Category Archives: Not The TV Book Group

Simon’s Bookish Bits #29

As a change is as good as a rest I thought I would do one of my recently more random ‘Bookish Bits’ posts. I’ve a few little asks of you, when don’t I, all based around book groups including ideas for a great book group read, the TV Book Group and possible return of the Not The TV Book Group, oh plus a little health update and to remind you to let me know your thoughts on some books that I must get my mitts on in 2011.

First up for discussion today is Book Group choices. I am sure I have mentioned ‘ideal book group books before’ but now I call upon you for recommendations. Tonight I will be meeting up with my new book group for the second time to discuss Sara Gruen’s ‘Water For Elephants’ (which I will be discussing on the blog tomorrow) and afterwards I think I have to come up with a novel that’s my suggestion for a future read. Eek! I mean it’s not like I don’t have enough choice, and ideally I will be nominating something which is currently languishing on Mount TBR, it’s just when you put forward your first choice it says a lot about you. Well, that’s what I think anyway. So what do you suggest, what will cause great discussion without being something too light or too heavy?

Last night saw the return of The TV Book Group who discussed ‘Room’ by Emma Donoghue. I was very sad not to see Laila on the opening show as I do have a soft spot for her, I think she really thinks it all through and quietly gets her point across. I did think Meera Syal was an absolutely brilliant addition to the show, really down to earth and real and quite happy to argue the case. You can see all the choices on their website, let me know if you have read any of them already and what you thought, and next week they will be discussing another of my favourite reads from last year The Long Song’ by Andrea Levy.

Now along those lines… I have had a few emails and enquiries in the flesh wondering whether in 2011 we might be repeating ‘Not The TV Book Group’. I would love, love, love to do it again and so have sent the feelers out via email to my lovely co-judges from last year to see their thoughts. I am hoping they all say yes, no pressure of course ha, ha, ha! Would you like to see the ‘Not The TV Book Group’ return in 2011? What sort of titles would you like to see? Unknown new or older books, books from certain eras, debut novels? Let me know your thoughts.

Oh and a little note on my health while we are catching up, no real news because it seems all my records from London have gone walkies and so now I am going through the whole rigmarole again. Back to the tests and the hospital visits and all that palaver… eurgh, let’s go back to discussing books shall we?

So to recap… which books on Mount TBR do you think would make great book group reads and why? Or what other books would you recommend from your own book group experience? What were your thoughts on the new series of The TV Book Club and would you like to see Not The TV Book Group return and with what? Oh and I almost forgot… any thoughts as to books I simply must try and devour in 2011, pop here if so!

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Not The TV Book Group – Summer Selection 2010

Well it’s been a while since the dust settled on the host’s sofa of the last Not The TV Book Group read hasn’t it? Time to reflect on how it all went, what we enjoyed and maybe what we didn’t so much. One of the things I think we all found (both we four hosts and those of you who joined in) was that a ‘scheduled read’ every fortnight was bloody hard work, even if like some of us you read two/three books or more a week!!

So we thought instead of a collective set of reads over the summer we would do something different and simply offer you a selection of reads that you might want to dip into over the summer months, and what a varied selection it is again for the summer. I think even more varied actually. This will be down to the fact there was no publishing date limit, and again no publisher involvement, and we chose books that we have already read. So without further waffle here are eight reads you might like to give a whirl over the forthcoming sunny *we hope* months…

Lynne of Dovegreyreader’s choices

The Last Secret of the Temple by Paul Sussman (Bantam Press, 2006)

If summer holidays are about an exciting page-turner of a read in between dips in the sea and an ice cream (well that’s what we do in Devon) then this book is perfect. An intelligently written and well-researched archaeological adventure as Egyptian Arab detective inspector finds himself teamed up with a worryingly bigoted Israeli counterpart and a Palestinian journalist in the search for an ancient artifact that must not fall into the wrong hands. The story spreads across the broadest of historical canvases…from ancient Jerusalem and the Crusades via Vichy France and the Nazi holocaust right through to present-day tensions in the Middle East but never loses its focus. Edge of the seat reading and countless unexpected plot twists might just have your ice cream melting because you forget to eat it.

The Great Western Beach – A Memoir of a Cornish Childhood Between the Wars by Emma Smith (Bloomsbury, 2009)

Whilst you’re on the beach you might as well read about one, and if you happen to be in Newquay you can wander around Emma Smith’s childhood haunts too. Life in 1920’s Newquay was ordered,calm and pleasurable. There were social events, visiting and the tennis club to be enjoyed, dance classes and daily lessons with a local teacher, friendships to be forged amongst the children, a life by the sea to be enjoyed but hovering over all was Emma Smith’s war-damaged father. Emma Smith has retrieved those memories over seventy years later as if yesterday. It has to be a huge achievement to write a child’s voice memoir like this, without investing it with the wisdom and hindsight of adulthood. Even better not a hint of sliding down that slippery slope into Misery Memoir, a book you won’t want to end.

Kirsty of Other Stories choices

The Loudest Sound and Nothing by Clare Wigfall (Faber, 2007)

This is one of my very favourite short story collections. If you’re not going away over the summer, then you can travel in your imagination with these stories. Never have I read a collection which spans so many places, times, ages, and backgrounds. Never have I read an author who is as comfortable writing in the dialect of a remote Scottish island as she is in the drawl of the southern states of America. In part, this might be one of the benefits of Wigfall’s life to date: according to the dust jacket, she grew up between London and California and now lives in Prague. A wonderful collection to dip in and out of throughout the summer.

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope (Oxford World Classics, 2008 –originally published in 1863)

I always think that long summer holidays are the perfect time to lose yourself in a nice, fat Victorian novel and novels don’t come fatter than those of Anthony Trollope. However, this time I’ve plumped for one of his shorter efforts, Rachel Ray. Despite there being important and serious themes running through the novel – the political, religious, commercial, and class warfare that permeates a community – it is also a funny book. Many of the characters have that slight Dickensian caricature about them, and many have wonderfully evocative names that would in no way be out of place in a Dickens story: Mr Prong, Miss Pucker, Mr and Mrs Tappitt (the brewers), Rev Comfort. Rachel Ray is a book rich in descriptions, and rich in characterization. There are shades of grey in everyone; everyone has good and bad qualities (don’t we all?) and there is hardly a character that doesn’t evoke both sympathy and frustration at various points. This is a great introduction to Trollope’s work.

Kim of Reading Matters choices

The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle (Bloomsbury Classic Reads, 2004)

If you like your summer reads to be entertaining but also meaty, with plenty to chew over and keep you turning the pages, then TC Boyle’s 1996 novel will fit the bill perfectly. Set in California, it’s a tale of the haves and have nots. There are two view points throughout, told in alternate chapters, which reveal the contrasts between the protectionist middle classes who live with a fortress mentality and the poverty-stricken illegal immigrants (from Mexico) who struggle to put food on their plate on a day-to-day basis despite the obvious and abundant wealth around them. The subject matter sounds heavy, but Boyle has such a lightness of touch and such a wicked sense of humour, that amid the tears there’s also plenty of laughs, too. This is the type of book that stays with you long after you’ve reached the final page…

Valley of Grace by Marion Halligan (Allen & Unwin, 2009)

This exquisitely designed book will make you look tres cool by the swimming pool this summer – even if you don’t read it. However, the content is equally divine: think Parisian streetscapes, chocolate shops, Antiquarian bookshops, beautiful gardens and crumbling old houses in need of tender loving care. Oh, and babies. This is a gorgeous collection of interwoven short stories set in modern day Paris. There’s a fairy tale quality to the writing, which makes Valley of Grace seem like a light, frivolous read, but scratch the surface and there’s a lot going on here, about hope and children and the ties that bind us together. Delicious.

Simon of Savidge Reads choices

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago Press, 2009 – originally published in 1956)

I know people always say that the summer months are for reading something lighter, something easier and many people might think Peyton Place is one such book because of its ‘trashy’ tag that it sadly gained. It’s not trash at all but an insightful, gossipy and most importantly of all well written novel about the goings on behind closed doors in a picturesque New England town. You will be gripped both by some of the dark storylines and their twists and turns but also by the wonderful characters. It’s pure escapism, but very well written escapism. Perfect for curtain twitcher’s or people watchers who want a little something salacious in the summer months and one that’s wonderfully written.

Mudbound – Hillary Jordan (Windmill Books, 2008)

It always amazes me that this book isn’t better known because it’s bloody marvellous! I am always a fan of authors who can take to a vast amount of places, through some unique characters and push you through several emotions all in a short space of time and with ‘Mudbound’ Hillary Jordan does that and more (I actually gasped and cried at this book I am unashamed to say). Set in the Mississippi Delta in 1946 we meet Henry and Laura McAllan take over a cotton farm, just as they are burying someone. Intrigued, you should be. What then follows is an epic (if you can have such a thing in 330ish pages) tale of war, slavery, racism and a love that shouldn’t be. This ticks all the boxes for a meatier summer read and will resonate with you long after, it’s a must read any season.

So there you have them! Will you be giving any of them a whirl? I have obviously read two of the list but other than that not a single on of them, though I do have one on the TBR (Claire Wigfall’s short stories) but several of the others are really taking my fancy ‘Valley of Grace’ and ‘The Last Secret of the Temple’ in particular. Have you already read any of them and if so what did you think? What did you make of my two choices? Let me know! Oh and a page for te NTTVBG Summer Selection 2010 will be live on the blog under NTTVBG as of tomorrow!

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Fledgling – Octavia E. Butler

Well apart from the tears that were shed in the fact that this book was the last title for the Not The TV Book Group I was really looking forward to reading what promised to be a very different vampire kind of book. Not that I have anything against vampire as I have ended up being addicted to the Twilight Saga , well what I have read so far anyway. So would this be the pigeon hole busting vampire book that I was promised?

I have to say Octavia E. Butler’s final book ‘Fledgling’ is quite unlike any vampire book that I have read before in lots of ways. For one the vampire in question, Shori, is a 53 year old vampire with amnesia under the cunning guise of a ten year old black girl. When we meet her she is a mystery to herself just as much as she is to the reader lost in the woods with no memories at all just heightened senses. In many ways Butler played a clever card as the reader makes the journey alongside Shori into finding just what she is and how she came to be. We soon discover that the remains of a village burnt down is not far from where Shori has been cocooned a village Shori is fairly sure she might have lived. She needs answers, and so do we, and so goes searching.

Now this is where it all started to get unsettling for me because in finding civilisation she meets Wright a hairy hulk of a twenty three year old and not too long after this they start having sex after she bites him (something she soon learns is addictive, necessary and highly pleasurable for both parties). I hit a certain ‘ewww’ situation here because this seemed to be rather paedophilic, ok so Shori is technically 53 but she looks ten. This made me put the book down for quite some time before soldiering on.

Eventually Shori finds some ‘others like her’ who we come to learn are in Ina ‘an ancient species of near mortals’ this is when the book starts to feel more like a sci-fi book than vampire tale, though the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive of course. It’s also when guns appear in the book and we go off into some action sequences, before (and I don’t want to give too much away) the book takes an almost courtroom drama twist though not your average ones being vampires and all. Into the mix of all these goings on Butler also somehow deals with race, polygamy, sexuality and our pasts it’s an interesting mix though for me it didn’t quite work. I couldn’t connect with Shori and despite the master and slave bond she creates with her human symbiants she never creates an emotional one and so therefore neither did I. I did read on, I was just never quite hooked or convinced though sadly. 5/10

I have since heard this was apparently a book that Butler wrote as a lark (heavens knows what a seriously dark book by Butler would be like, I don’t think I will be finding out to be honest) and so maybe this was meant to be a slightly throw away novel? I don’t think I helped myself with this book in some ways though because I looked at all the amazing reviews on a certain site which I think made me build up the book before I had started it. It probably also doesn’t help I am reading another book that twists the vampire tale on its head (and is bloody brilliant – do you see what I did there) which is of course the epic ‘The Passage’ by Justin Cronin. Hmmm a puzzling one. Have you read any Butler; if so was this the wrong book to start with? Should I have avoided those pesky reviews too?

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The Last Not The TV Book Group?

Lots and lots and lots of you have been asking via email, in person or leaving comments here and there if this could really be the last NTTVBG (goodness saying it like that makes its sound rather grand – you know what I mean) I will answer that as best I can a little further on.

First of all though I will of course ask that you head with me over to Holland Park where Kim of Reading Matters, and I honestly don’t know how she does it, has managed to pretty much hire out the entire Japanese Garden in Holland Park to talk about ‘Fledgling’ by Octavia E. Butler. It’s a book that I probably would never have read if it hadn’t been for the NTTVBG. You can see all of my thoughts and everyone else’s where the discussion is right here.

(I will be coming live via Satellite for some of it as it is my wedding anniversary tomorrow and I have been spring with ‘a day of surprises’ ahead – thank goodness for Blackberries as I shall still be able to join in here and there all day!)

I am feeling a little saddened that this is the last NTTVBG. I have loved taking part in it and am very glad that from an email I sent, which seems only the other week, to Lynne at Dovegreyreader this was delightfully born. Its been a real joy to be made to read books that I probably wouldn’t have read (I will admit there has been moments where I may have cursed a little) and I have come away from it not only prepared to try more books I wouldn’t think to but with some new future favourite authors too. I could go on and on but I shan’t.

So is this the last one ever? Well to be 100% honest I haven’t a clue. I hope not, but it’s not just my project, not that anyone else has said ‘good God never again’ mind you. I have actually just sent my co-hosts an email about a little idea for summer but nothing too big or grand. I think it’s a case of letting us all have a month or so of whimsical reading and space from the delightful NTTVBG whirl and see where we go from there, time will tell. But now for your thoughts…

How has is been for all of you? Which ones have been your favourites to read? Have we helped you discover any new authors or works you have loved but would otherwise have possibly not tried? How could we have done it better? What’s been your favourite aspect? Do you want a second series of NTTVBG?

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NTTVBG – Series One, Book Seven (And Your Much Needed Advice)

Now if you aren’t joining in with the NTTVBG, or you are bored of it (we don’t mind either – but shame on you hee, hee) and so you might skip this post then do read down to the bottom because I am, as ever, asking for some of your advice and thoughts as strange times seem to be afoot at Savidge Reads. Before that though back to the NTTVBG…

Today is the penultimate NTTVBG. And so I would love to see you over at Kirsty of Other Stories where we are delightful Glasgow to talk about her second choice, and the latest read, ‘A Short Gentleman’ by Jon Canter which I mentioned the other day had had me in hysterics twice. I won’t say too much more as you will have to pop over there and see I had to make a little admission this morning and felt most vexed with myself in doing so too. This has been a rather different read from everything that we have touched on so far which is always interesting and I will be interesting to see how the discussion develops on this one.

Now back to my need for you advice… Savidge Reads is having issues and needs your help. It isn’t that I have gone into a book slump because I do very much want to read, and lots at the moment. However I seem to be finding everything I have read in the last couple of weeks I am a bit ambivalent about, though it’s not the books, it seems to be me. (I should add I am still finding ‘The Passage’ riveting but its so bloody big that I am finding it really hard to keep reading because I can’t commute to meetings and such like with it in my bag for fear of major back trauma.)

I did wonder if it’s because I had a week not long ago where every book I read was brilliant and I was raving about them all. I wonder if maybe with NTTVBG, Riverside Readers and Persephone Reading Week my whimsical reading has gone out the window as I have had reading commitments and deadlines with the first two and was really keen to join in with the latter and maybe that’s done a disservice to all of them? I am also noticing that because I have some gems in the TBR at the moment (the page will be going up again soon) I am getting impatient to read them all and so when I open a book I instantly want to start the next one instead? I have noticed now that twice I have gone to the TBR got so overwhelmed by the choice that I have then walked off sulkily unable to decide and so then thinking ‘stuff it’? Does anyone else get any of these problems? How do you get past them?

Maybe I should have made this a question for The Prose Practise?

And has anyone noticed it’s all gone a bit quieter in the blogosphere, or is that just me… oh dear! Ha!

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The Boys in the Trees – Mary Swan

It always amazes me when a book intrigues me, then bores me, then intrigues me again. In most cases you could give the book up when it gets to that mid point and you are a bit lost and you don’t really care what is going to happen and in some cases I would but ‘The Boys in the Trees’ was a NTTVBG book and like any book group I try my damnedest to finish a book of and I think in the case of Mary Swan’s first book it was worth it.

‘The Boys in the Trees’ is less a fictional account of a specific dark event in a small town/village but more the ripples that are left in peoples lives after that event. William Heath arrive in the fictional Canadian town of Emden after the death of most of their children (and possibly some other more secret events) in their previous life in the UK. The Heaths believe that this will be a wonderful new start and that they can begin life again. However this isn’t the case and an event of awful proportions happens to the family that affects the whole of the town. This isn’t the main story in fact it’s using this as the backdrop that Mary Swan’s debut novel looks into the lives of some of the villagers as the dreadful event and its effects ripple through the community affecting differing people in differing ways.

You might all be thinking ‘that’s a bit vague’ but really it needs to be not to ruin anything for those of you who are yet to read the book (mind you if you have read the synopsis on Amazon you will know, ha). Now before any of you do read this, I should really explain in more detail why I had rather a rollercoaster relationship with this book. The opening ‘prologue’ simply called ‘Before’ read in some ways like a slightly melodramatic thriller which to me didn’t match the books cover at all and so I read on and learned some of the Heaths life before Canada through Naomi, Williams wife, with chemical measurements interspersed which confused me a little. Then suddenly I was catapulted into the world of Alice a teacher of the Heaths daughter Rachel. Then I got put into several other narrations getting slightly more lost along the way and becoming a little vexed with the book yet Swan’s rather beautiful prose kept me going to a degree and the fact I had invested so much time into the first half and a bit I needed to read on.

Thank goodness I did because actually the last chapter of the book completely saved the whole thing for me. Written by Eaton, a friend of one of the Heaths children, this chapter (which I won’t say too much about) both utterly captivated me and shocked me all in one go. You see sometimes a book can be worth reading just for that last chapter or 30 pages and this for me was the case with ‘The Boys in the Trees’. Did I love it, not really! Would I recommend it to other people to read, quite possibly! An odd state of events to find myself in considering I was thinking of giving up half way but for me it was all about that last chapter, which if had simply been a short story would possibly be one of the best short stories I have ever read.

Interesting that I felt that way as after finishing the book and giving it some space I read the ‘Q&A’ with the author at the back and it appears Mary Swan started this whole book when she wanted to right a short story which became the last chapter. I think I might have to look up her short story collection as if each one is as good as, or possibly even better, than that last chapter it must be quite a remarkable collection. You can see the full discussion that was had at the last NTTVBG here, this I have to say would be a marvellous ‘face-to-face’ book group choice as I can imagine it would have people quite divided.

***

Don’t forget to join us for the next NTTVBG title ‘A Short Gentleman’ by Jon Carter which Kirsty will be holding at Other Stories, a book I will admit I voted for because of the cover alone!.

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NTTVBG – Series One, Book Six…

I feel a little bit sad that we are getting into the final weeks of the Not The TV Book Group and the fact that in just over a month there will be no more of these reads be they hits or misses or unputdownable or unfinishable (yes two words which don’t exist but do the job rather well I feel). Mind you there could be a second series, you never know.

Anyway I won’t waffle on too much and simply ask you to whizz over to the lovely Lynne’s at Dovegreyreader for yet more delightful munchable (another new word I have made up) treats and bookish banter about Mary Swan’s ‘The Boys in the Trees’. I have decided to say banter because I do rather feel that this book could be a Marmite book, either people will love it or hate it, or maybe like me love some bits and be bored to tears by other bits. Have I given too much away? Actually you might be surprised! So do now pop over and tell us all your thoughts on it or just have a nosey at ours.

Oh and don’t forget that before all resumes on Monday here at Savidge Reads you really should pop and enter a rather lovely competition which has seen some wonderful, wonderful entries so far. Right see you over in the summer house (which proves delightful escape as London is really rainy this morning) with DGR!

Oh actually one last question before you all pop off there. Can any of you recommend me any books set in Shropshire? I would be most, most pleased if you could, thanking you in advance.

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Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett (NTTVBG – Book Five)

Hello and welcome to the fifth Not The TV Book Group here at Savidge Reads where I will be hosting my second, and last (for this series), discussion of the latest NTTVBG choice ‘Skin Lane’ by Neil Bartlett along with Lynne of Dovegreyreader, Kim of Reading Matters and Kirsty of Other Stories who have joined me, but where oh where are we, I hear you cry. Well this time rather than invade and old house of mine from the past and kick out the new owners, I have decided to bring you to my abode situated in the jewel (but I would think so) of South London…

Yes you are in Tooting Broadway!!! I was going to try and actually find the Skin Lane of the book but then as you will know, if you have read it, it’s not so easy to find in this day and age. However Mr. F our main protagonist was from an area of South London that isn’t very far away from where you find yourself today. So without further ado grab a seat on the sofa, The Converted One will be handing out cups of tea and various sweet delights throughout the day, and let’s get discussing ‘Skin Lane’ a novel that I thought was really rather remarkable.

I should really start with why I put this book forward, in part it was because it had been languishing on my shelf for sometime yet I had been intrigued by it, I had been meaning (and being endlessly recommended) to read Neil Bartlett for some time, its very different in genre from the rest of the books. I also wanted to choose a book that was out of the ordinary for readers, something I didn’t think many people would have read but maybe should have. I don’t want to say controversial because as soon as I see that in a review of a book I switch off, and if I hear someone say they read a book ‘because it’s meant to be controversial’ they go down in my estimation ever so slightly. ‘Skin Lane’ isn’t controversial, yes it’s dark, yes it has some rather disturbing themes and yes the plot runs around a man obsessed with another man, shocking I know, but its so much more than that… well I thought so.  

Really this is the tale of a turning point in the life of Mr. F (don’t you just want to read more because of the mystery behind the name?) who leads an almost abnormally routine life style. He gets up, gets ready, goes to work, does his job, goes home, baths, goes to bed, gets up, gets ready… you get the gist. Only he does this all to a routine based on precision of the exact times of all his movements every day of his life, he even picks up the paper at the same time each day. You are aware that you are in the company of a rather unusual yet seemingly normal fellow. Until you learn of the dreams Mr. F is having.

Dreams seems the wrong word initially as to you or I these could be deemed nightmares. During his deepest sleeps Mr F starts watching himself, as if in a film, coming into his house, going through his routine until he goes to the bathroom to find a naked young man brutally, and fatally, tied up. The worse thing is, after having no idea who this male is; he ends up meeting the man he dreams of and really the story goes on from there. Only there is so much more to it and surrounding it.

I can imagine people reading that synopsis will either think ‘oh no not my cup of tea at all, I am not reading that’ or think this could be ‘one of those throwaway thrillers’ or even label it ‘a gay book’ and if that’s the case you would be missing out on an amazing book. Neil Bartlett takes you into the mind of a man who goes from knowing nothing about love to the extremes of obsession and desire he has no concept of and no way of dealing with.

It’s that journey, along with the cleverly woven storyline, the historical backdrop of the situation of homosexuality at that time and the wonderful voice of Bartlett’s (I actually felt as if the author was in the room telling me this tale the whole way through) that gives the book a pace and fatalism (and also some very black humour) that means you can’t stop reading. It all also leads you to an ending that has you on the edge of your seat before pulling the biggest shocker which isn’t the horror you were expecting, though it does get very dark and very tense, but the biggest shock of all, a total emotionally winding punch to you the dear reader. I will admit it left me a bit of a wreck (am not doing spoilers but feel free to in the comments), it was all utterly worth it for a reading experience like this as they don’t come around all that often.

I could go on and on raving about this book, the other wonderful characters that Bartlett creates (Mrs Kesselman is a wonderfully drawn formidable yet secretly caring middle aged woman who works with Mr. F), the descriptions of London in 1967 with its living and breathing atmosphere, the parallels with the much mentioned and alluded to ‘Beauty and the Beast’, the role of a victim as a tormentor, sexuality… the list is endless. I shall simply say if you haven’t read it then do so, I think this may very swiftly now be placed in my top 40 books of all time.

Right, enough of me whittling on, over to you…

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Filed under Books of 2010, Neil Bartlett, Not The TV Book Group, Review, Serpent's Tail

The Illusionist – Jennifer Johnston

It almost seems contrived to constantly sing the praises of book groups (be they online or face to face) and the fact that they make you read books you never normally would, yet I am going to do that again today. One of the truest  joys of  a book group can be finding an author previously unknown to you that you enjoy so much you can’t wait to read more of their work, in fact you find yourself regularly looking at their back catalogue and wanting to own it all immediately. This happened with me in reading ‘The Illusionist’ by Jennifer Johnston for the latest meeting of minds of the NTTVBG last week.

‘The Illusionist’ is an intriguing and unsettling tale of the meeting, marriage and separation of Stella (a publisher) and Martyn (an illusionist – not to be confused with a conjurer, especially not in front of the man himself) who meet as strangers on a train in the summer of 1961. Initially unimpressed by this random man who wants to befriend her Stella is soon won over by what she believes is love and accepts his swift proposal of marriage, once married though Stella is bound into a world of secrecy, not just of her husbands but also of her own, and an ominous side to her husband begins to show through.

It isn’t giving anything away to say that the book is set after Martyn’s untimely death (he is blown up along with hundreds of doves from his infamous act in an IRA bombing) and funeral as Stella’s estranged daughter Robin comes to visit her when the book opens. As the two women discuss Martyn, Stella is reminded of the past and we switch between the present and the past and discover how the couple’s relationship developed and changes over time. The mystery that initially attracts and draws Stella to Martyn soon fades becoming secrecy and a calculated, controlling and subtle bullying behaviour of his true character starts to submerge which is in some parts quite dark and disturbing for the reader. It will also make you so angry in parts that you almost can’t speak, but that to me showed me I was deeply involved with the story and the characters.

It’s hard to say anymore without ruining the book because it’s a book that slowly but surely hooks you in and leaves you wanting more even once the final page is turned. It is certainly a book that will stay with me for quite sometime. I will fully admit I had some slight trepidation with the book initially as Johnston alternates between time periods suddenly and often with the same narrative, yet with the end result its well worth muddling through the first ten pages as the book will win you over with its subtle brilliance.

I have to say from initially feeling unsure about the book I was soon completely engrossed and had finished the book in a sitting or two and I can’t imagine there are many people that couldn’t be spell bound (pun intended) by this novel. I would highly recommend this to any of you who didn’t join in the NTTVBG and a huge thanks to Kim for putting this book and indeed this author on my reading radar, I will be looking out for much more of Jennifer Johnston’s work in the future. Has anyone else read this or any of Johnston’s other works? Do you have any particular recommendations for what I should read next?

Don’t forget that the NTTVBG is having a week off so we will be back on the 11th to discuss Neil Bartlett’s ‘Skin Lane’ right here at Savidge Reads, hope to see you all then.

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Filed under Headline Review, Jennifer Johnston, Not The TV Book Group, Review

NTTVBG – Series One, Book Four… (Feedback Wanted)

It’s a lovely sunny Sunday so what better to do this fine day than take a lovely brisk spring walk from this part of London along the Thames and over to Kimbofo’s of Reading Matters place to discuss the fourth title in the Not The TV Book Group first series/season ‘The Illusionist’ by Jennifer Johnston. I am of course not going to give any of my thoughts away on here instead you will have to make sure that you pop by and join in with the discussion and see how everyone else got on etc, etc.

Before you do though I thought I would ask for a quick favour. Seeing as this is book four we are actually (bar some bank holidays in between) now halfway through the selection and so I thought it might be a nice idea to get some feedback off you dear readers on how it is all going. The discussions are proving very lively and successful and people seem to be having a good time and some of you are lurking, watching and not yet chipping in so I thought I would just ask anyway, so if you could answer these… 

How are you finding the NTTVBG so far?
What do you think of the selection of books that have been discussed so far?
Have you joined in the discussion, if not why not (apart from not having the book)?
If you have, how have you found the online discussions?
How does the NTTVBG compare to any other book groups you are in online or face to face?
How are we all doing as hosts?
What don’t you like about the NTTVBG?
What do you love about it?
What would you like the NTTVBG to do next (don’t say retire, ha)?

I look forward to hearing all your thoughts! Right I best be off to Kimbofo’s to grab a nice cup of tea and settle down on the sofa for some delightful debate and discussion.

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Filed under Jennifer Johnston, Not The TV Book Group

Vanessa & Virginia – Susan Sellers

Some books you need time away from to reflect before you put your book thoughts down onto paper (or in some cases onto the keyboard) and some you should jot down as soon as you finish them when the book is most vivid. The latest read for the NTTVBG and Kirsty’s choice ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ by Susan Sellers is one of the latter books however life has gotten in the way once more and I have left jotting everything down a little too late and so I am hoping I catch the shine I first felt after reading the book in this post.

‘Vanessa and Virginia’ is the fictional tale of two rather famous sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf and through Vanessa Bell’s eyes and narrative we get a look into the world of these two sisters from their childhood in the dim halls of a house in Hyde Park Gate until fame beckoned and war came making their lives unrecognisable in many different ways. Researched by Sellers, who is also a Woolf expert; this is a very vivid portrayal into the sibling’s lives and in some ways I suppose you could call it ‘historical faction’ if you wished, whatever the genre it does come filled with atmosphere whilst being highly readable.

This book for me personally, regardless of who the two leading women were, told the sometimes funny, sometimes harrowing relationship of two sisters, brought close together (almost cloyingly so) by the deaths of those around them, and afterwards an almost constant struggle evermore to out do one another and compete against the other (and not just creatively) whilst at the same time each constantly seeking the others approval and validation. I thought Sellers managed to write and capture these feelings marvellously. We all love our siblings and yet in minute ways, not to the extremes in this book I hope, do have some small competition with them (everyone will be saying ‘no we don’t’ – you are all big fibbers) and I found that very interesting to read even more so when it reached the extremes in this book.

I don’t know very much about Woolf or Bell and for me that worked to the books advantage. I was totally lost in the lives of the sisters and didn’t know (well apart from Woolf’s rather infamous death) which way the story would go and that kept me reading on along with Sellers wonderful prose. I did wonder if Sellers wrote from the aspect of Bell both because Bell is the lesser known and also as a painter though her Sellers could paint the scenes more intensely and vividly through her eyes, or maybe that’s just me looking for things that aren’t there? I do think the story of Vanessa is a fascinating one from her marriage it’s openness and its decline and the relationships she had afterwards, how the war affected her and how her sister’s fame affected her.

I think writing a fictional book with someone as famous as Woolf as a character can be a blessing and a curse for a book as some people will dash to buy it and either love it or be slightly disappointed or people will be put off.  If that might be you then don’t be put off as I don’t think you have to know anything about the sisters to read this book. In fact I could imagine if you knew too much before this book you might not get quite so much from it because you would already, possibly subconsciously, have certain feelings and prior knowledge of the leading ladies and that could stop this fiction weaving its fictional magic.

It’s interesting that from the discussion (which you can see here) those who knew a lot about Woolf and her life didn’t quite enjoy it as much as those people who didn’t. Well that’s the case on the whole, I am sure there will be Woolf lovers who love it also. It’s a book that I very much enjoyed. I don’t think its changed my thoughts on Woolf in any way or made me want to rush off and read more of her works or more about her (but that might just be my Woolf readings of late rather than this book) it has made me want to find out much, much more about Vanessa Bell though.

Oddly, from the man who the other day mentioned he assumed a book was fact from the start, I would try going into this book leaving all your prior knowledge or assumptions of Woolf and Bell at the door if you can you might just enjoy it all the more. Anyone else agree? Who else has read this and what did you think?

Oh and two things not to forget. One is that there is a rather special ‘Solar’ Competition going on below and the second is that the next NTTVBG meeting will be next Sunday over at Kimbofo’s to talk about ‘The Illusionist’ by Jennifer Johnston, see you there I hope!

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Filed under Not The TV Book Group, Review, Susan Sellers, Two Ravens Press

NTTVBG – Series One, Book Three…

It utterly amazes me that we are already three books and six weeks into the NTTVBG already and yet here we are indeed.

For the third NTTVBG meeting lets all head over to Kirsty’s in a rather fine throng over at Other Stories to discuss Susan Sellers wonderful book ‘Vanessa and Virginia’. I do wonder if already saying that it’s wonderful might have given you rather a large hint on the feelings that I have about the book. Right I am waffling on and giving my thoughts away, so lets head off to Oxford where I believe a fine feast has been laid out with all the trimmings I am putting on quite a lot of virtual weight with all the goodies we have been laying on. 

I have already popped by today at a rather early 4am as I made my way home from a work night out so have been dozing behind one of Kirsty’s sofa’s and probably will be on and off all day… So now letes go and join , Kirsty of Other Stories, Kim of Reading Matters and Lynne of Dovegreyreader and all of you for some lovely Sunday bookish chatter.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Not The TV Book Group

The Day After The Day Before…

I am not going to do the longest of posts today. It’s fair to say after spending pretty full day on the internet hosting those of you who turned up to discuss my first choice of the Not The TV Book Group that I am rather tired. What a great discussion we had about ‘The Girl With Glass Feet’ though, and its still going on with people joining in during the night last night well after this host had gone to bed, that’s the joy with this project you can come back with your thoughts whenever you like. I now need to think about all the virtual cleaning up I need to do, its made havoc with the carpets, ha!

I am not one to get all sentimental that often but I do just want to say thank you to everyone (including those who lurked and may not have commented and from the traffic we had that was one heck of a lot of you – do join in next time, we love it) who joined in and made it a great day. I really enjoyed it, so I hope you did? It was lovely to see some friendly faces as well as meeting some new ones. Myself and the other co-hosts were emailing each other a lot during the day and we are all thrilled with how its going, and are already plotting something quite special yet quite different for the Autumn, more on that sometime soon!

I do hope I will see you all again in two weeks when its Kirsty of Other Stories choice and we all head to hers for ‘Vanessa and Virginia’ by Susan Sellers. Ooh, I do need to mention a date change in the programme. Myself and Dovegreyreader swapped due to unforeseen circumstances and so ‘Skin Lane’ by Neil Bartlett will be held by me on April 11th and ‘The Boys in the Tree’s’ discussion will be with Lynne on April 25th.

Right, well, after the high of yesterday I am off to the office (boo hiss) I will be counting down the minutes as I have a week of from tomorrow and cannot wait, I am exhausted. I am looking forward to some unadulterated whim reading in particular and having a holiday in my house. I was having a mooch through the shelves yesterday and have whittled these out as definite contenders…

You are all always very good with book recommendations so please give your thoughts on any of these you have read, or indeed heard about, or just the authors if you have read any other of their works.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Not The TV Book Group

The Girl With Glass Feet – Ali Shaw (NTTVBG – Book Two)

Welcome to the second in the first series of Not The TV Book Group. I am Simon Savidge and your rather nervous rabbit in the headlights host today. Joining me on the freshly plumped sofa’s are my lovely fellow co-hosts Kim of Reading Matters, Kirsty of Other Stories and your previous host Lynne of Dovegreyreader for a discussion of all things related to Ali Shaw’s debut novel ‘The Girl With The Glass Feet’.

Last time we came to you from the depths of rural Devonshire. Today you will all be joining us not in my current home of Tooting in South London, as I am saving that for ‘Skin Lane’, but from somewhere a little more appropriate to the book, in fact somewhere I used to live many moons ago. This is all thanks to the joys of this being virtual and as I am hosting today it’s also subject to my whims.

That’s right it’s my Grandparents old house. This wonderful old building on a forest covered former quarry in the depths of Derbyshire (Matlock Bath in case you are interested) was the home of my childhood and where I first learnt to read and became a rather large fan of the fairytale. So much of a fan I called my pet duck Rapunzel, no really it’s true. This seemed the perfect place for you all to pop by and chat about what I think is one of the best modern fairytales I have read. I am hoping you agree. Before we get on with the book do help yourself a nice cup of tea and to one of the many, many cream cakes I have brought from the famous local Bird’s Bakery (seriously nowhere is like it for cakes). Now then onto some book discussion…

I am slightly stuck on where to start with ‘The Girl With The Glass Feet’ and this makes me even happier that I have twenty four hours and more to go on discussing it with you all as it was so full of discussable delights, for me anyway. I guess to start at the beginning would help wouldn’t it? Like all good fairytales you need a great setting and for this such tale we are given St Hauda’s Land an archipelago of islands somewhere snowbound and filled with forests and mystery and yet somewhere very much of ‘the now’ even if a little different from the rest of the world and the mainland.

“Maybe you noticed something different. When you returned to St Hauda’s Land. A taste on the air. A mannerism the birds have. A peculiar snowfall, making almost mathematical patterns. A white animal that’s not an albino.”

Someone who has indeed returned is Ida MacLaird, for when she first came to St Hauda’s Land something unusual happened after a run in with Henry Fuwa and a strange creature, the after effects being that she is slowly but surely turning into glass. Feeling that Henry is the only person who can help her she returns but Henry doesn’t want to be found, instead meets an unlikely hero in the form of Midas Crook a man she can’t help but like and a man who she feels can help. As it happens Midas is a man so emotionally complex and deeply withdrawn, a man who prefers to look at the world via a camera lens than his own eyes could take quite some time to unfold (well it wouldnt be such a good read and indeed such a fairytale if things went too smoothly) and possibly rescue her, time however is something that Ida does not have.

I was mesmerised from the opening of the book, which actually throws you in a lot quicker than I thought it would. We are literally bundled into the world of Midas there and then on the very day that he meets Ida, it’s that instant. I was expecting something slower, a tale that lead up to a fateful event rather than this delightfully different start with a slow unfolding of background stories, explanations, added twists and coincidences following on. I liked and didn’t predict that everything from the tale to the characters all seem to interlink somewhere along the way weaving a web you drawn into and held by.

I know we said we would discuss endings on the NTTVBG, and we all can, but just I don’t want to pop the books ending on the main post as I genuinely feel it would ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read the whole thing, pop back to the comments when you have would be my tip for the day. Is this a cop out? Maybe, but seriously I had no idea what the ending would be and if I had I think I would have felt something was stolen from me, does anyone else think that – ooh that’s something to discuss in the comments as the day goes on. So instead of endings I will turn to the rather quirky characters.

As hero and heroine, an unlikely pair at that and occasionally utterly maddening, naturally we spend most of the time with Ida and Midas and so for me at least they needed to be likeable. Oh I did like them, flaws and all (I bet Snow White and Prince Charming had issues Disney just deleted them) and actually I think the flaws only made them and the story stronger for me. I also loved the crazy reclusiveness of Fuwa another unlikely important figure in the whole proceedings. They all spoke to me, I wanted to spend time with them, get to know them and most importantly read on.

The writing, oh the writing… see there is so much to talk about. The writing for me was modern and yet poetic it had that magical like quality and yet never seemed far fetched or unconvincing even when tiny moth-winged cows were flying about the landscape. This to me is the sign of a great book and a marvellous writer, it could have been easy for this book to have become a parody of a fairytale and instead I was captivated and utterly spellbound for the whole journey.

I normally whack out a few questions at the end of a post, I know Lynne isn’t a fan of this, today I think I will get the ball rolling with one quick question. What did you think then? There, I will leave it in your capable hands; I will be back around 10am to conflab further as there is still so much I want to discuss!

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Filed under Ali Shaw, Atlantic Books, Book Group, Book Thoughts, Books of 2010, Not The TV Book Group, Review