Category Archives: Richard and Judy

The Richard & Judy Challenge

So it was announced this week what the Richard & Judy Books 2009 are. I have to say Amanda Ross (some people believe Richard & Judy have a say also, some don’t, I don’t comment) has chosen possibly the best selection this year that I have seen. Is this something to do with the fact they have moved onto the TV channel Watch, which ironically no one does seem to be watching? Either way the selection looks really varied and has real promise.

I know some people think that Richard & Judy is low brow reading, the choice all popular fiction and the like. I have to say I disagree. Firstly I think that anything that gets people out there reading is a good thing. Secondly I have to admit that some books I have truly loved have come from these selections (though not the summer ones from experience so far bar The Island) books like The Shadow of the Wind, Half of A Yellow Sun, Mister Pip, Restless, The Lovely Bones, Notes on A Scandal, Arthur & George and The Time Travellers Wife have been on their lists. I’ve loved all of those. So I am setting up the Richard & Judy Challenge and aim to have read them all way before each on is done on the telly (not that I will see it anyways) so here is the list, in case anyone has been on Mars, ha.

The Brutal Art – Jesse Kellerman (Sphere)
Ethan Muller is struggling to establish his reputation as a dealer in the cut-throat world of contemporary art when he is alerted to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: in a decaying New York slum, an elderly tenant has disappeared, leaving behind a staggeringly large trove of original drawings and paintings. Nobody can tell Ethan much about the old man, except that he came and went in solitude for nearly forty years, his genius hidden and unacknowledged. Despite the fact that, strictly speaking, the artwork doesn’t belong to him, Ethan takes the challenge and makes a name for the old man – and himself. Soon Ethan has to congratulate himself on his own genius: for storytelling and salesmanship. But suddenly the police are interested in talking to him. It seems that the missing artist had a nasty past, and the drawings hanging in the Muller Gallery have begun to look a lot less like art and a lot more like evidence. Sucked into an investigation four decades cold, Ethan will uncover a secret legacy of shame and death, one that will touch horrifyingly close to home – and leave him fearing for his own life.

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury)
It is midnight on 30th June 1860 and all is quiet in the Kent family’s elegant house in Road, Wiltshire. The next morning, however, they wake to find that their youngest son has been the victim of an unimaginably gruesome murder. Even worse, the guilty party is surely one of their number – the house was bolted from the inside. As Jack Whicher, the most celebrated detective of his day, arrives at Road to track down the killer, the murder provokes national hysteria at the thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes – scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing.This true story has all the hallmarks of a classic gripping murder mystery. A body, a detective, a country house steeped in secrets and a whole family of suspects – it is the original Victorian whodunnit.

The Gargoyle – Andrew Davidson (Canongate)
The nameless and beautiful narrator of The Gargoyle is driving along a dark road when he is distracted by what seems to be a flight of arrows. He crashes into a ravine and wakes up in a burns ward, undergoing the tortures of the damned. His life is over – he is now a monster. But in fact it is only just beginning. One day, Marianne Engel, a wild and compelling sculptress of gargoyles, enters his life and tells him that they were once lovers in medieval Germany. In her telling, he was a badly burned mercenary and she was a nun and a scribe who nursed him back to health in the famed monastery of Engelthal. As she spins her tale, Scheherazade fashion, and relates equally mesmerising stories of deathless love in Japan, Greenland, Italy and England, he finds himself drawn back to life – and, finally, to love.

When Will There Be Good News – Kate Atkinson (Black Swan)
In rural Devon, six-year-old Joanna Mason witnesses an appalling crime. Thirty years later the man convicted of the crime is released from prison. In Edinburgh, sixteen-year-old Reggie works as a nanny for a G.P. But Dr. Hunter has gone missing and Reggie seems to be the only person who is worried. Across town, Detective Chief Inspector Louise Monroe is also looking for a missing person, unaware that hurtling towards her is an old friend – Jackson Brodie – himself on a journey that becomes fatally interrupted.

The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff (Black Swan)
Jordan returns from California to Utah to visit his mother in jail. As a teenager he was expelled from his family and religious community, a secretive Mormon offshoot sect. Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives – Jordan’s mother – is accused of the crime. Over a century earlier, Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, Prophet and Leader of the Mormon Church, tells the sensational story of how her own parents were drawn into plural marriage, and how she herself battled for her freedom and escaped her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. Bold, shocking and gripping, “The 19th Wife” expertly weaves together these two narratives: a page turning literary mystery and an enthralling epic of love and faith.

The Bolter – Frances Osborne (Virago)
On Friday 25th May, 1934, a forty-one-year-old woman walked into the lobby of Claridge’s Hotel to meet the nineteen-year-old son whose face she did not know. Fifteen years earlier, as the First World War ended, Idina Sackville shocked high society by leaving his multimillionaire father to run off to Africa with a near penniless man. An inspiration for Nancy Mitford’s character The Bolter, painted by William Orpen, and photographed by Cecil Beaton, Sackville went on to divorce a total of five times, yet died with a picture of her first love by her bed. Her struggle to reinvent her life with each new marriage left one husband murdered and branded her the ‘high priestess’ of White Mischief’s bed-hopping Happy Valley in Kenya. Sackville’s life was so scandalous that it was kept a secret from her great-granddaughter Frances Osborne. Now, Osborne tells the moving tale of betrayal and heartbreak behind Sackville’s road to scandal and return, painting a dazzling portrait of high society in the early twentieth century.

Netherland – Joseph O’Neill (HarperPerennial)
In early 2006, Chuck Ramkissoon is found dead at the bottom of a New York canal. In London, a Dutch banker named Hans van den Broek hears the news, and remembers his unlikely friendship with Chuck and the off-kilter New York in which it flourished: the New York of 9/11, the powercut and the Iraq war. Those years were difficult for Hans — his English wife Rachel left with their son after the attack, as if that event revealed the cracks and silences in their marriage, and he spent two strange years in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, passing stranger evenings with the eccentric residents. Lost in a country he’d regarded as his new home, Hans sought comfort in a most alien place — the thriving but almost invisible world of New York cricket, in which immigrants from Asia and the West Indies play a beautiful, mystifying game on the city’s most marginal parks. It was during these games that Hans befriends Chuck Ramkissoon, who dreamed of establishing the city’s first proper cricket field. Over the course of a summer, Hans grew to share Chuck’s dream and Chuck’s sense of American possibility — until he began to glimpse the darker meaning of his new friend’s activities and ambitions.’ Netherland’ is a novel of belonging and not belonging, and the uneasy state in between. It is a novel of a marriage foundering and recuperating, and of the shallows and depths of male friendship. With it, Joseph O’Neill has taken the anxieties and uncertainties of our new century and fashioned a work of extraordinary beauty and brilliance.

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin (John Murray)
As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous murder-suicide, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves. There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse. As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self. Gripping and darkly seductive, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite showcases all the glitter and splendor of the brief heyday of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hollywood to its golden age.As it foreshadows the horrors of the Second World War, the novel asks what price is paid when identity becomes unfixed and the social order is upended.

December – Elizabeth H. Winthrop (Sceptre)
Eleven-year-old Isabelle hasn’t spoken in nine months, and as December begins the situation is getting desperate. Her mother has stopped work to devote herself to her daughter’s care. Four psychiatrists have already given up on her, and her school will not take her back in the New Year. Her parents are frantically trying to understand what has happened so they can help their child, but they cannot escape the thought of darker possibilities. What if Isabelle is damaged beyond their reach? Will she never speak again? Is it their fault? As they spiral around Isabelle’s impenetrable silence, she herself emerges as a bright young girl in need of help yet too terrified to ask for it. By the talented young author of FIREWORKS, this is a compelling, ultimately uplifting novel about a family in crisis, showing the delicate web that connects a husband and wife, parents and children, and how easily it can tear.

The Cellist Of Sarajevo – Steven Galloway (Atlantic)
This is the top 10 bestseller, now in paperback. Snipers in the hills overlook the shattered streets of Sarajevo. Knowing that the next bullet could strike at any moment, the ordinary men and women below strive to go about their daily lives as best they can. Kenan faces the agonizing dilemma of crossing the city to get water for his family. Dragan, gripped by fear, does not know who among his friends he can trust. And Arrow, a young woman counter-sniper must push herself to the limits – of body and soul, fear and humanity.Told with immediacy, grace and harrowing emotional accuracy, “The Cellist of Sarajevo” shows how, when the everyday act of crossing the street can risk lives, the human spirit is revealed in all its fortitude – and frailty.

So who is up for the challenge and will be joining me? Don’t all rush at once! Doesn’t anyone else think this is a strong line up? I have already read two of the books (both the Kate’s) but think at the moment the most exciting ones are The Gargoyle and The 19th Wife, I also think Netherland will be my downfall. Just something tells me it might not be quite me, we will see though!

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Filed under Andrew Davidson, Beatrice Colin, David Ebershoff, Elizabeth H. Winthrop, Frances Osborne, Jesse Kellerman, Joseph O'Neill, Kate Atkinson, Kate Summerscale, Richard and Judy, Steven Galloway

The Resurrectionist – James Bradley

So after the massive ‘Empire Falls’ that felt like the epic it was I was in the mood for something much more me and I have been waiting to read this Richard & Judy read for ages. I mean for a start its filled with things that I am fascinated in; the 1800’s, anatomy, grave diggers, gothic darkness. Why then would I have had this book last year (when I worked next door to TLS) and have swapped it? I think, despite the last cover being much more gothic, the blurb is better on this one and actually says what its about without being so cryptic, and of course being a R&J book its been much hyped and its story more profound.

We are in 1826 and after the lessening of hangings (this isn’t explained I just know this) bodies of the dead are much harder to come by, gone are the days where you had endless amounts at your disposal, now has come a time of grave robbing. Gabriel Swift has come to London to be the apprentice of the well renowned anatomist Edwin Poll. He finds himself enemy of another member of the household and drawn to Polls nemesis Lucan one of the most famous of the resurrectionist’s. Swift is forced into a darker world when dismissed by Poll and at Lucan’s side takes a journey that will change him forever.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Well after page 150 to about 250 it is brilliant. The start of the book however is decidedly slow, there is a gruesome opening chapter looking at the aspects of anatomy and dead bodies but our protagonist doesn’t actually feature properly in the book until chapter three. What’s more two things are never explained with Swift. The first is how he ends up in London and with Poll exactly, yes his father dies (the blurb says his father had tragic failures, you don’t ever know what these are) and he gains a new guardian but somehow it didn’t make sense. Secondly why is Swifts decent into the darker more living hell (yes I know it makes a great story) so sudden and actually why does it happen? Yes he makes one enemy, but why does he not have the balls to let him take the rap and why do his friends not stick up for him?

His friends however are sort of colleagues, and there are so many of them with such similar names I completely got thrown and couldn’t remember who was who or how they knew him. There was no background to the story and that made me wonder if there was in the authors mind. There’s a particularly contrived love story between swift and an ‘actress’ who stereotypically also ends up being a ‘woman of the night’, I found myself thinking ‘if she can get money for sleeping with many men why is she bedding this cretin for free?’ That was the books biggest problem I didn’t like Swift, he had no real character, no real reason for being evil, and not in a sick ‘I love being evil just for being evil’ way. He was one dimensional. You could say that a grave robber can’t be a nice character, it was money, I am sure they had reasons.

With an ending in colonial Australia (I am not saying why) I think James Bradley had two books he wanted to write. One was the tale of gothic dark London, grave diggers and horror (this was gruesome but not scary) the other was society in Australia based on criminals or people with ‘history’ these should have been two separate stories and not forced into one that had no backdrop or back bone. I never felt I was in London with the characters, which was a huge problem that would have been brilliant. If this book was snatched and anatomised you sadly wouldn’t find a heart.

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Filed under Faber & Faber, James Bradley, Review, Richard and Judy

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee – Rebecca Miller

Rebecca Miller came up with a brilliant premise for a story with ‘The Private Lives of Pippa Lee’, that idea was a story of a married woman in her early fifties with a dark past moving into a retirement village with her 80 year old husband. What could be a better idea? I had visions of a woman causing a stir amongst all the others and creating havoc whilst we learnt the secrets of her past. This isn’t what you get despite the blurb, reviews and hype (as its part of Richard and Judy and everyone is talking about her famous husband and father). What you do get is a very interesting story of a woman at a strange point in her life that is reflecting on her past.

The book starts just after she has moved with her husband Herb as he wants the quieter life and wants to maximise the money he can leave Pippa when he dies. In offering her some stability he also makes her feel old before her time and causes her to have a sort of breakdown through the form of sleep walking, cooking and driving. We then find out all about the life she lived before.

I felt a little let down with her back story, at points it became unbelievable and the fact that her husband knew of her past as he met her during her rebellious phase (there’s major complications in their meeting) so to me her past was only secret to her children. That was a running theme within the story though mother-daughter relationships, Pippa has an awkward relationship with her mother, and while she has a great relationship with her son, she has an awful one with her daughter.

I enjoyed her more when coming back to her current life and she started to rebel in her pottery class. There was also some possible interest in her book group which she went to once where she met various characters who were then never mentioned again. I think the book could have done with being a bit longer so you really got a feel of her personality now and the relationship with her husband, neighbours and if she actually had any friends.

All in all it’s a good book, a slight opportunity missed, but enjoyable and you can read it in one sitting. I would call this ‘The Secret Past of Pippa Lee’ as to be honest she hasn’t had that many dark previous private lives, just a bit of a rebellious phase.

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Filed under Books To Film, Canongate Publishing, Rebecca Miller, Review, Richard and Judy

Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones

I think I have just read one of my favourite books of the year. I could have devoured this book in 24 hours partly because its not the longest book but also because it’s a book you simply don’t want to put down, I was restrained as I wanted to savour the whole story and live with it for as long as possible. That for me is the sign of a fantastic book.

The novel is told by Matilda a young woman (she starts the novel aged 14) who lives on the island of Bougainville in the South Pacific in 1991 when it is amidst war. Her school has been closed for quite some time due to the fleeing of several members of the village. One day her mother (a fabulous but difficult character) announces she is going back to school, the only white man in the village ‘Pop Eye’ or ‘Mr Watts’ is opening up lessons once more. What follows is a wonderful tale of a young girl, her life questions and the relationship she has with ‘Pip’ (who though imaginary becomes a friend in a confusing world) the main character from Great Expectations the book which Mr Watts teaches them from reading a chapter aloud a day.

This book is nothing short of a masterpiece and is perfect for any booklover (like myself showing the importance of reading aloud, reading and books in general. One of my favourite lines in the book has to be ‘You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.’ It unquestionably deserved to be on the Man Booker Shortlist as well as the Richard & Judy Book Group

Lloyd Jones writes in such a way that you almost cannot put the book down, the book flows wonderfully through the joys of the children learning ‘Mr. Dickens’ to the harsh realities of war, including a scene which was horrific yet told in a very matter-of fact way and moved me to tears, now a book has not done that to me in a long time.

This is simply a book for book lovers.

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Filed under Books of 2008, John Murray Publishers, Lloyd Jones, Man Booker, Review, Richard and Judy

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

This was a book group choice, but one that I had been looking at and debating in every bookshop I went into after my love of ‘The Kite Runner’ which was one of my favourite reads last year. Plus it was on the Richard and Judy latest list and 90% of the time Amanda Ross seems to know a good book when she sees one. So when Katie’s choice of five was whittled to this one (that’s how we do it in our book group) I was over the moon.

I wasn’t disappointed which can be a worry after you have loved an author like Khaled Hosseini and don’t want that spell to be broken. Oh dear that sounds a little over dramatic. People have said this is ‘the female Kite Runner’ and it isn’t. I don’t want to give too much away as this spectacular novel that I found as moving as The Kite Runner and had so many more ‘oh no that cant have happened’ moments (where you have to re-read a paragraph) than its predecessor, they also start early which is why I cant really give you a massive insight into the plot I dont want to spoil it. Here’s what I can tell you…

The novel centres around two women, Hosseini here proves he is one of those men who can write women really well, Mariam who is sent to Kabul to marry the vile Rasheed, and two decades later Laila a fifteen year old girl for who tragedy strikes on more than one occasion. These two women are thrown together through adversity and what follows is an epic tale of heroines and their struggle to make a better life amongst the bloodshed and fear in a Taliban controlled environment.

This book will stay with you for a long time. I did think the ending was written for a film which I think is bound to happen and had a slightly nicely rounded off edge after several scenes that had left me in tears but that is a minor, minor point in what is seriously a fantastic book. I know people are jumping on to a band wagon of bashing these books now, however I don’t think that Hosseini is a one trick pony which I know certain critics of this second novel have been stating, I guess we will see what he comes up with next… I can’t wait.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Book Group, Books of 2008, Khaled Hosseini, Review, Richard and Judy

A Quiet Belief in Angels – R.J. Ellory

This book has taken me an age (ten days) to read. I know that ten days to some people may seem like a quick read, no I am not a skim reader (though with this book I almost wished I was) for me this is a long read and its sadly felt like a bit of a trudge. R.J.Ellory’s novel ticked every box when Polly had this in her five choices for a previous Book Group. We didnt choose it as someone in the group said that it would give them nightmares, fair enough!!!!???? It had mystery and murder and we all know how I have gotten seriously into crime fiction in the last year or so in particular, sadly this book seems to be another blurb of bull. I am beginning to get really sick of these.

A Quiet Belief in Angels is the tale of a town and its people pulled apart by the murders of several young girls in the 1950’s (this was the part of the book I whizzed through the setting, the pace, everything was great) and one person who sets out to find the villain is Joseph Vaughan who at the time is a teenager who has had a pretty hard time of it with several tragedies and shocks befalling him in a short space of time. Eventually all seems solved when someone is found dead having admitted to the murders, only decades later they start again, and they seem to be haunting and following Joseph Vaughan once more, why?

See from the review of the story it sounds excellent, a perfect epic mystery, a fantastic setting of 1950’s and modern day America, a murder to solve the works. So why half way was it like wading through treacle (I don’t like treacle by the way)? I actually cant answer that. I suddenly out of nowhere got incredibly bored after about page 170, and having passed the 80 page rule felt I must continue and in places it picked up pace and redeemed itself falling flat again for a hundred pages or so and then having a good ending, not a gripping one. I have seen the reviews on Amazon and it would appear I am in a very small demographic as I would give this a two or a three out of five and hundreds of people have given it full marks/stars. I guess it was just not meant to be, I just didn’t ‘get it’ and it didn’t float my boat like the lying blurb told me it would. I may fall out with Richard and Judy over this one.

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Filed under Book Group, Orion Publishing, R.J.Ellory, Review, Richard and Judy

Then We Came To The End – Joshua Ferris

When I heard about Joshua Ferris’ debut novel ‘Then We Came To The End’ I really wanted to read it. Having worked in an office environment for the last few years I know how everyone needs to know everyone’s secrets and how everyone loves a good gossip and a good office romance. Also I had heard from other people how good it was and yes, I do fall for the Richard & Judy books, though after this that might have changed.

There is something real about this book; the problem is that there was no one with any redeeming characteristics. I don’t know anyone who would take pleasure in gossiping about someone with cancer and how would you know that about your own boss? Many people have said that Joshua Ferris is a new ‘comedy writer’ I laughed but at completely the wrong bit which concerned a woman having a breakdown after the loss of her daughter in a ball pool in McDonalds. The way it was described was hysterical, whereas it should really have been touching.

The story doesn’t centre on any particular character instead it follows almost everyone in the office, which gets a little confusing, but the inter office emails can be slightly amusing if you don’t know who the person in the story is who it came from where its going to or why they are emailing each other.

I did struggle to keep reading the book in parts particular towards the end of the book where things went into farce territory… why do some authors feel the need to do this. Also the ending is very odd and I was completely confused after that. So I guess the best way to describe this book is that the first half is very good, then sadly it all goes wrong and your very glad you came to the end.

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Filed under Joshua Ferris, Penguin Books, Review, Richard and Judy

The Savage Garden – Mark Mills

Does a book that’s been recommended to you ever make you change your mind about someone? Polly, who you will have possibly read about and will be sure to read more about in the future, told me that I simply must read this book, she had really enjoyed it and was raving about it. I always respond well to passionate ravings about a book as it is something that I quite often do myself, and anyone who is passionate about a book and tells me I must read it normally gets my vote and read of said novel. Polly’s been right about many a book and indeed has bought me many a book, however having bought The Savage Garden by Mark Mills and having heard so much from Polly about how fabulous it was it had high expectations to meet. Let me also add that Polly is very well read and we generally like similar books. It has also been a Richard & Judy Summer Read, sadly I am someone who currently thinks that Amanda Ross’s choices of books are generally good ones too, another person who’s job I would kill for.

Anyway only thirty pages in I was thinking ‘am I reading the same book?’…I was. Set in post war Tuscany behind a grand villa lies and enchanting and mystical garden. A garden that in fact holds secrets, dark secrets with clues all around that someone needs to decipher. That person turns out to be Adam Strickland, a young scholar who visits the town and falls in love with the garden, its house and its family the Docci’s. The family themselves seem to have their own dark secrets and skeletons, could the garden and the house hold mysteries of murder, love and betrayal. Well I am not going to give that away, all I will say is by page 100 I couldn’t care less but felt obligated to finish the novel as I had promised Polly.

Mills is an author whom, for me personally, over describes everything. He doesn’t just describe the house exterior, he describes every window, every column almost every ivy leaf that grows up the side. Boring. As a reader yes I want hints as to what things look like, what characters sound like etc, I don’t need to be told intricate details that delay the story but also force my brain to depict things to the nth degree, this is an author who seriously wants control of what his reader is taking in and all power to him, it just doesn’t work for me. I have heard some of my favourite authors say ‘once a book is written it’s the readers, they imagine the characters, their voices and actions, its no longer mine though I have the story and characters in my head, that’s the point though you write something people respond to and take into their own brains and hopefully hearts’ well something along those lines anyways.

I have to say I will not be recommending this to anyone. In fact I dont think I will be reading another Mark Mills, I could eat my own words, it would have to take something seriously amazing for me to change my mind after reading this. Has it changed my opinion of Polly? No, as if, not after 22 years of friendship, I may be more wary of her choices from now on after all she recommended London Fields, my most hated book of all time, but she has also recommended me some gems. I’ll make sure I blog her next recommendation.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Mark Mills, Review, Richard and Judy