Category Archives: Serpent’s Tail

Summer Reads Suggestions… From Publishers

Yesterday you saw the summer selections from The Not The TV Book Group, so how about some more? As I mentioned on Saturday when I started my week long ‘Summer Reads Season’ I decided that this week I would get a selection of bookish people’s favourite summer read suggestions and have a nosey at what people are looking forward to reading in the future weeks. I have asked bloggers and authors and the stars of today’s post… the publishers, who I am not sure get mentioned quite enough on the blogosphere. Here are what some of the lovely publishers I emailed came up with…

Andrea See, Canongate Books

A perfect summer read could be either so trashy you don’t need to pay real attention to it while you’re enjoying your summer, or so absorbing and compelling that you don’t care what anyone else is doing, or where you are. Last summer I read ‘The Road’ while I was in the Bahamas and I couldn’t care less about the weather, it was such an amazing book.

Um, I have a mountain of books I’d love to read. I’ve just borrowed Close Range (Annie Proulx) from the library, but I’m also keen to get into Eleven Kinds of Loneliness (Richard Yates), One Day (David Nicholls), The Ascent of Money (Niall Ferguson), Pereira Maintains (Antonio Tabucchi)… sorry, I don’t just have one! These (hopefully) fall into the latter category.

Judith Greenberg, Little Brown/Virago

It has to be something truly engrossing not just mildly diverting .This is also the time for something to savour, a sprawling saga or a Dickensian tome as there is that sense of time unfolding slowly ahead. It seems fitting to share that with some literary companions with whom you can really bond. I look for something with the sweep and heart of a beach read but the challenge and substance to satisfy and inform. Last summer I became a little obsessed with The Kilburn Social Club by Robert Hudson, a zingy debut about the fate of a London football club and the dynasty that owns it.  It is a state of the nation novel with a sense of humour. As much about the fun and the fear of coming of age and finding love as it is about the future of the FA. It has, dare I say it put the beautiful into the game for this footie sceptic!

Sophie Mitchell, Orion Books

I love to travel but I hate the “getting there” part so for me, a perfect summer read has to be something that can help me survive a flight (the boredom, the misery of being sardine tinned into a tiny seat with no personal space, the icky tummy…) I need a book with an engrossing plot and characters I really care about and can become invested in. I remember reading Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights on a flight to somewhere, and my surroundings completely disappeared. At one point, my husband had to lean across the aisle and ask me to please stop acting like such a freak because people were starting to watch me. Apparently I had been alternately gasping, giggling and crying, all out loud, without even realising it.

I’m off for a trip round Ireland in a couple of weeks and I’m really looking forward to reading the recent Lost Man Booker winner, Troubles by JG Farrell, while I’m there, though I will probably take something a little less challenging as well just in case.

Meike Ziervogel, Peirene Press

Because I am a publisher of short novels and novellas and therefore spend a lot of my time  reading short books, I do love to indulge in long books during my holidays. Moreover, they are usually books I feel I ought to have read a long time ago but for some reason have so far missed out on. Last year I read the whole of Dante’s Divine Comedy (in German translation) – absolutely fantastic, especially “Paradiso”, extremely poetic and beautiful. I can whole heartedly recommend it for a summer read (make sure you get one with good commentary, as some of the passages would otherwise make no sense) – challenging, yes, but definitely rewarding. 

Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” – over the years I have read excerpts here and there but never the entire 6 volumes from the first to the large page. Although I’d love to read all six this summer – I know that is illusionary. But I will definitely read “Swann’s Way” and “Within a Budding Grove“.

Joe Pickering, Penguin Books

I don’t really have an ideal ‘summer read’-type book. I’d just hope that if I had time to read whatever I wanted that I picked something good. That time usually happens on planes as I don’t tend to take beach holidays, so I guess I wouldn’t want something too heavy, literally or linguistically. I read The Sportswriter by Richard Ford on the plane to New York recently and that seemed to fit well.

Along those lines I’m hoping this summer to tick off a couple of books I’ve been meaning to read for a while: Netherland and Remainder, because I think they might be my kind of thing and because I want to know what all the fuss is about.

Rebecca Gray, Serpents Tail/Profile Books

Summer reading for me is all about being absorbed in a book, but I don’t want anything too challenging or upsetting. My guilty pleasure (except I’m pretty unrepentant and happy to stand up for it, so not that guilty) is Jilly Cooper, a genius of the summer read. Rivals is one of my all-time favourites. I’ll put Thackeray’s Vanity Fair on a shelf with it, because it’s definitely got a sense of pace and gossip in common – I want a book I can’t bear to tear myself away from. My favourite kind of holiday is one where I’m allowed to read all day, including at meals (my boyfriend fiercely disapproves of this, but sometimes I can persuade him).

I’ll be re-reading Elliot Allagash by Simon Rich, which we publish in August – it’s perfect summer reading because it’s laugh-out-loud funny and everything works out ok in the end. An inventive, fun book for a sunny afternoon – I first read it on a Friday night and was so excited I didn’t go to the drinks I was supposed to, choosing to stay in on my own, not eat dinner and ignore all distractions, including things like turning on the lights and taking off my shoes, because I was enjoying the book so much.

Well its given me a few books to add to the never ending TBR I have to say! So which of those have you read or have added to the TBR?

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Filed under Penguin Books, Profile Books, Serpent's Tail

Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett (NTTVBG – Book Five)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Passport – Herta Muller

I found it exceptionally difficult in deciding which book I should read first in 2010. I wanted to start the year well. I had a good selection of four that I kept ‘umming and ahhing’ over until I decided on a book that combined some of this years reading resolutions. The Passport by Herta Muller matches a lot of my resolution criteria in one go. It is a translated piece of work, its short book and she’s a prize winning author winning the Nobel Prize for Literature last year. Short and yet challenging was my thought before reading it, would that prove a correct guess?

I hadn’t heard of The Passport or its author Herta Muller until she won the aforementioned Nobel Prize for Literature last year and so really went into reading this with no preconceptions and maybe this is why in many ways it proved a very interesting and quite different read. The book is set in a German village in the Danube plains of Romania and looks at how the villagers are surviving trapped under the dictatorship of Ceausescu.  It’s a place where people believe that the apple tree is possessed by the devil and that you must always watch the movements of owls. It’s also a place everyone wants to escape from, if only they can get their hands on passports or bribe, beg and steal them. It is through the eyes of the village miller Windisch as he cycles about the village that we the reader observe short sharp scenes of the villagers lives.

“The light is still burning in the joiner’s house. Windisch stops. The window pane shines. It reflects the street. It reflects the trees. The picture passes through the lace curtain. Through its falling posies of flowers into the room.A coffin lid leans against the wall beside the tiled stove. It’s waiting for the death of Widow Kroner. Her name is written on the lid. The room seems empty despite the furniture, because it’s so bright.”

It is through a chapter; though they are more snapshots of two pages maximum, called ‘A Big House’ that we learn about the regime the villagers are all under as Windisch’s daughter Amalie teaches her class. In fact Amalie ends up playing a very important role in how her family end up getting passports in order to escape this trap they have found themselves living in and in quite a disturbing way. She is also the constant worry of her father as he becomes aware she may be sexually active. Along with all that goes on in his village as well as his daughter and the misery of his marriage, which is a union of loss and consolation rather than love, the tale through Windisch’s eyes is quite a bleak and desperate one but I do feel it is definitely one that should be told.

I will admit in parts the book lost me as it’s doesn’t have a rigid pattern and a paragraph or two might need a re-read in order to make sense, in some ways this was part of the books beauty. The true beauty of the book is Muller’s prose which is a delight to read and is so poetic, even if sometimes you might not be quite sure what she is referring to or making a metaphor of. Each tale also reads slightly differently, some being very surreal, some being told through slight repition which differs slightly each time, some even like song and some with short sentences, some with long. It’s like an author trying everything which again makes for very interesting reading. These surreal snapshots with walls that talk and owls that can kill by landing on a roof, that bring to life the village in a way, for example through the villagers dreams, that I haven’t read in a book about the war and its after effects.

An interesting and intriguing book, if 2010 keeps on like this I will have some quite amazing and unusual reading experiences ahead of me which I think could be very exciting, don’t you?

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Filed under Herta Muller, Nobel Prize, Review, Serpent's Tail

Calendar Girl – Stella Duffy

Having read ‘The Room of Lost Things’ earlier in the year I had wanted to read some of the other novels that Stella Duffy had done, and as I was seeing her at the London Literary Festival two nights on the trot I thought it might be the perfect time. After umming and ahhhing which one I went with (naturally the first) one of her crime novels. I like a bit of crime.

‘Calendar Girls’ is told in alternating (bar in the middle) characters stories. In one we are reading about Saz Martin and her life as a Private Detective, well that’s what she is trying to be although she’s avoiding the Enterprise Allowance people like the plague. However a new case has come up that looks to turn her business around, if only things were that easy. John Clark is looking for a woman, a woman he has had dinner with on Fridays on and off for a while, a woman he has lent money to, a woman who has disappeared and a woman who he knows nothing about, he called her ‘September’. How will she find this woman, where will it take her (New York actually), what was she up to and why has she disappeared?

The other part of the story is told by stand up comedienne Maggie, who meets ‘the girl with the Kelly McGillis body’ a mysterious secretive woman she moves in with and falls in love with, what secrets does she hide? How are Maggie and Saz’s stories connected? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

This is a great crime novel… hang on this is a great novel. It’s intelligent (some mentions of Daphne’s Rebecca), in some places witty (Nancy Drew mentions), well paced and most importantly has characters you care about. Some crimes novels just have dead nobody’s on a slab in the morgue that you know nothing about and don’t really care about, you just want to know who the killer is. I really enjoyed this and have read it quickly as I like the two women so much both of them slightly messed up and flawed and both human stories that made them more real. Now I have found Saz Martin I am looking forward to the next five mysteries she gets involved with and plan on joining her for the thrill.

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Filed under Review, Serpent's Tail, Stella Duffy

Service Wash – Rupert Smith

One of the regulars at Polari is Rupert Smith and I decided that I should give one of his books a go, and Service Wash was the first on the list in Amazon. So I bought the book a few weeks ago and have been waiting for the perfect time to sit back and enjoy it, and after the Holocaust and beheading of Anne Boleyn I thought it was time for a book about celebrity.

I would just like to say I love the cover, though it has nothing to do with the actual story, I just think it’s a brilliant retro cheeky cover. Sorry I digress. This is the story of Eileen Weathers (who would be played fabulously by Ann Mitchell of Widows fame) who is like a younger Vera Duckworth kind of soap legend. She is at the peak of her fame and writing an autobiography that’s going seriously wrong, so Six Books part fo the soap franchise hire Paul Mackrell to ghost write it, Paul isn’t having much luck with literature and so decides to give it a go. What follows is a farce of mayhem, money and murder.

I really enjoyed this novel it made a nice break to have a book on the go that made me laugh and was all about the complexities and materialism of celebrity not some harrowing complex tale of loss love and betrayal – which I love you just need a break sometimes. Some people call this throwaway literature or a ‘good holiday read’ I call it entertainment as it entertained me for a good several hours.

Smith writes this book with a knowing edge, he has indeed ghost written an autobiography, written several TV-tie-in books and other novels you feel there is a lot of him in Paul. I would recommend this when you want some frivolous fun.

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Filed under Review, Rupert Smith, Serpent's Tail