Monthly Archives: June 2014

My Independent Bookshop; Independent Booksellers Week 2014

Back in May I told you about a wonderful new initiative where we could all become booksellers in the form of My Independent Bookshop. I promised faithfully that I would update the shop with new stock every month, basically this is a way of me playing at being a bookshop owner whilst also (if you happen to buy books through it) giving money to an indepent bookshop at the same time, clever huh?

Well I got way too busy with work and so when June came, and almost went, there was no update. Shame on me. However when I saw it was Independent Booksellers Week this week I had a brainwave… I should come up with a selection of books to sell in my bookshop for a week that celebrate bookshops and books that will make you go back to bookshops and buy more books.

So that is what I have done HERE. Three books written by bookshop owners (well two are letters but that counts), three books with bookshops very much at their hearts and three books about reading which will make you want to run to your local indie bookshop and buy more books. So have a gander and let me know what you think! Oh, and let me know if you have set up your own My Independent Bookshop!


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Other People’s Bookshelves #45; Lee Goody

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshleves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. This wee we are heading off to Sydney to join another avid reader, Lee Goody, who has kindly offered to tell us more about her books, herself and let us have a nosey round her shelves! Before we do let’s find out more about her…

My name is Lee Goody and I am a book horder, originally from North Yorkshire via Nottingham and have been living in Sydney with my husband Phil for almost 6 years. I work as a Training Consultant and enjoy getting out on my Stand Up Paddle board at the weekends as well as eating my way round the restaurants of Sydney. I am on a constant mission to squeeze more books into limited space in our apartment, much to the dismay of my husband! This hording is only second to our growing wine collection… I like to think of it as a marvellous competition between the two obsessions! (Mmm Books and Wine, does life get any better?!)

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Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I have to be selective with purchases these days as I am seriously running out of space. If I have bought a book new and think I am likely to read it again (however far in the future) I will keep it. If I have bought it new and it’s not one of these pesky Australian larger-size paperbacks which bother me with their over-sized-ness. If I have bought a second-hand version of a book, if it is not in great condition but I love the book, I will hold on to it until I come across a reasonably priced new copy of this book. (This can often be a challenge in Australia).

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I tend to keep books by the same author together, as well as books that came as part of a set. I have a dedicated shelf for cooking and another for travel which I think looks nice and makes it look like I have visited lots of places.. The only books that are on display in the apartment are by the door of my apartment. I also house my TBR shelf in the bedroom. All other books are on shelves that are behind cupboard doors, so there lays organised chaos!

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I was a huge Roald Dahl fan as a child and remember school having book catalogues that you ordered from which was massively exciting. I have a small collection of puffin books purchased this way, amongst which are mainly Roald Dahl, Spike Milligan’s silly verse for kids and Alf Proysen’s Little Old Mrs Pepperpot. I seem to have misplaced Ramona Quimby aged 8 which is rather disappointing!

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

I have a copy of The Joy of Sex and some Anais Nin novels which I used to hide away when my Mother in Law came round. Now that most of my books are trapped in a cupboard and in laws live 12,000 miles away it’s not too much of a problem anymore! I would feel happy justifying any book on my shelves as it would only stay there if I had enjoyed reading it.

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Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

Not to titillate Simon too much but I do have a rather nice hardback copy of Rebecca on my shelves which I would be gutted to lose. The other book I would have to save would be a hardback copy of The wizard of Oz which my Nana used to sit me on her knee and read to me as a child. I would also make a grab for the complete set of James Herriott books that came from a clear out of my Pop’s house after he passed away.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I devoured the aforementioned James Herriott books lent to me around the age of 15 which really gave me the “bug” for reading… which has never stopped. I had a spate of reading the usual Stephen King novels and a dalliance with Jilly Cooper before feeling like I had to play catch-up on all the books you are “supposed” to read.

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I very rarely borrow books; I have quite a lot on my shelves that are still in the TBR category. The last time this happened though was getting “The Time Travellers Wife” out of the library but then being so blown away by it that I had to buy myself a copy.

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

I added 2 books to my shelves last week: Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler as inspired by the May episode of the (First Tuesday) Book club on ABC and The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing as I found a cheap copy on a book shop’s bargain table for $6.

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Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

Erm, if there is a book that I want to buy then I tend to just get it. I think I should really have a hardback copy of The Secret History by Donna Tartt to match the hardback editions of the other 2 of her books I own. I would like a complete set of Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole series.. I will eventually complete my collection of every Ian McEwen work too when I have extra space. I have 119 books on my Amazon wish list at the moment!

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

A bit literary fiction-heavy. I like to try the books that have won awards to see what all the fuss is about. I’m loyal to a few favourite authors: Ian McEwan, Sebastian Faulks, Sarah Waters, Donna Tartt, Jonathan Franzen.

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A huge thanks to Lee for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Lee’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?


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If You Could Be A Character In A Book, Who Would You Be?

I don’t know if you have been following it on Twitter (some of you might not have Twitter, I would urge you to join as it is far more booky than you might imagine) however #bookadayuk has been a daily joy for me. All through the month of June the folks at Borough Press, a new imprint of Harper Collins, have been asking us to tweet pictures of books that match a certain theme. There have been books we have never finished, the best book we have ever found second hand, the books we think everyone else should have read but haven’t, etc, etc. Today they have asked a question that has had me well and truly stumped… Which character in a book would you want to be?

Worryingly after a day of so or thinking about it I couldn’t come up with a single one. You see whilst there may have been many, many, many books which I wish I had been in (as an additional character or a bystander) there are absolutely no characters that I would want to swap places with because if they were my favourites I would rather hang out with them than trade places.

For example in the case of two of my very favourite characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, I wouldn’t want to be either of them but I would give anything and everything to be caught up in an adventure with them physically as I have mentally again and again over the years. The idea of being Holmes (an opium addict who plays my least favourite instrument ever) doesn’t do it to me at all, and neither would being his sidekick, I’ve never wanted to be a doctor and certainly not one in the Victorian period. However, hop into a handsome cab and head through the streets of Victorian London with a game afoot and I would be there with them both in a moment.

It has always been so for me, this isn’t my adult brain trying to be ‘realistic’. As a child I always wanted to be the best friend of Mildred Hubble aka The Worst Witch and share a dorm with her and Tabby. I wanted the Famous Five to be the Stupendous Six. I wanted to live in Whitby and be part of uncovering a gang of witches up to no good. I wanted to befriend Matilda in the library or be Miss Honey’s nephew who would visit. I never wanted to be a character, just join in as I was doing vicariously turning the pages and getting lost in the world.

Today though I am feeling like it is just me as I have seen people over and over mentioning characters they would like to be, so I thought I would share this thought with all of you and see if it is just me that is the freak or if any of you would rather be an addition character in a book rather than trading places with one (if you would like to swap places with a character the don’t be shy and share with us who it is) and being a part of the world the book creates?


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Sometimes You Don’t Want to Read or Blog…

…You just want to take the neighbours dog for a long leisurely walk around the park after a week of being stuck in a balmy hot and bonkers busy office and just take some time out. And that is alright isn’t it?

Walking the Dog

Don’t worry I am not ill. As I was actually walking with Ann and Michael from Books on the Nightstand discussing books in my ears, I also then came home and recorded an episode of The Readers and am now blogging about it – but you know what I mean. Sometimes you need to tear yourself away from what you are reading (even if your book group is only two days a way and you have only read a chapter of the novel) and just sit on a bench out in the real world people watching (while your canine companion is squirrel watching) and just take in life and the fresh air…

Where is your favourite place to take a break from books and the hustle and bustle of the real world?


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Encouraging Young Writers…

If you are someone who loves books and you think about ‘the youth’ out there we almost instantly think about the young readers and how we can make sure that young people are keen to read as much as they can, we recently even did an episode of The Readers podcast all about it. One thing we don’t seem to think of however is about the young writers out there who hopefully will be writing the classics of the future.

Maybe we don’t like to think about it too much as there is that awful thought that by the time they become literary greats or classics we most likely won’t be reading any more as we will, frankly, be dead. (This post gets much more positive I promise.) But without writers of the future then readers of the future might be a little bit stumped, okay they will have the ‘canon’ of authors yet where will be the contemporary writers and then the future, future, future young readers classics come from? It hurts your head doesn’t it?

You may be wondering what has got me pondering on the subject of future writers, well it’s this…

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Candyfloss Clouds is a book written by young writers and, equally brilliant, it is also a book aimed at young readers. How did I hear about it? Well it happens that this is something that the Beard’s sister in law has been working on it with the young enterprise team at her school and so naturally, being rather a booky bloke, they let me get a copy of it. Before you think shameless plug alert, the books are not on sale online or all over England, just a few select shops in the Chester/Wirral/Liverpool area, I just wanted to mention it because I think young writers writing for young readers seems so right…

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…And of course it made me think. What I didn’t realise is that these young enterprise groups in schools do this quite regularly as I discovered when I spoke to my mother, also a teacher as many of you will know, and she reminded me she had done similar things with kids in her schools too. Yet why do we not hear more about them? I mean with the latest furore about Gove’s changes to the national curriculum for English Literature (and only studying books by English authors) we need more stories like this getting out into the wider world don’t we? What is also brilliant and I can plug is that this group of young enterprise champions have now made it to the final down in London, so should any authors or publishers like to say hello then let me know!

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You see it is projects like this that show that writing, reading and books are by no means dead in the water and we should be celebrating this much more openly I think. Kids like to create and they like to escape and if all schools have ventures where their students are writing books for other students then that’s going to encourage kids to read their mates work and then reach for more books. Seems ideal really doesn’t it?

Do let me know if your kids/relatives/friends children have done similar ventures and how it was received, and most importantly tell me about the books they wrote, the titles, and what the storylines were. If Candyfloss Clouds is anything to go buy I am sure they were highly imaginative, creative and quite likely brilliantly bonkers…


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The Raw Shark Texts – Steven Hall

When I first got a review copy of Steven Hall’s debut novel The Raw Shark Texts back in 2007 there was one thing that put me off, I heard it had a conceptual shark in it and at that time in my life I just thought ‘nah!’ Well more fool me because after having read it as one of Rob’s choices on Hear Read This! I have to admit is one of the most entertaining and thought provoking books I have read in some time, one that also takes you on an adventure and feels like a ripping good yarn too. If you are still worried/put off by the conceptual shark leave thoughts of it to one side (those who have read the book will see what I did there) and let me expand on it…

Canongate Books, paperback, 2007, fiction, 448 pages, bought especially for Hear Read This!

As The Raw Shark Texts opens we join a man who has no memories of where he is or why he came to be there. We soon learn, as he does, that he is Eric Sanderson and that the Eric Sanderson he was before (bear with me) has left him some hints and clues as to figure out what has happened, the first being to see Dr Randle both Eric’s therapist. As we may have guessed it appears that Eric has been through a terrible trauma of the death of his girlfriend Clio on a holiday, is this what has caused Eric’s memory loss? It turns out no, it is part of it, but actually what has taken Eric’s memory is something much, much worse.

Slowly, slowly-slowly, the world began to reappear in sickly greens and thumping purples and after maybe a minute, it steadied itself into a shaky-solid kind of balance. I wiped my eyes on my jeans and gave into a last scratchy cough before rubbing out the rest of the tears. Okay. Just breathe, we’re okay. I had no idea who or where I was.

Now if you are thinking that the ‘old amnesiac at the start of a book routine’ has become a little tired or obvious then you might be right, many authors do it. However this amnesia, in the hands of Hall, is a way of creating the start of a much deeper, more intricate and clever mystery which lies at the depths of the book, oh along with a monstrous shark which lives in the ether and is made out of words but if catches you steals all your memories before killing you. Nothing to fear then Eric… From here we follow Eric, and his cat Ian (more of him later because he is brilliant) and through a random meeting the beautiful Scout, as they go in search of the Un-Space Exploration Committee and Dr Trey Fidorous who Eric Sanderson 1.0 thinks will be able to help Eric Sanderson 2.0. Seriously bear with this guys, it feels like you are on a real adventure whilst also making your mind do a work out with the puzzles Eric must solve and the themes the book brings up.

The animal hunting you is a Ludovician. It is an example of one of the many species of purely conceptual fish which swim in the flows of human interaction and the tides of cause and effect. This may sound like madness, but it isn’t. Life is tenacious and determined. The streams, currents and rivers of human knowledge, experience and communication which have grown throughout our short history are now a vast, rich and bountiful environment. Why should we expect these flows to be sterile?

I have to admit initially I struggled with this concept, so I completely understand if you are thinking all this is barking mad. However I was already intrigued enough (and so smitten with Ian the cat) that I couldn’t resist carrying on and then I saw the genius behind this monster that Hall has created. Ludovician’s are one of many such sharks which are created by the throwaway comments, thoughts, texts etc that we humans have on a daily basis. To confuse it you must surround yourself with words be they written or spoken and in a brilliant moment we also learn that the worst ones died out when Latin stopped being spoken. There is also the nod it gives, and ‘back story if you will, to dementia and Alzheimer’s. So clever, such a geek out on the power of words. Yes, this is a book about books and languages at its heart as well as being one about love and loss – the Ludovician also seemed to me a metaphor for grief a feeling that chases you and gets you when you least expect it.

It is also a huge homage to some of the pop culture of the 80’s and 90’s. We have the obvious link to Jaws and I have seen someone somewhere describe it as The Matrix with books. It was this and the adventure element that reminded me very much of Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, another book I wasn’t expecting to be completely engrossed in and compelled by, but I was. Shows I should leave my pre-‘conceptual’-conceptions at the door doesn’t it?

What makes it different from other intelligent literary thrillers (sounds like I am creating a new genre but you know what I mean) I hear you ask, and you would be right to because there are some of them about. In part it is the themes I mentioned which add layers to the book and also it is Hall’s sense of humour and fun which, whilst some of the characters occasionally feel slightly two dimensional, transpires at its best with Ian the cat. I haven’t read such a realistic and scene stealing (yet – thankfully – never talking) creature for quite some time. For me it was Ian the themes of loss, the thoughts on the power of words, and, once I got my head around it, the idea of a conceptual thought shark that makes this a thriller with heart and multi-layered concepts.

I knew at some point I’d have to make it up to the cat after our incident earlier in the day. I also knew that when Ian saw we had a new travelling companion he was unlikely to be in a happy or forgiving mood. I could already picture the thundery disgust and disappointment all over his big flat ginger face.

Thinking about it The Raw Shark Texts is also a book about making every word you use matter, and the Steven Hall does just that. He also makes one of those tricky books which once you have read it you find really difficult to explain. If you love books and words and are prepared to let an author take you completely outside your comfort zone (so basically a ‘reader’) then I highly recommend you give this a try. It is an intelligent ‘conceptual’ thriller if ever there was one, and brilliantly written, crafted and plotted at that. Who knew that a 50-page flipbook section of an approaching shark could genuinely scare me?

If you would like to hear more thoughts on The Raw Shark Texts then do head to this episode of Hear Read This! where Rob, Kate, Gavin and I discuss it. Also, as always, if you have read it then let me know your thoughts on how you found it, if you loved it, what you made of the concept and how on earth they are going to make a movie of it?

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Filed under Books of 2014, Canongate Publishing, Review, Steven Hall

Other People’s Bookshelves #44; Jon Morgan

Hello and welcome to a return of Other People’s Bookshleves, a series of posts set to feed into the filthy book lust/porn and either give you a fix of other people’s shelves to stave you off going on a buying/borrowing spree, or making you want to run and grab as many more books as you can. After a small break we are back and visiting Jon Morgan, a Savidge Reader, who has kindly offered to tell us more about his books, himself and let us have a nosey round! Before we do let’s find out more about him…

I am a 52 year old soon-to-be retired London senior police officer (yes some of us can read – the old East German joke – why do the police go around in threes – answer: One who can read one who can write and one to watch the other two dangerous intellectuals) subscribing to Rupert Brooke’s dictum that ‘Life is so flat you can see your tombstone from the other end.’ And Graham Greene: ‘Point me out the happy man and I will point you out either extreme egotism, evil or else an absolute ignorance.’ As well as Baudelaire: ‘Ma jeunesse ne fût qu’un ténèbreux orage, traversé ça et là par de brillants soleils.’ My book interests are eclectic, reflecting early middle and late interests. Philosophy – ‘Even a bad book is a book and is therefore sacred’ and following Erasmus ‘If I have money I will buy books, if I have any leftover I may buy food.’ Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read…’ Arthur Ransome said many wise things (Better drowned than duffers, if not duffers, will not drown) and produced the greatest children’s literature ever. He wrote ‘Any book worth reading by children is also worth reading by adults, but children begin by being omnivorous, to them, the miracle of being able to read, makes any book miraculous. A couple of second rate books can blunt that new-found faculty of reading… A real book becomes part of a reader’s innermost life.’ Genius!


Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

Books deserve to see the light and almost all are on the shelves. Childhood books are unfortunately in the loft WE Johns, CS Forester, CS Lewis etc due to a real and pressing lack of space. I don’t buy book I do not want to read and rarely get rid of them unless I have seriously misjudged.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

Usually grouped by author although the system I had in my last place displayed some favouritism. Nowadays all the French books are displayed by era and biogs included with subject author. I prefer some chaos it is more natural….The constant changing of size by publishers is frustrating i.e. paperbacks of a particular author are all the same size until some idiot in the marketing dept. decides to make the new one bigger and the location and shelf space wont comply…. Leads to author separation and a frustrating few minutes when I want to find something – not easy amongst three floors of books and 7000 plus in total. Books to be read i.e. recently bought, used to be on two tottering piles by the bed. They grew to over 6 feet tall and one night I was woken by what seemed and earthquake. Two piles fell over. I managed to squeeze a large bookcase into a small space to accommodate them but the piles gave re-formed. Recently read are on a pile on the other side of the bed….. Cull, what is this cull concept. Books are friends. You do not cull friends.


What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

Probably a WE Johns ‘Biggles’ book, which are all in the loft. I remember being in hospital as a young teen in central London and sneaking out to Charing Cross Road and buying The Fabulous Mr Wilkes, about the 18th century rake, rebel and politician. I still have it and it is still a good read.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

Never be ashamed of any book you own!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

It is a book I used at university and it was so cogent and clear of thought that I determined to buy my own copy after leaving. L.T.T Topsfield’s study of the medieval author Chretien de Troyes. It was a small fortune £45.00 in 1983. The other one is a study of the work of Jean Racine which again I used a college, heavily annotated, It was not until I got it home one holiday that my late father told me the author had taught him at Cambridge in the 50’s Odette De Mourgue’s Jean Racine -The Triumph of Relevance.


What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

The Railway Navvies – Terry Coleman. Fantastic study of the construction of the railways and of the perilous life of the navvies and their gross exploitation by the boss class

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

To my shame, I rarely borrow from the local library, and I know that I am one of those who would shout loudest if it were threatened. Unlike when I was young I can now afford to buy the books I want, ether second-hand or new and sometimes even from the behemoth that is Amazon if my conscience does not overrule my wallet. That is such a privilege. Like Erasmus I would rather go hungry than not buy books!

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Martin Walker’s latest Bruno, Chief Of Police – the Children of War. A great character set in la France Profonde.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

None specifically although no doubt I will think of one after pressing ‘send’!

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

Odd, eclectic, Have you really read all of these? / Not really sure what I would like them to think. Books are, or become, friends. They do reflect my tastes, interest and personality. They are not there for show. They demonstrate a profound love of the book as a human achievement – long may it rule!



A huge thanks to Jon for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Jon’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?


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The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014 Winners Announced

And hoorah, I have been sat on this list (not literally) of the eight now announced winners of this year’s Fiction Uncovered which, unless you have been on Mars or on some fancy pants trip round the word, you will know is one of my favourite bookish endeavours there are. Each year Fiction Uncovered aims to find eight titles that have missed out on prizes or gone under the radar unjustly and this is their selection this year.

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Lolito – Ben Brooks (Canongate)
Mr Loverman – Bernardine Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton)
Little Egypt – Lesley Glaister (Salt)
The Dig – Cynan Jones (Granta)
Whatever Happened to Billy Parks? – Gareth R Roberts (The Friday Project)
Mrs. Hemingway – Naomi Wood (Picador)
Vanishing – Gerard Woodward (Picador)
All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld (Vintage)

Now I love this list this year for four reasons (there may be more by now) which are…

Firstly, I have read some of them and the books that I had already read when the list arrived* are bloody marvellous. Both Mr Loverman and All The Birds, Singing were two of my favourite books that I read in 2013. Evaristo’s tale of Barry Walker is one of the most funny, heart breaking but overall heart warming books I have read in some time, Wyld’s is one of the most mysterious, sinister and fascinating. So far Mrs. Hemingway is easily one of the best books I have read this year, even my ‘occasionally hard to please’ mother has phoned me raving about it – it is that good, and draws a fascinating portrait of Ernest Hemingway from the lives of the four main women in his life. The fact I loved these three so much has given me real high hopes for the other five.

Secondly, there are authors that I have heard whispers about (good ones) and have been meaning to read, which is part of the idea behind Fiction Uncovered after all. Gerard Woodward and Cynan Jones being these two said authors. I have heard much praise of The Dig and checked Everything I Found on the Beach out from the library a month or so ago. I have also been meaning to read Woodward’s Nourishment for ages and ages as have been told by sooooooo many people I will love it.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there are some authors and their novels which I have never heard anything about before this list. Having now looked them up they sound like corkers. Lolito is a love story about a fifteen year-old boy who meets a middle-aged woman on the internet. Intriguing, if controversial. Little Egypt is a tale of elderly, Egypt-mad twins Isis and Osiris who find their neglected English lives disturbed to catastrophic effect by the arrival of American Anarchist. Sounds amazing! Whatever Happened to Billy Parks? is about football. Hmmm football, apt timing but I am not renowned for my love of football it has to be said, but this leads to…

…Fourthly, and just as importantly, this list will get me reading out my comfort zone both in the themes of some of the books but also from the comfort authors I sometimes turn to. Ace! Lots of reasons to be very cheerful with the latest eight titles. Now to get reading!

So what do you make of the Fiction Uncovered 2014 list? Have you read any of them and what do you think? Which ones intrigue you and might you read if you can get your hands on a bunch?

*Note this is the same amount of the list I have currently read, as I have done no reading for the second week in a row, bloody work! Ha.


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Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

One of the biggest joys of reading is the moment when you find a book that you know is going to remain one of favourite reads for years and years to come, if not the rest of your reading life. It may be that the prose simply sings to you, the subject matter may chime with something in your own life, it may hit you emotionally, or the characters walk off the page and into your brain nestling there leaving you thinking about them and their story long after you have finished the book. In the case of Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey’s debut novel, it was all of these things and more.

Penguin Viking Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Take two mysteries; the recent disappearance of one of your closest friends and the disappearance of a family member in the past, and tell their stories through an 82 year old narrator suffering from dementia and you might have a very confusing and rather daunting read ahead of you. Not in the case of Elizabeth is Missing which, as you may have guessed, is based around that exact premise.

From the start of the novel we meet Maud who, when she is not repeatedly going to the corner shop and buying more (and more) tinned peaches, is always finding notes in her pockets that remind her that her friend Elizabeth is missing. She may sometimes forget the name of the women who come and make her tea or clean her house but with these notes everywhere possible she cannot forget this and she must find out where she went, why her house is empty and why Elizabeth’s son never seems to care. At the start of the novel Maud also discovers a compact mirror, where we are not initially sure, which suddenly brings back the disappearance and mystery of what happened to her sister Sukey 70 years ago.

Whilst we find the mysteries fascinating and are eager to follow Maud as she tries to work it all out, giving the book the element of a thriller and mystery yet being very much a literary novel, those around her do not feel the same, in fact they find it infuriating.

Helen sighs again. She’s doing a lot of that lately. She won’t listen, won’t take me seriously, imagines that I want to live in the past. I know what she’s thinking, that I’ve lost my marbles, that Elizabeth is perfectly well at home and I just don’t remember having seen her recently. But it’s not true. I forget things – I know that – but I’m not mad. Not yet. And I’m sick of being treated as if I am. I’m tired of the sympathetic smiles and the little pats people give you when you get things confused, and I’m bloody fed up with everyone deferring to Helen rather than listening to what I have to say. My heartbeat quickens and I clench my teeth.  I have a terrible urge to kick Helen under the table. I kick the table leg instead. The shiny salt and pepper shakers rattle against each other and a wine glass starts to topple. Helen catches it. ‘Mum,’ she says. ‘Be careful. You’ll break something.’

It is through this that Healey wonderfully creates both the angles of a double edged sword of Maud’s current situation, which alongside the mysteries at its heart create a stunningly crafted novel. On the one hand we feel for Maud both in terms of her utter assurance that her friend has gone missing and in the frustration she feels at forgetting things and not being believed. On the other we see how hard it is for the carers of someone and how tough it can be despite how much you might love them. The situation is written and described so honestly, sometimes you feel infuriated with Helen being infuriated with Maud, that it hits you with an emotional wallop.

Having personally been a carer for someone who was terminally ill and someone who used to visit their great uncle with dementia the book really struck chords with me but I think it would with any reader who has a heart to be frank. Healey doesn’t stop there though as she adds depths plus light and shade by giving Elizabeth is Missing both some darkly funny parts (I cackled) and also some utterly gut wrenching ones (I cried three times both times I read the book – yes I have read it twice I loved it so). One minute we will be laughing as Maud goes to buy another tin of peaches, then crying as she is unable to work out where home or her toilet is. Or laughing at a visit from the police before wanting to weep as her condition worsens, another devastating yet brilliant thing for Healey to show, and she realises she is forgetting those around her.

My stomach seems to have dissolved inside me. I didn’t know my own daughter, and it feels like a reproach to hear her call me Mum.

The star of the show is Healey’s writing; in her creation of such an unflinchingly vivid situation and putting us through all the emotions that come with it and her creation of Maud. Both as an elderly woman with dementia and as a young naïve girl in the (brilliantly created) 1940’s, she is one of my favourite characters in years and spending time with her was an absolute joy even when the book takes its darker twists. I still think of her and this book often.

In case you hadn’t guessed I think Elizabeth is Missing is an incredible novel. It is also a novel that looks at the elderly, of whom there are more and more as we live longer and longer and yet we seem to shy away from discussing. Emma Healey creates an insightful, funny, touching and often heart-breaking tale of Maud and the mysteries of her life in a world she is struggling to remember. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to start it all over again the moment I had turned the last page. Highly recommended, in fact I couldn’t recommend it more, easily one of my favourite books of the year. Read it.


Filed under Books of 2014, Emma Healey, Penguin Books, Review, Viking Books

Summer Reading? Try Books On The Nightstand Bingo!

So Ann and Michael of my favourite book podcast that I am not a host of ha! have come up with a great idea if you are struggling with your summer (or indeed possibly winter if you are down under) reading which I think is brilliant, all sorts of fun and we should all join in with… Because it is based around books you already own, can borrow and may already have in the back of the reading part of your brain to get to ‘at some point’. I am a bit funny about reading challenges – I know, I know I have set myself one recently with shorter fiction but bear with me – however ones that you can work your own TBR or library loan/loanable are always worth a twirl. So what is it… It is only Books on the Nightstand Bingo!

Now in the words of Ann and Michael (who will now know I have had a bit of a BOTNS catch up listen as this is a few weeks old) the way it works is… “Just visit the link below and you’ll see a BOTNS bingo card. HIT REFRESH TO GET A NEW, RANDOM CARD. You will also see a link to print the card. Use this BOTNS Bingo Card in any way you like to enhance your summer reading. You can choose to go after a particular Bingo row and pick the books that fit; you can read as normal and check off books as you read; or write each of your words on a slip of paper and draw randomly, reading until you get Bingo!” How brilliant is that? To give it a whirl follow this link here and join in by pressing refresh to mix them up. I have already and here is mine…


I have spent many an hour, while some of the conferences I am event managing have been ‘in session’, mulling over them all and what my options are and it is great fun just playing at working out which books you have which can tick off which square… I am going for FULL HOUSE!!!! In fact I am planning on presenting my card to Ann and Micheal all complete when I see them in Asheville in August – swot much? The one I am really struggling with is middle-grade book… Hmmmm!

So who else fancies giving it a whirl? If you do let me know or share your bingo card someway some how and what you might read to get a line or full house?


Filed under Random Savidgeness

Bonita Avenue – Peter Buwalda

Feeling a little rusty at the old reviewing, and having a pile of nineteen books I have read and not yet reviewed, I wasn’t sure where to start. Then the realisation that it was father’s day answered my quandary instantly as Peter Buwalda’s debut, and recently translated to English, novel Bonita Avenue is an epic tale of one family centring around the father figure at its head, Siem Sigerius. Decision made I realised I had set myself quite the book to get my reviewing fingers limbered up with as Bonita Avenue is one of those books that is so crammed with themes, insights and questions that I would say it is a book almost impossible to wholly cover, I will try however.

Pushkin Press, trade paperback, 2014, fiction, 538 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

From the outside Siem Sigerius looks to have it all. He is a renowned genius, he is happily married with two wonderful and successful daughters, a brilliant career and is so well liked that when (very near the start of the book) he is photographed naked people seem to respect him even more for being ‘a real person’. Yet as we all know, and in the case of Bonita Avenue soon discover, there is always much more going on than might meet the eye. Yes, as we read on we discover the affair from which his marriage was born, what Siem is spending his nights doing on the internet and also why he keeps his own son a secret, if you are worried that I have spoiled anything there are plenty more secrets left to discover.

If you are thinking ‘oh another family saga’ I can assure you, as someone who has read a few, that Buwalda has written something quite different here. Admittedly as you start to read Bonita Avenue and Aaron Bever describes how he meets his girlfriend Joni’s parents, her father or step-father of course being Siem, you could think this is your average family fare. Soon, in fact just a few pages later, we find ourselves several years down the line as Aaron sits on a train and discovers Joni’s mother is sitting opposite him and looking at him with the contempt he feels he deserves. Everything has changed but how and why? These are the questions Buwalda starts off making the reader ponder with a sense of mystery before asking them all about their own thoughts on adultery, mental illness, porn, the sex industry, death and murder.

If that wasn’t enough, and the book is 530+ pages so there is plenty of time for all these themes and ponderings, Buwalda does something that I thought was rather genius. He sets Bonita Avenue in the very real town of Enschede and around the time that the horrific Vuuwerkramp, or fireworks disaster, occurred when a firework factory caught light and exploded killing 23 people, injuring 947 and destroying over 400 buildings. As this huge disaster goes on Bulwalda has it playing in the background, very effectively, yet keeps the focus on the miniature disasters going on in the foreground of this family. It is a very brave and clever move and one that Buwalda executes beautifully juxtaposing the two.

For two days he’s been wandering aimlessly and awkwardly through his own house; he’s been caught unawares by the unexpected takeover of his home, Joni’s weeping about her injured friend, that phone call from Wilbert, the sooty smell emitting from the lacerated, smouldering city – everything permeates his farmhouse. Fate has turned it into a country estate from a second-rate Agatha Christie. Crammed together now, of all times.

Now I have to admit Bonita Avenue is not instantly the easiest book to read, but then some of the best books aren’t and need a lot of work. The prose is taught and punchy yet the delivery is more complex. For a start time shifts in a paragraph or a sentence and occasionally you feel slightly confused as you catch up with your narrators stream of conscious thought. Secondly sometimes you aren’t aware who your narrator is or where in the books chronology they are. There are only three narrators; Siem, Aaron and Joni and soon enough you find the rhythm and differences in their voices. However thirdly, they aren’t always that likeable. Aaron clearly has some kind of psychological issues making him unpredictable, obsessional and in his relationship with Jodi a fawning erratic paranoid mess. Joni is also an intriguing if rather icy character. She is ruthless, knows what she wants and will really do pretty much anything to get it, she is also narcissistic yet someone completely in denial. Even Siem himself is a bundle of contradictions, but then aren’t we all. He is highly successful yet incredibly insecure and often self-pitying, he is moralistic and yet a complete hypocrite. All three characters are flawed yet real, unreliable but very readable. Buwalda is now clearly just showing off. Ha!

The vexing vacuum fills itself with self-doubt, it just happens. Isn’t he being overly self-righteous? Sometimes he thinks it downright stupid to equate that internet site with prostitution, it’s just not the same thing; these are the moments he considers himself a narrow-minded old fart, but a minute later the taboo takes his breath away again, he almost wants to scream with misery, and he treats himself and his wife to another phoney email. Then, again: am I being too uptight? Am I not the one who’s a moral and ethical stuck-in-the-mud? A frightened, sexless man?

As I mentioned earlier this is really a book about one man and his efforts to be the best man, father, husband, person that he can be. Through the three characters we see how well, or not as the case may be, he manages this and also how the actions of one person no matter how big or how small can affect those close around them and those on their periphery. For all this, and all the themes and questions that it asks, I think Bonita Avenue is an incredibly original take on the epic family saga and something of a contemporary masterpiece.

If you love a novel where the shiniest of veneers is about to crack and fracture then boy oh boy you will enjoy Bonita Avenue no end. Yes, you need to work at it and it does show a rather ugly side to families and human nature and yet while it illustrates this side of life it also strangely celebrates it too. After all, aren’t we all flawed, don’t we all make mistakes and have secrets we hide? I saw a review that claimed Buwalda as being the Dutch Jonathan Franzen. I can’t comment on that not having read him yet as I read along I kept thinking of Christos Tsiolkas, not because their writing or style is the same but because they beautifully write about the nasty side of people and society and make the grim strangely glorious.

Highly, highly recommended reading and if you can think of any other books in this vein I would love to hear about them. I would also love to know if you have read Bonita Avenue and what you made of it?

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Filed under Books of 2014, Peter Buwalda, Pushkin Press, Review

So What Are You All Reading?

Because frankly I am haven’t been reading anything. A week of six days, averaging 16 hours long, of the opening week of the festival and, bar the odd chapter of The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller (which is really making me think about what I read and how I read, so I have been thinking more about books than reading them), I have not really read a thing. I have mainly be running around sorting out event space and the occasional crisis/diva which has been knackering yet perversely fun. I did manage to get to see some sunshine though today as I had a mini treat by being allowed on the roof of the building.


However, this is all going to change as I have a day off tomorrow… woohoo (I may pass out with joy next weekend when I get two days off) and I am planning on just spending the day reading in the garden whilst The Beard builds a shed – I live with someone who doesn’t love books but who loves DIY and is a trained chef, so swings and roundabouts. I cannot wait.

So while I decide what I am going to get back in the swing of reading… What are you all reading at the moment and what else have you read that has been brilliant, as it might give me some inspiration and direction. Let me know!


Filed under Random Savidgeness

The Short & Short Of It Is…

That I meant to write this post on Monday, then again on Tuesday but epically failed on both counts as I was working 12 hour days with no break. Then I meant to post it yesterday, well I actually meant to write a review but the likelihood of writing one of those this week is minimal, but it was a 14 hour day though I did get a break and booked flights to America which was so exciting I told you about that instead. So what is the short and short of it really? Well it is that I have started to get on with my Summer of Shorts.

As things look like they will be bonkers with the festival I am working on until the end of July, as I mentioned before, reading time – and spare time full stop – will be scarce and so I am going to read short fiction ideal to keep me gripped and dipping in and out of reading throughout the summer months. The first five I have chosen for the unofficial opening week (every week I will pick five short books or collections at random) are these…


A nice mixture I think you will agree. Now I have to admit since Monday morning, when I picked them with hope in my heart that was soon to be short (see what I did there) lived, I have not read a word of any of them though two of them have been in my man bag at all times. But I am still hoping to get to one of them, or two, at least before my one day weekend on Sunday. I shall try.

So I just thought I would keep you updated and once again ask if you have any short recommendations or see if any of you fancy joining in with a short summer challenge? Do any of you have any summer reading plans yet? Have you read any of the above and what did you think of them? I will leave it there for now, a short(ish), sharp, sweet post from me.


Filed under Random Savidgeness

Watch Out USA, I’m Coming Your Way…

After much organisation, faffing, missing out on the right flights, then being unable to book the next-right ones and then sitting in a dejected mess because my bank thought I was a fraudster – I can now confirm that I am officially booked, signed, sealed and everything for a trip to the USA in August. And what a trip it is going to be…

First up I am heading, via Munich and Chicago oddly, to Asheville in North Carolina where (and I am start struck already) I will be spending a long weekend at one of the Booktopia’s which Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness, of the marvellous Books on the Nightstand Podcast, organise every year around America. The itinerary looks marvellous and I have been reliably informed I may just be mentoring an event with Anthony Marra (of whose A Constellation of Vital Phenomena I was all over) which gain is just too exciting, in fact so exciting it is almost untrue. Ann, Michael and myself may even make time to record a special edition of The Readers!

Speaking of The Readers, once the Booktopia weekend is over the blues I am sure to feel will fly away (quite literally) as I then head to stay with my lovely co-host and unofficial travel agent Thomas in Washington for a few days. This I am imaging will involve some touristy sightseeing, book hunting and lying down by the pool rather a lot, all with lashings of bookish banter. Again, I am excited and beyond about this.

Then, because I won’t have done quite enough travelling, I am off to New York for a while where I am going to be doing more (slightly secretive) bookish stuff and wandering around being a tourist before I fly home at the beginning of September… Phew!

I have just realised I haven’t booked in a theme park on this trip and American theme parks are the best! DratsI Anyway… So if you are in any of these places; Asheville, Washington or NYC then do let me know. I am planning on packing Gone With The Wind (it is almost North Carolina, no?) for the long flights and the seven hours in Chicago airport on the way but as always if you have some recommendations for books set in Asheville, Washington or NYC I would be thrilled to get some ideas, or indeed for any of the ‘Great American Novels’ I have yet to read…


Filed under Random Savidgeness