob for the picture and a post that puts it far better than I could.)

I don’t really care what she wears, nor about how much weight she has lost, I am sort of grateful for the day off (especially as its meant no operations this week – though its also delaying my test results) especially for everyone else but really! I honestly cannot wait for this whole palaver, which has just got ridiculous and which my taxes are going towards and has merely been scheduled to ‘cheer us Brits up’ (see previous royal weddings – drat I said it – and their timings), to be over.

Less bah humbug… more just really, really, really bored of it all. I have much more exciting things happening as my Mum, stepdad and younger siblings are coming to visit, now that’s a truly important event in my mind and my weekend.

It does feel better to let that out though. Am I awful? What book are you royally reading right now/this weekend or are you about to open the pages of something new?

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Who Likes A Negative Review?

…Interestingly it would appear that you all rather like them actually. I was really interested to see the results of the survey that I asked you all to take part in, and you still can if you haven’t yet, a while back on and about books and book blogging. I had always been rather unsure about negative reviews and wasn’t sure that you would all be fans, yet it seemed from the results (shown below) that actually rather a lot of you are, but why?

It was interesting as until then I hadn’t really thought that if all I was writing was positive reviews you might not be getting a rounded picture my ‘reading personality’, as one of you very nicely put it in the comments box, and what I found even more enlightening was that a good fair few of you felt that if all you were reading was positive then a blog begins to look like a PR campaign and that is NOT what you want from a book blog. The other valid point that came from it all was that ‘nastiness is unnecessary’ but being ‘constructive and explaining what you don’t like’ is very much the way forward. You also made it very clear that if all you are hearing from a blog is negative then you will be unlikely to keep coming back.

The thing that has previously held me back from writing negatively about books is that a) an author has put hours and hours into a book and I haven’t written one (well not a whole one yet) myself b) I wouldn’t want to put anyone off a book. However after seeing your responses you may have noticed recently that not one but two books have received less than favourable though hopefully polite and thoughtfully explained reviews on Savidge Reads in the last few months. I also have to add here that I don’t think my word is anywhere near the law on books and am sure you all take several reviews into account before you do or don’t read a book.

I was interested when recently out for a coffee with Paul Magrs, during a rare hospital free day or two, and he told me about a huge furore that had been caused by a negative review written on a blog, one which the author had seen and had really flipped out about. In fact it was this discussion that made me want to talk in more detail about negative reviews. It is one of the most interesting, and initially hysterical, series of comments I have ever read, one that actually sees the author starting to tell commenter’s and reviewers to actually ‘f**k off’. Seriously.

The book in question was ‘The Greek Seaman’ (the very name had me sniggering, sorry I should grow up) by Jacqueline Howett and it was featured on Big Al’s Books and Pals, a book blog I hadn’t heard of before. The reviewer hadn’t liked it and said so. Fair enough, it didn’t seem a personal attack, they said what they felt and there is that thing called freedom of speech. However the reaction of the author, who was understandably hurt, though any author I have met has said one of the most important rules of writing is be thick skinned and open to critique, who eventually started to lash out. Initially this all seemed slightly amusing yet then the commenter’s, clearly fans of Big Al’s, started to fight for him and as you read on it becomes quite ugly in parts. So where does the line stop and start, at what point does something go from constructive to cruel?

I bet in a few cases though, if myself and Paul are anything to go by, this will quite possibly have also worked slightly in Howett’s favour too. Paul was inspired to download a copy of ‘The Greek Seamen’ right there and then on the spot, which I bet several other people have also done afterwards, to see what the fuss was about. So I naturally had to pilfer his kindle off him and give the first chapter a whirl so I could see what the fuss was about too…

What did I think; well I didn’t finish the book. In part because the writing wasn’t my cup of tea, the fact the possible heroine of the piece was wearing a purple rippling top, white trousers and beige shoes (who would, really?) and was obsessing over some plants her mum was growing in the attic for a good few pages and wasn’t quite gripping me, if Jacqueline Howett comes and tells me to ‘f**k off’ in the comments today I will possibly die of laughter and be utterly thrilled, and I got the giggles because of the whole furore I had read on that blog. So in truth I didn’t even finish the first chapter, erm, maybe everything wasn’t aligned as we all know it sometimes needs to be with a book we read?

Do have a look at the now infamous review and its reactions and let me know what you think? Who goes too far, is it the reviewer, the author or the commenting bystanders? What are your thoughts on a negative review? Do you like them, loathe them or are you not that bothered? Has a negative review made you rush out and read a book, if so which one and was the reviewer right or a million miles off?

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Luka and the Fire of Life – Salman Rushdie

I had been meaning to read another Salman Rushdie for ages, ever since I read and was shocked by how much I loved ‘Midnight’s Children’ some time ago, yet I promptly didn’t read anything else, and yet I seem to have bought rather a lot of his previous works.  I do notice that it is often the case when there are so many books and authors you want to read years and years go by before you do though. Or is that just me? Anyway it was The Bookboy who brought Rushdie back into my reading sights as he had a copy of the latest Rushdie ‘Luka and the Fire of Life’ for his book group at Simply Books. So I decided to pilfer it off him for a read myself.

When Luka’s father Rashid slips into a deep and dangerous sleep of which he cannot be roused and seems to be drawing all the life from him it becomes clear that the only person who can save him is his youngest son. Luka has always known there is something different about himself and his family, especially after hearing of the tales of his elder brother Haroun, and is aware from an incident early on in the book that he has some magical powers. It soon becomes clear Luka’s fathers state are a revenge attack on those very powers and the events Luka used them on and the ones that gained him his sidekicks Dog the Bear and Bear the Dog. When Luka sees his father walking the streets he follows him, only this is not his father at all it is in fact Nododaddy who tells Luka to save his father he must find The Fire of Life, something no one has ever managed before.

The tale really sets sail from this point onwards. There are more characters and adventures ahead than I could, or would want to, tell you too much about for fear of ruining the story. There are more gods of all beliefs and periods in history than you could wish for (sometimes it seems a little too much), many mythical beasts, mysterious riddles and even at one point a brief and fleeting glimpse of none other than Doctor Who. It’s a book that both looks at the past and various mythologies yet also has a modern feel as rather like a computer game Luka must ‘save’ each times he gets into the deeper ‘levels’ of this magical world.

‘Luka and the Fire of Life’ is one of those books aimed at the adult and younger adult markets at once. I think this novel is a rather unofficial is a sequel to ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ as Luka is Haroun’s much younger brother. Though the previous adventures are mentioned now and again you don’t need to have read them as this is a separate story in its own right. These are both stories that the author has written for his children the first was for his son Zafar and this one for his youngest sun Milan. It’s both and interesting and weird sense whilst reading this novel because as you read along you can almost feel the love Rushdie has for his youngest sun Milan, who I think Luka must be based on just as I think Rushdie has written himself in the book as Rashid, in the pages as you turn and read on. This means you can feel the passion in the book but also in a weird way I found slightly too intimate and almost like you a reading a novel filled with personal ‘in’ jokes.

The in jokes and almost too much to take in with characters and gods etc, which I did find occasionally confusing, could have put me off – though equally they could be rather stimulating to a younger reader. I am aware I am probably not the market the book is aimed at yet with characters called Ratshit and monsters such as the Willy-Snake I did wonder if maybe aiming it at younger readers was appropriate. It felt rather like it wanted to please everyone and so aimed itself in lots of directions and tried to please people who loved myths, computer games and a fairytale all at once and loosing something slightly because of it.

That said I really enjoyed it. In particular it was Rushdie’s us of language which had me reading along. Playing with words like a father with no body and creating ‘Nobodaddy’ and having a bear called Dog and vice versa along with making jokes about how things get their names such and then twisting them to a literal version like with ‘the hot pots’ was very clever and that is where the book excelled. Whilst I couldn’t whole heartedly recommend you rush out and read ‘Luka and the Fire of Life’ unless you are a big young adult fan or want a rather different read for a child over ten, it has reminded me how much I like Rushdie’s prose, his magical worlds and the fact he can really spin a good yarn. I must read more of his adult fiction very soon. 6.5/10

This book was kindly lent to me by The Bookboy.

Interestingly I asked The Bookboy what his thoughts were and he summed it up rather well  by saying it was slow starting, then very fast paced, rather confusing but overall quite entertaining but maybe not a book for children under 11 or 12. Which I found interesting, and gives you two reviews for the price of one. In fact this is the prime time to tell you that The Bookboy and I will be tackling Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Tanglewreck’ together in a post over the next few weeks if you want to join in? Now back to Rushdie, which of his adult novels should I head for next?

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Filed under Jonathan Cape Publishers, Random House Publishing, Review, Salman Rushdie

Are We Reading Eclectically Enough?

I don’t want to keep banding the cancer word about, yet I do think its interesting that since I was told that those evil cells were now firmly friends of mine I have been thinking differently about reading. I mentioned last week how I went from racing through lots of books and today I wanted to discuss how it made me wonder if I was actually reading eclectically enough, and eclectic reading in general, so I hope you will all offer your thoughts.

I was actually eavesdropping at the hospital waiting area where they have a book exchange, which I find an interesting idea in a hospital, I mean the NHS have been great but no one wants to be coming back and forth to a hospital do they really no matter how necessary – sorry I have digressed. So anyway I was eavesdropping as a couple were routing through the shelves. They came across a copy of an unnamed but incredibly pastel coloured book and the woman said ‘oh even I wouldn’t read that it looks like utter chick lit nonsense’. On a separate visit a different pair were routing through the books on the shelves and came across a book that she described as ‘dafty alien rubbish, that’s the kind of thing you would read’ before shooting an eyebrow up at him. I found this interesting as both assumptions I had made about the same two books yet hearing them out loud I thought ‘oooh what snobs’ and then thought ‘oh dear does that make me a snob?’

I am hoping it doesn’t as really I would classify sci-fi and chick lit not as books that I am snobby about but just ones that aren’t really to my taste. This used to be the same for non-fiction books, however I have slowly but surely started to convert myself, and the same applies to classics actually (though these were more books that English Literature lessons at school put me off rather than me being adverse to them in the first place) which I have been trying harder at… occasionally, in fact I should be making more of an effort with the classics again and finally read a Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy if I am honest.

Why don’t I think I like sci-fi, fantasy and chick lit? Well I have never been a huge fan of aliens in books, in films and TV it’s fine, I used to love The X Files and am still a fan of Doctor Who (though not to excess), but for some reason on the page its never quite washed with me. I have yet to read a book that has convinced me by an alien world. The same applies to fantasy, I tried Lord of the Rings when I was younger and just thought it was ridiculous and have carried that thought, without testing it again, ever since. Weirdly though I love a good tale of the supernatural or ghost story, not that they are the same but its interesting a spooky world can ignite me (yet I don’t tend to read horror either) yet an alien or troll filled one doesn’t seem to.

Chick lit and I used to be friends. Who hasn’t read Bridget Jones Diary, and what made people less sneery about that book than others? My friend Gemma has been telling me for ages I must read Marian Keyes and I have always winced a little and said ‘really?’ I have been told to read Jenny Colgan often by Paul Magrs and the same response has been given. Yet I used to read everything by Lisa Jewell, and ‘A Friend of the Family’ is still one of my favourite books, and yet I havent picked up another in years and years. Why not?

So maybe its time to challenge myself, I have pulled four books I have been sent (I couldn’t find any fantasy) out of the TBR and they are by the bedside and will be little tests, to be read on a whim of course, that will gently test the waters with my tastes once more (the Daisy Goodwin sounds up my street, I have seen the film of I Am Number Four, Jessica Ruston is Susan Hills daughter so have always wanted to try her and I have had success with China Mievilles crime novel so might with his full on sci-fi)…

But I think its time for a gauntlet to be thrown down and see if maybe I need to be a bit more adventurous. So I thought you could all help by suggesting your favourite books in various genres (because I am aware that while I love crime fiction books there are lots of you who don’t) and seeing if we could enlighten each other to what books we have loved that might open new reading paths for each other. So here are the categories and I have put my favourites in and left question marks in the ones I have no idea about .I have missed out literary fiction as I never really know what that means; I just think that’s general fiction isn’t it or have I opened a can of worms there? Have I missed any other genres?

Chick Lit: ?
Crime Fiction: Any of the series by Tess Gerritsen, Sophie Hannah or Susan Hill
Horror: ?
Fantasy:  ?
Non-Fiction: In Cold Blood – Truman Capote, Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosely
Science Fiction: ?

Anyway it could be a fun little exercise for a Tuesday. If you don’t fancy giving it a go then do let me know your thoughts on eclectic reading (or do both) in general. Are there any genre’s out there you avoid and if so why? Do you often test the waters with genres you think you don’t like to see if your mind can be changed or do you think with so many books out there life is just too short and it’s best just sticking to what you know? Is all of this just a question of taste, can you be converted?

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Hell’s Belles – Paul Magrs

I ummed and ahhhed about if I should post about the fourth in Paul Magrs Brenda & Effie series ‘Hell’s Belles’ because as some of you will know Paul has become a firm friend (and a fabulous coffee and charity shopping partner for days out) alongside a fellow founding member of The Green Carnation Prize. However, I hope that you would all know that regardless of knowing an author I would be truthful about how I felt about any book that I read of theirs, slightly more dangerous now I am open to the idea of negative reviews. There, that feels better. I was actually a fan of the Brenda and Effie series way before I knew Paul and in fact it was a feature on the two ladies in question and him I did for the magazine I work for that led us to contacting each other, I seem to remember us both laughing a lot during the phone interview. It was interesting then that when I took ‘Hell’s Belles’ with me to the hospital recently that I got a bit nervous. What if I didn’t like it?

The seaside town of Whitby is welcoming some mysterious new arrivals both unknown and infamous as ‘Hell’s Belles’ opens. First there is Penny, arriving for a receptionist job a job at the Miramar hotel as a newly found all year round Goth and quite possibly escaping something. Second is the cult horror b-movie actress Karla Sorensen, arriving to remake the movie ‘Get Thee Inside Me, Satan’ which caused shock back in the 1960’s when various members of the crew and the viewing public for its limited cinema run seemed to become cursed. After the arrival of these two women, and a miraculously appearing DVD copy of ‘Get Thee Inside Me, Satan’ in the Save The Kiddies charity shop, things start to get a little stranger in Whitby and soon the unlikely and rather odd duo Brenda and Effie must investigate and see if they can save Whitby from the supernatural, including a bit of time travelling as they go, once more.

Meanwhile as the main plot unfolds we also have several other minor ones that interweave it, and might explain a few things, such as Brenda’s other best friend Roberts new mysterious fella, Brenda’s rather monsterous husband, lots of past secrets (like how Karla and Brenda have met before) and a few surprising love affairs kicking off. There is a lot going on in this book, the longest of the series so far, yet it never feels over done or trying too hard, nor does it get complicated and have you at your wits end.

Not that you need to read the rest of the series to enjoy this one, in fact actually I think this book is probably the most standalone in the series after the first ‘Never The Bride’. There’s no massive recap at the start, things from the past are nicely woven in as we go along. Not that this will bore readers who have read and loved the series so far either as Magrs tells them  through Effie’s or Robert’s reminiscing (Brenda doesn’t appear until page fifty which interestingly I really noticed, this book comes alive when both women are at the helm) this worked rather nicely showing the different dynamics between the characters and their friendships rather quickly all through newcomer Penny’s eyes and the gossip she hears as she becomes accustomed to the new bizarre haven she has found herself in.

I can’t give anything further away about the book but it had a lot more twists and turns as the tale develops, stories that had been bubbling away in the past books (along with characters like Mrs Claus of the Christmas Hotel) seemed to come much to the for yet without stealing the limelight. In fact I actually couldn’t believe how much I was starting to like Mrs Claus who up until now I had rather enjoyed loathing. It’s the way that Mr Magrs writes characters. In fact be they goodies or baddies, new faces or old friends, they all make you want to read more. Its the characters in both dramatic points and random very normal moments that add to the books charm. You might be ‘agog’ when evil things happen, yet its scenes like Brenda and Effie watching, erm, titillating old horror b-movies over cheesecake, Brenda rather excitedly and Effie rather snappily shocked, or Effie falling out with the local charity shop women, are become the scenes that stay with you for quite some time.

It’s the slight gossipy and often campy nature of ‘Hell’s Belles’ along with being reunited with Brenda and Effie and all the other wonderful characters that makes it so readable. I love how it’s cosy, spooky, funny and thrilling all at once. I also really liked the fact that just when you think you might know all the skeletons in the cupboards of Brenda’s B&B and Effie’s antique shop another one comes and takes you by surprise, again illuminating just how unusual these two wonderful women are, and often in the most funny and enjoyable of ways. It shows that this series has endless possibilities and I am excited about the next one, though I will be savouring reading it as I have nearly caught up with them all now. 8.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publishers, you can see my other Brenda and Effie thoughts here.

So who else has had an adventure with Brenda and Effie and what did you think? Which other spooky series would you recommend I pop in my reading path at some point? Do you know of any other books set in Whitby (apart from ‘Dracula’ or ‘The Whitby Witches’ both I have read), as I am off there later in the year for something a bit special and would like a Whitby based tale to take along?

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Filed under Brenda & Effie, Headline Review, Paul Magrs, Review

1,000 Posts… 500,000 Visits

I didn’t know whether to mention this or not at first but this is in fact my 1000th post on Savidge Reads. Initially I wasn’t sure if this was worthy of a post all of its own, in fact if it hadn’t been for my new schedule of, well, scheduling posts I wouldn’t have noticed. Yet when I did spot this was coming I did think it worth a mini mention. So hurrah…

And if that wasn’t enough I also wanted to take this special post to say at least half a million thank you’s too, as when I spotted the fact I was on post 1000 I also had a look at my overall stats. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that incredibly there have now been (and these don’t include me clicking over and over myself when I am spell checking WordPress informs me) over 500,000 visitors on Savidge Reads which completely flummoxes me.

Who knew when I wrote and posted that first tentative review of a Susan Hill novel, before not doing anything again for another three months, that another year of no comments or traffic would make it to 1000 posts later? The fact this is the case and over 500,000 of you having visited since,be they one offs or repeat visits, almost seems too much. So thank you, thank you for reading and following. Savidge Reads wouldn’t be what it is without your comments, emails, discussions and the like. It’s been really, really lovely, so a big thank you all for dropping by, it means a lot to me indeed. Right, back to books I think…

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