Monthly Archives: July 2013

Greene For Gran…

Again I can’t thank you all enough for your lovely comments here, on Twitter, Facebook and in my inbox about Gran and the bit of her eulogy I featured on the blog recently. One of the things that has been really lovely to see/hear is the fact that many of you have been out and gone and bought/borrowed (using Gran as an excuse, which she would love) a Graham Greene book in her honour. After having a natter about it with Stu of Winstons Dads Blog and Simon of Stuck in a Book on Twitter I have decided to start ‘Greene for Gran’ or #GreeneForGran throughout the whole of August as a fitting memory to Dorothy Savidge, I guess explaining exactly what that means would help wouldn’t it?

GG

Well as Gran loved Graham Greene so much, and as she frequently reminded me – bless her – that I was prone to reading too many modern books, I thought I would go and try a few more of Graham Greene’s novels on and off throughout August, maybe one a week. This will culminate in some kind of Greene-a-thon on the last few days of it and, as a nod to Gran, I would love it if you joined in. Let’s face it you have quite a selection of novels, short story collections and non-fiction to choose from, so many in fact I am just going to link to his bibliography and save my fingers!) You can read as many or as few as you like, there are really no rules apart from giving Greene a go, or another go… for Gran!

I have had a chat with the lovely ladies at Vintage books and they have kindly agreed to give a few copies away here and there too. I just love the idea that Gran would love the idea of you all reading him because of her, she would get a real kick out of it especially if we make sure that we natter about it in the comments over a cup of tea and a nice slice of cake as Gran and I often used to…

Speaking of cake, nice sedge-way there Savidge, I think the Greene I will give a whirl to first will be ‘The Ministry of Fear’ which has my favourite title and sounds like a hoot. “For Arthur Rowe the charity fete was a trip back to childhood, to innocence, a welcome chance to escape the terror of the Blitz, to forget twenty years of his past and a murder. Then he guesses the weight of the cake, and from that moment on he’s a hunted man, the target of shadowy killers, on the run and struggling to remember and to find the truth.” Genius! Yes, that will do me nicely.

So who is up for trying something new, revisiting an old favourite or giving Greene another whirl? Which title will you go for? Let me know in the comments, I will share everyone’s reviews at the end of August so hopefully people can discover even more. Do spread the word here and there if you can and #GreeneForGran on a certain media site. Would be lovely to have lots of you joining in! The more the merrier, as I am sure Gran would agree.

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Dorothy Savidge; The Woman Books Built

On Wednesday this week we all said our final goodbyes to Granny Savidge Reads, aka Dorothy Savidge. I thought I would share the speech I gave as part of her eulogy with you all as it is fitting and also because it does show the importance of books in people’s lives. You can also hear Gran talking about books in an episode of The Readers that I recorded with three generations of the reading Savidge’s here. Thank you all so, so, so, so much for your comments, emails and tweets about Gran, the support has meant so much to me and my family. Savidge Reads will be back properly on August the 1st, I will leave this as a fitting interim post until then…

To say that my Gran, Dorothy, quite liked a book would be something of an understatement. She loved books. Gran once said that “one of the wonderful things about books is that despite reading being a solitary activity, in the main they can bring you together with other people”. Gran proved this often, with family, friends, neighbours, people in libraries younger than her whom she then founded book groups with, potential son in laws who liked Philip Kerr and random strangers on her travels. You name them, Gran could talk books with them.

The other thing she said recently was that “books can have the power to educate people and make you walk in their footsteps”. She would often read veraciously about places she was going to before she went and sometimes read a guide book so closely you would have to remind her she was actually in the place she was reading about. Yet Gran didn’t come from a bookish background, she was predominately a self taught reader.

Gran grew up in a house that only had three books, though a saving grace was that one of those was ‘Gone With The Wind’. Her father was away at war, her mum busy with all Gran’s siblings and so it was her eldest brother Derrick who would read Rupert Bear adventures to her and her younger brother Gordon from the Daily Express. However on his return from the war her father took Gran to the library often, it was there that she discovered the page turning addiction that is Enid Blyton and the adventures of the Famous Five.

From the library Gran progressed to Broadhurst’s book shop, which is still running, in Southport. Gran said “I couldn’t afford the books but I could sit in the corner and read, hopefully hidden”. She wasn’t as well hidden as she thought, thanks to a kindly bookshop owner though Gran was allowed to sit and read as she pleased from ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ onwards.

I don’t know much about Gran’s reading life when she was courting my Grandfather, Bongy, and had moved away from home to the suburbs of London. I do know that he influenced her reading, partly with his love of Anthony Trollope and how often he re-read ‘Barchester Towers’ which Gran soon caught. I also know that a discussion with Bongy made Gran read Hardy as, for some unfathomable reason, he mentioned there was a book in which a man sold his wife at a market like she was cattle’. Make of that what you will but it certainly made Gran read ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ even if out of incredulity.

Reading to her children Louise, Caroline, Alice and Matthew and helping them learn to read was something which gave Gran a great amount of joy. My mother, Louise, can remember hours with Peter and Jane and ‘This is Pat. Meet Pat the dog. Watch Pat run’ a little too well. It was the same with her grandchildren. I remember many an occasion cuddling up to Gran with a good story, even until quite recently. I still get that same feeling of excitement walking into a Waterstones as I did as a child. Trips to Scarthin Books with Gran have been a highlight of the last twenty years, or more, of my life.

Gran and I bonded over lots of things, books were a particularly constant source of conversation. She could be a book snob on occasion, only months ago asking if I had thought of reading ‘anything of any actual worth’ this year, scary. She often broke this snobbery though, sometimes by force like when she had to read all Philip Pullman’s ‘Northern Lights’ trilogy as Bongy had done the awful thing of only allowing Gran to pack four books for a whole four weeks away… she unashamedly cried her way through the final book by the pool, secretly loving every moment of it.

Mainly her love of reading was infectious. I’ve Gran to thank for my love of Kate Atkinson, Andrea Levy, Margaret Atwood and many, many others. Sometimes her enthusiasm could also be overzealous. For example when I was about halfway through the aforementioned Margaret Atwood’s complex and lengthy tome, ‘The Blind Assassin’, Gran suddenly said ‘Oh that is the book where **** happens at the end isn’t it?’ Then the awkward silence followed before an ‘oops’.

No matter what was going on in our lives, good, bad or indifferent, we could talk books and did so several times a week. She was always up for recommending something or have something recommended to her. Though I have recently noticed that a copy of a Barbara Cartland novel I bought her as a slight joke over a decade ago is still looking rather pristine.
It was the challenge of wanting to try new books and her love of discussion and bookish debate that led Gran to book groups. Some might say that joining three was slightly excessive, not for Gran. It seems she was a popular member of the groups whether she co-founded them or simply joined them. “Her opinion on a book was always looked forward to, even if sometimes with baited breath” her fellow member Jim told me. She was often seen as something of a book encyclopaedia, often called upon to name an author or book title that had slipped someone else’s mind. Invariably Gran would know exactly what they meant.

In the last few months I know it was hard with Gran not being able to read so much. I tried reading her new favourite series to her, unlike her big brother Derrick I didn’t do the voices and so in the end we had to settle with the audio book or episodes of The Archers.

Books still brought her joy in other ways during this time. Be it talking with friends and family about books or recommending them. We had marvellous discussions with nurses at various hospitals about books including a lengthy one at the Whitworth where we discussed what happened to the books in our heads. Did we just see the words, hear voices or watch a film playing in front of our eyes? There were also all the friends who visited who she had made through books and via book groups and all the laughter and smiles that they brought with them.

Gran’s reading legacy will live on through her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren when they arrive one day. Also through all the friendships that she made through books and reading and the book groups she started and joined. She loved getting any book recommendation, so on behalf of Gran, when you can, go and pick up one of her favourite authors, Graham Greene.

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Granny Savidge Reads 1941- 2013

Sadly over the weekend my lovely Granny Savidge Reads (or Dorothy Savidge as she was more commonly known, ha) passed away, she had all her children and myself with her.

Me and Gran

Out of respect for Gran, and whilst I get my head around it all, I am going to leave this post up for some time as a dedication to one of the biggest bookish influences in my life and a bloody brilliant Gran. I am really going to miss her.

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Savidge Reads on Sabbatical…

You may have noticed things gave gone quiet again on the blog (just when I was catching up with comments too) of late… As some of you will also know the lovely Granny Savidge Reads has been ill for the past year and in the last week she has become very, very, very poorly. The whole family have been with her since Sunday and will be indefinitely while we sit with her. With this in mind I have decided to have a break during this time and the forthcoming days.

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The Ponder Heart – Eudora Welty

A big Happy 40th Birthday to Virago today! I wonder if Carmen Callil knew forty years ago Virago books would be being read by all walks of life all around the world? It seems almost rude to say, yet I am going to say it anyway, that Virago is actually that young as in my head it has been going much, much longer. Giving it some thought this is probably because with Virago Modern Classics it publishes books from pre-1973, indeed in some cases pre-1900. One such book is ‘The Ponder Heart’ by Eudora Welty, an author I have been recommended several times, which was first published in a magazine 1953 (so it could be its 60th birthday) and I decided that I would read to celebrate today.

How could I not have cake on Virago's 40th Birthday?

How could I not have cake on Virago’s 40th Birthday?

Edna Earle’s Uncle, David Ponder, is one of the richest, nicest and possibly simplest people in the Mississippi town of Clay. He has become renowned for his almost stupidly kind levels of generosity; he simply cannot stop giving things to people. Edna is an example of this herself when he gives her a hotel on one of his many whims. He even tried to give away his own cemetery lot. His whims lead him to being confined to an asylum by his own father, though he never stays there long as he is so lovely to the staff and can’t be certified, and also to rash ‘possible’ marriages. His first with local widower, Miss ‘Teacake’ Magee, leaves them both unscathed, however when there is a new arrival in town far beneath the Ponder families social circles you know everything is about to change.

“Meantime! Here traipsed into town a little thing from away off down in the country. Near Polk: you won’t have heard of Polk – I hadn’t. Bonnie Dee Peacock. A little thing with yellow, fluffy hair.
The Peacocks are the kind of people keep the mirror outside on the front porch, and go out and pick railroad lilies to bring inside the house, and wave at trains till the day they die. The most they probably hoped for was that somebody’d come find oil in the front yard and fly in the house and tell them about it. Bonnie Dee was one of nine or ten, and no bigger than a minute. A good gust of wind might have carried her off any day.”

Alas she isn’t carried off by the wind but something does indeed happen, what that is of course I cannot say as it was a twist I wasn’t expecting. So what to say of ‘The Ponder Heart’ as it is a tricky one as I was often as bemused by it as I was entertained and I think this might all be down to the voice of Edna herself.

You know when you are having a bit of a conflab/gossip with one of your closest friends and you wander off on various tangents which make the story you are telling them break up, restart, skip bits and go back again? Well this is exactly what Welty does with Edna as she tells you of her Uncle’s tale first hand, almost, often going off on tangents about something completely different though related in some slight way.

“Intrepid Elsie Fleming rode a motor-cycle around the Wall of Death – which let her do, if she wants to ride a motor-cycle that bad. It was the time she wasn’t riding I objected to – when she was out front on the platform warming up her motor. That was nearly the whole time. You could hear her day and night in the remotest parts of this hotel and with the sheet over your head, clear over the sound of the Merry-Go-Round and all. She dressed in pants.”

I was actually wondering during the book if I was one of her friends who had popped in for a coffee at Edna’s hotel, one of the staff she gossiped with or indeed one of the clientele, though as she doesn’t think too highly of them it is unlikely to be the latter. This is the other clever, but also slightly alienating thing that Welty does with Edna, sometimes you really don’t like her thoughts on the world. To the modern ear any mention of the ‘Negroes’ that she hires and thinks she is doing a favour will make you wince a little, yet Welty’s background was from Mississippi and you know she is retelling you people’s actual thoughts at the time from those places. Edna, or someone like her, would have existed. This for me slightly took away the element of comedy in the book, and some parts are very funny and farcical, and also strangely aged it. Yet Edna couldn’t help but win me over with her frankness and the sense of her confiding in you so makes you almost feel like a really special confident. I don’t think any book, or rather narrator has done this in such a realistic way and I really admired Welty’s prose for that.

‘The Ponder Heart’ is a curiously unusual, quirky and odd novella. In some ways I thought it was absolutely genius and in other ways I thought it was a rather bonkers and confusing, if delightfully so, telling of a family and town that said a lot about class and society at the time yet didn’t really know where it was meant to be going. I was baffled by it on occasion but I couldn’t help being charmed so much by Edna’s gossipy tone no matter how much I wanted to tell her to stop being such a snob. A real mixed bag of a book all in all, yet one worth spending a few hours with nonetheless should you end up with a copy. I wonder if all Welty’s books have this unusual tone, I will have to try more to find out.

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What Are The Great American Reads?

I am slowly but surely catching up with comments on the blog, as I mentioned I was on Sunday when I was asking about your favourite reads half way through the year. I am only a month behind now so am getting there, honest. However until I do I thought I would hold off writing some reviews and the like and do a shortish post today as I want to ask you something with it being the 4th of July…

…Independence Day, and I hope for all the American readers of the blog it is a wonderful day for y’all and there aren’t any spaceships looming in the sky! My question teams with this theme as it made me wonder, what are the true American great reads and have I read them? I have read the ‘Grapes of Wrath’, which I really didn’t get on with but I bet would be on the list, but apart from that ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ (another I didn’t get), ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ (which I loved) and ‘Peyton Place’ (which I don’t think anyone but me would say is an American great) I think my knowledge, and in fact having read many, is low. Especially the classics, though what about the modern ones?

So what I am really asking today is which two books would you say were American greats for you personally, both a classic and a modern novel, and why?

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Savidge Reads of the Summer Part Two…

At the weekend I was a little vocal on Twitter about how disappointed I was in The Guardian’s Holiday Reading Guide for the summer. Here I do want to preface that a) I know that I am probably not the person that this guide is aimed at… but b) I normally like these guides because they introduce me to some books I would never have heard of. To my mind this was not the case with the produced list of books which frankly look like they have gone through all the prize long lists, the best seller lists and then popped them into a very long guide. There seemed to be no diversity, nothing particularly new to liven the bookish blood on a break away over the summer. Post rant several people said I should have a go and so I thought ‘sod it, I will’. However to be a bit different I decided that I’d compile two lists. The first, a list of books I have read and would recommend I shared with you yesterday. The second, books I haven’t read but I have on my list of summertime reading material (if the sun ever bloody turns up) as I thought that might make it less predictable, appear below…

Fiction… Which might not be to everyone’s taste as each one of them has quite a punch not normally associated with ‘a good beach read’ but I like a bit of depth on a holiday read like I do anytime of the year.

The Gamal – Ciaran Collins (Bloomsbury, £12.99, out now)

Meet Charlie. People think he’s crazy. But he’s not. People think he’s stupid. But he’s not. People think he’s innocent…He’s the Gamal. Charlie has a story to tell, about his best friends Sinead and James and the bad things that happened. But he can’t tell it yet, at least not till he’s worked out where the beginning is. Because is the beginning long ago when Sinead first spoke up for him after Charlie got in trouble at school for the millionth time? Or was it later, when Sinead and James followed the music and found each other? Or was it later still on that terrible night when something unspeakable happened after closing time and someone chose to turn a blind eye? Charlie has promised Dr Quinn he’ll write 1,000 words a day, but it’s hard to know which words to write. And which secrets to tell…This is the story of the dark heart of an Irish village, of how daring to be different can be dangerous and how there is nothing a person will not do for love. Exhilarating, bitingly funny and unforgettably poignant, this is a story like no other. This is the story of the Gamal.
I have been recommended this book by, and this is no exaggeration, five people whose opinions on fiction I really trust, so really how can I not read this one?

Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth (Allison & Busby, £7.99, out in paperback on 29th of July)

Charlotte-Rose de la Force, exiled from the court of the Sun King Louis XIV, has always been a great teller of tales. Selena Leonelli, once the exquisite muse of the great Venetian artist Titian, is terrified of time. Margherita, trapped in a doorless tower and burdened by tangles of her red-gold hair, must find a way to escape. Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together in a compelling tale of desire, obsession and the redemptive power of love.
I fancy a really big historical book over the summer season and this sounds perfect. I don’t know very much, if anything about the court of the Sun King and the fact that this story relates to my favourite fairytale, Rapunzel – who I named my pet duck after as a kid, and intertwines with it makes it a perfect choice.

The Newlyweds – Nell Freudenberger (Penguin Books, £8.99, out now)

Amina met George online. Within months she has left her home in Bangladesh and is living in George’s house in the American suburbs. Theirs is a very twenty-first century union, forged from afar yet echoing the traditions of the arranged marriage. But as Amina struggles to find her place in America, it becomes clear that neither she nor George have been entirely honest with each other. Both have brought to the marriage a secret – a vital, hidden part of themselves, which will reveal who they are and whether their future is together or an ocean apart.
It was a real toss up between choosing this and ‘Beautiful Ruins’ by Jess Walter, which are both from Penguin and will be on my reading periphery over the summer. I thought I would highlight this one though as ‘Beautiful Ruins’ seems to be getting some buzz elsewhere and I want to be different. Ha! I also think it sounds really intriguing and quite a ‘now’ book.

Burial Rites – Hannah Kent (Picador, £12.99, out 29th of August)

In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of her lover. Agnes is sent to wait out her final months on the farm of district officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderer in their midst, the family avoid contact with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant priest appointed Agnes’s spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her. As the year progresses and the hardships of rural life force the household to work side by side, Agnes’s story begins to emerge and with it the family’s terrible realization that all is not as they had assumed. Based on actual events, Burial Rites is an astonishing and moving novel about the truths we claim to know and the ways in which we interpret what we’re told. In beautiful, cut-glass prose, Hannah Kent portrays Iceland’s formidable landscape, in which every day is a battle for survival, and asks, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others.
I am so excited about this book it almost hurts. I love Iceland as a country, so as a setting its perfect and very other worldly and spooky, throw in the fact this was based on a true historical murder case (which could make it fall into crime too) make me think it might be something quite special, and dark too.

A Wolf in Hindelheim – Jenny Mayhew (Hutchinson, £14.99, out now)

A remote German village, 1926. Something is happening in this place where nothing happens. A baby has gone missing. A police constable has been called. A doctor suspects a storekeeper. A son wants to prove himself a man. A love affair unfolds. Then the rumours begin to spread. Once suspicion has taken hold, is anything beyond belief? Fear spreads faster than reason.
This sounds like it is going to be a real mix of genres and be quite creepy and dark, whilst I admit this might not be very ‘summery’, you always want a good gripping read whilst on your hols don’t you?

Crime… Where I go all translated on you.

Alex – Pierre Lemaitre (MacLehose Press, £7.99, out in paperback 1st of August)

In kidnapping cases, the first few hours are crucial. After that, the chances of being found alive go from slim to nearly none. Alex Prevost – beautiful, resourceful, tough – may be no ordinary victim, but her time is running out. Commandant Camille Verhoeven and his detectives have nothing to go on: no suspect, no lead, rapidly diminishing hope. All they know is that a girl was snatched off the streets of Paris and bundled into a white van. The enigma that is the fate of Alex will keep Verhoeven guessing until the bitter, bitter end. And before long, saving her life will be the least of his worries.
I hate it when people say a book is ‘the new…’ but apparently this is the new ‘Gone Girl’ not meaning that it is the same by any means but that it has that nasty edge and more jaw dropping twists than you could hope for. Brilliant!

The Hanging – Soren & Lotte Hammer (Bloomsbury, £12.99, out now)

On a cold Monday morning before school begins, two children make a gruesome discovery. Hanging from the roof of the school gymnasium are the bodies of five naked and heavily disfigured men. Detective Chief Superintendent Konrad Simonsen and his team from the Murder Squad in Copenhagen are called in to investigate this horrific case – the men hanging in a geometric pattern; the scene so closely resembling a public execution. When the identities of the five victims and the disturbing link between them is leaked to the press, the sinister motivation behind the killings quickly becomes apparent to the police. Up against a building internet campaign and even members of his own team, Simonsen finds that he must battle public opinion and vigilante groups in his mission to catch the killers.
The first time I read the blurb of this book, when I was at Bloomsbury HQ and stupidly didn’t grab a copy, my initial reaction was ‘ewwww’ which frankly is a good one. I like my crime fiction to be dark and have depths and this sounds like it will deliver the goods on both fronts.

Classics… Where I choose two titles that might not be the best known classics, I think would make a delightful read over the summer months.

The Watch Tower – Elizabeth Harrower (Text Classics, £8.99, out now)

Set in the leafy northern suburbs of Sydney during the 1940s, The Watch Tower is a novel of relentless and acute psychological power. Following their father?s death, Laura and Clare are withdrawn from their elite private boarding school by their mother. As their mother slowly withdraws from them, the two are left to fend for themselves. Laura?s boss Felix is there to help, even offering to marry Laura if she will have him. However Felix is not all that he seems and little by little the two sisters grow complicit with his obsessions, his cruelty and his need to control.
I first heard about Text Classics on The First Tuesday Book Club, then Kimbofo mentioned them being available in the UK and Mariella Frostrup raved about this one on Open Book. All those three things combined mean I will definitely be reading this in the next month or so and looking up more of their titles too.

The Soul of Kindness – Elizabeth Taylor (Virago, £9.99, out now)

Here I am!” Flora called to Richard as she went downstairs. For a second, Meg felt disloyalty. It occurred to her of a sudden that Flora was always saying that, and that it was in the tone of one giving a lovely present. She was bestowing herself.’ The soul of kindness is what Flora believes herself to be. Tall, blonde and beautiful, she appears to have everything under control — her home, her baby, her husband Richard, her friend Meg, Kit, Meg’s brother, who has always adored Flora, and Patrick the novelist and domestic pet. Only the bohemian painter Liz refuses to become a worshipper at the shrine. Flora entrances them all, dangling visions of happiness and success before their spellbound eyes. All are bewitched by this golden tyrant, all conspire to protect her from what she really is. All, that is, except the clear-eyed Liz: it is left to her to show them that Flora’s kindness is the sweetest poison of them all.
This sounds glamourous and wicked and like the perfect book to take down to the beach (if you get to one) over the summer months and simply revel in.

Non-Fiction… One book I think I should read, and have heard great things about, another that was a no brainer!

Behind The Beautiful Forever – Katherine Boo (Portobello Books, £9.99, out now)

Annawadi is a slum at the edge of Mumbai Airport, in the shadow of shining new luxury hotels. Its residents are garbage recyclers, construction workers and economic migrants, all of them living in the hope that a small part of India’s booming future will eventually be theirs. But when a crime rocks the slum community and global recession and terrorism shocks the city, tensions over religion, caste, sex, power, and economic envy begin to turn brutal. As Boo gets to know those who dwell at Mumbai’s margins, she evokes an extraordinarily vivid and vigorous group of individuals flourishing against the odds amid the complications, corruptions and gross inequalities of the new India.
This is another book that has been recommended to me by so many people I have lost count, so it has been on my periphery anyway, it is also one those books that has people raving about it yet seems to have gone under the radar.

Daphne Du Maurier & Her Sisters; The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Ping – Jane Dunn (Harper Press, £25, out now)

Celebrated novelist Daphne Du Maurier and her sisters, eclipsed by her fame, are revealed in all their surprising complexity in this riveting new biography. The middle sister in a famous artistic dynasty, Daphne du Maurier is one of the master storytellers of our time, author of ‘Rebecca’, ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘My Cousin Rachel’, and short stories, ‘Don’t Look Now’ and the terrifying ‘The Birds’ among many. Her stories were made memorable by the iconic films they inspired, three of them classic Hitchcock chillers. But her sisters Angela and Jeanne, a writer and an artist of talent, had creative and romantic lives even more bold and unconventional than Daphne’s own. In this group biography they are considered side by side, as they were in life, three sisters who grew up during the 20th century in the glamorous hothouse of a theatrical family dominated by a charismatic and powerful father. This family dynamic reveals the hidden lives of Piffy, Bird & Bing, full of social non-conformity, love, rivalry and compulsive make-believe, their lives as psychologically complex as a Daphne du Maurier novel.
As you will undoubtedly know if you follow this blog, I love Daphne Du Maurier yet little is known about her as a person, she is such a enigma. I had no idea that she had sisters or that they would sound so Mitford like. It is a tad expensive, but a well worth it treat.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Magical/Other… A section which I tried so hard to make simply a sci-fi section but showed that I clearly barely read any and that to even try and sound au fait with the sci-fi genre would have diehard fans chastising me, but I honestly did try!

The Goddess Chronicle – Natsuo Kirino (Canongate, £11.99, out now)

In a place like no other, on an island in the shape of a tear drop, two sisters are born into a family of the oracle. Kamikuu, with creamy skin and almond eyes, is admired far and wide; Namima, small but headstrong, learns to live in her sister’s shadow. On her sixth birthday, Kamikuu is presented with a feast of sea-serpent egg soup, sashimi and salted fish, and a string of pure pearls. Kamikuu has been chosen as the next Oracle, while Namima is shocked to discover she must serve the goddess of darkness. So begins an adventure that will take Namima from her first experience of love to the darkness of the underworld. But what happens when she returns to the island for revenge? Natsuo Kirino, the queen of Japanese crime fiction, turns her hand to an exquisitely dark tale based on the Japanese myth of Izanami and Izanagi.
This just sounds really up my street. Both from the aspect of the fact it is a Japanese myth retold by an author who I have much admired in her crime novels (really gritty and dark, can you see a theme) sounds like a real adventure.

The Bone Season – Samantha Shannon (Bloomsbury, £12.99, out 28th of August)

The year is 2059. Nineteen-year-old Paige Mahoney is working in the criminal underworld of Scion London, based at Seven Dials, employed by a man named Jaxon Hall. Her job: to scout for information by breaking into people’s minds. For Paige is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant and, in the world of Scion, she commits treason simply by breathing. It is raining the day her life changes for ever. Attacked, drugged and kidnapped, Paige is transported to Oxford – a city kept secret for two hundred years, controlled by a powerful, otherworldly race. Paige is assigned to Warden, a Rephaite with mysterious motives. He is her master. Her trainer. Her natural enemy. But if Paige wants to regain her freedom she must allow herself to be nurtured in this prison where she is meant to die.
This sounds like it could really be a way into more fantasy/sci-fi novels for me .I do think this book is going to get a lot of mentions over the next few months, so I might have to dust my proof off pronto and prepare for the escape and adventure.

The Year of the Ladybird – Graham Joyce (Gollancz, £12.99, out now)

It is the summer of 1976, the hottest since records began and a young man leaves behind his student days and learns how to grow up. A first job in a holiday camp beckons. But with political and racial tensions simmering under the cloudless summer skies there is not much fun to be had. And soon there is a terrible price to be paid for his new-found freedom and independence. A price that will come back to haunt him, even in the bright sunlight of summer.
Really, really excited about this as I had the delight of discussing this book with Graham post recording the Readers Book Club last year and I said I wasn’t sure ghost stories could work in the summer/sunshine and he said he hoped this would prove me wrong. The gauntlet has been thrown.

So there you are, if you managed to stay with me for the long haul then well done. Don’t forget to pop and see the recommendations I have read from yesterday. Also you can hear me talk about all the books I am excited about in the fall here as they might take your fancy.  Let me know what you think about the selection above, which have you read or been meaning to read? Which books will be making it into your luggage bags over the coming months you would like to share?

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Savidge Reads of the Summer Part One…

At the weekend I was a little vocal on Twitter about how disappointed I was in The Guardian’s Holiday Reading Guide for the summer. Here I do want to preface that a) I know that I am probably not the person that this guide is aimed at… but b) I normally like these guides because they introduce me to some books I would never have heard of. To my mind this was not the case with the produced list of books which frankly look like they have gone through all the prize long lists, the best seller lists and then popped them into a very long guide. There seemed to be no diversity, nothing particularly new to liven the bookish blood on a break away over the summer. Post rant several people said I should have a go and so I thought ‘sod it, I will’. However to be a bit different I decided that I’d compile two lists. The first, a list of books I have read and would recommend. The second, books I haven’t read but I have on my list of summertime reading material (if the sun ever bloody turns up) as I thought that might make it less predictable and will appear tomorrow. Here are today’s titles…

Fiction… Which might not be to everyone’s taste as each one of them has quite a punch not normally associated with ‘a good beach read’ but I like a bit of depth on a holiday read like I do anytime of the year.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra (Hogarth Press, £14.99, out now)

In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help. For tough-minded doctor Sonja Rabina, it’s just another day of trying to keep her bombed-out, abandoned hospital going. When Akhmed arrives with Havaa, asking Sonja for shelter, she has no idea who the pair are and even less desire to take on yet more responsibilities and risk. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis, revealing the intricate pattern of connections that binds these three unlikely companions together and unexpectedly decides their fate.
Possibly one of the most amazing books I have read in a long, long time. So much so the review has taken me over two weeks to write, it will be on the blog over the weekend. In the interim, this is one of the most affecting books on war I have ever read. It won’t be everyone’s ideal summer read as it is incredibly confronting but it is a book that will quite possibly change your life let alone your summer.

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma – Kerry Hogan (Vintage Books, £7.99, out 4th of July in Paperback)

When Janie Ryan is born, she is destined to be the latest in a long line of Aberdeen fishwives. Ahead of her lies a life filled with feckless men, filthy council flats and bread & marge sandwiches. But Janie isn’t like the rest of them. She wants a different life. And Janie, born and bred for combat, is ready to fight for it.
It is a very assured, bluntly honest and highly crafted debut novel filled with laughter and heart ache, it is full of reality, it can be grim but it also celebrates life and all walks of it and might have you reassessing some of the subconscious assumptions you find you make about some of the people you pass in the street, and about books with quirky long titles.

Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi (Viking Books, £14.99, out now)

A stunning novel, spanning generations and continents, Ghana Must Go by rising star Taiye Selasi is a tale of family drama and forgiveness, for fans of Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is the story of a family – of the simple, devastating ways in which families tear themselves apart, and of the incredible lengths to which a family will go to put itself back together. It is the story of one family, the Sais, whose good life crumbles in an evening; a Ghanaian father, Kweku Sai, who becomes a highly respected surgeon in the US only to be disillusioned by a grotesque injustice; his Nigerian wife, Fola, the beautiful homemaker abandoned in his wake; their eldest son, Olu, determined to reconstruct the life his father should have had; their twins, seductive Taiwo and acclaimed artist Kehinde, both brilliant but scarred and flailing; their youngest, Sadie, jealously in love with her celebrity best friend. All of them sent reeling on their disparate paths into the world. Until, one day, tragedy spins the Sais in a new direction.
It is a book filled with hidden depths and one that left me feeling a real mixture of emotions; heartache, shock, horror and also hope. At a mere 318 pages I think that is an incredible accomplishment and am very much in agreement with anyone else who thinks Taiye Selasi is one author to most definitely watch out for.

All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld (Jonathan Cape, £16.99, Out now)

Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It’s just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags. It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake’s unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.
I love books where the brooding sense of atmosphere and menace are palpable to the reader at all times, even in the lightest of moments. ‘All The Birds, Singing’ is such a book… It is a book that I simply cannot recommend to you enough. You will be intrigued, horrified, laugh (when you possibly shouldn’t) and thrilled by an author whose prose is exceptional. I know everyone is talking about this book at the mo but sod it, its f**king brilliant.

Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden (The Friday Project, £7.99, out now)

Amal is driving his wife Claud from London to her parents’ country house. In the wake of Claud’s miscarriage, it is a journey that will push their relationship – once almost perfect – towards possible collapse. In this, his latest novel, Govinden casts a critical eye on a society in which, in spite of never-ending advances in social media communications, the young still find it difficult to communicate. A devastatingly passionate and real portrait of a marriage, ‘Black Bread White Beer’ keenly captures the abandon, selfishness, hazards and pleasures that come with giving your life to another.
This is technically cheating as I have not quite finished this as I type, however I will have by the time this goes up and a review will follow shortly. Safe to say I love this book, its one where you feel the author is speaking just to you and you want to hug the book (and maybe the author) as you read it and whenever you stop, or in my case are made to stop to clean, work or some other annoying thing.

Crime… Where I shocked myself as I only had two recommendations and yet love crime but have learnt how little I have read of it this year. Shameful. To make up for it one will give you nightmares, the other will probably make you laugh quite a lot.

Human Remains – Elizabeth Haynes (Myriad Editions, £7.99, out now)

How well do you know your neighbours? Would you notice if they lived or died? Police analyst Annabel wouldn’t describe herself as lonely. Her work keeps her busy and the needs of her ageing mother and her cat are more than enough to fill her time when she’s on her own. But Annabel is shocked when she discovers her neighbour’s decomposing body in the house next door, and appalled to think that no one, including herself, noticed her absence. Back at work she sets out to investigate, despite her police officer colleagues’ lack of interest, and finds data showing that such cases are frighteningly common in her own home town. A chilling thriller and a hymn to all the lonely people, whose individual voices haunt the pages, Elizabeth Haynes’ new novel is a deeply disturbing and powerful thriller that preys on our darkest fears, showing how vulnerable we are when we live alone, and how easily ordinary lives can fall apart when no one is watching.
With its mixture of an unusual crime, if it is indeed a crime, a compelling and disturbing psychopath/sociopath at its heart, Annabel’s domestic drama and Haynes dark sense of humour, I would say, even at this early stage, that ‘Human Remains’ will easily be one of my thrillers of the year. It is one of those thrillers that is more than just a page turner (though s clichéd as I am aware it is to say this, I literally could not put it down) and works on several layers with many hidden depths and much to say, especially about forgotten people. You think you know what is coming at the start and you have absolutely no idea then, just when you think you have it all figured out, Haynes does it over and over again with more twists and turns as you go on.

Speaking From Among The Bones – Alan Bradley (Orion Books, £12.99, out now)

It is almost Easter in Bishop’s Lacey, and the villagers are holding their collective breath as the tomb of St Tancred in the church that bears his name is about to be opened after five hundred years. And as luck would have it, it’s inveterate eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce who is first at the scene. But the body she finds lying there is clearly not that of a desiccated saint. For a start there’s the pool of fresh blood, and then there’s the gasmask, from under which an unmistakeable shock of golden hair identifies the corpse as that of Mr Collicutt, St Tancred’s celebrated organist. Despite her tender years, Flavia is no stranger to murder – but even she is baffled by the peculiar circumstances of Collicutt’s death. Especially when soon after, an effigy of St Tancred appears to be weeping blood onto the church floor. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Flavia soon finds herself exploring a secret maze of underground passages beneath the church – and is drawn into the equally dark and fetid world of one of Bishop’s Lacey’s most peculiar families.
I utterly adored ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and I think it might be one of my favourite Flavia De Luce mysteries yet. I have to say though, Alan Bradley how could you do it to us? The cliff hanger that you are left with is just too much! (Whatever you do, do not read the last line in the book until, erm, the last line.) How are we meant to wait until next year for a new book? How?

Classics… Where I choose two titles that might not be the best known classics, I think would make a delightful read over the summer months.

Mariana – Monica Dickens (Persephone Books, £9, out now)

Mariana is the story of a young English girl’s growth towards maturity and happiness in the 1930s. We are shown Mary at school in Kensington and on holiday at her beloved Charbury; her attempt at drama school; her year in Paris learning dressmaking and getting engaged to the wrong man; her time as a secretary and companion. Like Dusty Answer, Rebecca, I Capture the Castle or The Pursuit of Love, this is one of those novels about a young girl growing up and encountering life and love which all have the common characteristic of being funny, readable and yet perceptive. But Mariana is more than this. As the Observer’s Harriet Lane wrote in her Preface, critics may have tended ‘to dismiss its subject matter: crushes, horses, raffish uncles, frocks, inconsequential jobs, love affairs…but it is Mariana’s artlessness, its enthusiasm, its attention to tiny, telling domestic detail that makes it so appealing to modern readers. As a snap-album – as a portrait of a certain sort of girl at a certain time in a certain place – it now seems, sixty years after first publication, entirely exotic.
It has elements of the real social history of the time, only fictionalised and is a proper story of our heroine growing into adulthood and all the highs and lows that this brings. It also has a cast of characters that I am desperate to revisit again and again. As I mentioned earlier on, it is an epic of the everyman really. It isn’t often I read a book and think ‘ooh I must re-read you one day’ yet I have the feeling I will be rejoining Mary many more times in the future.

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago Books, £9.99, out now)

Switch off those TVs, kill your mobiles and settle down with the most controversial book ever written. Once denounced as ‘wicked’, ‘sordid’, ‘cheap’ ‘moral filth’, Peyton Place was the top read of its time and sold millions of copies worldwide. Way before Twin Peaks, Survivor or Big Brother, the curtains were twitching in the mythical New England town of Peyton Place, and this soapy story exposed the dirty secrets of 1950s small-town America: incest, abortion, adultery, repression and lust. Take a peek …
I got the page-turning escapism that I was looking for but I also got so much more, the humour, the sadness, the shocks. I found a book that was so well written and so believable (yet incredibly and quite delightfully melodramatic) it made me care about a community and feel a part of it. I also found some characters that I will never forget and a book I will have to go back to time and time again.

Non-Fiction… Where in trying to find titles I was saddened to discover my yearly attempt to read more non-fiction is just not happening!

The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe (Two Roads Books, £7.99, out now)

Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. Their choices range from classic (Howards End) to popular (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), from fantastic (The Hobbit) to spiritual (Jon Kabat-Zinn), with many in between. We hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions. A profoundly moving testament to the power of love between a child and parent, and the power of reading in our lives.
‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ is touching without ever being saccharine, confronting and honest without ever being emotionally manipulative. It also celebrates life and highlights that we are part of each other’s ‘life-book-club’s’ through the discussions we have at book groups, on blogs, to our friends and family, or randomly on public transport about books and the power that they have. It has also left me with a list of books to go off and read as long as my arm.

Maggie & Me – Damian Barr (Bloomsbury, £11.99, out now)

It’s 12 October 1984. An IRA bomb blows apart the Grand Hotel in Brighton. Miraculously, Margaret Thatcher survives. In small-town Scotland, eight-year-old Damian Barr watches in horror as his mum rips her wedding ring off and packs their bags. He knows he, too, must survive. Damian, his sister and his Catholic mum move in with her sinister new boyfriend while his Protestant dad shacks up with the glamorous Mary the Canary. Divided by sectarian suspicion, the community is held together by the sprawling Ravenscraig Steelworks. But darkness threatens as Maggie takes hold: she snatches school milk, smashes the unions and makes greed good. Following Maggie’s advice, Damian works hard and plans his escape. He discovers that stories can save your life and – in spite of violence, strikes, AIDS and Clause 28 – manages to fall in love dancing to Madonna in Glasgow’s only gay club. Maggie & Me is a touching and darkly witty memoir about surviving Thatcher’s Britain; a story of growing up gay in a straight world and coming out the other side in spite of, and maybe because of, the iron lady.
I related to it – something that only happens to your very core or bones once or twice in a blue reading moon – and empathised with it. It was the sort of book my younger self was crying out for someone to put in my hands. I can only hope some lovely relatives, librarians, teachers or other influential bods make sure this is passed on to both the younger generation, especially those who call rubbish things ‘gay’, and to everyone they know really. Books like this help make being different both more acceptable and understandable, we need them.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Magical/Other… A section which I tried so hard to make simply a sci-fi section but showed that I clearly barely read any and that to even try and sound au fait with the sci-fi genre would have diehard fans chastising me, but I honestly did try!

The Machine – James Smythe (Blue Door Books, £12.99, out now)

Haunting memories defined him. The machine took them away. She vowed to rebuild him. From the author of The Testimony comes a Frankenstein for the twenty-first century. Beth lives alone on a desolate housing estate near the sea. She came here to rebuild her life following her husband’s return from the war. His memories haunted him but a machine promised salvation. It could record memories, preserving a life that existed before the nightmares. Now the machines are gone. The government declared them too controversial, the side-effects too harmful. But within Beth’s flat is an ever-whirring black box. She knows that memories can be put back, that she can rebuild her husband piece by piece. A Frankenstein tale for the 21st century, The Machine is a story of the indelibility of memory, the human cost of science and the horrors of love.
I found ‘The Machine’ was a book as chilling, and thrilling, as it was emotional and thought provoking. It is also one of those books that delightfully defies any labels of genre, delightful both for the reader and as one in the eye for those who want a book to be pigeonholed if at all possible. It is the sort of book – from the sort of author – that ought to be winning lots of prizes and being read by lots of people.

The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness (Canongate,  £14.99, out now)

One night, George Duncan – decent man, a good man – is woken by a noise in his garden. Impossibly, a great white crane has tumbled to earth, shot through its wing by an arrow. Unexpectedly moved, George helps the bird, and from the moment he watches it fly off, his life is transformed. The next day, a kind but enigmatic woman walks into George’s shop. Suddenly a new world opens up for George, and one night she starts to tell him the most extraordinary story. Wise, romantic, magical and funny, “The Crane Wife” is a hymn to the creative imagination and a celebration of the disruptive and redemptive power of love.
It made me cry at the start, possibly at the end and a few time, with laughter, through the middle. It has been a good few weeks since I read the book now and I still find myself pondering what has happened to the characters since, always the sign of a good read, and the writing just blew me away. Patrick Ness says in this book that “A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew.” I hope this story grows to be a huge success.

Diving Belles – Lucy Wood (Bloomsbury, £7.99, out now)

Along Cornwall’s ancient coast, from time to time, the flotsam and jetsam of the past can become caught in the cross-currents of the present and a certain kind of magic floats to the surface…Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wreckers’ lamps and baying hounds as Cornish folklore slips into everyday life.
There are those rare books that come into your life and once finished you feel a little bereft because they were so good. Lucy Wood’s debut collection of short stories ‘Diving Belles’ is one such book, in fact I loved it so much I had to ration it out to the point I was only reading one or two stories a week. I simply didn’t want to it end.

So there you are, if you managed to stay with me for the long haul then well done. Tomorrow I will be sharing with you the books that I haven’t read yet which I really fancy getting to over the summer months (if summer decides to show itself) and think some of you might like too! In the meantime don’t forget to share you thoughts on the books you have loved the most so far in the first half of the year. Also let me know what you think about the selection above, which ones have you read or been meaning to read? Also, if any of you fancy doing summer reading guides, or already have, do let me know as I would love to have a gander.

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