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.

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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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