Monthly Archives: September 2014

Gone Girl – The Movie (And Some Other Bits and Bobs)

Just a quick post from me as I am a) I have been feeling a bit ropey since I came back from London and b) I am reading like a demon for some episodes of You Wrote The Book (I have Victoria Hislop on this week and then the following fortnights am joined by David Nicholls and Neel Mukherjee – I am beyond chuffed, so apologies for the proud moment of over sharing) being ill of course is the perfect thing when you have got lots of lovely reading to do. It is not so good for making you have any urge to sit in front of the computer. Gosh I ramble on don’t I? Anyway…

As I mentioned I am not long back from a very speedy trip to London where I had the pleasure of going to see the advance first UK screening of Gone Girl with lots of lovely bookish types (including Rob and Kate of Adventures with Words, who were also at the lovely champagne and canapé pre-show gathering with me and I might hop on the podcast of) it was all very hush hush, phones were locked away while we watched it in the West End cinema…

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I am not sure how much I am allowed to say about it because of the fact (like the book) there are so many twists and also because of embargos, so I will keep it unusually short for me. It was bloody brilliant, two and a half hours whizzed by. I am thrilled Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay as it was spot on flawless. And, some people might think I am mad and it isn’t something I thought I would ever say, I will be amazed if Rosamund Pike doesn’t get an Oscar nod and lots of prizes for her utterly brilliant performance as Amazing Amy, she was – erm – amazing. (This also shows why I review books not films normally!)

So that was that I just thought I would share.  A big thanks to Orion for inviting me! Whilst away I also met up with the lovely Kim of Reading Matters for lunch which was lovely, much discussion of books and blogging was had too! Oh actually I forgot to tell you I saw the adaptation of S. J Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep the other week at the cinema and that was bloody marvellous too. Right, I am back to lie on the sofa and watch another adaptation, Jack Reacher. I haven’t read the books, I have no expectations, I am ill and in need of some escapism. What great adaptations have you seen recently? Have you seen Before I Go To Sleep? Will you be rushing out to see Gone Girl? Oh and if you have any questions for David Nicholls and Neel Mukherjee let me know… Book reviews are back in earnest from tomorrow, promise!

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Other People’s Bookshelves #47; Alice Farrant

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, 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 week, the series returns after a rather long hiatus, with the lovely blogger Alice who has been a long time commenter on this blog and who I feel like I know even though I don’t. She too loves Rebecca making her even more special. Anyway, grab a cup of coffee/tea and lets settle down with Alice and have a nosey through her books…

I’m Alice, a late 20s book devourer from the south of England. By day I’m a Marketeer, and by night I worry about what on earth I am going to write in bios about myself. My favourite book is Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford, which I suppose technically is a series. It was the first novel where I physically experienced the anxiety running through the story (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier being the second). Fun fact: I’m terrified of Jenga. Despite a someone grumpy exterior I am always in favour of making new bookie friends, and you can find me at my literature blog, ofBooks, or on Twitter (@nomoreparades).

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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 one book shelf, bowing under the pressure of all the paperbacks I insist on buying. Unless I have really enjoyed a book, once it’s read it’s gone. You would think that would stop me buying extreme amounts of books, but it doesn’t. Once all the space is filled it is time to be ruthless once more and part with the books I ‘don’t need’.*

* I need all books, this kills me every time.

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 would like to say that I have a wonderfully thorough alphabetical system, organise into fiction and non-fiction. But, I don’t. My system makes no sense to anyone but me. I have a to-be-read collection on top of the shelving. Then I have a ‘very favourite’ shelf in the middle, with the rest to-be-reads sitting in front of it. Other favourites go on the top shelf and ‘difficult to fit anywhere’ books and ‘other unreads’ live at the bottom. I’ve also got academic books down the side of my shelves, from my University days.

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

The only one I remember with any significance is Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and yes it’s still on my shelves. I borrowed the first three books off my sister, and finished the third just before the fourth was published. It was the beginning of a long love of the HP Universe and J.K Rowling. However, there were many books that came before and after, which may have been bought with pocket money, I can’t be certain.

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?

No, but only because I have so little space. Also, I have a Kindle (I know, I know, the thing of evil) so anything I wouldn’t want people to see on my shelves I can hide on there.

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?

My copy of Persuasion by Jane Austen. I say my copy, it’s actually my mother’s. It was one of the first books that I read as I got enveloped into reading veraciously. It was the first Jane Austen I read and it is to this day one of my favourite books. Being so far outside of what I recognised as Austen (feisty young heroines) and in Anne I saw myself. I would save it, not only because it’s not technically mine, but because it would be like leaving a little bit of myself behind to burn.

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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?

It wasn’t on my parents shelves, as most of my Dad’s books where historical or maps, but on my Aunts. We were visiting and I was allowed any book from her shelf. I chose an American psychological thriller called Tell Me No Secrets by Joy Fielding. I was too young to understand half of what was happening, but over fifteen years later I still have it. It was the first non-classic, adult book I ever read of my own volition.

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?

If I have loved it enough, yes. I do the same with e-books. If I have loved it in digital format I have to buy the paperback, e-books just aren’t the same. I find I don’t borrow books unless a friend has recommended one to me and lent me their copy. I get nervous with other people’s books, in case I were to scuff them in any way.

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

The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery and Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I’ve read the former already, it was delightful.

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

The new Foyles in London stocks a two-part hardback copy of the Parade’s End series by Ford Madox Ford. They are gorgeous and I need them in my life, once I have £80 to spare anyway.

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

I think I would like anyone looking to think I had a wide ranging taste in fiction and was relatively well read, but I’m not sure that is the vibe it would give off. If anything I probably give off the impression I own a somewhat ramshackle collection of literature. Due to the lack of organisation and bowing nature of the shelves. Ultimately I would hope they would look at my shelves and think of books they would want to recommend to me. If I achieve that, I will feel I am reading successfully.

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A huge thanks to Alice 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 forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email tosavidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Alice;s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The End of an Era…

On Wednesday we learned the sad news that Deborah Cavendish, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, had passed away. As the last of the Mitford sisters, who you all probably know I am a huge fan of, for me it seemed like a particular part of history had died out.

I don’t really want to say lots about it, partly as I don’t feel qualified to sing her praises enough and partly as I never knew or even met Deborah Devonshire in the flesh. Yet through her wonderful writing both to her sisters and in the diaries, memoirs and essays she kept, I did feel like I would have loved to sit and have a gossip and a chat with her, I think wicked laughter would have ensued as her wit, like all the Mitford sisters, was wondair. The hours spent reading those has been a joy so I am hugely thankful for that, and the reading I still have to come.

I also have her to thank for all the wonderful times I had playing in Chatsworth as a child, when I wouldn’t have know her from Adam if I has passed her in a field, which apparently Gran once did and had a lovely chat with her. Yet she turned what was a dilapidated and run down building into a place of wonder which benefitted tourists from miles around but just as importantly locals both in trade and in wonderful summers spent within its acres. Though this leads me to my favourite Deborah quote…

“Thousands of people come to walk in the park at Chatsworth all year round. There is no way of telling how many, because it is free. Most people enjoy it, or presumably they wouldn’t come, but every now and again a letter of criticism arrives.

Last week a woman wrote to say she was ‘disgusted by the animal faeces on the grass, every few feet’ and that she and her grandchildren couldn’t play ball games in case of stepping on them. Oh dear. I suppose she wants us to buy a giant Hoover to attach to the JCB and sweep 1,000 acres of well-stocked ground before breakfast in case she gets her new shoes dirty. Sorry, Madam, but you had better go and find some municipally mown grass where your unhappy grandchildren can play their clinically clean games without the fear of stepping on the unspeakable. What a frightful grandmother you must be.”

That gives you just a taste of what wonderful company she must have been and indeed what a wonderful woman she was. If you haven’t read her I would urge you to try Wait for Me or Counting My Chickens, I will be getting All in One Basket off the shelves once back from London. And you must, must read The Mitfords; Letters Between Six Sisters if you haven’t. It is like a history of the UK since the early 1900’s, told with wit and incredible insight both from the sisters perspectives and places in society. In fact go and get it now! It is wonderful that we have the words and works of Deborah and her five sisters; Pamela, Unity, Nancy, Diana and Jessica, do admit!

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The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

I am rather late to the party with Nathan Filer’s debut novel, we flirted (the book and I not the author, just to clarify) with each other around the time that it won the Costa, and as soon as it came out in paperback I bought it, yet the subject of mental health was one that always worries me with a book and so I held off. However when my book group chose it I was really rather excited to be finally getting to read about it, and then I was slightly cross with myself for having not read it sooner – isn’t that just the way?

Borough Press, paperback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, bought by my good self

The Shock of the Fall is really two stories combined, both told by Matthew, in the present Matthew is a young man with Schizophrenia (‘I have an illness, a disease with the shape and sound of a snake. Whenever I learn something new, it learns it too … My illness knows everything I know.’) and who has been sectioned and is dealing with the current mental health system. The other story is one which we get glimpses of, never quite alternating, as we read on and relates back to Matthews childhood and the death of his brother. As we follow Matthew’s narrative not only are we given insight into the system and how it is, or isn’t, working for him; we also follow the fallout, grief and guilt of a family after the death of one so young and the circumstances around it.

Both parts of this story are handled wonderfully. Firstly there is Matthew’s now as he tries to get to grips with his illness, the system that he has to be in, the community around him and the drugs which he must take. All these things that he feels at odds with and in many cases are things that he has no control over, how is anyone meant to get a hold on that and indeed their own illness at the same time? Filer not only looks at that but looks at how the people around the person with the mental illness deal with it to. Matthew’s mother, who I thought may have had undiagnosed issues, not so well, his father who just tries to get on with it as best he can and Nanny Noo (Matthew’s grandmother) who does all she can to help. I found these reactions and the interweaving relationships with them, Matthew and each other beautifully drawn if not always comfortable to read.

As I mentioned before I am always dubious about books that deal with moral issues and in particular mental health, which is why I don’t often read it. This is mainly because as someone who had had depression on and off, with extremes both at the end of 2010 (when my marriage broke down) and last autumn (after Gran died) and so, not making it all about me honestly as every depression is different from one person to the next, I have a very visceral reaction to the subject. Disability, of whatever kind, can either be done so well it makes me want to cry with joy that someone has dealt with it in such a way or it can be done in a way which is almost like using it as a way to sell the novel, almost making money out of the issue itself.

Filer deals with it deftly. Some reviewers might put this down to the fact that Filer was a mental health nurse which to me does a disservice to how good Filer’s writing is. Firstly, you’ve still got to be able to write bloody well to turn what you know into fiction secondly Filer was the nurse not the patient whose head he gets into so well. There are many standout moments for me but two remain; one the feeling of utter boredom in a ward and from the effects of the drugs you are on to make yourself ‘normal’, the other the lack of control you have over your own life.

 ‘Who?’
‘Service Users. Um – Patients.’
‘Oh. Right.’
They have a bunch of names for us. Service Users must be the latest. I think there must be people who get paid to decide this shit.
I thought about Steve. He’s definitely the sort to say Service User. He’d say it like he deserved a knighthood for being all sensitive and empowering. Then I imagined him losing his job – and to be honest, that caught me off guard. I don’t hate these people. I just hate not having the choice to get rid of them.

Also the other major strand to the book has nothing to do with mental health and is it here that some of the most touching and heartbreaking writing can be found, and that is saying something because Matthew’s present has those moments too. As I mentioned earlier not only is Matthew a young man who is suffering from a mental illness he is one suffering from grief and how to cope with it. As we go back with Matthew we learn of the wonderful, and often idyllic, childhood that he had with his brother Simon until a trip away that changed it all. I won’t give any spoilers, and if like me you try and guess it you will think you are right but you’d be wrong, but I found the sections discussing his love for his sibling incredibly moving, and the grief even more so.

Shhh, shhh. It’ll be ok. That’s what he said as he placed me down outside our caravan, before running to get Mum. I might not have been clear enough – Simon really wasn’t strong. Carrying me like that was the hardest thing he’d ever done, but still he tried to reassure me. Shhh, shhh. It’ll be okay. He sounded so grown-up, so gentle and certain. For the first time in my life it truly felt like I had a big brother. In the few short seconds whilst I waited for Mum to come out, as I cradled my knee, stared at the dirt and grit in the skin, convinced myself I could see the bone, in those few short seconds – I felt totally safe.

It takes a skilled writer to make a story which appears and hide within another one to read naturally, it also takes a skilled writer to make both a present and past narrative as interesting as the other. Filer does this and also, rather wonderfully, makes us care about them in equal measure. He also does something with the style of the book which for me made the book go from great to brilliant. As we read The Shock and the Fall we come across doodles, the text will change from computerised to handwritten, hand written to typewriter, type writer back to computerised as Matthew writes all his thoughts down wherever he can. There are also wonderful and funny chapter titles like ‘Please Stop Reading This Over My Shoulder’ so that with the texture of the different texts (which seem to take on different tempos of his thoughts) and these titles we actually feel that we are in Matthew’s head, as well as tones of despair, rage and humour, making the novel all the more powerful.

The Shock of the Fall is a rare novel which from the outset looks like it is talking about mental health; those who suffer from it, those around them and the system which we have for ‘dealing’ with it, yet in actual fact is a book about life, death, being different and how we cope with it all. It is also a novel which will make you laugh, cry, be angry and most importantly question what we mean by normality and how we should, or indeed shouldn’t, define it. It chimed with me and I will certainly be looking forward to whatever Nathan Filer writes next.

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Filed under Borough Press, Nathan Filer, Review

It’s Autumn, Hooray…

Today is officially the first day of autumn. Knowing this fact may make me sound even more like a geek; I don’t actually know when winter, summer and spring start though. This is because, sorry to the other three, autumn is my very favourite season of the year by a mile. I have mentioned this before on the blog I am sure, I will mention it again though. I love the fact that the nights start to draw in, yet it isn’t stupidly dark (damn you winter). I love the fact that everything feels cosier, you don’t want to leave your bed in the morning; you don’t want to take your cardigan/jumper off when you go to bed at night. I love the tones and colours of the trees, mildly ignoring the fact that it is all nature decaying/dying. I love the fact that the cats love me more, even if it is just because they want to steal my heat. I love the atmosphere outside as the foggy mornings start and twilight seems to last longer.

This is not my street. I currently have neighbours who seem to have filled a skip and most of the street with their garbage, not that I am cross.

All in all I love autumn. It is also my favourite reading season. This is because of most of the factors above; equating to staying in bed all the time or sitting by the fire (that I don’t have) or spending hours in the bath (which I don’t have, I need to move) and just reading. There is also something about the atmosphere that matches my favourite reads. Now is the time I am most likely to dust of some sensation Victorian fiction, a great murder mystery or open some ghost stories – which are all of my favourite books. Why I don’t read these as much at other times of the year I am not sure, and maybe I do but maybe I just don’t notice them as much. I am now very excited about perusing my shelves and looking for some ideal autumnal reads.

So I am thrilled autumn is here, what about you? Do you have a favourite season be it for reading or whatever? What books, or type of books, have you got planned to read or are looking forward to getting this autumn?

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Books That I’ve Bought of Late; The American Edition

I haven’t really mentioned my trip to America. I am currently working out how to do it in a way that won’t feel like one of those stomach dropping moments when you visit someone and they say ‘oh, let’s look at the pictures of my holiday’ and then go on to show you about a thousand pictures of which only about ten or twenty interest you in anyway. I will keep thinking. In the meantime before Other People’s Bookshelves returns next weekend (if you want to take part in a future one I would love you to) I thought I would share with you the books that I bought whilst I was away…

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The first book I bought on my trip was, some might say fatefully with my love of her, Daphne Du Maurier’s The Winding Stair. When Thomas and I went to the rather amazing and never ending second hand bookstore Capitol Hill Books in Washington, which I will have to post about, I could have bought lots and lots of books. The sensible boring part of my brain though was thinking of luggage allowance and so I snatched up just this. It is a nonfiction historical biography of Francis Bacon. I love the Tudor period and had seen this with its British title Golden Lads here in the UK ages ago for a small fortune. $4 was simply too much of a bargain.

Next up is the last book that I actually bought, but to put this at the bottom of the pile would have set off my OCD as it is so slim it would look odd – sorry too much ramble. Anyway, I was in the airport and still had about $40 that I knew would be turned into tuppence if I exchanged it burning in my pocket. So instead of buying The Beard another NYC police t-shirt or hoodie (don’t tell him) I decided to treat myself to Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Murakami who I am a big fan of and thought having the American version would be extra special and so snapped it up.

Many of you may be surprised that I have never read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which is actually the world’s bestselling mystery ever. Well I haven’t. E Lockhart had been singing its praises at Booktopia so it was fresh in my mind. Fate then intervened as I got caught in a torrential downpour in NYC so took refuge in Barnes and Noble and this was on one of the tables I perused and was just $10 (I of course forgot about the tax) and seemed like a good purchase in return for using the shop for thirty minutes while the rain passed.

Some of you may have heard on The Readers that I struggled with bookshops in Washington initially. Everyone said I would love Politics and Prose, and I probably would have if it hadn’t been for the fact a member of staff who had been hacking up phlegmy coughs as we perused was then incredibly rude to a customer on the phone and so I decided it wasn’t for me. However that all changed when Thomas took me to Books for America before his Spanish class where I found some gems which lead me to leaving The Goldfinch in Thomas’ spare room.

Life After Life by Jill McCorkle is a book I heard about on some US blogs and possibly Books on the Nightstand around the time that Life After Life by Kate Atkinson came out. It sounded right up my street as it is set in an old people’s homes and as I mentioned in my review of The Long Road I have a thing about old people’s homes as a setting, not as some strange fetish just to clarify again. It was also mentioned soooo fondly at Booktopia I had been hunting it in bookshops and not found it, then Thomas came up with it for just $4 and for a charity, oh hello!

I then also saw two of Truman Capote’s books that I don’t own and couldn’t leave without at such a bargain price as I love his writing so much. Music for Chameleons is a collection of some of his reportage and gossipy tales. Discussions smoking with his cleaner and trading sexual gossip with Marilyn Monroe were mentioned on the back. Sold. I also got A Christmas Memory as I love reading Christmas based tales at Christmas and this is three in one which I can sneakily hideaway with when the family get too much (we are at my mother’s this year, so probably on day two) if they do. Coughs.

The final four books came from the most infamous bookstore in NYC, The Strand, which I visited on my penultimate day and so felt I could go crazy in. Initially I thought I might go crazy at how big it was, then I couldn’t find any fiction books apart from the tables at the front… then I actually found the map and all became clearer. Well after I had decoded the symbols they use to illustrate different sections. If you ever go to NYC you have to go to The Strand, its endless and books are slightly discounted in the main fiction and downstairs there is a secret section where some hardbacks are half price, legendary.

I came away with two paperbacks that I had been mulling over since I saw them, but refused to buy them because of Mardy Mark, in Politics and Prose. Wilton Barnhardt’s Lookaway, Lookaway sounds so up my street. Jerene Jarvis Johnston is in the high society of her town, yet of course she has many a secret and a really dysfunctional family, but how long can she keep them under cover. Genius, very me. Oh and it was set in North Carolina where I started my trip, so I knew I would be able to conjure it when I was reading. Amy Grace Loyd’s The Affairs of Others caught my eye because of the cover, which helpfully you can’t see, then as soon as I read the blurb and saw it was a tale of a woman who has been widowed and so becomes a landlady soon welcoming unwelcome guests (that makes sense right?) into her life and her building, I knew I had to get it at some point. Lovely stuff.

On The Books is a graphic novel by Greg Farrell and comes with the subtitle, a graphic tale of working woes at NYC’s Strand Bookstore. I spotted it when I got hopelessly lost (I think they do this on purpose for this very reason) on the first floor and it seemed the perfect souvenir booky book to remind me of NYC. Oh and it was signed.

Hardback’s are quite pricey in the US, especially when you take into account tax which I constantly forgot about. The one that I had seen and most fancied getting was Your Face in Mine by Jess Row as it sounded unlike anything I have read before. One afternoon after moving back home Kelly Thorndike is called to by someone he has never seen before and has no recollection of. The man identifies himself as Martin, one of his oldest friends, only Martin was white and Jewish then and now he is very much an African American man. Why would he change his colour and what is his plan behind it all? Martin is about to be coerced into finding out and even helping Martin with his plan… Doesn’t that sound brilliant? It was amazingly in the half price hardback section and was the last copy. It had to leave with me.

So that was my holiday loot. I think I did quite well don’t you? I wasn’t excessive but definitely came back with some great finds. I am particularly excited by Life After Life, On The Books, The Affairs of Others, Your Face in Mine and Lookaway, Lookaway as they aren’t published in the UK (yet) which makes them seem all the more special and undiscovered, though I am sure some of you over the pond will have read one or two of them. I would love to know if you have, well, I would love to know if any of you have read any of them or about any books you have bought abroad. Oh and I was also a book enabler whilst in DC with Thomas as you can see here, ha!

I won’t be sharing any posts on books I have been sent anymore after my recent decision to change my blogging style and review policy. I will still be getting them and sharing them on Twitter and Instagram though so add SavidgeReads on both of those if you fancy a nosey at the occasional bookish post parcels. I will be posting intermittent Books That I’ve Bought posts though.

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The Road Home – Rose Tremain

So I lied to you all. I lied to you all and then to make it worse I let you all down. I promised that I would have the review of this up, as one of the Trespassing with Tremain titles, last Sunday (after having delayed it once before, what kind of monster am I?) however it has taken until now. Do I feel bad? Not really, you see I was enjoying The Road Home so much and finding the writing so brilliant I didn’t want to rush it. So I let it, and its characters, just engulf me for a little bit longer. Though I have to admit, I did almost fall out with Tremain at one point, I may even have been a little bit cross.

Vintage Books, paperback, 2008, fiction, 365 pages, borrowed from the library

Lev is a man who, after the recent death of his wife, is travelling from Eastern Europe to the UK in search of work so that he can provide a better life for his mother, daughter and even some of his friends if they need help. A little like Dick Whittington he sees London as a place of streets filled with gold, or at least gold coins as part of the wealthy West. His dream soon becomes a grim reality as we follow his journey upon arrival in London where upon he finds a cold and confusing place, somewhere he realises he is ill prepared and poorly funded for. We follow him as he tries to make it in this new world, often wondering if such a thing can be possible, whilst his friends and family struggle in the land he left behind.

Within a very few chapters you can see why this novel won the Orange Prize back in 2008. Not only is it stunningly written, it is just brimming with themes and questions. It is also one of those books that really looks at the state of the UK and the experience not only of immigrants, which of course it highlights, but of anyone who is living on the breadline, or in the bits of society we don’t like to linger on, and trying to find their way in the life, or to be more precise in Lev’s case Europe.

‘Aren’t you afraid, like, Immigration could come here and whack you down the nick?’
‘Whack me down the nick? What is that?’
‘He knows nothin’, bless ‘im. You don’t know nothing’, luv. That Immigration, they’ve got officers everywhere, in disguise. I could be from them, for all you know. Then you’re done for. You’re back on the first plane.’
‘Yes? Back to what place?’
‘To wherever you came from: Bela-whatsit, Kazak-wherever.’

Of course it is the immigrant experience that is the focus of the novel as we follow Lev. It is this which makes the narrative so gripping as Tremain unflinchingly looks at how someone in a completely new and unnerving situation and surroundings. As we follow Lev from a bedsit, to posting leaflets, to the sink of one of London’s finest restaurants and beyond (no spoilers) we feel his vulnerability, see how he gets used and wonder how on earth anyone can go through all of that? Here I should mention that not once was I aware, once I was in, that Lev’s story was being written by a British woman, it all felt so real and chimed with what I have heard from friends, and indeed my ex, who were immigrants in this new United Kingdom. That is masterful in itself.

Yet there is also so much more going on. I love books that feature old people and old people’s homes. This is not some weird fetish I promise. This country is brimming, I nearly said overflowing but that sounds awful, with elderly people and people are living longer. For some reason as a society we don’t talk about them (rather like European immigrants I guess) and often shut them away in homes physically and literally. These people have done so much for us, yet these people are often left lonely and forgotten. They are also brimming with stories. Throw the ‘homes’ they are put into, and all the things that brings; fighting for independence and against authority, simply giving up, becoming angry and resentful, not wanting to live with people they don’t know, being bored out of their minds, etc and you have endless opportunities for a writer and lots of stories to tell and points to make as Tremain does.

Lev had asked her what she’d do there and she told him that she’d help prepare a Christmas meal and then they’d play games and have a sing-song. She said: ‘They’ll all get squiffy on Asti Spumante and float backwards in time, but I don’t care. When you’re old, nobody touches you, nobody listens to you – not in this bloody country. So that’s what I do: I touch and listen. I comb their hair. I play clapping games with them. That’s a laugh and a half. I hear about life in the post-war prefab or in some crumbling stately pile. I play my guitar and sometimes that makes them cry. My favourite person there is a woman called Ruby. She was brought up by nuns in India. She can still remember the convent school and her favourite nun, Sister Bendicta – every detail, every feeling.’

That is not all, there is more. No, seriously. Tremain also looks at a host of other things. She looks at grief and how we deal with it. She looks at love and infatuation in all its forms. She discusses the cult of celebrity and ‘the rich’. She looks at class. She looks at marriage and divorce. She looks at friendship and fatherhood. I could go on. The one other main theme I think I should mention though is that she looks at home and what that word really means and how we make our own.

So why did I almost fall out with Tremain? Well there was one thing that bothered me and was the only time where I suddenly said to myself ‘oh yeah, this is a story it’s not real’, because I had become so engrossed, and that is when she makes Lev do something violent that seems totally out of character. I initially thought I had missed something in his back story because for me he had just been this good guy who was working his arse of and the system was still messing him up, two steps forward one step back. Next thing I was thinking he was a nasty bugger and it jarred. I can see why Tremain did it, Lev becomes rather passionate about someone or something, yet this seemed very extreme. It caused a wobble, thankfully one that was soon stabilised by the prose and the turn in the plot which I wasn’t expecting. I know some people found this too jarred, as the book takes a possible hopeful twist, yet I went along with it and believed in it. Crisis averted.

As you have probably guessed I thought that The Road Home was rather wonderful. It is one of those wonderful books that makes you despair at society and how everything about it works. It is also a book about how we deal with struggles, being forgotten and/or looking for a place to belong. Tremain creates characters that you care about and love; Lev, Rudi, Christy, Ruby and ones that you think are utter bastards, who I won’t give away. It is a fully formed world which we all inhabit and, I think, makes us question it and want better for ourselves and others within it. All of this whilst also being a bloody marvellous story that is brilliantly written.

I am officially becoming a complete Tremain fan and can totally see why Gran raved about her as much as she did, so thanks Gran for making me read her even if it is too late to talk about her with you. However, as is always a delight, I can talk about it with all of you. Who else had read The Road Home and what did you make of it? For more opinions check Kim and Lizzy’s thoughts. Don’t forget next in Trespassing with Tremain is The Darkness of Wallace Simpson and Other Stories which we will be discussing on Sunday October the 5th, I promise. So do join in if you fancy it.

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Filed under Review, Rose Tremain, Trespassing with Tremain, Vintage Books

This Blog Is Changing (How I Plan to Avoid the Seven Year Itch)

So we have all had some fun and frolics in the last week, we even had some birthday cake yesterday, now it is time to get serious. Well as serious as it can get when this is being typed by a 32 year old man in a Hogwarts t-shirt. True story. Anyway, I have mentioned that I have been thinking (definitely not navel gazing or omphaloskepsis as I like to call it) about blogging and books and reading and all that stuff while I had a break. The verdict is in; I still want to keep Savidge Reads going, I just think some changes need to happen though that will make me happier even if it doesn’t make everyone else happier. So let me explain but be warned, a lot like Savidge Reads going forward, this post may contain swearing, snarkiness and some other things beginning with S which I can’t think of right now.

So, while I was away I contemplated it all. I decided it wasn’t necessary for a relaunch but a reassessment and restart. I should head back to where it all began and, as Julie Andrews put it so well in the Sound of Music which I have still never seen, ‘let’s start at the very beginning’ when things were simpler and everything was easier. I found an old copy of some guidelines I wrote way back when and so have tinkered with them and here are my new blogging guidelines…

  • Reading always comes before blogging as though I enjoy blogging it is reading that is my passion. Reading more may mean blogging less and that’s fine. Sometimes life is also allowed to come before reading, sometimes.
  • I started writing Savidge Reads as a personal journal of all things bookish and not for anyone else such as publishers/authors or blogger fame/hits (though it is lovely that you pop by) and that is what I always need to remember, or I could become a bit of a dickhead and no one likes an egotistical/self important blogger, nor do we need any more of them.
  • I also need to be myself so if that means being slightly snarky, tongue in cheek, giddy, downright cross or any of the spectrum of emotions that go on in my head – this is fine. There is no need to be offensive or uncouth, yet I don’t need to be polite for the sake of it either. Yes, some negative reviews might just be on the way when called for, not just to be an arse. After all we all read some stuff that we just think is a bit ‘meh’ or even complete bobbins.
  • I want to read older stuff, more of my favourite authors back catalogues of work.  That said…
  • I will still be reading new stuff but not every ‘big book’ that is hyped to ridiculous proportions, you know the ones I mean the ones people who don’t even really like it like because they should. At the same time there are authors who I love that are getting (from previous experience I have had) deserved hype like Ali Smith, Ian McEwan or Neil Mukherjee and so as I would be reading them anyway they don’t count. I also really want to discover lesser known/left of field stuff. I love Fiction Uncovered and would really like to uncover more fiction that might have been missed and that is quirky and should be read. I want to go off and be a bit rogue basically, hopefully introducing you to new books and not just be one of the hundred people reading and then writing about the same book.
  • I am happy for publishers to still send me books, I love a new book and it still feels like Christmas every time, yet things need to change. I was sent a autobiography of a jockey last week and I hate horses, we all know this what is the world coming to? Also, I won’t be reading e-book copies, I won’t be doing any blog tours and I don’t want to feature author videos when I haven’t read the book just to earn brownie points. I have created a more in depth Review Policy here.
  • Reviews will probably get a bit longer, chatty posts a little bit shorter or longer or stay the same. Though I may again break this rule when I have read a few duds or books I don’t have much to say about by creating bulk mini reviews. Reviews with spoilers in will say so.
  • Blogging doesn’t have to be daily. It doesn’t even have to be every other day! I know, who knew?
  • Over all, I want to read by ‘whim’ I don’t want to be reading to deadline unless I set one myself. This is of course instantly hypocritical with projects I have going at the moment like Trespassing with Tremain and the ‘on pause but back soon’ Persephone Projects. Yet these are based around personal little reading goals or pacts I have with myself. If you crazy kids want to join in that’s lovely, I might just not jump on board anyone else’s challenges, no offence.
  • I will comment back more. I kinda like you lot you see.

So basically what I am saying in a long winded and more grown up way above is that it is my blog, my rules… so nurr, nurney, nurr nurr. Ha! Seriously though the most important three things (which I could have said much quicker but where is the fun in that?) for me are that it is all about whims, it is all about going off and finding different books/being a bit rogue/uncovering some wayward gems and it is all about fun and me injecting my personality into it. I recently wrote a piece for The Writing Platform which I enjoyed immensely as it mixed my honest opinion with my tongue in my snarky fat cheeks. That along with my favourite of my own posts (vain I know) is where I want this blog to go. I also want it to be brimming with good quality reviews, after all Gran said ‘you’re reviews are getting much better you know’ before she died, from her that was quite something to be proud of. Hopefully you will all be along from the ride, be it bonkers, bumpy or something else beginning with B that I can’t think of right now! Oh BOOKISH, how could I forget that?

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Now We Are Seven…

Today is the day where I get to eat lots of cake, have a small childish party at lunchtime and go on a book shopping spree because… Savidge Reads turns seven today! Happy Blog Birthday to me! It is a time when I get to feel like a/the queen with two birthdays sort of. I am sure the cards and presents are on the way! Weirdly I both cannot believe that I have been actually stuck at something this long (this blog has lasted longer than some of my previous relationships) and yet at the same time it seems like I have been doing this for sooooo much longer!

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Maybe that is where the idea of the seven year itch comes from? You feel like you have ‘stuck at something’, you wonder if it has all gotten a bit samey and therefore you start looking around and assessing and wondering if maybe you need to change it all up, or give it all up and move onto something new. I know I have been going through all those feelings about blogging of late. Hopefully  I have come up with a plan that will see me ride it out though, which I will be sharing with you tomorrow. In the meantime let’s celebrate… Who fancies some of this amazing chocolate bar, but not actually a chocolate cake which you know I don’t like, cake then?

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Rounding Up The Reviews #3; Fairytales, Maids Versions, Resurrections and Sex Criminals

As you will have seen already this week, but this is the last one, both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would round up some of books I have failed to review so far this year starting a new occasional series of posts where I give you a more succinct selection of books you might want to need. The good, the bad and the ugly! Some of them might be perfectly fine reads, I just don’t have that much to say about them and that happens from time to time for no rhyme or reason. So here are the final four for a while and indeed before Savidge Reads turns a corner next week.

The Complete Short Stories – Oscar Wilde

Oxford University Press, paperback, 2010 edition, fiction, 228 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Oscar Wilde and me have a funny old relationship. I think his quotes are the height of wit yet his works tend to really divide me. I either think they are utter genius or not really that good. The Picture of Dorian Grey is on prime example as there is so much that is gothic about it and so much about attitudes and the theme of fighting for youth and beauty, yet occasionally I found it really boring and it is only short.

Possibly sacrilegious I know yet the same can be said for his short stories in this collection – well this complete selection. Some of them (Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime, The Nightingale and the Rose and the famous Happy Prince) are utterly brilliant, some (The Canterville Ghost) are okay and the others are a little bit, dare I say it, forgettable. Yet short story collections are tricky minxes because how you read them can really make or break them. I was reading these for Hear… Read This and possibly slightly more last minute and like a novel, rather than reading them over a period of time. That said dragging some of them out would still have caused problems. I have kept the collection though as some I will turn to again and again – mainly the three I named at the start.

The Maid’s Version – Daniel Woodrell

Sceptre, paperback, 2014, fiction, 176 pages, bought by my good self

In 1929, an explosion in a Missouri dance hall killed forty-two people. Who was to blame? Mobsters from St Louis? Embittered gypsies? The preacher who cursed the waltzing couples for their sins? Or could it just have been a colossal accident? Alma Dunahew, whose scandalous younger sister was among the dead, believes the answer lies in a dangerous love affair, but no one will listen to a maid from the wrong side of the tracks. It is only decades later that her grandson hears her version of events – and must decide if it is the right one.

How brilliant does that story sound? I was really excited about reading this novella after Kate chose it for Hear… Read This and sadly I came away really disappointed. The explosion happens very early on in the novel which would kill some books because why would you read on, some authors though make you want to. Woodrell sort of does. The problem is he shows too much too soon. The explosion happens, an affair starts before it (the book doesn’t go backwards, more hops about all over the shop) then we get some wonderful emotive short pieces about some of the victims and… and… then it sort of lost my interest. I felt, if I am being honest and that is what I will always be even if it’s harder when it is negative (The Beard would say I have no problem with this in real life), here Woodrell is trying so hard to write a novella unlike anyone has written before he couldn’t live up to his own desire. It’s a mish mash of voices and characters and chronological set pieces, yet not in an exciting way.

Resurrection – Wolf Haas                                                                                                                                                   

Melville House, paperback, 2014, fiction, 184 pages, bought by my good self

When Inspector Simon Brenner leaves the police force, he’s looking forward to some peace and quiet, and the lovely Alpine village of Zell seems like just the place. That is, until the corpses of an American couple are found frozen on a ski lift, and Brenner, doing some part time work for an insurance company, is called in to investigate the matter. It turns out that the victims have relatives in the area and the crime – if it is a crime – seems like it could be a family affair. Except the prime suspect has a solid alibi and no one in picture-perfect Zell is talking. (Stealing blurbs is so the way forward with these round up reviews, I waffle too much.)

Now this book was a really interesting reading experience and I am very much glad I read it even though I didn’t really like it overall. Some bits were brilliant, some bits were bonkers and some bits didn’t make any sense. I can definitely say it is a new form of cold crime novel, yet whether it will work for you or not is another thing. The omnipresent narrator is very unsettling, then funny, then baffling, talks in riddles and then suddenly seems to clarify towards the end. The humour flits between light, dark and then slightly inappropriate. The plot is fairly good, when it makes sense at the end, and there is a tour de force scene in a petrol station I will never forget. A real mixed bag, yet reading that back I feel intrigued and want to try it again. Maybe instead I will try his next in the series? Oh and before I move on, corking author name.

Sex Criminals – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky

Image Comics, paperback, 2014, graphic novel, 128 pages, bought by my good self

Another recommendation from Rob, actually Resurrection was one of his choices for Hear… Read This where he also mentioned this title. Imagine if every time you reached a peak of sexual climax (yes it does feel awkward typing that and knowing you are all going to read those words) time stopped for everyone else, literally, until you thought about sex again. Imagine then you find someone else who can make the same thing happen? You could cause all sorts of mayhem, or rob banks to save a library. We would all do the latter as book lovers wouldn’t we? Well this is the premise of the comic/graphic novellas which make up the first volume of Sex Criminals, only something is chasing our heroes to stop them.

From its bookish and titillating (did they give that word its name on purpose?) premise I had to give it a whirl after Rob mentioned it. I was titillated (that word again) and loved the way the hero’s wanted to save a library so it ticked all the right boxes for me. I can’t say I was fully lost in the world as this did seem more of a comic than a graphic novel – if I have horrified comic and graphic novel fans saying that I am so sorry – as it did feel it was slightly more 2D than some graphic novels I have read. If you fancy some escapism and a bit of a bookish naughty giggle then definitely give it a whirl.

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So that is the final review round up for a while, have you enjoyed them? Do you want me to keep doing them now and again or would you rather I binned them off? Which of these titles have you read and what did you make of them? Have you had any books that you didn’t love but regardless are really glad you read and if so what were they? Who has accidentally arrived here because of the ‘sex criminal’ Google alert?

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Filed under Chip Zdarsky, Daniel Woodrell, Matt Fraction, Oscar Wilde, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews, Wolf Haas

Ask Simon Anything – Part III

And so we come to the final set of your questions, which The Beard says I should never do again because it makes me look egotistical and attention seeking – even though I didn’t come up with the idea but let’s not have a domestic via the medium of blogging. These are probably the most eclectic we have had so far mixing the bookish tone of Magdalena’s and the frankly whimsical ones of Thomas. Right let’s get on with it…

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Do you ever experience emotional transference – from the character to yourself – when you are reading? For example, did you feel the protagonist’s anxiety, or Mrs Danvers rage, while reading Rebecca? – Alice

Wow Alice, that is quite a question. I can definitely feel Danvers rage when reading Rebecca  and am known to cry at the odd book, and also guffaw very loudly, so I think that I must experience emotional transference but have never thought about it in the context and now feel I should add it as a skill on my CV, ha! Before I move on I must say something about the protagonist unnamed second Mrs De Winter in Rebecca, she really needs a bit of a slap. No, I am not a misogynist but she is so ineffectual and drippy. I only got that on the second or third re-read.

Who would play you in the film of your life – and what would the film be called? Also who would you like to write the film tie-in book? – Annabel, Gaskella

Well I would like to write the book/memoir and then be the executive producer. I think it would have to have a really corny title so let us make it be called Taming The Savidge and I would have Seth Rogan as me, though he would have to straighten his hair a bit!

If you could change your name, what would you change it to? As ‘male’ and ‘female’ – Quinn

Ooh, as a youth I was desperate to be called Rex. No idea why. If I was going to be a girl then I would have been called Laura or Lucy I believe. In the book of babies names my mother had at the time there is a list and Graham was up there, as was Fattyarbuckle – rude. I wouldn’t change my name though, when I got married the first time I refused, because Simon Savidge has quite a ring to it.

Bengal or Egyptian Mau? – Dark Puss

Definitely Bengal. I am very lucky though as Oscar is half Bengal and Millie is half Maine Coon which are the two types of cats I have always most wanted to have, the added bonus is that the tabby in them keeps them grounded hahaha. Pedigree cats are really haughty.

Would you rather fight a horse-sized duck or a hundred duck-sized horses? And could you please explain your decision… – Rob

I wouldn’t fight any ducks, I love ducks and as you know had a pet duck called Rapunzel. I would get rid of the duck sized horses, I hate horses. The horse sized duck would make the best pet ever. I would call her Olga and fly her.

Favourite book and author, and the reason why! – Kaggsy

Favourite book, as if you needed to ask, is Rebecca because its amazing, gothic and made me read again. Interestingly though Daphne isn’t my favourite author. Shock, horror! That changes daily. I still don’t know who my favourite author is an that is one of the things that keeps me reading I guess. Atwood is up there, Atkinson and Susan Hill too. It changes. McEwan always was but his last two, I haven’t read The Children’s Act yet, did very little for me. Ali Smith is creeping up there actually. See, no idea – will just keep having fun reading and trying to find out.

What is your wallpaper on your computer? – Quinn

How vain is this? It is my own tattoo…

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Which character would you be/do you have an affinity with the most? – Impossible Alice

I tried to answer this in a blog post the other day and couldn’t. I am quite happy being me and I meet characters I like but not ones I would want to be. I would love to hang out with Sherlock Holmes. Just for fun I will say I have the affinity most with The Woman in Black – sheer rage and a need for revenge. Ha!

I would like to know if you review all the books you read and if not, how do you choose which ones you review.  – Sharkell

Good question! I don’t know how I choose, it tends to be books that I have loved and am happy to rave about because any author takes a long time to write a novel and I don’t want to trample all over that. Also, I have no desire to put people off books. That said I have been doing some round up posts recently of books I liked but haven’t masses to tell you about or the ones I have disliked, even loathed. I have actually found it quite good fun and liberating, plus if you only see the books I love how will you know what I don’t?

Which writer(s) of fiction do you think are most successful in describing animals and their interactions with the protagonists (if relevant) and which are the least? – Dark Puss

This sounds a cop out but none. I don’t like books with animals in as a rule. Woolf’s best book is the one about the dog – that says it all 😉

I’d like to add which of the above questions do you consider silly, answer honestly! And additional query: your opinion and experience of book festivals? – Carol S

Book festivals is too long an answer. I think if you go through my blog you will see I am a fan of them, though I think some could be better. I want to run Liverpool’s next one so I need to stay a little quiet on all that for now though. No question is ever silly, even the silliest ones. My mum always said that.

Are you going to bring back the Persephone Project, as this was something I enjoyed. – Victoria

Definitely, and sooner than you think. That pesky thing called work got in the way and I was reading a mammoth one I couldn’t get into. I have several weeks of now so can get back into it! Hoorah.

Do you ever find yourself thinking “Written by a woman–it would be!” I ask because being female I do sometimes think “Typical male author!” I know I should ‘t but it happens… Erica W

Honestly… No. I tend to roll my eyes at male authors much more. I always thought I read predominantly women, but every year when I look it is pretty much fifty/fifty which isn’t what I would expect as I think, in my own head, that I like women more.

What will you tell us about chemistry, biology or physics? – Dark Puss

I hate them all. I was rubbish at all of them. I don’t get science.

I would like to know who is your favourite French author(s) or what is your favourite French book(s), if you have any? – Caro

I have three favourite books. HHhH by Laurent Binet. Alex by Pierre Lemaitre. The Suicide Shop by Jean Teule. All quite dark, all brilliant. I need to read some French classics so do please recommend me some.

If Rebecca hadn’t brought u back to reading….what other book would have? – Quinn

Ooh. The last question is the most impossible. I can’t really say because I can’t, now, imagine any other book that would and at the time didn’t expect it to. Something would have but what I can’t even hazard a guess at and am not sure I want to as Rebecca has such a place in my heart now.

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Thank you all very much for thinking of the questions and indeed asking them. I have really enjoyed that, and not just the egotistical, attention seeking and tongue-firmly-in-cheek, side of me. As someone who is always asking (too many) questions it was nice to go away and think about all the bookish and not so bookish things you brought up. So cheers!

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Rounding Up The Reviews #2; Drivers Seats, Seas of Stories, Days of Deer and Wavewalkers

Both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would round up some of books I have failed to review so far this year and start a new occasional series of posts where I give you a more succinct selection of books you might want to need. The good, the bad and the ugly! Before you think that they are all just going to be books I didn’t really like I can say that two of these books I really liked a lot. Such a tease, anyway, I am in danger of falling into my usual waffle territory so let’s get on with it…

The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1970 (2006 edition), fiction, 128 pages, bought by my good self

You know I love Muriel Spark, I know I love Muriel Spark so why would I put her in a round up post? Well my lovelies it is because I have read this book before and told you all about it then. But should you not be in the mood to pop and check that link, which would be frightfully mean of you, I will give you a little summary. I loved it as much as I did the first time.

Oh ok, that isn’t quite enough. Lise has pretty much lived the same day of her life every day for the last sixteen years. Yet she has decided to change all that by going away on holiday and leaving everything behind, in short she is going to transform herself and yet the transformation might not be the sort of thing we would go in for. As we follow her story though we soon learn that the adventure and journey Lise has in mind might not be the sort of thing we would go for either! It has been called a dark nasty little book; I think it is a dark little work of genius. Read it, then read it again. You can hear it discussed further here but beware of spoilers!

Haroun and the Sea of Stories – Salman Rushdie

Penguin Books, paperback, 1991, fiction, 224 pages, borrowed from the library

When Haroun’s mother leaves him and his father for her lover, who happens to be their neighbour (which I found all a bit grown up for a kids book but clearly I am a prude) everything changes. Not only for the family and the loss of a mother and wife but also as Haroun’s father changes almost overnight. Before his wife left he was one of the most witty and charming people around who made his living as a story teller, the Shah of Blah. Now the stories are gone and when he opens his mouth all that comes out of it is ‘Ark, ark, ark…’ Haroun must find the sea of stories and save them all. Which sounds very grand but is the purpose of the adventure that follows.

I think if I had read this when I was about 10 or 11 I would have looooooved it. As it was I kind of liked it. I think the problem really is me. I I like magical realism in general but for some reason in a kids book magic just tends to get a bit silly for me (with the exception of Mildred Hubble and Harry Potter) and it breaks the spell, pun intended. I had tried Rushdie’s other young adult/childrens book Luka and the Fire of Life and had the same issues there but Rob chose it for for Hear… Read This, so I blame him as I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, ha! It has made me want to read Rushdie’s adult works again though, not a complete loss for me, and many of you will love it – in fact on Hear… Read This most of them did.

The Days of The Deer – Liliana Bodoc

Corvus Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is known that the strangers will sail from some part of the Ancient Lands and will cross the Yentru Sea. All our predictions and sacred books clearly say the same thing. The rest is all shadows. Shadows that prevent us from seeing the faces of those who are coming. In the House of Stars, the Astronomers of the Open Air read contradictory omens. A fleet is coming to the shores of the Remote Realm. But are these the long-awaited Northmen, returned triumphant from the war in the Ancient Lands? Or the emissaries of the Son of Death come to wage a last battle against life itself? From every village of the seven tribes, a representative is called to a Great Council. One representative will not survive the journey. Some will be willing to sacrifice their lives, others their people, but one thing is certain: the era of light is at an end.

No I didn’t write that, Waterstones did. I had the most weird reading experience with this book. Firstly the writing style is at once completely wooden and clunky, though this may be the translation. Secondly, the author doesn’t feel like she is in control and as she goes will invent some magical/fantastical happenstance or monster or something to keep it all going. Thirdly, I don’t think she knows where its going. Fourthly, it is fantasy and I am not renowned for liking that genre. Well I read it. I just got on with it, I didn’t understand much of it, I didn’t really like it but oddly I was completely unoffended by it. I just read it, without rhyme, reason or any real reaction. It was a really odd experience, pure inoffensive nonchalance. Have any of you had that? Oh and if you can’t take my word for it even Gav, of Gav Reads, who chose it for Hear… Read This wasn’t a fan.

Wavewalker – Stella Duffy

Serpents Tail, paperback, 1996, fiction, 261 pages, bought by my good self

As with Muriel; you know I love Stella’s writing, I know I love Stella’s writing, so why pop it in a round up post. Well the honest answer is I just guzzled this down, like a chocolate bar you devour and enjoy but should have maybe let the flavour of linger longer. (This is by the way highly flattering; I never joke about great chocolate or great books or waste them.) To carry that analogy further and possibly to its limit, it is like when you finish inhaling a Crunchie (or Violet Crumble if you will) and you just loved it so much you just want another one. Well I have held off reading the bext Saz Martin because I should have dwelt on this one longer. I am pacing myself with her recently published short story collection at the moment.

To give you a brief synopsis, the second in the Saz Martin series (the first Calendar Girl, which I shockingly read six years ago, I also really recommend) sees Saz investigating a new craze therapy that has come over from America, San Francisco to be precise, employed by the mysterious Wavewalker who thinks Dr North’s practice may link with a cult group and an unusual spate of suicides in the seventies. As I mentioned I just ate this book up. It has great plotting, Saz Martin is a brilliant quirky lead character and there is quite a lot of lesbian sex to titillate you, pun not intended, as you read on. I am seeing Stella tonight and she may kill me for that, ha! All in all it is a great thriller and I would love Stella to bring Saz back!

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So that is your lot for now, one more round up on Saturday when we have a right old mix from Fairytales to Sex Criminals. If that doesn’t tempt you back nothing will. In the interim do let me know if you have read any of these and what you made of them! Also let me know if you have ever had the same instance as I did with The Days of the Deer where a book just leaves you utterly nonchalant, not good, not bad, just nonchalant.

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Filed under Liliana Bodoc, Muriel Spark, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews, Salman Rushdie, Stella Duffy

Ask Simon Anything – Part II

Now I knew, and secretly hoped, that if I asked you guys to ask me anything that not only would you come up with some lovely bookish questions, you would hopefully come up with some bonkers ones too. After the bookfest of questions that Magdalena asked it was my friend and cohost Thomas who came up with some of the more, erm, unusual ones and like Magdalena he had quite a lot of them so I thought I would go through those today. Interestingly he didn’t ask me any quite so bonkers questions when I went to stay with him a few weeks ago in Washington DC, more on which soon. So here we go…

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Which country do you most want to visit?

I have a real desire to go to India or China. Two completely different countries but two which are jointly top of my list. I think both would be fascinating, provide a culture shock and change me in some way. I have no plans, or indeed budget, to go at present though so instead I will have to read more fiction set in them, as that is the cheapest way to experience the world – through a book, sorry I couldn’t help it.

Where have you travelled that you liked the least?

What an odd question, I would have thought you would have said the most. Negative Nelly. If it was most I would say Tel Aviv or Kenya. See I can’t choose one thing ever. Where have I liked least…I had a pretty shit holiday on the Isle of Wight? The best thing about it was the rock factory. Note it was a school trip and back in about 1994. I haven’t been back though.

How many countries have you been to?

18. It took me a while to count. 20 if you separate Scotland and Wales. Topical!

Would you prefer an evening at the opera or an evening at the ballet?

Ooh, depends on what you are seeing. I would like to see more opera as I have only been two or three times. However if it was anything by Matthew Bourne then that would beat opera hands down, I think that man is a genius.

What would be your request for your last meal?

Prawn cocktail to start, no thought needed there; it is my favourite even if so passé. Then a huge selection of my favourite dim sum and sushi, followed by The Beard’s (well he is a trained chef) amazing Lemon Meringue Cheesecake which he made as it combines cheesecake, meringue and lemon curd which are three of my favourite things. All washed down with a Snowy’s Snowball which is a pineapple, lemonade and grenadine alcohol free cocktail that I always used to get when on holidays staying in Trust House Forte hotels with Gran and Bong as a kid. Do I get a cheeseboard and coffee after?

If you could (had to) have dinner with one Spice Girl, who would you choose?

I am quite upset that I can only choose one because I was the biggest Spice Girl fan. I am a big fan of pop music anyway, as it just makes you happy all over, yet I was doing my GCSE’s when Wannabe came out and everyone loved them. I had pencil cases, the crisp packets and in fact still have the Chupa Chup tin with them all on which The Beard once dared to put in the recycling bin. It was nearly all over when that happened. But only one… I would have to say Victoria Beckham. Partly because I think we have a very similar dry sense of humour and also because she is the one Spice Girl I didn’t get to interview when I was a showbiz reporter, I have interviewed Melanie C two or three times, she is lovely. Please see below, I am feeling very smug at the time.

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Do you prefer chocolate- or fruit-based desserts?

If we are talking cakes and pastries fruit easily. No one believes me but I actually HATE chocolate cake, ugh! Otherwise its chocolate goodness all the way, just don’t bake it. I have recently discovered Chocolate and Peanut Butter gelato which is the best thing ever.

Which (dead) figure from history would you most like to meet?

You all think I am going to say Daphne Du Maurier don’t you, but no! It would be Bess of Hardwick a woman who fascinates me.

If you had to choose, with which member of the Royal family would you want to chat?

Do I have to choose one at all? Can I choose a corgi? If pushed, because while I don’t mind the monarchy and all they do tourism wise for our country I am not a huge fan, then I would say good old Camilla. She’s been on The Archers so we could talk about that and I hear she loves a good book.

What is one thing you are embarrassed to admit you like?

I don’t think there is anything I am embarrassed to admit I like. The Beard would say I should be embarrassed to admit I like sweets, clothes and music for nine year olds but I just think that makes me fun.

Where do you want to live when you retire?

Now I have thought about this quite a lot. I would really, really like to retire to some of the quieter parts of the Peak District on a farm. Not a working one, though I would have pet sheep and cows and pigs – no horses. I would just like a nice view over the valleys where I can sit and read the days away. I only have me in mind as The Beard is certain I will outlive him by a few decades, I am not sure if this is wishful thinking on his part. Basically I want what Gran had but with more animals and further away from other humans.

Provided you had a job, flat, significant other willing to move, etc., would you want to live in London?

Been there done that. No. I love going back to London now, I didn’t for a while, and am indeed off their tomorrow but have no desire at all to live there again. I was there twelve years and I think that was enough. Now somewhere like New York… I might reconsider.

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So there we have my penultimate answers. Hope you enjoyed them? I am sorry I didn’t have more embarrassing things to add, I think Thomas was hoping to catch me out. If you have any questions you would like to ask now is your last chance, you have until midnight as I am off away tomorrow so scheduling posts but can sneak a few more in!

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Rounding Up The Reviews #1; Graves, Shadows, Peacocks and Raindrops

Both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would start a new occasional series of posts (occasional is such a lazy sounding word isn’t it, I have never understood what an occasional table is when it’s not being a table, sorry I digress) where I round up the books that be they good, bad or ugly I can’t quite get an 800+ post out of or, in some cases, don’t deserve such efforts. Yes that is right, finally after almost seven years blogging I am going to start telling you about some of the books that I have read which were average, bad or even downright awful. So I don’t come across a complete old grump there will also be some very good books in the mix, I might just not have oodles to say about them. We all have books like that don’t we? Anyway, I am in danger of falling into my usual waffle territory so let us start with the first four victims books…

Three Graves Full – Jamie Mason

ONE Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 336 pages, bought by my good self

Jason Getty has killed a man and buried him in his garden. This haunts him daily, but even more so when he has the gardeners in landscaping his lawn because he is so paranoid that someone might suspect from its unkempt state that he has buried someone there. What he, and the gardeners, are soon shocked to discover is that there are actually two other bodies buried in the Jason’s garden. If he didn’t kill them who did? And just who on earth are they? The farce begins…

I use the word farce above because in essence this is not a dark crime, it is not a cosy crime, I think it is trying to be a comic crime. From the synopsis I was sold and had no doubt that this would easily be in my top ten books of the year, alas I didn’t really like it. When the police detectives’ dog started to talk to itself a la Lassie and I was surprised and quite interested I knew all was lost – I don’t like talking animals in books, you know this. The book starts off with too much going on, confusion not being a good move early on in a book with too many characters introduced and random back stories. Then as it petered out, before going AWOL again later, I just coasted along with it. Sorry. Great idea just not crafted in a way that worked for me. You can hear me talking about it here.

Dreams and Shadows – C. Robert Cargill

Gollancz Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 416 pages, bought by my good self

Now you will have to bear with me on this one. Ewan is kidnapped when he is a young boy by some fairies who swap him for one of theirs, who drives its new mother to suicide. He is brought up as one of their own but it isn’t done for the love, there is a purpose – which I am obviously not going to tell you for spoilers sake and some of you will love this. Meanwhile a young boy Colby meets a Djinn in the woods Ewan has been stolen into, who grants him a wish (because he has to, he’s a Djinn) to see all things supernatural, which is actually more of a curse. Lovely so far isn’t it? Well it gets lovelier as Ewan and Colby meet and become friends. But, yes you guessed it there is a but, when Colby discovers Ewan’s fate he uses his new powers unselfishly and not only does this backfire, pretty much opening hell, but Ewan is rescued but ends up in care, rather disturbed and not in a good way to start out his life… And that is pretty much just the start; after all I did say hell is unleashed.

I loved the first half of this book. Cargill interweaves Ewan and Colby’s tales with snippets from Folklore Encyclopaedia’s and has some wonderful urban legends and spooky/grim stories interweaved. The second half of the book, and this will sound bonkers coming from me, almost gets too real and bogged down in the miseries of the real world and soon enough I lost interest. Liked the writing, would have preferred a tale firmly set in the ‘other’ or collection of spooky and horrific tales set in the now, for some reason this didn’t quite master either. You can hear me talking more about it here.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick

Headline Publishing, paperback, 2014, fiction, 288 pages, borrowed from the library

Right! The gloves are coming off with this one. There are some authors who everyone loves and who can clearly write brilliantly but I just don’t get. David Mitchell, Jennifer Egan, Martin Amis, etc. Then there are those authors who loads and loads of people love who can either write okay or badly or write in a way that makes me want to scream. Matthew Quick has become one of those. I read The Silver Linings Playbook and unlike everyone else not only did I get bored of my own eyes rolling as I read it I also questioned how Quick writes about people with mental health issues. It felt like the joke was on them and he was off running to the bank on the proceeds.

Well, for me at least, he has done it again with Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock… Only this time it is at the expense of any teenager who has been suicidal or any teenager who has been shot at school. I actually don’t want to give the book any more airtime than that. Note – I talked about it a lot on Hear…Read This if you need more. But sorry Mr Quick, I cannot forgive you for this one.

A Necklace of Raindrops – Joan Aiken & Jan Pienkowski

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 1968 (2009 edition), fiction, 108 pages, , bought by my good self

Aaah!  A book to lighten any mood if ever there was one! This was actually a re-read for me and of a book that I had completely forgotten about until Kate chose it for Hear… Read This. It was a book I used to read way back decades ago when me and Polly, formerly of Novel Insights, were tiny little things and I used to dress up in her princess dresses refusing to be the prince. Back to the book though which is one of Aiken’s collections of short stories that also verges on picture book, thanks to Pienkowski who yes did all the amazing Meg and Mog books from your (or your children’s) childhood, the illustrations inside are as stunning as the cover.

This is a book that can be enjoyed and treasured by adults and children alike with its tales of genies, necklaces that can change the weather, cats that grant wishes and best of all the elves who come out of your books and bring them too life. Occasionally the tales got a little far out, yet that really is all part of the fun as like her readers it seems Joan Aiken had a limitless imagination. Virago are publishing her adult novels again I believe, someone needs to bring this and its follow up back into the mainstream as they are just wonderful and for me proved a real nostalgic trip.

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So that is your lot for now. I realised as I was going along that all these books were Hear… Read This choices. Now initially I was pondering if we just choose some dodgy books, I don’t think that is the case I think we all just experiment with choosing slightly random books which can be duds occasionally but overall when brilliant are really brilliant. I do wonder if it is actually a case of having discussed them so much with Gav, Rob and Kate I then feel like I have explored them enough and so don’t feel I can review them as well. Who knows? Anyway, more over the next few days meanwhile have you read any of these and if so what did you make of them? What are your thoughts on occasional review round up posts like this, and indeed what are your thoughts on occasional tables?

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Filed under C. Robert Cargill, Hear... Read This, Jamie Mason, Jan Pienkowski, Joan Aiken, Matthew Quick, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews