Category Archives: Beatrice Colin

Reading With Authors #5: Ruby’s Spoon – Anna Lawrence Pietroni; With Beatrice Colin

  

Welcome to the delights of South Manchester Beatrice, I hope you got here ok, was the traffic bad? Now can I get you a tea or a coffee and what would you like biscuit or cake wise before we begin? Would Fairy Cakes be an idea (I have become obsessed with The Great British Bake Off, so have whipped some up), as there is a fairytale theme with the book we are going to discuss…

Hi Simon. Glad to be here. No traffic on a Sunday. And yes a fairy cake or two would be great.

I chose ‘Ruby’s Spoon’ as it caused rather a stir in the publicity world when it came out in hardback and then sort of vanished. When I saw it at the time I heard it had witches and mermaids in it and do love an adult fairytale, would you say that is a fair summation having read it? What were you expecting?

I missed the stir so I hadn’t heard of it, but the reviews I read were good. I can’t say ‘adult’ and ‘fairytale’ really do it for me – I have a young daughter and have my fair share of mermaid stories such as ‘Ingo’ by Helen Dunmore. But I did go through an Angela Carter phase once and thought, hey, why not?  Being in Scotland, and ignorant of most of England’s geography, I can’t say I even knew where  Black Country was, but just the words, ‘Black Country’ did summon up something magically sinister.

Did you like it? I did though I did think that it was a little bit on the long side, is that unfair?

I found a lot to admire in it. Bit it was way, way too long and I really struggled to finish it. If I hadn’t been reviewing it for you, I don’t think I would have. I don’t know how many thousands of words, but it felt like it was at least three times the length of most novels.

I will admit the prologue made me think ‘uh-oh this isn’t going to work for me’. It didn’t seem to make any sense. I knew there was a witch on fire but apart from that I was stumped. In fact I was almost geared up to not like it. What was your reaction as the book itself, and the story, seems much clearer, in comparison to that?

I liked the opening. I found the writing brilliant, the descriptions vivid and unusual. If only she had changed gear for the rest of it. The whole novel was like the opening – tantalizing but elusive, coy and yet almost completely incomprehensible. There seemed to be almost no story, only description and revelation, exposition and exhaustively written detail.  Everything was given the same weight – a lengthy description of a walk along a path and then a crucial plot twist. It was all so convoluted. I felt as if weeks had gone past only to find it was only days.

And yet I loved the setting, the industrial landscapes and the button factory, the character’s names -Trembly Em, and Moonie Fly. It seemed that the writer had all this great material and yet didn’t know how what to do with it. It didn’t hang together at all for me – it was like listening to someone give a very poor rendition of the plot of a very good film. And then, and then, and then. Aaaaaagh. Sorry, I need some more tea.

Yes, apologies about that, I am being a dreadful host. There we go, lovely. The thing that I think I loved the most about the book was the sense of mystery. Isa Fly arrives almost out of nowhere and brings with her this mystery of why she is here and a feeling of change at the same time. I really liked this personally, it gave the book a drive and a pace, I wanted to know more…

I too wanted to know more. At first. But there was too much assumed, don’t you think? Why did Ruby want to go to sea so much? Also, with such a classic set up – stranger in town – the expectation is that something will happen. Most of what happened had already happened in the past. It was mostly an uncovering of old stories rather than being driven by anything current. I became rather annoyed when I realized that the hunt for Lily Fly was just a red herring. Ultimately though, I’m afraid that I was unable to suspend my disbelief and found my self having to drag myself through the story rather than being picked up and swept along.

Yes, I know what you mean about the revelations being more in the past than in the now, that’s a very good point. I couldn’t say I was dragged though, whilst I didn’t devour the book (I actually had other books I would turn to in order to give myself a breather) I did enjoy it once I picked it up ahain. A lot of the book relies on us having to empathise with or just enjoy spending time with Ruby. I worried that I just wouldn’t be interested or would find her a precocious type of early teenager, I couldn’t have been more wrong, she charmed me. Did she charm you?

I liked her, yes, but wasn’t enchanted. I didn’t feel as if I knew her well enough. I couldn’t get under her skin but that was because of the writing. We kept on being told that she was enchanted by Isa Fly but I couldn’t really feel it. Likewise, she keeps asking questions  – surely this is the reader’s job rather than the main characters? She seemed a little like a device.

Ooh, I hadn’t thought about that side of it. Yes, now you mention it she does ask a lot. But then I thought that might be so the reader learnt more. There is the slight concern if a character is asking too many questions there is something amiss somewhere I guess. I have to admit I did get a bit confused about the water initially. Not just because Ruby was so scared for it, which initially I just didn’t get, and because of the way it surrounded the area of Cradle Cross (brilliant name) in the middle of the Black Country which was landlocked too… erm, what? I didn’t think the map really helped me, I just got more confused.

I like maps in books. Although I now realize that didn’t I glance at it once as I was reading. It wasn’t the geography of the place that confused me but the geography of the plot.

Oh you are on fire today Beatrice, have another cake. Now back to mapping… I always worry a little if a book has a map at the front; it’s like when someone puts a family tree in a book at the start too. It worries me, does the publisher/author think that the reader cant manage this novel and if they think that then what hope does a reader have…

Yes, it makes you wonder if the publishers panicked at the last minute that no one would understand it.

How did you fair with the fact the book was written in the old Black Country, which is a huge character as a place in the book, dialect. How did you get on with ‘take me back wi yo’ and ‘he ay made it easy for yo’? I admit it was one of the parts of the book that I struggled with…

I also struggled with the dialogue at first but I did grow to like it. It gave the novel a real flavour and nuance. You could really hear Ruby’s voice really clearly. I liked that.

What I also sometimes struggled with and also really loved, weirdly, was the magical elements of the book. They added so much and yet slightly distracted too. Can you tell I feel a bit mixed about the book (I think I need it to settle with me a bit more) overall?

The juxtaposition of the gritty northern landscapes and mermaids and witches didn’t work for me at all.

Ooh controversial…

I felt it meant she could just keep changing the goalposts . Surely the 1930s was enough? I felt all the witches and mermaids stuff undermined the serious detail, the widows and their losslinen and absent men.  Did it need more? I would have found it far more moving and involving without the magical elements.

I thought the shades of the WWI in the background adding a real tension and spooky element, especially with all the widows in the town, really added something to the novel, did you find that? It made the book seem more magical, oh I don’t know how to put that into words… can you help using your writing skills Beatrice?

I liked all the WW1 stuff and the period detail too. An awful lot of work clearly went into the research and you get a sense of the real visceral joy that the author had in the details. And yes, it feels like a community very much in decline  – times are changing.

Now the start is sort of the ending, did you like that aspect of the book or did it sort of mean no matter where the author took us, and the mystery as we mention throughout is wonderful, you already know what is coming. How did you feel at the end?

Glad to have got there. No seriously, the book has real resonance and a lovely flavour. The voice, the descriptions, the brilliant writing and all that detail about Cradle Cross stayed with me. I now wonder if the author was deliberately playing with plot, with expectation of a what a plot should be? Can all the story be in back story? I don’t think so. It made me realize that what I love in novels is a good story, one with action and character development. Beautiful descriptions, evocative names and interesting narratives are nothing without a narrative that hooks you and a character who in solving a mystery is also digging deep into themselves.  I wish I had been moved at the end. Sadly, I wasn’t.

I’d love to read something shorter by the same author, however.  I think she has a huge talent.  It’s always hard to balance research with the constraints of the plot. In the end, however, you have to be brutal. Less is always more and space is as important in a book as detail. Hopefully her next book will be shorter, simpler and will give her characters room to breath and come alive.

Well thanks for coming and chatting Beatrice, do stick around in case anyone else pops by for a natter. In fact, I better get some more cups of tea on the go and more fairy cakes out and we can see if anyone wants to join us for more bookish discussion over afternoon tea, let’s see if any of them have anything to add or discuss.

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Filed under Anna Lawrence Pietroni, Beatrice Colin, Reading With Authors 2011

A Month in Books: March & The Orange Prize

Can you believe March has almost been and gone, is it me or is this year going incredibly quickly? So as with February here is my review of the month as a whole. It has to be said on the whole it was a really good reading month, a very diverse range of authors and genres of books. March has been quite influenced by Richard and Judy looking back, mind you now their reads are over next month will be quite different, I still have The Cellist of Sarajevo to go though. I have also travelled a lot going to Los Angeles, New York three times, Russia under Stalin’s regime and the aftermath, Germany during both wars, in the land of theatre twice, strolled through Paris with Edmund White and been to Wonderland. It’s no wonder that I am shattered.

Books read: 12 which I think is a record.
Books added to the TBR Pile: 46 though I have absolutely no idea how that happened.
New author I tried and want to read ‘the works of’: Tom Rob Smith, and I did, all two.
Character of the month: Lilly Aphrodite
Best crime: Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith
Best non-fiction: The Flaneur – Edmund White
Surprise of the month: The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin
Book of the month: Ok this month there are three. The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin, Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith and The State of Happiness by Stella Duffy which you all have to read.

I am excited about what April will bring. It already seems a promising month as I have started The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry and it seems like its going to be a complete corker what more could I ask for at the start of the month. Now this leads on to the next topic of my blog The Orange Prize. The long list has been announced and I have one (Blonde Roots) and heard of three others (Burnt Shadows, Girl in a Blue Dress and The Lost Dog – the latter two were long listed for the Man Booker last year) here is the full long list.

The Household Guide To Dying – Debra Adelaide (Harper Collins)
Girl in a Blue Dress – Gaynor Arnold (Tindal Street Press)
Their Finest Hour and a Half – Lissa Evans (Doubleday)
Blonde Roots – Bernadine Evaristo (Penguin)
Scottbro – Ellen Feldman (Picador)
Strange Music – Laura Fish (Jonathan Cape)
Love Marriage – V.V. Ganeshananthan (Orion)
Intuition – Allegra Goodman (Atlantic)
The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape)
The Invention of Everything Else – Samantha Hunt (Vintage)
The Lost Dog – Michelle De Krester (Vintage)
Molly Fox’s Birthday – Diedre Madden (Faber & Faber)
A Mercy – Toni Morrison (Vintage)
The Russian Dreambook of Colour & Flight – Gina Oschner (Portobello Books)
Home – Marilynne Robinson (Virago)
Evening Is The Whole Day – Preeta Samarasan (Fourth Estate)
Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie (Bloomsbury)
American Life – Curtis Sittenfeld (Doubleday)
The Flying Troutmans – Miriam Toews (Faber & Faber)
The Personal History of Rachel DuPree – Ann Weisgarber (Pan MacMillan)

They sound like a real mixture of books and I so want to read every single one. Is anyone planning on doing the Orange Challenge and reading the whole long list or will people be waiting until the short list is announced?

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Filed under Beatrice Colin, Book Thoughts, Edmund White, Sebastian Barry, Stella Duffy, Tom Rob Smith

Time… For Your Thoughts!

Does anyone else feel a little bit cheated today? Does anyone feel like they have lost an hour this morning to enjoy a delightful read in bed, in the bath or just with your elevenses? Yes me too. I am enjoying Blackmoor so much that frankly this spare hour that has vanished has thrown me into a small sulk. I know it’s Sunday so it’s a nice relaxing day anyway but still, I want that hour back. It’s some kind of time stealing skulduggery that’s what it is.

Mind you it did get me to thinking about Time both reading wise and book wise. Can you believe that some people actually think that reading a book is time wasting, there have been a few books that I have felt that way about, but reading as a general rule I think is one of the most rewarding ways to spend your time. So now its time for you feedback (do you see what I did there) I thought I would ask you all some questions relating to time and see what you all come up with. I shall also have a go too. So here are ten time based questions with my answers beneath each and I would love you to all have a go…

What time do you find the best time to read?
Hmmm, I could read all day but I have four main reading times. Thirty minutes when I get up, on the tube, in the bath and an hour or two before bed.
What are you spending time reading right now?
Blackmoor by Edward Hogan, already am deeply entranced by all the mystery in the book which being set in the 1990’s I didn’t know if would grip me but it has.
What’s the best book with time in the title you have read?
Without question for me it’s The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, I actually want to read this again before the movie comes out.
What is your favourite time (as in era) to read novels based in?
I would say Victorian and Tudor are my two favourites with Victorian novels being my very favourite as it’s such a dark point in history. I also like books set around The Plague, is this making me sound strange.
What book could your read time and time again?
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.
What recently published book do you think deserves to become a classic in Time?
I think it would have to be The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer or The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin.
What book has been your biggest waste of time?
Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, which actually has a time theme, I insisted on finishing it but don’t know why I did.
What big book would you recommend to others to spend time reading if they haven’t?
I would have to recommend that anyone who hasn’t read The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins must, or Darkman’s by Nicola Barker which is huge but well worth it. I on the whole prefer shorter books as you can read more of them.
What’s your favourite read of all time?
That is a really hard one I could list about five that tie for this however as have only one choice it would be The Complete Tales of Sherlock Holmes by the great Arthur Conan Doyle which you can read in parts or simply devour.
Who is your favourite author of all time?
Hmmm that’s a tough one I can think of three, but again as only one choice I would say Daphne Du Maurier, as yet I haven’t read a book of hers I haven’t like and two of her novels would make it into my top ten books of all time.

I look forward to hearing all your responses! So let me know either in my comments of by leaving a link if you decide to do it in your own blog and get other people you know doing it as I think the answers could be very interesting, even if I do say so myself.

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Filed under Arthur Conan Doyle, Audrey Niffenegger, Beatrice Colin, Daphne Du Maurier, Edward Hogan, Mary Ann Shaffer, Nicola Barker, Wilkie Collins

The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin

I have to say just from the cover I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this novel. It looked like it might be a bit ‘chick-lit’ not that there is anything wrong with that by the way, just that it isn’t really my general cup of tea. I was actually sent this book ages and ages ago buy the lovely people at John Murray and despite a phone call raving about it from one of their delightful team I was still suspicious. It went to the bottom of the TBR I am ashamed to admit. However it has been this weeks Richard and Judy choice and as I am doing the challenge I picked it up, dusted it off and tried it out. I absolutely loved it.

Lilly Nelly Aphrodite is born just before midnight on December the 31st 1899; however she doesn’t actually take her first breath until one minute past twelve taking her first breath in the first minute of the twentieth century. Instantly you know that Lilly isn’t going to be your typical child and as a baby with her extremely vocal lungs she proves her point further. Things don’t start well for Lilly as within months her mother, a cabaret singer, is killed under scandalous circumstances. We then follow Lilly as she goes through her childhood as an orphan to becoming a major German movie star.

Now if your like me that final line would have made you think ‘chick-lit’ however with the background being Berlin and the timescale of the novel being from the start of the 1900’s until the mid 1940’s what you as the reader witness is war torn Germany… twice. Lilly is a wonderful set of eyes through this period as she has no real political streak, her only actual desire is to survive and through this you are given an insight (very realistically) into what life might have been like through such a horrific period in history for the general/poor public of Berlin. That isn’t the only historical facts that Colin focuses on, there is also the heyday of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hollywood and its golden era. How she manages to make all this work is quite a feat but it does.

Lilly is a wonderful character. She rightly steals the show… well book as she is witty, manipulative, wily, funny, naughty, kind and incredibly strong. Though she goes through endless turmoil she doesn’t wallow in self pity, well only occasionally, and instead she fights resolutely and carries one. Naturally she is flawed and makes several mistakes along the way but all in all you can’t help to admire her and like her, maybe a little less towards the end, but I don’t want to give anything away.

If Lilly isn’t enough I have to praise the characters that come and go, and come back. Eva is a wonderful character though in the end completely dislikeable you want to read more and more about her, especially the more conniving and bitter she gets. Hanne however almost steals the whole story from Lilly; she is a wonderful character a fighter like Lilly only much harder and much darker with a real self destructive streak. In fact it’s the women all in all that shine and take the main roles in this novel. Though not in the forefront of the novel the men are all there and very complete characters, in fact sometimes Colin does a wonderful trick of having a character say one line and then following it with what happened to that one small character in the rest of his life in the next single sentence.

It was in fact this quality that made me think of great authors like Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elisabeth Braddon etc. In fact in many ways some of this novel reminded me of books like Moll Flanders or Tess of the D’Urbervilles in the fact that every character no matter how small has their part to play and their story to tell no matter how big or minor their role was in the general tale. The only other two authors I can think of that do that now are Sarah Waters and Jane Harris and if you like any of their work then you are sure to absolutely love this.

As you can tell overall this for me was an absolutely marvellous book. The setting richly painted like the make up on many of the wonderful characters faces. I simply cannot find a fault with this book and think its one that many, many people will be getting copies of for birthdays and one that I can’t wait to re-read and take it in all over again…Though with my TBR that may not be for some time.

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Filed under Beatrice Colin, Books of 2009, John Murray Publishers, Review, Richard and Judy

Reads for Rail Journeys

I am off for a bit of a break this weekend and Monday so there maybe some Savidge Reads Silence for a few days but hopefully not too long. I am off ‘oop’ north to the homeland to see some family and escape London life for a little while. Due to the delights of London Transport this trip is going to take around 3-4 hours each way and though its a slight drag the good news is that it means that I will be able to get some serious reading time in. The likelihood of delightful sunny views being low from the weather reports.

So I shall be finishing of the gripping thrilling and quite superb Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith then came my dilemma… what else should I take? The way things are going I will be up until the last possible moment trying to finsih Child 44 before bed time so what two others should I put in my bag. The criteria was something long, something I will hopefully get completely engrossed in and then a spare in case the first option doesn’t do the trick. Does anyone else have that rule on long journeys or trips away? I whittled it down to these five…

1. The Secret Speech – Tom Rob Smith (would this be overkill, though I am interviewing him next week?)
2. The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall (I really want to read this but not sure if am quite in the mood might grip me though)
3. Daphne – Justine Picardie (no idea why I havent read this yet after having it so long)
4. The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood (possibly one of the best reads I have never read yet)
5. The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin (get ahead with the R&J reading – plus sounds brilliant)

Which ones would you have chosen or would recommend? So which two did I take? Can you guess? Well all will be revealed when I get back, but do let me know your thoughts… oh and what weekend read do you have planned? Have a lovely weekend!

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Filed under Beatrice Colin, Justine Picardie, Margaret Atwood, Radclyffe Hall, Tom Rob Smith

Incoming

So I thought what might be a good idea is if as publishers send me their lovely parcels I keep you up to date with what I am reading and then you can see what will be coming up on the blog in the future, what publishers have coming out or in their catalogues and the opportunity to get your mitts on some and read a long. Plus my TBR agenda changes all the time and if I mention the books here now they get a mention… er… now! You know what I mean. So the latest books to arrive are…

Mothers and Sons – Colm Toibin (Picador)
Colm Toibin’s new and challenging collection of stories paint rich and textured portraits of individuals at different pivotal moments in their lives. In each case, Toibin shows how their relationship with either a mother or a son, or their relationship to their own role as mother or son, reveals something unique and important about them. The stories feature Ireland or Irish narrators, but they are also truly universal. In “Famous Blue Raincoat”, unwelcome memories are stirred when a mother, once a singer in an Irish folk-rock band of some popular renown in the 60s, finds that her son has been listening to their old records – songs she hoped never to hear again. In “Water”, a son buries his mother and goes out to a drug-fuelled rave on a remote beach outside Dublin. In the course of this one night, his grief and desire for raw feeling combine with exquisite and devastating intensity. At once beautifully playful, psychologically intricate, emotionally incisive, finely-wrought and fearless these stories tease out the delicate and difficult strands which are woven between mothers and sons. Sometimes shocking and always powerful, this masterful new collection confirms Toibin as great prose stylist of our time.

The Story Of Night – Colm Toibin (Picador)
Richard Garay lives alone with his mother, hiding his sexuality from her and from those around him. Stifled by a job he despises, he finds himself willing to take considerable risks. Set in Argentina in a time of great change, “The Story of the Night” is a powerful and moving novel about a man who, as the Falklands War is fought and lost, finds his own way to emerge into the world.””The Story of the Night” is, in the end, a love story of the most serious and difficult kind.

Love In A Dark Time – Colm Toibin (Picador)
Colm Toibin looks at the life and work of some of the greatest and most influential artists and writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, figures in the main whose homosexuality remained hidden or oblique for much of their lives. Either by choice or necessity, being gay seemed to come second for many of these writers. Yet in their private lives, and also in the spirit of their work, the laws of desire changed everything for them and made all the difference. Ranging from figures such as Oscar Wilde, born in the 1850s, to Pedro Almodovar, born a hundred years later, this book examines how a changing world altered lives in ways both subtle and fundamental. Colm Toibin interweaves a close reading of the works with detailed analysis of the personalities behind them, to illuminating effect. This is an exceptional collection of essays on sexuality and creativity.

The Master – Colm Toibin (Picador)
It is January 1895 and Henry James’s play, Guy Domville, from which he hoped to make his fortune, has failed on the London stage. Opening with this disaster, The Master spans the next five years of James’s life, during which time he moves to Rye in Sussex, having found his dream retreat. There he writes his short masterpiece The Turn Of The Screw, a tale in which he incorporates many details from his own life, including his experiences as a member of one of the great eccentric American families and, later, an exile in England. Impelled by the need to work and haunted by his past – including his failure to fight in the American Civil War, and the golden summer of 1865, and the death of his sister Alice – James is watchful and witty, relishing the England in which he has come to live and regretting the New England he has left.

The Brutal Art – Jesse Kellerman (Sphere)
Ethan Muller is struggling to establish his reputation as a dealer in the cut-throat world of contemporary art when he is alerted to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: in a decaying New York slum, an elderly tenant has disappeared, leaving behind a staggeringly large trove of original drawings and paintings. Nobody can tell Ethan much about the old man, except that he came and went in solitude for nearly forty years, his genius hidden and unacknowledged. Despite the fact that, strictly speaking, the artwork doesn’t belong to him, Ethan takes the challenge and makes a name for the old man – and himself. Soon Ethan has to congratulate himself on his own genius: for storytelling and salesmanship. But suddenly the police are interested in talking to him. It seems that the missing artist had a nasty past, and the drawings hanging in the Muller Gallery have begun to look a lot less like art and a lot more like evidence. Sucked into an investigation four decades cold, Ethan will uncover a secret legacy of shame and death, one that will touch horrifyingly close to home – and leave him fearing for his own life.

The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff (Black Swan)
Jordan returns from California to Utah to visit his mother in jail. As a teenager he was expelled from his family and religious community, a secretive Mormon offshoot sect. Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives – Jordan’s mother – is accused of the crime. Over a century earlier, Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, Prophet and Leader of the Mormon Church, tells the sensational story of how her own parents were drawn into plural marriage, and how she herself battled for her freedom and escaped her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. Bold, shocking and gripping, “The 19th Wife” expertly weaves together these two narratives: a page turning literary mystery and an enthralling epic of love and faith.

The Cellist Of Sarajevo – Stephen Galloway (Atlantic)
This is the top 10 bestseller, now in paperback. Snipers in the hills overlook the shattered streets of Sarajevo. Knowing that the next bullet could strike at any moment, the ordinary men and women below strive to go about their daily lives as best they can. Kenan faces the agonizing dilemma of crossing the city to get water for his family. Dragan, gripped by fear, does not know who among his friends he can trust. And Arrow, a young woman counter-sniper must push herself to the limits – of body and soul, fear and humanity.Told with immediacy, grace and harrowing emotional accuracy, “The Cellist of Sarajevo” shows how, when the everyday act of crossing the street can risk lives, the human spirit is revealed in all its fortitude – and frailty.

Pilcrow – Adam Mars-Jones (Faber & Faber)
Meet John Cromer, one of the most unusual heroes in modern fiction. If the minority is always right then John is practically infallible. Growing up disabled and gay in the 1950s, circumstances force John from an early age to develop an intense and vivid internal world. As his character develops, this ability to transcend external circumstance through his own strength of character proves invaluable. Extremely funny and incredibly poignant, this is a major new novel from a writer at the height of his powers.

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin (John Murray)
As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous murder-suicide, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves. There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse. As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self. Gripping and darkly seductive, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite showcases all the glitter and splendor of the brief heyday of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hollywood to its golden age.As it foreshadows the horrors of the Second World War, the novel asks what price is paid when identity becomes unfixed and the social order is upended.

Madresfield – Jane Mulvagh (Transworld)
Madresfield Court is an arrestingly romantic stately home surrounded by a perfect medieval moat, in the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. It has been continuously owned and lived in by the same family, the Lygons, back to the time of the Domesday Book, and, unusually, remains in the family’s hands to this day. Inside, it is a very private, unmistakably English, manor house; a lived-in family home where the bejewelled sits next to the threadbare, the heraldic and feudal rest easily next to the prosaically domestic. The house and the family were the real inspiration for Brideshead Revisited: Evelyn Waugh was a regular visitor, and based his story of the doomed Marchmain family on the Lygons.Never before open to the public, the doors of “Madresfield” have now swung open to allow Jane Mulvagh to explore its treasures and secrets. And so the rich, dramatic history of one landed family unfolds in parallel with the history of England itself over a millennium, from the Lygon who conspired to overthrow Queen Mary in the Dudley plot; through the tale of the disputed legacy that inspired Dickens’ Bleak House; to the secret love behind Elgar’s Enigma Variations; and the story of the scandal of Lord Beauchamp, the disgraced 7th Earl.

So I have a fair amount to read you could say. Am really pleased though as can do the Richard and Judy Challenge… well almost!

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Filed under Adam Mars-Jones, Beatrice Colin, Colm Toibin, David Ebershoff, Jesse Kellerman, Steven Galloway

The Richard & Judy Challenge

So it was announced this week what the Richard & Judy Books 2009 are. I have to say Amanda Ross (some people believe Richard & Judy have a say also, some don’t, I don’t comment) has chosen possibly the best selection this year that I have seen. Is this something to do with the fact they have moved onto the TV channel Watch, which ironically no one does seem to be watching? Either way the selection looks really varied and has real promise.

I know some people think that Richard & Judy is low brow reading, the choice all popular fiction and the like. I have to say I disagree. Firstly I think that anything that gets people out there reading is a good thing. Secondly I have to admit that some books I have truly loved have come from these selections (though not the summer ones from experience so far bar The Island) books like The Shadow of the Wind, Half of A Yellow Sun, Mister Pip, Restless, The Lovely Bones, Notes on A Scandal, Arthur & George and The Time Travellers Wife have been on their lists. I’ve loved all of those. So I am setting up the Richard & Judy Challenge and aim to have read them all way before each on is done on the telly (not that I will see it anyways) so here is the list, in case anyone has been on Mars, ha.

The Brutal Art – Jesse Kellerman (Sphere)
Ethan Muller is struggling to establish his reputation as a dealer in the cut-throat world of contemporary art when he is alerted to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: in a decaying New York slum, an elderly tenant has disappeared, leaving behind a staggeringly large trove of original drawings and paintings. Nobody can tell Ethan much about the old man, except that he came and went in solitude for nearly forty years, his genius hidden and unacknowledged. Despite the fact that, strictly speaking, the artwork doesn’t belong to him, Ethan takes the challenge and makes a name for the old man – and himself. Soon Ethan has to congratulate himself on his own genius: for storytelling and salesmanship. But suddenly the police are interested in talking to him. It seems that the missing artist had a nasty past, and the drawings hanging in the Muller Gallery have begun to look a lot less like art and a lot more like evidence. Sucked into an investigation four decades cold, Ethan will uncover a secret legacy of shame and death, one that will touch horrifyingly close to home – and leave him fearing for his own life.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury)
It is midnight on 30th June 1860 and all is quiet in the Kent family’s elegant house in Road, Wiltshire. The next morning, however, they wake to find that their youngest son has been the victim of an unimaginably gruesome murder. Even worse, the guilty party is surely one of their number – the house was bolted from the inside. As Jack Whicher, the most celebrated detective of his day, arrives at Road to track down the killer, the murder provokes national hysteria at the thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes – scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing.This true story has all the hallmarks of a classic gripping murder mystery. A body, a detective, a country house steeped in secrets and a whole family of suspects – it is the original Victorian whodunnit.

The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson (Canongate)
The nameless and beautiful narrator of The Gargoyle is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and wakes up in a burns ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned. His life is over – he is now a monster. But in fact it is only just beginning. One day, Marianne Engel, a wild and compelling sculptress of gargoyles, enters his life and tells him that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly burned mercenary and she was a nun and a scribe who nursed him back to health in the famed monastery of Engelthal. As she spins her tale, Scheherazade fashion, and relates equally mesmerising stories of deathless love in Japan, Greenland, Italy and England, he finds himself drawn back to life – and, finally, to love.

When Will There Be Good News – Kate Atkinson (Black Swan)
In rural Devon, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses an appalling crime. Thirty years later the man convicted of the crime is released from prison. In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie works as a nanny for a G.P. But Dr. Hunter has gone missing and Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried. Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling towards her is an old friend – Jackson Brodie – himself on a journey that becomes fatally interrupted.

The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff (Black Swan)
Jordan returns from California to Utah to visit his mother in jail. As a teenager he was expelled from his family and religious community, a secretive Mormon offshoot sect. Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives – Jordan’s mother – is accused of the crime. Over a century earlier, Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, Prophet and Leader of the Mormon Church, tells the sensational story of how her own parents were drawn into plural marriage, and how she herself battled for her freedom and escaped her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. Bold, shocking and gripping, “The 19th Wife” expertly weaves together these two narratives: a page turning literary mystery and an enthralling epic of love and faith.

The Bolter – Frances Osborne (Virago)
On Friday 25th May, 1934, a forty-one-year-old woman walked into the lobby of Claridge’s Hotel to meet the nineteen-year-old son whose face she did not know. Fifteen years earlier, as the First World War ended, Idina Sackville shocked high society by leaving his multimillionaire father to run off to Africa with a near penniless man. An inspiration for Nancy Mitford’s character The Bolter, painted by William Orpen, and photographed by Cecil Beaton, Sackville went on to divorce a total of five times, yet died with a picture of her first love by her bed. Her struggle to reinvent her life with each new marriage left one husband murdered and branded her the ‘high priestess’ of White Mischief’s bed-hopping Happy Valley in Kenya. Sackville’s life was so scandalous that it was kept a secret from her great-granddaughter Frances Osborne. Now, Osborne tells the moving tale of betrayal and heartbreak behind Sackville’s road to scandal and return, painting a dazzling portrait of high society in the early twentieth century.

Netherland – Joseph O’Neill (HarperPerennial)
In early 2006, Chuck Ramkissoon is found dead at the bottom of a New York canal. In London, a Dutch banker named Hans van den Broek hears the news, and remembers his unlikely friendship with Chuck and the off-kilter New York in which it flourished: the New York of 9/11, the powercut and the Iraq war. Those years were difficult for Hans — his English wife Rachel left with their son after the attack, as if that event revealed the cracks and silences in their marriage, and he spent two strange years in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, passing stranger evenings with the eccentric residents. Lost in a country he’d regarded as his new home, Hans sought comfort in a most alien place — the thriving but almost invisible world of New York cricket, in which immigrants from Asia and the West Indies play a beautiful, mystifying game on the city’s most marginal parks. It was during these games that Hans befriends Chuck Ramkissoon, who dreamed of establishing the city’s first proper cricket field. Over the course of a summer, Hans grew to share Chuck’s dream and Chuck’s sense of American possibility — until he began to glimpse the darker meaning of his new friend’s activities and ambitions.’ Netherland’ is a novel of belonging and not belonging, and the uneasy state in between. It is a novel of a marriage foundering and recuperating, and of the shallows and depths of male friendship. With it, Joseph O’Neill has taken the anxieties and uncertainties of our new century and fashioned a work of extraordinary beauty and brilliance.

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin (John Murray)
As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous murder-suicide, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves. There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse. As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self. Gripping and darkly seductive, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite showcases all the glitter and splendor of the brief heyday of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hollywood to its golden age.As it foreshadows the horrors of the Second World War, the novel asks what price is paid when identity becomes unfixed and the social order is upended.

December – Elizabeth H. Winthrop (Sceptre)
Eleven-year-old Isabelle hasn’t spoken in nine months, and as December begins the situation is getting desperate. Her mother has stopped work to devote herself to her daughter’s care. Four psychiatrists have already given up on her, and her school will not take her back in the New Year. Her parents are frantically trying to understand what has happened so they can help their child, but they cannot escape the thought of darker possibilities. What if Isabelle is damaged beyond their reach? Will she never speak again? Is it their fault? As they spiral around Isabelle’s impenetrable silence, she herself emerges as a bright young girl in need of help yet too terrified to ask for it. By the talented young author of FIREWORKS, this is a compelling, ultimately uplifting novel about a family in crisis, showing the delicate web that connects a husband and wife, parents and children, and how easily it can tear.

The Cellist Of Sarajevo – Steven Galloway (Atlantic)
This is the top 10 bestseller, now in paperback. Snipers in the hills overlook the shattered streets of Sarajevo. Knowing that the next bullet could strike at any moment, the ordinary men and women below strive to go about their daily lives as best they can. Kenan faces the agonizing dilemma of crossing the city to get water for his family. Dragan, gripped by fear, does not know who among his friends he can trust. And Arrow, a young woman counter-sniper must push herself to the limits – of body and soul, fear and humanity.Told with immediacy, grace and harrowing emotional accuracy, “The Cellist of Sarajevo” shows how, when the everyday act of crossing the street can risk lives, the human spirit is revealed in all its fortitude – and frailty.

So who is up for the challenge and will be joining me? Don’t all rush at once! Doesn’t anyone else think this is a strong line up? I have already read two of the books (both the Kate’s) but think at the moment the most exciting ones are The Gargoyle and The 19th Wife, I also think Netherland will be my downfall. Just something tells me it might not be quite me, we will see though!

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Filed under Andrew Davidson, Beatrice Colin, David Ebershoff, Elizabeth H. Winthrop, Frances Osborne, Jesse Kellerman, Joseph O'Neill, Kate Atkinson, Kate Summerscale, Richard and Judy, Steven Galloway