Category Archives: Susan Hill

I’m The King of the Castle – Susan Hill

Writing about certain books can sometimes be a trepidatious thing. Susan Hill’s I’m the King of the Castle is one such example for various reasons. There is the fact that this has become a modern classic to the extent that is had been on the English syllabus for years, which also adds the threat that some youths might head here and think I know what the heck I am talking about and use me as part of their exam answers (if only the internet had been in existence when I was at school, I am so old) or coursework. Then there is the fact that Susan Hill is one of my favourite contemporary writers and so I put pressure on myself. Really I have to ignore all that, think ‘sod it and hurrah’ and, because this is a blog diarising my reading thoughts and adventures and not some lit-crit site, just write about the book – which I loved.


Penguin Books, 1970 (2014 edition), paperback, fiction, 224 pages, bought by my good self

When Joseph Hooper inherits the decaying familial home, a Victorian mansion called Warings, he feels he is finally the ruler of his domain. This all changes when his father advertises for someone to come and take care of the house and keep an eye on Edmund (despite the cold relationship they have he can clearly see Edmund is turning into an odious little oik) at the same time. The arrival of Mrs Helena Kingshaw is a double triple blessing as not only is she ideal she is also very becoming and has a son, Charles, who can become a new playmate for his own boy. Yet Edmund has taken a similar stance to Warings, with his father away so often he believes he is in charge of the house, likes it that way and isn’t keen on change.

‘Oh – what is it, what have you found?’ She was anxious that he should like it here, should very soon feel at home.
Kingshaw thought, I didn’t want to come, I didn’t want to come, it is one more strange house in which we do not properly belong. But he had dropped the lump of plasticine. ‘Nothing, it’s nothing. It’s only a pebble.’
Walking behind his mother, into the dark hall, he managed to open out the scrap of paper.
‘Now let me show you to your rooms,’ said Mr Joseph Hooper.
Kingshaw stuffed the message fearfully into his trouser pocket.

Edmund plots and creates as many cunning and diabolical horrors as he can (one involving a stuffed crow was my personal favourite) to try and get rid of Charles, not understanding that Charles would like nothing more to run away from this place and soon starts to plan just that. After a first humiliating attempt to flee, Charles soon ventures into (the perfectly named) Hang Wood with Edmund in hot pursuit. Once lost in Hang Wood the roles of power reverse as they become lost and cracks in Edmund’s domineering persona start to break. But can Charles resist revenge and can a bully like Edmund ever really change?

Many people say that I’m the King of the Castle is a case study in the cruelty that children can inflict on each other. (And kids can be bloody horrid to one another, I was bullied mercilessly by some horrors –who weirdly couldn’t understand why I didn’t want to befriend them on Facebook a few decades later anyway, this isn’t a therapy session for me it’s a review.) In some ways, particularly with Edmund Hopper who I thoroughly enjoyed despising,  that is the case but I think there is a lot more going on with this novel than just that.

In Edmund and Charles I felt Susan Hill creates the typical bully and the typical, and unfortunate, victim. The question it made me ponder were if children are naturally born into those roles in life or if the environment they are brought up in, be it place or how they are treated. Yes that old chestnut, the nature vs. nurture debate. Is Edmund a rotten so and so because he is allowed to be and because his father had a bad relationship with his father? Has Charles been molly coddled by his mother as he has been moved from pillar to post? Is it class? Or were these two boys just born with brains that developed their psyches into such? I can’t answer any of those questions (sorry to all you students hoping to copy and paste, ha, I admire your tenacity though) but it didn’t make me think about them.

A theme I picked up strongly on, and I actually think is the more powerful message from this book (aside from don’t be a bullying menace) is the fact that children are too often not listened to enough. There is the old adage that children should be seen and not heard, this takes that further to a level of neglect or naivety as two parents ignore their children’s thoughts and feelings too busy caught up in their own. Yet how often does this happen in real life? Hill amplifies the expression children hear of ‘not now’ as Mr Hooper and Mrs Kingshaw are blinded by love/lust, or potentially money and status, I could never quite work Mrs Kingshaw out. How is a child left feeling when they aren’t heard?

This is one of Susan Hill’s masterstrokes with I’m the King of the Castle she has an incredible insight and empathy with younger people. Unlike the parents of the piece she doesn’t patronise, simplify or underestimate the lengths that both of these boys, who are polar opposites in character, will go to. She also looks at those moments of pure darkness and those of pure kindness without shying away from them and the effect of all this is quite something.

The boy looked towards the bed. His skin was already dead, he thought, it is old and dry. But he saw that the bones of the eye-sockets, and the nose and jaw, showed through it, and gleamed. Everything about him, from the stubble of hair down to the folded line of sheet, was bleached and grey-ish white.
‘All he looks like,’ Edmund Hooper said, ‘is one of his dead old moths.’

Finally, and most importantly for me, what made me love this novel is that it is overall simply a brilliant dark gothic yarn. It has a grumbling old house complete with collections of old moths, it has a brooding wood, it has an evil cunning child, psychological warfare, vengeful crows, a wicked sense of humour and an ending that will leave you feeling emotionally bruised and with questions that cause a sense of unease to linger on your psyche. It is not a book that wants to be nicely wrapped up and dependent on its reader will leave you feeling hopeful or a small sense of dread at what might come after. I was in the latter category, which probably says quite a lot about me.

Having read it I can completely understand why I’m the King of the Castle has become a modern classic and why it is being taught all around the UK, though I am thinking most parents should be given this around their first child’s ninth birthday too, just as a small warning. Ha! Not only is it a fantastic gothic story, it is one of the best insights into being and understanding a child’s mind that I have read. Yup, even better than Lord of the Flies, possibly because it is on a smaller and I think more intense scale. If you haven’t read it yet then I strongly recommend that you do.

I should add I chose this book for an episode of Hear Read This, if you would like to listen to Rob, Kate, Gavin and my additional thoughts head here. Who else has read I’m the King of the Castle and what did you make of it? Have any of you had to study that and how was it compared to reading it because you just wanted to?



Filed under Books of 2015, Hear... Read This, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review, Susan Hill

The Shadows in the Street – Susan Hill

I mentioned in passing the other day the fact I sadly still have yet to meet Susan Hill who, no pressure, is one of my favourite living writers. I am still waiting for the afternoon tea we once discussed (see comments here). Anyway, it was not seeing her that reminded me I hadn’t reviewed The Shadows in the Streets, the fifth in her Simon Serrailler series which I am devouring slowly as I don’t want them to run out. Susan Hill is one of those authors who seem to be able to turn her hand to any genre, and in her crime novels have become one of my favourites, even if we did have a few bumpy starts, and this was no exception to the rule.

Vintage Books, paperback, 2011, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Lafferton is a city in which the levels of prostitution have been rising. This has not gone unnoticed by the people of the city especially as the girls seem to be grouping closer and closer to the centre of town, possibly due to a rise in younger girls who may have been trafficked in. One person has noticed this in particular and has decided to take advantage of the seeming abundance of women, buy killing them. Initially what seems to be a one off incident is followed by another and it seems Lafferton has a serial killer on its hands, yet it’s most esteemed (well in some circles) Detective, Simon Serrailler, is getting away from it all in the tranquillity of a Scottish island, his peace and quiet is soon to be shattered.

Prostitution and trafficking are two very tricky subjects to handle by any author. There is the danger of adding a moral compass to the subject or in some cases preach about it. Initially I was slightly worried that this may go down that route as Hill introduces a new Dean at Lafferton Cathedral along with his wife, who seems to have some very moralistic opinions of the work of these girls and their effect on the city’s image, I needn’t have feared though. We soon see through Cat Deerbon, the local GP and Simon’s sister, that this woman is not what Lafferton, its cathedral or people want as some kind of pompous vigilante.

In fact The Shadows in the Street really looks at the reasons behind why these women are prostituting through some of its characters. Yes, some of them are doing it for the next fix of a drug, which is often seen as one of the stereotypes, yet why have they got into a situation where they are dependent on drugs? Some of these women end up doing it in the hope for a better life be it through choice, or in some cases not. We see these women’s plight and how some of them manage to gain power and independence through it, whilst some end in a spiralling situation. In every case these are not just nameless one dimensional prostitutes, just as they are one just faceless victims of a murder, these women have their own stories and we empathise with their situation. I found this an incredibly powerful aspect of the novel.

Someone had left a newspaper on the bench. There was a photo of the girl in the green jacket. Missing Prostitute Chantelle Buckley, 17.
Abi looked away. Why did they have to do that? She wasn’t a prostitute first, she was a girl, just a girl, no need to label her. Would they do that to her? Abi Righton, 23, prostitute. She shook her head to clear the words out of it. That wasn’t her, she was Abi Righton, mother of two, Abi Righton any bloody thing, and the same with Chantelle, same with Hayles, same with Marie. Just people.

Of course this is a thriller and designed to be devoured and read addictively offering escapism and chills and thrills. Fret not, if you are worried this is all sounding too heavy, as Susan Hill also provides all these elements, as well as a thought provoking read at the same time. Firstly I should say that I had absolutely no idea who the killer was until just before the very end (just when Hill wanted me to I suspect) when it dawned on me and due to what was going on in the book, which of course I won’t spoil, I got that really sick worried feeling. I was that engrossed. Indeed I was engrossed throughout as Susan Hill seems to know how to make the chapters just the right length and have just the cliff hanger ending that you find yourself saying ‘oh just one more chapter then’ until the whole book is finished. Secondly she also has an incredible power to make a book ever so creepy, as those of you who have read her ghost stories will know, and uses this to great effect to rack up the tension in her thrillers.

He had not overtaken her, he was not someone making quickly for home, with no interest in her. He was there, keeping behind, and nobody else was in sight or earshot. To her left reared up the dark outline of the Hill; to her right, the railings of the park. Houses were on the far side of that – she could not even see any lights, people had gone to bed by now.
She prayed for someone to drive by, for the gnat whine of the scooter, a late-night van, even a police patrol, even just one person walking a dog last thing.
But there was no one, except whoever was now a couple of yards behind her and closing in. She could hear breathing, a soft pant, in and out, in and out. Quiet footsteps. Marie broke into a run. The footsteps behind her quickened too.

The other element I like in the Simon Serrailler series, apart from the lead obviously though he wasn’t in this one that much to be honest, is the way I have come to know his family. I have followed them as relationships have created stronger bonds or had them broken, I have followed births and deaths, love and grief. Not to spoil anything for anyone who might want to start at the beginning (which you will want to do if you are anything like me and need order in your life where you can get it) but in this series how one character deals with grief and how a new incoming member of the family tries to bring two members back together very touching. It adds another level to the series I think.

I really enjoyed The Shadow in the Streets and once again Susan Hill has proved that the Simon Serrailler (who of course is another Simon S so I am bound to like him) series is one which has both those brilliant elements of being gripping and being thought provoking. I am a huge fan of Susan Hill in whatever genre she writes, I do think that with her crime novels we get the best of her literary writing and character driven plots as well as the dark and gothic chilling tones of her ghost stories, a perfect combination.

I am now very keen to read The Betrayal of Trust and see what happens next in Lafferton, before that though I am being very brave and bringing Susan’s modern classic I’m The King of the Castle as my choice for the final episode of the first series of Hear Read This next month, eek – will my co-hosts like it? Will I? Back to Lafferton though, who else is a big fan of the Simon Serrailler series? Who has yet to try it and have I tempted you?


Filed under Review, Susan Hill, Vintage Books

Printer’s Devil Court – Susan Hill

So I thought as it is Halloween and now here in the UK it is all dark and the witching hour approaches I would give you a second special rather apt post about ‘Printer’s Devil Court’, the latest ghost story from Susan Hill. I am sure many, many, many of you will have read ‘The Woman in Black’, which is one of my favourite ghost stories of all time, and then possibly gone on to ‘The Man In The Picture’, ‘The Mist in the Mirror’ (which I have yet to read), ‘The Small Hand’ or ‘Dolly’. Well unlike those other novellas, ‘Printer’s Devil Court’ is rather different as it is a Kindle Single, yes I have finally gone and bought an e-book… I know! More on that later, let us get to the ghostly tale.

Long Barn Books, 2013, Kindle Single, fiction, 44 pages, bought by my good self

Long Barn Books, 2013, Kindle Single, fiction, 44 pages, bought by my good self

As the short story opens we are greeted with a letter from a solicitors to the step son of the late Dr Hugh Meredith containing a manuscript he had written before he died, it is this that makes the tale of ‘Printer’s Devil Court’. It seems Hugh, who had become a country doctor had started his medical learning and career in London sharing  accommodation with James, Rafe and Walter in Mrs Ratchet’s lodgings of ‘Printer’s Devil Court’. Rafe and Walter are a rum pair, Hugh not knowing whether to trust them of not, one night however in trying to bond Rafe and Walter start to discuss doing some extracurricular experiments and research and in a bid to be more popular and liked Hugh foolishly decides to help, the consequences of which will change his life forever.

We have all seen it – the deep coma resembling death. People have been pronounced dead and taken to the mortuary or even to the undertaker and consigned to their coffin, only to have woken again.

I won’t give away any more than that small hint of what may or may not happen as I think it is well worth you going and discovering (especially on a dark night at a mere 99p) yourselves. Obviously it is a ghost story and all I will add is that it uses a rather well documented type of apparition and why such a spectre might appear.

I mentioned in a post earlier today that I love a ghost story that is short, sharp and builds on tension and chills rather than on blood and guts and gore. This is one of those kind of ghost stories, one that slowly chills you as you read and is also both slightly shocking and also quite sad too. I always think ghosts either haunt (yes I do believe in them) because they really loved somewhere or because they simply can’t rest which to me is rather sad. For me it also had elements of ‘The Woman in Black’, the initial solicitors letter, tales told of a night, the unascertainable time period which feels Victorian but could be anytime and the uneasy feeling that builds as you read on. Lovely spooky stuff.

So if you are looking for a quick frightening fix for Halloween or indeed just for the darker nights of you fancy a chilling thrill, then I would advise you to get your hands on ‘Printer’s Devil Court’. I am really hoping that Susan Hill will now release a few of these over the forthcoming months/year and then, and here I might have to cross my fingers for a very long time, we might just get a collection of Susan Hill’s ghostly tales in the years to come. Wouldn’t that be lovely?


Filed under Kindle Single, Long Barn Books, Review, Susan Hill

The Savidge Reads Hall of Fame… Susan Hill

Time to introduce my second author into the rather grandly titled, even though it’s not, Savidge Reads Hall of Fame. Susan Hill is an author I have only been reading a little bit longer than I have been blogging, her first Simon Serrailler crime novel was actually my first post and set of book thoughts ever posted on the blog though it wasn’t the first that I had read of hers. Over the last seven or eight years I have been bowled over by how prolific and diverse a writer Susan Hill is, though I think I might be a little bit scared of her if I had the pleasure of meeting her in real life, and so she has become one of my favourite authors – and I still have lots of her books yet to read.

The first book I read by her was‘The Woman in Black’ all those years ago in 2003 believe it or not.

The reason that I initially read her was…  I had been to see ‘The Woman in Black’ for the first time at the theatre for a journalist press trip for a spooky Halloween feature and was completely spellbound (and absolutely petrified) and so I wanted to read the book behind the play and I loved it as much if not more. The rest, as they say, is history.

The reason that she has become one of my favourite authors, and I would recommend them, is… I think it would be the diverse nature of Susan Hill’s work, and I am aware with books like ‘I’m the King of the Castle’ ahead of me there is more to come. You have the wonderful Simon Serrailler series (another SS, always a fan of those ha) which fall under the crime genre, so thrill and have pace, and yet also give a real insight into the human condition. You also have her wonderfully atmospheric ghost stories and of course a huge diverse range of literary novels and short story collections, what more could you ask for in a favourite author. I also like the fact they all have a sense of darkness to them, or the ones I have read so far have had anyway. Am I allowed to say that whilst sometimes I may not agree with what she says I do love the fact that she is outspoken, I bet she is fascinating to have a chat with.

My favourite of her novels so far has been… Probably ‘The Woman in Black’ so far but I really like the Simon Serrailler series, even if I did have a bumpy start with them. I must also mention her non-fiction Howard’s End is on the Landing’ which is a wonderful, wonderful book about books, the power they have and the joy they are, writing and being a bit of a book hoarder if we are honest (no offense Susan, the best of us are I believe). You can also see when I reviewed it Susan left a lovely comment, we haven’t met up for tea and cakes yet though, ha!

If there was one of her works I had a wobble with, it would have to be… I gave up on the first Serrailler novel ‘The Various Haunts of Men’ the first time I tried it as I felt I was getting anything but a murder (nearly 100 pages in and no murder had been done) and that was what I wanted reading wise at the time. The second time though I came back to it with the knowledge that you get more than just murder and crime with the series. That said I almost fell out with them again at the end of ‘The Pure in Heart’ because of the ending which almost made me throw the book across the room (and I think that is why I didn’t write about it on here)… however in hindsight, and after calming down, I thought it was very clever. I can’t say why though for spoilers.

The most recent one of her novels that I read was… ‘Dolly’, her latest ghost story which I reviewed yesterday, and I think it is probably my second favourite of her ghost stories. It has that slight Victorian/Edwardian feeling about it and the ghostly tales of old. Wonderful autumnal night reading.

The next of Susan Hill’s works I am planning on reading is… Really it should be ‘I’m the King of the Castle’ because I don’t think you are meant to call yourself a Susan Hill fan if you haven’t read it, though I have to say that I might give her third novel ‘Gentlemen and Ladies’ a try soon. It is the oldest of her novels I have, though if anyone would like to buy me a copy of her debut novel ‘The Enclosure’ for the bargain price of around £100 that would go to the top of my TBR without hesitation. Actually all that said I am very behind with the Simon Serrailler series so maybe ‘The Shadows in the Street’ next?

What I would love her to do next is… If I could get Susan Hill to write anything next it would have to be a massive doorstop of a Victorian sensation novel with all the mystery, murder, ghostly revenge and asylums you could wish for. That, I think, would be amazing.

You can see a full list of Susan Hill’s works on the Savidge Reads Hall of Fame page, a special page on the blog especially for my favourite authors and links to the books of theirs I have read and reviewed and the ones I haven’t as yet. This will encourage me to read all the books by my favourite authors and may lead you to some new authors if you like most of the ones that I like, if that makes sense. There are some rules though, but you can find more of those on the Hall of Fame page.

So who else is a Susan Hill fan? Which of her novels have you read and loved? Are you a Serrailler, literary or spooky Susan Hill fan, or like me a fan of all three?


Filed under Savidge Reads Hall of Fame, Susan Hill

Dolly – Susan Hill

It is always nice when you discover a book is coming out by one of your favourite authors that you had no idea about. In this particular instance it was even more exciting when the author herself, for it was Susan Hill, tells you so in a tweet. I had just tweeted about how excited I was about her latest Simon Serrailler novel ‘A Question of Identity’ coming out when she replied ‘you just wait for my new ghost story ‘Dolly’’ well I was of course both intrigued and thrilled. Firstly a new ghost story is always good and just from the sounds of the title alone, and the images it conveyed, I was really, really, really excited to read ‘Dolly’.

Profile Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 192 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Having been a big fan of both Susan Hill and her ghost stories, ‘The Woman in Black’ being one of my favourite ghost stories and books of all time, there was a slight worry with ‘Dolly’ that I might hype it up too much in my head. I needn’t have worried as I think ‘Dolly’ might be one of the uneasiest and creepiest stories I have read all year, and indeed in some time since I re-read the aforementioned ‘The Women in Black’ itself.

‘Dolly’ is set in the British Fens, a marshland South Western region perfect for a ghost story, as two cousins, previously unknown to each other, come and stay with their Aunt Kestrel for a period during their childhood. It is Edward, not his cousin Leonora, who tells us the tale of the uneasy and creepy things which happened in his aunts rambling old manor, Iyot House, over this time and how they lingered well into the future. These of course concern themselves with a doll or indeed two actually, though how I will not say as with all good ghost stories you should have absolutely no idea where the story is going and where the unease lies hidden in the pages awaiting you.

I can tell you though that ‘Dolly’ is a crackingly good ghost story. It is not one of utter jumps and horrors, it is far subtler than that and actually reminded of the great Edwardian and Victorian tales of mystery and unease (can I use the word unease any more?) where is isn’t just ghosts that can be scary, objects indeed can be supernatural too as can the ordinary if it has just a hint of the extraordinary  or unusual. Here we have what is really quite a traditional tale of a spooky old house with a rather creepy young girl, doll and a housemaid (Mrs Mullen is a little bit Danvers-esque, which of course I loved) but as Susan Hill herself has said “some of the traditional ingredients rarely fail – the old, isolated house, the churchyard – but best be sparing. One small hint, a shadow, one rustling sound and you can have the reader in your power.” And indeed in the case of ‘Dolly’ she does just that.

Having thought about it I think that ‘Dolly’ might just be my favourite of Susan Hill’s ghost stories so far after ‘The Woman in Black’ and interestingly they do share some of the same ingredients, yes the old house is very important as a device, as are the marshes and a good graveyard, we also have a sensetive male narrator and ‘Dolly’ also has that feel of timelessness about it. You can’t quite place when it is set, there are cars and in the ‘current’ narrative there is indeed facelifts and plastic surgery but it feels like a period where they just came in and so the main story in the past tense has that Victorian edge to it. Yet I should add here that is doesn’t feel like a carbon copy or ghost story by numbers, it’s quite a story of its own and I loved it. It definitely gave me the chills and unease I was hoping for.

If that doesn’t make you want to rush out and read it then try this brilliant trailer out for size (no more video’s for a while)…

Has anyone else read ‘Dolly’ yet and if so what did you think? If you haven’t and you fancy something creepy for the autumn nights then I heartily recommend you pick this up.


Filed under Books of 2012, Profile Books, Review, Susan Hill

The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper To Read – Susan Hill

As anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time will know, I am a big fan of Susan Hill’s works. Therefore when I spotted ‘The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read’ at the library, a title I hadn’t been aware of before (and isn’t it a brilliant title), I snapped it up. It wasn’t until I got home that I realised it was a collection of short stories.

Before I talk about the collection I should explain the slightly eccentric way I read short stories. Firstly I don’t read them like I would a novel, not just because of the order (which I will come to in a moment) I read it but because I might read one and not another for a few days or read three separately in one day by whim and one every evening after – there’s no rules. I also don’t read them in the order they have been put (apologies to the authors and editors who probably put a lot of time and thought into this) in the collection. I read the longest first followed by the shortest, then I read them in order except I always leave the title tale until the very end. The theory behind this last part is that the title tale is probably the best and leaves the book on a high note for me, it maybe this tale also reflects the overall feeling of a collection, though by no means always the case. Now that’s out the way I can get on with telling you how I felt about this collection and possibly the reasons why…

Chatto and Windus, hardback, 2003, fiction, 224 pages, short stories, borrowed from the library

If I were to go with an overall theme of ‘The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read’ it would be death and loss. This therefore gives the whole book a rather melancholic tone. It’s not a gloomy collection but it’s not all singing and dancing (yes, that’s a nod to her 1974 collection of short stories I have in Mount TBR). What we have is therefore a collection of tales at often pivotal, and emotional points in characters lives, their current situation or circumstances having been caused, in the main, being through deaths to varying degrees.

Because I started with ‘Father, Father’ and ‘Sand’ I think I was a little wrong footed from the off if I am honest. Both these stories of of mothers deaths and the effect on the daughter and unfortunately felt like the same story only one had been elongated. Therefore when I read ‘Elizabeth’ which once more brought up mothers and daughters I put the book down for a while. I am glad I returned though as after this hiccup, mainly my fault for reading in the wrong order I am sure, the stories became more varied and I started to get sucked into the atmosphere and tone of the book further.

You see the tales ‘The Punishment’, ‘The Brooch‘ and ‘Moving Messages’ reminded me that Susan Hills writing has a certain quiet brooding about it, this is also the case in both her Simon Serrailer crime series and famous ghost stories yet because they are longer there is a meatier side too, and sometimes with these short stories this is done so delicately that initially you think ‘and?’ but should you take some time out and have some space from them and the characters, atmospheres and settings they grow on you somewhat. ‘Need’ with its circus setting did this particularly well.

The last two stories I read had the most punch, maybe they felt the most modern and almost instantly had an overflowing number of things to say? The last story in the collection ‘Antonyin’s’ (the only story set outside England) confused me initially, as a man and woman unknown to each other sit in a restaurant day after day staring until she asks him to marry her, but the twist that came moved me. The title tale of ‘The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read’ was the one that blew me away. It’s not the longest, in some ways it’s the most simple of ideas – a young boy living in a mansion befriends ‘the staff’ and teaches him to read yet how long can this friendship last, actually choked me up and it  has resonated with me the most since, and not just because I read it last.

I cannot say ‘The Boy Who Taught The Beekeeper to Read’ is the best short story collection I’ve ever read because some of it was a little too short, a little too quiet and peeter out too quickly but overall it’s beautifully written and in parts packs an emotional punch amongst its brooding nature. Some people may find its quiet style a little old fashioned, I liked this, but regardless I would urge everyone to read this collection for the title story alone. I think it could become one of my favourite short stories and shows just why I am such a fan of Susan Hill’s writing overall.


Filed under Book Thoughts, Review, Short Stories, Susan Hill

Mrs De Winter – Susan Hill

I think any classic novel is going to hard to write the sequel of, and especially one which has become a cult classic so close to the hearts of so many readers like ‘Rebecca’ has. There is the worry of revisiting those tales and those characters and them not being quite the same, a concern made all the greater when the writer of the sequel isn’t the person who wrote the original book. This is the predicament with ‘Mrs De Winter’ where the author, and one I am a big fan of, Susan Hill takes the characters and the story that was left behind from ‘Rebecca’ and tries to take it forward and breath life into it again. I was worried, I had seen several really bad reviews, and some rather good ones, so I admit that I did start the book with trepidation. Oh, before we go any further, if you haven’t read ‘Rebecca’ then maybe come back and see this post when you have, there may be some spoilers ahead.

Vintage, paperback, 1999, fiction, 304 pages, from my personal TBR

‘Mrs De Winter’ finds us once again with our unnamed narrator and her husband Maxim De Winter. They have returned after ten years of living on the continent for a funeral. Who is the funeral of? Well I actually don’t want to tell you that, let’s just say that it brings them back to England a place our narrator misses and Maxim does not. There is then the conflict of should they stay or should they go, before they decide they might stay. Only staying brings the past back to haunt them and ghosts, both supernatural and simply of memories from the past, that they thought had vanished long ago start to return to haunt them. That is really as much as I can say without giving any spoilers. It’s not helpful really is it, sorry. I bet you are all wondering what happened to Mrs Danvers too, I know that was the possible aspect of the story I was most excited about.

Susan Hill has the gothic atmosphere spot on, mind you I would have expected that after reading some of her wonderful ghost stories, its all very dark and the mystery slowly builds up. Her prose is rich and descriptive, if occasionally a little too descriptive. Whilst I loved the painting of the pictures of the English countryside, which our nameless narrator never seems to shut up about in this novel, I didnt need pages and pages about the scents in the air, the many varied different ways to describe the shades of autumn. It was beautiful, but it wasn’t why I had picked up a sequel to ‘Rebecca‘. I wanted ghosts and plot twists, I wanted that page turning element and the threads of dread to start, and after about 80 or so pages they did.
In fact it is when visiting the grave of the recently departed that our narrator (I do wish Daphne had given her a name now so I didnt keep having to type ‘nameless narrator’ over and over again) discoveres a huge, elaborate wreath with that infamous single letter ‘R’ that i did actually get that tingle of dread and the excitement of ‘ooh here we go again’. This is where Hill excels with this novel, there are some wonderful ‘uh-oh’ moments as we go along, its just a shame that rather than panicking and going mad (like I might), our narrator seems to stop in her tracks to have a look around and describe every thing instead. Yet, actually going back to Daphne, as I have been of late, I had forgotten how much the landscape and thesurrounding matter and are mentioned in her work. In that case ‘Mrs De Winter’ fits the bill completely and it is more my impatience as a reader to find out what was going on that was at fault. Maybe.
I do think, and this is one thing I completely disagree with that Susan Hill seems to be most critisised for having read the reviews after finishing the book, that she got the voice of the narrator spot on. She is a bit of a drip, lets be honest, she was in the first book and she continues to be in this one. In ten years she could have matured but she is married to Maxim who is almost insistant that she stays innocent naive and childlike. Plus she does get put through the mental wringer and I think that would make any one become a bit of a victim to be honest.
Sorry that this seems a rambling and rather inconclusive set of thoughts on ‘Mrs De Winter’. You see I do love Susan Hill’s writing, and I do love how she can weave a ghost story. I actually don’t think I could imagine anyone else being a more perfect writer, for me at least, to write the sequel. The only problem is I am not really sure what my thoughts on these sequels are. I think the fact that this is deemed ‘the sequel’ to ‘Rebecca’ is the problem. Change the name of the characters and the mentions of Manderlay and I think I would have loved this a lot more, though I really enjoyed it because it wouldnt have had the hype of the original attached to it.
To summarise (finally, I hear you cry) I really enjoyed ‘Mrs De Winter’, its a haunting and atmospheric tale, I just wish it wasn’t a sequel to such a famous novel and instead had been a story all of its own right. That might not make sense, or been seen as a cop out, but its the truth as I see it.


Filed under Review, Susan Hill, Vintage Books

The Small Hand – Susan Hill

The problem with a self imposed book buying ban is that you forget that some of your favourite authors might have books coming out. Imagine how my initial excitement about ‘The Small Hand’ being Susan Hill’s latest ghost story and coming out this autumn (the perfect time for ghost stories) and then the frustration of knowing I would be unable to get my mitts on it. Imagine then my puzzlement when I received an email from the Book Depository thanking me for having ordered it! Was this some ghostly small hand of fraud at work? No, it was The Converted One who had put my email address as a contact when secretly ordering this treat.

Adam Snow, an antiquarian book dealer, narrates the tales of his dealings in ‘The Small Hand’ after one night journeying back from a client he decides to take the back quieter routes ‘through the Downs’  on his commute back to London only to discover himself completely lost. Eventually he happens upon a drive way and a sign saying  ‘garden closed’ and knowing there must be some kind of large house he decides this would be the best place to find directions. The house he discovers however is in a mild state of dereliction yet it seems he is not alone for as he turns back to the car a small hand takes hold of his only no one is with him.

After his first bemusement to what takes place and dismissal as his imagination due to the atmosphere things start to take a turn for the more sinister when Adam starts to become gripped by fear for no apparent reason. Initially thinking this must be some kind of series of panic attacks he becomes more concerned when on a trip abroad he starts to see things and a presence seems to be dragging him closer and closer to danger when ever it can find opportunity. I shall leave it there because if I give any more away I would say too much and part of the joy of this book, and the chilling factors too, is the fact that things happen when you aren’t expecting them too and there is an interesting back story and good few twists that all add to the experience it wouldn’t do to ruin.

You might have guessed that I did really enjoy this book. I curled up with it on a Saturday evening when it had gone dark and I had the house all to myself. I can report that it had the desired effect too as the random house noises I don’t normally notice started to make me jump.  I think it’s in part the fact the story is in first person and so you read on as if it is happening to you. In the main I think it’s all down to Susan Hill’s writing and the atmosphere she subtly builds as the story goes on. Its not a book that scares you like a sudden ’BOO’ would, its one that initially chills and then builds and builds on that. I also loved that in making Adam Snow an antiquarian book dealer books feature heavily and for a book lover that’s an additional bonus.

A book that will: make the perfect companion for a dark autumnal night, especially if you are all alone. 9/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill – This to me is still my favourite of Susan Hill’s ghostly tales and one of my all time favourite ghostly tales and books in general.
The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins – I can’t quite believe I missed this out when I was talking of great ghost stories the other day. This is a brilliant dark Victorian ghost story with some wonderful characters and a brilliant villainess.

In fact if Susan Hill ever reads this could I please request that the next ghost story or the one after that is a Victorian tale with a truly wicked villainess set in foggy London? Ha, ha, can you imagine it?  It would be amazing! So which of Susan Hill’s ghostly tales have you read? Has anyone read ‘The Mist in the Mirror’ it’s the only one I haven’t gotten around to yet, though will now have to savour it. Which other ghostly tales do you love? Anthology recommendations would be wonderful to find out about – hint, hint!


Filed under Books of 2010, Profile Books, Review, Susan Hill

The Beacon – Susan Hill

Sorry for a slightly later post than normal, I actually thought I had scheduled this post to go and have only just noticed now that it hasn’t gone up. I think my brain might be slightly frazzled from the lurgy I had and a very belated spring clean to beat all spring cleans that have gone before it, and yes that includes a book cull. With the lurgy I always find I want comfortable reads or shorter ones and so I turned to a favourite author for some sickness solace and picked up ‘The Beacon’ by Susan Hill.

I have to say I love Susan Hill’s ghost stories and her Simon Serrailler crime series, her other fiction I haven’t really tried so much but with ‘The Beacon’ I was very pleased to see this is still Susan Hill on full form. I am not quite sure why I might have thought otherwise; maybe it was the fact in a way I was headed into the unknown. ‘The Beacon’ is a family drama with a difference as like a lot of Hill’s fiction, that I have read so far anyway, at the darker side of life which gives an edge to the whole novella.

As the book opens we meet May Prime who has been looking after her sick mother in the family home ‘The Beacon’ a farm in the middle of nowhere but very near a village where everyone knows you business. However when May leaves the room for some air comes back to find her mother has died. The doctor later says people often wait to die when they are alone which I had never heard before, I always thought it was only dogs and cats that did that? I digress, as May looks back over her life and indeed the family life of The Primes as a unit the tale of her siblings Colin, Berenice and particularly brother Frank starts to slowly emerge. Only hinted at from the beginning we come to learn that Frank is an unusual child, almost an outcast Prime by choice, and that as the book goes one something dark and shocking is awaiting us. What that is I would love to share, as I could discuss it till the cows come home, however you need to read the book knowing nothing to really get the benefit of all that comes after.

I am always in awe of any authors who can weave great tales, especially if they have dark twists and turns, in very few pages and draw them fully as if you had read a 700 page book instead. ‘The Beacon’, for me at least, is one such book. The characters are defined by minor actions; the sibling’s characters become all the more apparent as May reveals their childhoods, reactions to their mother’s death then enhance them. The fact you feel you have lived May’s life with her, in a matter of fifty pages, leading up to her mother’s death I thought was most impressive. Death is also a large theme in the book not only in its physicality but also in the emotions a death leaves behind be they grief, freedom or even both.

If you haven’t read Susan Hill before I think this might just be the book to give a try. In just over 150 pages she creates a fantastic story and shows her ability to create great character, atmosphere, tension and a twist or two. If you don’t like it, which I would find hard to imagine, then you have only spent an hour or two on the book – it really is that quick to read, I couldn’t put it down. Its also the kind of book you will be thinking about long after you have shut the final page.

A book that will; grab you in from the start, possibly shock you and leave you thinking. 9/10

Savidge suggests perfect prose partners;

A Start in Life by Anita Brookner – I wouldn’t naturally put Hill and Brookner together probably because I have spent most of my time reading ‘spooky Hill’ or ‘thriller Hill’ but there was something about May’s story that resonated with me in the same way Ruth did in ‘A Start in Life’ though their backgrounds are nothing alike.
The Driver’s Seat by Muriel Spark – If you haven’t tried many novella’s I think this might be my very favourite so far. Like with ‘The Beacon’ this is a book with a rather dark heart, that catches you out when you least expect it.

What novels of Susan Hill’s have any of you read? Which ones have you loved? What other great novella’s can you recommend, as they are sometimes something that I struggle with?


Filed under Books of 2010, Chatto & Windus, Review, Susan Hill

The Vows of Silence – Susan Hill

After reading something a little out there for me as my first read of 2010 and before I headed into the wonderfully bizarre world of Murakami I thought I would go with a book I could almost guarantee would be a straight forward read that I would enjoy. What could be better than the latest offering in a crime series you love, though as you may have seen yesterday the next one is almost out as Susan Hill is bringing out Simon Serrailler for his fifth outing. Back to his forth outing though with my latest read and a read that gave me a reaction I wasn’t expecting.

Susan Hill writes good crime, simple as, and ‘The Vows of Silence’ proves this once again. In the town of Lafferton a gunman is terrorising the inhabitant’s lives, with a particular penchant for younger women. Who is this killer and why is he killing what the police believe are random victims. You as the reader are party to the killer’s thoughts as these are interspersed within the chapters of the lives of the victims, though you are not aware who the killer is, unless you follow the clues very carefully. The fact that Susan Hill lets you get to know the victims in these novels adds an emotional twist, a particular murder of a single mother I found quite harrowing to read. I cared that she died; she wasn’t just another body in a crime novel. That in part is what makes this series special.

By this novel, the fourth instalment so far, we are getting to know Simon Serrailler better though having said that he still remains some what of an enigma, maybe its more we know the people around him and their reactions and thoughts of him. We know his family, co-workers and the few people of Lafferton that he socialises with, unless of course Susan Hill kills them off and these books do have a high death toll, this one being no exception. In fact is was one story about one of the main characters partners becoming terminally ill which actually pushed me over the edge and made me weep, seriously a crime novel having that effect!

This latest in the series I think is the most stand alone of the books since the The Various Haunts of Men the first in the series and the first book I ever blogged about.  You could read the rest alone the latter two, The Pure in Heart (which I cannot believe I have never reviewed on here, but I haven’t) and The Risk of Darkness are quite linked though I shall give no more away. In this book we meet some new faces, I thoroughly enjoyed the story of Helen and Phil even if there is a tragic end, and a face from the past comes back into Simon’s life. Like any other back stories you will find yourself soon up to scratch though in my humble opinion I would read them in order as it will hit you harder emotionally. It was the emotional force of some of this book that I wasn’t prepared for; either that or I am getting softer and weepier in my old age.

This is a great series and so far I think, though it could be because it’s the most recent one that I have read, this is my favourite of the series. It’s a gripping and psychological thriller that has a very tender heart in the centre of it. I don’t know of many books in the genre like that other than another of my favourite authors the wonderful Kate Atkinson. I am already looking forward to the next Serrailler book and have of course added it onto my wish list, its out in a few months, not that I am hinting.

Have you read any of the Serrailler series? What other crime series would you recommend that can grip you with its thrills and its heart?


Filed under Review, Susan Hill, Vintage 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?


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?


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

Gran Needs Your Book Thoughts…

Before ‘Granny Savidge Reads’, or just Gran as she likes to be called, answers your questions later in the week (you still have today to go here and leave one or two) she has a favour to ask of you. As the year draws to a close one of the book groups that my Gran is in get to vote for the books for next year. This is one of the U3A groups not the MAD Book Group (which is named because they are in the Matlock and District… not because they are all mad, on the whole) which she founded.  There is a list of books and the members vote for favourite twelve from the list.

Gran and I thought it would be nice, as well as interesting, if you could help recommend which ones you think would be great for the group and which ones you would avoid. I have naturally already thrown in my tuppence worth, so now over to you. The ones in italics are the ones Gran has already read, but do recommend them more if you think fit.

  • The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga
  • The Yacoubian Building – Alaa Al Aswany
  • Black Diamonds – Catherine Bailey
  • Border Crossing – Pat Barker
  • Villette – Charlotte Bronte
  • Restless – William Boyd
  • Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey
  • The Short Stories – Anton Chekhov
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke
  • The Shieling – David Constantine  
  • The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai
  • Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
  • Alicia’s Gift – Jennifer Duchen
  • Last Train from Liguria – Christine Dwyer Hickey
  • Engleby – Sebastian Faulks
  • Human Traces – Sebastian Faulks
  • Is There Anything You Want – Margaret Forster
  • The Man in the Wooden Hat – Jane Gardam
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  • Peeling The Onion – Gunther Grass
  • The Believers – Zoe Heller
  • The Beacon – Susan Hill
  • The Quiet Girl – Peter Hoeg
  • The True Deceiver – Tove Jansson
  • Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow – Jerome K Jerome
  • The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver
  • The Other Side of the Bridge – Mary Lawson
  • La’s Orchestra Saves the World – Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Road – Cormac McCarthy
  • Great Fortunes – Olivia Manning
  • The Glass Room – Simon Mawer
  • Things My Mother Never Told Me – Blake Morrison
  • The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The Reader – Bernhard Schlink
  • The Stone Diaries – Carol Shields
  • Tales from a Travellers Life – John Simpson
  • Glassblower of Murano – Marianne Siorato
  • The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale
  • Love and Summer – William Trevor
  • Miss Garnetts Angel – Salley Vickers
  • The Night Watch – Sarah Waters
  • They Were Sisters – Dorothy Whipple
  • Proust and the Squid – Marianne Wolf

So that’s the lot. I haven’t put any pictures in today’s post as you might be swayed. I know I was when I saw some of the covers of the books that I had never heard of. Gran and I are very much looking forward to all your thoughts, so do get responding.


Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Aravind Adiga, Barbara Kingsolver, Bernhard Schink, Book Group, Book Thoughts, Cormac McCarthy, Salley Vickers, Sarah Waters, Susan Hill, William Trevor

Howards End is on the Landing – Susan Hill

I don’t think that I have seen a book so written about on so many blogs in the space of a week or two as I have with Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill. This should be, if everyone who goes and reads book blogs then goes out and buys it, a huge hit and rightly so. As soon as I saw it and read about the premise I knew it would be a book that I simply HAD to read. Mind you as a fan of the works of Susan Hill  I would have bought it regardless (knowing she would divulge her Top 40 books and give me more “reading musts” pushed me over the edge – don’t tell my bank manager) of what was inside it, the fact it’s a book about books would only go and make me want it even more. Then there is the wonderful title, and then there is the cover! Ok Simon get on with it…

When one day Susan Hill was searching for a book she knew she owned and wanted to read she realised that she couldn’t find it and instead found lots of books that she owned but hadn’t read. From this spawned the book Howards End is on the landing. After that small event Susan Hill decided that for one year she would give up buying any new books and simply read the books that she already owned in her house and what a collection that turns out to be. She also gave up blogging and limited her time on the internet in order to be further away from distraction. The only clause to was the arrival of books for reviewing and ones for research purposes.

However the journey wasn’t just finding books she hadn’t read and wondering why, it also took her through all the books she had read and some of the memories those books brought back and so we also get in a way Susan Hill’s literary memoirs. Whilst she is talking about some of the great reads and authors through her life we are occasionally given snippets of how her life has changed as her career has progressed and some of the famous authors that she has met and interacted with, if not face to face through letters etc, so far. It’s an insightful and very interesting look into all things literary be they behind closed literary doors or just on the shelves in her Small Dark Den.

What the book also did for me was make me think a lot. I didn’t whizz through the book like I thought I would, it actually made my head buzz with so many rich book thoughts I had to put it down on several occasions and digest everything that I had just read. How could Susan have not read 1984, how could she not love Jane Austen (though I myself have had trouble – isn’t it the law of reading to love Jane?), how can you dip in and out of multiple books? How could I have not read Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Jane Howard or Elizabeth Bowen? It frustrated me I didn’t have Susan sat opposite me so I could ask her lots of questions and debate all the answers over some tea and cakes for a few hours. Oh to dream!

So where is the negative? There isn’t really any… two sections that didn’t agree with me so much were the parts on Sebald and poetry, which I read of course, though not being a fan of either subject they didn’t set me alight like the rest of the book did. I loved hearing about Iris Murdoch though didn’t agree with the comment that Murdoch has currently been forgotten, I have read a few of her books in the last few years and I know of others of my generation (am not being ageist) that have. However disagreeing is different from disliking.

In fact there were a few things that I disagreed with Susan on such as girls reading more than boys, not this boy they don’t and not likely another Simon I can think of…  maybe is it a Simon thing, ha? That statement doesn’t mean we read more than any girl out there but we both read fairly prolifically. I also cannot bare the idea of writing in a book, getting one signed for myself or my Gran maybe, but writing in one is like spine cracking and page corner turning (dog earring?), and makes me wince at the sacrilege. This isn’t negative though the fact that I didn’t agree with Susan (we are now on first name terms in my head because of this book just so you know) actually what it showed was that I was thinking and not falling under the illusion some people may have, that this is some sort of guide on how to read or what to read. It’s not. It’s a book by a prolific and, in my opinion, wonderful author… that doesn’t mean because I love all her books I will love all her views.  

Indeed a comment the delightful Claire of Paperback Reader left yesterday highlights this exact thing. She said when thinking that this would be one of my top books of the year, which it is, “then you are probably not going to like my blog post” but why not? I like Claire’s blog, and having met her in person at book group I like her too, but we aren’t always going to agree on certain books after all that would be be a bit dull wouldn’t it? 

If people have a different opinion that’s great, have you noticed book groups flounder when everyone feels the same way about a book? As long as people can back up with the whys behind them not liking a book rather than just ‘I hated it’ then I am happy to debate, thats what comes with blogging. The debate makes it more interesting and I had this, only one way, between myself and this book. In fact I used Susan’s opinions whether I agreed with them or not to think about mine, so a thought provoking read too.

This is this just the sort of debate that we have on blogs in fact you will see from the picture below that I made many, many notes (there are two more pages I didn’t get a snap of). In fact maybe this is why the blogosphere is so full of chatter about this book, in a way its like a collection of exceptionally well written blog posts (I am not sure if Susan would approve of that or not – though am glad her blog is back) that are already inspiring some posts and hopefully some debates for the future on this blog.

Notes on HEiotL

Now that I have read it I haven’t put it on my shelves instead its sat on my bedside table as I think this is a book that I may ‘dip in and out of’ it (something until this book would have seemed wrong but am giving it a go – am also taking more of Susan’s advice as you will see in tomorrow’s post) in the future weeks and months. I think it’s a book that as my reading life goes on and changes, so will my thought to it and relation ship with it. This book certainly won’t be going on my shelves and being lost and forgotten. I only have one question left… just what book was Susan Hill originally looking for?


Filed under Books About Books, Books of 2009, Profile Books, Review, Susan Hill