Monthly Archives: December 2014

A Few Things (Shortlistings, Tremain, YouTube & Comments)

Before the reviews come back in earnest tomorrow, starting with some mini reviews, I thought I would just catch up with a few bits and bobs with you. First up I had some rather exciting news today and I owe you lovely lot a big thank you for your votes as I have been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2015 in the Arts and Culture section. The lovely, lovely Kim of Reading Matters is also shortlisted in the same category which I am thrilled about, you are all already following her blog I am sure but if you happen not to then you must! This round was all votes from the public, now we go off to a judging panel and wait with baited breath and then there is an awards ceremony and all sorts, it is very exciting.

Slight more exciting, well recording it was one of my highlights of the year, if that is possible (those judges might be reading – curtsies at them) my interview with Rose Tremain is now live on You Wrote The Book! Do go and have a listen, she was absolutely delightful. It was extra special to me as, those of you who read regularly will know, she was one of Granny Savidge’s favourite authors and before and after Rose and I (firm friends on first name terms now, ha)  chatted about her a lot – she would have been thrilled. I still haven’t quite finished Restoration and so Trespassing With Tremain isn’t quite complete yet but get set for a review of her wonderful, wonderful collection The American Lover, which we talk about a lot very soon.

Speaking of reviews, and the onslaught of them (and possibly even the back dating of some as I am so behind) coming, if you have any thoughts on book reviews on blogs etc I would love to hear about them. I would also love your thoughts on any booky versions of Serial that will keep me going between seasons (I am hooked) and books I should try and fit in before the end of the year. I have been rubbish at commenting but I am planning on binge commenting over the next few days I promise.

Finally a question. I have been thinking about the books which come into Savidge Reads HQ and wondering how I can feature them more without you all thinking I am a) a massive show off b) you being bored as they tend to go on and on when I have done them. So I have been thinking about doing some YouTube videos again. Yes, AGAIN. You might not know this but I do have a YouTube Channel (I think that is what the kids call it)  when you can see some library loots, my top ten LGBT books and myself and my lovely friend Michelle doing our own version of Pride and Prejudice, without even a sniff of alcohol. I too had forgetten this existed and think I have probably forgotten my password. Basically I won’t be becoming a Vlogger but would you like incoming book videos and the like there, and then popped in a post on here, in the future? Let me know… Erm that is it. Thanks again for your votes, mega chuffed and do pop and comment on this post, those posts and I will comment back. Toodlepip for now!

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I Am Looking For A Criminally Good Serial…

No, not quite the kind of book serial you might be thinking! Along with most of the world, well ok maybe not the world, I have become a huge, huge addict to the Serial podcast. For those of you who don’t know what Serial is, it is is a podcast where a nonfiction story unfolds week by week, over the course of a season. This season, or series as we like to say on this side of the water, we have been following journalist Sarah Koenig as she looks at the case of the murder of Hae Min Lee who disappeared  on January the 13th 1999 and whose body was found a month later, her ex boyfriend Adnan Syed was then arrested, tried and convited for her murder. Many people don’t think he did it and the case didn’t add up, Sarah investigates.

When I first heard the buzz, and indeed for the first episode or two, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Firstly I wasn’t sure that I liked the idea of someone making a show (and potentially money) out of someone’s murder. Secondly, could it really become a story I was genuinely going to get intrigued by? Well, I have to say that I think the case is handled really well, obviously some of it is upsetting yet the Serial team don’t treat the whole case as mere sensationalism and actually hearing from the people who the case affected gives it both an emotional impact and poignancy. I have also become completely hooked, I cannot work out what the truth is – without any spoilers I will simply say I am at the point where we are working out what the deal about Jay is.

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So I was thinking, especially as it looks like the first season will be coming to a close in the next week or so, what books out there might have the same effect on me as Serial? I imagine that many people will be looking at their screens and saying ‘erm, pick up a crime series Simon’ and yes there is that option, yet as someone who reads possibly too many that I can’t always keep up crime series I do love them but Serial does something a little bit extra. You see as you listen along you are given snippets of evidence, testimony, etc of a case that has already happened that you feel you are investigating with Sarah. Plus it is a real case. So I am wondering if I should be turning to (not literally) some true crime myself? I am sure there are lots of Serial fans who feel the same, and I have a limited range of true crime I can recommend (mainly Victorian murders) so I wondered what you would all recommend? Oh and if you too area Serial fan let me know, though no spoilers obvs.

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Books Before The End Of The Year…

Another quick post from me today as any minute some lovely guests are arriving for a small six people, six courses, Strictly Come Dancing soiree. Very exciting! As I have been running around like a loon I have been sorting the house out for these special guests, this has included my bookshelves. Why? Well, funny you should ask that, I like to let guests have a look through any of those that I am in no rush to read/have two copies of/am not sure why I bought/got sent and don’t fancy, so they can fight over them take them home with them.

As I was sorting them I spotted my soon to read shelves and panicked, some of these are books I have been meaning to read all year and now the year is nearly over and I haven’t read them, yet – though I probably won’t fit them all, if that many, of them in before the year ends.

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Ultimate panic ensues. So which of the above, if you can make them out and have read them, would you recommend I get to sharpish? Also, which other books might I have missed out on in 2014 that I really need to make sure I read?

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I Was Almost On Radio 4 This Week

Yes believe it or not this is the week where I almost ticked off one of my lifes goals, to be on Radio 4. Almost. You see sadly I had a bloody conference call at that place that pays my bills, that place called work, and so alas I couldn’t get to a studio and be on the British institution that is You & Yours…

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The good thing that I took from this, after sulking for quite some time at my desk (whilst obviously doing my work and the conference call to the best of my ability) was that I had even been asked, they were interested in my opinion and thought I might have sone thing decent to say. It also means they have me on their radar, so maybe next time?!? Fingers crossed.

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Reviewing My Reviewing…

I’ve been thinking this weekend. Dangerous I know. However when I went on a mission to work out just how many books I had yet to review that I had read this year I was rather shocked by the pile that I was confronted with…

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Uh-oh! This was made considerably worse when I thought I had missed four from the pile to realise I had actually missed about seven. Whoops. This pile of potential reviews both had me slightly panicked and also pondering over reviews going forward with the blog. I have discussed review policies quite a bit this year but other than the constant desire to review better I haven’t thought about it that much. These are now my thoughts and you can add your thoughts on my thoughts (oh that sounds more confusing than it is) in the comments below.

Reviews are hard work. Be they positive reviews or negative reviews, reviews are bloody hard work and really time consuming, yet I love them. People ask how long a review takes and the answer is… weeks. You see I write initial scribbles in my notebook, and keep notes or take pictures of paragraphs I want to use that capture the book/writing, as I am reading. I then spend quite a while (an hour or two) writing a post not long after I have read it. Then, and this has only happened in the last two or three years, I go away and leave it to settle (both the review in a document but more importantly the book in my brain) before I go back, with some more themes and things I have thought of to add plus most importantly a more rounded picture of it. Some books grow on you, some books fade.

Reviews get read but not so many comments. Slightly annoyingly a post like this which looks at reading and reviewing will get more comments than any book review I do and yet take nowhere near as long as it is more a stream of consciousness/ponderings out loud. Now admittedly I don’t blog for comments, though they are lovely to get, I have always blogged to keep a reading diary, occasionally poorly. Yet a comment or five are nice especially when you have put so much time in to them. That said I am crap at commenting on other blogs when I haven’t read the book because to say ‘nice review’ seems a bit empty, must try harder Simon!

When I don’t review I don’t feel like a “book blogger”. That simple, though what a book blogger is nowadays I am not so sure. Anyway… Recently writing more posts about reading and other booky things I haven’t felt like much of a blogger more just someone who is waffling on about books and not actually analysing them and getting excited about them which is my favourite bit really. Next year there will be a better ratio I think.

I need to be timelier in my reviews.  Some books I have forgotten I have read or what happened in them, these are the ones that have escaped the above picture. I read a lot and some get forgotten, but then that might mean I didn’t like them so much. So be more timely or…

I don’t want to review everything I read. At least not all of it, and not some of it in great detail. Out of the books above there are a few that I have really enjoyed but don’t have much to say other than ‘well it was nice’. I have also noticed with some Hear Read This choices and You Wrote The Book authors because I have thought about those books so much before talking about them so much I don’t have the urge to then talk about them more and more. Interesting. This will probably mean a) I don’t review everything I read AND like, because I don’t review stuff I don’t like and can’t be constructive and/or give up on b) I may do more round up posts now and again.

I want my reviews to be better. This is something I am always striving for but sometimes, like with my latest review, a few days later I think ‘oh why didn’t I mention that?’ or ‘ what about that bloody theme’ etc. This will happen. What I mean is that I want to try harder to get the essence of the book, its themes and its effects on me as a reader in a more fluent and interesting way. Gran used to say she was getting more and more proud of my reviews after they ‘started a bit like rushed Amazon ones’, I would like to up my game even more in the next few months warming up for 2015. Basically I want to write like myself but with the insight I love from all my favourite bloggers, one of which (Eric of Lonesome Reader) I have told to their face makes me vomit in my own mouth a little bit with green eyed envy at what he produces.

I want my reviews to be me. This may mean some jokes intertwined but no swearing, unless really called for I think swearing in reviews looks a bit naff and unintelligent. I need to think about this a bit more.

So there, that is my thoughts on reviewing my reviewing. What are your thoughts on reviewing and reviews? What really makes a review stand out for you? Do you have any favourite reviews? What makes you read on and what makes you not bother? What makes you comment or not? Do you have to have read the book first? What are the things you like, and those you loathe, in a review? Why do I always have so many questions?

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The Scarecrow – Ronald Hugh Morrieson

When Text was founded in Australia in 1990 Diana Gribble did it as she wanted to find books that enlighten, challenge and entertain. Ronald  Hugh Morrieson’s The Scarecrow, which is from Text’s imprint of classics which find out of print and/or forgotten Australian classics and reprint them, certainly falls into the challenging category. It is a book which is quite unlike anything I have read before in terms of its genre bending but also a book that after reading it I genuinely couldn’t decide if it was a work or genius or one of the nastiest books I have ever read. Yup, one of those kinds of reads…

Text Classics, paperback, 1963 (2012 edition), fiction, 232 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The same week our fowls were stole, Daphne Moran had her throat cut.

And so begins The Scarecrow, with a duality of rural family drama and the macabre which are the two tones that it keeps and switches between as it proceeds. In the small town of Klynham we see life through the eyes of Neddy Poindexter a boy who likes a bit of trouble and adventure and who is, as the book opens, looking for revenge on the Lynch Gang who he believes have stolen his chickens and so steals some back. Initially the Lynch Gang seems to be the most sinister thing in Neddy’s life, well that and his sisters sudden growing up and blossoming, yet when Hubert Salter turns up in town, not long after a young woman is murdered in a town nearby, and seems to take a liking to Neddy’s sister Prudence we the reader know things are going to get a whole lot darker.

 What I wasn’t quite prepared for was just how dark the book was going to get. It is not a spoiler to say that Salter is the murderer, we know that from early on and are confirmed it not too much later when Salter reminds himself of the power and enjoyment he felt when he killed another victim, his sidekick at a circus. He is possibly one of the nastiest and creepiest characters I have come across in quite some time and I actually had one genuine nightmare that involved him. Yet here is where one of the many dualities of the novel lies as when we first meet Salter, despite being fairly certain of what he has done, we see him in a slightly comic and awed view through the eyes of a young girl when he first appears in the book.

Time went by and Lynette became so bored and angry that, when a door creaked open and they were joined by another passenger, she could have cheered. Although she had been reared in city streets which abounded in unusual looking characters, her eyes became round as she studied the newcomer. He looked as tall as a lamp post and carried about the same amount of fat. His dishevelled dark suit of clothes hung limply around his bony structure. He was so thin, so gaunt, he looked as if he might belong to the walking dead. In spite of the censor’s ruling, Lynette had seen not one, but an entire series of films about the walking dead and considered herself an authority on the subject.
‘A zombie,’ she breathed.

Morrieson does this a lot in the book and it one of the reasons I can’t decide if he is a genius or just a bit of a pervert. For example when Neddy finds himself in trouble with the Lynch Gang not only do we soon learn that there is some young male homosexuality (underage) going on, the head of the gang himself says he will not give Neddy a beating if he convinces his sister Prudence to come to their hideout where essentially all the boys can molest her. I found myself doing a double take. This is just the beginning, what follows through the novel is more murder, rape and even at one point some necrophilia. Salter ends up working in Klynham’s funeral parlour with some of Neddy’s relations, seriously Salter is the epitome of vile. It makes the alcoholism and beatings side of the family saga part of the story seem almost light hearted.

You may be wondering why I read on? Well, there is something in The Scarecrow which can only be described as like a literary car crash. I don’t mean the book is badly written, not at all though admittedly there is something strange (yet also almost credibly original) about a boys own coming of age and adventure story which is also a study of the horrors of the thoughts and actions of a psychopath, not at all. What I mean is there is something about the writing which means you just cannot look away, even when it gets at its darkest and even at its most sinister and terrifying. It is a real dichotomy.

‘Where was he – in the shed?’
‘Yeah but hang on, yuh ain’t heard nothin’ yet. Next thing I hear a voice sorta whisper, Proo-oo-dence, Proo-oo-dence, y’know that sorta soft voice, Proo-oo-dence, Proo-oo-dence…’
‘Shut up,’ I said terrified. ‘Go on, go on.’
‘Well, say I was too scared to run, but I musta sorta kept on walking sideways and I see this big, long shadow coming out of the shed reaching out to me, Proo-oo-dence, Proo-oo-dence, and I let out one yell tuh wake the dead and took to muh scrapers. And how! Muh hair was standing on end, boy.’
‘Shee-wit!’ I said.
‘Yuh can say that again,’ said Prudence.

I find The Scarecrow a real quandary. On the one hand what we have is at once a coming of age tale and yet also a book about a psychopathic serial killer. Could Morrieson actually be a genius for writing a novel that so viscerally looks at small town Australian life and both its picturesque facade then highlighting all that is going on behind closed doors and the dark reality of the grimmer aspects of life? Part of me says yes, yet part of me also thinks it all goes slightly too far. How confronting and graphic do we need a novel to go, when does dark humour actually become just plain wrong, when does something shocking and provoking actually become distasteful and perverse? These are the questions that The Scarecrow made me ponder after having read it, well after just sitting in a stunned silence for about twenty minutes once closing the book. Again this reaction only adds to the quandary of whether it is one of the darkest nastiest books I have ever read or a work of complete dark disturbing genius, the jury is still out for me even weeks after I have read the book.

Either way I have to give credit to Text for publishing The Scarecrow, it is a brave move to publish something which even 50 years after publication has the power to shock and challenge so provocatively. It makes me intrigued, excited and rather nervous about heading to the four other Text Classics titles I have on my shelves. Yet the thing is we need fiction like this now and again don’t we, to give us a jolt. Look at American Psycho a book I am weirdly glad I read but never want to read again thank you very much. Maybe this is Australasian Psycho? (I know someone will soon point out Morrieson is from New Zealand!) Who else has read it and what did you think?

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Bookshops I Love; Foyles, Charing Cross Road

I cannot remember the first time I ever walked into Foyles because it has become so etched in my brain as a bookshop and I lived in London from the age of eighteen so have been visiting since sometime around then, yes even in those years when I thought books were rubbish. This is partly because I dated someone booky when I was not long to London and so would head there for their book fix and my cake fix. They would read in bed, I would listen to Steps or something even more embarrassing. Moving swiftly on a few years, Foyles then of course became a book haven once I became addicted to books and book shopping.

I have to admit I was skeptical about the Foyles move, even when I saw this video – be warned it is utter book porn and causes moments of utter jealousy. You see part of its charm in the old building on Charing Cross Road was that it felt like it had been there for ages, the books and shelves housing them having settled in their skin, the fact you may be stuck in that lift four hours and a day with your purchases (terrifying and thrilling all at once) and it had the history of events and meetings there for me over the years. Well, I bloody love the new one…

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A dream book shop to me is one that you want to spend hours and hours in and that is what the new store, which has taken over the former Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design site, is. In fact I was tempted to bring a sleeping bag to my second meeting there and ask if I could just move in for a while, there is still time. It is one of the airiest and most spacious feeling bookshops I have been in for quite some time and yet with its mezzanine levels keeps the quirkiness of its old former home. You want to spend hours  wandering the many floors looking for something particular or indeed just intent on browsing the shelves. I don’t know about you but I can happily spend at least half a day going through a stores fiction, crime, graphic novel and nonfiction sections. Easily.

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There is also a corking event space, which it is surreal to say I have spoken in of late, and I would recommend you keep your eyes on what the guys at Foyles have coming up. Like all great bookstores it too has the facilities to allow yourself to do that and keep watered/caffeinated and fed with its wonderful cafe which you can happily content yourself in for several hours as The Beard reliably informed me when I was in for a long meeting and left him very much in the non-reading much feeding crèche as I have renamed it.

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The view from which is also quite a sight to behold…

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There is even a gallery, which has different collections in at different times, to keep any book widow happy for a while. There is also a wonderful stationery and gift section which I was too busy fawning over to actually grab a snap.

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Highly important is that the new store is also the sort of store that I think will inspire future readers. I mean what child wouldn’t want to spend hours and hours reading Mr Men and playing with Peppa Pig (if you are reading Foyles make a crèche and seriously you will have families in all day, parents browsing above)…

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What I also love about Foyles, indeed it is one of the reasons I emailed them on the cheeky off chance they might want to work with the Green Carnation Prize, is that whilst it is now becoming a chain of stores and indeed the Charing Cross Branch is HUGE it feels like an independent you would find in a village somewhere off the beaten track where you might find books you didn’t think of buying but simply have to have. The staff really know their stuff and more often than not will recommend you something you might not have thought of trying…

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If you haven’t had the chance to go make sure you do on your next London trip, schedule in a few hours, as you can see I am a huge fan and heartily recommend it. Which of you have visited the new Foyles store and what have you made of it? Has it affected your bank balance as it did mine recently? As always I would love to hear your thoughts.

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Bear With…

Oh dear. This blogging malarkey. What has happened to it and I? The last few weeks have been a little bit bonkers (new job, the Green Carnation Prize 2014) and so when I have finished at work the last thing I have been feeling like doing is blogging.

I have appallingly, and more gallingly, been really slow on the uptake with reading, though I can report that this has recently suddenly come full force and I have a weekend of it planned (while the Beard is off working) this weekend and I am so excited.

The blogging will probably return in full this weekend too as I have been doing lots of thinking about it which always a good sign. Another good sign is that I have been binge bulk buying lots of exciting books (sometimes you need a new book – or three – you’ve chosen and are raring to read to get you back in the swing) which I have added to this very evening on the way home…

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So lots to be talking about soon! Though as I will be discussing tomorrow the end of the year is approaching scarily fast which always sends me into a book panic, more tomorrow. In the meantime what have you lovely lot been reading? Any gossip? And do keep your latest purchases or borrowings coming in, my bank balance hates it but I blooming love it!

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

I spent most of last week down in London having a lovely time catching up with lots of friends and getting very nervous before getting rather tipsy at the Green Carnation Prize winner event. This all naturally included rather a lot of falling to bookshops and buying quite a lot of books, which I thought I would share with you all as we all like a bit of book porn don’t we?

First up were four books that I have been meaning to get my hands on for ages and ages after lots and lots of people were talking about them around Halloween…

Galley Ghosts

These four gorgeous mini paperbacks are ghostly short stories by E. L Barker, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edith Wharton and P.G. Wodehouse. Don’t they look great as a little collection? As usual I am rather slow to the party and indeed have been meaning to buy them via Galley Beggar Press’ website online, however they were on prominent display at the gorgeous new Foyles store (they haven’t paid me to say that you wait till I share it with you on Thursday) and so they were whipped off the shelves and run to the tills.

Next up was a find when I fell into Hatchard’s which is one of my favourite bookshops because of its oldy-worldy-ness. You feel like you have fallen back in time in some way, which was apt as I was after a classic crime novel by members of The Detection Club…

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Gavin has chosen The Floating Admiral (yes a book on a bloody boat) as his classic choice on the next episode of Hear Read This. I don’t know masses about The Detection Club, just that they were a select group of crime novels, including Agatha Christie, who would wrote a chapter of a book each – one of which was this one. I am really looking forward to this one as it is from the golden age of crime, which links in with the next two random purchases…

British library editions

The British Library have started publishing books, these are not any old books (though they are old books) but recovered crime classics that have gone out of print. My eye was caught by J. Jefferson Farjeon’s (who wrote more than sixty books, who knew?) Mystery in White, in part as it was in prime position in Waterstones Islington, as it had the subtitle A Christmas Crime Story and regular visitors to this blog will know I like a Christmas story over, erm, Christmas. This seemed perfect, a broken down train in the snow and a deserted country house, what more could you want. As I looked around Murder Undergound by Mavis Doriel Hay which couldn’t have been a better present to myself from London could it?

Just as I was leaving the store I then spotted a book that I had to buy because of the title alone…

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How could you not want a book by Murakami with the title The Strange Library. This was a no brainer and at the till the bookseller was super duper effusive about it saying it was a marvellous dark little fairy tale, so it should be just my sort of read.

Finally I should add another three books though admittedly I didn’t buy them, though I think I did quite well on the buying front frankly.

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On the Thursday night I attended the Penguin Annual Bloggers Night at Foyles (yes them again) where I was lucky enough to meet three authors who have books out in 2015; Emma Hooper, Claire Fuller and Julia Rochester, so I grabbed their books. I also spoke to and shook the hand of William Gibson which was nice, though his books went like gold dust. I hear Marieke Hardy is a fan. It was also lovely to see Annabel, Simon, Sakura and Kim (the latter two also very nicely showed up at the Green Carnation Party) and we had a lovely catch up and natter, including the idea of having bloggers meet ups, as we did it once and it was lovely.

All in all a rather wonderful trip and a rather good book haul don’t you think? Which of these have you read and what did you make of them? Which of them do you fancy reading? What have you bought of late?

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