Monthly Archives: July 2011

Reading With Authors 2011

Back in February (I am surprised it was this long ago) I mentioned the fact that after having loved doing the Not The TV Book Group I fancied doing it again, sadly the other hosts weren’t sure what they could commit to this year, so I was mulling the idea of doing something similar and different over the ‘early summer months’. Well its not the early part of summer, but summer it still is, and finally (and possibly a little last minute – but you guys are great at rallying round) I can reveal my plans for ‘Reading With Authors’ which is going to be taking place during the Sundays of August and September 2011., and something which I am hoping you will be able to join in the whole lot of or on and off…

Why has it taken so long? Well, there’s been all of the Bookmarked (only 8 days to go… eek) and Green Carnation Prize madness whirling in the background and also the authors taking part are busy bee’s and so choosing titles together and dates that they are free has been a tricky process, but now it is done and here are the books we would love you to read along with us and when…

(thanks to Gav Reads for the image)

  • Sunday 7th of August 2011: The Man Who Fell To Earth by Walter Tevis with Belinda Bauer
  • Sunday 14th of August 2011: Pigeon English by Steven Kelman with Naomi Wood
  • Sunday 21st of August 2011: Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann with Paul Magrs
  • Sunday 28th of August 2011: Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively with Natasha Solomons
  • Sunday 4th of September: Ruby’s Spoon by Anna Lawrence Pietroni with Beatrice Colin
  • Sunday 18th of September 2011: Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor with Isabel Ashdown

There are two more authors and their choices of books to announce in the next week, but I wanted to get the information out there sooner rather than later as the first one, with the lovely crime writing Belinda Bauer, is only a week a way! If you are thinking ‘only a week, that’s no time’ well I had that slight panic too. However Walter Tevis’ novel ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ is only 186 pages and it’s stunning! I have a feeling that, as with ‘Flowers For Algernon’ by Daniel Keyes, this is a sci-fi book that is about to make me rather emotional and cry quite a lot. Who knew?

The idea behind all this is that it brings books, authors and readers together in a new way. The weekly author and I will have discussed the book, that will go up on the blog, and then we hope those of you who have read it too (pretty please) will come by comment and myself and the author will add comments creating a great discussion.

I am hoping that all the other books are going to be as good as the first promises to be. Some of them, as you can see from the list, are quite recent, some might have been chosen for the Man Booker (Naomi and myself chose ‘Pigeon English’ a while ago, neither of us having read it at the time, and were patting ourselves on the backs on Tuesday) some are cult classics and some are ones that have gone under the radar. All of them are books that the author and I were eager to read… do we all like our choices? You will have to wait and see! What do you think of the list so far?

I do hope you will be joining in!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Reading With Authors 2011

July’s Incomings…

I decided that after seeing all of your thoughts and responses on incoming posts, and discovering that you like them, I would carry on doing them monthly. However what has changed is the way I deal with books that have arrived. Id I have asked for them then they go straight on a special part of the TBR (which is getting a big update and cull this week), or they get read within a few days. If they are for The Green Carnation then they live with all the other (and it’s a vast amount) of submissions. As for the unsolicited ones… well… I decided instead of just piling them all up until then end of the month I would try and do ‘instant elimination’. So now I try and dip in and read a few pages here and there in the book, after reading the blurb, and decide if it’s a book for me, my Mum, Granny Savidge Reads or the charity shop. So far the system is working and so there are fewer books in this month’s incomings, let’s take a look at them.

First up the paperbacks…

  • August by Bernard Beckett – I saw this on The First Tuesday Book Club as Jennifer Byrne recommended it and it sounded intriguing, plus I loved the upside down title. When I saw I could bagsy it from We Love This Book HQ I did… obviously to review for them (and for you).
  • The Legacy by Kristen Tranter – unsolicited copy, this is a ‘9/11’ book I believe and whilst I am not sure how I feel about those, this one sounds like it might be from an angle you wouldn’t expect.
  • The Player’s Curse by Brian Thompson – unsolicited copy (but a very me one), this has reminded me I need to read the first in this series still, so I will be digging that out. I think this might be the third and I can’t read out of sync so will have to get the others if I like the first.
  •  Your Presence Is Requested At Suvanto by Maile Chapman – unsolicited copy, a tale set in a hospital deep in a wood, how can I not want to read this one?
  • Conference at Cold Comfort Farm/Westwood by Stella Gibbons – unsolicited copies, now I haven’t read Cold Comfort Farm yet so this is a timely reminder to, in fact these books set me off wondering if I am reading too much contemporary modern fiction currently.
  • The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman – I said yes to this one, not because I had read his previous novel, but because it was a novella and also one that sounded like a fairytale.
  • Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck – I asked for this one because I saw it somewhere and it sounded really spooky, so I cheekily asked when the publishers were sending me something else.
  • Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong – unsolicited copy, not sure why I fancied this one now, but I did.
  • No Great Mischief by Alistair MacLeod – unsolicited copy, this won awards in 1999 I believe, but seems to have been reissued. I want to know more.
  • Things We Didn’t See Coming by Steven Amsterdam – unsolicited copy, I fancied this because of the cover (shameless) but sadly you can’t see how quirky it is.
  • Two Cures for Love by Wendy Cope – Cope was the cure for my poetry fears, I have this collection of Selected Poems awaiting me.
  • A Mind To Murder/Unnatural Causes by P.D. James – after having met her and then done an article about her I want to read more of her. I also got her ‘Talking About Detective Fiction’ which I couldn’t find to photograph. Oops.

The Hardbacks…

  • Everything That Began After by Simon Van Booy – this nearly went off to my Mum, as it’s set in Greece and she loves the country as she teaches classics, however I then looked him up and thought ‘I want to read this first’, I have and thoughts coming soon.
  • Bed by David Whitehouse – sounds like a really, really interesting and quirky debut novel about a bedridden boy.
  • East of the West by Miroslav Penkov – unsolicited copy, which came with a lovely hand written note from the publicist saying just why she loved it, you can’t not try a book when a publicist does that.
  • Rivers of London/Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch – I asked for these as I keep seeing them everywhere and when I read the blurbs I thought they sounded like a lot of fun, and a fun escapist read is what you need now and again.
  • Solace by Belinda McKenn – unsolicited copy, I am glad this turned up, there is a huge buzz about this book building so I want to read it before it all starts getting over hyped. Watch this space.
  • My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher – unsolicited copy, this sounds like a brilliant young adult novel and one I am going to read before passing onto my sister.
  • Pure by Andrew Miller – I resisted this book until I heard it was about cemeteries and I have a strange fascination with them, I do miss tour guiding at Highgate so much.
  • The Ascent of Isaac Steward by Mike French – I am trying to say yes to more independent publishers, I feel its something I am missing so am going to give this a whirl.
  • The Cold Eye of Heaven by Christine Dwyer Hickey – unsolicited copy, heard lots of praise about her last novel, and this one seems short-ish, so why not?
  • Jubilate by Michael Arditti – I read Arditti many years ago and it was quite an impressionable read for me in my late teens so I wanted to check in on him again with his latest.
  • The Picture Book by Jo Baker – Again this was all thanks to the publicist and the passion for the book in an email, I couldn’t say no.
  • You by Joanna Briscoe – I liked Joanna Briscoe’s debut Sleep With Me which I read before I blogged, I think, and it was a darkly delicious unnerving book. This one sounds very good indeed and also like it might have some interesting twists, its next to read.

Now before I go onto what I bought for myself I wanted to share two proof copies I got that are so simplistically stunning I couldn’t not show you…

I know nothing of Kevin Wilson, though I think ‘The Family Fang’ is a brilliant title, and have enjoyed a previous Ellen Feldman novel. But aren’t these so nice to look at? There’s no cover picture to judge, just the title, the author and the blurb. I really like it.

So what did I buy myself this month? Well there were the car boot bargain books but until Friday nothing else. I had to hunt out a copy of ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’ by Walter Tevis for a project you will be hearing more about later today. I then accidentally walked into Fopp and it gained three new friends because they were only £1 each (some random one day offer)…

  • Easter Parade by Richard Yates – I was trying to remember which blogger specifically made me want to read this but then realised there was a whole host of them.
  • The Quarry by Damon Galgut – we long listed his ‘In A Strange Room’ for The Green Carnation Prize last year and I never reviewed it, which was silly, I liked it and wanted to try more. This isn’t his most famous by any stretch but it starts with a random murder that gets out of hand and I thought sounded worth a try. I have already polished it off.
  • The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan – an utterly random purchase where I thought ‘oh I will risk it’. I loved the title, the cover and the blurb, simple as that.

So what do you think of this month selection? Any you would recommend I race to read or would like me to read soonest? Also, what do you think of my new filtering regime for books. Do you have any system in place that you could recommend?

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The Baker Street Phantom – Fabrice Bourland

There was quite a lot of buzz when ‘The Baker Street Phantom’ by Fabrice Bourland came out last year. I remember seeing posters for it absolutely everywhere in London and being intrigued by the idea of a supernatural 1930’s twist on a Sherlock Holmes-esque tale of murder and mystery.  However the hype seemed to get a little too much, it was appearing here, there and everywhere and being given away in London hotels. So I mentally popped it into my ‘maybe one day’ pile of never ending books I might read. Then I saw Sakura’s review of it and thought ‘ooh maybe I will give that one a go’. It happened to be in my library just the other week and so I picked it up.

Gallic Books, fiction, 2010, paperback, translated byMorag Young, 185 pages, borrowed from library

The premise of the novel is quite a simple on. We have two detectives Singleton and Trelawney who have recently arrived in London from Canada, where the crimes weren’t taxing enough for them, where they have set up a shared abode in Bloomsbury. There has been a particularly nasty spate of murders in the last few months and when a woman comes to call, who happens to be Arthur Conan Doyle’s recently widowed second wife, with a mystery of ghostly activity at none other than 221 Baker Street. Why the duo must of course investigate. Is it reminding you of anything at all?

“My friend James Trelawney and I never imagined for a moment what would follow when there was a knock at the door of our rooms in Montague Street towards the end of the morning of Friday, 24th June 1932. We knew no one in London and since Miss Sigwarth, our landlady, had let someone come up without calling up from downstairs in her shrill voice – something we had asked her not to do – it probably meant that the visit was professional. It was not a moment to soon. Three months had passed with nothing to fill our days and the wait was starting to get James down.”

I admit that at first I thought ‘The Baker Street Phantom’ wasn’t going to be a book I could finish, it seemed a rip off of Conan Doyle and I wasn’t initially impressed. However it was becoming one of those books where at the end of every chapter you think ‘oh, I will just read one more’ and I was glad I did because as the book goes on, and the spirit of Sherlock Holmes (I know, he’s a fictional character but I bore with it, so others should) appears, we enter the world of spiritualism that Conan Doyle himself became part of. This became a homage both to Conan Doyle and his invention Holmes.

It also became a book about Victorian books and the sensational, a period and genreI adore, but sadly this did detract away form something which could have made the book all the more successful – for me at least. You see my slight issue with the book was that for a book in the 1930’s it lacked that period’s atmosphere. It was so focused on Conan Doyle, Dickens, Wilde, Jack the Ripper, Jekyll and Hyde etc that it became steeped in the Victorian and let me wanting. It seems silly that someone who loves Victoriana so much would say that, but I didn’t really feel I was in the 1930’s London which I would have liked too. I wouldn’t have minded the book being a bit longer in order to gain that atmosphere either.

The book does get far fetched but do you know what, sometime we all just need a book that’s escapist, entertaining and a romp. This is just that sort of book. The character Singleton actually seems to completely encapsulate the book when he discusses the crimes as they go on “A literary crime… supernatural powers… spiritualist séances going wrong.” If that’s your sort of thing then you will no doubt enjoy this. I did.

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Forgetting Zoe – Ray Robinson

Fictional stories of child abductions have become more prevalent in books in the last few years, as has the device of writing from children’s perspectives in these novels (such as in ‘Room’) or in other ‘current topics’ (I am thinking of ‘Pigeon English’ which I have just started) its almost become it’s own genre in a way. Well, I think so. With this in mind I went into reading ‘Forgetting Zoe’ by Ray Robinson with a mixture of ‘oh here we go again’ along with ‘go on, impress me, do something different’.

Cornestone Books, paperback, 2011, fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

On Friday October the 8th 1999 a ten year old girl by the name of Zoe Neilsen suddenly vanishes on the way to school. This shocks the inhabitants of the small island, just off Newfoundland, is immense, it’s a place where people leave their doors unlocked and trust their neighbours. The people it doesn’t come as a shock to are the readers of this book, as for 50 pages leading up to this we have been given an insight into the twisted and disturbing childhood of Thurman Hayes, the man who we soon to discover, with an all too familiar feeling of history repeating itself, has abducted her. Zoe has become one of those children who ‘disappear at a mile a minute’ in fact Zoe is now in a bunker 4000 miles from home.

“Zoe knew that she was below ground and no one would hear her but she still screamed for help, her knuckles a scabby pulp from punching walls. The machine breathed into the room, its constant whine and rattling niggling her. This was the first week in captivity, an animal in a cage waiting to be fed and watered, for the man to reappear. Or were there more than one?”

I found the way Robinson put us first in the mind of Thurman Hayes was a particularly clever move, it throws the reader off as they watch the victim of child abuse become the abuser. (Unless of course you read the blurb, I hadn’t thankfully, which gives away practically the whole storyline. Publishers, why do you do this?) The fact you feel for him when he lives with such a tyrant as one parent, and complete denial ridden doormat of another, makes the sudden change throw you out of step. Robinson has pulled the rug from under your feet.

“Father beating him because he wet the bed into his teens. It made the wetting worse, his lisp worse. Father’s looming presence.”

The other perspective in the novel is that of Ingrid, Zoe’s mother. This is written utterly, and heartbreakingly, beautifully. Ingrid is a single mother who takes her daughter for granted, until that fateful day. From the moment that the loss of her daughter becomes a reality, as first there is denial, we watch a women unravel as her world crumbles. The past comes to haunt her, the press turn against her (as the parents always become suspects) from sympathy to suspicion and we watch from the sidelines. It’s incredibly well done, you will occasionally dislike Ingrid but you will always empathise with her. In fact it’s the flaws in all the characters that make them so real.

One of the most effective things about Ray Robinson’s prose is that he puts you in the mindset of Zoe, her mother and her captor without ever writing them in first person. There’s almost a sense of him wanting you to feel what they are going through, but at the same time making the reader feel safe – yet still shocked and disturbed – without ever making it too real. I am probably not explaining that very well, you read the book experiencing it yet at a level which doesn’t sicken you; you’re concerned, shocked and occasionally horrified by the grimness of the story but also slightly at a distance. There is also the fact that Zoe, as a character, is never patronised which could be so easy in a book like this when you give voice to a ten year old.

‘Forgetting Zoe’ is very different from the stories of its ilk which I have read in the last couple of years. It’s darker and grittier, and yet strangely never gets bogged down in this despite how much awful stuff happens over the pages to both Zoe and those affected by her sudden and random vanishing. What Robinson does, which I think is all the more uncomfortable and poignant, with his third novel is give voice not just to the captured, but also to the captor and the captives relations.

Big thanks to ‘Fiction Uncovered’ for highlighting this book. It’s not an ‘easy-read’ by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s an incredible one, and one I will probably be babbling on about to anyone and everyone who will give a disturbing read a chance. I feel like I have been missing a trick missing Ray Robinson’s writing until now, I may have to read some more of his work.

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The Man Booker Longlist 2011… Thoughts

I do love the general buzz, most often in a form of outrage, that the Man Booker Longlist seems to bring out after its announcement and this years seems to be one of the strongest case of a ‘what?!!?’ moment I have seen in a while. People seem up in arms about how their favourite books are missing, there’s a lot of ‘what were the judges thinking’ being bandied about too. Personally after my initial ‘oh no, where are Jane Harris, Ali Smith, Kathleen Winter and Catherine Hall’ (possibly my favourite fiction reads of the year so far) moment I looked at the list and the more I think about it the more interesting in seems.

There is no using bemoaning the books I think should have made the cut, I don’t know why people go on about this so much. The thing with the Man Booker Longlist is that we don’t know if the publisher submitted our favourites, they have a small remit, or not do we? We also need to remember like reviews and book clubs every judging panel is subjective. Four of the five might have been passionate about my personal favourites, but all five of them might have been passionate about 13 more of them instead. Who knows, what can we do about it now? I think we should be focusing on what makes this list very exciting, and also what makes the list show publishing is far from dead. Which I actually wrote about in a piece for We Love This Book, feel free to have a look, on the Booker Longlist called ‘Big Guns and Bridesmaids’.

I won’t focus on the titles I am not fussed about on the list here, reviews are coming of some of them, but I will say a big hooray for Sebastian Barry and a bigger hooray (I know that’s a tiny bit of favouritism) for Carol Birch. If a Victorian adventure won the Man Booker this year I would be thrilled. However the list is made up of lots and lots of books I hadn’t heard of, and as time goes on its these I am getting more and more excited by. Patrick deWitt, Yvvette Edwards, Alison Pick and Esi Edugyan weren’t four names that were really bandied about in the lead up to and ‘guessing’ of the longlist. I hadn’t heard of the last three at all. Yet all of these novels look rather exciting and are interestingly the ones that I now want to get my hands on first, they feel like unchartered waters, annoyingly these are also the books that I don’t own. Typical. In fact I only have five of the titles, three of which I have read (wouldn’t it be off if these made the short list)…

What for me though is most exciting is not only the fact that almost a quarter of the titles are debut novels with Stephen Kelman, A.D. Miller, Yvvette Edwards and Patrick McGuinness all being long listed for their first novels – this is a continuation of a trend which was previously shown in the level of debuts in the Orange Prize lists earlier this year. The prize shows an almost landslide victory for independent publishers  with nine out of the thirteen titles not coming from the big gun publishing houses. This seems to be giving a very positive message to the state of fiction today and one that seems to fly in the face of the doubters who believe that the publishing industry is dying when so much new talent, along with independent publishers, that seem to be flourishing as far as the awards are concerned.

That to me is something to be celebrating with this list, along with the fact that some titles we might have missed have been brought to our attention. Is anyone going to try and read the whole lot? I’m not sure with my reading remit at the moment I could, which is annoying as it’s the year that I think I would most like to. Maybe I can sneak a few of them in?

P.S This is my last Man Booker Longlist discussion on Savidge Reads until I start popping up reviews of the titles, and speaking of reviews, get ready for a ‘review rush’ I have a backlog.

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The Green Carnation Prize is One Today…

A very brief post, as I am ironically in the depths of Green Carnation Prize reading (we have probably had at least double what we did and there are many more still coming), to say that The Green Carnation Prize is one exactly today, I think that calls for cake…

I can’t believe it, and am thrilled that its having such a bonkers second year, even if it has made my amount of reading over the next few weeks near impossible. Do go and wish it a Happy Birthday and have a look at what one of the fellow co-founders, Paul Magrs, has to say about what simply started as a little tweet. The website is here.

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The Man Booker Longlist 2011

Well here it is…

The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes (Jonathan Cape – Random House)
On Canaan’s Side – Sebastian Barry (Faber)
Jamrach’s Menagerie – Carol Birch (Canongate Books)
The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt (Granta)
Half Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail – Profile)
A Cupboard Full of Coats – Yvvette Edwards (Oneworld)
The Stranger’s Child – Alan Hollinghurst (Picador – Pan Macmillan)
Pigeon English – Stephen Kelman (Bloomsbury)
The Last Hundred Days – Patrick McGuinness (Seren Books)
Snowdrops – A.D. Miller (Atlantic)
Far to Go – Alison Pick (Headline Review)
The Testament of Jessie Lamb – Jane Rogers (Sandstone Press)
Derby Day – D.J. Taylor (Chatto & Windus – Random House)

I am thrilled to see Carol Birch and Sebastian Barry on there (I guessed 2/13 – I am officially rubbish) and also very excited about the fact that I don’t know a lot of the others. So am off to investigate before I do a round up post a little later. What do you think of the list?

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