Monthly Archives: June 2012

Granny Savidge Reads Update #1; Big Thanks

I promised you updates on Granny Savidge Reads and so here without fail is my first one and it involves a lot of thank you’s. Firstly though, how is Gran? Well, touch wood, while sadly she still has no feeling or movement in her left hand side it appears we might have been through the most dangerous/nerve wrecking bit, you know the stuff that doesn’t even bear thinking about. However we are by no means out of the woods. Seeing her yesterday for most of the day (when she wasn’t asleep, how rude when you have visitors, ha) was the first time she has looked so bright, well as bright as you can in the circumstances, this week but her headaches and nausea and frustration are high. We still have a long way to go, but let us not dwell on that.

I told her that you had all been sending her your well wishes and she was really grateful and wanted to me say a big thank you all for your thoughts. She was also delighted with her iPod from myself and The Beard, which I had filled with the only audio book I owned personally until this week, ‘Gillespie & I’ (because if I ever sleep on my own now I like a familiar story in the background) which she laughed and said I had been ‘determined to make me read for quite some time, now I have no choice’ (Jane, if you read this she was being wry).

You may have noticed I said it was the only audio book I owned until this week as I have been rather inundated with them thanks to lovely publishers (and also three I borrowed from the library) and this is only the beginning apparently…

Even more are on their way, which is such a lovely gesture and I am very grateful as she will probably be in the hospital for quite some weeks/months to come and will now have hours of entertainment and stories to come. So yet more thanks from Gran and from me to the lovely people at Simon & Schuster and Orion, whose books are pictured, and to Penguin, Sceptre, and Random House who have parcels in the post en route. (Is it bad if I listen to some of them myself?)

I will be off to see her, and update her iPod, tomorrow and will keep you posted on how she is doing. I won’t do it too often as a) it will be a long haul and progress might be slow b) I don’t want her getting too used to all the attention. But seriously, a big thank you for all your support, it means a lot to me, Gran and indeed the Savidge family clan.



Filed under Granny Savidge Reads

Thoughts for Granny Savidge Reads

As some of you will have seen on Twitter last night we had a bit of a big shock in the family yesterday. Granny Savidge Reads, who those of you who have been/are regulars of the blog will know and love from her posts, sadly had a brain haemorrhage and stroke yesterday morning. This was completely out of the blue and has been rather serious.

I did go and see her last night, and of course will be visiting regularly, and whilst she is still able to talk and has her wry sense of humour she is unfortunately paralysed down her whole left side. This for a very social and mobile jet setting 70 year old is very frustrating and scary as I am sure you can imagine. Not only that but she has shocking double vision so she can’t move her head without feeling sick and most vexing for her she cannot read, one of her main lifelong loves.

As her future possible recovery is going to take weeks and weeks The Beard and I have decided we are going to get her an iPod and fill it with audio books, that way she can be lost in the world of fiction she loves so much even if she can’t focus on a page/screen. So any recommendations of good ones with a literary or comic bent would be most welcome.

Anyway, I thought I would share the sad news with you as I know some of you enjoy her posts and hearing about one of the biggest book influencers of my life. Let’s hope she gets well as soon as she can, I will keep you posted even if my posting might go to pot over the next few weeks/months as we spend as much time with her as we can supporting her recovery.  Please send her your get well vibes and thoughts!


Filed under Granny Savidge Reads, Random Savidgeness

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Sometimes I think that we all need to read books that take us out of our comfort zone don’t we. In fact that can be a main factor of why people join book groups be they in the flesh, like the Manchester Book Club which I have just started reading ‘The Master and Margarita’ for,  or online, as I am with the Readers Summer Book Club. One title that I was insistent should be on the Summer Book Club list, because I wanted to read it and test myself, was Ernest Cline’s novel ‘Ready Player One’ which with its mixture of science fiction and dystopian themes I thought would be rather a test and a change from my usual reads.

Arrow Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

The earth we meet in ‘Ready Player One’ is not a pleasant one. It is 2044 and humans have consumed the entire world’s oil, famine and poverty are widespread and the climate is pretty much ruined. The world is such a dreadful place that most people find themselves escaping it by plugging into the OASIS, a virtual utopia where you can become anyone you want in one of the ten thousand planets available online.

Yes, humans are escaping their lives by living virtual ones. However when the founder of OASIS, James Halliday, dies he makes the OASIS an even more exciting and dangerous place by leaving all his money (billions) and control of the OASIS to whomever can find a hidden set of keys within the OASIS on the biggest, and most riddle filled, quest that the virtual world has ever seen. Our narrator, Wade Watts, a young guy living in the poverty ridden stacks (trailers piled high shared by multiple families) with his unloving aunty is one such man, and he has not long found the first of the keys.

Phew! That looks like quite a synopsis but actually there are no spoilers in that and really I have only given you the very beginnings of the story as you join it, though I won’t give much else away because part of the fun of ‘Ready Player One’ is following Wade and his competitors, some good some very bad, as they try to solve the riddles Halliday has left them in a virtual world of endless possibilities.

‘A small mirror was mounted inside my locker door, and I caught a glimpse of my virtual self as I closed it. I’d designed my avatar’s face and body to look, more or less, like my own. My avatar had a slightly smaller nose than me, and he was taller, and thinner. And more muscular. And he didn’t have any teenage acne. But aside from all these minor details, we looked more or less identical. The school’s strictly enforced dress code required that all students avatars be human, and of the same gender and age as the student. No giant two-headed hermaphrodite demon unicorn avatars were allowed. Not on school grounds, anyway.’

I have to admit that when I knew this virtual world held around ten thousand planets within it I almost let out an inward grown. I pictured in my head a book that would never end because it has these endless places that could be explored; this isn’t the case at all. Ernest Cline clearly had a framework set in mind, the plotting of this novel and its riddles must have been incredibly hard work and meticulously done, and so you go on an exciting journey where the possibilities are endless but because there is a goal the characters remain quite focused yet there are of course thrills and twists along the way too, all as Halliday had planned you imagine. There is also much humour thrown in along the way which really adds to the enjoyment and you almost feel like you are playing a game as you read. It reminded me of the ‘fighting fantasy’ game books I played as a teenager by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone where you had to chose which page you would turn to next and a scenario where you were the hero played out… I always died, I risked too much (I bet none of you would even have thought I would have played these games, ha). In ‘Ready Player One’ we the reader can’t decide or die but the characters can, the homage seemed to be there though.

I think actually this feeling of those game books is a purposeful one by Cline as this book is also really a huge nostalgia fest and homage to the 1980’s, as much as it is a geek fest to comics, video games etc. This could have been alienating, I was after all only born in 1982, yet I got a lot of the references (the fact She-Ra was mentioned in this book won it brownie points, I loved that fact Halliday’s funeral was superimposed over a funeral scene in ‘Heathers’ too) and even when I didn’t get all the jokes it didn’t matter. I was really impressed by the way Cline managed this and liked the additional twist this gave to the book, I think Cline’s passion came through and I found myself reminiscing and embracing my not so long forgotten inner geek.

If I had to draw out any quibbles I had with the book the first would be that just on occasion I sometimes couldn’t work out if we were in the OASIS or back on earth in 2044, and occasionally I did get a little lost in the OASIS but I was expecting this, in fact I was expecting to do it a hell of a lot more than I did. The other slight issue was that because the book is such an epic adventure and because so much of it is set in the virtual world I didn’t really feel like I got to know any of the characters, apart from Wade, as much as I would have liked to. You do get snippets of their back stories but I liked them and wanted more, which is a compliment, and as most of the time we know them as their avatars it is expected they might be a little one dimensional as they project who they want to be known as. That said there is a love story and a real tale of friendship in this novel.

I really, really enjoyed ‘Ready Player One’. I wasn’t sure it would be my kind of book at all but the adventure and story really took hold of me, along with the humour, and I was gripped. Ignore the fact that it’s got quite a sci-fi twist, or the fact it may be deemed as a tale for those who want the 80’s nostalgia because it is more than that. It’s a funny, rollicking and escapist read that I thoroughly recommend.

Who else has read this and what did you think? Had you initially been put off a little by the premise at all? If you are a diehard sci-fi fan what were your thoughts?

This was a book  I read for The Readers Summer Book Club, alas due to some complications we have had to postpone the show with Ernest, hopefully we will be able to record one soon.


Filed under Books of 2012, Ernest Cline, Review, The Readers Podcast, The Readers Summer Book Club

Shelving Posts for Shelving…

I really thought that this weekend I would have time to post about a new page on Savidge Reads and also write some more about Beryl Bainbridge. This was not to be. I have actually been furniture hunting, shifting things from Manchester to Liverpool and seeing some am-dram. The furniture hunting and shifting has been the best bit of the weekend as after an hour so of bearded building (meaning The Beard did it), and then some serious sorting of books, I am now the proud owner of these gorgeous book shelves.

When I sent a picture to Gavin of said shelves the reply when we had a phone meeting about The Readers future (exciting not worrying) was ‘I am just amazed there are so little books.’ Well you see while my TBR might be out of control, though I am having a big cull this week as it is moving cities, I am very picky about the books that end up on any bookshelves I have in the lounge. You see these shelves are my ‘see what I have read shelves’. Not in an arrogant up-my-bum kind of way, though I admit I did use to keep classic and renowned books I had read but loathed on them so people could see I had read them if they popped round, but people do look at your bookshelves when they pop round. I love rooting through new-to-me friends bookshelves.

Anyway, I have been really strict and I am only keeping books which I know I will read again, are by a favour author/part of a series (though most of these are on another shelf in the bedroom), or have bowled me over even though I will never read them again (yes, I am thinking of you ‘American Psycho’) any books that don’t fit into that category are out. It seems the severity in which I last culled my TBR has taken hold full stop.

I did umm and ahh for ages about what should stay and what should go. Then I had the debate of which order I should shelve them. Ordering by colour was debated, then paperbacks in one area hard backs in the other, in the end I settled with alphabetical order by authors surname… easier to find books that way.

Shall we see them with mood lighting? A kindle couldn’t do this with all the books you have read on it could it?

I am smitten with them and thought I would share them with you all as I suspected you might all have a penchant for a picture of some brimming shelves. How do you organise yours? Do you shelve unread books and read books separately (I did once have a chat with Gavin about this and he thinks I am mad, he mixes his up)? Do you keep all the books you have read, or is there a culling process? Let me know, and apologies for the lack of posts I sort of promised, this shelving situation took over and just couldn’t wait.

P.S This was my 1,400th post aparrently, I got a little excited and also surprised by that.


Filed under Random Savidgeness

Filthy Lucre – Beryl Bainbridge

I always find it fascinating to read the earlier works of authors that I love as, in my head, it is a way of looking at their writing in the raw and how they went on to develop it. So when I saw that Annabel of Gaskella was doing Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, and it was Annabel that made me read Beryl, I knew just which book I was going to read to take part. ‘Filthy Lucre’ was not Beryl Bainbridge’s debut novel in the published sense (that was ‘A Weekend with Claude’) yet it was a book she wrote at the tender age of thirteen. My mother had a copy and so I pilfered it from her shelves on my last visit, oops, sorry Mum.

Fontana Books, paperback, 1986, fiction, 144 pages, pilfered from my mothers shelves

‘Filthy Lucre’ is a tale of cheating and deception all around money.  We meet Martin Andromikey on his death bed in 1851, right until his last breath Martin believes that he was cheated of his inheritance by the Ledwhistle family. Asking his friend Richard Soleway to impersonate him, and keep his death a secret, he requests that Richard wreak revenge on them through the thing they love most, business and a business that he is set to be a partner of and so our story starts. What follows though is not unlike many Victorian melodrama’s and sensation novels that have gone before with twists and turns, murders, deceptions, love affairs and even treasure islands.

Initially I did think that because Beryl Bainbridge wrote this when she was so young it was quite possibly going to be a precocious rather annoying book, that’s the cynic in me. This is not the case. The only time I could sense it was the fact that almost every chapter ended with ‘ruin’, ‘disaster’ or ‘forever’ but this in a way is because it is also a Victorian melodrama. Here you can see an author and her influences. The Victorian sections of the novel are rather Dickensian, with the darker and occasionally other worldly elements of Wilkie Collins. There is also a real flavour of Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle when the book sets sail to distant shores, and ‘dear reader’ there is also a flavour of Charlotte Bronte in the very prose.

“We will leave now, dear readers, the bright Ledwhistle parlour, and, like a bird, pass out into the November night. We will journey down to a wharf where the slimy Thames moves like some loathsome adder, and the houses huddle together in squalid patterns. Here the lamplight falls on wasted limbs and shaking hands. It lights up sin and filth, all aware, the cruel river twists its reptile course.”

Yet this is more than just a homage though, it is a book where the characters live and breathe and where the atmosphere of London really comes off the pages. The prose is tight and what I should mention here, because it impressed me so much, was that for a book with some legal elements that reminded me of the case in ‘Bleak House’ (while I haven’t read the books I have seen the TV series) this novel is 144 pages long, not 500 plus and I found that quite incredible.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from ‘Filthy Lucre’ when I opened it, especially with the young age at which it was written and the fact that it is no longer in print. What I got was a tale of intrigue and deception that took me on a real escapist adventure and entertained me for a good hour or two as I read it in a single sitting. Like all Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I have read so far I would highly recommend you give this book a whirl.

Do pop and visit Gaskella to see Annabel raving about more of Beryl’s books, if you haven’t read her you really should. I will be doing another post which features Beryl and a new Savidge Reads project (not a read-a-thon, I am now in Green Carnation submission mode reading wise) tomorrow and then another Beryl review on Sunday as I finished this one and wanted to read more. I also wanted to read a Dickens novel after finishing this but that opens a whole can of reading worms I am not quite ready for. If you have read any Beryl, including this one, do let me know what you thought and what books I should read next, as always.


Filed under Beryl Bainbridge, Fontana Books, Review

Can a Book Group Be Bad For a Book?

Both whilst recording the latest episode of The Readers Summer Book Club and then compiling my post on the book, ‘Bleakly Hall’ by Emlaine Di Rollo, itself afterwards has raised a question in my head… Can a book group be a bad thing for certain books and the reading experience around them?

One of the things I love most about a book group is the discussion, the gossip; chatting and wine afterwards is all a bonus. I have found with book groups in the past that discussing a book I didn’t like and hearing everyone else’s thoughts on it can sometimes make me d a complete 180 with my opinion. It can also be an utter joy, and rather bonding as I found with ‘Mary Barton’, if you all loathe a book and can sit and pick it apart. Yet what if you really enjoyed reading a book and others pick it apart, can it kill it for you?

This has very rarely happened to me before in any book groups that I can think of. Why is this so? Well I think it is because I tend to be more critical about books I am reading with my ‘book group’ brain on, yes even more so than when I am reading a book to review. With reviews I analyse the way a book made me feel and the questions it raises itself of makes me ask myself, yet with a book group book I tend to pick it apart all the more. Or maybe I do this all the time and yet am only aware of it when prepping for a book club – yes indeed, I prep.

It is this very reason why I have never suggested reading a Daphne Du Maurier book as a choice of my own to any group I have been part of, other members have and I have always been quite fearful that my favourite authors work will be picked to death and my love of Daphers altered. Fortunately Daphne tends to be so wonderful that this rarely happens.

Yet for the first time ever recently as I read a book I was thoroughly enjoying, the aforementioned ‘Bleakly Hall’, I found that as I knew I would be discussing it in detail I started to pick it apart as I read not afterwards. Normally I always do this afterwards, not during, and I am not sure why it changed with this book but I ended up almost sabotaging reading it because I was pre-empting the questions/reactions/subjects that the book would raise. It had a house of cards effect/loose thread effect and I started picking.

This then made me wonder if some books are just not book group books. For example, and I am not comparing ‘Bleakly Hall’ to this series it is just an example, I would never take an Agatha Raisin mystery to a book group. It and I would be annihilated and those, for me, are just books I read for pleasure, no more no less and there is nothing wrong with books that you simply read and are entertained by the whole way through. I think ‘Bleakly Hall’ would have been just such a book if I wasn’t reading it in the context I did.

So I wondered if any of you had found that there are some books that simply should be avoided as book group choices. Obviously with book group books the idea is no one has read them and so there is always the risk it won’t work I suppose but maybe some experiences/titles stick out in particular? Do you agree some books should simply be read and enjoyed, not picked apart or should all books be treated with the same analytical internal eye of a reader?


Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts

Sponsor (Mummy) Savidge Reads…

I have ummmed and ahhhhed about doing this post because I do always find the whole ‘sponsor me’ etiquette kind of awkward. However firstly I am not the one that you would be sponsoring, and secondly what my mother is doing is a good thing, for a wholly worthwhile charity and I think spreading the word and work of any charity is a good thing. So now I have waffled rather inarticulately let me explain. This weekend my mother is going to be donning a wetsuit (that comedy image alone is worth sponsoring her for) and will be swimming 2 miles in the vast Lake Windermere for the Great North Swim. She is doing this partly because she is mad but mainly for MacMillan Cancer Care (cancer being something close to my heart) and in memory of my granddad, Bongy, (who sadly is no longer with us but remains extremely close to my heart) who I have told you about before and who MacMillan where incredible with supporting when he was terminally ill, and indeed supporting us when we were caring for him at home.

Lake Windermere

I don’t want to do a hard sell because that would be uncomfortable but should you want to sponsor her anything then please do, you don’t have to sponsor more than ten pounds as it tries to make you do you can sponsor smaller, by visiting her page here. I shall plug it no more than that. I will say that I am so impressed with my mother doing this; she herself had a big C scare last year, well done Mum. The Beard and I are hoping that we can get to see her go in at the start and be waiting for her (and my uncle and aunty) at the end so I will hopefully report back.

It has made me think, what could I do for charity that involves books, preferably books and cancer or books and Alzheimer’s? Hmmm, any suggestions? Big thanks if you do sponsor my mother by the way. A normal bookish post coming soon.

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

Bleakly Hall – Elaine Di Rollo

I have often spouted about the fact that whether you enjoy a book can be down to everything being aligned right, your mood, the weather, the seasons and other such things. Some people doubt this; I however think it is the truth. One thing I do forget about is that why you are reading a book can sometimes affect your thoughts on it too. ‘Bleakly Hall’, by Elaine Di Rollo is one such book. It is one that as I read it, I was utterly under its spell and yet because I was reading it for The Readers Summer Book Group I knew I would have to talk about it and so think I might have over analysed it and overly questioned it meaning in hindsight I traipsed all over its sparkle. Let me explain further…

Vintage Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 360 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘Bleakly Hall’ is really a book of two halves (which sounds like I am starting with a cliché) one half of the story is that of the people working and staying at a hydropath after the First World War, Monty and Ada having been two female comrades on the frontlines, Monty having been a nurse and Ada an ambulance driver.

Monty also nursed with a woman called Sophia who died yet left an old score to settle with a Captain Foxley who Monty learns resides at ‘Bleakly Hall’ where Ada now works, the narrative switches between Monty coming to the hall to confront Foxley, but getting beguiled and sidetracked by staff and the likes while there, and the story of the war unfolding to reveal what happened to Sophia.

What is wonderful about this novel is also what in the end causes me to pick some faults in it. I loved the fact there was a mystery to the novel, what on earth had happened to Sophia, how was Foxley involved and why on earth did Monty have such a need to settle this old score? I loved the characters, Monty and Ada in particular but also Dr Slack (who had such an appropriate name I could almost feel Elaine Di Rollo joining me in a wry smile as I read on) and even the odd Blackwood brothers, the good one and the bad. I also really enjoyed the humour in the novel; it was thoroughly entertaining and occasionally laugh out loud funny.

‘Monty followed the doctor’s gaze. She did indeed look dreadful. Her cap was awry on her head, her hair limp and bedraggled. She had a surprised look on her face, as though still stunned by disembodied buttocks, shoving between anonymous thighs like a naked gardener wrestling with a reluctant wheelbarrow.’

It also provides a real lightness against the horrors of the war and the effects it leaves on people, which through the back story of Sophia and through some of the issues with the characters in the present, like Foxley who we learn is suffering post traumatic stress disorder, is incredibly moving and sometimes rather harrowing.

‘The first man they reached was dead. It was impossible to say why, as he seemed simply to be sleeping, his face peaceful beneath the smoky sky. The second and third were also dead, one having bled to death of a wound to the neck. He lay as though on a rust-covered carpet, a circle of his own blood sinking into the earth around him. The other had been shot through the head.’

So if I liked these two strands of the book, and the prose and style, where did it not work for me? Well firstly as I said I did really enjoy the book however, without giving any spoilers, there are some wonderful almost fairytale like set pieces in both the modern narrative and indeed some of the non WWI flashback sequences, such as one involving a hat being rescued from a bear compound, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading throughout. Yet because these have a sense of the surreal, slightly farcical and magic this feeling is at complete odds with the utter horror which we witness through all the characters memories of war, these in turn making the book seem a little disjointed. It’s enjoyable but becomes implausible.

Now I know not all books should be realistic, I don’t expect them to be and enjoy escapism of all types, but the world they create be it one we know or not should feel fully formed or cohesive and yet the sections of the book in the war don’t match the ones in ‘Bleakly Hall’, yet Bleakly Hall’s whole story wouldn’t exist without the war, Monty knowing Ada and wanting to confront Captain Foxley. I hope all this makes sense because in over analysing it for a book club I think I may have over thought about it.

I think had I not been reading ‘Bleakly Hall’ as a book to dissect and discuss I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It’s a funny, dark and moving story brimming with wonderful set pieces and larger than life characters. It’s a book that entertains you and while it has a few flaws here and there (and not many books are flaw free) takes you to a slightly bonkers and bizarre world. Some books should simply be read and enjoyed, not dissected, this is one of them.

Has anyone else read this or Elaine Di Rollo’s other novel? I would love to hear your thoughts on the book, I will certainly read more. If you would like to hear the author discussing the book you can on this week’s episode of The Readers Summer Book Club here.


Filed under Elaine Di Rollo, Review, The Readers Summer Book Club, Vintage Books

What Would You Ask Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter?

The other day I asked you where I should start with reading Terry Pratchett, I also mentioned there was a reason. Well the very same reason I asked is why I am asking you what you would ask both him and Stephen Baxter… because (and I feel there should be some kind of drum roll here) on Wednesday afternoon Gavin of Gav Reads and I will be interviewing them for a special on The Readers and we would love to be able to ask questions on your behalf.

If you have a burning question you have always wanted to ask either author then simply leave a comment below, or if you have a question for both of them about ‘The Long Earth’ which is the first in what appears to be a series that they are writing together and which I am reading and am rather gripped by so have almost finished. After all the recommendations I have had from you, thank you all again by the way, I also plan on reading ‘Wyrd Sisters’ before I meet him too. Alas I don’t have a Stephen Baxter to hand, though I have heard he is quite hardcore sci-fi, is this true?

Anyway, if you have any questions for Sir Terry, Stephen or both of them then do let me know in the comments below and I will ask on your behalf.


Filed under Random Savidgeness

Fictional Florence…

I don’t know about you but whenever I go abroad I like to try and read books that are either set in the place that I am visiting or that have been written by someone from there. I think in part it makes the book come alive even more and weirdly in my head makes me feel I know the place even better, the latter is probably just in my head if we are all honest isn’t it? Anyway in the next few weeks I will be going to Florence, a city I have never been to before though always wanted to. So I wondered if any of you might have any recommendations of books set there or written by someone from there.

I don’t mind what genre it is, how long or short it is, if it is contemporary and modern or if it is historical. Actually, that said I wouldn’t mind something with a bit of the history of the place to it, or indeed if you know of any crime novels with a Florence setting. Really though I am open to ideas and will quite possibly be taking a few as The Beard and I will be reviewing a hotel, spa and cookery school on the Fiesole hillside called Il Salviatino, and with an air journey each way and a few days of relaxing much reading will be done. We already have a travel guide by the bedside so really it is just fictional stuff we are after.

Oh actually, thinking about it, we are doing a day’s cooking class whilst there so something with lots of Italian food set in Florence, with a murder possibly in the cities historical past might be nice. Not that I am being specific am I? Ha, ha. No honestly any fictional Florence recommendations are most, most welcome.


Filed under Random Savidgeness

Books by the Bedside #3

I am at my mothers this weekend after a rather bonkers week and so I thought rather than go silent I would let you all know what I have on my reading periphery and then hopefully you can all let me know what you are reading, mainly because I am nosey.

Currently my bedside table looks like this…


The next of the Manchester Book Club titles is ‘The Master & Margarita’ by Mikhail Bulgakov as chosen by fellow member Alex. I have to say I am oddly excited (whilst being slightly daunted) by this novel, I know it’s meant to be quite bonkers and brilliant but also it’s my first real foray into Russian literature, mainly because I have always been worried I am not clever enough for it – we will see.

Next up is ‘Absolution’ by Patrick Flanery which I have been meaning to read for ages. When I visited Atlantic Books HQ earlier in the year everyone was saying how good it was and I do want to read more novels set in South Africa.

Finally are two novels which I am both reading for The Readers, though aren’t part of the Summer Book Club. This is because, and I feel there should be a drum roll here, on Wednesday coming myself and Gavin will be interviewing Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter for an hour long special of the podcast. Gavin is so excited, I am now seriously Pratchett prepping. I will also be interviewing Carlos Ruiz Zafon this week and so I’m getting ready for that too by reading his latest.

Oh and I should mention the books I have taken away with me! I packed ‘Wyrd Sisters’, which lots of you said I should read as my way into Discworld, and I also packed ‘Filthy Lucre’ which is the shortest of Beryl Bainbridge’s novels (apparently she wrote it as a child) as next week it’s Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week over at Gaskella! I plan on picking another Bainbridge up too if I have time as Annabel kindly introduced me to her with ‘The Bottle Factory Outing’.

Phew, that’s a lot of bookish bedside chatter, though not quite enough… I would love your thoughts on what I’m reading and about to read PLUS find out what you are reading right now/next, as I said I’m very nosey and besides I can never hear enough about books. Over to you…


Filed under Books By The Bedside

The Moving Finger – Agatha Christie

There are some authors that as a reader I will grab off the shelf if a) I am in some kind of reading funk or b) I have just read rather a heavy, yet rewarding, tome and need something in between starting another novel I suspect will be similar. Agatha Christie is one author that fits the bill for both, though that said I do have a random particular demand with a Christie, it can’t be a Poirot, I don’t like him for some reason, whereas I love a Miss Marple or standalone tale. So after something rewarding but weighty reading I decided it was time to pick up ‘The Moving Finger’ the third (or fourth if you include ‘The Thirteen Problems’ short story collection) Marple novel, a series I am trying to read sparingly.

Fontand Books, paperback, 1942, fiction, 197 pages, from my personal TBR

Jerry Burton is sent from London to the sleepy village of Lymstock on doctors orders and brings his sister Joanna in tow. Initially they are utterly charmed with the idyllic surroundings and quaint people that they meet. Yet soon they receive an anonymous poison penned letter accusing them of being lovers not siblings and they soon discover that most people in the village are getting equally scandalous letters too. Things soon take an even darker twist when one of the receivers of these letters dies, at first people think it may be suicide until the facts start to point to murder and another soon follows.

Hopefully that hasn’t given too much of the plot away, however I am about to let you into a small secret which led me to being rather frustrated with this book. Miss Marple herself doesn’t actually appear in the book until three quarters of the way through the novel, and then she is barely on ten pages or more as the novel closes. I am sorry to mention a negative so soon but it was Miss Marple I was really reading this book for, and rather like with ‘At Bertram’s Hotel’ (which I read out of order) I found myself most annoyed that my favourite character was barely in the book.

That said, to be fairer to the book and its author, ‘The Moving Finger’ isn’t half bad. Interestingly though I would describe it rather as I have the village of Lymstock, it is a mystery which is quite sleepy with dark edges. It was entertaining, had me guessing and kept me reading but it bumbled a little, lots of characters were introduced but interestingly more for Christie to write about quirky characters I felt than to create more suspects, which is normally the opposite of what I say with a Christie novel.

‘It’s rather like Happy Families, isn’t it? Mrs Legal the lawyer’s wife, Miss Dose the doctor’s daughter, etc.’ She added with enthusiasm: ‘I do think this is a nice place, Jerry! So sweet and funny and old-world. You just can’t think of anything nasty happening here, can you?

What I did really enjoy though in ‘The Moving Finger’ and stopped me from giving up (well apart from reading on for Miss Marple to barely appear) was Agatha Christie’s sense of humour. I don’t know if I simply haven’t noticed it before, or if it’s particularly prevalent in this book but there seemed to be a wry smile in almost every other page. It could be the descriptions of a character, one of the towns’ effeminate men gets this a lot, or it could just be a dig at the social ways of the time, either way it is definitely always there.

‘In novels, I have noticed, anonymous letters of a foul and disgusting character are never shown to women. It is implied that women must at all cost be shielded from the shock it might give their delicate nervous systems.
I am sorry to say it never occurred to me not to show the letter to Joanna. I handed it her at once.”

All in all I would have to say that ‘The Moving Finger’ isn’t my favourite Christie novel, but I still really rather enjoyed it. I had no idea ‘whodunit’, I enjoyed the setting of the English countryside where no one ever really knows what is going on behind closed doors and I really liked the underlying humour. Is it odd to say that with this book I felt I knew Agatha Christie a little better, because it is strangely how I felt?


Filed under Agatha Christie, Fontana Books, Harper Collins, Miss Marple, Review

Where Should I Start With Terry Pratchett?

For various reasons, one of which is very exciting but I don’t want to jinx it yet, I have decided it is high time that I read some Terry Pratchett. The thing is… where does someone start with his books? It all seems rather complicated and so I thought that I would ask all of you.

You see, the easiest option would be to start at the start of his career but I went off to do some research and couldn’t really work out what his first book was. ‘The Colour of Magic’ kept coming up, and I know that is the first Discworld book more on that shortly, then I heard that actually he wrote some other books before that. I think ‘The Carpet People’ was the very first wasn’t it? This leaves me puzzled. Should I simply be heading straight to the Discworld series? However that doesn’t seem simple either.

I generally like to start a series at the beginning, in this case it would be with the aforementioned ‘The Colour of Magic’ yet every single fan I have encountered, mainly on twitter yesterday, said ‘oh no, don’t start with that one’. Ok, then where should I start? The lovely Gavin, my co-host on The Readers, has said that I should start with ‘The Wyrd Sisters’ (and he is the fountain of all Terry Pratchett novels to my mind) is he right? Or would you start elsewhere and if so why? I should add here I did get ‘The Wyrd Sisters’ from the library last Christmas and then someone ordered it before I had gotten round to it so I have been contemplating finally reading Pratchett for a while.

I do actually own a Terry Pratchett book already, so this throws another twist into the mix. It is one of his collaborations ‘The Long Earth’ which he has written with acclaimed science fiction writer Stephen Baxter. Should I simply start with that, or head to ‘Good Omens’ which he wrote with Neil Gaiman?

It is all so confusing, can you help?


Filed under Terry Pratchett

Packing for Mars – Mary Roach

I don’t dabble in much non-fiction it has to be said. I often worry that non-fiction equals boring, books of endless descriptions and facts don’t tend to work for me, and this includes fiction novels where the author is showing off the research, they feel like a lecture. I do like to learn about new things though. Not a contradiction in terms at all am I? Narrative non-fiction is good for this, as are books that make learning fun, conversational and occasionally a little bit naughty yet always with a sensitivity. Do such books exist? Of course, if they are written by Mary Roach, and ‘Packing for Mars’ is her latest book all about the great unknown that is space.

OneWorld Books, paperback, 2011, non-fiction, 312 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I have to admit that when I heard that Mary Roach’s new novel was going to be about space the thought of ‘what, really?’ went through my head. She had already covered death (‘Stiff’), the supernatural and paranormal (‘Six Feet Over’) and sex (‘Bonk’) so space worried me slightly, I wasn’t sure th subject would hold me quite like the others.

I admit I was intrigued by the planets and stars as a youngster, but I have never had even the slightest interest in being an astronaut or humans travelling through the unknown. I certainly don’t rush to see films like ‘Apollo 13’ though the idea of aliens intrigues me. That said ‘Packing for Mars’ being packed – do you see what I did there – with wit, humour and the questions you would like to ask but probably wouldn’t dare to if you could, it was a real winner with me.

“Space doesn’t just encompass the sublime and the ridiculous. It erases the in-between.”

Being non-fiction ‘Packing for Mars’ doesn’t have a plot and so not only is it really hard to give you enough of taster, especially as the book is crammed with fascinating facts and true tales of space travel, it is is rather hard to write about it in depth. I don’t want to tell you all of my favourite stories and nuggets away because then you might not read the rest, though in truth I loved the entire book and that is because when you read a Mary Roach book you feel like you are having a conversation, full of giggling, with her. There are even knowing jokes and asides in the form of the footnotes. It is just a pure pleasure to read. It also makes the facts and information fun and who knew knowing more about things like gravity etc could be so much fun?

“To understand the Project Albert mind-set, you need to spend a few moments pondering the forces of gravitation. If you are like me, you have tended to think of gravity in terms of minor personal annoyances: broken glassware and sagging body parts. Until this week, I failed to appreciate the gravitas of gravity.”

This is not a case of dumbing down the scientific either, I do fear some people may read the blurb and think that Mary Roach isn’t taking this seriously as she looks at how people go to the toilet or vomit in a spacesuit (which made me laugh) and how they cope with no air, hot showers etc but it is her curiosity and interest in everything that can happen in a space ship that makes it so interesting.  It is not all jokes either. With scientific experiments come the tests, the accidents and the things that go wrong, and when talking about dead bodies, monkeys being used as test pilots and other slightly morbid twists, she is also incredibly sensitive and looks at it all from an emotional level too.

‘Packing for Mars’ is a book that levels with its reader, almost saying ‘I didn’t think space could be so interesting did you? But look at this… and this… and this.’ Her enthusiasm catches you through the pages and I bet you will find yourself saying ‘oh just one more chapter, oh go on then and another’, I know I did. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, so do please give it a whirl.

Have you read this book? Have you read any of Mary Roach’s other non-fiction novels? Which non-fiction books, not including narrative non-fiction, have you been charmed by rather than lectured at? I feel very lucky as whilst reading this book felt like having a conversation with Mary Roach, I actually had one with her and Gavin for The Readers Summer Book Club which you can listen to here, and if that doesn’t convince you to read the book nothing will. She’s hilarious.


Filed under Books of 2012, Mary Roach, Non Fiction, OneWorld Books, The Readers Summer Book Club