Tag Archives: Alan Bradley

Savidge Reads of the Summer Part One…

At the weekend I was a little vocal on Twitter about how disappointed I was in The Guardian’s Holiday Reading Guide for the summer. Here I do want to preface that a) I know that I am probably not the person that this guide is aimed at… but b) I normally like these guides because they introduce me to some books I would never have heard of. To my mind this was not the case with the produced list of books which frankly look like they have gone through all the prize long lists, the best seller lists and then popped them into a very long guide. There seemed to be no diversity, nothing particularly new to liven the bookish blood on a break away over the summer. Post rant several people said I should have a go and so I thought ‘sod it, I will’. However to be a bit different I decided that I’d compile two lists. The first, a list of books I have read and would recommend. The second, books I haven’t read but I have on my list of summertime reading material (if the sun ever bloody turns up) as I thought that might make it less predictable and will appear tomorrow. Here are today’s titles…

Fiction… Which might not be to everyone’s taste as each one of them has quite a punch not normally associated with ‘a good beach read’ but I like a bit of depth on a holiday read like I do anytime of the year.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra (Hogarth Press, £14.99, out now)

In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help. For tough-minded doctor Sonja Rabina, it’s just another day of trying to keep her bombed-out, abandoned hospital going. When Akhmed arrives with Havaa, asking Sonja for shelter, she has no idea who the pair are and even less desire to take on yet more responsibilities and risk. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis, revealing the intricate pattern of connections that binds these three unlikely companions together and unexpectedly decides their fate.
Possibly one of the most amazing books I have read in a long, long time. So much so the review has taken me over two weeks to write, it will be on the blog over the weekend. In the interim, this is one of the most affecting books on war I have ever read. It won’t be everyone’s ideal summer read as it is incredibly confronting but it is a book that will quite possibly change your life let alone your summer.

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma – Kerry Hogan (Vintage Books, £7.99, out 4th of July in Paperback)

When Janie Ryan is born, she is destined to be the latest in a long line of Aberdeen fishwives. Ahead of her lies a life filled with feckless men, filthy council flats and bread & marge sandwiches. But Janie isn’t like the rest of them. She wants a different life. And Janie, born and bred for combat, is ready to fight for it.
It is a very assured, bluntly honest and highly crafted debut novel filled with laughter and heart ache, it is full of reality, it can be grim but it also celebrates life and all walks of it and might have you reassessing some of the subconscious assumptions you find you make about some of the people you pass in the street, and about books with quirky long titles.

Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi (Viking Books, £14.99, out now)

A stunning novel, spanning generations and continents, Ghana Must Go by rising star Taiye Selasi is a tale of family drama and forgiveness, for fans of Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is the story of a family – of the simple, devastating ways in which families tear themselves apart, and of the incredible lengths to which a family will go to put itself back together. It is the story of one family, the Sais, whose good life crumbles in an evening; a Ghanaian father, Kweku Sai, who becomes a highly respected surgeon in the US only to be disillusioned by a grotesque injustice; his Nigerian wife, Fola, the beautiful homemaker abandoned in his wake; their eldest son, Olu, determined to reconstruct the life his father should have had; their twins, seductive Taiwo and acclaimed artist Kehinde, both brilliant but scarred and flailing; their youngest, Sadie, jealously in love with her celebrity best friend. All of them sent reeling on their disparate paths into the world. Until, one day, tragedy spins the Sais in a new direction.
It is a book filled with hidden depths and one that left me feeling a real mixture of emotions; heartache, shock, horror and also hope. At a mere 318 pages I think that is an incredible accomplishment and am very much in agreement with anyone else who thinks Taiye Selasi is one author to most definitely watch out for.

All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld (Jonathan Cape, £16.99, Out now)

Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It’s just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags. It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake’s unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.
I love books where the brooding sense of atmosphere and menace are palpable to the reader at all times, even in the lightest of moments. ‘All The Birds, Singing’ is such a book… It is a book that I simply cannot recommend to you enough. You will be intrigued, horrified, laugh (when you possibly shouldn’t) and thrilled by an author whose prose is exceptional. I know everyone is talking about this book at the mo but sod it, its f**king brilliant.

Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden (The Friday Project, £7.99, out now)

Amal is driving his wife Claud from London to her parents’ country house. In the wake of Claud’s miscarriage, it is a journey that will push their relationship – once almost perfect – towards possible collapse. In this, his latest novel, Govinden casts a critical eye on a society in which, in spite of never-ending advances in social media communications, the young still find it difficult to communicate. A devastatingly passionate and real portrait of a marriage, ‘Black Bread White Beer’ keenly captures the abandon, selfishness, hazards and pleasures that come with giving your life to another.
This is technically cheating as I have not quite finished this as I type, however I will have by the time this goes up and a review will follow shortly. Safe to say I love this book, its one where you feel the author is speaking just to you and you want to hug the book (and maybe the author) as you read it and whenever you stop, or in my case are made to stop to clean, work or some other annoying thing.

Crime… Where I shocked myself as I only had two recommendations and yet love crime but have learnt how little I have read of it this year. Shameful. To make up for it one will give you nightmares, the other will probably make you laugh quite a lot.

Human Remains – Elizabeth Haynes (Myriad Editions, £7.99, out now)

How well do you know your neighbours? Would you notice if they lived or died? Police analyst Annabel wouldn’t describe herself as lonely. Her work keeps her busy and the needs of her ageing mother and her cat are more than enough to fill her time when she’s on her own. But Annabel is shocked when she discovers her neighbour’s decomposing body in the house next door, and appalled to think that no one, including herself, noticed her absence. Back at work she sets out to investigate, despite her police officer colleagues’ lack of interest, and finds data showing that such cases are frighteningly common in her own home town. A chilling thriller and a hymn to all the lonely people, whose individual voices haunt the pages, Elizabeth Haynes’ new novel is a deeply disturbing and powerful thriller that preys on our darkest fears, showing how vulnerable we are when we live alone, and how easily ordinary lives can fall apart when no one is watching.
With its mixture of an unusual crime, if it is indeed a crime, a compelling and disturbing psychopath/sociopath at its heart, Annabel’s domestic drama and Haynes dark sense of humour, I would say, even at this early stage, that ‘Human Remains’ will easily be one of my thrillers of the year. It is one of those thrillers that is more than just a page turner (though s clichéd as I am aware it is to say this, I literally could not put it down) and works on several layers with many hidden depths and much to say, especially about forgotten people. You think you know what is coming at the start and you have absolutely no idea then, just when you think you have it all figured out, Haynes does it over and over again with more twists and turns as you go on.

Speaking From Among The Bones – Alan Bradley (Orion Books, £12.99, out now)

It is almost Easter in Bishop’s Lacey, and the villagers are holding their collective breath as the tomb of St Tancred in the church that bears his name is about to be opened after five hundred years. And as luck would have it, it’s inveterate eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce who is first at the scene. But the body she finds lying there is clearly not that of a desiccated saint. For a start there’s the pool of fresh blood, and then there’s the gasmask, from under which an unmistakeable shock of golden hair identifies the corpse as that of Mr Collicutt, St Tancred’s celebrated organist. Despite her tender years, Flavia is no stranger to murder – but even she is baffled by the peculiar circumstances of Collicutt’s death. Especially when soon after, an effigy of St Tancred appears to be weeping blood onto the church floor. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Flavia soon finds herself exploring a secret maze of underground passages beneath the church – and is drawn into the equally dark and fetid world of one of Bishop’s Lacey’s most peculiar families.
I utterly adored ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and I think it might be one of my favourite Flavia De Luce mysteries yet. I have to say though, Alan Bradley how could you do it to us? The cliff hanger that you are left with is just too much! (Whatever you do, do not read the last line in the book until, erm, the last line.) How are we meant to wait until next year for a new book? How?

Classics… Where I choose two titles that might not be the best known classics, I think would make a delightful read over the summer months.

Mariana – Monica Dickens (Persephone Books, £9, out now)

Mariana is the story of a young English girl’s growth towards maturity and happiness in the 1930s. We are shown Mary at school in Kensington and on holiday at her beloved Charbury; her attempt at drama school; her year in Paris learning dressmaking and getting engaged to the wrong man; her time as a secretary and companion. Like Dusty Answer, Rebecca, I Capture the Castle or The Pursuit of Love, this is one of those novels about a young girl growing up and encountering life and love which all have the common characteristic of being funny, readable and yet perceptive. But Mariana is more than this. As the Observer’s Harriet Lane wrote in her Preface, critics may have tended ‘to dismiss its subject matter: crushes, horses, raffish uncles, frocks, inconsequential jobs, love affairs…but it is Mariana’s artlessness, its enthusiasm, its attention to tiny, telling domestic detail that makes it so appealing to modern readers. As a snap-album – as a portrait of a certain sort of girl at a certain time in a certain place – it now seems, sixty years after first publication, entirely exotic.
It has elements of the real social history of the time, only fictionalised and is a proper story of our heroine growing into adulthood and all the highs and lows that this brings. It also has a cast of characters that I am desperate to revisit again and again. As I mentioned earlier on, it is an epic of the everyman really. It isn’t often I read a book and think ‘ooh I must re-read you one day’ yet I have the feeling I will be rejoining Mary many more times in the future.

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago Books, £9.99, out now)

Switch off those TVs, kill your mobiles and settle down with the most controversial book ever written. Once denounced as ‘wicked’, ‘sordid’, ‘cheap’ ‘moral filth’, Peyton Place was the top read of its time and sold millions of copies worldwide. Way before Twin Peaks, Survivor or Big Brother, the curtains were twitching in the mythical New England town of Peyton Place, and this soapy story exposed the dirty secrets of 1950s small-town America: incest, abortion, adultery, repression and lust. Take a peek …
I got the page-turning escapism that I was looking for but I also got so much more, the humour, the sadness, the shocks. I found a book that was so well written and so believable (yet incredibly and quite delightfully melodramatic) it made me care about a community and feel a part of it. I also found some characters that I will never forget and a book I will have to go back to time and time again.

Non-Fiction… Where in trying to find titles I was saddened to discover my yearly attempt to read more non-fiction is just not happening!

The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe (Two Roads Books, £7.99, out now)

Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. Their choices range from classic (Howards End) to popular (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), from fantastic (The Hobbit) to spiritual (Jon Kabat-Zinn), with many in between. We hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions. A profoundly moving testament to the power of love between a child and parent, and the power of reading in our lives.
‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ is touching without ever being saccharine, confronting and honest without ever being emotionally manipulative. It also celebrates life and highlights that we are part of each other’s ‘life-book-club’s’ through the discussions we have at book groups, on blogs, to our friends and family, or randomly on public transport about books and the power that they have. It has also left me with a list of books to go off and read as long as my arm.

Maggie & Me – Damian Barr (Bloomsbury, £11.99, out now)

It’s 12 October 1984. An IRA bomb blows apart the Grand Hotel in Brighton. Miraculously, Margaret Thatcher survives. In small-town Scotland, eight-year-old Damian Barr watches in horror as his mum rips her wedding ring off and packs their bags. He knows he, too, must survive. Damian, his sister and his Catholic mum move in with her sinister new boyfriend while his Protestant dad shacks up with the glamorous Mary the Canary. Divided by sectarian suspicion, the community is held together by the sprawling Ravenscraig Steelworks. But darkness threatens as Maggie takes hold: she snatches school milk, smashes the unions and makes greed good. Following Maggie’s advice, Damian works hard and plans his escape. He discovers that stories can save your life and – in spite of violence, strikes, AIDS and Clause 28 – manages to fall in love dancing to Madonna in Glasgow’s only gay club. Maggie & Me is a touching and darkly witty memoir about surviving Thatcher’s Britain; a story of growing up gay in a straight world and coming out the other side in spite of, and maybe because of, the iron lady.
I related to it – something that only happens to your very core or bones once or twice in a blue reading moon – and empathised with it. It was the sort of book my younger self was crying out for someone to put in my hands. I can only hope some lovely relatives, librarians, teachers or other influential bods make sure this is passed on to both the younger generation, especially those who call rubbish things ‘gay’, and to everyone they know really. Books like this help make being different both more acceptable and understandable, we need them.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Magical/Other… A section which I tried so hard to make simply a sci-fi section but showed that I clearly barely read any and that to even try and sound au fait with the sci-fi genre would have diehard fans chastising me, but I honestly did try!

The Machine – James Smythe (Blue Door Books, £12.99, out now)

Haunting memories defined him. The machine took them away. She vowed to rebuild him. From the author of The Testimony comes a Frankenstein for the twenty-first century. Beth lives alone on a desolate housing estate near the sea. She came here to rebuild her life following her husband’s return from the war. His memories haunted him but a machine promised salvation. It could record memories, preserving a life that existed before the nightmares. Now the machines are gone. The government declared them too controversial, the side-effects too harmful. But within Beth’s flat is an ever-whirring black box. She knows that memories can be put back, that she can rebuild her husband piece by piece. A Frankenstein tale for the 21st century, The Machine is a story of the indelibility of memory, the human cost of science and the horrors of love.
I found ‘The Machine’ was a book as chilling, and thrilling, as it was emotional and thought provoking. It is also one of those books that delightfully defies any labels of genre, delightful both for the reader and as one in the eye for those who want a book to be pigeonholed if at all possible. It is the sort of book – from the sort of author – that ought to be winning lots of prizes and being read by lots of people.

The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness (Canongate,  £14.99, out now)

One night, George Duncan – decent man, a good man – is woken by a noise in his garden. Impossibly, a great white crane has tumbled to earth, shot through its wing by an arrow. Unexpectedly moved, George helps the bird, and from the moment he watches it fly off, his life is transformed. The next day, a kind but enigmatic woman walks into George’s shop. Suddenly a new world opens up for George, and one night she starts to tell him the most extraordinary story. Wise, romantic, magical and funny, “The Crane Wife” is a hymn to the creative imagination and a celebration of the disruptive and redemptive power of love.
It made me cry at the start, possibly at the end and a few time, with laughter, through the middle. It has been a good few weeks since I read the book now and I still find myself pondering what has happened to the characters since, always the sign of a good read, and the writing just blew me away. Patrick Ness says in this book that “A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew.” I hope this story grows to be a huge success.

Diving Belles – Lucy Wood (Bloomsbury, £7.99, out now)

Along Cornwall’s ancient coast, from time to time, the flotsam and jetsam of the past can become caught in the cross-currents of the present and a certain kind of magic floats to the surface…Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wreckers’ lamps and baying hounds as Cornish folklore slips into everyday life.
There are those rare books that come into your life and once finished you feel a little bereft because they were so good. Lucy Wood’s debut collection of short stories ‘Diving Belles’ is one such book, in fact I loved it so much I had to ration it out to the point I was only reading one or two stories a week. I simply didn’t want to it end.

So there you are, if you managed to stay with me for the long haul then well done. Tomorrow I will be sharing with you the books that I haven’t read yet which I really fancy getting to over the summer months (if summer decides to show itself) and think some of you might like too! In the meantime don’t forget to share you thoughts on the books you have loved the most so far in the first half of the year. Also let me know what you think about the selection above, which ones have you read or been meaning to read? Also, if any of you fancy doing summer reading guides, or already have, do let me know as I would love to have a gander.

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Radio Silence/Radio Savidge

That blinking thing called work is a pesky so and so isn’t it? Every time I think I am going to get back into the swing of things something like an International Music Festival comes along and reading, let along blogging, goes out of the window. On a serious note – I am actually really, really loving my new job. Second to books in my life is definitely music (family and friends are somewhere along the pecking order) so to work on a new exciting project like this is bloody amazing really. If that wasn’t enough the people are also bloody lovely (it is all bloody lovely really) and they are being really supportive with everything that is going on with Gran, no change there at the moment.

The blog has been suffering a little though I will admit, though I think (blowing my own trumpet maybe, as you may all disagree) that my reviews have become more ‘me’ I think. Still a work in progress as always but I feel much happier putting them out, even if they are taking (and becoming) a bit longer. Let me know if you think otherwise!

Anyway, I realised that whilst my blogging has gone a bit more sporadic there are three other ways you can catch up with me being bookish and those are the podcasts I am on, and this got me thinking about Radio Savidge. You see there are the three podcasts I do (The Readers, The Readers Book Club) and also the podcasts that I am always listening to and so I thought I should share some of them with you so that, should you fancy, you can hear me waffling on about books or listen to a few of the podcasts I have in my ears at the moment.

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So as some of you will know I host two book groups, one which also has a monthly spin off. The first is ‘The Readers’, which has now gone fortnightly, which I co-host with the bloody lovely Gavin of Gav Reads. We subtitled it ‘Book Based Banter’ because generally we waffle on, and off on tangents, about books for roughly 30/40mins per episode. We also have a monthly book club which we have now made seasonal. For the summer selection we have gone for ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ by Tarquin Hall, which you can hear here and see my review of here, and for July we have ‘Snake Ropes’ by Jess Richards (which we are recording next Wednesday) and ‘The Last Banquet’ by Jonathan Grimwood in August. Each show features Gav and I discussing the book, being joined by the author and sometimes a special guest PLUS asking your questions. So, if you have any for Jess or John let me know.

The final podcast I am involved with is the one I host alone. You Wrote The Book! is a fortnightly ‘in conversation’ show where I (lightly) grill an author. Some people love author interviews, some people loath them, I love them as I find authors brains rather fascinating and I have been very, very lucky as already I have had Evie Wyld, John Boyne, Xiaolu Guo, Alan Bradley, Taiye Selasi, Joanne Harris, Patrick Ness, Damian Barr and Maggie O’Farrell on the show! Eek, squeal. If you fancy having a listen to them you can do here.

Sorry about that slightly shameless plug, I will now redeem myself by sharing three of my favourite bookish podcasts that I listen to every episode without fail and think you should be checking out too. First up is ‘Books on the Nightstand’ which I think I have raved about endlessly already on several occasions. Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness have become firm friends of mine, though we have never met, simply through hearing them and tweeting bookish stuff with them. They both work for random, know their books, love their books and are brimming with recommendations – recently they discussed ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon’ by
Anthony Marra which had completely gone under my radar and was absolutely amazing, A–MAZ–ING! Next up are another duo, who also happen to be boyfriend and girlfriend (does playground giggle behind hand) too, in the form of Rob and Kate who make up ‘Adventures With Words’, this is another weekly podcast and I often sit with a cuppa and listen, occasionally responding to them before realising I am not in the same room as them, oops. Finally, another duo, only this time related as Trevor of Mookse and Gripes blog now does a podcast with his brother discussing NYRB classics, with the occasional extra show thrown in for good measure.

I could of course mention the vodcast of the ABC Book Club, formerly The First Tuesday Book Club with my heroine Marieke Hardy, and also the Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman, who I am currently slightly obsessed by and who I would like to steal many an interview technique off as well as spend many hours with discussing books. They are two further goldmines of audio joy, well one is visual too. Oh, I mentioned them anyway.

So which podcasts do you listen to regularly that I should be adding to my own Savidge Radio Station? Do we listen to any of the same ones?

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Speaking From Among The Bones – Alan Bradley

Any long time readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Alan Bradley’s series of Flavia De Luce mysteries. They have become one of the highlights of every reading year (as they roughly come out once a year) as they nicely sit in the very middle of the crime genre, somewhere between the diehard crime, as it were, and the cosier mysteries. There is a wonderful mix of genuine mystery, intrigue and chills along with laughs, jokes and a lovely 1930’s domestic setting in a manor house. All in all a joy, so I was thrilled when ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ arrived and instantly devoured it a few weeks ago when it arrived.

***** Orion Books, hardback, 2013, fiction, 380 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

For those of you who have yet to read a Flavia De Luce story yet – and who clearly haven’t been listening to me begging you to do so which is, frankly, a little rude – then you have an absolute treat in store for you. For those of you who have I am preaching to the converted who have already roamed the corridors of Buckshaw Manor, especially Flavia’s chemistry lab in the disused wing, and spent time following precocious 11 year old Flavia, on her trusty bicycle Gladys, around the village of Bishop’s Lacey in the countryside of 1950’s England. This idyllic setting is also a place of many a murder, the latest of which Flavia witnesses the uncovering of at her local church.

“A cold shiver shook me. A goose had waddled over my grave.”

It is the five-hundredth anniversary of St. Tancred’s death in Bishop’s Lacey and so to mark the occasion, much to the horror of some, it has been decided that his crypt will be opened and his body exhumed. This is just Flavia’s cup of tea, dead bodies and putrification are her ideal table talk and should you wish to befriend her these (along with poisons and chemicals) would make you friends for life, and so she has to watch it all unfold. Yet when the crypt is opened a much fresher body is found in the form of the church organist, Mr Collicut. Who would want to kill the local church organist and why? Whilst the police are on the case Flavia feels that as she found the body, once again, the mystery is very much owned by her and so should be solved by her and so her hunt to solve the case and catch the killers is on…

For me the main thing that I love about these books is, firstly, the fact that I never guess who the killer is and, secondly, simply spending time with Flavia herself. As I have said, possibly many times, before she is completely precocious and has a certain rather high self regard and yet it is nigh on impossible not to love her. She can be spiky and vile with her sisters, which makes for much laughter, and yet vulnerable and a little lost when it comes to the difficult relationship she has with her father, and the fact she wants his approval so much, and the loss of her missing mother Harriet. Overall though she is plucky, passionate about chemicals and gives a lot of sauce to the adults all around her which we admire her and love her all the more for. She is one of my very favourite heroines of fiction, unlikely as she maybe.

“Where was I going to find decent lubricating oil in the bottom of a reeking tomb at two-thirty in the morning?
The answer came to me almost as quickly as the question.
There is an unsaturated hydrocarbon with the molecular formula C30H50 and the lovely name of “squalene”, which is found in yeast, olive oil, fresh eggs, the liver of certain sharks and the skin of the human nose.
Because of its extremely high viscosity, it has been used by clockmakers to oil cogs, by butlers to polish ebony, by burglars to lubricate revolvers, and by smokers to baby the bowls of their favourite pipes.
Good old, jolly old everyday nose oil to unstuck a good old, jolly old everyday mortise lock.”

Whilst this is the fifth in the series of books, and I actually think ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ is one of the strongest yet, Bradley is a master of giving new readers enough hints at what has gone before without repeating it for pages and pages for firm fans. We still have the mystery of Flavia’s mother and what really happened there which thrills and compels those of us who have been pondering it for all the books and yet I imagine would make new readers want to go back, and so you should.

Bradley also keeps things fresh too, each novel has made Flavia step a little further out of the grounds of Buckshaw and Bishop’s Lacey and so more and more of her world is revealed. In this latest instalment we visit Nether-Wolsey and the gothic delights of Bogmore Hall. We also get to meet many new characters, even if one is a chicken called Esmeralda – I did a small whoop of delight at this as, as a young child I had seven hens and a duck called Rapunzel, Flavia and I would have been best friends I feel, though I am not sure she would like a human sidekick much, a chicken and a bicycle seem to do.

“I glanced up at Esmeralda, who was perched on a cast-iron laboratory stand, cocking her head to keep an eye on the two eggs she had laid on my bed: two eggs which I was now steaming in a covered glass flask. If she was saddened by the sight of her offspring being boiled alive, Esmeralda did not show it.”

As you can tell, and it should be no surprise really, I utterly adored ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and I think it might be one of my favourite Flavia De Luce mysteries yet. I have to say though, Alan Bradley how could you do it to us? The cliff hanger that you are left with is just too much! (Whatever you do, do not read the last line in the book until, erm, the last line.) How are we meant to wait until next year for a new book? How?

If you are a fan of the series, and its author, then you might like to listen to the latest episode of You Wrote The Book (and hear me being a complete fan boy) which you can find here. Who else has read ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and what did you make of it? Who else is a big fan of the Flavia books, how do you feel about them coming to a screen near us soon? Who has yet to read her, again shame on you, but might give her a whirl now?

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Books of 2013, Flavia de Luce, Orion Publishing, Review

A Break of Fate

So after having had some ‘head down’ time, which actually became a week of mad reading and lots of author interviews, I was all ready to come back with a review post today, a little post about some bookish treats tomorrow and the latest Persephone project on Sunday. Fate seems to have other ideas though as my wifi has gone kaput and may be kaput for sometime. Plus I don’t get 3G in my apartment (I believe it’s the Victorian ghosts) and so right now I’m typing and setting this all live from the bottom of the garden (where the pixies live, joking, I don’t believe in pixies). But I thought I would try and do a catch up post anyway before vanishing again for a while. So…

This week has been lovely as my belated birthday books arrived from The Beard (it’s our one year anniversary on Sunday, very exciting) this week and what a bounty it was – so much so we’ve had to hire a guard cat to watch over them, you wouldn’t mess with Millie.

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In case you can’t quite see these are; a copy of Gregory Maguire’s ‘Wicked’ which I already have but the musical cover not the original cover which was on my imported first edition I lent to someone and never got back, ‘Building Stories’ by Chris Ware, ‘Black Vodka’ by Deborah Levy, and the next three Persephone’s that I was missing; ‘The Victorian Chaise-Longue’ by Marghanita Laski, ‘The Home-Maker’ by Dorothy Canfield Fisher and ‘Good Evening, Mrs Craven’ by Mollie Panter-Downes. All very exciting.

Ooh while we are on the subject of Persephone’s, they do lead me to saying that as I am wifi-less discussing Etty Hillesum’s ‘An Interrupted Life’ will be postponed to a week on Sunday. I hope that’s ok?

This week has felt a bit bonkers. Everything is getting finalised for the Liverpool Literature Festival (so having no wifi is really annoying right now) and then somehow I ended up with three author interviews in one week, meaning masses of reading.

I have had the pleasure of chatting to Jenni Fagan for the latest Reader Book Club featuring ‘The Panopticon’ and then have been recording two advance episodes of You Wrote the Book! with Alan Bradley (of the Flavia de Luce series – which I love) and then Taiye Selasi, an author who is as beautiful on the inside as the outside as the picture below shows, whose debut ‘Ghana Must Go’ is doing incredibly well as, well, it is incredible. More on that soon…

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Speaking of You Wrote the Book, which you can listen to on repeat if you miss me while I have this blip, the latest episode with Joanne Harris is now live and next week I am recording with… Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, so if you have any questions for her then let me know. I am just about to start ‘Americanah’ finally.

I am also off to see Gran for a few days next week so if you have anything to pass onto her then let me know.

That’s me all up to date. I hope to be back ASAP but am seeing it as a break-of-fate from everything in the meantime. In fact actually this weekend is the perfect time to have a huge book sort! What plans have you this weekend? What else is news with you?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Head Down; More Reading, Less Everything Else…

I shouldn’t really be typing this. I should actually be busy reading and nothing else. But having looked at the next few weeks it seems that all I should be doing is reading and pretty much nothing else. You see, the thing is my bookish projects have started to get a little out of hand, though in a good way, I think…

Books Ahead

What you see above this is two piles of books I really need to read over the next few weeks, yes I said weeks. On the left are some of the books that I need to read or re-read for discussions that I will be having at the Liverpool Literature Festival (you can find the brochure here IOW Listing Brochure 22-3). I say some of the books as I am still waiting on a few and need to dig out a few Jeanette Winterson and Philippa Gregory novels before the big World Book Night launch that I will be reporting on and involved with launching this year in Liverpool and sort of kicking the festival off.

On the right we have some more books that I need to be reading (again am waiting on a few copies of other books by these authors) in preparation for forthcoming episodes of You Wrote The Book! which seems to have kicked off with a bang and now I am kicking myself with joy at some of the authors who have said yes (though Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Caitlin Moran still need final confirmations) and so might be making the podcast weekly instead of fortnightly.

Here I should note that I am in no way complaining about all this, it has left me all a bit daunted/panicked and a little muddled too. Which is why I need to stop talking, tweeting, photo posting, and blogging – well at least lessen them all – and just get on with reading shouldn’t I? I haven’t even taken into account that I will be reading the entire Women’s Prize shortlist for We Love This Book. Erm, let’s move on, shall we? Ha!

Anyway, I thought I would explain where I am at and why the blog and I might be a little quieter for a month or two (of course reviews of these books will pop up, as will bookish thoughts and reports from various events and things). I have said ‘Middlemarch’ reading is now postponed until further notice, I was going to say May or June but I don’t want to make a promise that I can’t keep so will update you after May if that is ok. Right, best get on with some of this lovely reading hadn’t I and stop this waffling on. What are you all reading at the moment?

P.S if you see me on Twitter too much can you tell me off, ha!

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You Wrote The Book!

So a week or so ago I asked you all about author interviews and mentioned that I was off working on a solo podcast, whilst very much continuing The Readers with Gavin of course. Well I can reveal that I have finally found a name for it…

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Thank you all for your suggestions on here and on GoodReads too. I actually came to mind when I was recording with Patrick Ness as I asked him about a character, who admittedly was only on one page of his new book, that he couldn’t remember and I said ‘come on, you wrote the book didn’t you?’ and it seemed to stick and now it is here for good. So what is it all about?

Well, each fortnight over the coming months I will be joined by a special guest author to discuss their life as a writer and as a reader, from the current novel they have published to the first book they read and everything in between. It is the sort of thing I would love to listen to, and indeed do listen to many shorter versions of as parts of other shows so I have made mine longer, and so I am hoping it might be right down some of your alleys.

The first episode is now live on the website and indeed on iTunes and I felt very lucky indeed as my first guest is Maggie O’Farrell who I am rather a big fan of (I will be reviewing ‘Instructions for a Heatwave’ tomorrow) and who I was beyond chuffed said yes to coming on, she was a fab guest and somehow I managed not to go all fanboy like I was expecting to.

Over the next few weeks I will be being joined by Patrick Ness, Joanne Harris and Alan Bradley. And of course I would love you all to be part of it if you fancied, so if you have any questions you would like to ask the author, or any feedback then you can email youwrotethebook@gmail.com or comment on twitter @youwrotethebook. Yes I know more emails and tweets but it actually helps to keep them separate. Anyway have a listen and let me know what you think, fingers crossed you like it, and also let me know if there are any authors you would love me to try and snag for the show.

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I Am Half Sick of Shadows – Alan Bradley

I know I have made it official, well sort of, that I have given up putting books to one side for ‘a rainy day’ or ‘just the right time’ but in the case of ‘I Am Half Sick of Shadows’ by Alan Bradley leaving it until Christmas seemed the most fitting thing to do for that is when his latest Flavia de Luce is set at just this time of year.

Orion Books, hardback, 2011, fiction, 304 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

‘I Am Half Sick of Shadows’ is a wonderful fourth instalment in the Flavia de Luce series. I was shocked that this came out so quickly after ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’ and it being rather slighter than its predecessor, along with it having a Christmas theme, was slightly concerned that it would simply be a bit of a filler to cash in on Christmas (cynical, me, never) yet that wasn’t the case at all as like the series so far there was murder, mayhem and wonderful characters as ever.

We join the inhabitants of the grand, if slightly ramshackle, Buckshaw abode near the village of Bishops Lacey in the lead up to Christmas. Buckshaw is not feeling the full effects of Christmas, much to Flavia’s, the youngest of the family de Luce, distress as hard times mean that it is being used as a set for a movie starring icons Phyllis Wyvern and Desmond Duncan who, along with the rest of the cast and crew will be staying with the de Luce family for the duration. Of course this being a Flavia de Luce novel you know that someone is going to come a cropper and fall of their mortal coil, or have a serious nudge off the edge of it, but who will it be? Bradley plays his first trump card here as I honestly didn’t think it was the person it was, I actually thought they were going to be the murderer. Shows what I know doesn’t it?

I should actually change that to Bradley’s second trump card as really with all these novels it is Flavia who is the highlight of the novel. She is an utterly precocious child, one which would normally drive you mad in the real world yet as ever while she narrates this murderous tale you are smitten with her company and her blunt yet spot on descriptions of all those older than her and the way that they act. I also loved that, with her love of chemistry, she is devising a way of catching Santa Claus with glue though this did add a predictable element which if you have read the book you will know what I mean, I shall say no more for those who haven’t.

I don’t know about any of you but books set on a movie set always have a certain something about them. I want to say buzz yet that probably sounds a cliché. I love the fact there are always big dramatic characters, even if it is a cliché in a way that one is always a complete movie diva, and that there are always the underdogs behind the scenes. This is great in any mystery (and I did think of Paul Magrs ‘Hell’s Belles’ which I read earlier this year though that was more Hammer Horror than 30’s Hollywood, both genres which I like I hasten to add) as there are always a whole host of characters and again here Bradley creates a whole host of new faces to be suspicious of and for Flavia to dig the dirt on.

I also, sorry the praise goes on, liked the fact that as this series goes on we are getting to know more and more about the de Luce family, and slowly but surely finding more out about Flavia’s mother Harriet and her mysterious death – I wonder if we will ever learn the truth (I personally don’t think she is dead but that could just be me) about that? We also get much more insight into their servant Dogger, who is as we go on becoming a sidekick to Flavia. There are also her wonderful, and utterly venomous, sisters Feely (who seems to have the whole world wanting to woe her) and the bookish Daphne who is becoming one of my favourite characters as the series develops.

Daffy, as always, was draped over a chair in the library, with Bleak House open on her knees.
“Don’t you ever get tired of that book?” I asked.
“Certainly not!” she snapped.
“It’s so like my own dismal life that I can’t tell the difference between reading and not reading.”
“Then why bother?” I asked.
“Bug off,” she said. “Go and haunt someone else.”

That does lead to my only slight criticism actually. I don’t know if you would be able to start this wonderful series with this book, or if you did I wonder if you would be as hooked as you might if you stared from the beginning with ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’? I love the series and so this shorter, yet just a punchy and character driven, instalment was a welcome addition but if I didn’t know it so well would it have had enough punch or seemed a little light. I am probably not making sense there, oops.

I thoroughly enjoyed ‘I Am Half Sick of Shadows’ (I should mention the title comes from Tennyson, and these books do embrace literature and the written word in many ways) and it was a treat to curl up in a quiet corner by the fire with over the festive period. I am looking forward to the next one whenever it may appear.

Have you read any Flavia yet? If you haven’t you really should consider it? Which books with a movie set involved have you enjoyed, I would like to read some more of them.

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Flavia de Luce, Orion Publishing, Review