Category Archives: Marcus Zusack

Books of the Noughties

I feel a little like all I have been doing of late is compiling lists. If it wasn’t the two lists for best books of 2009 for next week, or books for 2010 for both work (I now have the books page in the magazine hoorah) and for the blog then it was shopping lists for the family Christmas presents, even though not seeing most of them till the end of January, and the never ending Christmas food fest shopping list. This is the list that has proved the most difficult.

I will admit that it’s really only since 2006 that my reading got out of hand. It’s interesting that that was also a year where escapism was the thing that I needed the most, it wasn’t the happiest year – well until I met The Converted One – a long bad relationship ended and I had a rather huge health scare all in all not the best. Yet the positive that came out of that year, roughly from February on, was that I utterly embraced my love for books again. I had been reading but maybe one book every month or so.

Now you would think in the nearly four years its been I wouldn’t have read that many of ‘the books of the noughties’ but this list has taken ages, books have been fighting with each other its been carnage. I have always preferred contemporary fiction to classics (though this has changed rather a lot this year) looking back over my blog and pre-blog ‘books I have read’ lists which I compile each year I have actually consumed quite a few though not all the big contenders I have seen in the papers. So bearing in mind I haven’t read every great book since 2000 (not that we will all agree on the great books since then, Cloud Atlas for example which I loathed) here are the books that made my top ten of the noughties with their blurbs, I could write a paragraph on each of them but am a) listed out and b) I loved them end of…

The Time Travellers Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

This extraordinary, magical novel is the story of Clare and Henry who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. His disappearances are spontaneous and his experiences are alternately harrowing and amusing. The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s passionate love for each other with grace and humour. Their struggle to lead normal lives in the face of a force they can neither prevent nor control is intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

A father and his son walk alone through burned America, heading through the ravaged landscape to the coast. This is the profoundly moving story of their journey. “The Road” boldly imagines a future in which no hope remains, but in which two people, ‘each the other’s world entire’, are sustained by love. Awesome in the totality of its vision, it is an unflinching meditation on the worst and the best that we are capable of: ultimate destructiveness, desperate tenacity, and the tenderness that keeps two people alive in the face of total devastation.

Small Island – Andrea Levy

It is 1948, and England is recovering from a war. But at 21 Nevern Street, London, the conflict has only just begun. Queenie Bligh’s neighbours do not approve when she agrees to take in Jamaican lodgers, but Queenie doesn’t know when her husband will return, or if he will come back at all. What else can she do? Gilbert Joseph was one of the several thousand Jamaican men who joined the RAF to fight against Hitler. Returning to England as a civilian he finds himself treated very differently. It’s desperation that makes him remember a wartime friendship with Queenie and knock at her door. Gilbert’s wife Hortense, too, had longed to leave Jamaica and start a better life in England. But when she joins him she is shocked to find London shabby, decrepit, and far from the golden city of her dreams. Even Gilbert is not the man she thought he was.

Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami

“Kafka on the Shore” follows the fortunes of two remarkable characters. Kafka Tamura runs away from home at fifteen, under the shadow of his father’s dark prophesy. The aging Nakata, tracker of lost cats, who never recovered from a bizarre childhood affliction, finds his pleasantly simplified life suddenly turned upside down. Their parallel odysseys are enriched throughout by vivid accomplices and mesmerising dramas. Cats converse with people; fish tumble from the sky; a ghostlike pimp deploys a Hegel-spouting girl of the night; a forest harbours soldiers apparently un-aged since WWII. There is a savage killing, but the identity of both victim and killer is a riddle. Murakami’s new novel is at once a classic tale of quest, but it is also a bold exploration of mythic and contemporary taboos, of patricide, of mother-love, of sister-love. Above all it is an entertainment of a very high order.

Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This highly anticipated novel from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is set in Nigeria during the 1960s, at the time of a vicious civil war in which a million people died and thousands were massacred in cold blood. The three main characters in the novel are swept up in the violence during these turbulent years. One is a young boy from a poor village who is employed at a university lecturer’s house. The other is a young middle-class woman, Olanna, who has to confront the reality of the massacre of her relatives. And the third is a white man, a writer who lives in Nigeria for no clear reason, and who falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister, a remote and enigmatic character. As these people’s lives intersect, they have to question their own responses to the unfolding political events. This extraordinary novel is about Africa in a wider sense: about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race; and about the ways in which love can complicate all of these things.

The Blind Assassin – Margaret Atwood

Laura Chase’s older sister Iris, married at eighteen to a politically prominent industrialist but now poor and eighty-two, is living in Port Ticonderoga, a town dominated by their once-prosperous family before the First War. While coping with her unreliable body, Iris reflects on her far from exemplary life, in particular the events surrounding her sister’s tragic death. Chief among these was the publication of The Blind Assassin, a novel which earned the dead Laura Chase not only notoriety but also a devoted cult following. Sexually explicit for its time, The Blind Assassin describes a risky affair in the turbulent thirties between a wealthy young woman and a man on the run. During their secret meetings in rented rooms, the lovers concoct a pulp fantasy set on Planet Zycron. As the invented story twists through love and sacrifice and betrayal, so does the real one; while events in both move closer to war and catastrophe. By turns lyrical, outrageous, formidable, compelling and funny, this is a novel filled with deep humour and dark drama. 

Atonement – Ian McEwan

On the hottest day of the summer of 1934, thirteen-year-old Briony Tallis sees her sister Cecilia strip off her clothes and plunge into the fountain in the garden of their country house. Watching her is Robbie Turner, her childhood friend who, like Cecilia, has recently come down from Cambridge. By the end of that day, the lives of all three will have been changed for ever. Robbie and Cecilia will have crossed a boundary they had not even imagined at its start, and will have become victims of the younger girl’s imagination. Briony will have witnessed mysteries, and committed a crime for which she will spend the rest of her life trying to atone.

Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs

This is the story of a boy whose mother (a poet with delusions of grandeur) gave him away to be raised by her psychiatrist, a dead ringer for Santa Claus and a certifiable lunatic into the bargain. Suddenly at the age of 12, Augusten found himself living in a dilapidated Victorian house in perfect squalor. The doctor’s bizarre family, a few patients and a paedophile living in the garden shed completed the tableau. Here, there were no rules or school. The Christmas tree stayed up until Summer and valium was chomped down like sweets. When things got a bit slow, there was always the ancient electroshock therapy machine under the stairs.

The Book Thief – Markus Zusack

Here is a small fact – you are going to die. 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier. Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall. Some important information – this novel is narrated by death. It’s a small story, about: a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. Another thing you should know – Death will visit the book thief three times.

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosley

The never-before published letters of the legendary Mitford sisters, alive with wit, affection, tragedy and gossip: a charismatic history of the century’s signal events played out in the lives of a controversial and uniquely gifted family. Nancy, the scalding wit who parlayed her family life into bestselling novels. Diana, the fascist jailed with her husband, Oswald Mosley, during WWII. Unity, a suicide, torn by her worship of Hitler and her loyalty to home. Debo, who adored pleasure and fun, and found herself Duchess of Devonshire. Pamela, who craved nothing more than a quiet country life. Jessica, the runaway, a communist and fighter for social change. The Mitfords became myth in their own time: the great wits and beauties of their age, they were immoderate in their passions for ideas and people. Virtually spanning the century, these letters between the sisters — alternately touching and explosive — constitute a superb social chronicle, and explore with disarming intimacy their shifting relationships. As editor Charlotte Mosley notes, not since the Brontes has a single family written so much about themselves, or been so written about. Their letters are widely recognized to contain the best of their writing. Mosley, Diana’s niece, will select from an archive of 18,000, to which she has exclusive access.

So that is your lot, not necessarily in order as it changes every hour or so. As I said lots of books fought for the top ten spot and I could easily have added The Life of Pi, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Child 44, What Was Lost, On Chesil Beach, The Kite Runner, Notes on a Scandal, The Secret Scripture and many many more. A top 40 would have been good but might have been somewhat excessive. It has made me think how difficult doing this in 2020 will be considering I read so much more now. Anyway, this is my list in all its (some of you may think questionable) glory. What are your top books of the noughties? Oh and what do we call the next decade, the tensies, the teens?

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Filed under Audrey Niffenegger, Augusten Burroughs, Charlotte Mosley, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Cormac McCarthy, Haruki Murakami, Ian McEwan, Marcus Zusack, Margaret Atwood

The Reader (Again)

On Sunday I went to the cinema with The Non Reader to see The Reader (that’s confusing) which I have been aching to see. I have to admit I am always very cautious when a book is turned into a movie however my fears were completely unfounded with this wonderful adaptation. The movie is stunning the landscapes, backdrops the works are just wonderfully filmed and the delicate parts of the film were dealt with so well and so sympathetically. No dramatics!

Kate Winslet is simply superb as Hannah Schmidt, I thought her acting was completely effortless whilst being heart breaking and moving. It’s difficult to say too much about the film without giving the twist and turns away. I will say that after speaking with my Gran you should read the book as you understand Hannah a lot better and the main reason as to why she has done what she has in the past. I did feel that wasn’t made clear enough in the movie. If you see it then it will make sense. I also thought that the boy who played the younger Michael Berg was fantastic as was Ralph Fiennes as the elder Michael Berg; the younger just stole it away from him at the end of the day. The scene of the film, without giving anything away, invovles the word ‘the’ and I dont think there was a dry eye in the cinema including me and the Non Reader! This is the must see movie of the year so far. I predict (we will see if I am right later in the year) that from this film there will be a shift in sales of a few books but one in particular The Lady and the Little Dog by Chekhov… watch this space!

Anyways I am putting up the review of the book for you all again from last year. Do get the book, only not the movie tie-in version, you know my thoughts on those…

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, one 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 that was when 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.

Oh and not a book to film but a film about an author (or two as the synopsis shows) Capote arrived through my door today. I will be interested to see how I take to this as I don’t like Philip Seymour Hoffman and the accent I saw in the trailers might grate on me we will see. Am also looking forward to seeing how they portray his relationship with Harper Lee as some people say they were one and the same and that Capote did in fact write To Kill A Mockingbird under the pseudonym, I am not sure I believe that. I might wait until Novel Insights comes round.

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Filed under Bernhard Schink, Harper Lee, John Boyne, Marcus Zusack, Orion Publishing, Review, Truman Capote

The Savidge Top Ten Best Books of 2007

This is a really hard decision after such a brilliant year of reading, though am gutted didn’t managed 100 books, maybe this year, we shall see. I have to say part of me wanted to do a top twenty or a top 13 like the ‘Man Booker Dozen’ because I simply had so many that I would heartily recommend to you all. But enough of me waffling on, here is my list of what I thought was superb reading in 2007.

10. The Book of Lost Things – John Connolly
This was possibly one of the most surprising books of the year for me which I read after a recommendation from on of the book group members. She had read it and thought that it would be right up my street and she was indeed right. This is a tale of David a twelve year old boy who has just lost his mother. Having moved to a new house he buries himself in the world of books to beat out the grief in his head. However these stories start to seep into the real world and bad things start to happen and The Crooked Man comes to claim David. This book was dark enthralling and added a new exciting twist to fairytales that brought out your childhood fears.

9. Case Histories – Kate Atkinson
I fell in love with Kate’s writing, not with ‘Behind the Scenes at the Museum’ as I didn’t really take to that and never finished it, with ‘Human Croquet’ which had a brilliant dark otherness about it. Having re-found my love for crime fiction in the last twelve months I was overjoyed to discover she has written a combination of crime and literary fiction and ‘Case Histories’ was simply superb. Following Jackson Brodie, a brilliant complex main character, ex soldier and police man as he is hired as a private detective Atkinson takes a look at how small the world is and how coincidences can change everything and interlink. Brilliant plotting, superb characters.

8. Winter in Madrid – C.J.Sansom
Having also read his Historical Literary Crime (now there is a new genre) novel ‘Dissolution’ this year I have really rather enjoyed my two experiences of Sansom. However this novel set in 1940 after the Spanish Civil War in the ruins of Madrid was just stunning. Harry Brett is sent by the government to spy and find out as much as he can about old school chum Sandy Forsyth who has become somewhat of a shady character in Madrid. Harry becomes involved in a dangerous game of plots, skeletons in closets and emotional warfare. I thought this was absolutely brilliant and let out a huge ‘gasp’ at the ending I didn’t see coming. I also bought a few copies for people for Christmas.

7. Restless – William Boyd
This book was another complete surprise for me and a fresh take on the war from a female point especially from the point of a spy. In 1939 Eva Delectorskaya, twenty eight, is a Russian living in Paris when she is recruited by the British Secret Service and put under the tutoring of Lucas Romer a man of mystery. The book starts as in the present day Eva’s past comes back to haunt her as a grandmother happily settled. I found this book both thrilling and unique, you don’t think of grandma spies really do you. I found it fast paced and yet it really got into the characters and their motives. I bought this for a lot of people over the year.


6. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell This was a recommendation from my Gran who herself is a great reader and it takes a lot to impress her after 60 odd years of reading and three book clubs, she devoured this in two sittings. I devoured it in one. When Iris Lockheart gets a phone call telling her she has a long lost Aunt she has never heard of and who is due for release from an asylum and could she come and get her, her independent lifestyle gets embroiled in secrets from the families past. I found this unsuspecting thriller completely sucked me in and wasn’t expecting the tale of Esme’s journey to the Asylum to be so gripping whilst also so emotional. This was unputdownable if that’s a word.

5. The Observations – Jane Harris
This was one of those books that you should judge by the cover. I was in a little independent book shop in Cromford when I saw this as one of their recommended titles and it looked so gothic, dark, mysterious and full of secrets, I thought ‘why not?’ This is brilliant novel and without a doubt Bessy Buckley is my favourite character of the year, and her narration is wonderful (I didn’t find her Scottish and Victorian slang annoying at all) I though it was a unique voice. The story tells of Bessy taking a job for Arabella in her grand house on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Bessy is more than happy at first as she is escaping her past in Glasgow, however, when asked to keep a journal of her most intimate thoughts along side her employer’s odd behaviour she starts to worry. Worries that build up further when she finds her employer had a slight obsession for her predecessor Nora who died mysteriously. This book is just brilliant, gripping, mysterious it has all the makings of a future classic and with a heroine like Bessy it deserves to be.

4. Half Of A Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
It was difficult to only put this at number four because it was so brilliant but the competition was really, really tough this year with so many good books. This is possibly one of the most heart wrenching novels I have ever read set in the lead up, and start, of Nigeria’s Biafra War. The book has three unique outlooks from that of a servant boy Ugwu, his employer’s wife Olanna, and Richard a journalist who is Olanna’s twin sister’s lover from England. I found this book incredibly moving and upsetting the vividness of the war engrained so much on the page that you felt you were there for the shock and awe of it all. Not an easy read by any standard but a book I think should be in everyone’s collection.

3. Atonement – Ian McEwan
I have officially started to become a huge fan of McEwan and plan to read a lot more of his books this year. Of course with the big movie out I would be surprised if there is anyone now who hasn’t read the book or who doesn’t know the story. A story based all around confusion, childhood interpretations and mistakes, after Briony sees her sister Cecilia jump in a fountain whilst their childhood friend watches. From then on more mistakes are made and people’s lives are changed forever. I wasn’t expecting the war to loom in the book but it was dealt with well and added an extra something to the book. This is one of McEwan’s longest and possibly one of his best.

2. The Book Thief – Marcus Zusack
I remember when I was recommended this by the same lady who recommended ‘Restless’ I thought “not another book about the War”. I have to say the originality with which Zusack writes this novel made it without question one of the best books of the year. The narrator of the novel is Death during his particularly busy phase in 1939 Germany and a book thief that he encounters, nine year old Liesle who lives with her adoptive family in bomb torn Himmel Street. I didn’t think a book written by Death sounded like it would be much fun, and there isn’t fun in war, however this book is full of real hope for humans written in beautiful prose where every word has been thought through. It was easy to see why this was the biggest selling debut adult novel in 2007.

1. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’… I didn’t expect to find my new favourite read of all time (so far) this year, especially after ‘The Woman in White’ is such a tough act to follow, but with Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ from the first few pages it was a complete love affair. I love all things gothic and this book had it all. Following the unnamed second Mrs De Winter after she marries Maxim this books takes us through mystery, a beguiling ex-wife an evil housekeeper (Mrs Danvers was my favourite character in the whole book), a rambling estate and a possible murder. This book is a great gothic mystery but is also a great insight into people and how they work. If I hadn’t made the decision to put only one book per author in my top ten then I would have had to have ‘Jamaica Inn’ on the list which is almost as good. I am only worried now that having read what’s meant to be the best Du Maurier first I might be let down from now on, somehow though I doubt it.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2007, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Daphne Du Maurier, Ian McEwan, Jane Harris, John Connolly, Kate Atkinson, Maggie O'Farrell, Marcus Zusack, William Boyd