Category Archives: Hear… Read This

Hear Read This is Back… And We Would Love You To Get Involved!

I hope all your turkey and trifle are settling down. I have to say I feel ridiculously full after two Christmas dinners and I have another coming on Wednesday with my mother. I may explode. Anyway, I thought I would pop a quick post up between reviews and my forthcoming best of 2015 lists to tell you the exciting news that the podcast Hear Read This is coming back very soon. First with an A Little Life special and then a new series in 2016. Hoorah.

Now if you are wondering what on earth I am talking about, firstly shame on you though you now had a backlog of podcast listening, let me explain. Many of you will know I host The Readers with Thomas, and before with Gavin, where we talk all sorts of book based banter every fortnight. Interspersed with that I also make the podcast You Wrote The Book where I interview an author (the latest one is with Michel Faber which the recording of was one of my highlights of the year, one of my fav authors – whose books I do not seem able to review – who was wonderful to spend time with) and chat about their books and the like for 25 minutes or so. On top of that once a month I have been known to join Rob and Kate of Adventures with Words along with Gavin to record Hear Read This; a podcast where four hosts discuss two books over one episode… well we used to.

We have had a break but have decided, after recording a very fun (for us anyway) Christmas special of Adventures with Words that we will be back in January with a bit of a twist for the return. Firstly we will only talk about one book a month; warts, spoilers and all. We shall still sing a books praise (A Month in the Country) or slate it from the roof tops (The Martian) or bicker and differ if the case demands it we will just go into it all in more detail. The other change is that each month we will each suggest a book and you get to vote for which one we read. Here are this months choices…

Which could possibly be my choice?

So which is it to be? Will it be some good old gothic with ghosts, apocalypses and more in Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial? A thrilling, dangerous and illicit love affair in Patricia Highsmith’s cult classic Carol? A collection of mythical beasts from all over the world in Gods, Memes and Monsters? Or will it be a world in where the Nazi’s won the war as envisioned by Philip K Dick with The Man in the Castle? You can choose by voting on the Hear Read This post here. And I would love, love, love you to vote – though I can’t tell you which one is my choice, though some of you may guess.

You have until the special A Little Life episode of Hear Read This with Rob and myself, where we come at the book from almost polar opposite opinions, which will go live soon. The winning title, along with how else you can be involved, will be announced on New Years Day, so you (and Rob, Kate, Gavin and I) can get spending your book vouchers asap and get reading! So which book is it to be?

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Filed under Hear... Read This, Podcasts

I’m The King of the Castle – Susan Hill

Writing about certain books can sometimes be a trepidatious thing. Susan Hill’s I’m the King of the Castle is one such example for various reasons. There is the fact that this has become a modern classic to the extent that is had been on the English syllabus for years, which also adds the threat that some youths might head here and think I know what the heck I am talking about and use me as part of their exam answers (if only the internet had been in existence when I was at school, I am so old) or coursework. Then there is the fact that Susan Hill is one of my favourite contemporary writers and so I put pressure on myself. Really I have to ignore all that, think ‘sod it and hurrah’ and, because this is a blog diarising my reading thoughts and adventures and not some lit-crit site, just write about the book – which I loved.

9780241970782

Penguin Books, 1970 (2014 edition), paperback, fiction, 224 pages, bought by my good self

When Joseph Hooper inherits the decaying familial home, a Victorian mansion called Warings, he feels he is finally the ruler of his domain. This all changes when his father advertises for someone to come and take care of the house and keep an eye on Edmund (despite the cold relationship they have he can clearly see Edmund is turning into an odious little oik) at the same time. The arrival of Mrs Helena Kingshaw is a double triple blessing as not only is she ideal she is also very becoming and has a son, Charles, who can become a new playmate for his own boy. Yet Edmund has taken a similar stance to Warings, with his father away so often he believes he is in charge of the house, likes it that way and isn’t keen on change.

‘Oh – what is it, what have you found?’ She was anxious that he should like it here, should very soon feel at home.
Kingshaw thought, I didn’t want to come, I didn’t want to come, it is one more strange house in which we do not properly belong. But he had dropped the lump of plasticine. ‘Nothing, it’s nothing. It’s only a pebble.’
Walking behind his mother, into the dark hall, he managed to open out the scrap of paper.
‘I DIDN’T WANT YOU TO COME HERE’ was written.
‘Now let me show you to your rooms,’ said Mr Joseph Hooper.
Kingshaw stuffed the message fearfully into his trouser pocket.

Edmund plots and creates as many cunning and diabolical horrors as he can (one involving a stuffed crow was my personal favourite) to try and get rid of Charles, not understanding that Charles would like nothing more to run away from this place and soon starts to plan just that. After a first humiliating attempt to flee, Charles soon ventures into (the perfectly named) Hang Wood with Edmund in hot pursuit. Once lost in Hang Wood the roles of power reverse as they become lost and cracks in Edmund’s domineering persona start to break. But can Charles resist revenge and can a bully like Edmund ever really change?

Many people say that I’m the King of the Castle is a case study in the cruelty that children can inflict on each other. (And kids can be bloody horrid to one another, I was bullied mercilessly by some horrors –who weirdly couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to befriend them on Facebook a few decades later anyway, this isn’t a therapy session for me it’s a review.) In some ways, particularly with Edmund Hopper who I thoroughly enjoyed despising,  that is the case but I think there is a lot more going on with this novel than just that.

In Edmund and Charles I felt Susan Hill creates the typical bully and the typical, and unfortunate, victim. The question it made me ponder were if children are naturally born into those roles in life or if the environment they are brought up in, be it place or how they are treated. Yes that old chestnut, the nature vs. nurture debate. Is Edmund a rotten so and so because he is allowed to be and because his father had a bad relationship with his father? Has Charles been molly coddled by his mother as he has been moved from pillar to post? Is it class? Or were these two boys just born with brains that developed their psyches into such? I can’t answer any of those questions (sorry to all you students hoping to copy and paste, ha, I admire your tenacity though) but it didn’t make me think about them.

A theme I picked up strongly on, and I actually think is the more powerful message from this book (aside from don’t be a bullying menace) is the fact that children are too often not listened to enough. There is the old adage that children should be seen and not heard, this takes that further to a level of neglect or naivety as two parents ignore their children’s thoughts and feelings too busy caught up in their own. Yet how often does this happen in real life? Hill amplifies the expression children hear of ‘not now’ as Mr Hooper and Mrs Kingshaw are blinded by love/lust, or potentially money and status, I could never quite work Mrs Kingshaw out. How is a child left feeling when they aren’t heard?

This is one of Susan Hill’s masterstrokes with I’m the King of the Castle she has an incredible insight and empathy with younger people. Unlike the parents of the piece she doesn’t patronise, simplify or underestimate the lengths that both of these boys, who are polar opposites in character, will go to. She also looks at those moments of pure darkness and those of pure kindness without shying away from them and the effect of all this is quite something.

The boy looked towards the bed. His skin was already dead, he thought, it is old and dry. But he saw that the bones of the eye-sockets, and the nose and jaw, showed through it, and gleamed. Everything about him, from the stubble of hair down to the folded line of sheet, was bleached and grey-ish white.
‘All he looks like,’ Edmund Hooper said, ‘is one of his dead old moths.’

Finally, and most importantly for me, what made me love this novel is that it is overall simply a brilliant dark gothic yarn. It has a grumbling old house complete with collections of old moths, it has a brooding wood, it has an evil cunning child, psychological warfare, vengeful crows, a wicked sense of humour and an ending that will leave you feeling emotionally bruised and with questions that cause a sense of unease to linger on your psyche. It is not a book that wants to be nicely wrapped up and dependent on its reader will leave you feeling hopeful or a small sense of dread at what might come after. I was in the latter category, which probably says quite a lot about me.

Having read it I can completely understand why I’m the King of the Castle has become a modern classic and why it is being taught all around the UK, though I am thinking most parents should be given this around their first child’s ninth birthday too, just as a small warning. Ha! Not only is it a fantastic gothic story, it is one of the best insights into being and understanding a child’s mind that I have read. Yup, even better than Lord of the Flies, possibly because it is on a smaller and I think more intense scale. If you haven’t read it yet then I strongly recommend that you do.

I should add I chose this book for an episode of Hear Read This, if you would like to listen to Rob, Kate, Gavin and my additional thoughts head here. Who else has read I’m the King of the Castle and what did you make of it? Have any of you had to study that and how was it compared to reading it because you just wanted to?

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Filed under Books of 2015, Hear... Read This, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Susan Hill

The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells

Before I read it, I had some really odd preconceived ideas about H. G. Well’s The Invisible Man. First up I thought that it was a tome of some several hundred pages, wrong, it is a novella. Secondly I thought that it was set in the 1970’s (impossible as it was written in 1897) and involved some old man in a mackintosh who smoked, wrong, that is just something I naively surmised from an old 70’s edition of the book my mother had on her shelves. Thirdly I didn’t think I would enjoy it in any way shape or form, so wrong. I absolutely loved this book.

Penguin Classics, paperback, 1897 (2012 edition), fiction, 176 pages, bought by me for me

Most of you will have read The Invisible Man already, but for the few of you like me who have put off held back from reading it until now possibly because you assumed it was about some weirdo in a flasher mac, or about some boring scientist in a laboratory made of glass (where do I make these assumptions up from?) here is what the book is actually about…

One night, during a snow storm, a stranger going by the name of Griffin, arrives at an Inn in the small village of Iping looking for somewhere to shelter a while from the world let alone the weather. Strangers come and go in any inn and yet this stranger is stranger than any previous stranger (I have written the word stranger too many times and its gone weird in my head, like when you say a word too much) as he is covered in a long cloak, darkened glasses and his hands and the whole of his face are covered in bandages. The local folk, in particular the landlady, become very interested in Griffin, but interest is the last thing he wants and so locks himself away from prying eyes. Yet as the strangers’ arrival coincides with some odd goings on in the village, and a bout of sneezes from nowhere, the people become more and more obsessed with Griffin until events get out of control.

‘Leave the hat,’ said her visitor in a muffled voice, and turning she saw he had raised his head and was sitting looking at her.
For a moment she stood gaping at him, too surprised to speak.
He held a white cloth – it was a serviette he had brought with him – over the lower part of his face, so that his mouth and jaws were completely hidden, and that was the reason of his muffled voice. But it was not that which startled Mrs Hall. It was the fact that all his forehead above his blue glasses was covered by a white bandage, and that another covered his ears, leaving not a scrap of his face exposed excepting only his pink, peaked nose.

What I hadn’t expected The Invisible Man to be was such a wonderfully gothic mini Victorian horror of a story and I absolutely revelled in it. With a snowstorm, a village out in the middle of nowhere and a mysterious stranger just for starters I knew that this was going to be one of those books that I just devoured and indeed I sat and read this in one greedy sitting actually feeling emotionally wrung out and bereft by the time I had finished.

You see what I was expecting (apart from an odd scientist who might flash you any moment after he had spent the day in a glass laboratory and then driven home in his Ford Capri, seriously that was what I thought) was a book about a scientist who had gone invisible and then become a helpless victim of circumstance. Now, without much away as you soon learn this, Griffin has been a victim of sorts yet he was doing something calculated that went wrong. Oh and he is pretty much going utterly bonkers loop-the-loop crazy.

What is wonderful with the way Wells handles Griffin’s character is that you go from moments of genuine horror to moments of genuine laughter (Wells must have had a wickedly dark sense of humour) and then back to horror again. Marvellous! A prime example of this is with the ‘sneezing from nowhere’ what starts off as something which reads as wonderfully comic, which made me laugh out loud, to something that marks a forthcoming dome and builds this real sense of foreboding. On several occasions I had the full on hairs on the back of your neck standing up with fear. This also creates a really interesting relationship between the reader and Griffin, is he the misunderstood hero of the piece or is he a despicable genius?

Is it the element of ‘hero or monster’ that I also found fascinating in the way that the story is told. We initially think the arrival of Griffin is where all the drama and action of The Invisible Man happens, yet as we read on we find out about the occurrences that lead him there and the plot thickens and Wells plays with us and what we think morally. I shall say no more. Oh, well, apart from the fact that the ending had me genuinely upset, I may have even wept. Clever old Wells, now I really will say no more in case I accidentally spoil things.

If you hadn’t guessed by now I absolutely loved The Invisible Man. It completely surpassed my, admittedly low, expectations and all the assumptions that I had made about it. It has everything I love in it; mystery, murder and mayhem. It is a little gothic masterpiece. If you haven’t read it yet then please, please, please get your mitts on a copy. I now want to read absolutely everything else that Mr Wells has written.

As you are all observant folk, you might be wondering why I ended up reading a book I really wasn’t keen to? It was Rob’s choice for a past episode of Hear Read This, you can hear our thoughts plus Kate and Gavin’s here. Now what about you lot? Have many of you already read The Invisible Man and what did you make of it? Which, now that I have been and binge bought them all, of Wells’ classic should I read next?

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Filed under Books of 2015, H.G. Wells, Hear... Read This, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

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

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

Three Graves Full – Jamie Mason

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

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

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

Dreams and Shadows – C. Robert Cargill

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

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

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

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick

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

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

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

A Necklace of Raindrops – Joan Aiken & Jan Pienkowski

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

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

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

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

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