Monthly Archives: September 2013

A Very British Murder

There simply are not enough shows on the telly about books, fact! So when one does come along invariably I will watch it just because it is about books, occasionally though one comes along that is so up your street and so brilliant you want to tell everyone about it. This is exactly how I feel about ‘A Very British Murder with Lucy Worsley’ the second episode of which is on tonight on BBC Four at 9pm and which I insist you watch. But here is a teaser, without spoilers, of why (if you missed it) the first episode was so brilliant…

Lucy Worsley, who hosts the show, is Chief Curator at Historic Royal Palaces where she puts on exhibitions like ‘Secrets of the Royal Bedchamber’ which is currently on at Hampton Court Palace. She is also a writer of several historical non-fiction books the latest of which just so happens to be ‘A Very British Murder’ and is now on my bedside table to be read between bouts of ‘The Luminaries’ (which I am still making very slow progress on bit by bit) though for the purposes of this post I moved it by the telly as you can see below…

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You can tell you are in good hands with Lucy, and that she loves a good book, as before the opening credits of the first show have rolled she states “Grisly crimes would appal us if we encountered them in real life, but something happens when they are turned into stories and safely places between the covers of a book.” It is of course the history of the British crime novel which this series celebrates, from Dickens to Christie and onwards, and to start it all Lucy looks at the first real cases of murder (The Ratcliffe Highway Murders, The Murder in the Red Barn and The Bermondsey Horror) which really got the public talking about murder and gave them an appetite for the salacious and sensational, which authors of course switched onto and as ‘the Detective’ was born, so of course was ‘the Detective novel’.

Well I was spellbound for an hour. I have since been recounting several people will facts like ‘did you know that in 1810 only 15 people were convicted of murder?’ or ‘did you know of The Bermondsey Horror and that Maria Manning was Charles Dickens inspiration for Hortense in ‘Bleak House’?’ It has made me desperate to go off and find some old ‘Broadsides’, newspapers/pamphlets solely aimed at chronicling the most horrid of murders for the public, also Thomas DeQuincy’s essay ‘On Murder’ from 1810 and dig out some modern books, which didn’t get mentioned on the show, like ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree’ by P.D James and Thomas A. Critchley (a non-fiction about the Ratcliffe Highway Murders) and Nicola Upson’s new novel ‘The Death of Lucy Kyte’ (a fiction with shadows of The Murder in the Red Barn). Plus with autumn in the air here in the UK I have been pondering dusting off some Wilkie Collins etc and bringing back a sensation season myself! I love it when TV makes you want to switch it off and read a book instead, don’t you?

Suffice to say Lucy is marvellous, and brilliantly camp or ghoulish when required which makes it all the more enjoyable, as she hosts often sat beside a fire making you feel like she is almost telling you a bedtime story brimming with murder in itself, which I suppose it is really. Anyway if me going on and on about its brilliance wasn’t enough I will just mention the facts that Simon Callow is on it tonight as we discover what the Dickens, erm, Dickens thought and was inspired further by and Kate Summerscale will be on discussing the case which inspired ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’. What more could you ask for on a Monday night?

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Catching Up… Again…

Sorry for a little bit of Savidge Reads silence again last week. I have very much had the intention of blogging much more regularly yet last week was my last week with Culture Liverpool and it seemed to whizz by (lots of finishing up, lots of gossiping and lots of laughing and feeling a teeny bit sad) and then suddenly my leaving lunch had happened and I was handing in my pass and heading for the door, leaving behind lots of weeping co-workers obviously. I have had a brilliant time over the summer working on events and festivals throughout the city and it has been hard work but its also been a real hoot too. I know I have made some friends for life, and who knows I might just go back there at some point. Mind you not too soon as they might want me to give this lovely leaving loot back…

Leaving Gifts

Cat stationery, moustache memorabilia, sweets and book vouchers. My team knew me well it seems as these are indeed just a few of my favourite things. You can never have too many notebooks can you? I am actually thinking of doing something on stationery on the blog in the future as I have noticed lots of people who love books tend to love stationery in a big way. Naturally I was straight down to Waterstones at the first chance I had (which happened to be this morning) to buy some lovely new books and after really really long time perusing the shop I came away with these…

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Looking at this selection you might think that I am in quite a dark place mentally, in fact Gav has pointed this out on Twitter, this is not the case. I have already got ‘Sharp Objects’ by Gillian Flynn, which I grabbed in a second hand shop after loving ‘Gone Girl’, but I love having a matching set of books and I absolutely LOVE these covers so a second copy along with ‘Dark Places’ was snapped up. Wallace Stegner’s ‘Crossing To Safety’ is a book I have been meaning to read since it was discussed, and loved, on The First Tuesday Book Club, then mentioned in the amazing ‘End of Your Life Book Club’ and these being two of my favourite sources of book recommendations was snapped up. (Note – I am thrilled Waterstones have chosen some older titles for their book clubs, not just the ‘new’ books.) Finally at the counter they had a ‘You’ll Love These…’ shelf and so I swiftly nabbed Erin Kelly’s ‘The Sick Rose’ at a pinch of £2.99, she is on You Wrote The Book! this week and I have read her first and third book so this seemed like a last minute destined purchase. Hoorah.

So what else have I been upto? Well, thank you so much for asking, I have had my lovely friend Ms Emma Unsworth come to stay this weekend which was an absolute joy. We managed to spend a lot of time eating cheese, drinking wine, talking books, reading and writing plus putting the world to rights. We also managed to eat donuts on an island in the middle of the sea at low tide…

Emma and I

We also went to go and look at TATTOOS! I have been meaning to get on for ages. Alas ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’ won’t fit on the inside arm, but it looks like this will…

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Now I might have to change the ‘s’ because it looks like an ‘f’ but I think you can all tell what it says… if you can’t tell that it is indeed my favourite character from Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ (not it doesn’t say Rebecca) then we might be in some trouble as I am booked in to get this in a few weeks.

If that wasn’t enough I have also been researching the purchase of one of these (including what licence I need to drive it and many other boring admin things) which I am possibly thinking of doing on a kick-starter kind of funding thing…

mobile library

It is all a bit up in the air at the moment but I am working it all out and seeing if the idea I have had, think bookshop on wheels (if any of you steal this idea I will cry) that goes around the UK especially to places with no indie bookshop nearby, can become a reality and indeed viewing some mobile libraries next week… I shall report back.

What have you lovely lot been up to? Book wise and all other ways wise?

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On The Reading Horizon…

Now that we are back from a week away in the Netherlands, metaphorically, I thought we could all have a little catch up about our ‘Reading Horizon’s’. On The Readers podcast Gavin and I used to do a section called ‘What We Have Read, Are Reading and Want To Read Next’, which was a bit of a mouthful, and I thought I might do the now and next with you as a) I am reading an absolute chunkster at the moment and so thought a nice short post while I crack on with that might be an idea b) I always want to hear what you have been reading and this seems like a nice post to do irregularly regularly from now on. My current reading horizon looks like this…

Reading Horizon

No, that isn’t a delightfully attired breeze blog in front of you, it is indeed Eleanor Catton’s currently Man Booker shortlisted second novel ‘The Luminaries’ (which I embarrassingly spent weeks calling The Illuminaries, oops) with the Women’s Prize Fiction 2013 winner, A.M. Homes’ ‘May We Be Forgiven’, sedately waiting in the shadows to follow it up. It is only now that I have realised my reading would look to a stranger as being a bit ‘prize’ driven and that I am following the herd, they would be slightly right but also slightly wrong.

I wish I could remember who called ‘The Luminaries’ a modern authors version of a sensation novel, because whoever it was is the person who saved it from being given to a friend who loves loooooong books more than anything, ever – well, maybe with the exception of cake, which is why we are friends. It was that comparison that made me sit back and think ‘well, I have to bloody read that don’t I? And I must read it right now!’ Alas, right now might not have been the best time as with finishing my contract at Culture Liverpool (which I am really sad to be leaving, even though it looks like I have a very exciting work project coming in the autumn, as the people and the events have been amazing) and the final few events have not been ideal for getting into a mammoth book. I am about 150 pages and characters and possible plot lines, as it is a mystery, were still being introduced and despite notebooks I wasn’t keeping up even though it is written BRILLIANTLY. So I have had a break but am getting back to it now.

Question… If you are starting a massive book (and I am planning on reading Vikram Seth’s ‘A Suitable Boy’ on a long trip to London in a few weeks so this will be very helpful) do you read it in little bits, possibly keeping notes, or do you need big hour or longer reading sessions to gulp it down and get a real handle on it? I would love to know. I am definitely in the latter category, which helps with ‘The Luminaries’ also as the chapters are quite long too – it is a book in proportion, ha.

The other book, almost quite literally waiting in the shadow of ‘The Luminaries’ , is A.M Homes latest novel which won the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. This is actually a re-read for my book group and one I am really looking forward to because the first time I read it, for The Green Carnation Prize last year, I had a ‘loved it and also hated it’ reading experience so I am looking forward to going back and then chatting about it all over again. After those two I think it might be time for a crime novel.

So that is what I have on my reading horizon, have you read either or these and if so what did you think? More importantly, what is on yours, what have you been reading, what are you reading and what might you most likely read next? Let me know, oh and also share your habits when starting a really, really long book too please, little reading bursts or big reading gulps?

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Anne Frank’s House, Amsterdam

056As I showed you the other day, the streets of Amsterdam are quite a site to behold as they wind along the canals. Every street has its sense of peace and quite, there is no real hustle and bustle on theses roads, maybe a little on the ones that interconnect them perhaps. As you walk down Prinsengracht, which I often did as my hotel was on it, I would take in the houses as I headed towards the centre of the town, beautiful town houses with their own sense of history yet ultimately unassuming. Houses including this one here ——-> only this one does stand out a little the nearer you get as along side it’s next door neighbour, then through the square, then around the church nearby is a huge throng of people (apparently starting at before opening ours until the last possible moment every single day) all waiting for the unassuming house you see is the home of Anne Frank’s, or was when she and her family were taken into hiding from the Nazi’s.

I read Anne Frank’s Diary for the first time not too long ago. My impressions were a little mixed. It was a book that initially I was a little worried I wouldn’t get on with as I wasn’t sure about Anne herself. Now some people might be up in arms about this but actually there’s a fascinating exhibition on Anne once you’ve been through the house that showed all the sides of Anne, a brave but brilliant thing to do. I found when I got a rounder picture of her the more horrific what befell a normal young girl who happened to be born in the era she did. Yet actually I think this just added to the experience of visiting the house which was, for me, a deeply moving and disturbing one.

The experience of being in her home is a shocking one from the start, so shocking a fellow visitor was actually physically ill as we entered the first room which showed videos from the concentration camps. A silence befell all of us that then walked on throughout the warehouse cum house and the more we learned of the history of the family and their escape there. Yet it isn’t until you come to the famous ‘secret bookshelf door’ that it really hits you that these were scared people hiding for their lives. Anne’s diaries inform us of this and yet looking back I realised how brave and upbeat she was considering and a wave of emotion hit me I wasn’t prepared for.

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As you climb the steep staircase onwards it hits you even further, a family, and additional couple and a male friend all in these confined spaces. How must Anne’s parents, and indeed Anne, really felt about her sharing such a small space with a strange man. How could they have coped in such a confined space?

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Obviously having read her diaries I had known they had all had their moments. Yet nothing prepares you for how small it all really is. How cramped, and claustrophobic. The room above May look all jolly but it’s a replica of what the room was like with light, when you’re there the lights are off as they would have been, curtains drawn during the day, in order to remain so hidden. The more we went on the harder it was to believe Anne and her family coped with it all, but what choice did they have?

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I had always felt a bit funny about the idea of visiting Anne Frank’s house, a bit like hearing people visiting concentration camps, I was concerned it might be inappropriate/car crash tourism. Having now been myself, seen where Anne Frank lived in those conditions and the exhibition about what happened to her, the family and many of her friends I have changed my mind. It isn’t for the faint hearted, some of the videos and accounts you see and hear are incredibly disturbing (on more than one occasion I was reduced to tears) yet we must never forget these people and what happened and try and stop it happening in our world now. The fact so many people are going to see Anne Frank’s house and reading her diaries for me is a sign of hope for future generations. May they always read and remember.

The Anne Frank House is situated in the centre of Amsterdam at Prinsengracht 263-267. A huge thanks to Holland.com who sent me to Amsterdam for work and then managed to get me an advance track ticket into the Anne Frank House, a place that, along with all it holds, will stay with me forever. Also note only the top picture is mine, pictures cannot be taken throughout so I have borrowed these from many sources.

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In The Dutch Mountains – Cees Nooteboom

Before I go any further I think that Cees Nooteboom may have the best name for an author ever. There, now that’s out of the way we may move on as usual, well possibly after saying Cees Nooteboom again a few more time to ourselves, see it is an amazing name. In the latest post during my week ‘going Dutch’ with you all (friends will note I may have been going Dutch on the blog but alas not in the real world, sorry) we take a look at an author who is often described as ‘one of the best living Dutch authors, Cees Nooteboom, and his recently reissued novella aptly named ‘In The Dutch Mountains’.

Maclehose Press, 1984 (2013 edition), paperback, translated by Adrienne Dixon, 159 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I should state that any book which starts with ‘Once upon a time there was…’ is going to most likely become a firm favourite with me, fairytales are not something that I have grown out of though I will admit I do now prefer the full ‘uncut’ originals to the Disney versions. So the signs were good from the very start of ‘In The Dutch Mountains’ and got even better when I discovered that not only was this going to be a retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Snow Queen’ it is also a book that looks at what makes a fairytale and the nature of writing one.

In the heat of the summer a road inspector sits in an empty classroom and writes. Inspired by one of the years he spent inspecting the roads from the North to the South of the Netherlands he is inspired to retell the tale of ‘The Snow Queen’ only set in a more current climate and one that shows the harsh differences of the same country in its northern and southern divides. He tells the tale of two circus children, perfect beyond compare, who become lovers and marry until the interest in circuses wanes and who must seek stardom in some other way. Reality TV could be the answer but it is short lives and so they must descend to the darker side of the country and indeed the land of the woman many call the Snow Queen.

As Alfonso, our narrator and also third person in many ways, writes on he simply cannot stop himself from interweaving himself and his thoughts, as a road inspector who also writes, about the world of books, writing and literature into the narrative thread himself. Thus creating a really interesting mixture tale and tale telling and also a sense of oral storytelling yet via print on the page, it is very cleverly delivered so that, as could easily be the case, it never gets on your nerves or really interrupts the flow of the actual story, on the whole.

As we have been formed by the conventions of European literary culture, there is little scope for an individual writer to exercise his imagination; the terminology has been fixed ever since writing began. Lucia’s hair was, of course, golden. (Like honyseime, the fat of the honey, as someone in the South was to say later.) She had clear blue eyes like a summer sky, her lips were red as cherries, her teeth as white as milk. Anyone who tries to think of other words is mad.

As the book went on I found myself thoroughly enjoying Alfonso (well Nooteboom) and his modern twist on the famous fairytale and also hoping that every page or two he would pop in with a few comments. Towards the end I have to admit there were a couple of occasions that this didn’t work quite as well. At one point when he went on about God and religion for a little too long and I frowned and that really jarred with me. In another Alfonso ends up having a conversation with Plato, Christian Anderson which threw me completely though in the context, and in hindsight, I rather liked.

What is so marvellous about this book is it a case of ‘meta-fiction’ where a story is told, the story behind the story and the telling of it is told and a conversation between the author, or in this cases authors, and reader all plays out in one go simultaneously. It is the first time that this very cunning trick has worked so effectively on me and actually made me want more. The discussion about fairytales, their history, their rules and them vs. myths was so fascinating and so brilliantly done I was hoping Nooteboom, no Alfonso sorry, would decide at the end to retell another so we could natter about it further… in my head, which makes this all sound very weird but is what happens.

‘In The Dutch Mountains’ not only reminded me of why I love a fairy tale but also why I love them…

As soon as you have said “once upon a time”, you have created an extratemporal and extraterritorial reality in which anything is possible. A free-for-all. The characters travel by wild goose or reindeer.

I think it is that sense of endless possibility and escapism that sums up not only what I love about fairytales but what I love about reading. No, I know you might not find characters travelling by reindeer or wild goose in a book by every book you pick up, yet the excitement of experience something ‘other’ is always there when you open the first page. It is rare a book makes you talk to the author, metaphorically and in a one way conversion, about this yet somehow as if by magic that is what Nooteboom does when you go on a journey with him and Alfonso ‘In The Dutch Mountains’.

Have a gander at Stu of Winstons Dad Blog for more thoughts on the book. Who else has read this and what did you make of it? Are you a Nooteboom (I can’t get enough of that surname) and if so which other of his novels would you recommend? What are your thoughts about meta-fiction and those narrators who interject and discuss things with the reader, does it work for you or simply put you off?

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Filed under Cees Nooteboom, Maclehose Publishing, Quercus Publishing, Review

The American Book Center, Amsterdam

No matter what city I find myself in, anywhere in the world, the moment I have some Wi-Fi (in the unlikely case that I haven’t researched this thoroughly before getting there) the first thing I try and locate are the nearest bookshops. I don’t care if they have English titles or not, if there is a bookshop in the vicinity and I can find it then that is where I am headed. I was told, by my lovely friend Adem who I met up with for an afternoon of wandering and cake hunting, that in Amsterdam THE best bookshop in the whole of the city was also in the heart of it and that was The American Book Center, and so off we toddled.

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It is not often that the moment I walk into a bookshop I am left completely speechless and yet with a treasure trove like The American Book Center I found myself very much dumbfounded – the books literally go on forever as soon as you walk in…

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Amazingly though, even though the bookshop is choc-a-block it manages to be light and airy throughout. I also loved the way that, with some wonderfully places tree bark/trunks the bookshop both feels it has the outside inside and pays homage to what books are after all made of.

I love a bookshop that is literally brimming with books and, like all the best bookshops, The American Book Center is one of such bookshop without it ever feeling cluttered or two much, even as you walk up the first flight of stairs there are books to admire and peruse as you make your way up…

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And, to maximise on space, and look stunning, the books go from the very floor of the bookshop to the ceiling three stories up…

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Once up the stairs the shop gets even better as books are EVERYWHERE yet whilst the bookshop does become something of a maze (in a good way) it never feels claustrophobic and because of the gaps between the shelves light gets through and it feels very open all at once.

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And the shop just goes on and on, it is like a labyrinth of literature and one that I would love to get lost in all day – which I nearly did…

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What was also really lovely about the place was the staff! Initially Adem and I simply couldn’t find the English language section of the book shop at first (not that I minded because I do love looking at foreign editions of books and their covers, don’t you?) and so we had to ask and the staff couldn’t have been better. We had a good chat as we meandered to the right place, talking about which books were big in Amsterdam and the Netherlands and also which books were big in the UK. We even had a chat about reviewing vs blogging and about why on earth the UK is so slow at translating books. Amazing.

So if you are ever in Amsterdam then make sure you head to The American Book Center, and that you leave yourself a good amount of time to have a wander around.

The American Book Centre is located at Spuistraat 12, 1012 XA Amsterdam (nearest tram stop is Spui) you can visit their website here.

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The Detour – Gerbrand Bakker

I promised you a detour today after our wanderings around Amsterdam yesterday (metaphorically) as we continue to ‘go Dutch’ this week. ‘The Detour’ by Gerbrand Bakker, who aptly lives in Amsterdam, is a novel that I have been meaning to read ever since I saw William review it (much better than I am about to the swine) and the premise immediately caught my attention, it has only taken me a year and a half to get around to it. What appealed to me at the time was that it was a tale of an outsider who moves into the rural unknown and there is something I really like about books set on farms in the middle of nowhere, or places on the periphery of a village or in a rural setting as well as loving books about outsiders. Combine the two and you are going to get a book that I will most definitely want to read, at some point, if only there were a guide to books of such ilk.

Vintage Books, 2013, paperback, 240 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

We all know what it is like to need to escape from our lives, even if we might never actually do it at some point I am sure we have all thought about it to varying extremes. Emilie has thought about it and then acted on it as she has left her life, husband, family and job, behind in Amsterdam and rented a remote farm in rural Wales, somewhere in Snowdonia to be precise. Emilie, as we read on, seems to be hiding. She has no interest in the nearest villagers (wisely in some cases) and when a young boy injures himself and looks for a bit of shelter she couldn’t be more resistant to it if she tried. The question we as the reader want to know is why Emilie has done this. Slowly (and very subtly) but surely Bakker tells us.

It is incredibly difficult to say too much more without spoiling what is a beautifully crafted and delivered slow burning and subtle novel with a sense of mystery at its heart. It is one of those books that very quietly takes you by the hand and slowly but surely grips you as you go on.

What I found very interesting was the way that Bakker gives Emilie and her situation a sense of dual mystery – I don’t mean mystery in a murder mystery way, she is just an enigma. The first layer is, of course, why on earth Emilie has left Amsterdam for this hidden away life, the second mystery though is Emilie herself because as the novel progresses she, and of course Bakker, hold all the details of her life as close to her chest as possible. Emilie is a mystery within the mystery if you know what I mean.

“For a few nights now the rushing stream no longer calmed her: noises – creaking boards, the shuffling of what she hoped were small animals, and an almost unbearably plaintive cry from the woods – kept her awake, and awake she started thinking. She got wound up again, defiant and angry.”

As I was reading on, with this woman who is almost a recluse and a past that eluded me, I was reminded of Evie Wyld’s latest (and stunning) novel ‘All The Birds, Singing’. Yet whilst both are equally stunning in their atmosphere and dark sense of menace they take their novels in very different directions, even though I have just realised that they both have the plot twist of a stranger moving in. Whist Wyld alternates with the present and then the past (going backwards), Bakker alternates between the present for Emilie and also with her husband back in Amsterdam as her disappearance, which he wasn’t so surprised about, starts to nag at him and he decides to look for her and in doing so uncovers more of Emilie’s life including one strand that I never saw coming and was a huge impact in the novel.

There I will stop with the plot, and indeed the comparisons to Wyld (which I couldn’t not have popped in this post as I have read them within a relatively short space of one another) apart from the fact that it too could be one of my books of the year, because I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for anyone. Suffice to say that the book surprised me, especially with its subtle nature which I admired it all the more for. In terms of a book set in the middle of nowhere, and a winter in Snowdonia is painted vividly for the reader, about outsiders and the grind of rural life I couldn’t have asked for more.

Snowdonia in winter

‘The Detour’ won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize earlier this year and having read it you can easily see why. Bakker creates a story that is subtle and slow burning yet all at once brimming with a sense of mystery and menace. It is also a book that will linger on with the reader long after you have read it and, if you are like me, long after it devastates you with both its prose and most importantly its story. A much recommended book.

Have any of you read ‘The Twin’ by Bakker? As I am desperate to read it now but am slightly worried that this being a later book it might be more accomplished? Is that a bad/lazy assumption to make? I tell you what though, it is books like this that remind me I need to be a bit more like (the legend that is) Stu of WinstonsDad Blog and read much, much more translated fiction.

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Filed under Books of 2013, Gerbrand Bakker, Review, Vintage Books

Ambling Around Amsterdam…

So, as I mentioned yesterday, I thought this week on the blog we could go Dutch both in the books that feature this week and the non-review posts too. All of this is in honour of a lovely trip I took to Amsterdam a few months ago for work and so today I thought we could have a little amble around the city before taking in two very special bookish places later in the week. It is hard to try an encapsulate any city, but particularly Amsterdam, so I thought we could start with a picture that sums up the city over all as well as being my first and lasting impression of it…

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It is so beautiful! I think over the course of one walk from the train station to my hotel I fell in love with (and mentally moved into) about fifty or sixty different houses. Isn’t it bizarre, if you think about it (not for too long or it hurts your head) how every city, particularly in Europe, has its own style? You can often see a picture and instantly know what that city is, you certainly can with this one. I completely enjoyed getting completely lost in the city and just enjoying seeing what every single street had in store, eventually I found my hotel (the Hotel Andaz which is a converted library and managed by a lovely woman called Daphne, could it be more perfect) and my amazing and amazingly bonkers bedroom.

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A fish spoon!?! What is going on there? The whole hotel has this slightly kitsch meets incredibly expensive classy vibe to it that I just loved the whole place. I do have a hotel rule of thumb though, I always judge them by their breakfasts and after having an early night that night after the adventure of getting lost in the city and seeing some bookshops (more on those later this week) I was soon able to judge this hotel by that system.

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Amazing again. Now that is my sort of never ending breakfast, oh and you could have cooked food too – I am not at liberty to say how many times I made the visits I made to the buffet, or how many of the cooked breakfasts I tried. So let us move on… It was time for some culture and so I headed to the heart of it. Amsterdam’s very own Museum Plein, or ‘museum square’, which is  a park just a ten minute walk from the city centre surrounded by museums.

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You could easily loose a day as whatever your taste in art there is a museum which will draw you in (see what I did there). Highlights for me were the Van Gogh museum, where to see some of the world most famous paintings is quite a heady experience. I have always liked Van Gogh, and indeed the Beard is very good at making copies of them in a non-illegal way, so I happily got lost in there for a good few hours and discovered this gorgeous picture that I had never seen of his before.

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It is one of those incredible pictures which seems to tell the start of a story, the more you look at it the more you get and also (though this could just be because of my mind) the darker the picture actually seems. Hidden depths in that one. I am a BIG fan of modern art. Ok, let’s rephrase that, I am a big fan of good modern art. I particularly love Picasso and so if I know somewhere has some, even just one, I have to go and have a gander and so I headed for the Stedelijk Museum of modern art. I saw some lovely Picasso’s and many more and also this old chestnut which I do actually think is art, especially on a massive scale…

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This however I do not…

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Hmmmm. It’s not even a good display in a double glazing showroom that! Before my head could pop with any more pop art, do you see what I did there, I stopped and had a coffee on the square before heading over to the Rijksmuseum and had to take a shameless ‘selfie’ (so down with the kids) with the I Amsterdam sign, well when in Amsterdam…

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The incredible Rijksmuseum (which has recently had a multimillion euro makeover) probably needs a full day or two to explore and is where you can see some of Rembrant’s best known works amongst many others. I had a gander at those but I find art from around that period a little austere and so headed for some of the wackier stuff. I think, after two hours looking, this was the most mind boggling thing that I found, which surprise, surprise happened to be a book.

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This is actually the notebook of a psychopath which was part of an experiment in the 1950’s to see whether if you let lots of psychopaths keep journals some similarities might show in the text. I found this idea fascinating and am amazed there isn’t a book about these books somewhere. I wanted to break it our if its case, instead for fear of being arrested I headed by out into the city to find my evenings dinner. In doing so I got completely delightfully lost and ended up in the heart of the Red Light District which was NOTHING like I expected it to be…

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And once dinner was over it was time to head for my hotel, and bed (and breakfast the next morning)to get some rest before my next port of call which was Anne Frank’s house, a place I didn’t expect to have such a reaction as I did. More on that later in the week though. Hope you have enjoyed our little jaunt around the city? We are in for a Dutch ‘detour’ of sorts again tomorrow…

(A big thanks to Holland.com who sent me away on a work trip and kindly got me into all the museums, and put me up in such a literary hotel, mentioned above!)

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The Light of Amsterdam – David Park

I have decided that this week we are going Dutch. Either the authors will be Dutch or the books will set in Dutch places. What is the inspiration behind this? Well, since you asked so nicely and weren’t forced into this way of thinking by me at all, I had the joy of going to Amsterdam back in July for work and whilst I was there I did my usual trick of reading a few books set there or by authors who lived there. The first of these was ‘The Light of Amsterdam’ by David Park which seemed perfect choice because of its plot (more shortly) and also because it was also one of the Fiction Uncovered 2012 selection, and I haven’t read one of their choices that I haven’t liked yet.

Bloomsbury Books, trade paperback, 2012, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘The Light of Amsterdam’ is a novel that weaves the stories of three pairs of tourists coming to the city for a long weekend (at one point as they were flying to Amsterdam in the book as I was doing the same thing at the actual time) and how their lives change over that weekend. As I typed that I, for the first time, suddenly saw how clichéd that sounds, but honestly ditch that opinion because David Parks does do something quite marvellous with that plot device.

Alan, whose career as an art lecturer seems to be going down the pan as fast as his marriage recently did, decides to take his teenage son Jack on a father son bonding weekend whilst making a pilgrimage of his youth. Jack takes his wife Marion, who thinks Jack is desperate to have an affair no longer seeing her as a sexual being, for a birthday treat and to get them away from their garden centre before the pre-Christmas madness. Karen, the cleaner in both an office and old people’s home, is there on a hen weekend which would be her ideal of hell anyway but is made worse by the fact that the bride to be is her own daughter. We then follow all three pairs as they pass each other in the street, or randomly bump into each other, as the weekend unfolds.

At first I have to admit that I didn’t think I was going to enjoy ‘The Light of Amsterdam’ at all. As the book opens we are in Alan’s head as he watches the final journey of George Best after his funeral and I was slightly worried we were about to endure the narrative of some middle aged football fan. As Alan went on to discuss his affair, the end of his marriage, how bored he was in his job, how difficult his teenage son was, etc and I was thinking ‘bugger, have I got to unpack my luggage in public to find another book’ yet there was something in the writing and the characterisation Parks had that kept me going and I am really, really glad I did because his characters are superb.

Call it the ‘nosey parker’ in me but I love books about people, regular ordinary people. People who you could pass in the street, fictional people you have met the characteristics of in people you have spent time with. They aren’t remarkable, they just get on and David Park has these characters spot on and develops them fully before the plane has left the runway and we get their back stories. Alan is simply a disappointed middle aged man, who feels like (partly through his own actions which is always worse) that his life has taken a wrong turn. Karen is a woman who got pregnant very young but has built a life for her daughter and herself no matter how tough it has been or how much she has had to sacrifice nor how menial the jobs she has to do in order to make ends meet. Marion is a woman who has a successful marriage, business and yet somewhere inside her feels all this is too good to be true, something has to give and will it be her husband, tipped over the edge when he buys her membership to a gym. It was Marion who I have to say I found the most intriguing, especially when you discover what she has planned on their weekend away.

“When the girls had finished their coffee he told them he’d drive them home. She was glad that he didn’t offer them any more wine and that he hadn’t drunk any more. When he went off to fetch the smoke alarms and his toolbox she looked at the bottle and was momentarily tempted to finish it off after everyone had gone but tried to strengthen her resolution to dedicate herself, if not to abstinence, then at least moderation. The girls left by the kitchen door to go and fetch their coats. She heard them chatting in Polish as they walked out into the floodlit corridor. Standing at the glass she looked at how harsh the light bleached Anka’s hair almost white. For some reason she thought they looked like prisoners making their way back to their cells for the night. She felt sorry for them in their struggle to make a better life. She didn’t think she could be as brave, told herself that she had never been brave, so this thing that she was planning to do seemed like it belonged to someone else and she wondered if she could find the strength to see it through.”

Even though I found Marion the most intriguing, I loved all of the characters the more I got to know them and as the stories developed. When I alternated between them as I read on I didn’t find myself mourning the last narrator or rushing onto the next one. I also admired Park for his sense of giving them some personal mini drama’s once in Amsterdam without every pushing the story lines too far and turning it into some farce or melodrama. The characters have issues, they address the issues, some overcome the issues, some don’t, the world goes on as it does in real life and I really liked that quality with the book. My only slight niggle was that I felt it ended a teeny bit too neatly overall, yet because I liked the characters so much I was almost glad of it and to be fair Park doesn’t make the most obvious thing that could happen end up happening. You will know what I mean if you have read the book or once you do, which I recommend.

‘The Light of Amsterdam’ is one of those great novels about the stories real people tell, the ones that you overhear snippets of on the bus/train/cafe and want to know more. It is three tales of people who you could quite easily pass in the street, and it celebrates the little understated drama’s that we have ourselves every so often. Those life events that aren’t huge and all encompassing, but that change us slightly or make us see our lives differently. If the characters are doing that you can’t help but do that yourself a little bit, whilst also looking around you and thinking ‘I wonder what that person sat over there’s life is like?’

Who else has read ‘The Light of Amsterdam’ and what did you make of it? Have any of you read any of David Park’s other novels? I have heard this one was something a bit different for him so I am pondering if I would like his previous books or not so would love your thoughts, as always. Tomorrow we are off for a little wander round Amsterdam…

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, David Park, Fiction Uncovered, Review

Now We Are Six!!!!!!

“Happy Birthday to me, happy birthday to me, happy blogging birthday dear Savidge Reads, happy birthday to me…” Imagine that sung in my most beautiful of singing voices! Yes, today Savidge Reads is officially six years old though weirdly it feels older than that. It was six years to this very day that I first put my tentative toes (or tapping fingers) into the blogosphere and wrote a review, of sorts though I am quite embarrassed by it now, of Susan Hill’s ‘The Various Haunts of Men’. More dreadful reviews/bookish thoughts followed, most of which I have since deleted because they were mortifying, and no one read it for ages and ages. And now here were are…

Now We Are Six

To actually celebrate a blog birthday seemed rather a bonkers idea in years past, however this year with all that has gone on (and, without blowing my own trumpet, the fact that the blog went to number one here) The Beard decided we should celebrate it and has only gone and made me the blog-birthday cake above – any excuse for us to eat cake – and also bought me two new books. This was made all the more special as they came with the Books Are My Bag bag after a little jaunt out yesterday to Linghams. Anyway the books are ‘Coco Chanel; The Life and the Legend’ by Justine Picardie (which I was so sure I had in hardback but couldn’t find the other day) and ‘New Ways To Kill Your Mother’ by Colm Toibin (the title of which I love) which is some literary history and criticism all rolled into one I believe. Both non-fiction too as now I am six I really feel I should be challenging myself more.

I am also going to have a little mini bookish party of my own later today as I finally settle down to read (in big fat gulps) my current bookish obsession ‘The Luminaries’ by Eleanor Catton. But before that we are off on a Famous Five like adventure to a lighthouse. I am hoping for a picnic with some of that cake with lashings of ginger beer or pink lemonade once we get there.

Anyway, a big thanks to those of you who have joined in the fun here at Savidge Reads over the last few years and all the lovely bookish banter and the like, it has been bloody lovely. Here’s to the next six…

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A Bookshop Crawl with Kerry Hudson…

So as I have mentioned already, today is the day of the Books Are My Bag initiative which I am a big fan of. I thought it would be nice to do something book shop themed today and a post the lovely Kerry Hudson had written for me for Independent Bookshop Week (which I had planned to post back then but couldn’t as Gran was so poorly) and her book launch seemed perfect. So I will hand over to the lovely Kerry who also loves an Indie book shop as much as I do…

It was complete coincidence that the paperback of my debut novel, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma, came out during Independent Bookshop Week but it’s very fitting that it did. For the last year Tony Hogan has found its way into people’s hands largely thanks to word of mouth and personal recommendations. Thanks to Indies like Bookseller Crow in Crystal Palace and Dulwich Books in…um…Dulwich, reading the book, loving it, blogging about it and hand-selling copies. Yes, getting buy-in from the chains and wholesalers, the Goliaths, is important but I think we all know and understand the power that the Indie’s, the Davids of the bookselling world, have.

That is why, to launch my paperback, I cycled around the capital. On a tiny red bike. On a day hotter than the surface of the sun. Delivering 80’s goodybags filled with gliders, Sherbet Dib-Dabs, Wham Bars and Vimto lollypops to some of London’s finest Independent Bookshops.

my trusty steed

I began my tour close to home at Broadway Books. Broadway Books is right by Regent’s Canal and is great for cult classics and local author books and, vitally, have one of the best fish and chip shops in East London a few doors up. If anyone can tell me what is nicer than sitting by a canal, eating a bag of chips and reading a great book I’ll call them a liar.

Broadway Books

Next a cycled off to Pages of Hackney, located in hyper-hip Clapton they have a great stock of new books upstairs and a selection of secondhand books, a comfy sofa and (sometimes) a very cute pug downstairs. My next hop took me to chic Exmouth Market and Tales of Clarkenwell, a calm, stylish indie where Peter told me that they’re opening a Toronto branch soon, or maybe that they already have…I was a little sun-addled at that point. To be honest.

Village BooksIt was time to head South, first to Village Books in Dulwich. On the way I ask directions from a local who beams at me ‘that’s an amazing bookshop’ and it is indeed. As I sign books Kate, a bookseller who clearly loves her job, tells me how each of the booksellers have customers who appreciate their personal taste and so come to them specifically for recommendations. Dulwich is very pretty and just as well because I get hopelessly lost making it to my next destination, Dulwich Books. They’re expecting me, and have busted out the leg-warmers and eighties tunes in preparation. Dulwich Books and their very active bookgroup were some of the earliest Tony Hogan…supporters and it’s amazing to be able to say thank you to them in person.

I resist the the lure of their kids section beanbags, buy myself an ice-cream up the road and carry on my way to…Bookseller Crow on the Hill in Crystal Palace. I love what Jonathan and Justine, who’ve been trading for twelve years, have done with the shop. So much care has been taken with the curation of the collection of books, they have regular author talks and Jonathan runs a subscription scheme ‘Flight Club’ where subscribers are sent a mystery book that Jonathan feels people will especially enjoy. I leave Jonathan with the bag of sweets and Lloyd Cole crooning sweetly to his customers and hop on the tube down to my final stop, Clapham Books. Clapham Books has the most incredible shop interior with a kind-of-glass-pagoda-ceiling (go see it, you’ll know what I mean). As we had a chatter they told me they’ve been doing two book events a week for a while and I confess to them which well known author scares the pants off me…nope, my lips are sealed! I leave them saying I’m ‘off for a giant beer’.

Clapham Books

That day I only visited a fraction of the amazing Independent Bookshops in London and if you consider how many more there are across the UK it is hugely heartening. So what’s so special about Indies? What I find special is that every single shop is as unique as their owner and staff and that they are run and staffed by people with a huge passion for getting books to readers, but they can only continue if we, the book buying punters, put our hands in our pockets and support them.

These bookshops are doing something incredible in the current climate. They are striving, staying creative, loving books and reading, hand-selling debuts like mine, that otherwise nobody would know about, and staying in business where many other businesses couldn’t. Indie bookshops, clever hardworking booksellers, I salute you!

Here, here. I couldn’t put it better myself – hence why I am off to mine today for Books Are My Bag and seeing what new books might end up in my bag. A big big, in fact a HUGE, thanks to Kerry for doing the post today, especially now she is on the path to stardom both being short listed for the Polari First Book Prize and also winning the debut novel category for the Scottish Book Awards (which makes her eligible to be the overall winner if the general public vote her to be, which I think they should here from October the 1st – put it in your diaries) when she is the next Mantel we will remember these days fondly.

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Filed under Bookshops I Love, Bookshops We Love, Bookshops You Love, Kerry Hudson

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

There are some living authors with which, as a reader, the release of something new of theirs is really one of the highlights of your bookish year. I have had a few of these this year, though the one I have been the most excited about is undoubtedly Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’. Part of this was just because it was a new Atkinson book full stop, then I was even more intrigued when I discovered this wasn’t a Brodie novel before got far too excited about the murmurs of this being a speculative novel. The book arrived here back in late 2012 and stayed on my shelves, I was just too worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype I had built in my head. Then the praise started to flood in here there and everywhere for it and I had a small sulk that I hadn’t read it sooner, then I started it when Gran was getting very ill (she would have loved this as she was a massive Atkinson fan) and I couldn’t concentrate. The poor book, it couldn’t win, I don’t think it knew if it was coming or going. Finally a few weeks ago I simply sat down with a few hours to spare and started it, within pages I was spell bound.

Doubleday, hardback, 2013, fiction, 480 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

On the 11th of February Ursula Todd either dies or is born, again and again and again to die again and again and again. The concept, and I suppose you could call this a concept novel in some ways, of Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’ is to look at all the environmental and physical aspects of our lives, as well as the decisions that we make, that can coincidentally or accidentally change the path our lives take which of course eventually leads us to death. Doesn’t sound too cheery that really does it, yet if you excuse the pun it is a book that celebrates life and all that we can become be it through fate or choice.

As Ursula lives these differing versions of her lives we see all the possibilities of who she could be (well most of them as with this premise they could go on indefinitely) or what might befall a woman living from 1910 onwards. In one version she might not make it past a family holiday. In another, which is at the very start of the book so I am not spoiling anything, she could end up being the woman to assassinate Hitler. In another she ends up, via a wrought but beautifully crafted version of events, as a rather unhappy housewife in the suburbs. In others she ends up on either side of the channel after surviving the First World War only to end up in the second which, to me looking back on the book, really evokes the frailty of life in general but particularly during that period of British history.

You might be wondering if this means there are endless versions of Ursula wandering around, or if indeed the book gets a bit complex or ultimately becomes rather repetitive. Interestingly as I read on I didn’t think to question the premise of the book, I simply got lost in it. Yet Atkinson does some very clever things to make this more than just a tale of a girl born again and again with no knowledge of it. Ursula herself has lots of severe cases of déjà vu, something we have all experienced at some point, where she feels she has been there before or will finish of someone else’s sentences. This sees varying versions of her going into therapy as her mother (who we will come to later) starts to worry that her daughter is not right – especially when Ursula occasionally gets the inexplicable feeling she needs to change a course of events to rather comical effects.

“And sometimes, too, she knew what someone was about to say before they said it or what mundane incident was about to occur – if a dish was about to be dropped or an apple thrown through a glasshouse, as if things had happened many times before. Words and phrases echoed themselves, strangers seemed like old acquaintances.
‘Everyone feels peculiar from time to time,’ Sylvie said. ‘Remember, dear – sunny thoughts.’
Bridget lent a more willing ear, declaring that Ursula ‘had the second sight’. There were doorways between this world and the next, she said, but only certain people could pass through them. Ursula didn’t think that she wanted to be one of those people.”

In terms of the question of repetition, I never got bored with the book or thought ‘oh here we go again’, not once. If anything I would try and work out which way her life would lead us next. Invariably I got this completely wrong as Atkinson doesn’t always make a life relived have a different outcome even if some things have changed along the way, after all fate can be sealed. Sometimes (rather worryingly) I was also wondering with slight glee how on earth Atkinson was going to kill Ursula off next. Which nicely leads me to mention how the trademark dark humour I love in Atkinson’s writing can lighten the story when needed, drive home something sad with its sense of irony and creates some utterly brilliant characters like Ursula’s mother, who I adored and is probably the most complex character in the book. I would love a novella of Sylvia’s life should Kate Atkinson ever feel the need, she had cynicism, hidden depths and a really darkly naughty side which I loved.

“Sylvie and Mrs Glover were preparing a little tea-party, ‘a surprise’. Sylvie liked all her children, Maurice not so much perhaps, but she doted entirely on Teddy.”

This does lead me to a couple of niggles with the book, firstly Ursula herself. To me she always seemed rather at a distance from me, a bit of an enigma, and someone that even though I spent pages and pages with her as she grew older I didn’t feel I got to know her any better. On occasion I found myself less moved by her deaths and more moved by some of those around her. Secondary characters like her mother, her aunt or siblings seemed to have much more depth, though interestingly in each version of events none of their personalities changed.

Another small niggle was that on the cover of ‘Life After Life’ perspective readers are asked “What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?” Well despite the book never being confusing (you thought I had forgotten to address this didn’t you) which could so easily have happened I was left a little confused by the ending of the book. It doesn’t spoil the book to say that after some serious thought about it I am left with a sense that there is no ‘right way to live your life’ and no neatly tied off endings and that the book leaves that question in the air rather than answering it. I think though that might be the point, as you can see I am still a little unsure and pondering it. Mind you I felt the same way about ‘Human Croquet’ with its magical and ambiguous ending for a while after reading it before I thought, as I am already beginning to think, ‘no, Atkinson is a genius’.

Those are two very small issues though and ones that are easily glossed over by the fact that Atkinson is a master of prose in my eyes. I love the way she gives the readers discreet asides and occasional knowing winks. I love her sense of humour, especially when it is at its most wicked and occasionally inappropriate. I think the way her characters come to life is marvellous and the atmosphere in the book, particularly during the strands during World War II and during the London Blitz (though I didn’t think the Hitler parts of the book were needed, even if I loved the brief mention of Unity Mitford) along with the tale of her possible marriage were outstandingly written. There is also the element of family saga, the history of Britain from 1910 onwards and also how the lives of women have changed – all interesting themes which Atkinson deals with throughout.

‘Life After Life’ is not a perfect book, yet the more books I read the less I believe there is such a thing, yet it is a bloody good one. In fact, because he didn’t think I would, I would go as far as to repeat what I said to Gav Reads after I had finished it… ‘It’s a really f**king good book’, strong language but sometimes it is needed to drive a point home. I will be recommending ‘Life After Life’ to pretty much everyone as I think it shows the workings and joys of one of our greatest living authors.

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Filed under Books of 2013, Doubleday Publishers, Kate Atkinson, Review

The Adventuress – Audrey Niffenegger

I have been reading quite a lot of books involving time travel of late and so I thought I would read something that would be different and also a bit of a palate cleanser, if you know what I mean. I have only just (literally right now) seen the irony of the fact that I chose Audrey Niffenegger as an author to cleanse after some time travelling books – sometimes I really am a simple Simon. Anyway, I thought that Audrey’s ‘The Adventuress’ might be just the thing as it seemed rather like an adult picture book, and I don’t mean that in a snarky way.

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2006, graphic novel, 144 pages, borrowed from the library

Put very simply ‘The Adventuress’ is the story of a beautiful young alchemists daughter who is abducted by a much older evil count before she manages to escape after setting fire to his home, and most likely him too, before she meets the love of her life. Yet of course like all the best stories there come some twists and turns only I don’t think anyone would guess the plot developments that unfurl, after all this is one of Audrey Niffenegger books and as someone who has read a fair few I have learnt that anything is possible in her hands/head.

For example, who would expect that ‘The Adventuress’ would be imprisoned and turn herself into a moth and escape from jail to find sanctuary in a library (I love Niffenegger for her vehement love of books) where she would meet the love of her life? Who would then turn that most romantic of moments into something much darker as we learn that her lover, Napoleon Bonaparte, would then pretend to go to conquer Russia when actually he has gone to have it off with lots of other women nearby? Who would have thought she might get pregnant and give birth to a cat? I know I have given a lot of the plot away there but the images are what makes this book so worth picking up as they are stunning.

photo 2

The reason I call it an adult picture book is because of it has the same deft simplicity that a children’s picture book does. You have a few minimal words, sometimes repetitive and the pictures and yet within those words and pictures are almost another story in every page. This probably sounds a little bit of a mix of impossible and me being a pretentious ass but it is true. Kids love picture books because they tell a story in more than one way, that is what I liked about ‘The Adventuress’ so much, the pictures tell you more and ask questions at the same time. Why does she never have a top on? Why does she suddenly become a moth? Who does Napoleon cheat on her with? Etc. There is also this underlying sense of the magical which all picture books have when you are a child and that nostalgic feeling hit me reading this book – and as I would have as a child I read it three times on the trot.

photo 3

What also makes an interesting addition to the book is just when you have finished it and have most probably thought something along the lines of ‘oh blimey, where did all that come from?’, Niffenegger goes and tells us. I liked this added insight into the book even if I did worry initially that she was about to do herself a disservice and dumb it down initially by saying it was some doodles of a random woman with no top on who gives birth to a cat. Yet then she found herself asking the question of who this woman was and hey presto there was a story and then there was a book, one she made herself by hand initially before she reached all the fame she has. That is like a story in itself really isn’t it?

I really enjoyed ‘The Adventuress’. It did exactly what I hoped it would in taking me away for twenty minutes (or an hour with the re-reading) into a magical world and quite a nostalgic frame of mind. I am now mad keen to read ‘The Raven Girl’ and ‘The Three Incestuous Sisters’ since having finished this and liking it as much as ‘The Night Book Mobile’. Oh and as we mentioned felines again before, here is a picture of Millie also enjoying it though not for the same reasons I did.

photo 5

Have you read ‘The Adventuress’ or any of Audrey Niffenegger’s other graphic novels and if so what did you make of them? And do you know what I mean by a picture book for adults (in a good way) or have I lost the plot?

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Must I Review Every Book I Read?

That question isn’t meant to sound like I am on my knees the rain falling down and I am shouting it up to the heavens arms outstretched in a state of despair – just in case that is what you were picturing?

Forgive me for once again using and abusing you all as a sounding board, sometimes though it is the only way for me to get a set of thoughts out of my head. I have another conundrum, one that you think may only apply to fellow bloggers or people who keep book notebooks/diaries but actually you can all help me out here. I have been pondering as to whether or not I should review every book that I read?

You see not content with creating enough of a void in my life by dying and now not being on the end of the phone or a few hours away to see Gran has inadvertently also created what I am calling ‘The Gran Effect/The Gran Vortex’. (In the last two weeks I have read Kate Atkinson’s ‘Life After Life’, Lauren Beukes’ ‘The Shining Girls’ and James Smythe’s ‘The Explorer’ so excuse the sci-fi analogy but it has all gone to my head!) As I mentioned the other week, having looked after Gran and visited so much in the last year that she was sick and particularly in the last few months before she died I got a middling amount of reading done but really absolutely no/minimal reviewing done. This has created a strange state of affairs at Savidge Reads as I am oddly really behind in my reading yet way, way ahead in terms of books read in ratio to reviewed – which is all at odds with everything in the universe and just not right.

I have quite a pile, which I thought was 12 but is actually 14, of these ‘ready and ripe’ to review books now stick piled on my bookshelves and they look at me a little resentfully (books can give you looks don’t pretend they can’t). Each book has lots and lots of notes and page numbers for quotes on my computer and in varying notebooks so I know reviewing them won’t be the problem BUT, that said, I did work out if I sat down and finalised them all that would be the next 4.5 weeks of my blog done. We would be in mid October, which makes me wonder if the posts would feel a little out of date should I actually get my arse in gear and start commenting back to you all again – which will happen, it will, it will.

But how do I rectify this? I had thought about not reviewing all of them but then I felt like I would be letting some of them down. Then I started to make excuses like ‘well that one I was on the Green Carnation judging panel for and I shouldn’t really review books I judged there’ (yet I have done and also I re-read one of those books this year for something else) or ‘well I discussed the book on You Wrote The Book with the author or on The Readers Book Club’. Yet again that doesn’t ring quite right with me. The only books I really won’t review are the ones I either didn’t finish, because I don’t think you can really be allowed to comment if you didn’t finish it cover to cover personally, or I loathed so much people might never come back to the blog thinking what a Grade A knob I was with my outpourings of venom. I used to review everything when I started the blog though if you go back to the beginning you might think otherwise as these pieces were so rubbish I deleted most of them in a fit of embarrassment.

So I am wondering if stock piling is the answer? Could I write up all the reviews yet keep some stored away for if I ever fancy a month off yet seemingly still be here, or if there is an emergency and I can’t blog/have to take time out, or if I decide to read some mammoth books (which is looking rather likely) and so my output would be lower. I am growing to like this idea already. The other option is ‘round up’ posts but, unlike many a blogger I admire, I am pretty crap at those – as you will notice from my posts I find succinct quite difficult.

I guess what I really wanted to do is to ask what your thoughts are, but instead of just asking directly I have gone off on a whittling tangent and now you’ve read over 700 words of me waffling on. What do you think though? Or, if you are a blogger/reviewer/diary keeper, what do you do? As a reader of blogs do you want to hear about everything that a blogger has read, good bad and in between or just the highlights? Thanks in advance for your thoughts, I am now going to go and mull which book to review for tomorrow. Decisions, decisions!

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