Tag Archives: Adam Mars-Jones

Savidge Reads’ Top Ten LGBT Books…

As I mentioned yesterday I am in a little bit of a reading funk. So I was routing through my bookshelves, and preparing for the event I have coming next Tuesday, I thought that I would make a little video of my personal top ten LGBT themed books. This is by no means what I think are the best LGBT themed books, it is a list of the ones that have a special place in my heart from my young teens all the way to now. So have a gander if you fancy it…

I know there are some celebrated books and authors missing yet these are the ten books that I mentioned.

Pilcrow – Adam Mars Jones
The Song of Achilles – Madeline Miller
Running With Scissors – Augusten Burroughs
The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall
A Single Man – Christopher Isherwood
My Policeman – Bethan Roberts
In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett
A Boy’s Own Story – Edmund White
Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin

I am aware I have missed some of my favourite authors like Stella Duffy, Sarah Waters, Geoff Ryman, etc, lots and lots of Green Carnation books, nonfiction and classics, the latter mainly as I am playing catch up with Larry Kramer and Radclyffe Hall etc.

That is of course where you come in… What are the books you love with LGBT themes? Which books have I missed and might I have read and need to re-read (I feel I need to pick up ‘Rough Music’ by Patrick Gale again at some point) or try for the first time? Which of you the books I mention have you read? Who is coming to Leeds on Tuesday for my scary solo event? Who is currently reading ‘Tales of the City’, which I will be picking up to re-read today, to discuss on Friday on the blog? Lots of questions for you there.

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Books You Dip Into…

When I was last at the hospital (and I could be back in there again as these posts are scheduled hence why I haven’t been as good at commenting back of late but I will catch up on them I promise) I picked up a rather blooming big book alongside a book that I simply couldn’t resist because of the cover, the fact it was rather old, the fact it seemed like it could be just up my street and that it could be a book I could dip in and out of…

You see dipping in and out of books seems to be becoming a hobby of mine at the moment. I am reading books, though they are tending to be short. However on top of that somehow I have ended up with this pile of five books on my bedside table which are being dipped into and out of at random moments which Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Stories Not For The Nervous’ has now joined…

I think this picture illustrates how dipping in and out works for me from the varying titles on there. You see in my head, though I know it’s not the case, its not multiple reading as when I am reading a novel I leave the rest of them alone, hence why the pile keeps growing. As you can see, well I hope you can, there is a double whammy of Mitford going on as not only do I have Deborah Devonshire’s ‘Wait For Me!’ memoir which I am still reading a chapter of every now and again because its so delightful I am dragging it out not wanting it to end. The same thing is already happening with ‘The Letters of Nancy Mitford and Evelyn Waugh’ which I picked up from the library recently. I already know this book is one I am going to be asking for a copy all of my own for my birthday (only 22 days to go) as it’s just brilliant.

The Alfred Hitchcock short story collection, the stories aren’t by him by the way – just some of his favourites, is providing the sensationally spooky and letting me try new authors between books. Speaking of sensational writing though… You know how I love my Victorian sensationalism and the whole atmosphere of the time too; well what could be better than some real life mysterious cases and murder mysteries from the time? Nothing actually, and that is why ‘The Devil & Sherlock Holmes’ is being read a case at a time every so often (and getting a lot of library renewals) and proving to be the perfect non fiction read for me.

Finally, though it’s not the novel I am reading in one go, is ‘Cedilla’ by Adam Mars-Jones. This breaks my tradition with reading fiction books as a singular read which I only concentrate on and nothing else. Why? Well two reasons. The first is that it’s bloody massive and not that easy to carry around on any commutes that I might have. The second is that it’s the first ‘Green Carnation Prize 2011’ submission that I am reading and I am making notes (I haven’t put my specially bought Batman notepad in the picture, maybe I should have) originally it was because it was so big and then because I felt as Chair of the judges I should but now, having given it some thought, as we are reading them over a six month period this might be the best way to remember them. Or maybe the ones that stick with me should be the ones I push as my contenders for the longlist?

So that’s my ‘dipping in and out of’ selection for you all to see. Do you do this with books? Are there five or six titles bubbling between your fiction novels or do you always juggle a few books at once? Are you a one book and one book only person? Which books can you simply not dip in and out of and have to become a devotee to?

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Those Blinking Big Books…

One of the books that I missed out from my earlier ‘February Incomings’ post (which if you don’t like seeing the latest loot arriving with bloggers – I do – you might want to avoid) was a book that I found when I was in hospital last week. I want to call it a book exchange but I think they leave off that title as it might infer that you simply cant wait to go back, which wouldn’t be true (and I am back in tomorrow) really even if the staff are lovely. Anyway I had to go and have a look, simply for it being a place where they have lots of books , and came away with one I would never have expected…

I have only read one of Henry James’ novels before and that was ‘The Turn of the Screw’ a book that I freely admit left me rather underwhelmed and didn’t have me rushing to read anymore of his works, especially as they are so blinking big. Well for some reason when I saw this copy of ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ I felt that I should have read it and as I hadn’t maybe it was time. The thing is big books tend to scare me off before I have even turned a page and yet I do feel that I am missing out on them.

There are several factors in my slight avoidance with bigger books. The first is that I look at them and think that I might get bored. I am not sure on which authority or previous reading experience this is based on but it seems that is the way my mind is programmed. I look at anything over 500 pages, occasionally anything over 400, and think ‘oh I bet I would get bored of that’. Maybe its time I put it to the test, I have spotted ‘Shantaram’ by Gregory David Roberts on my relative’s shelves and hankered to read it. Something about the cover does that though I am not sure why.

The second factor, and probably the biggest, is that I always wonder how many smaller books I could read to every large tome. I know reading isn’t a race but I do like to feel like I am getting through Mount TBR even if I am adding to it all the time. Its also a case of time. I mean one massive book surrounded by work, trying to be sociable (not that its an effort) and other constraints mean I don’t have the effort or massive time that needs devoting to such a book. But then surely not all huge books need massive amounts of attention do they? Nor do small ones mean they don’t get any and I do believe I give all books the same detailed attention and thought regardless of length.

Maybe I am simply creating excuses? That could be the crux however thanks to The Green Carnation Prize it looks like I am about to have to gear myself up for a long read as one of the first submissions we have had (the publishers are onto the prize really early this year which is very exciting) almost broke the postman’s back…

In fact ‘Cedilla’ by Adam Mars Jones (which doesnt look huge in that picture, but note how the matress underneat is caving in) is the book I have decided I am going to crack on with next. I mean at the moment with all that’s going on and the fact I will be bedridden for a while really it’s the perfect time after all isn’t it? What are your thoughts on longer books, do they scare you or are you drawn to them and their promise of a whopping great story you can become completely lost in?

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February’s Incomings…

I do love those lists that some bloggers have down the side of their blogs where  the jacket covers of all the incomings that they have received or are receiving as the weeks go on can be seen. Sadly, though I am sure that there is one on wordpress, I have no idea how to do such a thing and as I started one last month I thought I would do another end of month post (which might become a monthly feature) of the books that have arrived this month. Now if you don’t like these sort of posts fear not as you can discuss the pro’s and con’s of big books with me today on this post here instead. However if you love these posts, as I do on other blogs, then lets take a gander at what has been quite a crop of books.

First up it’s the hardbacks and as you will see while a lot of books do come from publishers some are treats from other lovely people, or simply treats from me.

  • Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – This is a book I had been told was winging its way to me and I got very excited about and then the mail man mislaid it. Now it’s here and over the next week or so I am going to be throwing myself into Russia which is a country that fascinates me and yet I know very, very little about. I am wondering if the atmosphere, which is meant to be incredible in this novel, will send me off to read some of the Russian greats.
  • Beautiful Forever by Helen Rappaport – This came out last year and is non-fiction about “Madame Rachel of Bond Street – cosmetician, con-artist and blackmailer” true life Victorian dastardly goings on, what could be more me. This was a belated Xmas pressie from my mother which she brought down last week.
  • One of Our Tuesdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde – The latest Thursday Next novel and a timely reminder I need to start at the beginning (I wanted to see him at Waterstones tomorrow but I will be in hospital, grrr).
  • The Tenderloin by John Butler – a Green Carnation Prize submission from Picador.
  • The Path of Minor Planets by Andrew Sean Greer – One of Faber and Faber’s entries for the Green Carnation Prize. (Publishers are really onto it early this year – hoorah!)
  • Mrs Fry’s Diary by Mrs Stephen Fry – I bought this at Sainsbury’s for £3 on a whim as thought might make me laugh at hospital.
  • Sleeping With Mozart by Anthea Church – I was thrilled when Virago got in touch and asked me to read this but sadly I didn’t care for it much and as I don’t like doing negative reviews it’s leaving me in a real quandary, to write about or not to write about? Hmmm!
  • Darkside by Belinda Bauer – I loved Belinda’s debut ‘Blacklands’ and having been in a crime mood this was ideal. Thoughts will be up tomorrow (if everything works right) on this murder mystery.
  • Ape House by Sara Gruen – After reading ‘Water for Elephants’ for book group and loving it, I am thrilled that Sarah’s publishers Two Roads wanted me to give her latest a whirl.
  • Cedilla by Adam Mars-Jones – This is the second Faber entry for the Green Carnation so far and its HUGE (I am talking big books later) and one I am looking forward to as it’s the sequel to the rather marvellous ‘Pilcrow’ though I will be judging it as a stand alone book of course.

Phew that’s quite a few. Onto paperbacks which have been arriving thick and fast. I haven’t included the Jo Nesbo parcel which arrived and I mentioned before, nor have I included the two rather large shopping spree’s which I undertook in February both on a visit to Granny Savidge in Matlock and on a day out in Yorkshire earlier this month. Shame on me, still somehow I managed to buy a few in this lot too.

  • Through The Wall by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya – The lovely Novel Insights brought me this Penguin Mini Classic last week on a visit as she thought it would be right up my street. I have a feeling she will be spot on.
  • Heat & Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – A booker prize charity shop find for 50p. I have said I do intend to read all the winners at some point and have devoured this one so expect thoughts soon.
  • The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons – I really enjoyed ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ when I read it last year and actually chattered and nattered to Natasha when she was working on this one so I know a bit about the plot and it sounded fascinating so I have everything crossed this will be a corker.
  • The Bride That Time Forgot by Paul Magrs – The latest Brenda and Effie adventure in paperback, again reminding me I am slightly behind with this series. I also have a spare so expect a give away at some point.
  • Where The Serpent Lives by Ruth Padel – I know nothing of this book but isn’t she the lady that caused a lot of controversy over something and nothing?
  • South Riding by Winifred Holtby – I have devoured this one and my thoughts on it are here.
  • The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee – Another book I know nothing about but having read the quotes and page 29 (all the blurb says is ‘read page 29’) this looks like it could be an astounding book.
  • Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue – As you will all know I loved ‘Room’ and this is a reissued copy of her earlier historical novel (I am hoping it’s a Victorian romp) which I am excited about. I have already got an American edition of this which I am now handing over to Granny Savidge Reads who, after reading ‘Room’, is a Donoghue fan too.
  • The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal – I so wasn’t bothered about this when it came out but since winning the Costa Prize and having heard about it all over the place when it arrived I was super chuffed and have started dipping into it already.
  • The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath by Jane Robins – I do like true historical crime, modern stuff makes me feel uncomfortable in general – too close to home maybe, but this sounds like its right up my street. Maybe not one to read in the bath though?
  • 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan – I bought this in Sainsbury’s, bad me, partly because the cover is so good and also thinking it was non-fiction from the blurb, wrong. I will give it a whirl though and see.
  • Half a Life by Darin Strauss – A memoir about accidental murder. I had to sign a confidence clause before I could get the proof for this and then forgot the date had been and gone so will schedule my thoughts to be shared soon.
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy – I have already read this, however it’s a book group choice in the next few months and I’d had mine signed for my Gran so a new one has magically turned up. I am actually really looking forward to re-reading this one even so soon after I originally did.
  • Dog Binary by Alex MacDonald – I don’t know anything about this, it came with Half a Life.
  • Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid – I am hoping this is another entry for the Green Carnation Prize as we do want a mixture of genres, I don’t think the other judges have had this one though so I will have to check. I have heard McDermid is very good at murder so this should be good.

So lots of books to read while I am in waiting rooms, hospital wards and in bed when I get home over the next few weeks or so which is an utter delight. I wonder how much of a dent in them I will make. I also really need to have a fresh cull and clear out too. It never stops. Have you read any of these books and if so what did you think? Any you would like to see me give priority to if the whim takes me?

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Six Months of No Book Buying…

When I actually realised that I hadn’t bought a book for six months I almost had to have a little lie down. I know, I know, I imposed the rule on myself. It’s just that it seems to have gone so quickly. Has it been painless? Well that’s partly what today’s post about. Before I go any further though, I do want to talk about why I decided that I wouldn’t buy books for a year for those who have come into this all a little late.

The initial idea dawned on me as I was reading Susan Hill’s ‘Howards End is on the Landing’. Instead of buying new books as she normally would (though she carried on taking books for reviews/work), for one year Hill went through the books that she had bought over the years some she had read and some she hadn’t. I thought it sounded a good idea and with all the books coming in for my day job and the crazy amount that I was spending on book spree’s I wasn’t reading as much as I was buying. Nothing wrong with that but then again why not test myself. Not to the point of being a martyr or anything. And it has actually been a test especially as I have spent six months missing these…

Oh those charity shop shelves…

Yes the charity shopping has been the hardest thing that I have actually had to avoid, especially when I have been taking lots and lots of bags up there myself.  Gone are the days when I would leave with about as many as I had dropped off. Oh how I do miss them. However, I have the insatiable desire for more; which used to stray into binge buying which verges on wastefulness and hoarding. It was like an addiction, one that had spiralled dangerously so that was another reason to stop, not for good, but for twelve months.

I know how fortunate I am in getting the books that I do. I show you all of the loot that arrives not to show off but because I still get excited by any new book that comes through the door, just as I love seeing them on other blogs arriving. Now instead of book binges I list binge. I have lots of lists of what I want instead here there and everywhere around the house in several notebooks (a new addiction). This helped as at the weekend when The Converted One took me into my favourite charity shop and said “choose six, one for each month as a treat”. And so I did and walked away with…

  • A Severed Head – Iris Murdoch (keep getting recommended it on a certain site and it’s intrigued me, I loved the old penguin cover to, so 70’s)
  • In Praise of Older Women – Stephen Vizinczey (this has been heavily pushed at Waterstones and I seem to be seeing the naked lady on the cover everywhere)
  • Mosquito – Roma Tearne (a rogue choice, but have The Swimmer and Brixton Beach on the TBR and this was pristine)
  • Lantern Lecture – Adam Mars-Jones (loved Pilcrow and this is a rare copy of his short stories which won a Somerset Maugham Award in 1981 – yes before I was born)
  • Fugitive Pieces – Anne Michaels (lots of bloggers have raved about this book and it’s been noted)
  • Cloudstreet – Tim Winton (the lovely Evie Wyld made me want to read this one when she got a Savidge Grilling!)

All in all I did well, I could have come away with triple, instead I mulled it all over. I think The Converted One was impressed, though maybe not by how long the mulling took! So here’s to the next six months… and the twelve books I get at the end, ha!

What do you think of my selection? What have you had a good book binge on of late? If you have stopped buying books, as it seems to have been a movement this year, what have you found the hardest thing? Why is it when we have lots of books we always want more?

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Pilcrow – Adam Mars-Jones

I would normally do my Richard and Judy review on a wednesday as I take part in the challenge I have set myself but I might start doing these on Thursdays from now on, mind you then I would miss Booking Through Thursdays which in itself would be problematic… well will work that out tomorrow. Finally for today here is the review of Pilcrow which I have been mentioning to everyone I have been reading for ages!

I had to give myself a little break from Pilcrow (I finished it on Sunday) before I could review it so that I could take it all in and let it digest. Adam Mars-Jones has been heralded for some time as one of the best writers by Granta and other such places… before he had even written his first novel, so Pilcrow had a lot to live up to before it was even published and released, it manages to live up to and beyond expectations. The book deals with so much its difficult to sum it up in a review of any length but I shall do my best for you all.

John Cromer is the unusual and fantastic narrator starting around the age of five when doctors diagnose him with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis leading to him having several years of bed rest. From there we are given the often hilarious thoughts and theories that John has as a young boy growing up in the 1950’s. From what he thinks happens in the outside world which he hasn’t seen much of to his mother’s obsession with breeding budgies and cockatiels. It also gives us the underlying insight into marriages and society in that period from things that Johns mother (who is a brilliant gossip) says that we the reader can understand and piece together even if the narrator is too young and doesn’t himself. It also looks at a child’s idea of what life is like to be stuck in that environment in that time and how he feels at the prospect of it being forever.

However it isn’t forever as during a visit to the dentists his mother reads a piece on the misdiagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and Still’s disease of which John is discovered to have the latter and the one thing you should have if you have Stills disease is bed rest leaving him with lasting disabilities. This part of the book is quite heart breaking as the family cope with the fact what they have been doing is wrong and that now more damage to John has been done to him physically when he and his family believed he was being made better. This then becomes some of the most interesting part of the book as he learns to deal with unsympathetic nurses, other children (two girls of which are hilarious evil tyrants), the workings of his ‘taily’, a murderess on the loose, and the fact that he likes boys. All these subjects are discussed through a child’s eyes which I don’t always like in novels, however here it works as the reader you can draw more adult connotations and hints from everything John sees and tells you. I just loved the black and white view of a child’s and particularly in the circumstances and era that this novel is set, and also in terms of discussing growing up, sexuality and disability.

Adam Mars-Jones has done something quite magnificent with this novel. Every character has depth even if they only appear very briefly, be they a concerned doctor, interfering Grandmother, abusive nurse or 6 year old tyrant and child eater they are dealt with in a real way. He also writes with humour this could easily have been a very heavy and hard going novel. Through Johns observations, bluntness and the scenarios he gets himself into there is tragedy but also some incredibly funny scenes.

The hardest aspect of the book, which isn’t actually that difficult, is the fact it isn’t totally linear and can sometimes jump a long way forward or not too far back, you never loose where you are though and by the end I was slowing down not wanting the final page to be turned. The good news is that this is the first in a trilogy, so I will be getting to hear more about John and his life in the future. That is where the book and its author have triumphed I think John is one of the best characters I have read in a very long time and like the blurb says ‘He’s the weakest hero in fiction – unless he is one of the strongest’. This is a must read book and I hope will get a nod in some of the awards as they come. I think everyone should give this a go as its remarkable and extremely individual. I can’t imagine anyone disliking this book as its so rewarding in so many ways. 5/5.

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Filed under Adam Mars-Jones, Books of 2009, Faber & Faber, Review

Cutting A Long Story Short…

Now those of you who pop by regularly will possibly have noticed that I have been having quite a fight on my hands with Anna Karenina. When I pick it up and sit and read it I find myself whizzing through the pages. However picking it up isn’t happening anywhere near as much as it probably should be and I don’t take it on the tube with me as it’s simply too big and is like having a brick in my bag all day long. Oddly I am also reading the Adam Mars-Jones’ Pilcrow in paperback which comes out in March and seriously is already proving a must read. This book itself is a fairly large novel but is somehow much lighter and so is being whisked to and fro on my travels.

When I was telling someone of my ‘Anna Dilemma’ they answered that it was simple ‘you’re just a thrill reader aren’t you, you don’t want to spend hours on a book, you just want to read as many as you can each year and Anna is conflicting with that’. Whilst I agree I do like to read a lot of books, I have nothing against a longer book although occasionally the thought of ‘oh I could be reading eight books to this one monster’ does pop into my mind. But what is a thrill reader when its at home? I dont read a mass of thrillers if thats what was implied, though I am partial to a good Tess Gerritsen.

Another Simon who loves books covered this on his Stuck In A Book blog (I have him to thank for letting me use his picture – thanks Simon) and asked the question which do people prefer long or short books and the answers are very interesting. I also admire Simon’s honestly regarding why he prefers something around 225 pages ‘because I like to make lists of my books, and I like them to be long…’ and I do have to admit I agree. But is that wrong?

So which do you all prefer, a long or a short book? How long is the perfect novel? I have to say I am a fan of anything between 250 – 400 pages so either I am sitting on the fence or I just like medium sized books. On another slightly similar note, does anyone remember the furore over Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach being too short to be on The Man Booker List (I thought it was an amazing book and just the right length), which raises the question can a book be too short? I await your thoughts…

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Filed under Adam Mars-Jones, Leo Tolstoy

What Are You Reading Right Now?

My Gran and I always have one question to each other when we are on the phone which is ‘so what are you reading right now?’ Its something we compare and contrast and gives us both new books that we might want to read. My Gran takes part in two occasionally three book groups and I have been known to follow along with a book they are doing. I was put off when they read The Testament of Gideon Mack which I read at the same time and didnt really love. I might however join in with the next one (I’ll email my Gran my thoughts – not actually sit in on the meeting in Matlock, its a bit far from London) as they are doing Engleby which I have had on my TBR for absolutely ages. Anyway I digress…

When I saw that Cornflower Books had done a blog on this last week the response she got, from me included, was fantastic. All sorts of people reading all sorts of books and yet there were slight trends. People wewre recommending what people should and shouldnt try, and I whole heartedly agreed with one comment that it was a shame we werent all in the same room together having a natter with tea and biscuits. It also made me decide that when i have finsihed and review a book I will let you know what am reading next in advance.
Anyway my reading has changed since Cornflowers blog I thought I would let you know what I am reading right now in case any of you are interested, or have thoughts, or want to join in and read a long. You all know that I have had Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy on the go since the start of the year, its weird when I pick it up and get reading I really do enjoy it but when I see the great bulk of pages it scares me off. Its still happening at a part at a time and lots of books in between parts. I refuse to give up.
The other book I am now reading is Pilcrow by Adam Mars- Jones which I only actually started this morning on the tube. I am now about 50 pages in and am already loving it. The voice of the protagonist is superb and at a fairly bulky 544 pages of small writing I am still pretty sure I will have polished this off before I know it. I have an inkling that unless something goes terribly wrong it might shape up to be one of my favourites of the year, we’ll see. You’ll now doubt be seeing a review soon. So what about all of you? What is everyone else out there reading? What can you recommend?

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Incoming

So I thought what might be a good idea is if as publishers send me their lovely parcels I keep you up to date with what I am reading and then you can see what will be coming up on the blog in the future, what publishers have coming out or in their catalogues and the opportunity to get your mitts on some and read a long. Plus my TBR agenda changes all the time and if I mention the books here now they get a mention… er… now! You know what I mean. So the latest books to arrive are…

Mothers and Sons – Colm Toibin (Picador)
Colm Toibin’s new and challenging collection of stories paint rich and textured portraits of individuals at different pivotal moments in their lives. In each case, Toibin shows how their relationship with either a mother or a son, or their relationship to their own role as mother or son, reveals something unique and important about them. The stories feature Ireland or Irish narrators, but they are also truly universal. In “Famous Blue Raincoat”, unwelcome memories are stirred when a mother, once a singer in an Irish folk-rock band of some popular renown in the 60s, finds that her son has been listening to their old records – songs she hoped never to hear again. In “Water”, a son buries his mother and goes out to a drug-fuelled rave on a remote beach outside Dublin. In the course of this one night, his grief and desire for raw feeling combine with exquisite and devastating intensity. At once beautifully playful, psychologically intricate, emotionally incisive, finely-wrought and fearless these stories tease out the delicate and difficult strands which are woven between mothers and sons. Sometimes shocking and always powerful, this masterful new collection confirms Toibin as great prose stylist of our time.

The Story Of Night – Colm Toibin (Picador)
Richard Garay lives alone with his mother, hiding his sexuality from her and from those around him. Stifled by a job he despises, he finds himself willing to take considerable risks. Set in Argentina in a time of great change, “The Story of the Night” is a powerful and moving novel about a man who, as the Falklands War is fought and lost, finds his own way to emerge into the world.””The Story of the Night” is, in the end, a love story of the most serious and difficult kind.

Love In A Dark Time – Colm Toibin (Picador)
Colm Toibin looks at the life and work of some of the greatest and most influential artists and writers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, figures in the main whose homosexuality remained hidden or oblique for much of their lives. Either by choice or necessity, being gay seemed to come second for many of these writers. Yet in their private lives, and also in the spirit of their work, the laws of desire changed everything for them and made all the difference. Ranging from figures such as Oscar Wilde, born in the 1850s, to Pedro Almodovar, born a hundred years later, this book examines how a changing world altered lives in ways both subtle and fundamental. Colm Toibin interweaves a close reading of the works with detailed analysis of the personalities behind them, to illuminating effect. This is an exceptional collection of essays on sexuality and creativity.

The Master – Colm Toibin (Picador)
It is January 1895 and Henry James’s play, Guy Domville, from which he hoped to make his fortune, has failed on the London stage. Opening with this disaster, The Master spans the next five years of James’s life, during which time he moves to Rye in Sussex, having found his dream retreat. There he writes his short masterpiece The Turn Of The Screw, a tale in which he incorporates many details from his own life, including his experiences as a member of one of the great eccentric American families and, later, an exile in England. Impelled by the need to work and haunted by his past – including his failure to fight in the American Civil War, and the golden summer of 1865, and the death of his sister Alice – James is watchful and witty, relishing the England in which he has come to live and regretting the New England he has left.

The Brutal Art – Jesse Kellerman (Sphere)
Ethan Muller is struggling to establish his reputation as a dealer in the cut-throat world of contemporary art when he is alerted to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: in a decaying New York slum, an elderly tenant has disappeared, leaving behind a staggeringly large trove of original drawings and paintings. Nobody can tell Ethan much about the old man, except that he came and went in solitude for nearly forty years, his genius hidden and unacknowledged. Despite the fact that, strictly speaking, the artwork doesn’t belong to him, Ethan takes the challenge and makes a name for the old man – and himself. Soon Ethan has to congratulate himself on his own genius: for storytelling and salesmanship. But suddenly the police are interested in talking to him. It seems that the missing artist had a nasty past, and the drawings hanging in the Muller Gallery have begun to look a lot less like art and a lot more like evidence. Sucked into an investigation four decades cold, Ethan will uncover a secret legacy of shame and death, one that will touch horrifyingly close to home – and leave him fearing for his own life.

The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff (Black Swan)
Jordan returns from California to Utah to visit his mother in jail. As a teenager he was expelled from his family and religious community, a secretive Mormon offshoot sect. Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives – Jordan’s mother – is accused of the crime. Over a century earlier, Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, Prophet and Leader of the Mormon Church, tells the sensational story of how her own parents were drawn into plural marriage, and how she herself battled for her freedom and escaped her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. Bold, shocking and gripping, “The 19th Wife” expertly weaves together these two narratives: a page turning literary mystery and an enthralling epic of love and faith.

The Cellist Of Sarajevo – Stephen Galloway (Atlantic)
This is the top 10 bestseller, now in paperback. Snipers in the hills overlook the shattered streets of Sarajevo. Knowing that the next bullet could strike at any moment, the ordinary men and women below strive to go about their daily lives as best they can. Kenan faces the agonizing dilemma of crossing the city to get water for his family. Dragan, gripped by fear, does not know who among his friends he can trust. And Arrow, a young woman counter-sniper must push herself to the limits – of body and soul, fear and humanity.Told with immediacy, grace and harrowing emotional accuracy, “The Cellist of Sarajevo” shows how, when the everyday act of crossing the street can risk lives, the human spirit is revealed in all its fortitude – and frailty.

Pilcrow – Adam Mars-Jones (Faber & Faber)
Meet John Cromer, one of the most unusual heroes in modern fiction. If the minority is always right then John is practically infallible. Growing up disabled and gay in the 1950s, circumstances force John from an early age to develop an intense and vivid internal world. As his character develops, this ability to transcend external circumstance through his own strength of character proves invaluable. Extremely funny and incredibly poignant, this is a major new novel from a writer at the height of his powers.

The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin (John Murray)
As the clock chimed the turn of the twentieth century, Lilly Nelly Aphrodite took her first breath. Born to a cabaret dancer and soon orphaned in a scandalous murder-suicide, Lilly finds refuge at a Catholic orphanage, coming under the wing of the, at times, severe Sister August, the first in a string of lost loves. There she meets Hanne Schmidt, a teen prostitute, and forms a bond that will last them through tumultuous love affairs, disastrous marriages, and destitution during the First World War and the subsequent economic collapse. As the century progresses, Lilly and Hanne move from the tawdry glamour of the tingle-tangle nightclubs to the shadow world of health films before Lilly finds success and stardom in the new medium of motion pictures and ultimately falls in love with a man whose fate could cost her everything she has worked for or help her discover her true self. Gripping and darkly seductive, The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite showcases all the glitter and splendor of the brief heyday of the Weimar Republic, and the rise of Hollywood to its golden age.As it foreshadows the horrors of the Second World War, the novel asks what price is paid when identity becomes unfixed and the social order is upended.

Madresfield – Jane Mulvagh (Transworld)
Madresfield Court is an arrestingly romantic stately home surrounded by a perfect medieval moat, in the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. It has been continuously owned and lived in by the same family, the Lygons, back to the time of the Domesday Book, and, unusually, remains in the family’s hands to this day. Inside, it is a very private, unmistakably English, manor house; a lived-in family home where the bejewelled sits next to the threadbare, the heraldic and feudal rest easily next to the prosaically domestic. The house and the family were the real inspiration for Brideshead Revisited: Evelyn Waugh was a regular visitor, and based his story of the doomed Marchmain family on the Lygons.Never before open to the public, the doors of “Madresfield” have now swung open to allow Jane Mulvagh to explore its treasures and secrets. And so the rich, dramatic history of one landed family unfolds in parallel with the history of England itself over a millennium, from the Lygon who conspired to overthrow Queen Mary in the Dudley plot; through the tale of the disputed legacy that inspired Dickens’ Bleak House; to the secret love behind Elgar’s Enigma Variations; and the story of the scandal of Lord Beauchamp, the disgraced 7th Earl.

So I have a fair amount to read you could say. Am really pleased though as can do the Richard and Judy Challenge… well almost!

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Filed under Adam Mars-Jones, Beatrice Colin, Colm Toibin, David Ebershoff, Jesse Kellerman, Steven Galloway