Author Archives: savidgereads

About savidgereads

A blog of a book lover and all the books he reads on his journey of bookaholicism!

The Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 Longlist

Oh how I love this time of year, when we find out the longlist of one of my very favourite book prizes, the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Every year I make an effort to guess the longlist (which I did on Youtube here) of which I invariably get about two or three right (somehow I guessed seven this year) but have huge fun in doing so before the longlist is announced and then read the longlist when it is actually announced. Which has just happened and here are the sixteen books that have made it this year…

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  • H(a)ppy by Nicola Barker
  • The Idiot by Elif Batuman
  • Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon
  • Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig
  • Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
  • The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar
  • Sight by Jessie Greengrass
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeymoon
  • When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy
  • Elmet by Fiona Mozley
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy
  • See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
  • A Boy in Winter by Rachel Seiffert
  • Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie
  • The Trick To Time by Kit De Waal
  • Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Whilst there might be some of my favourite books from the last twelve months missing I have to say this is one of the most eclectic and exciting longlists that I have seen in some time. And as with every year I will be joining in, especially as for the first time ever I actually have all the books, so it would be silly not to. I have already read five of the books, in italics with a link to the Schmidt which I adored, and may have another three in my luggage in Venice so have a good head start, and I will be reviewing (yes, those things are back) those I have read plus the ones I read as I go, as soon as I am back from holiday/honeymoon.

What are your thoughts on the longlist? Which have you read and what did you think of them? Are their any surprise inclusions of exclusions in your opinion? Let’s have a chat about it all in the comments below.

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Filed under Random Savidgeness, Women's Prize for Fiction, Women's Prize for Fiction 2018

Reader, I Married Him…

You may well have already seen this on social media, I wanted to share it on her too… The Beard, aka Chris, and I got married on Saturday.

After a really crazy week or so (one of my colleagues was killed outside our office, my stepdad was rushed into hospital with a heart attack, the Beast from the East and Storm Emma stopped a third of our guests getting there… oh and part the ceiling of the venue we were meant to get married fell in meaning a new venue was needed the day before the wedding) it was so lovely to share such a wonderful day with so many wonderful people.

So I wanted to share it with all of you who have lived it since the beginning. Plus a wedding is a really nice way (along with the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2018 all starting this week) to get the blog back up and running.

How are you all? What have you been upto? I’ve missed you.

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The Costa Book Awards Category Winners 2017

It only seems the other day that I was getting asked to judge the Costa Book Awards (a moment that left me in a 50/50 mixture of shock and delight) and now my job is done as we announce the category  winners, I was judging the debut category if you missed it. So here they all are…

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Costa Children’s Book of the Year: The Explorer by Katherine Rundell
Costa Poetry Collection of the Year: Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore
Costa Biography of the Year: In The Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott
Costa Novel of the Year: Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor
Costa First Novel of the Year: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

So there you have it. These five books now go head to head for the Costa Book of the Year 2017 and I have decided I am going to read them in time for the party (which I am taking my mother to, she is thrilled) and the announcement on Tuesday January 30th 2018. It also means I can finally share some reviews of the Costa shortlisted books I have read and some of the submissions that didn’t make the debut shortlist but I am desperate to talk to you about and send you off to read. All in due course.

So what do you make of the category winners? Which have you read and what did you think? Which really take your fancy and which do you think will win, I would love to know all of this, so do tell me in the comments below.

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Filed under Costa Book Awards, Costa Book Awards 2017, Random Savidgeness

Happy New Year… Here’s to 2018

Oh I do love a New Year, those fresh clean pages in your diary. The thoughts of a whole year of reading ahead and what wonders you might find. Ooh I do love a New Year and the opportunity to wish you all one (and I hope you had a Merry Christmas too, how rude of me not to wish you one, we hosted this year and so my mind was elsewhere, I do apologise). So without further ado…

happy-new-year-2018-greetings

Here’s to a wonderful year for us all. I hope you have some delights lined up? I currently have a week off, then the impending exciting things are the Costa category winners (tomorrow) before the party at the end of the month, some of my favourite bookish people coming in a few weeks (after having had two lovely booky chums staying for New Year) and then comes the two biggies… a new job and a new husband. More on both of those in due course.

In the interim have you made any resolutions this year, reading or personal? I have not made a single one, nope, not a one. I am going into this year merely with good intentions, to be kinder to myself and others (hence no resolutions), to read by whim, to embrace new experiences and to just see where the year takes me. That is it. What about you?

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The Costa Book Award 2017 Shortlists…

Are here… finally. I love this prize and have done for ages, this year being all the more special because I am judging the First Novel Award and can finally talk about the shortlist. But before I do in more depth in the next day or so here are the shortlists, tell me what you think about all of them.

2017 Costa Novel Award shortlist

  • Jon McGregor for Reservoir 13 (4th Estate)
  • Stef Penney for Under a Pole Star (Quercus)
  • Kamila Shamsie for Home Fire (Bloomsbury Circus)
  • Sarah Winman for Tin Man (Tinder Press)

2017 Costa First Novel Award shortlist

  • Xan Brooks for The Clocks in This House All Tell Different Times (Salt)
  • Karl Geary for Montpelier Parade (Harvill Secker)
  • Gail Honeyman for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (HarperCollins)
  • Rebecca F. John for The Haunting of Henry Twist (Serpent’s Tail)

2017 Costa Biography Award shortlist

  • Xiaolu Guo for Once Upon a Time in the East: A Story of Growing Up (Chatto & Windus)
  • Caroline Moorehead for A Bold and Dangerous Family: The Rossellis and the Fight Against Mussolini (Chatto & Windus)
  • Rebecca Stott for In The Days of Rain (4th Estate)
  • Professor Stephen Westaby for Fragile Lives: A Heart Surgeon’s Stories of Life and Death on the Operating Table (HarperCollins)

2017 Costa Poetry Award shortlist

  • Kayo Chingonyi for Kumukanda (Chatto & Windus)
  • Helen Dunmore for Inside the Wave (Bloodaxe Books)
  • Sinéad Morrissey for On Balance (Carcanet)
  • Richard Osmond for Useful Verses (Picador)

2017 Costa Children’s Book Award shortlist

  • Sarah Crossan for Moonrise (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)
  • Lissa Evans for Wed Wabbit (David Fickling Books)
  • Kiran Millwood Hargrave for The Island at the End of Everything (Chicken House)
  • Katherine Rundell for The Explorer (Bloomsbury Children’s Books)

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Which ones have you read, which ones are you excited to read and, of course, what do you think of the debut category. I am very excited to be able to talk about them all…

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What Have You Been Reading & What Should I Be Reading?

On Tuesday the 21st you will all get to finally hear what I have been reading over the summer. Well that isn’t technically true, you will all get to hear about a selection of the particular highlights of my summer reading as the Costa Book Awards 2017 shortlists are announced, including the First Novel selection which I have been judging along with the lovely Sophie Raworth and Sandy Mahal. We have had a wonderful summer of reading and the judging process has been hard (well, choosing the final four books was, the rest was lots of laughing, eating lovely food and having some great discussions about literature and life in general – lovely how books bring people together) because there was a plethora of wonderful books yet only four places allowed on the shortlist, we did ask for five but it was a no go. I can’t even think about how we will decide on a winner. Anyways, let us not think of that now.

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In what seems like a timely fluke two other things have happened which mean I am finding myself much more footloose and fancy free. Firstly my issues with WordPress seem to have been sorted and the site seems to be working now, meaning the end of the great ‘blog freeze’ which I have been fretting with behind the scenes (and then happened again hence why this is back dated) halting the lovely plans I had for the Savidge Reads relaunch and ten year celebrations. However they can continue now and we can all have a jolly time in the lead up to the New Year, which links nicely into the second timely thing…

I have now finished all my events (workshops, author interviews, etc.) for the year which feels very strange and now makes 2018 – and that small thing of hosting Christmas at my house for my family for the first time ever beforehand – feel all the closer and so my brain is now free to start plotting what I want to do next year. At the moment it is just a mulling but really regular routine is top of the list with blogging, podcasting and just life in general, there is still lots to do on the house including finishing the library.

There is also the biggest joy of being able to read just whatever on earth I fancy after a whole summer and most of autumn having a list of required reading. This is both thrilling and weirdly terrifying (I made a video about it here if you want to watch my full panic) as the options seem endless and suddenly I am rusty at just picking what I want to read, when I want to. There are just so, so, so, so, so many books that I could choose from, it is weirdly intimidating.

So I thought you might help, as well as it be a rather lovely way to catch up and have a chat in the comments below, by sharing the books that you have loved and read so far this year that I might like to give a whirl before I share four books I hope you will on Tuesday. So let me know, what books have you loved this year/summer and why should I be rushing to read them myself? I look forward to all the tempting recommendations.

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Sugar Money – Jane Harris

One of the books that I have been most looking forward to, for quite some time, is Jane Harris’ Sugar Money. I was a huge fan of Harris’ debut The Observations pre-blog, in fact I believe it was one of the books that got me back into reading after Rebecca and Miss Marple, I remember my Gran buying it for me in Scarthin books. Anyway, I digress, long suffering standing readers of this blog will know that back in 2011 I then fell head over heels with Harris’s second novel Gillespie & I; a book which I genuinely felt like had been written for me and me alone. I know that sounds like I have an ego the size of a small continent but we all have those books don’t we, ones which seem like the author rooted through the ‘favourite things’ sections of the bookish corner in our brains? To cut a lot of waffle from me short, after two such reading hits with me how would I get on with her third novel…

Faber & Faber, hardback, 2017, fiction, 390 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Some masters are swift to get to the point when they give instructions; you might say they go directly through the main door, cross the threshold, no hesitation. Father Cleophas was not one of these. He would walk around the property first, try the windows, then wander off into the garden to gaze at the roof before eventually he retrace his step to the front of the dwelling and give a tentative knock and – whiles he went on this bumbling circumbendibus – you oblige to go with him, wondering what abominable toil or trouble might be in store for you whenever he finally came around and stated his requirement. With this rigmarole and in other ways, Cleophas like to cultivate the impression of being an absent-minded, kindly fellow and he would beguile you with that bilge awhile until you became better acquainted and began to cognise just how sly he could be, for true. My brother and I had encountered all manner of individual among the friars; a spectrum of humanity, from gentle coves who scarce could bear to swat a mosquito to the most heartless bully. Whiles Cleophas might not be the worst kind of tyrant, for true, he was surely as slippery as a worm in a hogshead of eel.

I was so tempted to simply leave the paragraph above with the words ‘how could you not read a book after you have read that’ and left that as my review, as really what more do you need to know? Yet a wonderful book like Sugar Money It is a paragraph brimming with everything I love, fantastic vivid prose, you both know the character of the narrator and Father Cleophas in mere sentences and it also brims with the past, the present and a potentially concerning future. It is funny and yet there are horrors hidden in the spaces between the charming tone. It is actually a paragraph that surmises everything that is so brilliant in Harris’ writing, atmosphere and characterisation as well as what you can expect from the rest of the book. But hang about, I have started waxing lyrical already and not even told you what Sugar Money is about so let’s rewind.

The year is 1765 and Lucien and his older brother Emile have been instructed to perform a mission for Father Cleophas who wants them to smuggle 42 slaves from the island of Grenada, where the brothers themselves once lived, back to him in Martinique where he feels they belong as he believes that these slaves have been stolen from the French by the British, or at least that is what he says. Anyway, this is not a mission that either of the brothers can say no to for they are slaves themselves and so a boat is sorted and soon they set sale. Lucien, our narrator, sees this both as a huge adventure and also as a way of seeing some of the people he just about remembers from Martinique. Emile however can only see the hard realities of what lies ahead and what seems and impossible task. Through his interactions with Lucien we get the sense there is much the younger brother doesn’t know and the first prickles of dread appear in our minds, we as readers catching Lucien’s sense of excitement whilst picking up Emile’s forewarnings that this will be anything but a tale of daring do.

I don’t want to give too much more of the story away because an adventure, which I do think this novel is albeit a rather harrowing one which had me in physical tears at the end, when you know what is coming isn’t going to have the effect that Harris clearly intends this book too. I will say that when we get to Grenada the brooding atmosphere that has been lingering at the edges builds and builds as you read on. There are some utterly gut wrenching scenes of how the slaves were treated, which Harris doesn’t flinch away from and show us how horrendously these people were treated and then she also cleverly reminds us that Emile and Lucien are slaves themselves and not two free young men on a rescue mission, they just undergo slightly less horrific lives as slaves themselves, which is a complete mind f**k in itself again. Yet this also calls out to the here and now, how often have we heard people say ‘well, we have made steps forward so that is ok, there is still hope?’ You are reading a ripping yarn but follow the threads and the undercurrents and there is much for us to ponder within the prose.

In case I am making this sound like too dark and harrowing tale, Harris interweaves the story of Sugar Money with humour which invariably comes from its cast of utterly fantastic characters. There are many things that I have loved in both Jane’s previous novels The Observations and Gillespie and I; unforgettable characters is one of them (atmosphere and sense of place another which are also in abundance in this novel) be they characters who appear for a page or two or the main narrators themselves. In the latter case Lucien is a welcome addition to Harris’ wonderful leads, the bawdy Bessie Buckley and the beguiling Harriet Baxter. He is cheeky, he breaks the rules and heads off on his own when he shouldn’t and his internal dialogue and perceptions have us hooked, and often horrified, by his side.

Unlike Bessie and Harriet, who were lone narrators if that makes sense, here we have the brotherly bond and banter of Emile, who frankly I fell head over heels in love with. He might seem an older bossy brother to Lucien but through the moments Lucien describes, without picking up on himself, we find a man who cares deeply for his brother, his former lover (a wonderful and moving additional strand in the book I won’t spoil) and yet one who knows the darkness of the world and just wants to do what is right or failing that what is best. If you do not fall for him then there is no hope for you and we simply can’t be friends.

‘But who is this with you, Emile?’
Chevallier forced a laugh.
‘You must recognise him?’
The old woman cast her eye over me, her mouth downturn. Then she took a step back.
‘Ha! Just like his mother – big ugly lips and skinny face.’
Well, that was nonsense for my mother was known for her beauty and I would have said as much except Emile shot me a warning glance.
Anqelique sat down and took up her pipe. The firelight threw flickering shadows across her face. Sharp creases ran from the corners of her nose to the ends of her lips. The skin below her eyes look puffy. She was old and lame. Nevertheless, she was still tough as old turtle, for true.

Yet what makes Sugar Money all the more powerful is also the cast of characters around these two. Be they the duplicitous Father Cleophas, the delightful Celeste, the villainous Dr Bryant or the matriarchal Angelique, to name just a few, these characters come to us brimming with life, with their own spectrum of perspectives stories to tell. It is with this collection of characters that we see how people can keep on going in times of adversity or simply times of utter horror and also how people keep hope in their hearts which adds to the emotional impact of a book such as this.

As you can see I could probably carry on singing the praises of Sugar Money for quite some time so, I shall simply round off by saying that if you want a tale of adventure and daring do, filled with wonderful characters, that makes you think and explores a period of history you may not know of (oh and I should say this book is based on a true story) that will leave you heartbroken yet with a sense of hope then this is a book you should be rushing out to get right now or what the tumpty-tum are you playing at?

You can get Sugar Money here if you would like, you can also see Jane and myself in conversation about this wonderful novel and both her others at Chester Literature Festival on November 19th tickets here. End of shameless self promotion in italics. 

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Filed under Books of 2017, Faber & Faber, Jane Harris, Review