Category Archives: Stella Duffy

Rounding Up The Reviews #2; Drivers Seats, Seas of Stories, Days of Deer and Wavewalkers

Both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would round up some of books I have failed to review so far this year and start a new occasional series of posts where I give you a more succinct selection of books you might want to need. The good, the bad and the ugly! Before you think that they are all just going to be books I didn’t really like I can say that two of these books I really liked a lot. Such a tease, anyway, I am in danger of falling into my usual waffle territory so let’s get on with it…

The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1970 (2006 edition), fiction, 128 pages, bought by my good self

You know I love Muriel Spark, I know I love Muriel Spark so why would I put her in a round up post? Well my lovelies it is because I have read this book before and told you all about it then. But should you not be in the mood to pop and check that link, which would be frightfully mean of you, I will give you a little summary. I loved it as much as I did the first time.

Oh ok, that isn’t quite enough. Lise has pretty much lived the same day of her life every day for the last sixteen years. Yet she has decided to change all that by going away on holiday and leaving everything behind, in short she is going to transform herself and yet the transformation might not be the sort of thing we would go in for. As we follow her story though we soon learn that the adventure and journey Lise has in mind might not be the sort of thing we would go for either! It has been called a dark nasty little book; I think it is a dark little work of genius. Read it, then read it again. You can hear it discussed further here but beware of spoilers!

Haroun and the Sea of Stories – Salman Rushdie

Penguin Books, paperback, 1991, fiction, 224 pages, borrowed from the library

When Haroun’s mother leaves him and his father for her lover, who happens to be their neighbour (which I found all a bit grown up for a kids book but clearly I am a prude) everything changes. Not only for the family and the loss of a mother and wife but also as Haroun’s father changes almost overnight. Before his wife left he was one of the most witty and charming people around who made his living as a story teller, the Shah of Blah. Now the stories are gone and when he opens his mouth all that comes out of it is ‘Ark, ark, ark…’ Haroun must find the sea of stories and save them all. Which sounds very grand but is the purpose of the adventure that follows.

I think if I had read this when I was about 10 or 11 I would have looooooved it. As it was I kind of liked it. I think the problem really is me. I I like magical realism in general but for some reason in a kids book magic just tends to get a bit silly for me (with the exception of Mildred Hubble and Harry Potter) and it breaks the spell, pun intended. I had tried Rushdie’s other young adult/childrens book Luka and the Fire of Life and had the same issues there but Rob chose it for for Hear… Read This, so I blame him as I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, ha! It has made me want to read Rushdie’s adult works again though, not a complete loss for me, and many of you will love it – in fact on Hear… Read This most of them did.

The Days of The Deer – Liliana Bodoc

Corvus Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is known that the strangers will sail from some part of the Ancient Lands and will cross the Yentru Sea. All our predictions and sacred books clearly say the same thing. The rest is all shadows. Shadows that prevent us from seeing the faces of those who are coming. In the House of Stars, the Astronomers of the Open Air read contradictory omens. A fleet is coming to the shores of the Remote Realm. But are these the long-awaited Northmen, returned triumphant from the war in the Ancient Lands? Or the emissaries of the Son of Death come to wage a last battle against life itself? From every village of the seven tribes, a representative is called to a Great Council. One representative will not survive the journey. Some will be willing to sacrifice their lives, others their people, but one thing is certain: the era of light is at an end.

No I didn’t write that, Waterstones did. I had the most weird reading experience with this book. Firstly the writing style is at once completely wooden and clunky, though this may be the translation. Secondly, the author doesn’t feel like she is in control and as she goes will invent some magical/fantastical happenstance or monster or something to keep it all going. Thirdly, I don’t think she knows where its going. Fourthly, it is fantasy and I am not renowned for liking that genre. Well I read it. I just got on with it, I didn’t understand much of it, I didn’t really like it but oddly I was completely unoffended by it. I just read it, without rhyme, reason or any real reaction. It was a really odd experience, pure inoffensive nonchalance. Have any of you had that? Oh and if you can’t take my word for it even Gav, of Gav Reads, who chose it for Hear… Read This wasn’t a fan.

Wavewalker – Stella Duffy

Serpents Tail, paperback, 1996, fiction, 261 pages, bought by my good self

As with Muriel; you know I love Stella’s writing, I know I love Stella’s writing, so why pop it in a round up post. Well the honest answer is I just guzzled this down, like a chocolate bar you devour and enjoy but should have maybe let the flavour of linger longer. (This is by the way highly flattering; I never joke about great chocolate or great books or waste them.) To carry that analogy further and possibly to its limit, it is like when you finish inhaling a Crunchie (or Violet Crumble if you will) and you just loved it so much you just want another one. Well I have held off reading the bext Saz Martin because I should have dwelt on this one longer. I am pacing myself with her recently published short story collection at the moment.

To give you a brief synopsis, the second in the Saz Martin series (the first Calendar Girl, which I shockingly read six years ago, I also really recommend) sees Saz investigating a new craze therapy that has come over from America, San Francisco to be precise, employed by the mysterious Wavewalker who thinks Dr North’s practice may link with a cult group and an unusual spate of suicides in the seventies. As I mentioned I just ate this book up. It has great plotting, Saz Martin is a brilliant quirky lead character and there is quite a lot of lesbian sex to titillate you, pun not intended, as you read on. I am seeing Stella tonight and she may kill me for that, ha! All in all it is a great thriller and I would love Stella to bring Saz back!

*********************

So that is your lot for now, one more round up on Saturday when we have a right old mix from Fairytales to Sex Criminals. If that doesn’t tempt you back nothing will. In the interim do let me know if you have read any of these and what you made of them! Also let me know if you have ever had the same instance as I did with The Days of the Deer where a book just leaves you utterly nonchalant, not good, not bad, just nonchalant.

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Liliana Bodoc, Muriel Spark, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews, Salman Rushdie, Stella Duffy

Summer Read Suggestions… From Authors

Earlier in my ‘Summer Reads Week’ I asked for suggestions of favourite summer reads from publishers pasts and the ones they were looking forward to having a read of over the coming months. So I then thought what about authors? I have noticed in the past some papers and the like get some authors to tell us just what they will be reading over the summer, so I thought why not do the same with authors? Asking simply what makes the perfect summer read for you and which book is your favourite summery read? Which book are you most eager to read over the summer months and why?

Rather than go off and just get any author I could to answer these questions I decided to go for some authors who have produced some of my favourite reads over the last few years of me writing Savidge Reads. I was most chuffed that they all said yes…

Maria Barbal

It depends quite on the time to spend. If I have a complete month it’s a good moment to read a long novel but also for a second rereading or for reading the whole work of an author.

I have read one book by Herta Müller and I would like to read some more.  Specially Tot el Que Tinc ho duc al damunt  (Atemschaukel, English: Everything I Possess I Carry With Me), because she has a poetic and piercing style, and reaches the reader with her writing.

Neil Bartlett

A perfect summer read for me is one which is utterly engrossing, but which I can safely fall asleep while reading on the flagstones of my garden, and then pick up the thread of at once, once I awake. Two contrasting examples currently in my pile; The Leopard (Lampedusa- perfect, as it makes the Visconti movie replay in my head) and My Memories of Six Reigns by Her Highness Princess Marie Louise – a junkshop find, full of great pictures and bizarre bejewelled stories.

Which book for this summer ? Andrew Graham Dixon’s new Caravaggio biog, which I think will piss me off, as he’s very determined to de-queer the paintings, but he’s a serious historian, and Caravaggio is an artist whose works I hope to spend the rest of my life looking at.

Stella Duffy

I read really widely anyway, and have never really bought into the ‘some books are for the beach’ idea, BUT I do like the books I’m hungry to get through in one or two sittings when I happen to have an afternoon free (we don’t have much skill at actually going away on holiday in our house!). I’ve had splendid summers in my garden where, after working all morning, I’ve spent the afternoon speeding through a friend’s very fast-paced dark crime novel or another mate’s bonkbuster.

I remember a great summer week of working every morning and reading Val McDermid’s Mermaid’s Singing in the garden in the afternoons. It hardly sounds summery, but there was something about the contrast between the warmth and sunshine and the darkness of the book that I really enjoyed.

I have Anna Quindlen’s ‘Every Last One’ on my TBR pile and I’m definitely looking forward to that. Unusually I HAVE been swayed by the quotes on the cover – Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Jane Howard, and Alice Hoffman in praise? It has to be good! I also have some newly released Janet Frame short stories ‘The Daylight and The Dust’ which I’m definitely looking forward to, and I do think they will need a long, slow, quiet afternoon or two to really do them justice.

Tess Gerritsen

The perfect summer read… A book that takes me completely out of my own surroundings and transports me to a different one.  I especially love being plunged into a different time period, or even a different world.  An historical mystery by Arianna Franklin, for instance, would be an example of a perfect summer read.  Or a fantasy novel along the lines of Tolkien.

I have a copy of Justin Cronin’s The Passage.  I can’t wait to dive in. And I also have a copy of Manda Scott’s mammoth work Boudica, which I’ve been putting off until I have the time to do it justice.  I’m looking forward to them both so much!

Sophie Hannah

The perfect summer read, for me, is anything that pins me to my sun-lounger long after I would ordinarily have leaped into the swimming pool – a book worth getting sunstroke for. I have lots of favourite holiday reads dating back several years – the one that springs to mind is ‘The Memory Game’ by Nicci French, which I read on holiday in Florida in 1999. It remains one of the most sophisticated, intelligent, sensitive and gripping thrillers I’ve ever read.

On my holiday this year, I plan to read the new Scott Turow, ‘Innocent’, the sequel to ‘Presumed Innocent’, which I have no doubt will be as stylish and compelling as Turow always is, and ‘The Disappeared’ by MR Hall, a brilliant new crime writer whose series protagonist is a coroner.

Hillary Jordan

My perfect summer read is a beautifully written novel that grabs hold of me on page one, pulls me into another world and doesn’t let go till The End. I think my best ever summer read was Lord of the Rings.

This summer I was hoping to read The Lacuna but am racing to finish my own second novel, Red…so I suspect that’s the only book my nose will be buried in over the next few months!

Paul Magrs

There are several novels I associate with summer – and I’d be keen to reread them at some point during the holiday… R C Sherrif – The Fortnight in September, a suburban family between the wars goes to the seaside. Nothing happens – from everyone’s POV. A perfect novel! Haruki Murakami – The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, it’s long, episodic and puzzling. I read it in Paris last summer and loved it. Scarlett Thomas – The End of Mr Y. This is another holiday read that’s all mind-bendy and completely absorbing and perfect for sitting at cafe tables with strong coffee and fancy ice cream. Jacqueline Susann – The Love Machine. Perfect sleazy soap opera set in the world of 60s television. Jonathan Caroll – The Land of Laughs, a wonderful supernatural thriller about a writer of children’s books.

And, of course, as many unread or favourite Puffins, gobbled up alongside all of these. The papery fragrance of Puffins *is* what summer smells of, to me. Too many, no..?

Dan Rhodes

My reading habits aren’t particularly affected by the seasons, although I did once give up on Kafka’s The Castle while lying on the beach in Majorca. I just couldn’t feel the cold. At the moment I’m going through a cop novel phase. Two in particular I’ve found supremely original and well worth a look: Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis takes a Chinese detective and drops him in the English countryside, and Pocket Notebook by Mike Thomas follows a ‘roided-up firearms officer as his life and career unravel quite spectacularly. Most cop novels are by whey-faced writer types who would run a mile from a genuine crime scene, but Mike Thomas happens to be a serving police officer, which adds a frisson of authenticity to proceedings. Should that matter in fiction? Possibly not, but either way it’s a cracking read. I’m impatient for more from those two.

I’m going to plough through my short story shelf. There’s still plenty of stuff I haven’t read by William Trevor, VS Pritchett, Katherine Mansfield, Paul Bowles, etc, etc. And just when I think I must be nearing the end of Chekhov’s fiction I always seem to find a bunch of stories I’d never heard of. And while I’m on the subject of short stories, may I recommend Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards? I’m always on about this book, but it’s criminally overlooked. It’s one of the best things ever to have happened on Earth.

Natasha Solomons

I remember my summers by the books I was reading. The summer of 2000 wasn’t island hopping through Greece with a slightly dodgy boyfriend and his dodgier moped, it was ‘A Thousand Years of Solitude’. The August I left school was ‘Moontiger’ and ‘A Town Like Alice’  — (which did cause me to develop a slight obsession with the sarong). During summer I want a book that transports me — I want the story to be more real than the British drizzle and to be so compelling that I’m flipping the bbq burgers in one hand and clutching my book in the other.

The books I love this year are Irene Sabatini’s ‘The Boy Next Door’, which has already won the Orange New Writer’s Prize — it’s the love story of a mixed race couple struggling amidst the growing chaos in Zimbabwe. I love these kinds of books: the small and personal set against the vast and cataclysmic. The other is Emma Henderson’s ‘Grace Williams Says it Loud’, which made me cry. The book is inspired by Emma’s own sister who lived for many years in a unit for disabled people. Yet, this is a sweeping love story narrated with such verve by Grace that you forget she is unable to speak. You’ll also fall in love with Daniel — he’s so dapper and debonair. I’ll also be re-reading Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ for the seventieth time. No summer is complete without a little strawberry picking at Donwell Abbey.

Evie Wyld

I love a really massive book for a summer read, and preferably something a bit spooky or scary, like Murakami’s Wind up Bird Chronicles. That was perfect. But this summer I’m looking forward to The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I’ve heard amazing things about this book.

Other things I’m taking on holiday are Larry’s Party by Carol Shields and The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon. I love Carol Shields and I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, and I’ve just been given a copy of the Trout Opera by my partner. He says I’ll love it, and he should know. All Australians I’m afraid!

So there you have it, on Friday and Saturday it’s a two parter of books that some other bloggers (some still haven’t responded tut tut, ha) have suggested for your summer reading TBR’s. Back to today though, anything taken your fancy from the selection of titles above? I am most intrigued by some of them I have to say. Did any authors surprise you with what they could be reading over the summer?

23 Comments

Filed under Dan Rhodes, Evie Wyld, Hillary Jordan, Maria Barbal, Natasha Solomons, Neil Bartlett, Paul Magrs, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Tess Gerritsen

Theodora – Stella Duffy

In her twelfth book Stella Duffy sets herself several challenges. The first is stepping into a slightly new genre for her with a historical novel. The second is the book is about a real if rather mysterious woman ‘Theodora’, which leads to the third challenge; we know what happens to the character. The word ‘Empress’ is on the cover of the book too after all. It’s the latter that I think is the most challenging. If the reader knows from the start where a book is going then why would they read on? All three together is quite a risk for any author to take, some risks fail and others really pay off.

I think the most important thing in any book where the main character is also the title of the novel is that the author makes that character reader friendly, why are you going to get through 300+ pages if you don’t like the star of the book. Theodora definitely is the star of ‘Theodora’ (that sounds a bit weird, you get what I mean). From the death of her father at five killed by his own favourite bear of his trade, which we see through flashbacks of a kind, and the fact as the plainer and less talented in dancing and singing sister of three Theodora has a slight underdog status from the opening of the book and you feel for her, you side with her, you like her.

However do not let first impressions fool you as Theodora is determined, I want to say gutsy but it’s a bit of a cliché, and what she lacks in some talents she makes up with more, her mind and her body tend to win people over though not necessarily in that order. We follow her journey from the dark underbelly of Constantinople and its prostitution, through the theatre and onwards (I don’t want to give too much away) as she breaks the mould to become the woman no one would believe she could. There is a twist in the middle as she follows her heart rather than her head and exposes another side to her we have not seen before, you like her more.

The book isn’t just about Theodora though and there are a few characters that deserve there own mention too because characters are something that Stella Duffy does exceptionally well. There is the tough loving teacher and eunuch Menander, the butter wouldn’t melt (though watch out) Chrysomallo, the dashing Hecebolus and the delightfully wicked Euphemia. For me though a fowl mouthed dwarf and ‘Madame’, Sophia, who becomes Theodora’s pimp and best friend was possibly my favourite character and almost stole the show from Theodora herself.

What about the historical aspect? Well, it may surprise you to find out but I wasn’t born during the Byzantine period in history, so I have no real inkling how spot on the novel is. My mother is a classist though, and has been reading the book in advance, and says it brings it fully to life and I would agree with her. I did have a little wobble with the first chapter as Duffy explains a lot of the history and sets the seen. Not in a text book way but I did feel I was getting a lot and very instantly. However that’s a small niggle and Duffy doesn’t do the unforgivable, as some authors do, and show off how well they researched everything or how what an authority they are on the period each chapter. The research is there but Duffy keeps it subtley in the text, no historical sledge hammers, just the initial foundation.

Constantinople comes to life on the page, you can smell the backstreets, hear the voices and the stage shows almost play out before your eyes they have a genuine atmosphere. In fact I would have liked a bit more of that phase in Theodora’s life as I wanted to go off and explore it further. As the book progresses the heat of the holy desert of Alexandria sears through the pages and you do really feel you are with our heroine in the various settings of her journey.

I really enjoyed ‘Theodora’ it is historical and yet mythical (which is apt) all in one.It also almost has an element of adventure about it and you feel its a tale the people of its setting would really rather have enjoyed it if Duffy had been able to read it to them at the Hippodrome herself. I am glad to know there is hopefully a sequel in the pipeline as I would happily spend much more time with her. Especially if I get to meet Sophia again along the way, though maybe she should get her own book too? 9/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel (I am not comparing the two because you can’t in terms of historical period, length etc. This is another wonderfully written historical gem and a favourite read of last year for me)
Singling Out The Couples – Stella Duffy (a mythical and magical fairytale of an evil princess who comes to London in search of a heart)

13 Comments

Filed under Review, Stella Duffy, Virago Books

Books to Watch Out for in 2010

Last year I did a post on the books that I was looking forward to in 2009. This year I thought, along with my new slightly though not very much more minimal TBR, I would go with a more simplistic look at books I am looking forward to, rather than what might just be a big book everyone reads because its ‘the big book’ though if some of these are ‘the big book’ thats wonderful. I am just not sure if I will obtain or read them with this no buying malarkey (already its slightly vexing me and we are on day five) but you can run out and get them you lucky so and so’s. I digress. They might be big hits they might not, I am just really, really excited about these particular forthcoming books in 2010…

First up is women’s fiction and I am incredibly excited about one of my favourite authors (who is also a lovely lady) who is bringing what looks to be a wonderful Byzantine epic of a novel about an ‘actress, empress, whore’. It also happens to have what I already think is one of the most delightful book covers of 2010. I am talking about the delightful Stella Duffy and her latest novel ‘Theodora’. Its one of the books I am very excited about. Other female novelists who have big literary books out I am looking forward to are… Andrea Levy with ‘The Long Song’  which is all about the last years of slavery in Jamaica, I am hoping this leaves me as breathless as ‘Small Island’ which blew me away last year. Xiaolu Guo with ‘Lovers in the Age of Indifference’ which I think is a brilliant title and sounds like it could be a collection of tales rather than a novel.

Women also seem to be writing the crime I like the look of this year and I want to read more crime even if it’s not the latest releases ba-humbug this year. Sophie Hannah brings us her latest crime escapade with the intriguingly titled ‘A Room Swept White’. This alredy sounds like it will be another of Hannah’s brilliantly twisting plots as a TV producer is given a card sender anonymous with sixteen digits on it, and soon a woman the producer is making a documentary about is found dead with an identical card in her pocket even down to the sixteen digits.  Susan Hill’s enigmatic detective Simon Serrailler is back for his fifth outing looking at the murders of prostitutes in ‘The Shadows in the Street’s’. Finally in crime due out in autumn, which means if by luck one falls out of the sky and lands on my doorstep it’s still a long blooming wait, is another of the books I am most excited about… ‘Started Early, Took The Dog’ is the fourth instalment of my favourite series of books ever featuring Jackson Brodie by Kate Atkinson. The bonus with it being so late in the year is it won’t lead me into temptation and can go on a Christmas list of be bought in January 2011.

Now for the men of fiction. I think another of the biggest releases for me this year will be the latest Ian McEwan. I am a big fan and though no synopses are currently floating about regarding the plot of ‘Solar’ I have heard it is his ‘eco’ book so this could be very interesting. Other books to look out for are the latest Chris Cleave ‘After the End of the World’ which isn’t about an apocalypse and is in fact about a child with leukaemia. With the follow up to the Bronte brilliance of ‘The Taste of Sorrow’ Jude Morgan takes us to Regency times with ‘A Little Folly’. Carlos Ruiz Zafon releases the gothic sounding ‘The Prince of Mist’ which I am looking forward to, though I do still need to read ‘The Angels Game’ hem, hem. Another big book for 2010 looks to be the new Yann Martel book ‘Beatrice & Virgil’ all about a taxidermist.

Debut wise a book I already own though wont be reading till just before it comes out is Natasha Solomon’s ‘Mr Roseblum’s List: Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman’ which from the synopsis sounds hilarious. It’s all about a man trying to become the perfect English Gent. A debut I don’t own but would love to is ‘Advice for Strays’ by Justine Kilkerr all about Marnie whose father and cat (along with all the local cats) disappear and something seems to be following her, something dark an intriguing tale of loss. Erm I think that’s it… I am not going to do non fiction as I am rubbish in that area. Seriously, I know I have said I will read more but as I am not buying I haven’t been looking, so there.

Oh how could I forget. The re-release of the year for me will of course be Nancy Mitford’s ‘Highland Fling’ even if it wont be until 2011 till I can read it anything by Nancy Mitford is wonderful and must be celebrated so I am thrilled Capuchin Classics are re-publishing that. I also have everything crossed, which is becoming quite painful, for The Bloomsbury Group to release another series of books – preferably a selection that features another Joyce Dennys or three that I can lust after! That’s it for now, that’s officially all the books I am most excited about this year today. 

What are you looking forward to?

36 Comments

Filed under Andrea Levy, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Chris Cleave, Ian McEwan, Joyce Dennys, Jude Morgan, Kate Atkinson, Nancy Mitford, Natasha Solomons, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Xiaolu Guo, Yann Martel

Books of 2009

As the end of the year draws in I find that I become quite reflective. I have actually had a bit of an issue with reading this week and wonder if that is an end of year thing, more on that at some other point. 2009 has been a big year for this blog; it’s also been a big year for my reading. It seems a delightful coincidence that today as I wrap up my best reads of 2009 it is also my 500th post which I think deserves some fireworks…

My original idea of doing my ‘best of’ like I did last year with The Savidge Dozen just wasn’t working. I have read too many brilliant books and so I thought I would instead do two separate top ten’s. The first being my favourite books published or re-issued in 2009 itself which was hard and actually I got down to a final twelve but I had to cut the delightful books Notwithstanding and ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat’ and be tough to make the ten which are (click on each title for full review)…

10. Legend of a Suicide by David Vann – One of the most emotionally raw novels I have ever read. Fictional accounts of a father’s suicide, the events leading up to it and the effects of this tragedy on his son and others around him, based in parts on the authors own fathers suicide. Moving and masterfully written.  

9. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood – The first of two Atwood novels that truly made my year. This dark (and often darkly funny) tale of the future of humanity starts off sounding like something out of a sci-fi novel yet disturbingly slowly reads as a not too distant possibility.  

8. After The Fire, A Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld – Without question the debut novel of the year for me. A book many are labelling as being a ‘War book’, I wouldn’t 100% agree with that as its so much more. The author calls it a ‘romantic thriller about men who don’t speak’ I would call it ‘a book about the dark truths behind the faces of those we love’ a compelling and moving read.

7. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill – Some loved it some hated it, I revelled in it. Susan Hill’s thoughts on some of her books and the people she met who wrote them. And she popped by and made a comment or two.

6. The Taste of Sorrow by Jude Morgan – A fictional account of those famous Bronte Sisters which sadly didn’t get the Man Booker notice it should have. This brings the Bronte’s to life and you will think of them slightly differently. Made me want to read every Bronte book I could… as yet I haven’t started but a possible resolution for 2010, that or read all of Morgan’s prior works.

5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – The deserved winner from the Man Booker Shortlist and the one I guessed (though I was hoping a certain other book would win, see below). I thought that there had been Tudor fiction overload, I was wrong just as I was wrong that reading a book about Thomas Cromwell that was huge would bore me to death, I was enthralled and enwrapped.

4. Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie – The only way I can think of to describe this book which skips such a huge expanse of time is ‘a war torn epic’. I thought this was marvellous and was thrilled I got to hear her speak about it and even ask her a question; I was a bit in awe.

3. Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks by John Curran – Definitely the non fiction book of 2009, well published in 2009. Getting a glimpse into the private world of such a marvellous author and how her criminal mastermind brain worked and plotted was utterly fascinating.

2. Henrietta’s War by Joyce Dennys – Technically not actually released originally in 2009, but thankfully brought back from the past thanks to the wonderful Bloomsbury Group. The tale of Henrietta and the villagers she lives with during the war had me laughing out loud all over the place.

1. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin – A book I fell wholly in love with from start to finish. It might not have the biggest plot or be brimming with a huge cast of characters but its simplicity is what makes it so stunning. An interesting look at the life of a woman who is sent to be saved from the poverty in Ireland by being shipped to America, only not everyone wants to be saved. Utterly stunning and quietly intense.

***

Then I had the ridiculous task of finding the ten ‘best of the rest’ which in a year where I read such delights as The Secret Scripture (which lost a point or two for the ending I won’t lie) and the joy Miss Garnett’s Angel and had a Sensation Season was going to be tough. OK, so it’s not quite ten but it’s as close as I could get. The final ten (cough, eleven) are…

10. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – I wasn’t convinced that a thriller based on a child murderer in the time of Stalinist Russia would work for me. I was utterly wrong as I think for me it’s been the thriller of the year. Also thrilling was getting to go to Tom’s house for coffee and questions.

9. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood – Proof that sometimes books can be hard work but all that hard work is definitely worth it. Opening with the suicide of the narrator’s sister, this becomes an epic novel of the lives of the Chase sisters and the effects of the Second World War. Also comes with an intriguing novel inside the novel and a sci-fi-ish novel inside that one, are you keeping up?

8. State of Happiness by Stella Duffy – I am a big admirer of Stella and her work and this to me is her best fiction yet (oh but wait for the next one in 2010) despite loving her latest book The Room of Lost Things in 2008. This is a tale about love and ultimately death and it broke my heart and made me cry quite a lot. If you are up for an emotional journey and wonderful writing you simply cannot miss this book.

7. Lady into Fox by David Garnett – Wonderful surreal and touching fable of a husband and how he deals with his wife randomly turning into a fox one day. This is may only be 96 pages long but each page is perfection.

6. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – Most of the planet with have read this novel so I will simply say a modern classic masterpiece about a dystopian future where we are all under the watchful all seeing eye of Big Brother and should ever be fearful of Room 101.  

5. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett – My first year of reading Persephone books and this one just took me on a journey that I wasn’t expecting. A sensational tale of rich American heiresses, one whom meekly marries an Englishman for a title and vanishes, the other a forthright woman who wishes to seek her sister out and solve the mystery of what has befallen her.

4. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes – A total surprise hit of 2009 for me. I never thought that a ‘sci-fi’ book about a mentally handicapped man and a genius mouse would grab me let alone move me to tears and yet this frankly marvellous book did exactly that.

3. Small Island by Andrea Levy – Really this is a modern masterpiece. A tale of two completely different women brought together through war and adversity. Also a tale of forbidden love, war, racism and hope, a remarkable book I was glad Granny Savidge Reads recommended so strongly and so often.

2. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – This book is what I may now consider the greatest nonfiction book I have ever read (so far – though unlikely to be beaten). A true tale of the ruthless killing of a family in America, and a thought provoking quite often disturbing study of their murderers. In parts bleak and horrific, it’s also emotional (I cried at this one too) and yet a darkly fascinating insight into the minds of killers.  

1. East Lynne by Ellen Wood/Armadale by Wilkie Collins – Technically I am cheating but I really couldn’t decide between these two. The epic scope, characters and thrilling plots of each of these was utterly remarkable. In a year where I rediscovered my loved of all things sensational I found these two new favourite books. Both of these are genuine gems of sensation novels and couldn’t have more mystery, twists, dramas or thrills if they tried.

***

I have to say I don’t think that minimal short snappy reviews are my fortes so do visit the full reviews, they are much better. Should you be really tough and ask me which out of this final twenty one would be my favourite of the year I would have to go with… Brooklyn by Colm Toibin. I know some people will be surprised after my sensation fiction love in and some of you won’t agree and that’s fine, though don’t push your negative comments below this post (ha, ha, ha), for me it was just wonderful and a true surprise delight in this years Man Booker Longlist read-a-thon. There will be much more Toibin to come in 2010 I promise you. Now I must dash as I have a party to prepare for (attending not hosting) and some resolutions to make… What have been your best books of 2009?

49 Comments

Filed under Agatha Christie, Andrea Levy, Books of 2009, Colm Toibin, Daniel Keyes, David Garnett, David Vann, Ellen Wood, Evie Wyld, Frances Hodgson Burnett, George Orwell, Hilary Mantel, John Curran, Jude Morgan, Kamila Shamsie, Margaret Atwood, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tom Rob Smith, Truman Capote, Wilkie Collins

Taking On My Travels

It’s all going a little bit wrong in the land of Blogger which I am finding quite annoying as it isn’t seeming to let me do any blogs before today when I want it to (additional note this should have been posted successfully at 11am not almost 11pm) and I am fairly unimpressed as I am desperately trying to get my Orange thoughts to you before tomorrow. Burnt Shadows finally seems to be up but it’s not letting me do two more which is really irritating! What I may have to do is put the reviews up in advance and you can get my full thoughts on the list on Wednesday and reviews of the final two afterwards, that cant be considered cheating as frankly I have read them and done the time. It is also annoying when you are trying to write a week worth of blogs so that while you are away magically there is something fun for your readers daily! I have to admit I am seriously thinking about moving blog provider when I come back from Switzerland or will that confuse things even more? Any advice or thoughts would be much appreciated.

Anyway onto happier things I am off on holiday, in fact by the time this goes up I will be there… or even back who knows (I mustn’t think of that or I will worry while I am away and am on an internet break) and so of course I need to have some books to take on my travels. I think I have shown you how I do this before, in fact I have, but I base my travelling choices like this…

a) Something big I have been meaning to read for ages
b) A guilty pleasure read in case the above really just doesn’t work out, you know something slightly erm… un-literary??!!
c) Something by one of my favourite authors
d) Something brand spanking new ‘just in’ as you never know
e) A good crime novel
f) Something that has been hovering on my TBR pile and reading radar for sometime

Now because I am away for a week and doing a lot of train travelling across the Swiss landscape there will therefore be a lot of dragging of suitcases, so I have limited myself to five but some of them fit in several categories! So my Swiss TBR pile is looking very much like this…


Vanish – Tess Gerritsen
I love Tess as and author and frankly I have been holding of the next in the series for as long as physically possible. She’s becoming less and less of a guilty pleasure and more and more of an open obsession plus its crime and something that should keep my mind off being up in the air in a plane which I hate with a passion.

Wavewalker – Stella Duffy
You know that I love Stella’s work and this is the second in her crime series. I really enjoyed the first and so have high hopes for this, I will be saving it for my flight back as think it will take my mind of being in a tin can so many miles above the earth. Moving swiftly on…

Daphne – Justine Picardie
I have now said I will take this with me and read it on three holidays and its getting out of hand. A book all about the wonderful Daphne Du Maurier and The Bronte’s really is a must read, shame on me. I have just realised I still haven’t done a review of the new Daphne short stories so I will sort that out when I am back.

The Devil’s Paintbrush – Jake Arnott
This sees Jake leave the crime Genre and go all historical on us. I don’t have too much of an insight into what it’s about as I am desperate for it to be a surprise. It’s also been on a travel trip with me and come back unread, second time lucky let’s hope.

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
How could I not, I have managed to hold of the whole way through the Orange shortlist and I refuse to hold off any longer. That is all I have to say on it for the matter. A few of you seem quite divided on this book which has made me all the more intrigued.

…Now tell me London City Airport doesn’t have a book shop does it that could be lethal with time to kill and nerves galore!?! Oh and additional comment, please don’t be offended if I don’t visit your blogs or comment back on here while I am away, I will do so with gusto when I am back!

7 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts, Jake Arnott, Justine Picardie, Sarah Waters, Stella Duffy, Tess Gerritsen

The Lesser of Two Bookish Evils

What I love about Booking Through Thursday is that it always makes me think. I generally end up waffling on (as I am sure I will do today) and find varying tangents to discuss. It makes me think out the box though and this weeks question “Which is worse… finding a book you love and then hating everything else you try by that author, or reading a completely disappointing book by an author that you love?” has not only made me think more about books and what I have read but also how I read.

Out of the two I don’t think I could say which is worse because of some ‘reading rules’ I have, in fact I think I may have to do a blog in the near future on reading and reviewing rules I have, though they aren’t set in stone. If I read one book I absolutely love by an author I will undoubtedly pick another of their books up but it might take me weeks, months even years for me to read another of their books or for them to write another if it’s their debut. If I couldn’t wait (very rare that that happens) and the next one was rubbish I would sadly probably write them off. There is a clause in that statement though in respect of if someone whose opinion I trust raved about another of their works I would possibly give them a second chance.

So what about an author I love who releases a dud book? Well in order to love an author I have to have read more than three/four of their books. If one of them was a dud before that the rule above would apply so they wouldn’t be an author I love. I only at present have authors like that Daphne Du Maurier, Ian McEwan, Stella Duffy, Tess Gerritsen and Susan Hill all who so far with all their varying writing styles and genres haven’t failed me once.

I do get nervous reading the next of their works though that it might be the one book by them that will really bad or put me off them (in my head for some reason I am thinking of McEwan’s ‘Saturday’ instantly which I haven’t tried yet but worries me in advance) as yet none of them have written a bad word. If one did… I would be disappointed but I would forgive them. It has happened with one author who would have made my favourite readers amount to six not five and that is Kate Atkinson whose books I love only I had a really, really hard time with ‘Behind The Scenes At The Museum’ which was the second book I read of hers after ‘Human Croquet’. I didn’t get on with ‘Behind The Scenes…’ and so much so, though I am going to try again, I was tempted not to bother with her again. Luckily three people recommended ‘Case Histories’ to me and my oneside relationship with Kate has never looked back.

So not only has today’s blog made me think about my reading in a different way its also made me look at my reading pattern (is that what you call it) as I have noticed I have quite a lot of books I have absolutely loved and either not read another word by that author yet or (like Margaret Atwood) read the second one a year or so down the line. I am thinking maybe I need to start reading the whole works of some authors such as Margaret Atwood, Anne Tyler… oooh who else? Any recommendations, what about all of you?

12 Comments

Filed under Anne Tyler, Book Thoughts, Daphne Du Maurier, Ian McEwan, Kate Atkinson, Margaret Atwood, Stella Duffy, Susan Hill, Tess Gerritsen