I’m In Italy, You Can Come If You Like…

I meant to do a post saying I was going off to Italy for a holiday, but in a pre-holiday whirlwind of all sorts of shenanigans I forgot to. I’m now here and, as we are waiting for the worst service by a car company (Firefly Car Rental) ever for the last hour or so and I’ve caved in and turned my data roaming on. It does mean I can share the view of the Alps on the way though.


They were stunning. I was mesmerised and had to put my Tess Gerritsen (one of my favourite thriller writers as you may know) down for quite a while. Fingers crossed we will be off to Pisa shortly.

Let me know if you’d like some blogs of Italy along ten way, we are mainly in a farmhouse in the middle of the mountains away from it all so I’ll also be able to catch up on reviews and most importantly… Loads of reading. I am hoping for a day trip to Assissi which is supposed to be lovely. So I may do some posts along the way if you like it or not.

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Some Very Exciting News…

So finally after what has felt like forever, I can spill the beans on something that I have been beavering away on in the background, which has now come to fruition and I can talk about. I am working with the lovely, lovely folks at Orion for a new and very exciting project, called Hometown Tales, which I will be Editorial Consultant on. Below is a little bit more (the official word, rather than my excited ramblings that you can see here) about the project that will be part of Weidenfeld & Nicolson

“Hometown Tales is the first initiative of its kind to focus on geographical diversity, with a guarantee of publication for the chosen authors. The series aims to open up the publishing industry by offering deals to authors from regions that are under-represented in the UK book market, and to authors who wouldn’t necessarily be found through conventional channels. By pairing recognised names with unpublished talent, the series will provide a platform for new writers, helping them to launch the first step of their careers, edited and mentored by editors at W&N. 

Hometown Tales

Working with key industry figure Simon Savidge, W&N is calling for submissions based on the idea of ‘hometown’. Writers who have not published a full-length work are invited to submit a piece of fiction or non-fiction, of approximately 15,000 words, about a place where they were born or where they have lived. It can be a village, a town, a city or a region. For more information on how to submit visit the website here. The deadline for submissions is 31 January 2017″

How exciting is that? For those of you who have followed this blog for some time, you will know the passion that I have for diverse narrative and the power I believe that books have to place you into the lives of others from a world of different backgrounds, so to get to do this with a project like Hometown Tales with a major publisher behind it is quite incredible. I haven’t been this delighted, bookish project wise, since I joined the judging panel on Fiction Uncovered last year. I cannot wait to start collaborating with all sorts of authors, from household names to people putting pen to paper for the first time. Seriously, I am on cloud nine.

The first titles will appear in paperback and ebook in 2017, with the launch list to be confirmed later this year. W&N will work closely with organisations such as the the Reading Agency, New Writing North and Literature Works and many more; along with libraries, literary festivals and local writing groups to encourage the widest possible outreach and pool of talent. I feel like I am going to be on the bookish version of the X Factor panel as I join forces with the wonderful Katie Espiner (who made me read The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, which she bought when she was at Harper Collins, by putting it in my hands with a slight sense of threat and menace if I didn’t read it) along with the lovely Sophie Buchan, Jennifer Kerslake and Ian Wong… Or The Hometown Tales Squad as I affectionately think of them.

If you are worried that this means the end of the blog or the podcast or anything, fret not. I will still be reading books from all over the place, from all the publishers and carrying on as normal. Well maybe at a slightly reduced service, which I know it has been of late but with festivals, moving, pending operations, a holiday looming and this all happening you may be able to understand why it has been quieter of late. Thinking about it though, maybe I can blog about this adventure along the way. Would you find that interesting?

So that is my exciting news finally out of the bag. For more information on how to submit visit the website here with lots of lovely quotes and more information. What do you think about the initiative? Any authors, or people you know who can tell a bloody good yarn, that you think we should be looking in the direction of?

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Fell – Jenn Ashworth

I have been a fan of Jenn Ashworth’s for quite sometime. Ever since our lovely mutual friend Emma Jane Unsworth popped a copy of A Kind of Intimacy into my hands and said ‘read this’ I have become a huge fan of her words both in her second novel Cold Light and also the stories in the wonderful ghostly collections Curious Tales. So when a proof of her fourth novel, I have skipped the third for now, Fell arrived I was so excited I could pop. I was also nervous, would this live up to how much I had enjoyed the previous two? Fortunately for everyone involved, and for those of you yet to read it, I think that Fell might be the best book I have read by Jenn and also one of the best books that I have read this year.

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Sceptre Books, hardback, 2016, fiction, 304 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Her key in the lock wakes us. It wakes the starlings too: they rise chattering out of the trees in the front garden and hurl themselves into the sky. They don’t fly far; before the door is open they have landed, disgruntled, on the roof ridge. We flutter at each other like leaves, finding the words for things, laughing, stiff as bark, too wooden to grab and hold on tight.
Our?
Our names.
Yes. We are. We are. Dazed as newborns! The proprietors of this place. A respectable house. Netty. Jack. That’s what they called us.

As the door of The Sycamores opens for the first time in years, so does Fell with the awakening of two ghosts, Netty and Jack, who used to own the property before (as they soon discover/remember) the house was left to fall to wrack and ruin. It is the return of their daughter Annette that has woken them, a begrudging return after what has seemed like decades and where plants, birds, cracks, damp and various creepy crawlies have taken over. As the ghosts of her parents watch over Annette they soon realise that their daughter is once again troubled (yes once again, well noted I will come back to it soon) and they feel, once again, that they have to protect her in some way. What then starts to unravel is not only the story of why Annette has come home after so long but also how decades before, in 1963, their lives were changed forever when Timothy Richardson became a part of their lives in the most unexpected way.

A Scottish accent. Something soft and well bred about it. A gentle voice, with a smirk to it, as Netty might say.The boy has put his tee-shirtback on, but rolled up the sleeves tight under his armpits. He’s only wearing his swimming trunks and the tee-shirt and there’s something faintly obscene about it, much more than the bare chests of his friends. It’s as if (the refreshing sensation fades along with the boys smile, the heat closing in on him again and giving him trouble marshalling his thoughts properly) he’s wearing the shirt to underline the fact that he isn’t wearing any trousers.

As the story unravels, and do not worry I am not going to give masses away, we soon learn that back in 1963 Netty had discovered she was incredibly ill. Around that time the meet Tim at a swimming pool (well lido near Morecombe Bay, which is a wonderful area to set this book) where not only does he mesmerise Jack visually in some strange way, he also does something strange to his vision which seems unbelievable, he fixes his sight. For it seems Tim has a gift for healing and with Netty being so sick and Jack desperate for help, he soon joins the other boys at their boarding house with the hope of making Netty better. Yet is Tim all that he claims to be? And if he is, is he a fallen angel or a charming devil. Jenn Ashworth beguiles the readers as much as Tim beguiles all he knows and starts to take us on a dark and magical tale from there on wards.

There is honestly so much about Fell that I loved I am going to have to try really hard to be succinct and not waffle on about its brilliance. So where to start? Well there is that fact that it is just beautifully and wonderfully written. Firstly there is the narrative, not a lot of authors could get away with writing a novel through the voice of a collective duo of ghosts a tricky device but impressive if pulled off. Netty and Jack can both go through their memories at the time, both separately and together. They are all seeing and all knowing, yet they also look back with a sense of distance and hindsight looking at the things they did and the consequences of those actions on each other and particularly with Annette as a young girl, the can also travel with Annette in the present and potentially influence the now. It is a clever trick which many an author would fail to build compellingly or believably, Ashworth does both with skill.

Then there is the story, which I have alluded to and is brilliant, where Jenn also manages to make the novel/tale riff off the myth of Baucis and Philemon. Though I won’t say any more on that in case of spoilers, so don’t go and Google it until you have read Fell I just wanted to point out another wonderful factor. However as we all know without great characters and setting a story falls apart, again nothing to worry about here. so don’t go and look it up and Ashworth’s creations Netty, Jack, Annette and Tim (even the enigma is a fully formed if tricksy) are all wonderfully drawn as are the periphery folk around them in the past and in the present; Candy, Maddy, Eve, Tom. The area of Morecombe Bay and Grange-over-Sands is also perfect for this tale. For those of you who have not been this area, once a popular place to recover from illness or have a holiday, is now a slight ghost town, nature is raw and a little dangerous, the sea isn’t really sea and it has a sense of the ‘other’ about it; all of which feeds into the whole feel and gothic sensibility of the book.

Then there are the themes, so many it is again hard not to gush endlessly about how brilliant it all is. You have the question of Timothy’s abilities, are they real or are they not, is it a gift or a curse, can we cure everyone (which is of course still a huge question today) and should we, how far will we go for the ones we love, what will we avoid telling the ones we love because we think it will hurt them, when are hope or denial good and/or bad emotions.

In her coming weeks Netty will look back and try to pinpoint the moment when she first started to believe in Timothy Richardson, a butcher’s apprentice from the city of Edinburgh.

Sickness is clearly one of the main themes of the book and it is one that chimed with me the most. Not just because I’ve recently been diagnosed with a lifelong condition, thankfully not terminal and manageable with surgery and painkillers; though I can’t pretend hasn’t caused me some ‘bloody hell life can be unfair’ thoughts, which Ashworth captures wonderfully. But also because I helped care for my Gran when she was terminally ill and as much as it is a gift to be able to look after someone who is unwell, also becomes something of a curse not just because you must watch them decline but also because they can be blooming difficult, and you can totally understand why, and it can be one of the most emotionally gruelling times in all your lives. Again, Jenn captures this all too realistically, yet writes about the intricacies and rawness of all these emotions beautifully and with a sense of compassion and deftness of touch around all that darkness.

Jack glances over the paper. She’s shooting daggers with her eyes. I’m sick and you’re not, and you can go and do what you like and I have to have help to get up out of chairs and I don’t gripe about it. But this small thing. I want. I want it. I want. Sickness has made her selfish. Maybe she’s a bit grateful too. He can put his foot down, which means she can sulk and keep believing that she would have been able to drag herself across the sands if only he’d let her. She can barely get up the stairs these days.

The final theme I will mention is probably the one that has literally haunted, pun intended, me since I have read the book… The themes of haunting. Obviously from the start you have two ghosts narrating it, this is not your average ghost story though, well it is but it is also much more than that. Yes this is a novel about a haunted house, yet it isn’t the kind of ‘crash and jump, things flying around the house’ kind of haunting this is much deeper than that. The house is literally haunted by the memories and events as much as the dead and the living are haunted by them. The idea of haunted ghosts has really stuck with me as has the question that those ghosts bring to Fell; will we always be haunted by what we did or didn’t do in our pasts? It sounds on the surface like a simple question, yet the more you think about it the deeper you have to go inside yourself and your emotions to ponder it. This of course is also the perfect analogy of what Fell as a novel is all about, a darkly magical tale which has many hidden depths. It is quite, quite something and has reminded me that some of the best books we read are those we have to savour slowly and ask ourselves some of the bigger questions. I cannot recommend you read it enough. Don’t rush it, just slowly get lost in it, I promise you it is worth it.

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Filed under Books of 2016, Jenn Ashworth, Review, Sceptre Publishing

Books I’m Looking Forward to in the Next Six Months #2

I know we are somewhat past the middle of 2016 but, as is my want I thought – like I did back at the start of the year – it might be a nice idea to let you know about some of the books that I am really looking forward to reading over the next six months published in the UK. I know, I know, it is the list you have all been waiting for. Ha! For a few years now, every six months, Gavin and I share 13 of the books that we are most excited about on The Readers podcast (based on which publishers catalogues we can get our mitts on, sometimes we miss some) so I thought I would make it a new biannual post. I have highlighted a few each month that I will definitely be reading or getting my mitts on – there will be more, let’s noy pretend. So, grab a cuppa and settle down with a notepad or bookstore website open next to you…

July

Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane – Paul Thomas Murphy (Head of Zeus)

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In April 1871, a constable walking a beat near greenwich found a girl dying  in the mud – her face cruelly slashed and her brains protruding from her skull. The girl was Jane Maria Clouson, a maid for the respectable pook family and  she was pregnant at the time of her death. When the blood-spattered clothes of  the 20-year-old Edmund pook, father of the dead girl’s unborn child, were  discovered, the matter seemed open and shut. Yet there followed a remarkable legal odyssey full of unexpected twists as the police struggled to build a case.  paul Murphy recreates the drama of an extraordinary murder case and  conclusively identifies the killer’s true identity.

Augustown – Kei Miller (Orion)

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Ma Taffy may be blind but she sees everything. So when her great-nephew kaia comes home from school in tears, what she senses sends a deep fear through her. While they wait for his mama to come home from work, Ma Taffy recalls the story of the flying preacherman and a great thing that did not happen. A poor suburban sprawl in the Jamaican heartland, Augustown is a place where many things that should happen don’t, and plenty of things that shouldn’t happen do. For the story of kaia leads back to another momentous day in Jamaican history, the birth of the Rastafari and the desire for a better life. Augustown is a novel about inequality and aspiration, memory and myth, and the connections between people which can transcend these things but not always change them. It is a window onto a moment in Jamaican history, when the people sought to rise up above their lives and shine.

August

Hide – Matthew Griffin (Bloomsbury)

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Wendell Wilson, a taxidermist, and Frank Clifton, a veteran, meet after the Second World War – in a time when such love holds real danger. Severing nearly all ties with the outside world, they carve out a home for themselves, protected by the routine of self-reliant domesticity. But when Wendell finds Frank lying motionless outside at the age of eighty-three, their life together begins to unravel. As Frank’s memory deteriorates, Wendell must come to terms with the consequences of half a century in seclusion: the lives they might have lived – and the impending, inexorable loss of the one they had.

The Summer That Melted Everything – Tiffany McDaniel (Scribe)

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When local prosecutor Autopsy Bliss published an invitation to the devil to come to Breathed, nobody quite expected that he would turn up. They especially didn’t expect him to turn  up a tattered and bruised thirteen-year-old boy. The Blisses believe the boy, who calls himself Sal, is a runaway from a nearby farm town. Then, after a series of strange incidents which all implicate Sal — and riled by the feverish heat wave baking the town from the inside out — there are some around town who start to believe that maybe Sal is exactly who he claims to be. Whether he’s a traumatised child or the devil incarnate, Sal is certainly one strange fruit; and ultimately his eerie stories of Heaven, Hell, and earth, will mesmerise and enflame the entire town.

The Tsar of Love and Techno – Anthony Marra (Hogarth)

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The Tsar of Love and Techno begins in 1930s Leningrad, where a failed portrait artist is tasked by Soviet censors to erase political dissenters from official images and artworks. One day, he receives an antique painting of a dacha inside a box of images meant to be altered. The mystery behind this painting reverberates through the stories that follow, which take us through a century as they thread together a cast of characters including a Siberian beauty queen, a young soldier in the battlefields of Chechnya, the Head of the Grozny Tourist Bureau, a ballerina performing for the camp director of a gulag and many others.

September

The Borrowed – Chan Ho-Kei (Head of Zeus)

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A cleverly constructed epic crime novel, told through six different murder cases set over fifty years in the Hong kong police Force. The year is 2013, and Inspector kwan, one of Hong kong’s greatest detectives, is dying. His friend and protegé, Detective Lok, has come to kwan’s hospital bed. Together they must solve one last case: the murder of a local billionaire. What follows is a brilliantly constructed novel of six interconnected stories, each featuring a different murder case solved by kwan and Lok over the last fifty years. Eventually, in the final story, we witness the case in which Lok, a rookie cop, met kwan for the first time.

By Gaslight – Steven Price (Oneworld)

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A severed head is dredged from the Thames; ten miles away, a woman’s body is discovered on Edgware Road. The famed American detective William Pinkerton is summoned by Scotland Yard to investigate. The dead woman fits the description of a grifter Pinkerton had been pursuing – someone he believed would lead him to a man he has been hunting since his father’s death. Edward Shade is an industrialist without a past, a fabled con, a man of smoke. The obsessive hunt for him that began in the last days of the Civil War becomes Pinkerton’s inheritance. What follows is an epic journey of secrets, deceit and betrayals. Above all, it is the story of the most unlikely of bonds: between Pinkerton, the greatest detective of his age, and Shade, the one criminal he cannot outwit. Moving from the diamond mines of South Africa to the fog-enshrouded streets of Victorian London, By Gaslight is a journey into a cityscape of grief, trust, and its breaking, where what we share can bind us even against our better selves.

Angel Catbird – Margaret Atwood (Dark Horse)

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On a dark night, young genetic engineer Strig Feleedus is accidentally mutated by his own experiment and merges with the DNA of a cat and an owl. What follows is a humorous, action-driven, pulp-inspired superhero adventure with a lot of cat puns.

The Lesser Bohemians – Eimear McBride (Faber)

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One night in London an eighteen-year-old girl, recently arrived from Ireland to study drama, meets an older actor and a tumultuous relationship ensues. Set across the bedsits and squats of mid-nineties              north London, The Lesser Bohemians is a story about love and innocence, joy and discovery, the grip of the past and the struggle to be new again.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero – Isabel Greenberg (Jonathan Cape)

From the author who brought you The Encyclopedia of Early Earth comes another Epic Tale of Derring-Do. Prepare to be dazzled once more by the overwhelming power of stories and see Love prevail in the face of Terrible Adversity! You will read of betrayal, loyalty, madness, bad husbands, lovers both faithful and unfaithful, wise old crones, moons who come out of the sky, musical instruments that won’t stay quiet, friends and brothers and fathers and mothers and above all, many, many sisters.

October

The Fat Artist and Other Stories – Benjamin Hale (Picador)

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Benjamin Hale’s fiction abounds with a love of language and a wild joy for storytelling. In prose alternately stark, lush, and hallucinatory, occasionally nightmarish and often absurd. The voices in these seven stories speak from the margins: a dominatrix whose longtime client, a U.S. congressman, drops dead during a tryst in a hotel room; an addict in precarious recovery who lands a job driving a truck full of live squid; a heartbroken performance artist who attempts to eat himself to death as a work of art.  From underground radicals hiding in Morocco to an aging hippie in Colorado in the summer before 9/11 to a young drag queen in New York at the cusp of the AIDS crisis, these stories rove freely across time and place, carried by haunting, peculiar narratives, threads in the vast tapestry of American life. Weaving a pleasure in the absurd with an exploration of the extraordinary variety of the human condition and the sway our most private selves and hidden pasts hold over us, the stories in The Fat Artist reside in the unnerving intersections between life and death, art and ridicule, consumption and creation.

Thin Air – Michelle Paver (Orion)

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The Himalayas, 1935. kangchenjunga. Third-highest peak on earth. Greatest killer of them all. Five Englishmen set off from Darjeeling, determined to conquer the sacred summit. but courage can only take them so far – and the mountain is not their only foe. As the wind dies, the dread grows. Mountain sickness. The horrors of extreme altitude. A past that will not stay buried. And sometimes, the truth does not set you free.

The Last Days of Leda Grey – Essie Fox (Orion)

During the oppressive heat wave of 1976 a young journalist, Ed Peters, finds an Edwardian photograph in a junk shop in the brighton Lanes. It shows an alluring, dark-haired girl, an actress whose name was Leda Grey. Leda is living still, in a decaying cliff-top house once shared with a man called Charles beauvois, a director of early silent film. A horrific accident left her abandoned and alone for more than half a century – until Ed Peters hears the secrets of her past, resulting in a climax more haunting than any to be found in the silent films of Charles beauvois.

Autumn – Ali Smith (Penguin Books)

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The first of four novels in a shape-shifting series, wideranging in timescale and light-footed through histories. Fusing Keatsian mists and mellow fruitfulness with the vitality, the immediacy and the colour-hit of Pop Art – via a bit of very contemporary skulduggery and skull-diggery – Autumn is a witty excavation of the present by the past. The novel is a stripped-branches take on popular culture, and a meditation, in a world growing ever more bordered and exclusive, on what richness and worth are, what harvest means. Autumn is part of the quartet Seasonal: four stand-alone novels, separate yet interconnected and cyclical (as the seasons are), exploring what time is, how we experience it, and the recurring markers in the shapes our lives take and in our ways with narrative.

The Power – Naomi Alderman (Penguin Books)

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In The Power the world is a recognizable place: there’s a rich Nigerian kid who larks around the family pool; a foster girl whose religious parents hide their true nature; a local American politician; a tough London girl from a tricky family. But something vital has changed, causing their lives to converge, with devastating effects. Now, with the flick of a switch, teenage girls can cause agonizing pain and even death. And, with this small twist of nature, the world changes utterly.

Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood (Hogarth)

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‘It’s got a thunderstorm in it. And revenge. Definitely revenge.’ Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds. Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge. After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?

November

London Lies Beneath – Stella Duffy (Virago)

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In August 1912, three friends set out on an adventure. Two of them come home. Tom, Jimmy and Itzhak have grown up together in the crowded slums of Walworth. They are used to narrow streets, the bustle of East Lane market, extended families weaving in and out of each other’s lives. All three boys are expected to follow their father’s trades and stay close to home. But Tom has wider dreams. So when he hears of a scouting trip, sailing from Waterloo to Sheppey – he is determined to go. And his friends go with him. Inspired by real events, this is the story of three friends, and a tragedy that will change them for ever. It is also a song of south London, of working class families with hidden histories, of a bright and complex world long neglected. London Lies Beneath is a powerful and compelling novel, rich with life and full of wisdom.

Another Day in the Death of America – Gary Younge (Faber)

9781783351015

On Saturday 23 November 2013, ten children were shot dead. The youngest was nine; the oldest was nineteen. They fell in suburbs, hamlets and ghettos. None made the national news. It was just another day in the death of America, where on average seven children and teens are killed by guns daily. Younge picks this day at random, searches for their families and tells their stories. What emerges is a sobering, searing, portrait of youth and guns in contemporary America.

Rotten Row – Petina Gappah (Faber)

In her accomplished new story collection, Petina Gappah crosses the barriers of class, race, gender and sexual politics in Zimbabwe to explore the causes and effects of crime, and to meditate on the nature of justice. Rotten Row represents a leap in artistry and achievement from the award-winning author of An Elegy for Easterly and The Book of Memory. With compassion and humour, Petina Gappah paints portraits of lives aching for meaning to produce a moving and universal tableau.

Wowsers! So thatwas quite a list, it is slightly extended since we recorded The Readers because, well why not? There will be many more I discover or hear about too I am sure. Anyway, quite a few for you to go and find out more about and a good list for me to have when I am stuck in a bookshop without a clue of what to by next – as if that ever happens. Right, I better get reading then. Which of these do you fancy? Which books are you looking forward to in the next six months?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Stan and Nan – Sarah Lippett

I wasn’t going to mention the anniversary of Granny Savidge Reads death this year. Not because I don’t think about her every day, I still go to call her after I have read a particularly brilliant book, I just think there is a point you have to move on a little. It seemed that she had other ideas in a random way as on the anniversary I had this bizarre hankering to read Sarah Lippett’s debut graphic novel Stan and Nan. Turns out this was a tale of grandparents and northern families that made me weep for all the right reasons.

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Jonathan Cape, hardback, 2016, fiction, 96 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The simplest way to explain the premise of Stan and Nan is to simply say that it is Sarah Lippett’s telling of her maternal grandparent’s story and stories. Whilst true, that doesn’t seem to quite cut it for me as this graphic novel packs a wallop in so many ways. However let’s concentrate on the story for now…

In the first part of the book ‘Stan’ Lippett gives us an insight into the life of her grandfather, a man she never knew as he died before she was born. Yet Stan is a man who was always a presence in the house in part because of the photos of him around the house but mainly because of her nana’s stories about him and their lives together. It is through these stories that Lippett builds the full narrative of how a young working class man, who wanted to study art yet due to circumstance had to become an office clerk (albeit in a pottery) before joining the fire service in Wolverhampton where he meets Sarah’s Nan and their family history begins as they go on to have children. But I don’t want to spoil the rest of Stan and Nan’s story because I really want you all to go and read it.

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In the second part of the book ‘Nan’ we follow Sarah’s grandma’s history backwards from her funeral to the point when she was widowed. I won’t say what happens here, other than that in her widowhood it seems Joyce is determined to become the best grandmother ever, suffice to say that Sarah captures all the emotions they feel towards their Nan completely in both her illustrations and the words which she uses simply and effectively. Effectively to the point where it made me cry both for Sarah’s Nan and my gran.

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This is because you cannot but help get caught up in Stan and Nan. You cannot help but compare the love Sarah has for Nan and her family with the one that you have with yours, however dysfunctional or crazy they are. It also reminds us to find out more about the history of ourselves and our families background and how we should find out these stories, and social histories, and treasure and capture them. Here again Stan and Nan really chimed with me with the stories of the working classes of the north, my families roots. I think it would chime with anyone regardless though.

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Suffice to say I bloody loved Stan and Nan. It made me smile, it made me cry (happy and sad tears), it made me think and remember. It just did all those wonderful things that the best books can. It also celebrates the every man and the wonderful stories that made the ordinary seem so extraordinary, something long term readers of this blog will know I adore. So if you can get your mitts on it, it is a real joy to spend your time with, I will be reading it again and again.

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Filed under Books of 2016, Graphic Novels, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review, Sarah Lippett

Other People’s Bookshelves #80 – Mary Doria Russell

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week is a very special week as we are joined by Mary Doria Russell who you will all probably know as the writer of the cult novel The Sparrow. I had the pleasure of reading The Sparrow for part of a special panel at Books On The Nightstand (I miss it so) Booktopia in Petoskey last year (which I also miss terribly) where myself and Thomas (of the Readers) joined Ann and Michael to talk about all our favourite books Ann’s being The Sparrow. You can here that conversation here. Anyway this week we are joining Mary, who I owe a small apology as she sent me this last year but I wanted her to have a special post, like this 80th, but the volunteers trickled so it has taken some time. Better late than never huh? So let us all join Mary and have a chat with her about the books she loves, has read and then have a nose through her shelves…

I grew up near Chicago. Dad: ex-Marine, Mom: ex-Navy nurse. Me: a shocking vocabulary. Didn’t know it was bad language until Kindergarten. BA in cultural anthro, MA in social anthro, Ph.D. In biological anthro; post-doc in craniofacial biomechanics, all of which prepared me for high-class unemployment in the mid-1980s. Fortunately, I’d married Don Russell in 1970. His income as a software engineer allowed me to stay home, raise our kid, and write stories about Jesuits in Space, all while living under a roof and eating regularly. Full-time novelist since 1991: The Sparrow, Children of God, A Thread of Grace, Dreamers of the Day, Doc, and Epitaph.

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I’ve become pretty ruthless about culling. Each of my novels has required an extensive library of research material, but not all the background books actually contribute anything memorable to their novel. I keep the ones that provided something factual that a reader might inquire about. The others get donated or sold.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I don’t color-code books – I arrange them categorically – but I do pay a lot of attention to the aesthetics of the bookcases: mixing in photos, art, vases, small mementos, etc. I’ll fuss for hours to make things look pretty on the shelves, but the initial organization is rational. The research libraries for published novels go into bookcases in a guestroom; the sheer mass of books makes that room feel hushed and comforting. They’re grouped by the novel they contributed to.

guest_room

The working library is in my office. Those are books that have a direct bearing on the novel in progress.

working_library

The office also has a sort of trophy bookcase that holds all my published work, including translations, audio books, etc. When I despair of making the current story work, I gaze at the earlier books and think, “Don’t panic. You’ve done this before.”

published_books

We recently commissioned new cabinetry to flank my husband’s ginromous TV with shelves for books that have a personal significance for me: those by authors who are friends of mine; books I’ve blurbed or reviewed in the Washington Post; inscribed copies of books sent to me by their authors.

new_bookcase

What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

There were the usual children’s stories – I was partial to tales about horses. None of those remain. The first significant book I bought for myself was acquired with my babysitting money in 1963: a used copy of T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom. That is now surrounded by a collection of TEL biographies that became part of the research library for Dreamers of the Day, in which Lawrence is a character along with Winston Churchill and Gertrude Bell.

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

Nope! Not ashamed of anything I read!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I don’t have any precious books. I’d grab our elderly dachshund and run! If we had time to evacuate before a natural disaster (not that there are many of those in Ohio), I’d fill the car with artwork that can’t be replaced. Books are more like tools to me: I am more pragmatic than sentimental about them.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and is it on your shelves now?

I read Mom’s copy of Gone with the Wind when I was a young teenager. And I did reread that while writing Doc, which is about the frontier gambler Doc Holliday. He and Margaret Mitchell were cousins and many of the episodes in GWTW are echoes of his childhood in Georgia. GWTW is a really brave book – Mitchell was willing to hang the whole novel on a thoroughly dislikeable central character and didn’t redeem Scarlett O’Hara or make her more likeable 833 pages later. [I just went to the Doc library in the guestroom to check on the page count!] There’s a lot I admire in the book, though it’s not fashionable today.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I mostly borrow recreational reading from the public library. I buy books for the working library – a tax-deductible expense!

What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

Rachel Holmes’ biography of Karl Marx’s daughter: Rachel Marx. My next novel is about the early days of the American labor movement, so I’m boning up on Marx; his daughter is WAY more interesting than Das Kapital.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

YES! I want Karen Joy Fowler’s next book! Karen is a friend and she has been talking about doing a novel about Edwin Booth, the brother of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. I nagged her for years to finish what she called “my chimp book,” and I was right about that one! We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was short-listed for the Booker Prize and won the Pen/Faulkner Award.So this interview is just one more way to nag her to write the Booth book!

living_room

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

“My God, is there anything this woman isn’t interested in?!” Mathematics. Not mathematics. But pretty much everything else.

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And a huge thanks to Mary for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, apologies again for the delay but it was so worth the wait. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance, I am catching up with all the latest volunteers. In the meantime… what do you think of Mary’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Man Booker Prize 2016 Longlist & My Initial Thoughts

So the Man Booker Prize 2016 longlist has been announced and once again I have been completely thwarted in my attempts to guess it. I managed to guess a whopping three books on the long list, one of which, Eileen, I had actually read (yet haven’t reviewed but will be soon). I have also read another, My Name is Lucy Barton which I didn’t predict would make the longlist – not because I didn’t like it (I have reviewed it here) there were just lots of other books calling to me when I made my very last minute guessing attempt on camera, ha.  So before I waffle on more, here is the list…

longlist

  • The Sellout – Paul Beatty (Oneworld)
  • The Schooldays of Jesus – J.M. Coetzee (Harvill Secker)
  • Serious Sweet – A.L. Kennedy (Jonathan Cape)
  • Hot Milk – Deborah Levy (Hamish Hamilton)
  • His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet (Contraband)
  • The North Water – Ian McGuire (Scribner UK)
  • Hystopia – David Means (Faber & Faber)
  • The Many – Wyl Menmuir (Salt)
  • Eileen – Ottessa Moshfegh (Jonathan Cape)
  • Work Like Any Other – Virginia Reeves (Scribner UK)
  • My Name Is Lucy Barton – Elizabeth Strout (Viking)
  • All That Man Is – David Szalay (Jonathan Cape)
  • Do Not Say We Have Nothing – Madeleine Thien (Granta Books)

In case you are wondering why these are all in different formats; the books in bold I have read, the books in italics I have on my shelves. The Many is a book I was actually contemplating reading last week for Booktubeathon because it is slight and sounds spooky, it may well be the one I turn to next. Hot Milk I have been meaning to read for ages, as I have The Sellout which I was kindly sent by a lovely friend in America ages ago. Do Not Say We Have Nothing only recently arrived and The North Water has remained on my shelves despite being set on boats since reading Shirley Barrett’s whaling novel, Rush Oh!, earlier in the year (again I haven’t reviewed it yet) and loved it.

The others I know very little about but two are calling to me instantly, His Bloody Project because it is a thriller and Work Like Any Other which sounds intriguing with its tale of electricity stealing and manslaughter. Szalay and Means I need to look into more, Coetzee I have read and enjoyed, Kennedy I still haven’t tried and feel I should.

Am I going to read the longlist? Yes and no. I think I am going to see what takes my fancy between now and the shortlist announcement in September (though I have a feeling The Many may get whisked off the shelves this weekend) and see what happens and what the shortlist looks like later in the year.  It’s an interesting list of books though that is for sure. What are your thoughts? Which of the books have you read and what did you make of them?

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