Category Archives: Random House Publishing

Books That I’ve Bought of Late; The American Edition

I haven’t really mentioned my trip to America. I am currently working out how to do it in a way that won’t feel like one of those stomach dropping moments when you visit someone and they say ‘oh, let’s look at the pictures of my holiday’ and then go on to show you about a thousand pictures of which only about ten or twenty interest you in anyway. I will keep thinking. In the meantime before Other People’s Bookshelves returns next weekend (if you want to take part in a future one I would love you to) I thought I would share with you the books that I bought whilst I was away…

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The first book I bought on my trip was, some might say fatefully with my love of her, Daphne Du Maurier’s The Winding Stair. When Thomas and I went to the rather amazing and never ending second hand bookstore Capitol Hill Books in Washington, which I will have to post about, I could have bought lots and lots of books. The sensible boring part of my brain though was thinking of luggage allowance and so I snatched up just this. It is a nonfiction historical biography of Francis Bacon. I love the Tudor period and had seen this with its British title Golden Lads here in the UK ages ago for a small fortune. $4 was simply too much of a bargain.

Next up is the last book that I actually bought, but to put this at the bottom of the pile would have set off my OCD as it is so slim it would look odd – sorry too much ramble. Anyway, I was in the airport and still had about $40 that I knew would be turned into tuppence if I exchanged it burning in my pocket. So instead of buying The Beard another NYC police t-shirt or hoodie (don’t tell him) I decided to treat myself to Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Murakami who I am a big fan of and thought having the American version would be extra special and so snapped it up.

Many of you may be surprised that I have never read Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which is actually the world’s bestselling mystery ever. Well I haven’t. E Lockhart had been singing its praises at Booktopia so it was fresh in my mind. Fate then intervened as I got caught in a torrential downpour in NYC so took refuge in Barnes and Noble and this was on one of the tables I perused and was just $10 (I of course forgot about the tax) and seemed like a good purchase in return for using the shop for thirty minutes while the rain passed.

Some of you may have heard on The Readers that I struggled with bookshops in Washington initially. Everyone said I would love Politics and Prose, and I probably would have if it hadn’t been for the fact a member of staff who had been hacking up phlegmy coughs as we perused was then incredibly rude to a customer on the phone and so I decided it wasn’t for me. However that all changed when Thomas took me to Books for America before his Spanish class where I found some gems which lead me to leaving The Goldfinch in Thomas’ spare room.

Life After Life by Jill McCorkle is a book I heard about on some US blogs and possibly Books on the Nightstand around the time that Life After Life by Kate Atkinson came out. It sounded right up my street as it is set in an old people’s homes and as I mentioned in my review of The Long Road I have a thing about old people’s homes as a setting, not as some strange fetish just to clarify again. It was also mentioned soooo fondly at Booktopia I had been hunting it in bookshops and not found it, then Thomas came up with it for just $4 and for a charity, oh hello!

I then also saw two of Truman Capote’s books that I don’t own and couldn’t leave without at such a bargain price as I love his writing so much. Music for Chameleons is a collection of some of his reportage and gossipy tales. Discussions smoking with his cleaner and trading sexual gossip with Marilyn Monroe were mentioned on the back. Sold. I also got A Christmas Memory as I love reading Christmas based tales at Christmas and this is three in one which I can sneakily hideaway with when the family get too much (we are at my mother’s this year, so probably on day two) if they do. Coughs.

The final four books came from the most infamous bookstore in NYC, The Strand, which I visited on my penultimate day and so felt I could go crazy in. Initially I thought I might go crazy at how big it was, then I couldn’t find any fiction books apart from the tables at the front… then I actually found the map and all became clearer. Well after I had decoded the symbols they use to illustrate different sections. If you ever go to NYC you have to go to The Strand, its endless and books are slightly discounted in the main fiction and downstairs there is a secret section where some hardbacks are half price, legendary.

I came away with two paperbacks that I had been mulling over since I saw them, but refused to buy them because of Mardy Mark, in Politics and Prose. Wilton Barnhardt’s Lookaway, Lookaway sounds so up my street. Jerene Jarvis Johnston is in the high society of her town, yet of course she has many a secret and a really dysfunctional family, but how long can she keep them under cover. Genius, very me. Oh and it was set in North Carolina where I started my trip, so I knew I would be able to conjure it when I was reading. Amy Grace Loyd’s The Affairs of Others caught my eye because of the cover, which helpfully you can’t see, then as soon as I read the blurb and saw it was a tale of a woman who has been widowed and so becomes a landlady soon welcoming unwelcome guests (that makes sense right?) into her life and her building, I knew I had to get it at some point. Lovely stuff.

On The Books is a graphic novel by Greg Farrell and comes with the subtitle, a graphic tale of working woes at NYC’s Strand Bookstore. I spotted it when I got hopelessly lost (I think they do this on purpose for this very reason) on the first floor and it seemed the perfect souvenir booky book to remind me of NYC. Oh and it was signed.

Hardback’s are quite pricey in the US, especially when you take into account tax which I constantly forgot about. The one that I had seen and most fancied getting was Your Face in Mine by Jess Row as it sounded unlike anything I have read before. One afternoon after moving back home Kelly Thorndike is called to by someone he has never seen before and has no recollection of. The man identifies himself as Martin, one of his oldest friends, only Martin was white and Jewish then and now he is very much an African American man. Why would he change his colour and what is his plan behind it all? Martin is about to be coerced into finding out and even helping Martin with his plan… Doesn’t that sound brilliant? It was amazingly in the half price hardback section and was the last copy. It had to leave with me.

So that was my holiday loot. I think I did quite well don’t you? I wasn’t excessive but definitely came back with some great finds. I am particularly excited by Life After Life, On The Books, The Affairs of Others, Your Face in Mine and Lookaway, Lookaway as they aren’t published in the UK (yet) which makes them seem all the more special and undiscovered, though I am sure some of you over the pond will have read one or two of them. I would love to know if you have, well, I would love to know if any of you have read any of them or about any books you have bought abroad. Oh and I was also a book enabler whilst in DC with Thomas as you can see here, ha!

I won’t be sharing any posts on books I have been sent anymore after my recent decision to change my blogging style and review policy. I will still be getting them and sharing them on Twitter and Instagram though so add SavidgeReads on both of those if you fancy a nosey at the occasional bookish post parcels. I will be posting intermittent Books That I’ve Bought posts though.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books That I've Bought of Late, Random House Publishing

Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy – Helen Fielding

Dear Diary, in the last three weeks; audio books listened to: one Mad About The Boy, weight during that process: who cares I don’t use scales, amount of nits in household: none but kept scratching head, amount tweeted: over 500, amount texted: clueless because I am not obsessed by it, times have been annoyed by the word ‘texted’: at least ten, amount of times made uncomfortable by Bridget Jones sex life: five, amount breathed: lost count.

Jonathan Cape/Random House audiobooks, 2013, 11hrs 23mins, read by Samantha Bond, sent by audible/Midas PR

I am hoping that the little intro note gives you a rough idea of what you might have to face if you pick up Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy and the fact that there may be some tongue firmly in cheek in my thoughts on it. Before I go any further I do want to make an announcement, I was a huge fan of the first Bridget Jones book and indeed the movie. I just wanted to put that out there before anyone says that this is not a book written for me and so it’s natural I would have issues/not like it very much/almost give up on several occasions. But let us get back to the book shall we?

Bridget Jones is back. Mark Darcy is dead (not a spoiler as this was hyped to death when the book came out). Bridget is a single mum of two with a secret toy boy hiding in the bedroom. She is still completely neurotic, rather clumsy and obsessive. She is also heartbroken. Her friends Jude and Tom are still around, though now they are joined by Talitha. She has the mums at the school gates to deal with and the prospect of nits. There is much fodder here for a Bridget who forays into the modern world and all its social media glory.

I really wanted to enjoy Mad About The Boy as I was just in the mood for some lovely escapism. Alas I didn’t really get on with it. The main problems for me, weren’t controversially that Mark Darcy is dead as actually some moments surrounding the aftermath of that are hauntingly good, were that from the moment I heard that her toy boy was called Roxster (seriously!?!) and her new best friend Talitha (I say new, I couldn’t remember her of old) and then realised she was pretty well off and had no real money worries, I realised this was a new Bridget but not in a good way.

What I always loved about Bridget before, how daft she was really, now at the age of 51 really annoyed me and often made me want to shout ‘oh get a grip love’. Not at her grief I hasten to add, but at her utter naivety and complete lack of self awareness that really she should have moved on from. Did I want to read about her problems with joining twitter and obsession over no followers – erm no, but I got three or four chapters on it. Did I want to hear about her sex life with a man half her age, no? But boy oh boy do you get that in intricate awkward detail. I have no issue with age differences – I have an issue with Bridget telling me every position she could get into and every element of the appendage of ‘Cock-ster’, as I started to call him.

The jokes were sort of the same as before, and I laughed a bit but not much. There was a lot about farting, which got pretty tiring. Jude was still saying ‘fuckwit’ a lot and still having issues with Vile Richard. Her married friends were still smug marrieds, only she was a widow now. Daniel was still popping up now and again obsessing with her ‘panties’. Apart from her children, who are cute and with nits and a horrendous case of diarrhoea and vomiting add a few laughs, there is nothing new here and the old stuff does feel very old.

There are two sad things in all of this for me. Firstly having loved her so much previously, I wanted to relate to Bridget and lover her all over again. Okay I haven’t been widowed but my marriage fell apart, which was pretty horrendous, and I found myself lost and in a whole new world I couldn’t quite fathom or function in. So I empathised to a point, there is only so long you can be lost or lose yourself and you have to want to function again and move on and most importantly learn. Bridget never does and what was once endearing about her was bloody annoying this time around. Secondly, I was upset for Fielding herself as when she writes about Bridget’s loss and the epic whole in her life, it is genuinely heartbreaking and beautifully written, plus had a political point behind it, and I wanted more of that and less about the farting toy boy and just how hard he was. Oh and don’t get me started on the amount of times the word ‘texted’ grated. You haven’t texted someone, you’ve text them.

I should here add that I listened to this all on audio book as I mentioned above and oddly, though I ended spending longer with it than if I had read it, I think if it hadn’t been in my ears as I was hovering, cleaning, popping round the supermarket etc I might have given it up completely. Samantha Bond injects as much heart as she can into the material and so it is an entertaining listen overall.

The only way I can really sum up the experience of Mad About The Boy is that it feels like going to a reunion and catching up with someone who was your very best friend in youth, only to realise you have outgrown them and you aren’t sure you like them anymore and that maybe you should have turned that invite down. I wanted to love Bridget Jones again and just escape into her rather madcap world once more for the nostalgia and the giggles but despite occasional glimmers of that in the main I was left with a lingering feeling of disappointment, opportunities missed. I don’t think it’s her, I think it’s me – I have moved on, Jones hasn’t and maybe never will.

Who else has read Mad About The Boy, or listened to it, and what did you think? Were you a massive fan of the original who has steered clear? Which other characters can you think of who you loved when you first read/met and then grew apart on as you read on or re-read?

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Filed under Audiobooks, Helen Fielding, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Random House Publishing, Review

Norman Geras of NormBlog

I was very sad to learn this morning of the passing of Norman Geras. Norman was a writer, academic and wrote the wonderful NormBlog which is, and will remain, much respected for its insights on a bit of everything but always with a lot of bookish thought behind it. It is a blog I have followed and respected for many years. Norman was also an extremely generous person. I sadly never met him (though have had the pleasure of his daughter Sophie’s acquaintance for some time and his wife Adele and I have communicated through comments on this blog and many others) yet we would email on occasion or tweet about bookish bits and bobs. Not regularly but now and again. He was one of the very old school of bloggers who I was slightly daunted by back when I began, Norman made me feel most welcome, the moment I was asked to take part in his NormBlog Profiles in 201o I knew I had made it, ha!

Norman has left a literary legacy behind though for us all, both in his blog and in particular this list of 100 books that he loved which I think you should all go and have a gander. I am off to email some bloggers of old and see if we might get a project in his honour going.

If there is a book club ‘up there’ (if up there exists) I like to think that Granny Savidge Reads will seek him out and make him join, as I am sure she joined as soon as she arrived, and they can sit and banter about books.  His presence is going to be much missed around the blogosphere and in the bookish world. My thoughts go to his wife Adele and daughters Jenny and Sophie and all his loved ones.

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The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey

Since there has been a sudden resurgence of interest in the British consciousness of late regarding Richard the Third, and the fact that a skeleton found under a car park is apparently him, I realised I knew nothing about him apart from the tale I was told at school that he killed his two nephews. A book which looks at Richard III is ‘The Daughter of Time’ by Josephine Tey and so I thought I would give it a whirl, I also remembered that this book was discovered through a mystery all of its very own. I was on the phone to my mother a few months ago and she suddenly said ‘oh Simon, you will know this. What is the book about the murder of the two princes in the Tower of London that was on radio 4 this week, or maybe it was last week, it sounded really good.’ Alas Simon didn’t have a clue but thanks to twitter and a shout out I was deluged with possibilities and then discovered that it was ‘The Daughter of Time’ and that it had been on an episode of ‘A Good Read’ which, oddly as I listen to every episode, I had missed somehow. I managed to wangle my mother and myself copies of it and whilst she read it almost the moment she had it, I was waiting for the right time. Now seemed like it.

*** Arrow Books, paperback, 1951 (2009 edition), fiction, 321 pages, very kindly sent (to me and my mother) by the publisher

I think that ‘The Daughter of Time’ might be one of the most unusual mystery novels I have read in terms of its structure. From the cover you would think that Josephine Tey would be writing a historical mystery set in the late 1400’s and early 1500’s of Richard’s rule. This is not the case at all and in fact the whole novel is told in the confines of one room as Inspector Alan Grant lies on a hospital bed after having an accident chasing after a criminal. Grant is beyond bored and needs something, anything, to take his mind off the ceiling which is all he can see when he is awake. Friends have brought books but none of them are gripping him. However when his friend, and star of the theatre scene, Marta brings him an array of faces that have mysteries behind them he finds himself struck by the portrait of Richard III. What intrigues him all the more is that people have such a definite reaction to him, mainly as a wicked tyrant, hunchback and murderer. Yet as Grant looks at his face he isn’t so sure he sees a killer, and having met a few he feels he would know, and so he decides to find out more and indeed if this man could really have killed his nephews and what might have driven him to it.

“So that was who it was. Richard the Third. Crouch-back. The monster of nursery stories. The destroyer of innocence. A synonym for villainy.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect from a Josephine Tey novel, yet this wasn’t it. Whilst I have not read her before, though I have read a fictional account of her, I imagined that her novels would be gripping but might be a little bit twee – I am not sure where this assumption has come from. What Tey delivers with this novel is a cleverly twisted take on both the historical novel and the crime novel and I loved how different it was. I didn’t think just by having Grant reading about Richard III, and then having the help of an American Scholar at the British Museum visiting to help him, that I would be transported to the era and yet on occasion I found myself very much there, especially when Tey writes fictional accounts by other authors of what they think went on in her own fictional book.

I did have a few small quibbles with the book though despite how much I enjoyed it. Occasionally I felt that Tey included too many excerpts of the dry historical tomes that she seemed to be berating and so there were chunks of ‘The Daughter in Time’ that felt rather wooden by default and broke the spell for me every now and then. Secondly I didn’t feel Tey could decide if she had to spell everything out for the reader in terms of the history of the time, and the events before and after it, in case you didn’t know it or if she assumed that anyone reading the book would know what happened and so she weirdly veered between the two. Sometimes you would have a really detailed picture of what was going on and others I was re-reading and re-reading the pages to see just how everyone was linked to whom and in what way.

This mainly happened in the middle of the book safely sandwiched between the section in which we get to know Grant, and the wit in which he describes his nurses, and his friends and how his interest in Richard III starts and then in the final section of the book where he starts to think that maybe Richard III wasn’t the ogre, and more importantly the murderer, that everyone has come to think of him as. The ending gets really gripping and builds up quite a pace, which seems so ironic as its told in the most mundane of hospital rooms, very clever.

Whilst I can’t say I was completely hooked throughout the whole of ‘The Daughter of Time’ (I feel I am being a much tougher reviewer at the moment, I am blaming ‘The House of Mirth’ for being so wonderful and everything I have read since just not being able to match) I did enjoy it as a different take on historical and mystery fiction. It is very much a book about books and the importance of them both fictional and non, and also a book that reminds you to question everything you are told as fact, some of it might not be true. A good read indeed that is written in a way I haven’t experienced in a novel of these genres before and one I would recommend trying if you ever need something to escape into.

Who else has read this and what did you think of it? I am undecided if I should try more Tey or not in the future, would you recommend I do so or not, and if so where next?

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Filed under Arrow Books, Josephine Tey, Random House Publishing, Review

The Greatcoat – Helen Dunmore

When I heard that Hammer Horror were going into a publishing partnership with Random House I was instantly excited. I do love a good ghost story and who better than Hammer to bring the genre back again. The first of the novellas to come out is ‘The Greatcoat’ by Helen Dunmore, not an author I have to admit I would have associated with ghost stories, I was intrigued.

Hammer Horror Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 196 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Ghost stories are always really difficult to write too much about as they work best when the reader knows very little and so they can work their suspenseful magic. This is something Dunmore does very well and it would be bad of me to spoil any of this. I will however give you the premise. Our narrator Isabel is a young woman, recently married, taking on the life as doctor’s wife in a small English town in the countryside near York in the early 1950’s. As a new found housewife Isabel is unsure what to do, she feels the locals love her husband yet don’t feel so inclined towards her and so she leads a solitary life under the roof of her slightly disapproving landlady. However when she discovers an wartime greatcoat in her flat there is soon a rapping at her windows when her husband is on call one night things begin to change.

That sounds incredibly vague but really it’s all I want to say about the premise, what I can talk more about are the factors of what makes a great ghost story and the way Dunmore uses them to create a quietly gripping tale with ‘The Greatcoat’ which gets under your skin more than you think.

The first thing you need in a great ghost story is the perfect location ripe for a spooky atmosphere. Isabel leads a solitary life in a small town, often frequented by fogs, surrounded by fields and nothingness, well apart from a disused over grown dank airfield. The second is the question of a narrators reliability, Isabel spends a lot of time on her own and her husband Philip starts to notice that she not only becomes slightly too attached to an item of seemingly forgotten clothing from the war but that gin is disappearing in the house. Is Isabel really coping with her newfound life, could more be going on than meets the eye.

You also need unease and here I think Dunmore created her finest character in the form of Mrs Atkinson the landlady. Does she go into Isabel and Philip’s flat when they aren’t there? Is she moving things? Why does she seem to intensely dislike Isabel from the off? Why does she walk back and forth in her room upstairs all night long? As you can probably imagine I loved Mrs Atkinson and was most intrigued by her, there is a slight Mrs Danvers likeness about her.

Finally and most importantly you need a good ghost. Should the ghost at any point seem unreal then all the work the author has put in is lost for good. Well, again without giving anything too much away here, Helen Dunmore does something very clever because we have an initial obvious (but believable) ghost and then as the story goes on we realise there might be more than one ghostly thing going on, if not more. That sounds incredibly vague yet again, but sadly I must be if not to ruin everything should you read the book.

‘The Greatcoat’ is a very good ghost story. It didn’t scare me like I imagined it would (though there is one scene with a fingernail and a tap-tap-tapping which did bother me quite a lot), possibly because this was after all a Hammer Horror book so I had hyped it in my head a little, but the unease builds and just when you think you have worked it all out, or that it might all be over, like the best ghost stories there are some very clever twists in the end you don’t see coming.

I am very interested to see what the next Hammer release, written by Jeanette Winterson and based on the British legend/true story of the Pendle Witches, is like as they have certainly got off to a very promising start. I am also looking forward to seeing ‘The Woman in Black’ tomorrow, how I have managed not to dash to the cinema and see it for so long I do not know.  What’s your favourite ghost story?  Have you read any of Helen Dunmore’s other novels, should I give them a whirl?

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Filed under Hammer Horror, Helen Dunmore, Random House Publishing, Review

Bookmarked, Get Set, Go…

Well in the next few hours I will be an utter nervous wreck as I wait at the station to greet Sarah Winman and SJ Watson from the train, along with their lovely publicists, and we head for a drink. Yes it’s finally here (and scarily too soon), Bookmarked Literary Salon opens it’s doors tonight, sometime between 6.30 and 6.45pm.

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I say I will be nervous but I already am. My heads full of the following… Are my questions too silly? Will the authors think I’m a loon? Will people enjoy themselves? Will anyone turn up?

Well not long to find out. Wish me lots of luck…and please feel free to let people know. I’ll report back, if I survive it, ha!

For more info do check here! Eek!

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Luka and the Fire of Life – Salman Rushdie

I had been meaning to read another Salman Rushdie for ages, ever since I read and was shocked by how much I loved ‘Midnight’s Children’ some time ago, yet I promptly didn’t read anything else, and yet I seem to have bought rather a lot of his previous works.  I do notice that it is often the case when there are so many books and authors you want to read years and years go by before you do though. Or is that just me? Anyway it was The Bookboy who brought Rushdie back into my reading sights as he had a copy of the latest Rushdie ‘Luka and the Fire of Life’ for his book group at Simply Books. So I decided to pilfer it off him for a read myself.

When Luka’s father Rashid slips into a deep and dangerous sleep of which he cannot be roused and seems to be drawing all the life from him it becomes clear that the only person who can save him is his youngest son. Luka has always known there is something different about himself and his family, especially after hearing of the tales of his elder brother Haroun, and is aware from an incident early on in the book that he has some magical powers. It soon becomes clear Luka’s fathers state are a revenge attack on those very powers and the events Luka used them on and the ones that gained him his sidekicks Dog the Bear and Bear the Dog. When Luka sees his father walking the streets he follows him, only this is not his father at all it is in fact Nododaddy who tells Luka to save his father he must find The Fire of Life, something no one has ever managed before.

The tale really sets sail from this point onwards. There are more characters and adventures ahead than I could, or would want to, tell you too much about for fear of ruining the story. There are more gods of all beliefs and periods in history than you could wish for (sometimes it seems a little too much), many mythical beasts, mysterious riddles and even at one point a brief and fleeting glimpse of none other than Doctor Who. It’s a book that both looks at the past and various mythologies yet also has a modern feel as rather like a computer game Luka must ‘save’ each times he gets into the deeper ‘levels’ of this magical world.

‘Luka and the Fire of Life’ is one of those books aimed at the adult and younger adult markets at once. I think this novel is a rather unofficial is a sequel to ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ as Luka is Haroun’s much younger brother. Though the previous adventures are mentioned now and again you don’t need to have read them as this is a separate story in its own right. These are both stories that the author has written for his children the first was for his son Zafar and this one for his youngest sun Milan. It’s both and interesting and weird sense whilst reading this novel because as you read along you can almost feel the love Rushdie has for his youngest sun Milan, who I think Luka must be based on just as I think Rushdie has written himself in the book as Rashid, in the pages as you turn and read on. This means you can feel the passion in the book but also in a weird way I found slightly too intimate and almost like you a reading a novel filled with personal ‘in’ jokes.

The in jokes and almost too much to take in with characters and gods etc, which I did find occasionally confusing, could have put me off – though equally they could be rather stimulating to a younger reader. I am aware I am probably not the market the book is aimed at yet with characters called Ratshit and monsters such as the Willy-Snake I did wonder if maybe aiming it at younger readers was appropriate. It felt rather like it wanted to please everyone and so aimed itself in lots of directions and tried to please people who loved myths, computer games and a fairytale all at once and loosing something slightly because of it.

That said I really enjoyed it. In particular it was Rushdie’s us of language which had me reading along. Playing with words like a father with no body and creating ‘Nobodaddy’ and having a bear called Dog and vice versa along with making jokes about how things get their names such and then twisting them to a literal version like with ‘the hot pots’ was very clever and that is where the book excelled. Whilst I couldn’t whole heartedly recommend you rush out and read ‘Luka and the Fire of Life’ unless you are a big young adult fan or want a rather different read for a child over ten, it has reminded me how much I like Rushdie’s prose, his magical worlds and the fact he can really spin a good yarn. I must read more of his adult fiction very soon. 6.5/10

This book was kindly lent to me by The Bookboy.

Interestingly I asked The Bookboy what his thoughts were and he summed it up rather well  by saying it was slow starting, then very fast paced, rather confusing but overall quite entertaining but maybe not a book for children under 11 or 12. Which I found interesting, and gives you two reviews for the price of one. In fact this is the prime time to tell you that The Bookboy and I will be tackling Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Tanglewreck’ together in a post over the next few weeks if you want to join in? Now back to Rushdie, which of his adult novels should I head for next?

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Filed under Jonathan Cape Publishers, Random House Publishing, Review, Salman Rushdie

Annabel – Kathleen Winter

Sometimes the only way you can describe the effect that a book has on you is to say you were bowled over and that is exactly how I felt when I had turned the last page of ‘Annabel’ the debut novel by Kathleen Winter. I was hoping that it might be something quite special when I first saw it on this years Orange Prize Longlist. I then went off and looked at some reviews and it seemed that on the whole people had loved it. Initially I planned to save it until later on in my Orange reading but after changing my approach to the list I picked this one up next and to sum it up in a word I found it incredible, so much so I have lots and lots to say about it.

I have to admit from reading the prologue of ‘Annabel’ I wasn’t sure that this would be the book for me. It’s a short and rather final encounter between a young girl called Annabel and her blind father as they take a canoe ride to see white caribou in the Canadian wilderness. This proves to be their final outing together and is told in a rather dreamy and magical realist way. Interestingly it’s not reflective of the rest of the book, and yet in its way it has a pivotal place in the rest of the book.

As the book itself opens proper we join Jacinta Blake in the final painful moments of giving birth surrounded by the many of the women of the small town of Croydon Harbour in the Canadian region of Labrador in 1968. Once the child, named Wayne, is born it is local women Thomasina Baikie that notices something different about the child. Wayne has been born with both sexes genitalia, he is there for a hermaphrodite, or ‘intersex’ as I believe the term is now preferred.

“Thomasina hooked a plug of slime out of the baby’s mouth with her pinky, slicked her big hand over face, belly, buttocks like butter over one of her hot loaves, and slipped the baby back to its mother. It was as the baby latched on to Jacinta’s breast that Thomasina caught sight of something slight, flower-like; one testicle had not descended, but there was something else. She waited the eternal instant that women wait when a horror jumps out at them. It is an instant that men do not use for waiting, an instant that opens a door to life and death.”

From the moment Thomasina tells Jacinta, who up until that point has been her best friend something which then is occasionally tested, a secret is born but one that the baby’s father Treadway isn’t as oblivious to as the women might think. Treadway is a silent man who disappears into the woodland and wilderness for half the year to earn his families keep, a man who talks to nature and through nature learns more than people would give him credit for – this brings occasional moments of magical realism throughout the book as it goes forward. He knows his child is of two worlds, a woman’s and a man’s, he also believes that a decision must me made  one way or the other. However life is never that black and white nor is it that easy.

From here we follow how this all changes the lives of the three main people at Wayne’s birth. Treadway and how he forces his fatherly role on Wayne, and Wayne taking part always wanting his fathers approval which he feels he never quite gets, thinking its for the best (there is one sequence of events involving a childrens den which almost made me cry in frustration). Thomasina as she struggles to go along with Wayne’s parents decision and then how she deals with grief after her family die tragically. Jacinta as she copes with the fact that once the decision is made she gains a son but also looses a daughter, something that is wonderfully brought to life when she goes to one of her friends Eliza’s houses (we also see here what a wonderful job Kathleen Winter does of fleshing out some of the smaller characters in a paragraph) for a sociable lunch.

“No matter how outrageous Eliza’s reasoning, Jacinta had tried to understand it. Even now Jacinta did not argue about the Valium, though she felt Eliza’s new outlook was chemically induced illusion. This is my problem, Jacinta thought. I am dishonest. I never tell the truth about anything important. And as a result, there is an ocean inside me of unexpressed truth. My face is a mask, and I have murdered my own daughter.”

You might all be wondering about Wayne Blake, do we not follow him too? Yes of course we do from his first few years and into his childhood. During this time though we see how he, unaware of the female half of him, is rather different from all the other children of both sexes but through the eyes of his parents and Thomasina. Its not until he gets older and how naturally his other self, who he addresses as Annabel as Thomasina does after the death of her daughter (see the beginning does bear a huge relevance), starts to show herself in the smallest of ways. It is as he learns the truth, in a rather shocking sequence of events, that we see things through his eyes and his narrative, through the third person, in the second half of the book.

“Where did she go? She was in his body but she escaped him. Maybe she gets out through my eyes, he thought, when I open them. Or my ears. He lay in bed and waited. Annabel was close enough to touch; she was himself, yet unattainable.”

I don’t think I have read a book that uses the third person in such a way that you see every person’s viewpoint so vividly. Every character, no matter how small a part they play, springs to life walking straight off the page and I honestly felt I was living in Croydon Harbour (atmosphere and descriptions are pitch perfect), whilst also being shocked that such a palce still exists in modern times, and went along with Wayne’s journey every step of the way. It is incredible to think that ‘Annabel’ is Kathleen Winter’s debut novel; I was utterly blown away by it and will be urging everyone I know to rush out and read this book. It is just superb and possibly my favourite read of the year so far. 10/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

I don’t think I can say anymore than that really. I just loved it. I am wondering if, as well as hoping it makes the Orange shortlist, it will be eligible for this years Booker Prize? Regardless of that, I am hoping that lots of other people will read it, if they haven’t already, as I am busting to discuss it to death. Has anyone else given this a whirl?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Kathleen Winter, Orange Prize, Random House Publishing, Review

The London Train – Tessa Hadley

I am going to do something today that I really tend not to do. Mind you when I asked you all for your feedback on Savidge Reads moving forward (and do feel free to fill in the form if you haven’t already) you pretty much all said you wanted me to do it and so I therefore hold you all responsible for what is coming. A negative review! I sort of find myself wanting to apologise for doing it before I have even begun, but hopefully (and I am sorry to the author who probably took months and months to write it and the publisher who kindly sent it) I will give valid reasons why and not just simply, which would be rather lazy, to slag it off. In fact really the person to blame for my dislike of ‘The London Train’ by Tessa Hadley is me… for finishing the thing frankly.

I think in all honesty I should have stopped reading Tessa Hadley’s at about page 70 of the ‘The London Train’ but what kept me going was hope and a little bit of faith in the blurb that it was ‘a vivid and absorbing account of the impulses and accidents that can change our lives’ and what kept me going, again from the blurb, that ‘connecting both stories is the London train, and a chance meeting that will have immediate and far reaching consequences for Paul and Cora’ those being our two protagonists. In fact it was the promise of Cora’s tale, in the second of what is really two novellas co-joined by the slimmest (and we are talking really slim) of moments that seems to be the longest one of the very few moments that any of the London trains get a mention, that kept me going as Paul’s story was not only boring me silly but becoming more and more ridiculous as it went on.

Credit where credit is due, I have no question that Tessa Hadley knows how to write and from the start she had me gripped. As ‘The London Train’ opens we meet Paul who by the time he gets ‘to the Home, the undertakers had removed his mother’s body.’ This had me full of intrigue and questions such as what did she die of, what was their relationship like, why was she in a home? All very promising and it continued to be, before she was soon buried and Paul’s ex wife was phoning him to tell him their daughter Pia had gone missing. Again I was intrigued and wondering all sorts such as were daughter and father estranged, why did his first marriage end, where on earth could Pia be, will this be a mystery? Yet when Paul finds her it’s the start of a ludicrous storyline, read no further if you don’t want any PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD until I say they have finished.

What followed was the most clichéd tale of Paul finding his daughter pregnant living a council (though apparently it was rebuilt, as if) high rise with her lover and his sister, not that there was any room, and after much secret visiting he suddenly moves in with them all after a row with his current wife Elise, leaving her and her kids behind and having some kind of jolly jaunt living a carefree poor hand to mouth existence aka middle class twaddle as the poorer people in London do not live like that. I was angry, what had started off as such a great book filled with promise had turned into something that simply made me peeved. But hey it’s certainly a reaction isn’t it?

END OF PLOT SPOILERS

This is where Tessa Hadley lost me and yet I continued in the hope that Cora’s promising storyline, a forlorn librarian leaving London for Cardiff and to the house she has inherited where she hears her estranged husband has gone missing, sounded really promising. But sadly, and fear not I am not going to spoil any plots of go on about why, this again started interestingly enough before swiftly alienating me as much as the first novella did. Again threads of storyline got picked up and thrown away, characters remained one dimensional, self-obsessed, a bit smug and all in all dislikeable. I know some dislikeable characters can be brilliant in novels, not these ones though. In fact I really shouldn’t have read to the end of Cora’s story because it made me even more annoyed with its triteness.

Naturally I wouldn’t want to put anyone off reading ‘The London Train’ if it’s a book they really think they want to give a whirl, its certainly won over the judges of this years Orange Prize it just completely lost me. The writing was good, but sometimes that’s not enough, it doesn’t matter what revelations come at the end of a book or that there could be some promise just around the corner if an author alienates and looses its reader then it doesn’t really reach its target, and sadly it missed me by a mile or several of train line. 3.5/10

This book was kindly sent by the publisher.

Like I said there is clearly an audience for this book as before The Orange Longlist 2011 was announced (and reading the whole list from cover to cover as a challenge to myself was the main reason I persevered to the last line with this book) people were saying this would be on the list, and I have seen some rave reviews here and there, plus it got long listed by the judges as I mentioned so they must have all liked it in some way. The fact it got long listed and ‘Mr Chartwell’ didn’t is rather a travesty in my personal, and I happily admit often wrong, opinion. Is it my fault for persevering? Should I have just given up on it and moved on? Why do we have an ingrained gene to finish a book we start? Has anyone else read this or another Tessa Hadley and what did you think?

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Filed under Jonathan Cape Publishers, Orange Prize, Random House Publishing, Review, Tessa Hadley

Darkside – Belinda Bauer

I think at some point I will have to give crime and my thoughts on it its own post because I do find it interesting that there are some crime books that I love and other ones I absolutely loathe. ‘Darkside’ by Belinda Bauer falls straight into the ‘love’ category, though I do fear when I tell you its about the murder of a defenceless old lady you might start to judge me wrongly. Whilst I like a good linear ‘whodunit’ I am also a fan of crime novels where, yes there is murder going on and you want to find out who did it, there is also so much more to meet the eye which was just the case in Belinda Bauer’s debut novel ‘Blacklands’ which I enjoyed just as much but for rather different reasons.

When Margaret Priddy dies as ‘Darkside’ opens, everyone is in shock. Not just that the small village of Shipcott in Exmoor has been hit by a murder but the fact that anyone would want to do that to a woman who was bedridden with an illness which made her unable to move or speak. This is clearly a big case and sadly means that local policeman Jonas Holly is usurped when the big boys arrive on the scene, the head of whom is the rather odious, but brilliant to read, DCI Marvel. Soon enough the murders start to rise and someone begins taunting Jonas by leaving notes such as ‘call yourself a policeman?’ on his car and things start to get more and more personal.

I really, really enjoyed this novel. I found myself feeling like I was part of the community, which is set in the same place as Blacklands’ was and even features some of the characters from that novel, and I wonder if that is because Bauer builds a village so full of real characters that it appeals to the side of my personality that is a curtain twitcher. Whilst there is a tale of mystery and murder at the heart of what is a dark and brooding story, I do think Exmoor as a setting is a brilliant choice – especially in a bleak mid-winter – and helps with Bauer’s atmospheric descriptions, it is also a story about people and what goes on behind closed doors.

The characters are great, being both realistic and highly readable. From the victims themselves, who you get to know in many ways even if they are only in the book for a few pages, to the two main protagonists everyone is written fully and could be the people you live next door to. Jonas Holly’s back story, with his MS suffering wife Lucy, adds a certain dimension to the book and only makes you loathe the uncaring, rather bigoted (when I say rather its quite blatant) Marvel even more – though I have to say Marvel does end up stealing every scene he’s in and you find yourself laughing at him and the utter bile that comes out of his mouth. I ended up loathing him but utterly loving reading him at the same time.

In fact humour is a real theme in this book, for example there is an ongoing set of jokes between writer and reader involving the local milkman and his wares, yet it’s always slightly bittersweet. “His getaway was slow and electric, but Jonas still felt as if he’d been left eating the milkman’s dust.” You might be laughing out loud at something strange a villager does and then suddenly you realise why they might be doing it and everything looks a little darker.

“Jonas got an anonymous call from Linda Cobb to say Yvonne Marsh was on the swings in her knickers. He knew Linda’s voice and she knew that he knew it, but anonymity was hard to come by in a village as small as Shipcott, and he liked to respect it wherever possible. Nobody liked to be a tattle-tale.”

What I really admire in Bauer’s book, which could have been the tricky second novel, is that the book is an incredibly gripping and complete page turner without the need for a cliff-hanger at the end of every chapter which I found really refreshing. It’s the mystery, the characters and most of all the writing and its voice that keep you reading along. Oh and if you guess the ending then you are a genius, I had a slight jaw drop moment. ‘Darkside’ is a corking and thrilling novel which is as much about the community as the crimes committed in it. Highly recommended, I can’t wait for Bauer’s next novel. 9/10

So far as 2011 goes I think ‘Darkside’ could be racing ahead as one of my favourite books of the year. Whilst some may be snobby about the genre it’s in I would say two things. Firstly crime novels like this have a bit of everything and show that books can be well written and utterly page turning (I have used that cliché too much today, I apologise, sometimes only the cliché’s will do) and reflect our lives today. Secondly reading should be fun, and this book was exactly that, don’t you agree?

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Filed under Bantam Press, Belinda Bauer, Books of 2011, Random House Publishing, Review

Tamara Drewe – Posy Simmonds

I so, so, so wanted to go and see the ‘Tamara Drewe’ film when it came out earlier this year, however sadly for lots of reasons I never got around to it. Mind you I now think that this was fate because I do really like to read the book before I go and see the film version, hence why I have still not gotten around to seeing ‘Revolutionary Road’ which I must read next year. ‘Tamara Drewe’ was a book that I definitely wanted to read because being a graphic novel, a genre I am getting to know slowly but surely, it seemed like it could be something quite different. I saw it in the library earlier this week, snapped it up and then read it in one go!

I had seen snippets of ‘Tamara Drewe’ by Posy Simmonds when it was serialised in The Guardian whenever I was at my Mum’s or my Gran’s on a random Saturday visit. I can’t say that it was something I particularly looked out for because I would catch it rarely and I do like to read things in order. However it came out as a graphic novel back in 2007, yet it wasn’t until seeing the film adverts on the telly that I really gained awareness of it, but I am so glad that I have finally picked it up and read it.

Stonefield is a writers retreat in the fictional town of Ewedown deep in the English countryside. The owners Beth and her writer husband Nicholas Hardiman who are currently in their latest brawl over one of his affairs and the writers, including Glen Larson, and the gardener Andy are having a garden break when a girl in a mere vest and hot pants appears. This siren is Tamara Drewe, a woman who lived in Ewedown but left to follow a career in journalism and also to get a nose job, a column on which has made her career so far. She is back and wittingly or unwittingly (as the reader can decide as they go) she causes chaos and changes the lives of some of the villagers for good, especially as it appears she has some history with several of the people at Stonefield.

Posy Simmonds is not only a wonderful, and I mean really wonderful, artist she is a brilliant storyteller who can be both incredibly funny and also rather emotional. As Tamara causes chaos in almost all her relationships with others you could be taken on a farcical tale of middle class England and its bed hopping and gossip. What you get is a little bit of that laced with both a morality and slight melodrama that makes you believe in all the characters and their situations and puts you in the heads of them all and their motives whether they are good bad or indifferent. I wasn’t expecting too much out of this book actually, I thought it was going to be rather a throwaway romp through the fields, haystacks and bedrooms of some rather comic and cad like characters. I was proved wrong and was most pleasantly surprised. 8.5/10

Its been a good year for me with graphic novels, I would say I have loved every single one but both this and the incredible ‘Blankets’ have shown me I need to read much more of this genre, any suggestions for 2011 please?

P.S I am sorry this post is so late, wordpress seems to be playing about with my scheduled posts… grrr! I’m also not sure what is going on with my fonts!

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Filed under Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Posy Simmonds, Random House Publishing, Review

Solar – Ian McEwan

I think I am one of the few people I know (in the flesh) to have read quite a few of Ian McEwan’s books and not to have yet felt I have been let down by any. I know plenty of people who have loved one or two and then really disliked one or two. So far I have enjoyed all of his works that I have read and yet there is always a small worry when you open the next one, just in case. His latest novel ‘Solar’ is one of the books I have been most excited about this year and so when it arrived last week the book I was currently reading was relegated for some other time. I knew nothing then of what the book might be about as it has been rather shrouded in mystery until the last week or so. I was worried though… I knew it was a book about science, and if you had been at my secondary school where I almost burnt down the science lab you would know me and science don’t really mix (in fact as my teacher at the time became my step dad it’s become a family fable). Anyway, back to the book.

Thinking logically from the title and from one of the most talked about topics in the world at the moment you could probably guess that ‘Solar’ could be a book about global warming and you would be right. I have to admit I was slightly concerned that this might not make for an interesting read there’s always the possibility of it coming across as preaching or you have to set the world far in the future to scare the hell out of everyone. In this case McEwan does neither, he sets the book over three period’s in the last ten years and creates a lead character who is a reluctant saver of the planet until he see’s the cash signs it could bring.

Michael Beard is the protagonist of McEwan’s latest work. He’s a Nobel Prize winning physicist (for the ‘Beard-Einstein Conflation’) who as we meet him in 2000 has seen the best days of his career behind him along with the best days of his 5th marriage. In fact Beard isn’t a particularly likeable character he is a philanderer of the highest order, lazy and only works now as head of the Government’s new National Centre for Renewable Energy for the cash. McEwan does write these sort of leading characters rather well and cleverly the more odious, dislikable and dark Beard becomes the more you want to read him.

So where is the global warming story? Well it intertwines with the tale of a man who is a failure at marriage, even the fifth time. As an escape from his wife, who after finding out about all his affairs has decided rather than to get gone to merely get even with their builder which of course makes Beard want her even more, Beard goes to the Arctic as part of his work to see what’s happening there and the need for his company to find clean energy. However once there Beard does wonder ‘how can people who can’t sort out a boot room ever save the planet’. Yet back in the UK someone may have found an answer, someone who Beard comes back to find is the latest in a string of men to shack up with his wife which ends in tragedy and with Beard the holder of the planets salvation… even if he didn’t really come up with it. From then on through several plot twists and some dark detours the book takes us on to the future where Beard becomes the possible hero of the planet and where the books menace really takes shape.

There is a lot of science in this book, in fact the book came to McEwan from his own trip to the Arctic in 2005, yet its digestible you know McEwan has done his research throughout and yet he doesn’t show off and leave you lots after a sentence. The book is also incredibly funny. I laughed and winced at a tale involving a call of nature and the affects of sub zero temperatures on the male appendage, Beards meeting with a Polar Bear is comical too, there is also a darkly comical accidental death looming somewhere, involving a polar bear skin rug, which will make you snigger even though it shouldn’t. If people were worried that this book and its mix of science, some politics (Bush and Blair) and would be preachy or weirdly futuristic you needn’t. This is a tale that makes even more of a point in its sudden conclusion because you have been laughing along the way.

I think this might be one of my very favourite books of the year so far, and that’s from someone who isn’t the least scientific, a clever mix of science, humour and human nature make it a book not to be missed in my opinion. Don’t worry this could be his next ‘Saturday’ (which I should admit I started once and wasn’t sure about so left for a day when the mood was right and now oddly I want another whirl at) because it isn’t but in the same vein don’t go expecting another ‘Atonement’ this is another original novel from McEwan which, like most of his works, is not like anything he has done before. I’ll be very surprised if this doesn’t get Booker long listed – though that prediction could be a kiss of death. If I had a rating system I would give this book a good 5/5!

Oh and should you wish to you can win a signed first edition copy of this on this very blog, all you need to do is go here before midday (GMT) tomorrow when the sun is at its highest point here in the UK. I will be off to get mine signed on Thursday when I go to see him speak at the Southbank.

Is anyone else a McEwan fan? Which books would you rave that aren’t his more well known ones? Have you read any other global warming fiction that hasn’t been set in the distant future?

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Filed under Books of 2010, Ian McEwan, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Random House Publishing, Review

Fancy a Signed Copy of ‘Solar’?

It’s a bit of a stop press moment… well I hope that you think so!

There will be a set of book thoughts on the most recent NTTVBG choice coming up later on today, first though I have something of a special Sunday giveaway here on Savidge Reads. Yes for one of you lucky so and so’s I have wangled a signed copy of Ian McEwan’s latest novel ‘Solar’ from the lovely people at Random House. I was tempted to call today ‘Spectacular Solar Savidge Sunday’ but thought that might be taking alliteration too far maybe?

So where is the catch and what do you have to do? Well it would be a bit fun if you could try and guess a plot from the title but the websites seem to now be giving that away so that scuppered that one.

So all you have to do is simply leave a comment about your favourite McEwan so far or why you would love to try him and no matter where in the world you are you will be entered for the drawer and you could very soon have a signed edition ready to read. You have until midday (GMT) on Tuesday the 16th to enter, winner will be drawn randomly and announced on Saturday. It’s that simple!

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Filed under Give Away, Ian McEwan, Random House Publishing

After The Fire, A Still Small Voice – Evie Wyld

One of the things that I have really loved about 2009 is extending the network of bloggers that I have met. This of course has lead me to some books and authors that I would possibly have missed. One such book is Evie Wyld’s debut and its thanks to a video Kim posted of the author describing her book as a ‘romantic thriller about men not talking’ which you can see here. With such an unusual surmising of a plot I couldn’t really not rush out and read this could I?

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‘After the Fire, A Still Small Voice’ is actually the tales of two separate men told in alternating chapters living in Australia told both in the present and in the past and not always in chronological order yet never confusing for the reader. It is really hard to tell you all about it without giving anything away but do bear with me as I will try and do my best without any spoilers and yet trying to cover everything that this wonderful book does.

The first of the men we meet is Frank. Having recently given up his life in Canberra after a rather rocky relationship he has moved to his Grandparents shack by the sea in an attempt to hide away from the world which he will have to live off, though in the end the world won’t remain hidden, neighbours will be friendly, and he will need money and so takes a part time job in the local marina. But in a small town he is watched with interest and suspicion, especially as a girl has recently gone missing. Franks a tough character and as we get to know him better and the story of his youth, though he is only in his twenties roughly, you gain an insight into why.

Leon is the second male character. We meet him in his youth in a town, where his family are looked down on for being immigrants, as he learns the trade of his father’s cake shop which when his father is sent to fight in Korea he must take over until his father comes back. Once his father returns he is a changed man and adds additional strain to the family home leaving Leon in charge for good. Only Leon himself then gets conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War and like his father the affects of war change him forever.

This makes the book sound quite simplistic and it’s not the case as Wyld throws in quite a few other plots such as a delightful romance for Leon and a wonderful tale of a little girl breaking through Frank’s tough exterior. To say anymore would simply give too much away. I thought that is was particularily remarkable how Wyld got so deeply into the two male lead characters, especially as they are both such complex, emotionally scarred and sometimes quite dislikeable characters. I wasn’t sure this book would be for me for the first two chapters and then I was hooked and read it in three sittings. Through these two men’s viewpoints I went on an emotion filled journey through loss, love, war, discrimination, and also most importantly I felt, hope.

I thought this was a marvellous piece of work, an incredibly impressive debut, I think Wyld is definitely an author to watch out for in the future. I am already wondering if there may be some recognition of this in the 2010 Orange Longlist, I do hope so, its already won The John Llewellyn Rhys prize. I am definitely honouring it with the Savidge Reads “Cover of 2009” prize, if ever you were to judge a book by its fabulous cover make it this one. I am not the only one who enjoyed this thoroughly as you can see Kim’s review here too. One of my books of the year no question.

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Filed under Books of 2009, Evie Wyld, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Random House Publishing, Review