Category Archives: Books of 2008

The Room of Lost Things – Stella Duffy

After having so loved State of Happiness earlier this year I was really looking forward to reading Stella Duffy’s latest novel once more. Every so often you come across a book where you just think ‘what a great idea’ and ‘how the hell did they come up with that?’ This is the case of Stella Duffy’s latest novel ‘The Room of Lost Things’. As you will all probably know I am a fan of Stella’s work and re-reading this recently has made the book even better the second time round. Has that happened to any of you? I think first time I was simply devouring it and couldn’t gat enough of the characters and had to know what happened instantly. This time it was a much gentler devouring and I spotted a lot of things that I had possibly missed the first time round and characters that grew on me even more so this time.

The story focuses on several characters but in particular Robert Sutton who is the keeper of the room of lost things. What is the room of lost things? Why it is a laundry in Loughborough Junction which he is leaving and where many people leave hints of their secrets in their pockets which Robert has collected. A laundry that he inherited from his mother Alice (one of my favourite names, I know not one horrid Alice) though sadly he himself has no Indeed the deal is very much done and he is handing the shop over to Akeel and his wife, meaning that he is packing up and dealing with his past and not only the secrets that other people have left in their laundry, but his own demons. All this whilst also training Akeel to do his job.

The rest of the book looks at the people in the area some of whom go into the laundrette and others who merely pass it day by day. Two of my favourite characters were the two homeless men who can often be found on the unwanted sofa on the street watching the world go by. Actually saying that I don’t think I had any favourites exactly I enjoyed all the characters and their tales and there is a huge scope in this novel be they the nanny who is having an affair with her boss, an old lady who has Alzheimer’s though doesn’t know it (that’s not a bad joke it’s the truth) or the commitment phobic dancer.

With a book filled with so many characters Stella Duffy’s additional skill is managing to give you insight into all their lives, relationships and stories without you feeling confused. There is really though one true star of the story and that is London and not the London that everyone knows and loves, not the tourist traps and the hustle and bustle of the West End. This is a truer London that those, like me, will know and love. Those of you who don’t will be entranced and will be left wanting to find the more hidden parts where tubes dare not tread when you next visit.
This book is in some ways a love letter (the prose is beautiful) to a part of London that Stella herself lives in and indeed loves. Though this is not a crime novel I feel Duffy has used her skills from her crime series to weave the plot whilst dropping hints and herrings along the way until you come to the end of the book. I want to say more about the ending but I shan’t as I could give things away, it’s a very well written and thought provoking ending is probably the best way to describe it.

I was moved, I fell in love with London even more (especially as it was based on my side of the river) and I had read it before I realised it again, it just enveloped me. A wonderful book I whole heartedly recommend. All in all this is a really accomplished and human novel that tells of some of the residents of Loughborough Junction and celebrates the often forgotten ‘south of the river’ part of London. I really loved this book and not just for the real characters but for the idea of the room of lost things. This is more proof that Stella is a wonderful writer, and one I hope will be doing an interview for Savidge Reads in the forthcoming weeks. I need to get begging. So in the hope she does and you have any questions for her or questions you have always wanted an author to answer then let me know!

*Note* if you are looking for my Booking Through Thursday it is here… I had done a similar topic last month!

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Filed under Books of 2008, Review, Stella Duffy, Virago Books

The Savidge Dozen

Blimey so a reading year is over… a year of some good reading, some difficult reading, some readers block plus some dire reading and some frankly amazing reading. In fact there was so much amazing reading I changed my mind and didn’t do what I did last year and have a top ten, instead am doing as the delightful Dove Grey Reader had done and am doing my version of the Man Booker Dozen. So thirteen then… unlucky for some but not for these authors who should feel very lucky (I am being facetious) it was a really hard choice actually, really, really hard. I did stick to last years rule though of only one book per author. So here goes, in reverse order…

13. The Spare Room – Helen Garner
There was uproar in the blogosphere when this didn’t even make it onto the Man Booker Prize long list and after reading it I could see why. A thought provoking, sparse and raw novel about dealing with cancer this book was also filled with heart and emotion. Helen invites her friend Nicola to stay after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer, what follows is nights of cleaning beds, friendships pushed to breaking point and possibly one of the most honest fictional voices I heard this year.

12. The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer
I think if Nancy Mitford was still around (what is it with the Mitford’s being everywhere this year, more on them later) she would probably have been a massive fan of this novel. All at once this novel is sharply witty, comical, touching, observant and sad. Juliet Ashton became possibly my favourite character of the year as a writer struggling to find the next book in her and befriending the said society (it’s too long to write the title each time) and corresponding through letters with the many wonderful characters on a post occupied Guernsey. Superb!

11. The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
This book was simply unputdownable, and yes that is a word I have made up but should exist. When 15 year old Michael meets older woman Hannah when he falls ill he doesn’t know this is a relationship that will be in their lives forever. After becoming lovers one day Hannah vanishes only to reappear in Michael’s later life and to make him think about his life and the country he lives in totally differently. A new interesting, horrifying and thought provoking look at the Holocaust. Will make you think, a lot.

10. The Room of Lost Things – Stella Duffy
I honestly genuinely believe this is one of the most over looked gem books of the year, and not because I know the author and think she is fabulous. I would hope you’d know by now that I am not that sort of person. This book celebrates London and has some of the most fabulous characters in it. Be it from the story of Robert Sutton who is selling his laundrette (where everyone leaves their secrets in their pockets) after a lifetime of hard work to the homeless men who sleep under an archway on a old battered sofa the characters in this book are full of life and I secretly hoped for this to be the start of a series. A love letter in novel form by the author to South London!

9. When Will There Be Good News? – Kate Atkinson
My love for the writing of Kate Atkinson went stratospheric this year with the third so far in the Jackson Brodie ‘literary crime fiction’ series. Having also read its predecessor ‘One Good Turn’ this year I didn’t think her coincidence based complex plots could get any cleverer, I was wrong. This book is much darker than the previous two and grittier yet still in parts incredibly funny. It also of course had one of the characters of the year in it through Reggie the sixteen year old girl who saves Brodie life and yet brings an old flame and a mystery that needs solving into his life on top. It’s so difficult to explain this book, so simply put… buy it!

8. Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones
Ok so this book has been out a while but sometimes I get behind, I mean The Reader is eleven years old, so be kind. I ironically had no expectations of this book at all which sees the children of a small village on a tropical island receive a new teacher and a new book to study ‘Great Expectations’. The new teacher Pop Eye or Mr Watts takes on the class when no one else will due to war in the South Pacific. This reminded me slightly of Half Of A Yellow Sun for the graphicness of war which when you start reading the book you wouldn’t imagine you are going to have in the story ahead of you. Definitely my most shocking read of the year, amazingly written and celebratory of fiction and all it can inspire.

7. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
When Novel Insights and I decided to do this as one of our Rogue Book Group choices I wasn’t sure it would be my cup of tea. I was completely won over by Waugh’s stunning writing and possibly my favourite villain of the year in the form of Lady Marchmain. Charles Ryder reflects on returning to Brideshead during the war on his own history with the building and the Marchmain’s who owned it and their privileged life style in the post Second World War glory days. However Charles experience has a nasty sting in the tale that though he has tried to forget he simply cannot. A genuine classic.

6. The Boy in the Striped Pyjama’s –John Boyne
If there is anyone left who hasn’t seen the movie (which was almost as good as the book, a rarity) or who hasn’t read this book themselves I do not want to give a single bit of plot of this book away as if I had known what was coming I don’t think it would have worked in the same way. I will say that it tells of a young boy Bruno who is forced to move from his childhood home with his mother and sister to join their father for his work. The land they move to is in the middle of nowhere though eventually Bruno befriends another young boy through a fence. Through their innocent friendship Bruno is brought into a much darker world one that will change his life and his family’s lives forever.

5. Mudbound – Hillary Jordan
I admit that the title I found both intriguing and incredibly off putting, however a random purchase in Sainsbury’s (I know, I know) led to me reading possibly one of the most surprising and remarkable books of the year. Set in the Mississippi Delta in 1946 you are first lead to believe this is a novel about a resentful wife being made to live in the cotton farm of her nightmares she swiftly calls Mudbound. What Jordan manages to bring in to this incredible novel is stories of family breakdowns, affairs, war and racism. Not always comfortable reading, especially one sickening scene, this book absolutely blew me away. I cannot wait for Jordan’s second novel whenever it comes.

4. The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale
Now shock horror, Mr Savidge who never really liked to read non-fiction has two in his top ten. The first of which is Kate Summerscale’s simply wonderful, if crime can be wonderful, retelling of the events of ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ or ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’. Back in 1860 in the small town of Road in Wiltshire a horrific murder took place one which the local police simply couldn’t figure out so at a time when detectives were a new thing Scotland Yard sent Mr Whicher to investigate. The murder both provoked national hysteria and also inspired many authors such as Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle. Being a fan of crime fiction and of books this was a perfect read and made all the facts down to train timetables easy to digest until you find yourself detecting alongside.

3. To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee
I most people will know this book and I know it had been a book that I had wanted to read for a long time and so after sneakily buying myself and Novel Insights a 50p charity shop copy each it became a Rogue Book Group choice. Scout tells the tale of her town in the 1930’s Deep South of America. Her father Atticus (a wonderful character) is defending Tom Robinson of rape, Tom is black and in a time and town where racism is rife he finds himself and subsequently his family struggling with the town and struggling for justice. I loved it, even though until about 50 pages in it hadn’t gripped me suddenly I was hooked.

2. On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
In a year that has seen a lot of McEwan pass in front of my eyes, and has seen him become one f my favourite authors, it was this book in particular that wowed me of all of his I read. Set in the early sixties it is Edward and Florence’s wedding night. For uptight and inexperienced couple, through not speaking and misunderstood actions, this is the night that will change their lives forever and have devastating results. A superb look at how society has changed and how people have become more informed on life since, but also a sad and startling look at innocence, communication and what was expected of differing genders in those times, plus what was morally or socially correct. A small book with a lot of punch and bite. Oh, and its the second year that Mr McEwan has been in my top three books of the year!

1. The Mitford’s: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley
What had initially led me to read this book was the idea of letters that spanned a huge amount of history. Having, until this book, only known of Deborah Cavendish (though not as a Mitford because of her name, but because I know Chatsworth well), Nancy Mitford (as an author) and Unity Mitford (as the supposed mother of Hitler’s child) to a small degree; I fell in love with all the sisters (possibly bar Diana, she didn’t have being crazy as an excuse to liking Hitler like Unity) and thought the amount of British history contained in one book was phenomenal. I also loved their play on language, thoughts on society, books and people. I defy anyone to read this and not be 100% in love with it and ready to start again once you have put it down. This book has unquestionably inspired me to read a lot more non fiction in 2009. Best book of 2008 by a clear mile, no offense to any others.

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Filed under Bernhard Schink, Books of 2008, Charlotte Mosley, Evelyn Waugh, Harper Lee, Helen Garner, Hillary Jordan, Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson, Kate Summerscale, Lloyd Jones, Mary Ann Shaffer, Stella Duffy

When Will There Be Good News? – Kate Atkinson

This will be my last book of 2008 which is an odd feeling. I fly off to Barcelona later today and am taking Anna Karenina with me and strangely although I hope to read a lot I don’t think I will be able to get through that in just under a week. I have already typed up and saved my blogs for while I am away so hopefully I will be blogging as usual. So to the matter in hand and my last read of 2008 had to be one that I have been savouring and savouring after hearing some fantastic reviews and also having loved both its predecessors. The book in question is Kate Atkinson’s ‘When Will There Be Good News?’ the latest in the Jackson Brodie series which I hope just goes on and on.

If you haven’t read ‘Case Histories’ and ‘One Good Turn’ then frankly shame on you. Kate Atkinson has created something wonderful in fusing crime and mystery with literature without it being pigeonholed into either. She also has a fantastic plotting ability which deals with some very complex coincidences in fact coincidence has been the theme throughout these three Jackson Brodie novels however I think with ‘When Will There Be Good News’ she has surpassed the previous two, though they are both must reads.

Jackson Brodie is a former detective and private investigator who when we last saw him (forewarning of possible spoilers if you haven’t read the first two) had been rejected by his finance whilst sorting out a crime spree in Edinburgh and meet and fallen for the official detective of the case Louise Monroe. Now we pick up quite a few years later when Brodie is investigating something much more personal that ends in him getting lost in the Yorkshire moors and then on a train the wrong way which ends in a crash. In Scotland Louise Monroe is dealing with a missing homicidal manic, her new marriage and a convict fresh out of jail. How do their paths cross again, how do they intertwine with Joanna Mason who witnessed her families’ murder thirty years before and in the present day with Reggie a sixteen year old nanny who has reported her employer Dr Hunter missing when no one else cares?

I can’t really say anymore on this without puting you off with the complexities (which Atkinson makes easy) or without giving things away so I will simply say that this book is simply superb! Brodie is again wonderful and Monroe is great in her very professional yet completely confused character. I absolutely loved the new character of Reggie who is used to ‘everyone dying’ and has a wonderfully young yet cynical and sassy look on life that I just loved, I think she is one of my favourite charcters of the year. I would like to see her come back in the future along with Brodie. I hope they do.

This has to be Kate Atkinson’s masterpiece to date (I never cared for Behind The Scenes at the Museum and must try to finish it one day) and with each in the series she gets better and better, you begin to wonder how she can top this with the next one. This particular novel however I found much darker (yet still very comedic) than the previous two as did fellow Atkinson and Brodie lover Harriett Devine. I, like Harriett, cannot wait for the next in the series and pray there is one (I have heard rumour of one in 2010) as I will be rushing to the shops for it one its day of release it should become an annual event really.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Kate Atkinson, Review, Transworld Publishing

The Reader – Bernhard Schink

Oh and another contender for book of the year happily becomes part of my Christmas reading. I actually wasn’t going to start Bernhard Schink’s ‘The Reader’ until after Christmas as I heard it was quite depressing and instead was going to dip into one of my M.C. Beaton ‘Agatha Raisin’ guilty pleasures but having seen the advert for the movie twice on television today I simply couldn’t hold off. Now just under twenty four hours later it’s all finished, I couldn’t put it down.

After having read some amazing books on the holocaust and WWII in the past twelve months or so like Marcus Zusack’s astounding ‘The Book Thief’ and John Boyne’s superb ‘The Boy in the Stripped Pyjama’s’ I didn’t know if ‘The Reader’ would live up to the brilliant reports that I had heard not from blogs but from some friends, on in particular who I was in my old book group with who told me that ‘you simply have to read it’. This book has actually been around now for ten years and book blogs or blogs in general weren’t around (how did I find what I wanted to read lol) but is resurfacing with the film coming out in January. This book is just as good as the aforementioned and yet totally different.

Michael is ill during his fifteenth year with hepatitis when he first realises he is sick he collapses in the street and with help from a lady in the street he gets home saftely. After making most of his recovery he walks to thirty six year old Hannah Schmitz to thank her for what she did. This becomes a regular visit as he is intoxicated by her and eventually is seduced by her, then starts a love affair involving Michael reading to her before and after their intimate relations, and eventually just reading before one day Hannah suddenly vanishes from his life. However one day Hannah comes back into his life in a totally unexpected way. I will say no more than that as this book has a incredibly thought provoking twist and I don’t want to spoil it for you.

Schink’s novel (beautifully translated by Carol Brown Janeway) looks at the Holocaust and things that happened during it in a way I haven’t seen before fictionally. This book is all about the generations after the war and how it felt to carry the burden of Hitler’s regime and destruction. I had never thought of what it would be like to have that as part of your history, especially in this case so recent. Through one of the characters actions he asks how people you perceive to be good could possibly do unspeakable things in unspeakable conditions. It also looks at love and emotions in a time where a country and its people were damaged and scarred.

This is simply a wonderful novel, moving, shocking, and thought provoking. If there is one book you read in the next few months make it this one. Mind you with some of the fabulous books I have gotten through in the last twelve months of blogging I have said that a fair few times, but in this case I seriously recommend it and cannot recommend it enough. I will definately be putting Bernhard’s other works on my list of to reads in 2009!

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Filed under Bernhard Schink, Books of 2008, Books To Film, Orion Publishing, Review

Never The Bride – Paul Magrs

After my difficult times through Twilight earlier in the month I hadn’t planned on reading any fiction that had any spooky goings on for a while. However I will be doing an interview in February with Paul Magrs and so the people at Headline sent me the ‘Brenda and Effie’ series as it stands so far as the latest ‘Conjugal Rites’ is out in Paperback in March and me being me I cant read things if its not in order so I decided after ‘The Spare Room’ I would give this a go as the reviews seemed to all be calling t a black comedy, just my humour and just needed after the subject of the last stupendous book. This was the perfect read and I have to say as this year comes to a close I am finding it harder to choose my favourite books of the year as right now I am reading so much (on the whole) that I completely love.

Brenda runs a B&B in Whitby, she has chosen the location for its peace and quiet and also as somewhere to finally settle along with her best friend Effie she spends various afternoons having tea or having a nice night out together. They also love a gossip and they also love a good nosey into mysterious happenings which seem to be happening a lot more often in Whitby.

Why does everyone come from ‘The Deadly Boutique’ looking several years younger but also growing oddly smaller? Who are the strange Green Family who come and stay with Brenda and have an odd look about them? Who is the new mysterious Mr Alucard? What is really going on at The Christmas Hotel with its scarily sweet owner? In what could be a collection of short stories you are taken on an adventure each time with Brenda and Effie as they bumble along like two slightly warped Miss Marple’s, a character I adore.

Having read some other reviews which said the book was ‘like living in parallel Whitby where demons and vampires live with the locals’ or ‘totally for Goths’ or ‘surreal sci-fi’ my thoughts are ‘no, no, no’. Do not let these reviews put you off as they might have done me. This book shouldn’t be pigeonholed into genres its simply fantastical story telling where spooky goings on happen in a sleepy sea side tourist trap. I wanted to move their instantly and be having afternoon teas with Brenda and Effie straight away.

Magrs has created two brilliant heroines. Brenda is nosey and investigative but kind and thoughtful which balances out Effie’s slightly cynical and misunderstanding nature. Both of them, though Brenda far more so, also have very dark pasts and as the book develops you slowly find out more and more about the two women and the skeletons in their cupboards.

I absolutely loved this as you can probably tell. I didn’t think it was like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in book for I thought it was a wonderful tale about two nosey women, their friendship and what happens when things start to go bump in the night. If you loved Willis Hall, Robin Jarvis or even The Brothers Grim as a youngster then you will love this book as someone older. Or if like me you love Most Haunted, there is a brilliant similar show in the book with hilarious outcomes or anything of a spooky nature. This book has thrills, spills, spooks and a good sprinkling of laughter thrown in. Perfect!

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Filed under Books of 2008, Brenda & Effie, Headline Review, Paul Magrs, Review

The Spare Room – Helen Garner

Another book that everyone has been going crazy about this year is ‘The Spare Room’ by Helen Garner and finally thanks to the delightful Anna at Canongate I have been able to read a copy. Well to say that I agree with all the praise from the other book bloggers have been giving this would be an understatement, in fact to say that I was blown away by it would be a complete understatement. Like many others I don’t know how this didn’t get onto the Man Booker long or short list.
9781847672650
When Helen says that her old friend Nicola to come and stay in her spare room she has a limited idea of what she is taking on. It is not simply a friend coming to stay for a short holiday; Nicola has terminal cancer and could possibly have come to stay with Helen to die. Helen becomes more than just Nicola’s friend she becomes her nurse, maid and the one who stand up to her no matter how unpopular that might prove.

This novel also tells of how it is to live with someone with cancer. Its delivered in such a real way it almost took my breath away. Having spent 3 months living with someone who was terminally ill with cancer I found it incredibly emotional to read and also incredibly truthful. There are highs as much as there are lows, you don’t spend the whole time in tears, though there are lots, you laugh a lot aswell. There is a scene based on ‘coffee enema’s’ that actually made me laugh out loud. It also shows its not wrong to find these times hard.

The characters of Helen and Nicola are incredibly well written though I wanted to know more about when they had met and how their friendship had progressed which you got some clues at during the novel. Helen lives next door to her daughter and grand daughter however she is a widow and has had previous experience she is an independent strong woman like Nicola. However Nicola is in a state of denial and relying on ‘alternative therapy’ instead of anything else and has no family to rely on. As Helen finds changing the sheets every night harder and harder she also finds Nicola’s denial more taxing and their friendship is tested to the limits. How does it end? Well you will have to read this wonderful book to find out. I will say its and ending I didn’t see coming, I wont give anything else away.

I looked up Helen Garner on Wikipedia as I hadn’t heard of her and yet she has written a lot of books (which I will be ordering soon) prior to this. I also found she actually wrote this after having spent time with her friend with cancer, so you can see she has used her experiences of that time. Its also her writing, every single word counts. Its simple and sparse and crystal clear. I found this both one of the most impressive reads of the year undoubtedly, simply wonderful.
My only worry with this book is the new paperback cover. The hardback cover as you can see above is perfect, sparse and simple. Now even though this is a book that predominantly deals with two women it is by no means ‘chick lit’ or a ‘women’s read only’ I think anyone who reads this would absolutely love it. So why have they given it a new cover that simply doesn’t make sense for a spare room and I cant see a single man reading on the tube etc. Sorry that’s my only gripe.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Canongate Publishing, Helen Garner, Review

The Thirty-Nine Steps – John Buchan

Just like I mentioned with Twilight not only do I like to read things before they come out at the cinema, or I get the DVD, I also like to read them before they come on the television. One of the adaptations for the forthcoming festive season that the Beeb are doing this year is ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps’ having had it on my TBR pile for almost two years it gave me the final push I had been needing to read it.

I really, really enjoyed it. I can completely understand why it has become on of the great modern classic (is that a contradiction in terms) thrillers of all time. Richard Hannay has just come back from a long stay in Africa. He finds everything back in London mundane and boring. That is of course until he becomes involved in a plot to precipitate a pan-European war.

After befriending and hiding a neighbour who says he knows of this plot he comes home one day to find his neighbour dead in his flat. From then on he not only has to flee the men who killed his neighbour, he also has to flee the police who want him for suspected murder. What follows is a fantastic chase and man hunt through the highlands of Scotland. Gripping train rides, plane chases, captures and escapes ensue with mighty foe’s following him as he tries to uncover the truth and find ‘The Thirty Nine-Steps’.

Like the book, I shall keep this review short. The book is short at only 160 pages and could be read in an afternoon curled up on the sofa. I took a few days over it to relish it and also to not get to confused in all the chases and the many plots and twists along the way and also to savour the adventure. I haven’t read an adventure novel in ages and it took me back to my youth and endless reading of Arthur Conan Doyle. I am going to definitely track down the rest of the Hannay adventures which I never knew existed until I looked him up on Wikipedia.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable and definitely worth a few hours of any readers time, well we all like a good old fashioned adventure now and again don’t we?

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Filed under Books of 2008, Books To Film, John Buchan, Penguin Classics, Review