Category Archives: The Prose Practise

The Prose Practice Returns; Help Aunty Alice…

So after a three year hiatus I have decided to bring back The Prose Practice, a place where readers can bring their ills, concerns and questions to which I try and be helpful and you all end up being much, much more helpful. Oddly this has nothing to do with me having been sick as a pig (where does that phrase come from?) for a week, it just seemed timely. When this occasional series was in force back in 2010/11 we tried to help many a reader with very important questions like; which books are best for book groups, is there another ‘One Day’ and most importantly (and my favourite yet)… Where are all the novels about lonely men in cardigans?

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In short this is a place for any queries about books you might have, from an awkward relative (nothing to do with this post honest) you want to buy for? Any books with a specific recommendation you are having horrors hunting down? Anything really.

What inspired me with this post is that my lovely aunty Alice, who I never call aunty for varying reasons, randomly asked me about some bookish advice. Actually she didn’t ask in person, she’s become all technological and so asked me on Facebook – how modern! Now Alice likes a book, like most of the Savidge’s though not to the extent of myself and my mother perhaps, but she would like some specific recommendations. Very specific…

Hello bookworm, recommendations please. Am thinking thriller type gripping page turner, nothing too violent with proper good plot twists. Can you help?

Now, as it happens I could do with your help on this one as all I could think of to recommend was the oh-so-obvious but oh-so-brilliant Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and anything by Sophie Hannah. All my other recommendations would have had too much gore or too much ‘full on’ murder. I think Alice doesn’t mind a murder, just wants one that has happened or doesn’t happen in the view of the readers eyes. I wanted to recommend Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty, but I haven’t actually read it, just heard lots of marvellous stuff about it.

So, go on… What book or books would you recommend for Aunty Alice, and also possibly for me?

P.S If you have a bothersome bookish conundrum do email me and maybe we can answer it.

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The Prose Practice – Is There Another ‘One Day’ Out There?

The other day I had a direct book recommendation question which I thought you could all help me with. I do find it very odd when people I weren’t aware had read my blog and then ask me in the flesh for a recommendation of something to read next. I tend to go a bit flustered and then my mind goes blank.

This happened the other day when one of my aunties friends had read ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls then gone to look up some reviews of it and had happened across mine (which is the most popular post on Savidge Reads ever so far – random). It seemed we were on a complete wave length with the book and so she wondered if I could recommend any other books like it that she would love just as much.

Initially I thought ‘ooh that’s easy’ but actually it’s really not. I do think ‘One Day’ is a book rather unlike many I have read. Some people have labelled it chick-lit by a man, which I think under sells it to be honest and I would rather call it an accessible page turning modern classic. So my initial list included such titles as ‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy and ‘The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks’ by Rebecca Skloot however they only have the fact they are wonderfully written books that kept me reading spellbound into the early hours like ‘One Day’ did. They aren’t another ‘One Day’ really, but then again is there one? Or do I recommend something that’s really a modern love story, which is of course rather serendipitous being the day today is.

So I am now thinking that I should come up with three lists and of course I will need your help with this. We all love recommending books to someone who is keen to read lots after all don’t we? I am aware that some of you haven’t read ‘One Day’ (if you haven’t then you simply must) but you can join in two as I have three sort of books I am looking for, which are;

  • Can you recommend accessible well written page turners be they fiction or non, ones that kept you glued to your book until the small hours, made you miss stops on public transport, late for work and the whole outside world disappear?
  • Are there any other books that are like ‘One Day’? Would any of the other David Nicholls books have the same effect on a reader?
  • What are the best modern love stories?

So let’s show some love and lovely recommendations on this loving day for a new book lover. I know you will come up with some great reads and as ever I am as interested in your responses as my aunties friend will be when I pass them on. Much love to you all for joining in!

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Funny But Substantial Fiction – The Prose Practice

The other dayI received some direct messages from Twitter all the way from Austin, Texas which were asking for some reading suggestions, and as I was both slightly stumped and intrigued in the idea of such a genre I thought I would have it as the latest Prose Practice problem so that all of you could help me and a dear reader out. So the question was this (I have turned what became a chat into a question)…

Dear Simon,

I am looking for some good light reading to cleanse the palate between ‘heavy’ books, ideally funny but substantial. I don’t really have anything like that at the moment and could do with some recommendations please. Dry wit might do?

David

Now initially I thought this would be really easy but then two factors came into play. The first was, well what do you like reading heavy or not, the second was what really funny reading? The first David answer by telling me he really likes ‘everything from the classics to modern classics like Forster to Raymond Carver and Kundra’. The second part I am stuck on because actually I don’t often read funny books, or if I do they aren’t that substantial, and so David has kindly highlighted a question I have often pondered and not yet asked on Savidge Reads. You can bet its something that I quite fancy giving a whirl… I am not too great at farce, but funny and substantial appeals to me.

So today I have a simply question for you, can you please recommend some ‘funny but substantial’ books to a pondering reader… and also to a pondering blogger? Am I right in hazarding a guess that Howard Jacobson would fit this genre or is that misplaced?

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The Prose Practice – Cracking Christmas Reads

I was actually rather thrilled when I received an email from Philippa earlier this week with a rather timely reading conundrum for Christmas which I am sure you can all help her with. I was going to add that this is the season of good will after all but you are always so helpful anyway, so without further ado I shall hand you over to Philippa and her prose problem…

Dear Simon,
I know that it’s a little late in the day as Christmas will be here in less than a week, but there are still some shopping days left, yet I was wondering if you and your lovely readers could come up with some fantastic Christmas reads for me to make my way through over the festive period. I don’t have children and this year it’s actually just me, my sister and my Mum and we are all planning on reading lots by the fire. We all have very eclectic tastes and wondered what you could suggest that are the perfect Christmas themed reads, we want Christmas to be the main feature really, apart from the obvious Dickens ‘Christmas Carroll’. We love all types of books but something thrilling and comic amongst the more literary suggestions would be wonderful. We look forward to your suggestions as we will be swapping what we read with each other over this period.
Many thanks,
Philippa

Well my response has to be a Christmas themed cosy crime novel or two, and in fact you will be hearing about one I have just recently read on Christmas eve, you all well know how much I love the ‘Agatha Raisin’ mysteries and M.C. Beaton has started to write seasonal specials which I love curling up with to escape in a quiet corner. There are also some Christmas specials from the wonderful Queen of Crime Agatha Christie which I would look out for too. But what else is there, I am stuck and can actually only think of the Dickens ‘Christmas Carroll’ (which I haven’t read, sssshhhh don’t tell anyone) as another option so I would quite like your recommendations/suggestions too! I think I want to read something HUGE but am stuck between wanting to read a mammoth classic or a modern epic… hmmm!

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The Prose Practise – LGBT Literature

I had a rather interesting email from a follower earlier this week which had highlighted something to them at my recent burst of mentioning ‘The Green Carnation Prize’ and one of the questions we asked our shortlisted authors which was ‘what book would you nominate if there was a ‘Lost Green Carnation Prize’ novel?’ it was a question which I was asked myself in an interview a while back and one I struggled a little with and so naturally who can I turn to for recommendations… you lovely lot of course.

Dear Savidge Reads,
I thought I would email you as The Green Carnation Prize has really brought some fantastic titles written by gay men to my attention that have come out this year. What I wondered was which books are LGBT classics, are there any lost or forgotten books which people should try to be tracking down? I myself am not gay but I would like to read more books written by gay authors and ones that look at the history of homosexuality, what can you recommend?
Many thanks,
Anne

As I mentioned it was a question which I struggled with (which I am hoping won’t make people think I am not really qualified to Chair the judges for The Green Carnation Prize 2011) not because its something I have never been interested in or cared about, in fact quite the opposite, but because it was never something I was informed about growing up. I mean the gay and lesbian section at my local library back in the 1990’s never had anything much and it wasn’t a section I wanted to be caught by my school friends in for various reasons. The only books I did manage to get my hands on were by Edmund White, because I told my Mum it was a memoir of an authors life – a truth in parts, and the Armistead Maupin ‘Tales of the City’ series which I managed to get in second hand shops with my pocket money. There are many more authors out there who I missed back then (such as the amazing Neil Bartlett) and are more I am sure I am missing.

Two books I have been recommended by several people I know and authors I have finally got my mitts on, thanks to some lovely people, recently. These are the now out of print ‘Queens’ by Pickles which a friend bought me a few months ago when The Green Carnation Prize was born and said ‘I simply must read’ (I will soon I promise) and ‘Faggots’ by Larry Kramer which Novel Insights bought me when she helped me take lots and lots of books to the 5 for £2 book shop up the road at the weekend.

Yet there must be so many more and not just books long forgotten but also from the last few years that might have gone under the radar. Can you recommend any that you have read and loved which need more attention and recognition, or any classics that people should read simply because they are missing out? You would be helping Amy and you’d be helping me, as I am planning on reading many more of these in the next few months.

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The Prose Practice – Books for Book Groups

I am currently ‘oop north’ in Manchester and have been joined at my aunties by the lovely Granny Savidge Reads (though she does prefer to be known as simply Gran) and last night she was asking me my advice on possible choices for one, of the three that she is a member of, book groups and their choices of reads next year.

They already have a list of possible options and the idea is that each member of the group chooses twelve of the titles from the list giving them points in order of preference (twelve being the maximum and working down) and the ones that get the most votes are the twelve they head for in 2011.

Naturally I thought that all of you would make a wonderful panel who could recommend a title of twelve from the list, rather than just me. So here without further ado, and in order of authors first name, is the list of the possible reads, I have crossed some out as Gran had already read them and didn’t fancy them again or just didn’t fancy end of – though I am sure she could be persuaded by you all…

  • The Children’s Book – A.S. Byatt
  • The Yacoubian Building – Alaa al Aswanny
  • La’s Orchestra Saves The World – Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Long Song – Andrea Levy
  • The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga
  • The Card – Arnold Bennett
  • Dreams From My Father – Barack Obama
  • Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens
  • Last Train From Liguria – Christine Dwyer Hickey
  • Short Stories – D.H. Lawrence
  • Death Sentence – David Lodge
  • Counting My Chickens – Deborah Devonshire
  • These Foolish Things – Deborah Moggach
  • The Good Soldier – Ford Maddox Ford
  • Girl in a Blue Dress – Gaynor Arnold
  • Adam Bede – George Elliott
  • Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson
  • Kafka on the Shore – Haruki Murakami
  • Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
  • Family Romance – John Lancaster
  • Paradise Postponed – John Mortimer
  • The Plague of Doves – Louise Erdrich
  • An Education – Lynn Barber
  • The Red Queen – Margaret Drabble
  • The Memory Box – Margaret Forster
  • The Glassblower of Murano – Marina Fiorato
  • Florence Nightingale – Mark Bostridge
  • The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
  • The Hamilton Case – Michelle De Krester
  • Memento Mori – Muriel Spark
  • The Wasted Vigil – Nadine Aslam
  • Great Fortunes – Olivia Manning
  • Border Crossing – Pat Barker
  • Peripheral Vision – Patricia Ferguson
  • The Law of Dreams – Peter Belling
  • Trespass – Rose Tremain
  • Sacred Hearts – Sarah Dunant
  • The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
  • Engleby – Sebastian Faulks
  • Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
  • The Beacon – Susan Hill
  • Restless – William Boyd
  • A Whispered Name – William Brodrick
  • The Believers – Zoe Heller

That’s quite a list isn’t it? I am sure you can understand why I thought opening this up to all of you would be much more helpful as I haven’t heard of half of the authors. Which is also an apology if therefore I have spelt some titles and authors wrongly, I am going by the spreadsheet Gran brought with her. I did recommend ‘The Little Stranger’ oddly as though I didn’t initially love it, it grew on me over time, I would have loved to have read it and been able to discuss the ending and what it all seemed to mean.

So which twelve would you pick and why? I know Gran will be popping by and checking, as will I as I have some of these on Mount TBR which I have been itching to get around too. Let us know, if you could suggest twelve in orderof preference and why that would be amazing…

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The Prose Practice – Single Ladies With A Twist

It’s been a while since we all got out thinking caps on in order to help another fellow reader with a prose problem. So when I got this email last week from one of my lovely reader Jodie, who also has a blog here, I thought ‘oooh I must put it up straight away’ and have now left it a week – sorry Jodie!! Now this latest reading conundrum I thought initially was really easy… only I have become quite stumped. So I wonder if you can help, well I know you can, answer this…

Hi Simon,

I might have a bit of a tricky one for you and the Savidge Readers. I’m looking for happy novels about single women who stay single. Yep, women who don’t marry, but stay single and happy. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but I think it might be a bit of a challenge as I’ve already asked for recommendations on my blog and people reading there have managed to turn up about ten. All the recommendations were gratefully received (and some were bought), but ten is not many for a whole world of books.

The women should be single by the end of the book (although it would be fab if they were single throughout the entire book) and living, or about to go off and live, happy lives. Preferably they should be the main characters of their novels/novellas, but I’ll take secondary characters if you can rustle them up. Any genre works for me.

Thanks for any help you and the readers can provide.

 Jodie

Beyonces video still was the only image that sort of summed this problem up... sort of!

Simon Says: My instant reaction on hearing the  words single lady were of Bridget Jones but the whole point of that book is that she isn’t totally fulfilled until she has two men chasing after her, some people are never happy are they, ha?  It is hard to think of books where people stay single and like it though, really hard. Currently the closest that I can come up with at the moment is ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ though it doesn’t quite fit the criteria… I/we wont say why as it would spoil the plot. I am trying to think of others and may come back and add a few more titles into the comments as the day progresses! What can you all suggest?

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The Prose Practice: Neglected or Forgotten European Fiction

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the launch of the Peirene Press book ‘Stone in a Landslide’ which I have previously raved about here on Savidge Reads. One of the joys, apart from the wonderful BookHaus book shop in which it was held (picture below – any excuse to share a small independent book shop with you all) was getting to meet Meike Zeirvogel who runs Peirene and getting her feedback on blogs, blogging, publishers and the three combined. It’s Meike who has also come up with the latest Prose Practice Problem…

Dear Savidge Readers,

I am the publisher of Peirene Press, a publishing house specializing in the translation of Contemporary European literature. Part of my job is to liaise with European publishers and assess  if any of their books are worthwhile to be translated into English and published by Peirene. However, the best tips come from passionate readers.

I am continuously on the look out for recommendations of European short novels, novellas and collections of short stories which have not yet been translated into English but really ought to be. The books should be maximum 200 pages, published after 1945 and can be from any European language. Do you read another language and have come across a book that to your amazement hasn’t yet been translated into English? Or has a friend from a European country raved about a book that isn’t available in English? If so, then please let me know. I’d be delighted to hear from you.  

Best wishes Meike

Simon Says: Well I am stumped as actually I read a shockingly poor amount of European fiction. I seem to do well on Canadian, American, Indian, African, Japanese and Chinese authors (and am broadening my Brazilian reading) but I am really not great on European literature which is actually really shoddy on my part and needs addressing. So I will be watching this post with intrigue and looking forward to what gems of fiction I will never have heard of, and hopefully will be new to Meike too, that you put forward. I think I need to look at which countries I read from and will come back to this in a future post. Right then Savidge Readers, get suggesting…

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The Prose Practice: Lonely Men in Cardigans

From yesterday’s erotica to something almost polar opposite, though maybe actually not if these cardi-clad men are very lonely, anyway… I mentioned earlier in the week that your advice would be called upon, as unwitting participants of The Prose Practice, not once but twice and so here is a rather unusual and utterly brilliant question from a new reader of the blog all the way on the other side of the world to me in Australia. Can you all help with some suggestions for some masculine reading material that might involve lonely men in cardigans though not necessarily read by them. I have so far only come up with one and its not one I have read so I could be barking up the wrong tree completely.

Simon,

Greetings from Australia. I am a new reader of your splendid blog.  I am especially interested in novels which I can only describe as examining the Male version of Anita Brookner’s characters [I have already posted about her on your site] – that is, men of a certain age who have lost their way, given up hope or just accept the general tragedy of ageing with stubborn stoicism or sad irony. This is an unexplored genre. I seek recommendations from you and your bloggers. Where are the novels dealing with lonely, single men in cardigans?

Norman, Australia

 

Simon Says: Hmmm… books about lonely single men in cardigans. (Can I just say trendy men in their late twenties – and younger – now where cardigans too in fact I have been known to don one, ha!) Well the one that instantly came to my mind isn’t one that I have read and so I could frankly be completely wrong with my suggestion. However the book that I did think of was Man Booker winning ‘Last Orders’ by Graham Swift. It’s a book that I have sat in the TBR and may now very well have to read having gone off and read the synopsis. I am not sure that it’s quite the right suggestion?

What say all of you readers out there?

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The Prose Practice: Reading Abroad #1

Your help is going to be needed twice this week as we have not one but two, yes two, problems for The Pragmatic Prose Practice Panel (I tried to think of another P word to take the alliteration to a whole new level but I failed) this week the first of which is another of those tricky problems we all have… finding books to read in the places that we are off to visit. Why is it that we always want to do this? Well, I am assuming most of us do?

Oh and in case you were wondering if the problem later in the week is also to do with foreign fiction, its not, I just numbered this one as I can imagine it could become a popular question to put to you all. Right so to the problem;

Dear Savidge Readers,
For my second wedding anniversary earlier this week my beloved shocked me beyond all proportion with a surprise gifts, and one that was almost better – or equal to – a huge pile of books… a trip for a week away to Lisbon in Portugal!!! I was (almost) speechless when I opened my card thinking that I was just getting some vouchers for Waterstones or Amazon.

 Now I know how helpful your readers can be like when you asked for reads for Israel, Istanbul (which got postponed indefinitely due to volcanic ash and a tight travel PR firm) or even just to the woods! So I wondered if they might be able to help with some Lisbon literature or if nothing springs to mind maybe some Portugal prose?
Simon, London

Simon Says: Well you may by now have guessed that this is indeed my problem and that yesterday The Converted One actually shocked me beyond the beyond with a week away in June/July (my work and deadlines being a nightmare to schedule around) to Lisbon and so I am looking for some fiction either from there, heavily featuring the city or just some fiction about Portugal. I have only found ‘Night Train to Lisbon’ by Pascal Mercier so far and it looks like it has received really, really mixed reviews, anyone read it? Any others that you could recommend from the city, region or country? Who are the portuguese masters?

So what do you recommend? Oh and dont forget if you have any prose problems you can email savidgereads@googlemail.com

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The Prose Practice – Family Histories

Last week I introduced a new feature here at Savidge Reads and that was ‘The Prose Practice’ and already we have our very first problem. Yes a reader of this blog has already sent in a bookish problem that they are having. This actually was initially (I added a little bit) left in one of the comments from the previous post and so I thought I would pop the conundrum from one of my lovely readers Linda who resides in the Peak District (so not far from Granny Savidge Reads I imagine) who came up with this prose based puzzle…

I thought this imae appropriate until we can find something more apt!Dear Savidge Readers
I’ve been spending the morning on puzzling through the web of my late mother’s papers on our family history in order to help a cousin solve some gaps in his knowledge. I enjoy novels that feature several generations, especially if a family tree is included. Can anyone recommend a contemporary novel where someone is trying to find out about their past (not necessarily a crime or period genre)? Or a novel that contains a family saga of many generations?
Many thanks,
Linda.

Simon Says: I have to say I am rather looking forward to hearing what everyone else says in regard to this as I am a little stumped if I am 100% honest with you particularly on the books about someone discovering their past, I am going to have to mull that one over. I am weirdly thinking of ‘coming of age stories’ (a phrase I hate) to recommend but I don’t think that’s what you are after. Family saga’s I am hopefully going to be a little better on. The most recent one I have read and really been impressed by was The House at the Mosque by Kader Abdolah which is the tale of a family through generations in Iran. I am wracking my brains for more but clearly this is the sort of book I have been missing out on too.

So dear readers what helpful hints and delightful reads can you recommend for someone looking for a book about a multi generational family saga and a great book or two where someone is trying to find out their past?

*** 

 

Oh and a quick update on the last weeks issue. Thanks all for your suggestions some of them are now in a separate TBR on The Converted Ones bedside table and they have actually received some nods of interest which is a most rare event.

However, as I have told a few of you in comments and emails, since the post went up a random event took place. Whilst we were stood waiting for a tube on Thursday I heard ‘oooh, I would really like to read that book’. After picking my jaw up from the floor, as this never ever happens, I looked over at the poster and it was a book I would not have chosen in a million years… ‘The Strain’ by Guillermo Del Toro. So you might just be getting a guest post on this book in the not too distant future from The Converted One. Well I never!

 

 

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Introducing The Prose Practice (And Some Savidge Readers)

I mentioned when I introduced the all new look to Savidge Reads that I was planning on doing a books problem page which seemed like rather a popular choice looking back at the comments (I will get to replying but just so you know I am reading them) from some of you. So today is going to be a pilot episode/post of how it will work only I have decided its not going to be just me who answers, its going to be all of you too, well I hope it will.

You see I am a bit of a paranoid android at the best of times so when I had put the post up on Monday I spent about ten minutes every hour or so worrying that people might be sat there thinking ‘just who does he think he is some self prescribed (do you see what I did there) Book Doctor?’ So I thought well how about it isn’t just me as Savidge Reads that responds but all you Savidge Readers* as part of ‘The Prose Practice’ and rather than ask for any of you guys to offer up a prose based problem I thought I would venture forward with my own problems so you can get a feel for it.

I think two problems every now and again could be good and I did come up with a simple ‘I have heard there is a marvellous book about two women, possibly sisters, in the Victorian era that’s meant to be a classic and have no idea what its called, can you help?’ however one of you has already helped and informed me very kindly that its ‘The Odd Women’ by George Gissing. So it could be a problem like that, or it could be something more dramatic…

Dear Savidge Readers
I made the slightly silly mistake of marrying for love someone from another continent who I hadn’t known for very long but knew was the one, like in some great romance, yet who doesn’t really like reading – it should have been a deal breaker! I know, I know its shocking a book addict and someone who remains unbothered by books, Shakespeare couldn’t have written a bigger disaster. I have tried and tried to put some delightful reads in their path but only a few reads have succeeded and literally been devoured. These were;

  • The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
  • Down Under – Bill Bryson
  • Marley & Me – John Grogan
  • Relentless – Simon Kernick
  • Henry – David Starkey
  • The Boy in the Striped Pyjama’s – John Boyne
  • Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin (but wasn’t bothered about what happened to them all after enough to read anymore in a hurry)

The list of books dumped a quarter, half way through or three pages in could go on for pages. I dream of Sunday mornings in bed lazily reading with toast and tea, or holidays on the beach side by side in deckchairs reading for hours but it seems destined to never be. Could you recommend any books, bear in mind English is their second language, that someone cannot fail to love???
Simon, London

Simon Says: Well I am living this so I am absolutely no help. I would have said The Kite Runner (they didn’t like that) or Harry Potter (too many words which aren’t even English and caused major translation issues) so I am stumped…

What do the Savidge Readers suggest? (And this is where I would, and now will, hand over to you for your suggestions and problem solving so do suggest away**)

*I am personally loving the idea of ‘Savidge Readers’ because it makes me sound like I have started some dark dangerous bookish cult, I don’t think I have… as yet.
**Oh and let me know what you think of this as an idea please and if any of you can drawer I would love an image to go with this feature. Now who else has a bookish problem? Email savidgereads@googlemail.com you will remain anonymous unless requested otherwise.

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